DISCLAIMER: As stated in Part 1, I only own me and nothing else but I wish I did own you-know-who! If I could financially afford it, I'd buy the rights to all 7 so we could have our own production company!

RATINGS: NC-17 (but not in this chapter!)

WARNING: Mostly language and physical violence this time, sexual innuendoes but not the real thing, dang it!

NOTES/COMMENTS: Rescue Challenge 7 Series-Chris's Rescue by me! One of the nice things about fiction is that you can write almost anything you want, do anything you want, say whatever you like and describe yourself any way you please! BTW, I do not attack people and I definitely don't chew on my lower lip. Read it and you'll understand if you bothered to read this part at all.

by KETanner (aka Kate Taylor)


Kate jumped away from Chris in sudden alarm, his hand automatically releasing her chin when he heard the sound of their unwelcome visitors. His eyes narrowed menacingly as he looked towards the door where the noise was coming from. The air around him was tense and suddenly filled with danger. By long-standing reflex, his right hand reached down to where his gun should have been, only to come up empty. Damn!

"Oh my God! Theyíve found us!" she squeaked in a tight voice. Kateís eyes were wide and frightened with just a slight touch of panic thrown in. She started forward towards the door only to suddenly turn and pace back again, wringing her hands together in agitation.

"Who found us?" Chris asked softly, not wanting to confirm their presence to whoever was outside that door.

"Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum!" she exclaimed. "Those two huge ugly guards I told you about!"

More noises followed and she could hear the two brutes discussing which particular key fit the lock and muttering curses and threats through the door at her. They were talking about calling for backup and notifying the police. Kateís fractured nerves went into high gear!

"Okay, okay! Donít panic, donít panic!" she stated to the room in general because Chris figured that the crazy woman wasnít talking to him since he wasnít the one panicking. She took several deep gasping breaths but couldnít seem to find her voice other than to make small chirping bird-like noises.

Shoot! Chris Larabee was just itching for a good fight, a chance to knock some heads together and pound out his frustrations on some bad guys. Thatís what he was best at. After all, hadnít he taken down Top Hat Bob in a fistfight and the other man weighed at least 50 pounds more than he did. Yeah, a good knuckle bashing would definitely suit his frame of mind at the moment. Not to mention satisfy the need for a little physical violence!

Kate was still pacing and shaking and muttering as the scraping noises at the door intensified. Suddenly, she stopped and faced Chris, her face lighting up as she hit upon a plan of action.

"Okay, wait! Hereís what weíll do," she told him excitedly. "You lay back down on the stretcher and play dead. Iíll cover you up with the sheet again. Then Iíll just pretend I got lost and was in the wrong room. Simple, right? Okay, that ought to work!"

Wrapping her arms tightly around her waist, she gave him a small nervous grin, hoping against hope that he would agree with her plan. But where Chris Larabee was concerned, nothing was simple! She realized that when he stood there shaking his head at her. She chanced a quick glance toward the door, knowing that time was of the essence.

"Iím not running from any fight," he told her, somewhat irritated that she would even think of asking him to do that. Chris Larabee was no coward!

Kate couldnít believe what she was hearing. They were trapped in the room and outnumbered by a superior show of force. The only way to escape was by using a little trickery and HE wanted to stand and fight! Go figure!

"You big macho idiot!" she hissed back at him as she tried desperately not to raise her voice to a level that the guards outside could hear. "Iím not asking you to run from a fight....just postpone it until a better day and time slot! Now lie down and donít make me tell you again!"

That said, Kate grabbed hold of Chrisís shirtfront and shoved him backward with all her strength. She didnít move him very far. But she stunned him enough with her determined effort that much to his surprise he found himself moving towards the object that she had indicated. He reluctantly lay down on the stretcher and Kate covered him from head to ankle again with the white sheet. Standing back to look at her handiwork, she vaguely wondered how anyone could possibly mistake the man lying

beneath it for dead. Even reposed and covered as he was, there was still that air of reckless energy and a barely constrained intensity about him.

Oh well, she supposed, sheíd just have to make sure the guards didnít look at him too closely. Would have to make sure they were distracted.... as in provide a diversion. She almost groaned out loud as she realized that Chris would likely get his way about that after all.

She could hear keys turning in the lock, the scraping of tumblers, the turn of the knob that had mysteriously been silent at her entrance. Her eyes frantically flew around the room, looking for objects that she might be able to use as a weapon, anything she could use for self-defense should it become necessary. She spied her black medical bag and almost laughed with relief as she remembered the resuscitative medications and other drugs that she had carried with her.

Those medications just might be their only hope for salvation....if she could get close enough....and have enough time to use them....wait for them to take effect.

Chris lay beneath the white sheet, fuming and angry as hell. How he let himself get talked into this he didnít quite understand! But truth be told, there wasnít much that heíd really understood since first waking up in that room with a strange woman wearing funny green clothes who was staring at him. She hadnít answered any of his questions....at least not to his satisfaction anyways....and he didnít much relish the thought of letting her have the upper hand now.

Damn, what he wouldnít give to get his hands on his gun!

No, he didnít understand any of this at all. But come hell or high water, after dispatching those two Tweedle brothers she kept talking about, Chris Larabee was going to get some answers....one way or the other!

He grinned with an almost evil delight at the thought of using....the other!

The door to the physical therapy room swung open and Kate found herself staring into the faces of two very angry beefy security guards. Oh Lord, but they looked mad enough to spit nails! She pasted a small serene smile on her face and greeted them brightly as if nothing in the world could possibly be wrong.

"Well, hello again, gentlemen! I was just about to come looking for you. Seems Iíve taken a wrong turn here. I have no sense of direction whatsoever." She was lying through her teeth and hoped they couldnít tell. "Could one of you please point me to the morgue?"

Kate moved to stand behind the stretcher that Chris was laying on, her medical bag close at hand, as if she was preparing to move out with the body. She looked questioningly at the two burly guards, her face open and inquisitive...and she hoped.... unreadable.

"Look here, lady! I donít know what kind of game you think youíre playing but youíd just better return that corpse where you found it and then get out of here." The smaller of the two had taken charge and was the one issuing orders at her.

"Excuse me?" she asked while hoping that she looked properly shocked at his rude comments.

"You heard him. Put it back and get out...now!" This time the big really ugly one almost shouted at her.

Kate just knew that they werenít going to let her leave with the "deceased gunman" without a fight but she had really hoped it wouldnít come to this. She tried to argue with them one more time and silently hoped that the hot-tempered gunslinger wouldnít try to interfere.

"Look, gentlemen, I donít know whatís got you both so upset. I just took a wrong turn and got lost. So if youíll kindly get out of my way, Iíll be leaving now."

She started forwards toward them, pushing the stretcher with the recumbent gunfighter on it, hoping against hope that they would let her pass. She almost thought she was going to make it past them to the door when one of them reached out a thick hand and grabbed hold of the stretcher, stopping Kate in her tracks and nearly causing her to fall on top of Chrisís covered figure.

She looked up at the guards inquiringly, trying to hide the panic that was building in her chest, a lump of fear lodged in her throat.

"Something wrong, boys?" She grinned at them in what she hoped was an imitation of a flirtatious manner, trying desperately to provide a little "distraction."

"Yeah," growled the slightly shorter one, "Youíre leaving now but you ainít taking THIS with you!"

As he said it, the guard made the mistake of poking Chrisís body with a hard stubby finger, hitting him square in the ribs. Chris wasnít prepared for the jab and just barely managed to keep from grunting in surprise. His ribs stung slightly where the man had hit him and he clenched his jaw in anger, his lower lip jutting out slightly. The girl was trying her best to get them both out of there. He could hear it in her voice and had to grudgingly admire the way she was handling herself in a tense situation.

But he sure didnít like having to lie there passively underneath the white sheet and listen to the exchange going on. He wasnít one to let other people fight his battles for him and it was galling to have to rely on this girl, even if he didnít exactly know what the fight was about. But just let that fool try prodding him one more time and Chris would take him down faster than a team of wild horses!

"Look, fellas," Kate tried again, "Iím sorry for any trouble Iíve caused but you have to understand that..."

The same one interrupted her.

"Lady, we donít got to understand nothing." And he shook his finger at her. "You leave THIS body here and get the hell out of here. Right NOW!"

As he yelled this last order at her, the foolish man once again poked Chris with his finger for a second and then a third time. Kate glanced down, saw what the imbecile was doing and knew from the sudden tenseness of the figure hidden by the sheet, that the gunfighter wouldnít stand for much more.

"Uh, I wouldnít do that if I were you," she tried to warn him, knowing the man was only seconds away from having his arm ripped off.

She was proven right when on the third prod from that fat finger, the white sheet came flying up off the stretcher and Chris Larabee literally exploded in the manís broad face. She supposed afterwards that she should have known better. There was no way Chris Larabee would ever lay still for anything. Oh no! Not Chris Larabee, gunfighter extraordinaire, man of action and quick draw expert, a shootist and barroom brawler of the first caliber.

And Chris didnít just explode and start throwing punches either...he let loose with a yell that would have raised the hair off a wolf pelt at fifty yards. Kate staggered back as the Class 4 killer black tornado unleashed itself on the unsuspecting fools who had dared to provoke its temper.

Chrisís clenched right fist connected solidly with the manís broad chin, the loud crack echoing in the air as the force of it drove the guard back several steps. The gunfighter didnít wait for his opponent to retaliate either. He came swiftly to his feet, throwing the sheet from his body and advanced menacingly on the larger man. Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Chris managed to land several deep and painful blows before the other man could even register the fact that he was being beaten. He connected solidly with ribs and stomach and chin and anywhere else he could hammer with his fists, raining agony and destruction upon the other man.

It was a site to behold and Kate was stunned by the viciousness of Chrisís attack. Sheíd never seen anything quite like it in her entire life! The man was certainly quick and deadly with his hands, absolutely merciless in his assault as he pounded his enemy into submission.

The second guard, who had been standing a few feet away while his partner accosted Kate, was slow to respond. He had moved backward somewhat sluggishly as the supposedly deceased gunfighter drove his partner up against the door and proceeded to pummel him. But when he started forward toward Chrisís back, obviously intent on attacking the man in black, Kate went into action.

Running around the end of the stretcher, she jumped up and threw herself on the bigger guardís back, her arms going around his throat, her hands reaching up to scratch his face and claw at his eyes. To say she was surprised at her own behavior was an incredible understatement as she had never before attacked another human being in her life. But desperate times called for desperate measures. She hung there on his back, pounding and clawing and kicking at him, trying to keep him away from Chris, perched there like some delicate but furious bird.

The guard let out a howl of pain as her fingers poked at his unprotected eyes, automatically reaching up with his hands to dislodge hers from around his face. Grabbing hold of her arms, he pried her from off of his back and flung her from him.

Kate went flying backwards and fell against the stretcher, letting loose with a small cry of pain as she went to the floor before she could catch herself. The stretcher fell sideways, dumping her medical kit and all its contents on the floor beside her scattering bottles and syringes and medications everywhere.

Chris heard her cry out as Kate landed hard and he turned towards the second guard, intending to catch him in the side of the face with one stiff jab while the man was turned in profile to him. The bigger man was so busy checking his face for any signs of damage from Kateís fingers that he never saw Chrisís punch coming. Never saw the determination in the gunslingerís eyes to make him pay for hurting the girl.

The furious gunslinger spared a brief assessing glance at the girl on the floor, unable to stop himself from checking to see if she was all right as his natural protective instincts asserted themselves before returning his attention to the man who had hurt her.

The blow connected firmly with the side of the manís jaw, a hard solid hit that sent a jarring impact all the way up Chrisís arm and into his shoulder. It should have driven the man to his knees.

But this fella wasnít like anyone Chris had ever fought before. This man had the constitution of a mule and a jaw made of iron. The punch landed forcibly against his face yet he only staggered slightly, blinked his eyes in mild surprise and shook his head a little as if shooing away a pesky fly. Chrisís whole hand and arm stung from the impact. He tried to press his advantage at the bigger manís slow response and quickly landed a flurry of several more furious punches and counter punches. All to no avail!

Backing away from the man made of stone by a couple of steps, Chris clasped his hands together and prepared to throw his entire body behind a two handed punch guaranteed to knock a grown buffalo off its feet. He never got the chance as the man he had left slumped against the door in back of him suddenly grabbed him from behind. In his fury at the attack on the girl, he had forgotten there were two of them and left his back unprotected. Dammit! Where wereVin and Buck when he needed them?

Chrisís arms were grabbed from behind and pinned down at his sides making it impossible for him to defend himself, leaving him with no apparent defense at all. Or so the burly pair thought. And that was a fatal mistake on their part.

"Go ahead, Jethro! Get him!" exclaimed the smaller one who had grabbed the gunfighter from behind.

Jethro, the big one, eyed Kate where she had landed on the floor and believed that the woman was no real threat to them. Dismissing her presence entirely, he turned to where his partner held Chris Larabee immobilized.

"You just hold him still, Joe Bob!" he said as he advanced upon the pair, big meaty hands curling into fists as he approached.

From her position on the floor, Kate realized that she and Chris were on the loosing end of the battle going on inside the therapy room. They desperately needed something to even the odds if not outright shift them in their favor. Her worried eyes glanced around frantically for something, anything, to use as a weapon against the wrestlers. They fell on the contents of her medical bag, a small glass vial and ready-made syringe. Sudden inspiration struck and she scrambled like lightning to carry out her plan!

Chris watched warily as the bigger of the two bullies, the one called Jethro who was even larger than Josiah, advanced on him. His gut tightened in anticipation of the punishment the pair were about to inflict. His breath raced in and out of his lungs in a rapid cadence as he panted for air, angry that he was so easily bested by the two, furious with his weakened condition that had sapped his bodyís strength and slowed his reflexes, not understanding the reason for it.

He remained very still in Joe Bobís grasp, not wanting to give away his intentions until it was too late. Theyíd learn the hard way that Chris Larabee didnít fight with just his hands! He used his feet too! He kept his expression neutral, antagonistic but unrevealing as the biggest of the pair approached, his green eyes cold and flat.

All of a sudden the one called Jethro stopped and straightened up with a surprised look on his ruddy face. He stood there looking absolutely stunned for a long moment before suddenly going completely limp and falling to the floor with a huge thud.

The woman doctor stood behind where the man had fallen, an empty syringe in her hand, grinning broadly at her victim now lying helplessly at her feet. She looked like sheíd just won first prize at the county fair. Her eyes shone fiercely with the light of her revenge. She knelt down to speak to her hapless target.

"Donít mess with me, man! Iím an anesthesiologist!" she crowed triumphantly.

Chris had no idea what she had just done or what she was even talking about but was glad for whatever the heck it was she had done. Because it distracted the man holding him long enough for Chris to go on the offensive once again.

Using his body weight to pull against the manís grasp, Chris twisted violently sideways and broke loose enough to free up one arm. He went on the attack again, punching and hitting and hammering at his opponent. Joe Bob was no match for Chrisís quickness even with the gunslingerís weakened condition and was soon on the losing end of the fight.

But one thing the remaining guard did have in his favor was his size and weight. He was much bigger and heavier than the gunfighter and despite the punishing blows he was taking, the man was far from finished.

Suddenly, without warning, Joe Bob flung himself at the man in black, wrapping his bulky arms around Chrisís lean waist and driving him to the floor with the weight of his body. He landed on top of the blond haired man and let his full weight drive the breath from Chrisís lungs in a sudden rush of compressed air.

Chrisís vision dimmed at the sudden impact and loss of oxygen from his aching chest and he had to fight the blackness that threatened to envelop him. His hands came up instinctively to push at the big man on top of him even as he felt his adversaryís hands circle around his neck in a choking grasp. Not only had the man succeeded in driving all the air from his lungs, heíd managed to cut off the only way to get oxygen back in as well.

The gunfighter was pinned to the floor by the other manís bulky weight. Chrisís hands clawed at the face of his enemy, reaching and groping for any way to inflict pain or damage, enough so that the man would release him. But the effects of having been put in stasis were beginning to tell on him and he could feel his strength starting to fade. There was that curious roaring noise in his ears again and his vision was starting to dim and blur. His lungs burned from the lack of air and he felt the darkness starting to creep up on him.

Chris Larabee hated losing...and he suddenly knew that this was one fight he wasnít going to win.

Kate straightened up from the body of the prone guard, her expression of victory dimming as she watched Chris struggle with the other one. She flinched when the man drove Chris into the ground with his big body and proceeded to pin the lean gunfighter down. She watched worriedly as Chris struggled to defend himself against the bigger man and nearly cried out as she saw his hands go around Chrisís neck and begin to squeeze.

Frantically, she searched through the contents of her medical kit as they lay strewn about on the floor, not finding what she was looking for, knowing there wasnít anything else inside that bag that could solve their immediate problem. She needed some way to help Chris and she needed it now!

Her eyes flew around the room, searching for anything to use as a weapon, anything at all.

She spied a rounded silver object just inside the open doors of the cabinet where the towels had been stored, her blue-gray eyes widening with disbelief at the somewhat antiquated item. Rising quickly, she went to make sure her eyesight wasnít playing tricks on her and almost tore the doors off the hinges in her haste to get them open. Her hands greedily grasped the curved gleaming metal and hefted the weight of it in her palm.

Yep, she thought, this ought to do!

Running across the room, back to where Chris struggled with the remaining guard, she hesitated just slightly. But one look at Chrisís pain-wracked face beneath the manís clenched hands and she hefted the silver gadget high above her before bringing it down sharply on the back of the unsuspecting manís head.

It connected with a loud TWANG and sent vibrations from the impact running up into her hands and arms, painful shimmering waves that had her grimacing and groaning with the discomfort.

She watched with no small degree of satisfaction as Joe Bob slumped over and fell to the side off of Chris Larabee who looked up at her with an absolutely astonished expression on his handsome face as he gasped for air. She lifted her weapon in one hand and then grinned at him as if to say "Look what I did!"

Chris heard the sudden loud ringing noise through the rush of sound in his ears, felt the immediate easing of the pressure on his neck and drew a deep tortured gasping breath. He felt, rather than saw, the body above him go loose with unconsciousness, could tell when it slid off of him by the lifting of the heavy weight from his own prone form. The return of air to his starved lungs helped to clear his vision and he released his grasp on his now limp opponent.

He looked up to see the girl standing over both of them, something gleaming brightly in her hand, a wicked smile of triumph clearly etched on her flushed face. Sheíd obviously used that thing to knock out the guard and was evidently damned proud of herself about it too if the look on her face was anything to go by.

"What the hell did you do?" he managed to croak from his bruised throat.

Her blue eyes twinkled mischievously as she said, "I just hit him.... in the head.... with this."

Chris looked at the object in her hand and knew that he was going to regret asking but he couldnít seem to help himself. Hell, he even felt like smiling back at her.

"And what, may I ask, is that?"

She shrugged her shoulders somewhat nonchalantly and said, "This? Oh, this is just a bedpan! Worked great too, didnít it?"

Chris just gave her a look as if to say she was demented before shrugging his shoulders and then started to climb to his feet. He didnít even pretend to understand what she had just said that thing was but frankly, he didnít care. As long as it got the job done that was fine by him.

"Are you okay?" he thought to ask as he sat up, his green eyes giving her the once over as he looked for any apparent signs of injury. Sheíd sounded okay and didnít appear to be injured but Chris knew that looks could be deceiving. He originally wouldnít have taken odds on her being able to help him out in a fight, and here sheíd practically taken care of both of their opponents single-handedly.

"Iím fine," she answered quickly but her voice shook a little when she spoke. Her smile was not quite as confident as before.

Once he was on his feet again, Chris glanced around him and the room at the destruction the four of them had wrought. Thank goodness that he and the girl had come out on the winning end of it. Raising a hand to his still stinging throat, he rubbed it absently as he glanced at the two guards, Jethro and Joe Bob.

The gunslinger knew the girl had clobbered Joe Bob with whatever that thing in her hand was but what the heck had she done to the bigger man to cause him to go down like that? Pointing at the manís body, he found himself asking her.

"Whatíd you do to him?" he rasped.

He couldnít miss the look of gleaming triumph that crossed her face, the bright ray of intelligence shining from behind her eyes, the intense satisfaction of having bested her nemesis.

"Oh, that?" she responded brightly. "That was just an injection of succinylcholine."

There she went with those words he didnít understand again. This was getting damned frustrating for him and he let his irritation show in the look that he gave her.

"What?" Chris glared at her in annoyance.

"Itís a muscle relaxant," she hastened to explain before he got his temper going again. "It causes a rapid onset of generalized muscle relaxation that takes effect in under a couple of minutes and lasts for about another five or so depending on the dose."

The gunman just stared at her again, clearly not understanding anything about what she had just said, not really sure he even wanted to know now. So many strange things had happened since heíd woken up that he was even beginning to wonder if he was awake anymore. This whole situation seemed like some bizarre nightmare that he couldnít seem to wake up from no matter how much he tried.

But one thing that was clear to him now, one thing that could no longer be denied. The girl was definitely on his side and he was damned glad to have her with him and not against him!

He absently raised a hand to rub at his right temple as the pounding that had originally awakened him took up residence again.

"Look, we need to get out of here now before either of these guys are up and on their feet again."

Kate was trying to get Chris moving but the look of puzzlement on his face was not very encouraging. He also looked like he was getting a headache again. She gestured to the door somewhat impatiently while waiting for the gunslinger to make up his mind. Sheíd hoped that by now, the man wouldíve learned to trust her but obviously trust was not something that came easily to Chris Larabee. She should have remembered that and been prepared.

Chris took one last look around the room, realized that no further answers could be found in their current location and reluctantly decided that the "doctor" was right. He gave a brief nod of agreement but frowned as a sudden thought occurred to him.

"All right. But now that these two are taken care of, whatís to stop us from going and getting the others?"

Kate gave a small start of surprise. Now why hadnít she thought of that before? Chris was right! The two biggest obstacles to their plan were taken care of, at least temporarily anyway. What was to stop them from helping the others? She was suddenly very encouraged at their prospects for releasing the other six, felt elated at the possibility of being able to bring all seven men home at once. The Posse would be so proud of her!

"Youíre right!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Letís get these guys tied up and then weíll have all the time in the world to take care of everybody else."

Working quickly and efficiently, the two of them tore strips for binding from the sheet that had been covering Chris on the stretcher. Together, they dumped first one and then the other of the guards into one of the gleaming metal tubs for holding. And both were smiling slightly as they exited through the door, Kate pushing the wobbling stretcher in front of her so that they could carry back the body of the next member of the group to be revived.

She was amazed at how easily she could retrace her steps back towards the elevators and then the guardís station. They had just come to the long hall leading to the wing owned by CBS when all of a sudden, it seemed as if all hell broke loose.

Red lights were flashing, sirens were screaming, a general alert message was blaring over the loudspeaker system.

"Intruder alert! Intruder alert! Intruder alert!" the bodiless mechanical voice intoned loudly.

Chris swung around in a half-crouched stance, his pale eyes scanning the hallways and doors of the building, looking for any sign of an impending source of danger. A warrior ready to do battle against the forces of evil! Damn, where was his gun!

Kate stood stunned and shocked. She knew they had tied those guards up well. There was no chance that one of them couldíve escaped, absolutely no way. And yet...somehow...

"Oh God!" she cried. "Weíve got to get out of here now! Hurry!"

She began tugging frantically on the sleeve of Chrisís shirt but the gunslinger didnít move, only fixed her with a hard stare from those cold green eyes as he said, "I ainít leaviní without the others!"

Kate's face paled as she studied the man beside her. He looked as immovable as a mountain again. She recognized that set expression on his face. How was she supposed to get him out of there when his own stubborn foolish pride wouldn't let him leave? She had to find a way to get through to him.

She grabbed a handful of his shirt in both hands and fixed him with a hard stare of her own. In an intense emotional voice she said, "Listen and understand! Those CBS executives are out there. They can't be bargained with...they can't be reasoned with....they don't feel pity....or remorse....or fear! And they absolutely will not stop...ever...until you are dead!"

Chris stared back at her as the sirens and noise continued to swirl around them, something about her words striking a familiar chord in his brain, but unable to reason it through and figure out why. One thing was clear though! She was very sincere in her panic and fright, her face unable to portray anything other than the absolute honest truth.

And suddenly, Chris knew that he believed her. Knew that she wasnít telling him a lie at all, but the absolute truth as she knew it in her world, wherever or whatever that world happened to be. There was no mistaking the sincerity, the urgency, the panic in her fiercely spoken words.

"All right," he reluctantly agreed. "Which way?"

Chris had no idea where she was going but he followed the girl down the long hallway back to where a set of gleaming metal doors were located. He watched silently as she frantically pushed at a small rounded disc on the wall, cursing and muttering under her breath as she glanced up and then back at the disc several times. She stood there for a brief moment, waiting for what he didnít know, dancing from one foot to the other in some degree of agitation.

Finally she slammed a fist against the wall and almost screamed with frustration.

"Dammit! The elevators arenít working! Must be because of the alarms going off. Weíll have to take the stairs."

Without looking at Chris, she took off running down the hall again, leaving the confused gunslinger with no choice but to follow her. He didnít understand this "elevator" thing she was talking about but he knew what she meant when she clearly said "stairs."

Yep, he reckoned, stairs were something he could do. But seven flights later, he wasnít so sure!

Kate quickly located the exit sign and burst through the door at full speed. Not even pausing to hardly draw breath, she started charging up the steps, running as if her very life depended on it. Grateful for the Tai-Bo Workout tapes that she had! She made it all the way to the top without even pausing and was nearly out the door when she thought to look back for Chris, anticipating that he would be right behind her.

But he wasnít there!

Sudden panic overwhelmed her. Oh God! Where was he? Had he fallen? Been captured? Or had he gone after the others anyway, despite the alarm bells going off? Surely he wouldnít be so foolish!

Her blue eyes dilated with fright, she quickly clambered back down the stairs, her hands urgently grasping the railing to maintain her balance as she went, fairly leaping down the steps two and three at a time.

"Chris?.....Chris?" she called out urgently, her voice laced with fear.

She didnít have to go very far before she found him and her relief was so great that she forgot all about being angry with him for not answering her.

Chris had managed to make it up four flights of stairs before his shaking legs gave out on him. He stood bent over at the waist with his hands resting on his knees, fighting for breath as he silently cursed the weakness afflicting him. Something was definitely wrong with him and heíd be dammed if he could figure it out. Maybe he did need a doctor after all.

He heard the girl calling out for him but couldnít seem to work himself up enough to respond. The gunslinger managed to lift his head and at least look at her as she came bounding around the corner, taking note of the flushed face and anxious expression, the rapid rate of her breathing, the genuine concern and fear shining from her overbright eyes.

Kate took one look at Chrisís hunched figure and knew immediately why he hadnít been behind her. She silently cursed herself for forgetting. How could she have been so oblivious to the debilitating effects of coming out from under the influence of the stasis that he had been in? Although the side effects were only temporary, the muscle weakness and fatigue would certainly hamper their escape attempts. She was quick to apologize to him.

"Damn, Iím sorry, Chris!" as she went to him, grabbed hold of his arm and placed it around her shoulder as he stood up at her approach. "I forgot youíd still be feeling weak."

He wondered how sheíd known that, even though sheíd said she was a doctor. What exactly was wrong with him? Was he ill and didnít know it? He wanted to ask her but was still fighting to get his breath back.

"Here, let me help you," she offered and then proceeded to propel him forward towards the next set of steps. Her grip on him was firm and strong and he had no choice but to go with her. He couldnít fight her and his weakened body both at the same time. But it didnít stop him from feeling chagrined at needing her help when she obviously had no such problem.

Kate struggled to get Chris up the remaining flights of stairs, supporting as much of his body weight as she could, knowing how frustrated he felt at having to accept her assistance. She could feel the tense vibrations coursing through his body where he leaned against her, feel the heat coming off of him through the fabric of his shirt. Could feel him struggling for breath with every step, his chest rising and falling almost in time with his movements. And when he stumbled, her inside arm automatically went around his waist, holding the gunfighter close and steadying him.

She wouldíve enjoyed the moment of holding him near, the weight of his muscled arm across her slender shoulders, the warmth of him through his shirt where her arm encircled his waist, except for her heightened sense of danger closing in, an urgency lending her strength and purpose to get her patient up the stairs and out into the bright sunshine of freedom.

Chris was amazed at the supple strength contained in the gently curved feminine body supporting his. He wasnít used to needing anyoneís help let alone having to lean on a woman for strength and support. And she obviously knew more about what was wrong with him than he did so he remained silent and accepted the assistance she gave him without protest. But he still didnít like it.

The intruder alarms were still resounding through the facility, their clamor muted somewhat in the stairwell and fading a little as Chris and Kate approached the top. But the noise returned in full force when the pair burst through the exit door and out into the brilliant light of day.

Chris blinked hard against the sudden light, raising his right hand to shield his eyes, his left still firmly wrapped around the girlís shoulders. She stood next to him for a moment, her right arm firmly around his waist, fingers tightly gripping the waistband of his pants, her left arm bent and raised to allow her hand to grip the wrist of his left arm where it lay across her shoulder. She looked about wildly for several moments before almost stomping her foot in extreme irritation.

"Dammit! Theyíre gone!" she exclaimed heatedly.

Chris started to ask her who was gone but he was still gasping for air.

"S**T! I canít believe they went off and left us!"

The gunfighter was a little nonplused to hear such words coming out of the girlís mouth but knew the little firebrand wouldnít appreciate being reprimanded either.

"Whoís gone?" he managed to barely wheeze.

"The Posse!" she cried. "They went off and left us. I donít see the Vinnebago....I mean the Winnebago anywhere!"

There she went with those strange words again that he didnít understand...except for one word that he very clearly recognized.

"A posse? You brought a whole posse with you?" he gulped in amazement. Now why hadnít he thought of that before?

"No, not that kind of posse!" she told him as she released his left arm and removed her own from around his waist. She was a little surprised by the sense of loss she felt at breaking the close contact with him, found that she very much wanted to put her arms back around him again, hold onto him for just a little bit longer, lay her head against his chest and listen to the pounding rhythm of his heart once again.

And Kate also had to honestly admit how very much she wanted in return for Chris to put his arms around her, hold her close against him and reassure her that everything would be all right, that somehow they would find a way to escape this place. And if he should just happen to lean down towards her and place his lips upon hers, then she wouldnít object at all, would not in fact utter even one small word of protest.

Her face flushed bright red at just the thought of Chris kissing her. And she felt more than a little ashamed of herself for her wanton thoughts.

Kate also berated herself for thinking of such things when their very lives were in danger, for wanting to steal a few private moments for herself, for being selfish. She had no right to be thinking such things. Chris Larabee didnít belong to her no matter how much she may have wished it with all her heart. He belonged to MGM and the Mirisch Corporation and Trilogy Entertainment, but thank God he didnít belong to CBS!

She forced herself to take two steps away from his lean frame.

Unaware of the complicated thoughts racing through the girlís head, Chris leaned back against the wall of the building they had just emerged from at the loss of her supporting strength. He hadnít quite realized how tight a grip she had on him and could still feel the warmth of her touch for several long moments afterwards. And he was a little disturbed to realize that he wouldnít mind very much if she took hold of him again. Wouldnít mind at all if she slipped those slender arms around his waist once more.

Heíd had no clue to the shape of her figure underneath those funny green clothes she had on but when sheíd wrapped his arm around her shoulders, placed her other arm around his waist, heíd gotten a pretty good feel of the gentle curves and womanly fullness that were hidden underneath. There was a certain strength and resiliency to her body that sheíd managed to cover up with her ugly clothes but she hadnít been able to hide her temper and determined spirit that gave a hint to the fiery passion that lay beneath her surface. Sheíd be a hell of a match for any man!

And more than once now, heíd caught himself staring at her full lower lip when sheíd been chewing on it, biting the soft skin ever so gently, with those small white teeth of hers in what was probably an unconscious gesture of worry. Wondered what she would do if he just leaned down and.....

Damn, Larabee! he scolded himself, How long has it been?

He struggled to think for a moment. How long had it been? Not since that girl, Maria, in Purgatorio and how long ago was that? At least three months, he reckoned. But sheíd been paid well for her time if not for the information that heíd been looking for. And three months was an awful long time to go without......still.....

Chris shook his head in exasperation. The girl was obviously risking her life by coming after him and all he could think about was what heíd like to do with that mouth of hers and it ran along the lines of something that Buck liked to call "mutual surrender." Now who was letting his brains drop below his belt? And wouldnít Buck just love to know that too!

Thoughts of Buck immediately brought his mind back to the matter at hand. How to rescue his six friends?

The girlís idea of raising a posse was an excellent one, he decided. As soon as he got back to town, heíd get one together and ride back to rescue Buck and the others. And the humor in that particular plan was not lost on him. The very idea of the townís protectors needing help from the townsfolk was ironic to say the least. And actually, heíd be lucky if he could come up with even a handful of men at least halfway competent enough to help him get the job done.

Shoot! The girl in front of him seemed more competent than almost every single man in town as it was! And she didnít even carry a gun!

Kate glanced around them in agitation as she pushed aside her earlier thoughts of kissing a certain tall, dark and handsome gunslinger, forced herself to address their situation, her ears ringing from the sirens still blaring in the afternoon air. The Posse was gone, the Vinnebago vanished! Luckily, no one had spotted them yet so she had a little time to let Chris rest and catch his breath.

Her sharp eyes scanned the area around them, searching for avenues of escape from the fenced in facility, praying that the wire she saw in the distance was not an electrified fence. She felt a little relieved that theyíd managed to at least make it outside the building but knew that the job was then only half way done. How to get outside the compound became the next order of business. And that was where the Posse was supposed to come in. And they were gone!

Now what was she supposed to do?

Grabbing hold of Chris's arm, Kate tugged him after her and took off running once more. The gunslinger had no idea where she was going but figured that she'd gotten him this far so she must know what she was doing. They ran alongside the building until reaching the corner. The girl stopped so abruptly that Chris nearly ran her over from behind. Damn, but his reflexes were slow!

Kate instinctively put her hands out behind her to keep Chris from rounding the corner, motioning for him to stay back. She peered intently around the side of the structure and let her gaze roam over the parking lot in front of her. For such a huge facility, there were very few vehicles in the lot for which she supposed she should be grateful. Fewer people at the facility to come looking for her and her patient!

They needed some wheels! That's exactly what we need! she thought a little desperately, but how to go about getting some was a mystery to her. She scanned the few cars and trucks that were scattered about, noting makes and models and trying to choose which one. She didn't stop to consider that once she had actually found one to take, how on earth was she going to get it started?

She didn't know a thing about hot-wiring cars...and neither did Chris!

Off in the distance, she could see a security squad approaching, headed towards the main door to the building through which she had entered almost a whole lifetime ago. There were so many of them! How did she ever hope to be able to get Chris away from there?

Suddenly, off in a far corner, she spied something. Something vaguely familiar. Something that caught her eye because it reminded her of something she'd seen before. Looked just like something she had! She squinted her eyes really hard in the bright sun's glare and stared at it. And then it hit her.

It looked familiar because it was hers!

She almost screamed with joy! The Posse hadn't deserted her after all. She hadn't been left high and dry like she'd previously thought. She mentally took back every rotten thing she thought about all of them from before when she thought they'd abandoned her! For there was the very proof that they had not!

Sitting across the parking lot from where she and Chris were hidden stood her brand new 1999 four-door deep wedgewood blue Ford Explorer, complete with its power moonroof and sport grill! Not to mention the V-8 5.0 liter engine rated at 215 horsepower and its wonderful all wheel drive!

She could have shouted with joy! She sent a special blessing skyward thanking Rachel for putting her truck there for she instinctively knew that no one else could have pulled off that particular maneuver.

She was grinning widely when she turned back around to tell Chris the good news, her blue eyes sparkling with joy.

Chris had taken a brief glance over the girl's shoulder and gotten quite a shock. He'd never seen the like of those strange looking machines in his entire life. Had absolutely no idea what they were. But that shouldn't have seemed so strange to him since this whole little "adventure" was like something out of a nightmare anyway.

The only thing that seemed real and tangible to him at the moment was the girl next to him since he was standing close enough to reach out and touch her. Everything else just had to be some sort of bizarre delusion! But hadn't she said something about someone giving him some drugs or something, something that made him ill? His brain seized upon that thought.

Of course! That was it! He'd been given drugs and was hallucinating! The perfect answer! Explained everything to his complete satisfaction!

About the time that Chris decided he was imagining everything, the girl turned around and smiled up at him, a genuine open and warm smile filled with joy and promise. Her light blue eyes had darkened to a deep shining blue that captivated him and he couldn't help but be captured by their azure depths. Two small dimples appeared at the corner of her mouth drawing his attention to her soft full red lips.

There was something about that smile that transformed her face, transcended a physical beauty that others may have found lacking. It was as if that one simple gesture came from deep within her, illuminating her essence and sending it shining forth from behind her crystal clear gaze. It carried a warmth and generosity of spirit that Chris had never seen before and he knew with a certainty that this strange girl before him should smile more often. For in that one unguarded look, he could gaze directly into her soul and see her exquisite loveliness. She was quite simply...stunning! And she took his breath away!

Then she opened her mouth and spoke to him.

"Hot damn! They left us a way out of here after all!"

She might as well have slapped him. He felt like somebody had just dumped a whole bucket of cold water over him, which might well have been a good thing anyway the way his mind had been headed. Not to mention carrying along the rest of his body with it. Three months was definitely too long for him!

Kate had no clue to the thoughts that had just been chasing themselves through Chris's brain. Didn't notice the darkening of his eyes or the heightened color flushing his face. She was too preoccupied with deciding what would be the best way to get to her truck. As usual, she took the most expedient and direct approach.

Grabbing hold of Chris's arm again, she told him simply, "Let's go!" and took off running across the parking lot as if the very hounds of hell were at her heels. She didn't stop until they had reached the driver's side of her truck and then bent to punch in numbers on the keyless entry pad there on the door.

Chris had no idea as to where they were headed. His brain was still in a foglike state from that blazing smile she had turned in his direction, the light from it still warming his insides. He ran after her without comment, no longer questioning that he was leaving Vin and Buck and JD and the others behind. He'd made a decision to place his trust in the girl in front of him, at least for the time being, until he could figure out just what was going on. Until she could answer his questions.

He'd given her a temporary reprieve from the onslaught of the endless questions hounding him but he also knew that sooner or later, they were going to have to stop running. And when they did, she'd better be ready with some answers and she'd better give them to him quickly...or else!

Kate threw open the door of her SUV and rapidly clambered in, punching the automatic doorlock button as she did. She motioned to Chris to go around to the passenger side and breathlessly ordered him to "Get in!"

Chris moved around to the other side at her direction but just stood there staring at the door. Kate reached over, pulled on the handle and threw the door open for him.

"Hurry up! Get in and let's go!" she ordered.

Chris stared at the strange contraption like it was a snake about to bite him, his expression clearly conveying his extreme reluctance to get anywhere close to it.

"Don't you have any horses for us to ride?" he asked her somewhat edgily.

"No, no horses! Now get in!"

"I'd rather ride a horse," he replied as his temper started to rise again, although riding a horse wasnít exactly one of his favorite things to do either.

Off in the distance, Kate could see the security squad come back out of the building. She knew they'd been spotted when she heard the shouts above the distant wail of the sirens, saw them turn and start moving in their direction. Time was rapidly running out and they needed to go...now!

"Look, just think of this as a covered wagon without the horses! Now get in and I'll explain later!"

Chris still hesitated.

"Do you want to be put back in stasis again?" she asked, indicating the approaching guards with a wave of her hand.

The gunfighter looked from her truck to the fast approaching security guards, his expression ambivalent about which was obviously the worse of two evils. He really didn't want to have anything to do with the strange looking "covered wagon" she was sitting in, would've preferred to fight it out with the men bearing down upon them. That was something he knew about, something he knew how to handle, knew what to do. But this "covered wagon" thing?

"May I remind you that you arenít wearing a gun.....and they are!" she told him as she gestured with one hand in the direction of the building and the men who were moving rapidly towards them.

Still Chris hesitated and Kate could feel her frustration mounting.

"Look, Cowboy...." she began again only to be interrupted by a hard look from his suddenly cold eyes.

"Don't call me that!" he bit out between his clenched teeth.

Kate was flabbergasted. They were about to be captured again by the goon squad and Chris was standing there arguing with her about calling him a "cowboy" of all things. Oh, for heaven's sakes!

She reached over and opened the glove box, extracting the extra key that she kept there for just such an emergency. She inserted it into the ignition and then fixed Chris with a hard glare of her own.

"Just get in the damned car now, Larabee or so help me God, I'll leave ya where you're standing!" she announced somewhat belligerently, the normal inflection of her voice now heavily accented with her native Texas drawl.

The added cuss word seemed to have some sort of shock benefit for her. Because not only was he surprised by her choice of words but the tone of her voice told him quite clearly that she meant it as well. Despite everything she had said and done to that point, she really would go off and leave him there to face his fate alone.

And suddenly, Chris knew that he'd rather take his chances with the strange lady dressed in the funny green clothes, knew that his odds of surviving this were tilted in his favor just by having her with him, knew that any hope he might have of ever getting the rest of his men out alive rested in the hands of this one sharp-tongued girl.

Taking a deep breath, he climbed up into the seat opposite from her, pulling the door closed behind him, just the way he had seen her do only moments before.

Kate breathed a silent sigh of relief as the gunfighter climbed into the truck beside her. She'd just won one small battle in the war to come. Turning the key in the ignition, the engine roared to life and she quickly threw the truck into gear. The guards were almost upon them and she slammed her foot down on the gas pedal. The truck jumped forward, wheels squealing and men scattering and diving in all directions as she drove straight for them.

Kate let loose with a pure rebel yell as the truck quickly gathered speed, the engine growling with accelerating effort, moving faster and faster away from their enemies. She drove straight for the guard barrier at the gate, crashed through the wooden bar before the surprised man there could even think to try and close the high panel of fence in front of it.

She kept her foot flat on the accelerator, never slowing down, never looking back until they were well down the road and away from that awful place of misery and solitude. Only then did she chance a quick glance in the mirror, looking behind them for signs of pursuit, giving a delighted "whoohoo" of joy when none could be seen. But she kept going...faster and faster...taking them both away from the hellish prison.

Only after she breathed a silent sigh of relief did she allow herself to look over at her passenger, a small delighted smile of triumph lighting her features. She looked over at him...and her smile died.

Chris Larabee sat in the passenger seat like he was carved from stone, his face pale and shocked, his lips compressed into a tight white line, his hands gripping the dashboard so hard that his knuckles were pure bloodless white!

Oh Lord! she breathed silently. She must have really given him one hell of a shock!

Continued in Part 4.

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