DISCLAIMER: Fully stated in Part 1 but basically, I don’t own him...wish I did!

RATINGS: NC-17 (M/F)

WARNINGS: Language, sexual suggestions (mild) and finally a little action, but sorry, no nudity!

NOTES/COMMENTS: Rescue Challenge 7 Series-Chris’s Rescue by me! And see below!

AUTHOR’S SPECIAL NOTE: I feel like a little bit of a split personality in this chapter as this was not really the original direction I had intended to go in this story. I had meant to keep everything on the slightly comedic side instead of getting a little "down and dirty!" However, some opportunities are just too good to pass up! Besides which, several of you have been bugging me to do this. LOL! So...you can blame this little "smut section" on Michelle who challenged me to do it and Tammy who absolutely inspired me to do this with some Magnificent pictures on the very night I was working on that part of this chapter. Enjoy!

JUST DIAL 911
by KETanner (aka Kate Taylor)

PART FOUR

Kate glanced worriedly over at her reluctant yet silent passenger. Chris hadn’t uttered a single word since climbing inside the truck at her brusque command, had in fact been holding onto the dashboard with a death grip ever since she’d started the engine and floored the accelerator. His eyes were staring straight ahead, his posture stiff and tense, the strain of the last several minutes etched clearly on his face in tight white lines.

She wished that she’d at least had a little time to prepare him for the shock of modern civilization but there hadn’t been a moment to lose as the security squad had been bearing down on them. She gave a small sigh of annoyance before running a still shaking hand through her hair, pulling the dark gold strands out of her face. Her heart was still beating furiously as adrenaline coursed through her system, her nerves still taut and brittle.

She had no clue as to what to say to Chris, no idea how to explain about the internal combustion engine, how to explain anything in a way that he could understand.

After all, how could she explain things that she didn’t fully understand herself? She was a doctor, not an engineer.

The bright sunlight was hurting her eyes and Kate reached up to the visor where she kept her sunglasses, putting them on with one hand while she held the wheel steady with the other. Once her eyes had readjusted, she scanned the countryside around them, checked the side mirrors and the rearview mirror as well. Much to her amazement, there was no sign of pursuit.

Surely it can’t be this easy? she questioned silently.

The miles raced by, the countryside a mere blur to the astonished gunslinger who was shocked by the speed at which they were traveling. But Kate didn’t dare let up on the gas pedal. They needed to get out of Connecticut and they needed to get out fast. Her gut instinct was warning her that they weren’t free and clear yet. Their escape had been....too easy! They had "let" them go!

She briefly wondered if the powers that be had placed a Lo-Jack system on her truck but dismissed the idea entirely when she remembered how cheap CBS was. The network executives there would never spring for the money to do something that smart. Besides which, how would they have known it was her SUV and why it was there in the first place? Again.....no brains!

Kate glanced up from where she’d been checking the speedometer, surprised to find that she’d been speeding along doing about 90 miles per hour without even so much as a shimmering vibration from her truck. Smooth! Man, but she loved driving this thing!

She automatically glanced at her compass heading on the digital readout panel trying to regain her sense of direction as they crested the top of a hill overlooking a long open expanse of highway. Kate had just started to reach for the volume button on the radio thinking to break the thick silence inside the vehicle when she looked back up to see something blocking the road in front of them.

Her eyes widened with another round of panic when she realized what she was seeing.

Two fairly nondescript four-door sedans and a couple of official-looking black and white patrol cars blocked both lanes of the highway and shoulder.

A road block!

Damn! No wonder they had let them get away so easily. They knew the block was set up and that they could recapture their quarry there. If they stuck to standard operating procedure, there would be cars coming up from behind her to catch them in the trap. She knew! She’d watched enough television to know how these things worked.

Kate slammed on the antilock brakes and brought the SUV to a screeching sliding halt, the rear end fishtailing wildly while the smell of burnt rubber permeated the air, her arms stiffly extended as she held the wheel firmly while attempting to control their stop.

It was a good thing that the effects of the suspended animation state were starting to wear off for Chris Larabee. Otherwise, he would have found himself wearing a face full of glass for his troubles, marring his incredibly handsome features. As it was, he barely managed to catch himself before ramming into the dashboard in front of him, but one long leg did catch the panel right on top of his kneecap with a solid blow. With a muffled curse, he mentally rescinded his thought that the "lady doctor" was really in control of this thing.

Hearing his soft exclamation of pain, Kate chastised herself for failing to tell him to put his seatbelt on.

The Explorer sat there in the middle of the highway facing its apparent jailers, engine idling at high throttle, its two occupants staring fixedly down the distant road at them. Kate chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip, her gaze then switching from the view in front to the mirror displaying the road behind, her mind plotting desperately to find a route of escape. She didn't have long to make a decision and she knew it. Reinforcements were coming any time now.

Chris didn’t take his eyes off the new "covered wagons" that had appeared in front of them. He didn’t know precisely what they were doing there but to him it looked like an ambush. But an ambush for who?

And who were these people? What were they after? Who were they hunting? What the hell was this all about?

"Who are they?" he asked in a surprisingly calm voice, his gaze never wavering from the figures in the distance, his pale green eyes squinting against the bright sunlight.

Of course, Kate knew that she couldn’t very well answer Chris’s question without having to explain almost everything to him and frankly, right then, she just didn’t have the time. They were being hunted and it was time for the prey to run. She just had to figure out where to and when and settled for an answer that she hoped would at least temporarily satisfy him.

"Bad guys!"

"What’d ya reckon they’re after?" he drawled softly, his manner deliberately casual, almost relaxed.

Chris was an intelligent man and he wouldn’t settle for half an answer. She should have known better.

"You!" she stated bluntly.

Her simple response temporarily stunned him. They were after him. Somehow that seemed fitting as he realized it shouldn’t have surprised him. It wasn’t the first time someone had come looking for him. Wasn’t the first time his life had been threatened. Chris Larabee had plenty of enemies who wanted him dead. He just wanted to know why.....so he asked her.

"Why?"

"Long story. Tell ya later!" she said as she snipped her replies back at him.

She didn’t have time to elaborate further because her eyes had detected movement in the rearview mirror. She turned half way around in her seat to look behind them, dismayed but not surprised to see two more cars closing in from behind, their grim-faced occupants barely visible in the brilliant glare of the afternoon sun.

Chris took note of her movements and the change in her expression. He too swiveled around in the seat to look behind them, immediately finding the reason behind the worried frown on the girl’s face. They were surrounded. The noose was closing tighter around them and he scowled at the trapped feeling that had settled itself inside his chest.

"Are they the law?" he asked her as his eyes met her concerned gaze. He’d done some things in his life he wasn’t exactly proud of, things that could possibly have landed him in trouble before he’d gotten his life back, before he’d started riding with the six other men. But there was no need to tell the girl about it, he reasoned.

"Not exactly."

Chris’s frown deepened with exasperation, his expression fierce and forbidding. She was deliberately not answering his questions again.

"Then who are they?" he asked tightly.

"Network executives, programmers.....people like that."

Her words made no sense to him at all.

Kate was too busy trying to figure out what to do to pay attention to Chris’s apparent displeasure with her responses. His question about these people being involved with the law had her brain working overtime as she catalogued the list of punishable offenses she had committed that day alone.

Breaking and entering.... well, okay, technically she didn’t break anything and had entered a portion of the building that was not completely secured so....

Using false identification....well that went without saying. There was no way she was going to use her real name in this little caper.

Grand theft burglary.....stealing the body of one extraordinarily handsome black-clad gunslinger and spiriting him away from imprisonment. And it really was quite a "grand" theft!

Illegal administration of a controlled substance....well, at least it wasn’t a narcotic! But that thought brought little comfort.

Assault with a weapon....she HAD hit that guard pretty hard in the back of the head with the bedpan, but at least he’d still been breathing when they left. She could’ve hit him harder if she’d wanted too! And she had kind of wanted to!

Failure to stop and render aid.....so much for the Good Samaritan Laws, and she wasn’t playing Good Samaritan to those two bumbling idiots!

Assault with a deadly weapon....well, she HAD tried to run those guards over with her truck.

Attempted vehicular manslaughter.....same reason.

Unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.....well of course! She wasn’t going to wait around for them to come and arrest her.

Speeding.....at least this one she could afford, depending on the posted speed limit of course!

Now she was about to add evading arrest to the ever-growing list of offenses! What was next? Attempted murder?

Next time, Lord, she prayed silently, just let them dial 911 instead!

"Buckle your seatbelt, Cowboy, cuz this could get pretty rough!" she told Chris in a determined voice.

There she went calling him that name again, Chris complained to himself. How many more times was he gonna have to repeat himself?

"Don’t call me....." he began angrily but she interrupted him abruptly as she slammed a fist against the wheel. In her agitation, she ripped her sunglasses off and pitched them on the dashboard, turning in her seat to face the gunslinger.

"Oh, give it a rest, will ya!" she exclaimed heatedly as she pinned him to the seat with a glare from her crystal blue eyes. "I’m from Texas and we call everyone ‘cowboy’ and it’s a compliment, dammit! Not an insult!"

Stunned silence filled the car after her uncontrolled outburst, the air filled with the heat of her embarrassment at losing her temper once more. Kate couldn’t quite believe it. She’d done it again. How many times in just one day had she already lost her composure? Too many to count as far as she was concerned and that in and of itself was highly unusual for her. Where was Miss Calm, Cool, Collected and in Control?

She looked away from his angry eyes, unable to quite meet his stare or the knowing look of censure that he trained in her direction. Or at least that was what she thought was behind that intense green gaze of his.

Chris stared at the girl beside him, noting the flush of color filling her cheeks and the angry spark to her eyes. He could tell she was extremely embarrassed by her emotional display but wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it either. She looked supremely uncomfortable at the moment and he wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see her squirming in her seat.

These displays of temper of hers were not really conducive to a professional bedside manner, were so unlike the quiet calming presence of Nathan Jackson that at that moment Chris had a hard time believing that she could actually be what she said she was....a doctor. Which left him with the unsettling thought of wondering who she really was and why she was doing this?

So far, she’d easily avoided the question of who she was, had in fact danced all around it, except for claiming that she was a doctor and a friend. And it was pointless for him to try and force the issue until he had some way of making her answer, some way to gain the upper hand in this battle of wits. But it was vitally important to him to know why she was doing this? Why had she "rescued" him in the first place? And just what had she "rescued" him from? Which brought up the entire round of questions in his mind all over again.

Why had he been in that place and who had put him there to begin with? How had they managed to capture all seven of them? Were the others still in there and were they even alive? Why did the seven need help and more importantly, why was she helping him? After all, he didn’t know her. They’d never met before. He was certain of that if nothing else.

God, the questions could drive a man crazy! His headache was instantly back and started to pound mercilessly inside his skull.

Kate waited quietly for the scathing words she just knew were coming as her eyes nervously followed the progress of the cars slowing to a halt behind them. She was biding her time, waiting for the most opportune moment to catch them off guard, the timing critical for what she had already decided somewhere in the back of her mind to do.

Chris’s quiet question caught her by surprise.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked softly, his searching green eyes never leaving her face.

Kate was bewildered by his pensive expression, his gently worded inquiry that caressed her ears with the silken tones of his husky voice. She searched her mind for a quick answer, for something sharp and witty to deflect the probing intensity of his gaze. But she found none. For once, she drew a blank.

So she pretended that she didn’t understand.

"Why am I doing what?" she asked somewhat breathlessly, knowing that he wasn’t fooled by her apparent lack of comprehension and lowered her eyes, unable to withstand the sudden look of disappointment in his as she glanced away.

But Chris wouldn’t let her escape that easily, not with danger riding their every step. Not with the hounds and the hunters closing in on them. Not when he could feel the icy cold fingers of death waiting to grab him, raising the hair on the back of his neck with heightened awareness. A battle was coming....he could feel it....knew it with a certainty born of long years of earning his living by the gun, years of watching men die by it, years of waiting to die by it himself and accept the hand that fate had dealt him.

And today was just as good a day as any other to die......at least for him it was. But he desperately wanted to know why the girl was there. Why was she willing to risk her life for him? Why was she willing to die with him? Who was she?

Chris turned and leaned toward her, reached out with his right hand to take hold of her chin again, just as he had done once before, his touch soft and gentle as he turned her face towards him. His eyes searched her delicate features as he willed her to look at him, asking her silently to tell him what he wanted to know. He waited patiently, even knowing that their time was fast running out, that their pursuers were closing in. He could see them out of the corner of his eye, knew they were quickly approaching the place where she had stopped their "covered wagon."

"Why are you doing this?" he asked even more gently this time, his voice lowered to a bare whisper, its husky timbre washing over her and sending a slight shiver coursing through her veins.

Kate was lost. She couldn’t help herself. She was mesmerized by his closeness, his soft touch on her skin, the warmth of his fingers as he held the delicate line of her jaw, the intense brooding expression behind his darkened green orbs. She was bewitched.....entranced....seduced by the look in those hypnotic shadowed eyes of his.

Just this once, she wished she could tell him the truth, clear away some of the secrets between them, things that she’d sworn she wouldn’t tell him. Things she wasn’t supposed to tell him, things that for his own good he shouldn’t ever know. Because they were secrets that could destroy the very fabric of his existence and wipe clean all that he had known or ever been before.

But oh, how her heart longed to tell him the truth....just once....just one small scrap of honesty in this whole charade that would ring with sincerity and truthfulness so that he’d know she wasn’t a charlatan or a crazed lunatic. Her bright blue eyes darkened and then sparkled with unshed tears at just the thought of all that she couldn’t tell him.

His fingers squeezed gently against the sensitive contour of her chin, reminding her of his question, impatience evident in the slight increase in pressure against the tender flesh. Chris gazed steadily into her blue-gray eyes, noticing every flash of emotion or thought that crossed her expressive features, saw the tears that she could not hide, collecting and pooling in the azure depths until one small drop escaped and trailed down her smooth cheek.

Fascinated and intrigued, he turned his hand and cradled the side of her face in his palm as his thumb slide upwards to capture the warm liquid, felt the moisture of it against his skin, and marveled at the simplicity of emotion behind that one crystal tear. Her eyes were open and unguarded as he gazed down at her, their depths full of hidden secrets and half-truths but overflowing with a look of compassion and caring that touched him deeply.

"Why?" he whispered once again, his warm breath stirring the small tendrils of hair around her temple and trailing tiny shivers over her flesh as he leaned closer.

Kate’s mouth went dry at the touch of his skin against the side of her face. When he repeated his question for the third time, she knew she had no choice but to answer him, felt compelled to answer him by a powerful force that she could no longer deny.

Her tongue darted out quickly to lick her dry lips, drawing his dark gaze down towards her mouth as she spoke.

"Well, because I kinda volunteered. I sort of asked for this assignment." She hastened to explain. "Someone had to get you out and the Posse thought I was the best choice."

Her voice was soft and husky, its breathless tones caressing him with their velvet touch even as he realized that she had only half answered him again.

"Why did you volunteer?"

Kate swallowed and tried to look away but she was trapped.

"Because I.....because I care.....because somebody had to do it......and you needed me to.....to...." she stammered as her voice dropped to a bare whisper in the silent depths of the car as warmth flooded through her at an alarming rate.

Chris grinned slightly with satisfaction at the first complete truth she’d given him since this whole strange adventure had begun. Her words betrayed a wealth of human emotion that he could understand and identify with, the simple act of one person caring for another.

She had come to help him because she cared and that knowledge eased a little of the defensiveness that he’d wrapped around himself like a protective shield, chipped away at the wall he’d built to keep people out, soothed the tightness that normally surrounded his heart and brought a welcome heat rushing through him.

Chris leaned in closer to her, watching and waiting for any signs of her rejection, forgot for the moment the danger that was surrounding them, wanted to concentrated for that one brief instant on the simple pleasure of allowing himself to feel the compassion and concern of another living soul.

His lips gently touched her cheek, traced the path where her tear had fallen, tasted the salty wetness of her skin on his mouth.

Kate shivered beneath the soft caress of his warm lips, unable to stop the delicate sigh that escaped her, barely able to suppress the moan of longing that seemed like it had been building forever in the back of her throat as her shining eyes slid closed. How often she had wished for this.....dreamed of this.....thought of this very moment!

And now that it was here......she felt like she was being swept away by a raging river of need, tumbling over the rocks in a free fall that had her struggling just to stay above the surface. She was going over the edge and there was no one there but Chris to catch her.

Oh Lord!

"What’s your name?" he whispered huskily against her skin, desperately wanting to know, needing to know before it was too late.

The girl trembled beneath his touch, her skin warm and fragrant with the intoxicating scent of her light perfume.

Her name? she wondered dazedly. Such a simple request, an even easier answer. After all, she knew her own name...didn’t she? Didn’t she? Her name was........

Heavens! She couldn’t think straight, not while she was sitting this close to Chris, not while his lips were burning a path down her hot cheek, his fingers stroking her sensitive skin. What had she been calling herself?

"Kate," she sighed with longing at his caress, not realizing she had answered her own question out loud, had unintentionally given Chris the wrong answer, unaware that he had heard her at all until he repeated it back to her.

"Kate," as he exhaled softly, his breath brushing against the side of her face and tickling her ear, his deep voice silky and smooth, a gentle curve to his lips as he smiled against her skin at finally getting an answer to his question. Her name was Kate and he couldn’t think of one that fit the little firebrand more. Somehow he just knew that Shakespeare would’ve approved of the choice because this was one little "shrew" who was definitely in need of taming!

When Chris tugged gently on her chin, Kate needed no further encouragement at all.

She willingly turned towards the gunslinger, raised her face to him and gladly surrendered her mouth beneath the tender possession of his kiss.

Oh my God! she thought....and then she couldn’t think at all!


"YOU THERE....IN THE CAR....PUT YOUR HANDS UP WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM!"

Kate stiffened with surprise at the sudden barking of the loud raucous voice into the delicate web of passionate sensations that Chris had woven around her. She pulled away from him very reluctantly and sat back, her eyes glazed and confused, glittering bright blue, the stain of a heated blush coloring her fair features and highlighting her cheekbones with a rosy color. She absently licked her lips as she sat back, not surprised to be able to still taste him there.

She stared out the window at the men hesitantly approaching her truck. She’d completely forgotten herself, forgotten the danger they were in, forgotten the mission she’d been given and now their pursuers were closing in. If they were captured again, she’d have no one to blame but herself. She’d gotten distracted...but oh, what a magnificent distraction!

And she couldn’t help but think that it just might have been worth it too!

Chris had released her chin with no small amount of irritation at the interruption and raised his head from hers as he too sat back, his dark gaze searching out the source of the blaring noise that had intruded upon such a private moment. The "covered wagons" had moved closer to them, both in front and in back, somehow without him even noticing. And he silently cursed himself for letting things get so out of hand.

Shit! That was stupid, Larabee!

He’d given in to temptation, a momentary weakness born from a period of abstinence that had coupled with the need to feel the tender warmth of compassion and caring....and he’d been wrong. Wrong to give in to it, wrong to touch his "would-be rescuer," wrong to have tasted the sweetness she offered. Wrong to have forgotten the danger they were in and the six other men whose lives depended on him!

He’d made a mistake and a stupid one to be sure! Now it looked like both of them would pay for it. And if they somehow managed to live through this, lived long enough at all, he couldn’t let it happen again. Couldn’t afford to be so distracted again. Swore that he wouldn’t be so distracted again.

"I SAID PUT YOUR HANDS UP WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM....NOW!" the mysterious voice commanded again.

Kate slowly raised her hands and placed them on the top portion of the steering wheel, her expression closed and unreadable as she contemplated her next move, her eyes narrowed against the bright glare. She’d wanted their pursuers to move in a little closer, wanted to sucker them in just a bit, make them relax their guard, get careless and make a mistake. Now, they were out of their cars, walking towards her vehicle, mistaking immobility for a sign of surrender.

This was careless.....this was making a mistake.......their mistake!

"You might want to fasten your seatbelt," she informed the gunslinger without turning her head in his direction, her mouth barely moving with her words as she spoke softly to him.

"Do what?" he queried back, his voice at the same low intense level as hers.

"The strap that you pull across...." She started to explain to him but her words faltered when she saw the opening coming that she’d been looking for. "Never mind....just hold on!" she told him as her fingers flexed around the curved leather.

"PUT YOU HANDS IN THE AIR AND STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE NOW!" the disembodied voice ordered this time.

Kate sat frozen and unmoving except for the nervous flicker of her eyes and the idle flexing and extending of her hands as she wrapped and unwrapped her fingers from around the steering wheel. Her right foot was poised just over the gas pedal as she waited, the muscles of her right leg tensed in anticipation. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chris tighten his grip on the dashboard in front of him where he’d placed his hands after releasing his hold on her.

Chris stared out the window at the group of men approaching them, his curious but guarded eyes taking note of their unusual clothes and manner. He automatically counted their number, realized that there were too many of them for him to handle by himself and that they were surrounded. He wished desperately once again that he at least had Vin or Buck or even JD by his side. Hell, anyone at all to help even the odds just a little. He wouldn’t even mind having some of Ezra’s underhanded tricks to use at that particular moment as he faced the reality of their imminent capture.

"I SAID STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE NOW!"

Kate focused her attention on the man carrying the bullhorn, the one issuing orders at them, watched him and waited for the instant his eyes would glance away from the truck. She was ready and waiting when it happened. Taking two huge deep cleansing breaths to steady her frightened wits, she tensed in nervous anticipation. And then at the exact moment of his indecision, she stomped down hard on the accelerator, the engine roaring to life with a deafening growl as the SUV shot forward towards the men and vehicles blocking their path.

The gunslinger was glad she had warned him to "hold on" because of the sudden almost violent movement of their own wagon as it shot forward. He had no clue as to what Kate was planning but sudden thoughts of suicide crossed his mind as they plummeted toward the men who had ambushed them and the wagons they had brought with them. He could already hear the scream of twisted metal and feel the heavy impact that he knew was coming.

The truck quickly gathered speed as the men in front of them stood like paralyzed deer in the headlights of an oncoming car as the engine pitch reverberated higher and louder with each passing second. Kate fervently prayed they would be smart enough to jump out of the way as she approached, but knowing the history of the network dunces that she was dealing with, she sincerely doubted there was a single functioning intelligent thought between the lot of them.

Her arms were stiffly extended and locked at the elbow, her body tense and erect in the seat, as her hands tightly gripped the steering wheel of the truck, holding the vehicle on a straight almost maniacal path towards the other cars. Her eyes were glued to the rapidly decreasing distance between them and her target, gauging, judging and assessing....waiting until the last possible second before she reacted.

As the truck flew ever closer to the other vehicles, it was with no small amount of satisfaction that she watched the executives in "suits" go diving for cover, watched with glee as they rolled into the dirt and gravel alongside the highway. If nothing else, at least justice would be partly served by the expensive dry-cleaning bills that all of them would have to pay to get their suits clean again.

The two cars that had pulled up behind her were quick to take up the pursuit, trying to close the distance between the hunted and the hunters as Kate’s truck roared furiously down on the villains who had been waiting in ambush. She glanced briefly in the rearview mirror, knowing she would have to make her move very precisely and time it just right to avoid getting hit. Her eyes flicked forward and back, forward and back....never once sparing a glance for the blond man sitting across from her. She couldn’t look at him.....she was too busy trying to save their necks!

At the last possible second, Kate slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel hard to the left, the momentum of the turn throwing Chris against the door and slamming his shoulder into the window. He ignored the sudden pain and struggled to sit upright once again as the wagon came swinging around in a perfect half circle, ended up facing in the opposite direction from which they’d started. A pretty tricky move that managed to impress the gunman with her quick thinking and driving ability as he realized that she had gone on the offensive, was using the element of surprise to launch a counterattack of her own.

Kate hit the accelerator once again, her foot practically pounding a hole in the floor as she hit the gas pedal as hard as she could. The truck shuddered and roared to life, jumping forward at her command and racing straight for the two cars that had been trailing them. She held a steady course, true and straight, never once wavering in her determination, not once considering backing off as she bore down upon the enemy.

She watched the two cars rapidly approaching them, knew a brief moment of fear and indecision when it looked like they weren’t going to move, held her breath in silent prayer as she forced herself to continue forward, heading straight down their throats. Closer and closer they came, until finally she couldn’t help it. Kate closed her eyes and prayed, prayed harder than she ever had in her entire life, hoping against hope that the fatal crash she knew was coming would somehow miraculously be avoided.

Chris saw his entire life pass before his eyes...and it wasn't very pretty either!


Several long seconds passed as Kate cringed in anticipation of the impact of metal meeting metal. But no crashing sounds or deadening jolts came. She opened her eyes hopefully, blinked once and then blinked again, as she saw nothing but clear road ahead of her. Twisting rapidly in the seat, hampered somewhat by the seatbelt that she wore, she glanced behind them, eager to see the destruction they had left in their wake.

She almost laughed out loud at the comical sight of the two sedans she had just outmaneuvered sliding and spinning wildly on each side of the gravel shoulder along the highway, watched with glee as more of the "suits" jumped out of harm’s way, cursing and yelling in their obvious haste and confusion. She’d never knowingly wished harm on any other human being before in her life but if any one deserved ill wishes, it was the "flunkies" who worked for that network with the "blind eye!"

Don’t ever play "chicken" with a girl from Texas! she admonished silently.

Kate turned back around in her seat, glancing sideways at Chris as she did so, pleased to see a little grin of approval on his face. She’d managed to take their opponents by surprise and break free, the open road in front of them beckoning as she once again sent them hurtling back up the highway in the direction they had just come from. She should’ve looked at her compass earlier, would’ve realized her sense of direction was all messed up after being underground for several hours.

Thank goodness though for that compass. She now had them heading south and west again, south towards a warmer climate and west towards help and protection. She just hoped she could hook up with the Posse once they were safely out of the state. She needed directions to the designated meeting place, needed help in getting them there in one piece, needed help in dealing with one very confused and cranky gunslinger who was an ever present danger to her already questionable "sound" state of mind!

"Nice move," Chris congratulated her as he turned in his seat to look behind them once again.

She started to say "thanks" but felt her heart plummet down into the floorboard at his next words.

"But we’ve still got company!"

Kate glanced in the mirror to see the two sedans she had run off the road coming up in the distance behind them. Damn! She had the accelerator to the floor and the truck was going just as fast as it could. She didn’t dare look at the speedometer for fear of scaring herself to death at what she knew would be the fastest speed she’d ever driven. God help her if she lost control of her SUV!

And if her eyes weren’t deceiving her, the two tan sedans behind them were gaining ground! How was that possible?

Kate and Chris flew by the entry gates to the facility they had just escaped from, the guard at the gate shaking his fist and shouting curses that they couldn’t hear at them as they sped by.

The cars pursuing them were getting closer and closer in the rearview mirror and Kate decided that instead of putting money into advertising, the network executives must have invested their money into upgrading their security system as well as the vehicles driven by the goon squads. They’d probably purchased the higher-powered engines with money embezzled from the production company that they had duped with promises of outstanding time slots, top-rated lead-in shows and lack of preemption.

It made her angry all over again! She almost growled out loud in fury at just the thought of it.

She’d show them! Mess with the Seven, would they? Well, Kate Taylor was going to make them pay for that one.

She glanced in the rearview mirror again, purposely taking her foot off the accelerator ever so slightly, the engine noise dropping almost imperceptibly in volume as she watched....and waited....her agile brain devising an almost simple strategy to bring them within range, a wicked smile highlighting her flushed features as she anticipated the revenge that she would exact upon their hapless pursuers.

"What are you doing?" Chris demanded with no small amount of concern. He’d detected the lessening of the engine’s vibrations, the slowing of their rapid retreat. What was the girl up to now?

"I can’t outrun them," she explained with more patience than she would have thought possible at that point. "So, we’re going to play five o’clock traffic!"

Chris looked at her blankly.

"Just trust me on this! I live in the big city," she told him, a confident expression on her face as she deftly put the SUV through its paces around a sharp curve in the road. "I know what I’m doing!"

The gunslinger wasn’t so sure about that but figured he really didn’t have much of a choice in the matter anyway. He wasn’t the one driving the wagon. He wasn’t the one calling the shots here, which in and of itself was highly unusual, and a decidedly different role for him to play. He was used to being the one to make the decisions, come up with the plan of action, ride to the rescue, fight off the bad guys, decide what to do and issue the orders. After all, he was the acknowledged leader of the Seven. It was expected of him.

But Kate wasn’t one of their group of seven. The same rules didn’t apply here. Whatever had happened to him....things were different now. And until he learned precisely what had happened, he figured he’d better play the game by her rules....if he could ever figure out what those rules were....and what game they were playing.

Kate watched the car mirrors as the two sedans steadily closed the distance between them. She drew them in, slowing her truck, little by little, the change in the engine pitch barely perceptible to the unattuned ear. Her hands firmly gripped the leather covering of the steering wheel as she waited patiently, hardly able to believe that she was finally going to give her new truck the full test that it deserved. She couldn’t decide if she felt like a race car driver at the Texas Motor Speedway or was playing with bumper cars over at the State Fair of Texas.

"There’s a strap by your right shoulder that’s called a seatbelt," she explained without ever looking at the blond headed gunfighter. "Pull it across your body and it buckles into that flat thing down by your left hip."

Chris spared a glance over his left shoulder at the vehicles trailing them, frowning as he noticed how rapidly they were catching up. He started to question Kate again about her plan but one look at her set and determined face told him that no more answers would be forthcoming....at least for the time being, he decided. Glancing around, he found the strap she’d been talking about but couldn’t seem to quite figure out what to do with it.

And Kate didn’t have time to help him either.

Because she must have misjudged the power in the engines of the cars chasing them. They’d closed the distance much quicker than she’d anticipated. They were close enough now for her to see two occupants in the front seat in both of them, two men in each car complete with the standard nondescript sunglasses and dark suits, clean cut with no outstanding features to make them noticeable in a crowd.

Unlike the handsome man seated opposite from her. No way would Chris Larabee ever blend into a crowd. Some things just weren’t meant to be, couldn’t be changed, couldn’t be questioned. The unique blend of a sexy incredibly handsome specimen of the male species combined with the intense dark emotional aspect of a man hurt by life and kicked in the teeth once too often who wore his heart on his sleeve....well, what sane self-respecting woman could resist?

She certainly couldn’t......and hadn’t!

The cars chasing them came roaring up behind her, pulling in close and tight, riding just off her rear bumper. In effect, they were tailgating! But Kate knew how to deal with tailgaters....after all.....as she had just told Chris, she lived in the city. This stuff was "old hat" to her!

Kate slammed on her brakes....hard and sudden....the vehicles following them swerving wildly to avoid an impending collision. She slowed the truck just enough to cause them to have to veer sharply to the side to prevent the meeting of metal on metal. Once they had pulled off and braked, Kate slammed down on the accelerator again, the SUV jumping forward as the engine surged with renewed life.

But the "suits" in the sedans came after them again, this time pulling alongside her and trying their best to crowd the dark blue truck off the road, pulling in close and then moving away once again, advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating.

But Kate had played this game before too! Knew the rules and how to emerge victorious. This was her game, her rules and the key to winning was learning how to play with "no fear!"

No fear! She repeated in an effort to psyche herself up, trying to gather her courage to play the "game!"

She started randomly swerving her truck back and forth, from side to side, playing her own version of advance and retreat, as the drivers in the pursuing vehicles did their best to anticipate her moves. But she kept them guessing, never following the same pattern, always changing what she was going to do next, disguising her intentions before going on the offensive.

It kept them off her back and away from her truck.......but it didn’t solve the problem, the ultimate problem of how to get rid of them.

The light colored sedan on her left closed in tight and she swerved abruptly to avoid a collision. But the one on the right had pulled in close as well restricting the space with which she had to work. Kate swung the wheel back again and gave a cry of dismay at the sound of rending steel and the squeal of scraping metal as her truck shuddered and jumped.

The B**T**DS had hit her Explorer!

"Road rage" suddenly took on a whole new meaning for her as Kate cursed out loud at those responsible for damaging her new truck.

"You........you......SON OF A B........!" her words died abruptly as she clamped her lips together in a concentrated effort to avoid yet another collision as the same car ventured close once more.

Two, three times more, the pursuing vehicle crowded in on her in an obvious attempt to force her off the road. Each time, she barely managed to avoid another hit as she hung grimly to the wheel, working off of reflexes honed by years of driving in big city traffic.

Chris’s reflexes seemed to be working fine once again as well, the effects of the suspended animation quickly evaporating under the surge of adrenaline brought on by the chase. He rolled easily with the wagon’s movement, swaying back and forth in the seat with each twist and turn. On one particularly sharp maneuver, he found himself automatically reaching up with his right hand and grasping some sort of grip on the roof of the wagon just above his head. It helped to steady him and maintain his balance.......kept him from being thrown into the window again.

Kate was absolutely furious! They had damaged her new truck! Just the very thought of what this would do to her insurance premiums was enough to send her temper boiling close to the edge. Not to mention the bodywork that would now have to be done, the dents removed, the entire truck repainted. How dare they?

Well, enough was enough!

In for a penny.....in for a pound! Kate decided grimly. She wasn’t going to take this anymore!

The damage to her truck was already done. How much worse could it get? What was to stop her from telling the insurance adjuster that SHE had been the one being hit and not the other way around? Who would know the difference?

The "road warrior" in her took over!

Kate swung the wheel sharply to her left and was rewarded by a squealing of tires as the tan car there veered away from her. She attacked once again, swerving hard to her left and earning her a puzzled look from the blond gunslinger hanging on for dear life next to her. But she ignored him for the moment, ignored too the car on the far side of her and the less aggressive stance its driver had taken.

On her third try, Kate felt the SUV connect solidly with the smaller car and cringed with the repeated sound of metal scraping against metal. But she held the wheel firmly, not giving an inch to the other vehicle. Instead, she pulled even harder to her left, using the weight of her bigger truck to push the sedan over.......and off the road!

She grinned happily as she watched her victim slide off the highway and into the ditch running alongside it, the front end and tires digging into the soft earth as it came to an abrupt halt, the hood flying up at the impact and smoke coming out from the engine compartment.

One down and one to go! she congratulated herself silently, forgetting of course, the four other cars they had first encountered.

Kate turned her attention to the one remaining vehicle, expected to find it crowding in on the passenger side, surprised to find it missing! She glanced around wildly, her eyes quickly checking the mirrors, her head turning rapidly from right to left as she twisted back and forth in her seat. Where had they gone?

They must be in her "blind spot!" Those network goons were good at being blind anyways!

A sudden loud popping noise intruded above the sound of the racing engine. A sharp crack that didn’t sound like anything she’d ever heard coming out of her Explorer before. She didn’t recognize it, couldn’t place it, couldn’t figure out what it was she had heard.

But Chris Larabee knew. He recognized it for what it was, had heard it all his life, knew that sound instantly. There was no mistaking the sound of gunfire. Their pursuers were shooting at them!

Another loud pop followed by a distinct pinging sound as it hit the truck told the gunslinger that their wagon had been hit. Kate heard it too and frowned at the strange noise, confusion evident on her face as she searched in vain to find out where it was coming from, what it was.

"What the heck is that?" she questioned while continuing to smoothly guide the truck through its paces, her eyes finally locating the trailing sedan behind them and off to one side. There was a man leaning out the passenger window.

Chris stared at Kate in amazement. How could she not know what that was? How could she not recognize that sound? There wasn’t anything else in the world that sounded just like it.....at least not in his world anyway.

"They’re shooting at you," he told her grimly, turning his head to glance behind them, a frown creasing his brow, a heavy scowl marring his features as he wished again that he at least had his gun. As it was, there wasn’t anything he could do to defend them, no way to protect the girl like he was supposed to and convince the hunters to give up. No way to fight back at all and he hated the helpless feeling settling in his gut.

"Shooting at me?" Kate squeaked in stunned surprise. "Why are they shooting at me? What are they trying to do? Kill us?"

"I think that’s the general idea," Chris responded sarcastically, a small smirk crossing his features as he settled back into the seat. Getting shot at was a fact of life for him, an everyday occurrence sometimes and you just didn’t pull a piece and start shooting at someone unless you intended to kill them......or at least do them serious harm. You didn't just rest your hand on it and these guys definitely weren’t playing at it either!

"Why? Why would they...... What......" Kate couldn’t find her voice. She was too stunned and horrified by the thought that someone was trying to kill them. Another loud pop had her jumping in her seat, causing Chris to glance at her worriedly, eyeing her closely to see if she had been hit.

"You all right?" he drawled.

She nodded briefly but made no further outcry and Chris supposed that he should at least be grateful that if he did happen to get shot, then at least he wouldn’t have to worry about trying to find Nathan to treat his wounds!

Another pop and ping shuddered through the vehicle as yet another bullet found its mark and Kate found herself becoming furious all over again. Furious because she was tired of being scared, tired of being chased, tired of being hunted, tired of being a victim. Tired of having holes shot in her new truck!

"Well, don’t just sit there, Larabee! Shoot back!" she ordered the gunman sitting across from her. Turn about was fair play! If they were going to shoot at her then by God, she was going to shoot back at them......but SHE was busy driving the truck and Chris WAS the better shot!

Chris thought she’d lost her mind!

"Shoot back?" he exclaimed sharply. "Shoot back with what? My finger? They took my gun in case you’ve forgotten!"

Kate didn’t appreciate the reminder.....or Chris’s sarcasm! She almost growled back at him.

"Under your seat!" she told him heatedly, with a slight gesture of her right hand towards the area beneath where he sat. Kate ignored the raised eyebrow and head tilt that went with the questioning look he gave her as Chris reached down to find a slim black box resting on the floor. He lifted it carefully into his lap, wondered what was inside as he lifted away the lid.

A smooth gleaming black object lay nestled within the confines of the box and he was somewhat surprised to recognize the basic rudiments of a firearm shining back at him. There was obviously a barrel, a trigger, the stock.....but no hammer, no rounded cylinder and worst of all......no bullets! And it didn’t even have a pearl handle either!

What the hell is she doing with a gun anyway? he wondered.

Well, regardless of how it looked, the basic problem was still the lack of ammunition, no matter how well it did or didn’t shoot!

"No bullets!" he informed her grimly, disappointment evident in his voice along with threads of frustration as well.

"In the clip!" she said shortly, her eyes watching the car trailing them, swerving to try and throw off the aim of the man shooting at them, his coat-covered arm extending out from the passenger window, a lethal looking piece of hardware in his hand.

"The what?" Chris asked with a frown, puzzled by her terminology, but only half listening as soon as he saw the gleaming copper tip of a bullet protruding from a slender black object also laying in the bottom of the box. He hefted the pieces in his hand, his green eyes assessing and examining, finding that the little "clip" as she had called it, contained a fairly good number of rounds. So how was he supposed to get them out and load them in the gun? He turned it over in his hand, his fingers sliding over the casing with a practiced feel, gripped the familiar weight in the palm of his hand.

"What is this?" he just had to ask, curiosity once again getting the better of him despite the doctor’s previous reluctance to answer any of his questions.

"A Glock 9 millimeter semi-automatic!" she proclaimed proudly, her smile of pride lighting up her worried blue eyes.

"A semi-what?" Chris just knew he was going to regret asking.

"Semi-automatic.....it shoots real fast! There's fifteen rounds in the clip and one in the chamber!" she explained briefly. "JD would love it cuz he wouldn’t have to fan his gun!"

But it didn’t have a hammer.....so how could you fan the "gun" in the first place?

Pop! Ping! They were still shooting at them!

"How?"

"Just slide the clip into the butt, pull back on the slide to load a round, point and shoot!"

Pop! Crack!

Kate winced as one of the bullets pierced the back window but miraculously didn’t shatter the glass, somehow missed hitting her and the gunfighter inside. She was really getting scared now but didn’t want to show it, not in front of the gunslinger, focused instead on her anger and outrage at being shot at!

"Would you just shoot back!" she urged Chris, her voice rising in pitch and laced with just a touch of hysteria. She reached over and pushed the button on her arm panel that automatically lowered the passenger window. Chris watched in some astonishment as the glass slid smoothly down, leaving the window open with the cool air rushing in against their heated faces.

Chris didn’t have time to ponder how that particular event had happened as another bullet struck the wagon. That made for six if he'd counted correctly. Grim-faced and knowing he was facing desperate odds, he hefted the weight of the doctor’s gun in his hand, glancing from the smooth cold black metal to the thing she had called a "clip" that contained the bullets. And suddenly he understood what she meant, how to handle the strange gun, how to load the bullets.......understood everything about it with an intuition that somehow didn’t really surprise him. After all, he was considered to be an expert when it came to guns! Of course, he wasn’t near the crack shot that Vin Tanner was either.

Chris slid the clip into the butt of the gun, jammed it home with the palm of his hand, a small grin lighting his face at the satisfying metal click. He pulled back on the slide as she had instructed, chambered the first round and fit the weapon smoothly into his right hand. It felt right there....just where it should be.....like it had somehow come home to where it rightfully belonged.

Kate watched surreptitiously as Chris examined and then figured out how to load the weapon. It really wasn’t all that hard. She wasn’t surprised to see him grinning with satisfaction as he cradled the gun in his palm. But she never expected him to suddenly turn and start to climb out the window!

"Whoa! Whoa! Hold on there now, Cowboy? Just where do you think you're going?" she called after him.

But Chris kept on going. He couldn't hear her for the wind rushing in his ears as they flew down the highway.

Kate thought he'd lost his mind! Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, she somehow managed to reach across the seat and grab hold of him by the little silver buckle in the middle of the back of his tight leather pants. Her fingers got a death grip on the decorative object and held him fast. She'd often dreamed of doing just that but never in such desperate circumstances! And she wasn't going to let go either!

Chris felt the girl grab hold of him, felt her fingers entwine themselves around the buckle on the back of his black pants. He tried to pull against her grip, tried to free himself so that he could climb out the window and onto the top of the wagon for a better shot. But she held him fast! There was no way to make her let go short of breaking her fingers or tearing the fabric, neither of which he was particularly inclined to do at that precise moment.

"Would you let go?" he called back down to her, half expecting her to obey his request, half anticipating that she wouldn't. Either way had its pros and cons. Currently though, her hold on him had him stuck out the window in a fairly vulnerable position, open and exposed to the gunfire from the other wagon where he knew his nemesis was reloading as he had just finished firing his round of six shots.

"Get back in here!" Kate demanded in a shrill voice, fighting desperately to control her truck and maintain her grasp on the gunslinger at the same time. What the hell was he trying to do? Give her a heart attack!

"Lemme go!" Chris demanded again, impatience and frustration making his voice sharp and edgy.

"NO!" Kate yelled back.

Chris counted quickly to ten before yelling back at her.

"I'm just climbing on top to get a better shot!"

"What?" Kate screeched in disbelief. The man actually thought he was going to climb on top of her truck just to shoot at the other car. He could get killed that way! And she wouldn't allow it....not in this lifetime anyways! She'd been through too much just to save him already!

"Get back in here, you big idiot!"

Chris scowled at her pathetic attempt at name-calling. He'd been called lots worse than an "idiot" but somehow, coming from her, it did seem to sting quite a bit.

Kate gave a hard tug on the back of his pants, pulled her truck to the left as she did so, the momentum throwing the gunman back inside the window and sideways down into his seat. He gave her a dark and dangerous glare, one that would've frozen water at thirty paces for that particular maneuver.

Once Chris was back in his seat, Kate unwound her clenched fingers from around the back of his pants, not surprised to find that she did so just a bit reluctantly. But she really couldn't have him climbing on top of her Explorer. You just didn't do that.....not in this day and age. After all, this wasn't a stagecoach and he wasn't John Wayne!

Chris continued to glare at her as his fingers caressed the black gun he held in his hand and for a moment, Kate could almost swear that he had thoughts of using it on her. And at that startling realization, she couldn’t decide just who was more dangerous, the men chasing them or the steely-gazed gunslinger staring a hole through her.

Somewhat nervously, she reached up to a button on the ceiling above and pressed it, hearing the smooth glide of a small motor as the glass panel of the moonroof slid back seamlessly. She looked up into the bright blue sky as it opened now appreciating the forethought that had gone into purchasing that particular item for her Explorer.

For once, she didn’t have to tell Chris what she was thinking. He seemed to automatically know what she had in mind as he rose up in his seat once again, maneuvering around until he could stand up, his lean body sliding easily through the paneled opening as he leaned over the roof of the wagon and took careful aim at the men following them.

His mouth rounded with concentration, pale eyes squinting against the bright sunlight, the gunslinger squeezed the trigger gently as he sighted down the barrel. He held his breath as he took aim at one of the villains behind them and shot off a round, his intentions deadly serious. But this gun didn’t have nearly the kickback that his Colt had so he wasn’t prepared for the smooth action and relative steadiness that left his shot low and off the mark. He cursed under his breath at missing his target.

Taking aim again and this time compensating for the wind and difference in gun action, he squeezed off another round. He grinned maliciously with satisfaction as the bullet found its target and shattered the front panel of glass of the wagon following them. Once more, he drew a bead, this time sighting directly down the barrel at the man positioned on his left, the one with the gun, the one who had been shooting at them. Chris aimed to take him out first.

"What are you doing?" Kate screamed at him, her voice panicked as she realized that the gunfighter was shooting at more than just the car behind them. He’d shattered the front windshield with his second shot, splattering glass all over the vehicle’s occupants. There could be no mistake that his intentions were deadly. He wasn’t just going to "neutralize the threat" as she’d been taught in self-defense class. No, Chris Larabee was definitely shooting to kill.....and she was going to be arrested for attempted murder!

"Don’t! Don’t do that!" she called out, hoping he could hear her above the noise of the rushing wind, banging her clenched right fist against his long well-muscled leg beside her shoulder.

"Don’t do what?" he asked, glancing briefly down at her with a puzzled expression on his face. First, she wanted him to shoot and then now....she didn’t. She wasn’t making any sense at all.

"You can’t kill them!"

"Why the hell not?" he barked at her.

Now how did she explain that one to him?

"They’ll arrest me for attempted murder so you just can’t! Please, take my word for it! Just shoot the tires.....not them.....shoot the tires!"

"Shoot the what?" he asked with extreme exasperation laced through his voice. She was worried about being arrested and tried for attempted murder. He was more concerned with just staying alive long enough for Judge Travis to at least give him a fair trial.

"The round black things on the bottom! Shoot out the tires....that’ll stop them!"

Actually, shoot whatever you like, she grumbled under her breath. Just don’t kill anybody!

What the hell was the matter with her? Shoot, then don’t shoot? Shoot but don’t kill? Chris shook his head slightly in confusion as a distant memory flashed briefly through his mind.

You’re right....I shoulda just winged him! I was a different man then.

The blond gunfighter could see the man behind them starting to lean out the window again, arm extended with his gun in hand. He’d obviously finished reloading and was preparing to open fire once more.

Chris quickly took aim, his finger gently squeezing the trigger as he fired off four shots in rapid succession. He had to really appreciate the smooth action of the piece, the steadiness and rapid delivery, the fast action and almost graceful retort. He grinned wickedly with satisfaction as his shots found the rounded wheel of the wagon and it swerved wildly back and forth after the near explosion that confirmed he’d hit his target.

Kate watched in the mirror as the vehicle came to a sliding spinning halt, not entirely sure Chris had listened to her and shot the tires instead of the men. The healer in her just had to slow down and make sure they were at least all right, not that she really cared, she tried to tell herself. She watched with a certain degree of fascination as the two men, who were clearly shaken, climbed stiffly out of the car. She heard Chris’s low chuckle of victory, caught the flash of a triumphant grin as he settled back into the seat beside her.

"I like this," was all he said, his green gaze locked on the gleaming black metal in his hand, awed by the power and accuracy of the weapon, appreciative of the fine quality of craftsmanship that went into its making. He could definitely use a gun like that when it came to defending the town! Might even be able to outshoot Vin with the thing!

Kate glanced worriedly behind them, noted the men beside the stricken car talking urgently into a hand held radio unit, realized suddenly that they were calling for backup, remembered almost too late about the four other vehicles out there behind them somewhere. She stomped down hard on the accelerator and the truck sped away from the carnage they left in their wake.

She continued driving until they were well out of sight of the men who had been chasing them. But she knew they couldn’t stay on this road. The bad guys would be sure to find them if she did. Somehow they had to hide, get off the highway, find an alternate route to their destination. She chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip, her blue eyes continuing to express worry and concern and even a certain degree of fear. She needed time to figure out what to do.

Finally, she spotted a shaded dirt road leading off from the main highway, abruptly braked and turned onto it, the unpaved road littered with rocks and potholes causing the truck the jump and shake over the uneven ground. Chris never looked up from his contemplation of the gun, his eyes gleaming brightly as he examined the weapon and appreciated its symmetry and beauty, was mesmerized by its lethal power.

For several long moments, Kate drove down the gravel lane until she finally spotted what she was looking for.....a place to hide out....a place to stop and think.....a place to plan what her next move would be and gather her scattered wits about her. This day was definitely not turning out the way she’d anticipated. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that when she’d taken on this assignment at the Posse’s request, that her very life would have been endangered not just once, but on several distinctly separate occasions.

Somebody was gonna owe her big time! Yep, somebody was definitely gonna pay for this day’s "little" adventure!

Kate pulled her truck into the empty barn that she had spotted, her sigh of relief at finding a hiding place loud and full inside the Explorer’s interior. Stepping gently on the brake, she brought the vehicle to a stop and sat there for several long moments just staring blankly straight ahead into the gloomy darkness of the building while her eyes adjusted to the lessening of the sun’s bright light.

Chris had looked up as the external light dimmed, somewhat surprised at the change in their surroundings but then again, he had been lost in contemplation of the weapon he held in his hand. He’d been studying it so closely that a bomb could have gone off next to them and he might not have heard.

After shutting the engine off, Kate gently opened the door on her side, removed her seatbelt and slowly climbed out of the truck. Her legs were weak and shaking as she realized that shock was starting to set in. The enormous implications of her actions were starting to sort themselves out in her mind now that she had time to reflect on all that had happened. Now that they were no longer running for their lives......now that the quiet dimness of the barn provided a temporary safe haven from their pursuers.

All the doubts, fears, worries and concerns that she’d been holding at bay were finally coming forth to confront her and in her benumbed state, she could only let them toss her emotions back and forth like waves upon a storm-ravaged sea, no longer able to keep them firmly under her control, prevent them from flowing over like water pouring over the edge of a rock cliff and cascading onto the boulders below.

She stumbled over to a hay bale and sat down heavily upon it as her trembling legs collapsed beneath her. She buried her face in her shaking hands, her eyes blinking rapidly against even the smallest hint of light that would add to the pain now building in the back of her head with the massive headache she could feel beginning to throb. She drew a deep shuddering breath and exhaled heavily with a loud groan. This was worse than anything she’d ever had to endure during residency!

Her truck was damaged...probably ruined! Her medical career in jeopardy....probably ruined! Her life unquestionably altered by a sympathetic heart that had just wanted to help. Good Lord! When had it all gone wrong? she asked silently as her eyes slid closed.

Chris had quietly watched the girl’s tentative progress, taken note of her distressed state, saw the way she almost collapsed on top of the hay she was now sitting on. He’d seen this type of reaction before, recognized the blank stare of shock that covered her pale face, wondered how much longer it would be before he was treated to the sight of a spectacular bout of feminine tears!

Leaving the gun on the seat, he slid across the gray leather and exited the wagon the same way that Kate had......through the driver’s door. It felt good to have his legs on solid ground again and he took a moment to stretch his stiffened muscles, arms extended over his head, inhaling deeply as he sighed with the release of the tension created by the chase.

Eyeing the "doctor" speculatively, Chris was slightly surprised to see that she had not yet broken down in tears, was not crying her eyes out and wailing to the heavens about how on earth she’d ever gotten herself into this mess. If anything, except for the occasional shuddering breath, she seemed almost calm, almost too quiet and too controlled, yet somehow ...incredibly vulnerable. He could use that to his advantage, catch her off guard, get answers to the hundreds of questions that had pestered him since this whole thing began.

Chris sauntered over to stand in front of her, noting the tense set of her shoulders at his quiet approach, the slight lift of her head as her ears detected the rustling sound of straw. His jaw clenched with decided determination and a muscle ticked in his left cheek as he waited for her to acknowledge his presence.....to at least look at him when he spoke to her. But she didn’t move and he could feel his impatience beginning to fuel his temper once again.

He fixed her bowed head with a black glare and said, "Just what the hell is this all about?" Chris Larabee wanted answers and he was not about to be denied again.

She didn’t respond....didn’t move in any way.....didn’t even acknowledge his question at all.

In fact, Kate froze at Chris’s almost hostile question. This was the moment of final truth she had been waiting for, the moment that she had also been dreading.....because there wasn’t very much that she could tell him and she just knew he wasn’t going to like that. She opened her eyes behind the dark wall of her hands, the play of shadow and light creating a curious dance across her guarded vision.

Please God, don’t let him kill the messenger girl! she sighed.

"Answer me!" he ordered angrily, his harsh voice echoing loudly in the barn as he could feel the threads of control on his temper starting to fray and break.

This time, the girl jumped slightly at his shouted command but still she remained silent, her face hidden behind her raised hands. And she suddenly felt very tired. Kate was sick and exhausted, at the end of her physical and mental endurance. It was all coming to a head, the whole damned day, and she just couldn't seem to take anymore. Her control was slipping, she could feel it spiraling rapidly away....out of her grasp. She was starting to snap!

But Chris Larabee didn’t like being ignored!

"Damn you!" he hissed darkly.

He made to reach for her but she had anticipated his move and tried to scramble backward out of his reach. He just managed to catch one slender wrist in his strong hand, halting her retreat and pulling her hand away from her face. He wasn’t surprised to find that her eyes were open, glittering bright blue with an angry fire of her own.

Kate wasn’t used to being ordered around and she didn’t like it very much either. Her fury at his high-handed techniques and shouted commands rapidly escalated until she felt herself reach the boiling point as her temper took control. Surely that was why she answered him with words angry enough to match his own...words that in her right mind she would never have dared to utter, not even in her darkest nightmares and certainly not to one furious Chris Larabee!

"I want answers!" Chris demanded yet again, his face set and closed against her, anger riding the tight line of his jaw and chin, his lips pressed tightly together while he somehow managed to snarl the words at her. He shook her by his clasp on her wrist......once and then twice again.

She'd had enough!

Kate raised her head, looked him dead in the eye and softly said, "Go to hell!"

Continued in Part 5.


Feedback and comments to katetaylor7@hotmail.com

Almost there, gang! One more chapter I think and then I’ll turn this little tale over to Michelle for the next story!