Original poster

She had to run.

She couldn't stop running.

To stop running meant ... it meant ...

It was pitch dark. It was silent. There was dirt under her fingernails, her body was bruised, her knees and her elbows bore scrapes. She'd put her long hair in a knot so it wouldn't be in the way but the bun was coming out, loose strands falling around her face. Her dress could barely be called a dress anymore. It was a collection of rags beginning to fall from her body, leaving a trail. A trail he could follow ...

"No ... run ... Gotta ... run ..." She murmured the words over and over again, locked in a feverish dream. Her lips were chapped, her skin blistered and swollen and cut and bruised. She was sweating and yet she shivered as if she was freezing. They had found her in the desert, suffering from thirst and heat stroke.

Now she lay in a bed while the doctor finished tending to her, then walked over to the woman who had found her and the woman's son. Abigail Winter was a woman just past the prime of her life. Gray streaks lined her hair but she still stood proud, her dark brown eyes sparkled. She owned the building that doubled as lodge and saloon.

Her son, Donald Winter, was in his early twenties. He was his mother's pride and joy and looked exactly like his father. Broad shoulders, lean hips, dark brown hair and dark green eyes flecked with gold. God, how she missed his father. He would have been as proud as she, she was sure.

"What does it look like, Doc?" Donald asked. Doc Hudson was a man in his sixties, dressed in a suit, wearing spectacles and carrying his bag. He sighed.

"Thirst, heat stroke, just like I said. Just keep her hydrated and warm. You might want to make sure someone is watchin' over her. If her condition worsens, lemme know."

"Thank you, Doctor," Abigail said. "How about we go downstairs and get you a drink on the house?"

Doc smiled. "That would be greatly appreciated, ma'am."

Abigail led him over to the door and paused in the doorway. "Donald?"

Donald turned back to his mother and smiled. "Um, I'll catch up to you, Mama."

She studied him, then nodded and smiled back. She had such a good boy. She closed the door behind her, shutting out the music from downstairs.

Robert staggered down the smoke filled corridor knocking a vase from a side table as downstairs the sound of breaking timbers and screaming people sounded over the roar of flames.

"SHES DONE IT THIS TIME! This time I'm gonna get her back myself."

He Entered his room and wrenched open the top drawer in the dresser and threw it aside.

"Come on out girls theres work to be done."

Reaching inside his fingers touched ivory and with a smile he grabbed fold and took his twin silver revolvers and their holster. On the side of each gun there was the silhouette and a naked woman etched into the metal along with a name. Buckling on the holster and grabbed his hat from next to the door and strode out onto the landing then through the burning bar and outside.

A crowd of gawkers had gathered not the least of which was the serif and with deputies along with a gaggle of scantily clad women a few of women were only clinging to their dresses. Seeing his guns the serif stepped forwards touching the brim of his hat in respect.

"What you fixin' to do Roy?" He asked, a tinge of nervousness in his voice, the man he was talking to had a reputation, one that had been proven on several occasions.

"I'm getting back whats mine." came the reply. "Aint nothing of mine getting away from me."

The serif asked what seemed to be the obvious question. "What about your other girls Roy? Aint leaving them to go after one...."

Mounting his horse Robert spared the Burning brothel and the girls a glance, many of them clutching burns. "Damaged goods." He dismissed them before wheeling the horse around and heading into the night. He knew which direction she was going, the one she always stared into when she thought he was asleep.

"I'm coming for you harlot. No one escapes Robert Parker."
Almost a week after the fire at Robert's brothel ...

Darkness. Nothing but darkness ...

It was so thick. It was all around her ...

She struggled to get free, to breathe! She cried out, kicking, swinging ...!

"Miss! Miss!" That voice broke through to her. The fact it was an unfamiliar one startled her enough to awaken, finding herself in a bed with a stranger leaning over her, trying to block her blows. She instantly tensed and quickly pushed herself away to the far side of the bed. The distance wasn't wide enough, causing her to slip over the edge and fall to the floor. The expression on her face was one of pure fear as she glanced around from side to side nervously. Where was she? What was she doing here? Who was this man?

She ducked her head, wondering if this was a bad dream. It had to be. There was no way she could possibly be alive! Maybe she wasn't alive ... maybe she was dead? It would serve her right considering what had happened. She was better off dead! It was silent. She slowly lifted her head, eyes over the bed and found the man still there, looking down at her. Worry on his face? No, it couldn't be!

Donald watched the woman intently. She was frightened. It was one thing for her to be disoriented but this was beyond not knowing where you were. Had she lost her memory? Had she been in a terrible incident? "Miss?" he asked softly. "It's alright. I don't mean any harm. My name is Donald. I found you ... You were in bad shape. But you're looking better now."

His mother had changed her into a simple, clean dress, made sure to brush her hair, wash her body. She had sent girls up to keep an eye on the girl and feed her soup and give her water from time to time. Now her bruises were almost gone, her lips weren't chapped, and her skin wasn't as red. Instead, the Indian girl's long jet black hair was smooth, almost shiny, her dark brown eyes were bright and alert, and her skin had returned to its natural brown. The girl was beautiful. Full lips, high cheekbones, arching eyebrows. Not to mention the curves, small breasts, wide hips and round backside.

"I ... Vianna ..." The name came out slowly and she stayed behind the bed, feet tucked under her, ready to flee.

"Vi ... anna ..." Donald repeated slowly. "That's ... that's a beautiful name ..." He saw her flinch when someone clanked a bottle loudly downstairs. "Um ... here ... let me just--" He turned and went to close the door so she wouldn't be frightened but his shoe laces had come loose and he tripped over them! "Oofff!" He landed with a thud! on the floor!

She blinked and moved to help him but then seemed to remember she was in a strange place in the company of a strange man. She quickly ducked back down. "Are ... are you okay?" she asked. That was close! If Robert had caught her going to help a stranger without his permission he would have punished her!
A lone man on a horse, hat pulled low riding into town. Not an uncommon sight, not uncommon either for him to ride up to the saloon and tie his exhausted mount outside and walking in. The locals barely spared his a second glance. He was looking for someone, a woman no less. But no one like that had been in town. Thats when people started to take notice of the stranger. He slammed the bartender's head against the table for no good reason, broke a chair over the next guy's head too. No one seemed to be able to put a scratch on him and pretty soon the whole saloon was going up in smoke. The serif came running gun in his hand but the stranger faster than seeing pulled out one of his silver pistols and shot um deader than a dead. Pretty soon the entire town was on fire and most of the folk dead, it was uncanny how one man could do all that.....

Statement from a laborer who witnessed the burning of the town of Liberty Springs

With a spray of glass fragments the bottle landed on the stony ground, thrown by a rider heading west, but as the rose Robert looked to the horizon. Deep in the back of his mind he knew he was getting closer and if she hadn't closed herself of by fear she'd feel it too. Last night hed almost had her, he had been scratching on the outside of her mind taunting her dreams and invading her heart. He had heard voices, sounds, all so disjointed but enough to guess which direction she had headed, he had also gleaned a name. He promised the name to Helen as she rested in her sheath, her keen edge eager for his blood.

"Donald." The knife whispered in eager anticipation "Your actions have sealed your end. Donald."

Dust whipped past the rider as the winds started to pick up, heated by the sun blowing the way he had to go, bringing his silent voice to the woman who sought to run from him.
As Donald stood and dusted himself off, she watched him carefully. She was good at observing people and predicting their actions, a muscle twitch at a wrong word said, a sideways glance made to someone who had just walked through the door. Robert was the only person she had come across where she was always guessing. It was terrifying how good he was at hiding what he was going to do, until the last possible moment. Terrifying ... and exciting as well.

"I--I'm fine." He shot her a sheepish smile. "I ... I often do that. Ya know, trippin' over my own shoelaces. Are you ... are you okay?"

Okay? She almost laughed bitterly. She had not been okay for so long. Since the first time Robert had touched her ... when he had just looked at her after years of ignoring her existence. She shuddered even now, thinking about it. But what worried her was that she didn't know if she shuddered out of fear, disgust, or ... something else. She only nodded.

"I ... I won't hurt you. But um ... maybe if we talk a little? Or ... or I can do the talkin' and you can listen?" He quickly put his hands up which made Vianna tense up right away. Then she relaxed when she realized he wasn't making a move for her but Donald had noticed. "So um ... are you hungry ... thirsty?"

She wet her lips. It took her a few minutes to find the right words, to even know where to start! "Um ... a little ... hungry and ... water?" she asked that slowly. No one had ever asked her what she had wanted before! It was strange! And for some reason, it made her feel warm from the inside out.

To her greater surprise, he quickly nodded! "Right. Um, maybe something other than soup! Um, I'll--I'll be right back!" And then he was gone! He had looked so eager to help her, to please. When the door had closed behind him, she put her hands over her pounding heart. What was happening to her?
A month later ...

Vianna stood in front of the mirror Miss Abigail had given her. She was naked. The dress she was going to wear draped on the bed behind her. She closed her eyes. She could still feel the gown tightening around her, the growl that meant he disapproved of it, the sound of the cloth tearing and it stinging her skin as it did. He had taunted her. She did this on purpose, she brought this on herself. She knew he didn't like it when she wore things. She was to give full and complete access to him at all times. She wanted this pain, she craved it, but more than that ... she wanted the pain only he could give her.

No! No! Her fingers tightened on the edge of the dresser. That hadn't happened in a few days. She had slept peacefully and he had not haunted her since. Maybe ... maybe it was finally over. She dragged in several deep breaths as she lifted her hands and began to brush out her hair. A few minutes later, she picked up the dress from the bed and slipped it on, followed by the bonnet she wore and laced her shoes.

Downstairs, the saloon was busy as ever. Things seemed to have finally settled down. Donald was talking to the bartender, leaning against the bar. Abigail was in the kitchen, cooking and supervising. She had hungry patrons after all! Donald and the bartender were laughing about something until a movement caught Donald's eye and he looked upstairs. His heart skipped a beat. Vianna was walking down, slowly, lightly. His mother had told him stories about deer, about how graceful they were and yet so quick to dash away to safety. That's how he pictured Vianna. A doe ready to bolt at the least sign of danger and that, in itself, made his heart swell. He would protect her, no matter what. He would be sure that look of fear went away, permanently.

Vianna looked up as she approached the bottom of the steps and found Donald there. "Um ... hello," he said first.

"Hello ..." she said slowly, still as shy as the first day they met but now she wasn't afraid to meet his eyes. He had very beautiful eyes. There was a long moment of silence as they stood there. "Um ... I ... I should help your mother."

He quickly nodded. "Oh oh, of course!" He turned slightly as she walked past. He waved. "I'll ... I'll talk to you later."

She turned and smiled shyly. "Okay ..." And then she disappeared into the kitchen.
The horse trotted into town, the rider bent low but his eyes alert. No one payed much notice, both rider and mound had obviously been a long way on the trail. and dust covered the horse and his clothes. But his skin was spotless even though nothing covered his face. He stopped outside the sheriff office and dismounted tying his horse down before touching the brim of his hat and nodding of the man with the badge lounging outside.

"Morning Sheriff. I'm looking for someone, she seems to have gotten away from me not less than a month back. Here let me show you what I mean."

He pulled out a picture, a drawing in a young woman, Vianna.

"A month out in the desert, and you're looking to find her alive? I'm afraid unless shes set herself up with another man you're looking to see the pastor if you want to talk to her."

All Robbert did was nod and turn. "Thank you for your time." With that he turned towards the saloon.
This may turn out to be the best day ever! Vianna was now serving soup to some of the patrons and as they remarked how good the soup was, her eyes were moving up and meeting Donald's. She blushed. He smiled. Her heart pounded even harder in her chest. As she walked away from the table, Donald was moving toward her. They met halfway.

"Um ..." He was rubbing the back of his head. "Would you ... would you like to go on a picnic with me?"

"A ... a picnic?" She knew what a picnic was, of course, but the thought of someone asking her to go on one! It was ... This had to be a dream! She smiled shyly. "I ... I would love to go on a picnic with you."

"You would? Oh, that's great! Maybe a little later?" He knew he was stammering now but he didn't care. Vianna had agreed to go on a picnic with him! "I'll uh ... I'll meet you here."

Vianna smiled and nodded. "Um ... Yes." Her cheeks were flushed and her face did not regain its usual color, even after Donald had left and disappeared from sight. She turned to ask a patron what he wanted when she happened to look up and out the window to see--She froze. No ... no, it couldn't be!

"Miss? Miss?" the man sitting at the table was saying.

She didn't hear him at all. Instead, almost as if her legs had a will of their own, she walked over to the window, tray pressed against her chest. No, no it couldn't be! It couldn't be that horse! She was just imagining things, that was all ... Right. Imagining things. The horse was too dirty, too tired. It couldn't possibly be the one she left behind nearly a month ago.
Boots thumped on the porch, the distinctive tread of the man whom the earth rejected. Closer they came then just as abruptly they stopped, with no man coming past the window.

Robert took a seat his eye on the girl at the window. "I see you."

There was no way of knowing who had spoken, the only new customer sitting at the bar was busy removing a pair of dirty gloves looking down at his task, but when he noticed Viana had turned to pointed to one of the bottle behind the bar his mouth holding a glove while he dealt with the other.
Thump. Thump. Thump. No, that couldn't be--It was her beating heart pounding in her ears. Nothing more ... She strained to hear more, to discover if she was right or wrong. But she didn't hear it anymore and--"I see you."

She turned quickly then. Just a newcomer who wanted another drink. She took a deep breath even as she nodded and took shaky steps toward him. She was being ridiculous! She had to stop doing this to herself! She caught Miss Abigail poking her head out of the kitchen and when she caught her eye, she smiled a bit and nodded. She was fine. Nothing to worry about.

Vianna ducked behind the bar. The bartender was busy with another customer on the other end and she couldn't let fear keep her from serving a customer. She quickly retrieved a bottle identical to the one the customer had pointed to, opened it for him, and placed it in front of him. She didn't dare meet his eyes and at first, she was worried she might have to. But Miss Abigail was gesturing for her which meant someone else's order was ready and she took the opportunity to escape.

"Yes, Miss Abigail?" she said as she slipped into the kitchen.

"Are you alright, Vianna?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yes, of course." She saw the bowl the other woman held. "Is that the stew?" She held out the tray which Abigail placed it on.

"It's for Mr. O'Riley. Poor man seems to be coming down with a cold."

"I'll get it to him right away, Miss Abigail," she promised and ducked outside.
"Where do think you're going whore?" his voice was mow and easy to miss. He was toying with her, just as she managed t forget there was the next. "I didn't tell you to go anywhere."

The man at the bar stood and walked to a chair. Thump. Thump. Thump. It was back and just when Viana was ready to be struck it stopped.

Leaning back in his chair and pulling his hat down Robert pulled the lid from the bottle and swung his boots onto the table a smile spreading across his lips, this alone was almost worth the time spent tracking her.
She froze! Her breath was stuck in her chest and her throat tightened up. She couldn't move. She couldn't even drop the tray with the soup. Her knuckles were so tense, they were white. That voice! But as she waited and waited for that blow to come, a hand to wind into her hair and pull her backwards, fingers to wrap her throat and squeeze ... every second was pure agony.

She jumped when someone put their hand on her shoulder and she whirled around! The fear instantly dissipated when she found Donald there, looking worried. Before he could ask, she was thrusting the tray with the bowl into his hands. "Please, give this to Mr. O'Riley. I--I have to go!" She quickly ran up the steps and didn't stop until she had slammed her door behind her and piled every piece of furniture she possibly could against the door.
This was too easy.

Under his hat Robert smiled stopping Donald with a hand. "One room, top of the stairs on the right." the youth may have been curious as to why the stranger requested that room, and it was the one Vianna had been in before she had been moved. "And another bottle."

She honestly though she could hide from him. May as well let her deceive herself, for now...