The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

Dead Center

Fifth in the Johnny and Holly series -which is best read in sequence.

Disclaimer: The boys unfortunately do not belong to me. I would have treated them better. However, the characters of Holly Vasquez and Chrissy Templar are mine. They were born in my head and are the loves of Johnny and Val.
A huge thanks goes out to Cat for the beta! You made some great catches in this story!

Rated R Brutal attack on a woman. Violence

 

Holly began her errands. Taking her small handbag and wrapping a shawl around her lithe frame, she went down the back stairs of her living quarters that she shared with Chrissy, the local dressmaker. They lived above the dressmaker's shop in spacious and comfortable rooms. A large bedroom on either end and sizeable  kitchen and living room in the middle, separating the sleeping arrangements, just in case of ‘company’. Holly’s company being, of course, Johnny Madrid Lancer, her lover of several years now.

It had taken a long time for Johnny’s father to adjust to the fact that these two had no plans to marry and were very content to spend the rest of their lives ‘living in sin’ without the bonds of marriage, the sacred vows spoken before God in a church. However, Johnny had pledged his life to her and she to him in a spot that Murdoch himself had deemed as sacred… So, what was the difference?

Differences have a way of working themselves out, usually, and that had come last Christmas when a dear friend of Murdoch Lancer’s was sharing the holiday at the ranch, a special holiday arranged by Johnny to surprise his family with a gift they would never expect. Johnny had brought in friends and family for Murdoch, Johnny’s brother, Scott and Teresa, their ‘sister’ and in turn, Scott had arranged for Holly to join them as a surprise for Johnny.

Everyone had been enamored with Holly from the very beginning and Murdoch’s friend, James Monahan, had taken Murdoch aside and ‘opened his eyes’ to the remarkable and extraordinary relationship of the two young people. After their conversation, and Murdoch giving a bit more thought to the issue, he wisely decided to accept things as they were or face the possibility that Johnny would choose Holly over Lancer and leave. And truth be told, he had been delighted as Holly truly was a delightful, genuine and very special young woman.

Holly worked as an assistant for Dr. Hanley in Salinas, as she had proved herself capable and the doctor offered her the job after witnessing her incredible talent with people and medical issues. Reluctant at first but with encouragement from Johnny and the persistence of the doctor, Holly finally accepted the offer. It was a relief for Johnny as Holly had previously worked as a ‘lady of the evening’ in a bordello in Atascadero, and others down by the border, and Holly did not hide that fact when Hanley offered her the position. “What will your patients think when they find out?” she challenged. “You let me take care of that,” he said and apparently he did because there had been no problems, no opposition.

The people of Salinas were very, very fond of both Holly and Chrissy and welcomed them into their community without a hitch. Both girls were discrete with their romantic interludes, Chrissy was seeing Johnny’s friend, Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River, so having another peacemaker in town on occasion was an asset and enough to change the minds of any of the prim and proper upper crust. All the residents of Salinas took great delight in having Johnny and Val in town, the personable, easy going young men were respected and looked upon as welcomed guests.

With her list of purchases clutched in her hand, Holly went on her way to her many stops, the first being the office where she made sure that everything was restocked. She also picked up the list of medical items she would purchase when she went to the General Mercantile and she had items to purchase for Chrissy’s dress shop. She was a busy lady today and everyone was delighted to see her out shopping. They stopped to chat about the fine weather and mainly, to watch the sparkle in her eye. Holly made everyone feel special, made them feel alive and she made them aware that they were important to her life. And they were and they loved her for it.

She went from store to store, much of her shopping done, her arms loaded with packages when suddenly she stopped, feeling eyes upon her. Looking around and finding nothing out of the ordinary she preceded to her next stop, again, the feeling of someone watching her prickled down her spine. Dios! I must be tired! And going about her business she forgot about the eerie suspicion and eventually hurried home with her shopping completed.

Over the next few days Holly was kept quite busy with work at the doctor’s office. It seemed as if Dr. Hanley was in constant demand, setting bones, stitching cuts, delivering babies and even pulling an aching tooth. Salinas was, indeed, growing and soon they would need another doctor as there were enough patients for two. Holly loved her work and was thankful every day that Johnny had talked her into taking this position and to Dr. Hanley for his persistence in offering it to her. She loved her work and loved the people of this town who had taken her into their hearts and given her peace.

<><><><> 

Sitting at her dressing table, Holly began brushing her long black hair. She always thought of Johnny when she did this as he had told her on many occasions that he could spend hours watching her brush the long glorious locks until they shined bright and radiant. She smiled as she thought of him, of their last time together, the sweet, tender love they made and afterward just holding each other until sleep overtook them only to wake and make love again. Oh, how she wanted to have him here with her this minute!

Holly looked down at the table top and saw a ribbon lying next to her comb. The ribbon wasn’t hers, but maybe it was Chrissy’s. Holly had seen it before, so it must be Chrissy’s. She continued the long, easy strokes with her hair, finishing the task she put her brush away and got ready for bed. About to climb into bed she thought she heard a scraping sound at the back door so she left her room, crossing to the portal, parted the curtains and peered through the glass. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary Holly let the curtains fall shut and went to bed.

The next morning started with a glorious sunrise and the promise of a beautiful day to follow. Salinas normally had beautiful weather and today was no exception. Holly left for work at the doctor’s office and went out onto the back porch, pulling the door shut behind her. As she turned to insert her key in the lock she looked down and saw something strange.
Bending and reaching down, her fingers closed on a cheroot only partially smoked. Who had left this disgusting garbage on their back porch? This was a private entrance; no one should be here… Discarding the nasty object she continued on her way to Dr. Hanley’s office hoping that it was just a fluke incident.

The morning passed quickly and Holly had already helped the doctor with five patients. Was everyone in this town prone to accidents these days? Business was very good, perhaps too good! However, none of the cases was serious so for that Holly was grateful.

“Holly, why don’t you go for lunch now? I will be fine here until you get back.” Dr. Hanley, always the gentleman, was again concerned for her welfare, insisting she eat more. She was very thin!

“Thank you, Doctor. Can I bring something back for you from the diner?” Holly asked with her usual consideration.

“Please, dear! Whatever is the special for today will be fine. Take your time.” And taking her hat, shawl and handbag, Holly left the office walking the few blocks to Shillman’s Diner, Best Food in Salinas! That’s what the sign said, anyway.

The baked chicken was delicious and the small potato and green beans seasoned to perfection. Holly paid for the meals and picked up the order for Dr. Hanley. As she turned to leave she noticed a man sitting at a table in the corner. And he was watching her. The shiver returned to crawl down her spine as she suddenly recognized him as a client that had occasionally frequented her and the other girls in Atascadero. He had grown a mustache and beard that was neatly trimmed but otherwise he looked the same. His immaculate attire spoke of wealth and privileged upper class status. He was a master of deception and was not a nice man.

Holly visibly startled. She could feel herself grow pale as he coldly smiled at her and nodded his head. Quickly she turned away and hurried back to the office, her heart pounding in her breast. What is he doing here? Why is he here? How did he … Wait, it could be a coincidence that he just came here! Don’t get so upset until you find out a few things! And soon Holly gave way to logic instead of panic. She arrived back at the office, gave Dr. Hanley his lunch and quickly went into the back room to calm herself, trying to think rationally.

The bell on the front door jingled as it was hastily opened and a voice bellowed out:
“Doc! Doc, you here? Can ya come right away? That silly Murphy kid got his finger stuck in the door hinge over at the store, and they're afraid ta pull the door open for fear of rippin' it off a his hand! Doc?”

"Yes, yes, I'm coming! Holly, can you stay and watch the office, please? I'm sure I'll be back shortly…" the doctor shouted as he hustled out the door and left for the store.

Holly, though still shaken, smiled after the doctor and closed the door. She had not made it into the back when she heard it open again, and this time she felt a chill around her. Coming out into the small waiting area she stood frozen to the spot as she stared into the eyes of Derrek Masters, the man who with his malicious, warped and twisted mind, humiliated and physically injured the girls at the bordello. His perverted tastes had gotten him kicked out of La Casa de la Rosas and banned for good after he’d almost killed one of the girls when she refused to obey his sick wishes. Tess, the madam, had tossed him out on his ear and threw his clothes in the street.

And now, he was here in Salinas, standing in the outer room of the doctor's office waiting for Holly to treat him. His hand was wrapped in a handkerchief, and he stood with his cold, lifeless pale brown eyes boring holes into Holly.

“Well, Holly, so we meet again, my love,” he purred sarcastically, eyeing her lustfully.

"I am not your love, and I want you to leave, now!” She bravely returned his stare and stood her ground, trying with all her nerve and courage to appear strong and in control; to push all her feelings of weakness and vulnerability away.

"But, my love, I am injured, and I need medical attention. I snagged my hand on a nail,” he said holding out his wrapped hand.

"I will tend to it, and then you will leave. You will leave Salinas, for good. Come here,” Holly commanded as he followed her into the examination room.

He sat in the chair as she retrieved antiseptic and bandages. Holly cleaned the cut, applied the medicine and bandaged the hand, the whole time he would reach out to run a finger along her jaw or try to cup her breast.

Holly was livid. “Now get out,” she said harshly, but quietly.

He suddenly lunged forward and grabbed her shoulders in a brutal grip making her gasp as he squeezed hard enough that there would be bruising. He pulled her close to his face and sneered: “I will leave when I am ready and not before. And you, my love, are going to make my stay in this little town very… pleasurable! You will not tell anyone that I am here. Not anyone! Do you understand? You will not tell the doctor. You will not tell Chrissy. And you will not tell your lover, Madrid… or should I say, Lancer? You see, I know everything about you. And Johnny. You breathe one word about any of this and people you care about will get hurt. And who knows… maybe they won't survive… Now, do you understand me?” He shook her to make her respond and squeezed her harder. “Do you understand me?” he shouted at her.

She nodded her head yes.

“I can’t hear that, Holly! Do you understand me?” he asked again.

"Yes," she whispered.

“Good. Now you collect yourself before the doctor gets back and… I’ll be seeing you… Shortly.” He smiled as he left the office and she turned and vomited into the wash basin.

Holly tried to stay busy and out of the doctor's way for the rest of the afternoon, finding excuses to be away. She had yet to calm her shattered nerves, and her hands were shaking. By the end of the day, she was exhausted and couldn't put a coherent thought together. He can’t be here! He can’t be here! The words kept running and re-running through her brain. She would have to rely on herself. She dare not confide in anyone, so, that left only one option open to her. She would start to carry a gun. Of course, she had one, Johnny had given it to her, but up until now she never had a use for it. Now, however, she did, and she would use it.

She left the office after it closed for the day and was walking home to the quarters above the dressmakers' shop. Holly, preoccupied with the situation, walked with no notice of anything around her. Her brain filled with the ugly thoughts of Derrek Masters and the violence he brought where ever he went. Her thoughts were so consuming she nearly bumped into Mr. and Mrs. Coleman as she hurried along.

“Whoa, there, Holly! You must sure be in a hurry! Ya didn’t even see us an’ we’re standin’ right in front’a ya!” Giff Coleman laughed.

Holly forced a smile and apologized for her clumsiness. Katie Coleman took her by the arm, unknowingly putting pressure on one of the bruises caused by Masters but Holly did not let on.

“Nonsense, my dear! You are just very busy. I know! Say, when is that handsome young man of yours going to come and visit? You be sure and let us know, dear! We would like to have you two out for Sunday dinner. You be sure and tell us, won’t you?” Katie Coleman took her husband by the arm and together they went on their way.

Sighing heavily, Holly looked up to find the pale brown eyes on her from across the street, dissecting her every move. He was smoking a thin cheroot. Once again he smiled his evil smile and tipped his hat in her direction. She snubbed the gesture and turned down the boardwalk, and it hit her. The cheroot she'd found on their back porch! It was him, looking in their windows, alright! Holly went rigid with rage! How dare he! I will shoot him if I see him there again!

She made it home before Chrissy came upstairs from the dress shop. Holly quickly pulled the shades, closed the drapes, and locked all the doors. She wanted so badly to let Chrissy know about all of this as he had threatened her, too, but if Masters saw Chrissy acting any differently, she would be his next target. I wonder how he found us? I don’t think this was a coincidence…

Deciding to change into a nightgown and robe Holly retired to her room. She took off her long apron, and the dress that she wore for work and folded them neatly away then removed her chemise and gasped when she saw the bruises on her arms and shoulders from Masters brutal grip. Only one time in her life had she ever been more enraged, and that was when her stepfather had raped her at the tender age of twelve, and she had shot him dead.

Holly turned to her dresser, pulled open a small drawer and in the back under a stack of scarves was the gun. She went to her dressing table, cleaned it as best she could, remembering how Johnny had taught her and loaded it. She would keep it close at all times until Masters left.

Holly opened her wardrobe… And screamed! There hanging in front was a tattered dress, ripped and covered with old, dried blood. Pinned to the front was a note that read Do as I tell you and this won’t happen to you… She shook from head to toe, her knees buckled, and she found herself sitting on the floor in a heap, her belly rolling but nothing was left to heave after the encounter with Masters after lunch.

Chrissy! Holly had to get herself pulled together before Chrissy came up from the shop! Holly crawled over to the wash basin and splashed cold water on her face then pulled on a nightgown to cover her bruises. She was hoping that she could put on an act that Chrissy would believe, an act that would be good enough to hide the awful truth. She climbed into bed as she heard Chrissy enter their rooms and pulled the blankets up around her neck.

“Holly! Holly, are you here?” Chrissy called out.

“Yes, I am in bed.” And she prayed that Chrissy would not feel like talking. Holly would have to make it clear that she did not. Chrissy opened the door a bit and stood but did not enter.

“You feeling alright, Holly?” she asked, concern filled her eyes.

“Oh, yes, I am fine, just a very busy day. I thought I would get a little more sleep tonight. Thank you, Chrissy." And Holly closed her eyes as if she would drift off. Chrissy smiled and quietly closed the door. Holly's eyes shot open, for she was certain she was not likely to sleep tonight or any time soon with Masters prowling around.

<><><><> 

The dark figure out on the street watched as the lights in the bedrooms were extinguished, and knew that the girls were retiring for the night. This was working out splendidly! The telegrams would reach their destinations tomorrow, and the plan would fall into place. He had always wanted Holly, but she'd snubbed him from their first encounter. Now she would not, and she would pay for her callous treatment of him. Now she would learn her place. He smiled his wicked smile and could almost feel her beneath him, her long slender legs wrapped around him, her sweet breasts calling out for him to touch them, to suck them and then he would force himself into her, brutally, and she would submit…

<><><><> 

Holly kept to herself. Chrissy noticed the change and tried to broach the subject, but Holly brushed her off with the excuse that things had been exceptionally busy at Dr. Hanley's office. At the office, Holly stayed busy and away as much as possible from Hanley. But everywhere she went she saw him. Saw him watching her and everything she did, everyone she talked with and every move she made. She wasn't eating nor was she sleeping. Dark circles began to blossom under her eyes. Dr. Hanley noticed it, of course, and ordered Holly to a few days of bed rest, which she tried to argue, but the doctor was adamant.

“To bed with you, young lady! Now!” and he gently pushed her to the door.

<><><><> 

“Hey, Johnny! Got a telegram for you!” Billy called out the door as he watched the young Lancer ride past. Johnny reined Barranca over to the hitch rail and swung down from the saddle. Hopping up onto the boardwalk he went through the doors and up to the window. Billy handed him the wire, and Johnny read with curiosity. It was from Gray Campbell in Fresno. Who the hell is Gray Campbell in Fresno? Don’t know anyone by that name… but he continued to read.

 

Dear Mr. Lancer,
Heard you were in the horse business and wondered if you would be interested in any stock. I am looking to rid myself of this business venture and wanted to offer you a chance to bid
on these excellent horses. Others interested so first come, first served. Hope to see you soon.
Gray Campbell

“Thanks, Billy. I might send a reply later. Ya seen Val around taday?” Johnny asked.

“Val left last night. He got a telegram askin’ for his help up by Modesto, seems like some outlaw is runnin’ loose up there,” Billy answered.

“Uh oh,” Johnny grinned. “Bad day for the outlaw when Crawford’s around!” Johnny went back out to the street and retrieving Barranca he left for home.

Scott sat at the table reading the message with a puzzled frown. He was waiting for Johnny to finish bedding down Barranca and come in for supper. The back door slammed as Johnny entered with his usual ‘subtle’ impact. He looked up at Scott and started to smile but caught Scott’s frown.

“What’s the matter, Scott? Another girl turn ya down?” Johnny said with a snort.

“No. But there isn’t anyone in Fresno by the name of Gray Campbell. Why would anyone do that?”

"What'd ya mean, there's no one by that name in Fresno? He sent the wire, didn’t he?”

Johnny poured himself a drink and joined Scott on the couch. Taking a large swallow, Johnny leaned his head back and shut his eyes. It had been a long hard day, and he was beat. That ol' bed is sure gonna feel good tanight, he thought as he felt the tequila spread through his body with its welcoming warmth, relaxing the stress and strains from the tired muscles.

“After thinking about this when you brought the note home last night, I wired the sheriff in Fresno this morning and asked about Gray Campbell. It just seemed to me that someone asking us to see their stock was a bit… unusual, so I thought maybe Chet could tell us if Campbell was legitimate or not. And apparently not, because he doesn’t exist. I don’t mind telling you. This is a little strange…” Scott let the implication hang. Johnny’s eyes were half closed when Maria called them to the table.

<><><><> 

Holly’s temper was getting the best of her. She was not going to let this culo run her life! She would not give in, no matter how hard he tried. She got out of bed, dressed and snuck down the back stairs; Chrissy was working late and wouldn’t hear her leave. Holly had to get some fresh air. Holding tight to her small handbag, she could feel the pistol that Johnny had given her, and she felt a bit more confident.

She kept to the main streets, where the lamps had been lit and felt the cool evening start to soothe the nerves that she had been trying to control, but she jumped as a stray dog ran out of an alley and scolded herself for being so skittish. With her heart slowing to a more normal pace Holly continued down to the diner where she ordered a light meal but found she couldn’t eat it. She sat a moment and watched people she knew come and go, wondering what they would say if they knew the evil pursuing her in this quiet town, and wondered if any would blame her for bringing it here.

Well, enough of this, I need to go home… So she walked back the way she came, this time,
there was no dog to startle her, and having not seen her antagonist, she mounted the stairs to her living quarters and slipped inside. She proved to herself that she wasn’t afraid, that she wouldn’t let Masters prevent her from doing anything and she did feel better with that realization.

Entering her bedroom, she peeled off her dress and reached for her nightgown with the intentions of going back to bed. She slipped the gown over her head and pulled the blankets back only to reveal a man's black glove between the sheets… He'd been here in her room while she was out walking…

<><><><> 

Chrissy walked into Dr. Hanley's office, and fortunately, there was no one in the waiting room. She'd left Holly sleeping fitfully, and Chrissy was becoming increasingly concerned. Holly had been up all night pacing and Chrissy thought she heard Holly crying. When Chrissy went in to check, Holly claimed a headache and had a damp cloth over her face, but Chrissy knew something was wrong. If Holly wasn't better soon, she would send a telegram to Johnny. He needed to know something was not right, but hopefully, the doctor could help.

Dr. Hanley stepped into the waiting room when he heard the bell on the door. Hoping to see Holly returning to work he was disappointed and alarmed when Chrissy entered.

“Well, how is our patient doing this morning?” he asked with his warm bedside manner.

Chrissy was near tears as she told the doctor how Holly had spent the night. “I don’t know what to do! She won’t tell me anything. I’m really worried, Dr. Hanley, and I don’t know what to do…”

“Well, we can’t make her talk if she doesn't want to talk. I think we need to be there when she's ready to let someone help. And patience is critical." They talked for over an hour and thought maybe they had a plan in place for when Holly was ready to open up.

<><><><> 

“Open your eyes, Holly…” Speaking softly and quickly placing his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream, he leaned his weight on her and pinned her to the bed. Holly, eyes wide with terror and now filled with tears, was jolted to consciousness as Masters leered, his breath hot in her face. His pale brown eyes glazed as he started to pull the blanket from her body, the lust on his face evident.

He retrieved a bandana from his pocket and tied it around her mouth, then pointed her gun at her head and she realized she had no hope of recovering the weapon. “Now, my dear, you will do as I tell you, is that clear?” He grabbed her hair and shook her head. “Is. That. Clear?” he roared in her face. With a tiny nod of her pounding head she indicated yes, she understood.

 “Good, now, get dressed. I want to watch… and help." She could see the insanity growing in his eyes and knew that she could very easily die this day. If this was her day to go, she was determined to face it as bravely as she could. If he saw her cry and cower, it would more than likely spur him into more lewd and perverted actions. She had to pull herself together and hopefully not give him any more stimulation than he’d already given himself.

She’d always heard that fighting your captor emboldened them, made them feel superior and controlling, but how could you not fight it? Could she hold herself impassive, act like she didn’t care? Madrid, help me! Turn me cold like I’ve seen you change, cold and hard when you needed to! Holly tried to draw his strength. She stopped crying and got dressed with him ogling her as she pulled off the nightgown and reached for under things.

“Oh, no, my love, you won't be needing those. Step over here," and he pushed her in front of the mirror, standing very close behind her. Her naked image reflected at her, his leering face with trimmed beard and mustache feasted on the glass. He leaned close to smell her neck and reached around her with both hands running them up and down her torso, stopping as they closed on her breasts and kneading them roughly and viciously pinching her nipples. She refused to let herself gasp in pain. His hot breath was on her neck, and he paused to lick her shoulder with a wet tongue and drag it up across to her ear leaving a disgusting saliva trail. Giving her breast a last hard squeeze he left her to pull a peasant blouse and skirt from the wardrobe.

“Put these on and be quick about it!” he snapped. His eyes followed her every move; he kept wetting his lips with a wet, sloppy tongue. She took as much time as she dared before he grabbed her by the arm and shoved her to the back door.

"Now, my love, we are going for a little walk, just the two of us. Chrissy is nowhere near and Madrid, oh, I am sorry, Lancer is down south trying to buy horses, so he will not be coming to your rescue. So, it's you and me. Get used to it. And don’t try anything because you will regret it. Let me tell you what I will do should you be so… foolish. I will come back here for Chrissy; then I will kill Crawford and to save for last, I will gut Madrid with his own knife and watch him bleed out. And I can do it. Believe me; I can do it. So you do as you're told and maybe no one else will get hurt." He giggled a high pitched, maniacal snigger and petted his thin mustache.

Holly's temper began to kick in as the shock of his surprise appearance by her bedside wore off. Instincts from her working girl days were flooding back, and she knew her life would depend on her ability to remain as calm as she could, again, turning to Madrid to get her through these next hours. She held her head high and walked steadily, she stopped her crying and summoned as much composure as she possibly could. I want Juanito to be proud of me…

Holly realized he'd scouted the way several times before. Looked at it from many different angles and found the best route, it was the furthest out of the way course, and no one gave this path any notice at all. And best of all, it was close to the rear of the dress shop. Masters steered Holly down the back steps and through an alleyway. Watching for any interference, they crossed several blocks of run-down buildings, obviously a very old part of town, very old and deserted.

Masters quickly forced her along to an abandoned but structurally sound stable. He’d been here making the appropriate ‘renovations’ for his guest. He couldn’t believe he’d stumbled on it when he was scouting for suitable accommodations. It was practically in town, right under Sheriff Brody’s nose! And here Masters would have his revenge. The girls at La Casa de la Rosas had shunned him, loathed and despised him. Who were they to look down their noses at me? They were nothing but whores, the dregs of society, and they shunned me?

Producing a thick rope, he tied one of her wrists and looped the rope around a post of a stall then tied her other wrist forcing her arms behind her but leaving enough play in the line to pull her arms above her head. The stall was sturdy so Holly was not going anywhere and she knew this was where Masters had injured his hand. Then Masters spread a blanket on the floor. With her heart beating wildly in her chest Holly tried to gain control over her emotions that were running rampant in her brain as she saw in his eyes, the crazed and unbalanced shades of insanity. She remembered seeing it on his face in Atascadero. It had scared her then, and it was paralyzing now.

Her heart pounded, and her breath quickened. She knew that she was in for the fight of her life and knew what would happen to her if she didn't get loose. This man was sadistic and brutally cruel, and quite capable of murder without the least bit of remorse. He was going to rape her.

Holly stood tied to the stall desperately willing her trembling body to calm. Oh, Johnny, where are you? And she forced her thoughts to settle on him, remembering his striking blue eyes as he laughed and peering deep into those eyes as he kissed her. Don’t let him see what he’s doing to you! Breathe! Breathe… Normal! Then she willed her eyes to calm as she had seen Madrid do many times, and she had seen the effect it had on his adversary.

 Masters watched her face and suddenly seemed to feel he was losing the edge as he watched her face go impassive. He stepped forward and grabbed the back of her neck, forced her head up to look into his wild eyes. They were cold and icy, and Holly could not stop the shiver that tore through her body.

Masters smiled, "That's better," he whispered and suddenly lowered his head to cover her face with wet and repulsive kisses. She couldn’t help but retch as his sour, damp breath hit her. He cupped her breast with his hand and, again, not being able to control herself, Holly struggled as Masters manhandled her, nipping her shoulder enough to draw a drop of blood. Holly yipped in pain, and he slapped her across the face to silence her, splitting her lip in the process.

“Now, Holly, I want you to watch me. I want you to watch what I am going to do to you and know what’s happening to you!” His tongue flicked out to wet his lips repeatedly. “I want you to beg me, Holly, beg for me!” Madrid, help me!!!

“I want you to rot in Hell!” she spat as he laughed at her.

His hands were tearing at her clothes. “You all thought you were better than me! Well, you’ll join the rest soon enough, you see, I’ve taken care of two of them already.” He pulled his head back to better see her face, those beautiful black, sparkling eyes as they widened in surprise.

“Yes, Annie, remember Annie? That woman-child, she teased me then, when she wouldn't obey me I had to ‘persuade' her, and after she satisfied me, I beat her, and buried her body where no one will ever find her. The dress in your wardrobe… that was the one she was wearing, and I took it from her. So now you will believe me and do what I say when I say!"

The ribbon on her dressing table! It had been Annie’s! Holly remembered seeing her wear it many times! And it was his cheroot that had been on her back porch! And his glove in her bed!

His blood coursed through his body, heat rising, ready to explode, Masters tugged the skirt from her waist and ripped it from her, throwing it on the floor. Holly's brain waged war, half of it trying to fight this beast, the other half starting to shut down because she knew what was coming; she’d been through this before.

<><><><> 

“Hey, Val, ya catch the bad guys?” Johnny teased as Val came into the Angels Nest and slumped into a chair at Johnny’s table.

He ordered a beer and emptied half of it before he said a word. “Nuthin’ ta catch. No outlaws goin’ through there. Lucky we put two an’ two tagether b’fore we wasted too much time chasin’ our tails…”

<><><><> 

Johnny woke with a start. His heart was pounding, and mouth was dry, he didn't have enough spit to swallow. What woke him? There wasn't a nightmare, so what… Then it hit him, and he turned cold. With Johnny himself south on a wild goose chase after horses and Val northeast hunting outlaws that didn't exist, that meant that they were both the farthest from Salinas.  He wasted no time; throwing on clothes he then went into Scott’s room not bothering to knock. He bent low to Scott’s sleeping form and nudged him awake.

“Scott, wake up…” Johnny shook him again, impatiently.

"What?... Johnny? What is it?" In the light of the moon that streamed through the window, Scott saw his brother's face, and he was stunned. Johnny’s face was so white, agonized and tormented that even with his dark complexion he looked sick.

“Johnny! What is it? Are you alright?” Panic started to set in as Scott watched his brother.

“Hurry, get dressed. Ya gotta help me…”

Dawn was breaking as they rode into Green River and banged on the sheriff’s door. From inside Val could be heard stumbling to the door, grumpier than usual at being rudely woken before the sun even put in an appearance. He swung the door open with gun in hand and Johnny burst into the room.

Madrid disregarded the pistol that had been aimed at his head and began issuing orders.
“Get ready, Val. We’re goin’ ta Salinas. NOW!”

Val recognized the look in Johnny’s cold blue eyes and knew there was trouble. As Salinas was their destination, there was only one reasonable explanation. The girls were in danger, and that was all Val needed. Less than ten minutes later the three men were thundering northwest, one hundred miles to go and not enough time to get there.

<><><><> 

Holly knew she was going to be sick, yet she tried with every once of will, breathing deeply through her mouth and willing the other half of her brain to shut off what was happening to
her.

Masters straddled her grinning; soon she would be his! Just like the others!  Drooling down her shoulder, he grunted with his pleasure. He bit the swell of her breast and neck, leaving reddened teeth marks.Holly stared at the roof of the old barn. It had holes in it, and it needed cleaning… Oh, my God! Help me! Her mind screamed… But she was alone.

Her heart pounding so hard she felt it would burst out of her chest, her brain filled with hatred, seeing him shot between the eyes, the bullet ripping his head from his shoulders, yet he continued his assault with his pig-like grunts and rabid salivating. If she could have gotten her hands lose she would have strangled him. Her adrenaline racing through her veins with a strength she’d never known, bloodying her wrists with violent struggles as the ropes cut into the delicate skin. She wanted to kill him! She wanted to see his dead body, limp and rotting and covered with flies and watch his descent into Hell!

Her eyes glazed and her brain was fuzzy, and she knew she was close to unconsciousness.

Masters studied his victim. This one is worth keeping around for a while… He dizzily mulled over in his head, yes, he would be delighted to keep her around a little longer. Her thrashing under him only served to intensify the satisfaction, her fight enhanced the taking of her, but now he would have to taste the other bitch that had rejected him. Yes, I need to toy with her first…

<><><><> 

Johnny, Scott, and Val rode as if the demons from Hell were after them. They had telegraphed ahead but didn't wait for an answer. Without proof of what they suspected they couldn't very well ask for the sheriff to provide protection, maybe a close watch for
the girls until they could find out who it was that wanted both, Johnny and Val, away, far away. They'd stopped to change horses twice, eating the miles in a frantic, grueling race, hoping to reach the girls before it was too late.

<><><><> 

Sheriff Brody read the telegram and immediately went to Dr. Hanley's office. Hanley told him that he'd ordered Holly to bed rest as she looked peaked the last several days. Then he remembered the chat he had with Chrissy and confided that to Brody. Together they went to the dress shop. Opening the door, the bubbly seamstress greeted the two men. Her smile faded as she took in the expressions both men wore.

“What is it?” Chrissy asked, suddenly alarmed.

"Is Holly upstairs?" Brody asked. Chrissy nodded her head, yes and all three charged up the back stairs, bursting into the empty second floor.

"Chrissy, I'm gonna set up a guard outside your door. Don't let nobody else in here!" Brady said as he scrambled out the door and down the flight of stairs.

"Will you be alright until he gets back with someone to post outside, dear? I need to get back to the office and make sure everything is ready just in case there is a need," Hanley asked as he guided her into a chair.

"I'll be fine, Doctor. I... I am just so scared!"

"We'll find her, Chrissy. We'll find her... Lock this door and the door that leads downstairs!"

Chrissy felt scared, furious, alone, and desperate. Even with the guard posted outside her door, she felt jumpy and uneasy, her worry about Holly taking over her every thought. Why was this happening? Oh, Lord, please let her be alright! She prayed like she hadn’t prayed in a long time. She wished that Holly would walk through the door right now, safe and sound. But safe and sound weren’t options where maniacal madmen were concerned. She’d locked her doors and still felt vulnerable. One hour became two and slowly the minutes ticked away. Chrissy paced, she did her dinner dishes and sewed a button on a shirt Val left for her. Where was Holly?

The knock on her door startled her, her heart beating wildly under her robe. “Who is it?” she called.

“It’s Murray, Miss Chrissy! Jus’ checkin’ in ta see how’re ya doin’,” the guard asked.

“Thank you, Murray! Yes. I’m fine. Any word on Holly yet?”

“No, ma’am, but I’ll be sure ta let ya know anything if I find out!”

“Thanks, Murray!”

Chrissy refocused on her sewing. She’d give about anything to have Val and Johnny here. Any madman with an ounce of brains wouldn't try anything with the two of them here…

The knock on the door made her jump again. She quickly threw down her sewing and went to the door.

“Murray?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the guard called out.

She opened the door and found Masters staring hungrily at her as if she were naked. She gasped as she recognized the sadistic and unbalanced man from Atascadero. He was through the door and had his hand over her mouth before she could scream. Kicking the door shut, he shoved her back into a kitchen chair.

“Well, we finally meet again, Chrissy! How nice to see you!” he purred sarcastically.

“What have you done with Holly?” she demanded, trying to still the pounding in her chest.

“Chrissy, my dear, we have so little time together. Let us not waste it discussing trivial matters when there are more pressing issues to talk about!” he said mockingly as if talking to a child.

“Johnny will kill you! I hope he does!” Chrissy sneered.

The wicked smile disappeared from his sardonic face to be replaced by his insane leer. He backhanded her hard enough for her to see stars. Taking the belt from her robe he tied her tightly to the chair, making her wince as he pulled to knot it, and satisfied she was secure, he reached out and caressed her cheek. She tried to pull away which encouraged a sneer from him, and he recalled all the rejection he received from the girls in the bordello.

"Oh, Chrissy, you will learn to like it, just like Holly and the others. Before I left Holly, she was begging for me! ME! And she liked it, begged for more!" he lied, heated lust burned in his eyes.

"I don't believe you! You're lying!"

Masters slapped her three times, first open palm, then backhand and another open palm.

Chrissy’s vision blurred, then focusing she glared as intensely as her pounding head would allow her to do. “I hope they kill you, Masters, you sick bastard!”

Masters went white with rage. Snatching the shirt from the table, he ripped it apart and gagged her, intending on slapping her again, enjoying her muffled cries, but he halted as he heard horses outside in the front of the building. Wasting no time he extinguished the lantern and left by the back way, locking the door as he went.

<><><><> 

It was dark by the time the three exhausted men got into Salinas, riding straight to the dress shop; they went around to the back and up the stairs. The second floor was dark. They knocked on the door, but no light was lit and no…. wait, muffled noise, sounded like… a woman yelling… Without waiting any longer Johnny kicked the door open to darkness. Quickly he lit the lamp, and they found Chrissy, tied to a chair in the middle of the kitchen. She had been beaten, a cut over her eye bleeding onto her gown. Cutting her loose, she sobbed as she told them what Johnny feared the most.

All three men turned as the sound of someone thundering up the outside stairs drew their attention. Johnny, Val and Scott had weapons in their hands before a huffing and puffing Brody came into view. He stopped as the pistols leveled at his head.

"Easy there, boys! Am I glad you're here! Just gettin' a posse tagether!"

“Masters has Holly! You just missed him! You've got to find her! I don't know how long she's been gone… Find her, Johnny! Masters is crazy! He said he killed the other girls!" Chrissy was crying so hard she couldn’t talk anymore.

Racing down the back stairs Johnny spied the body of the guard, throat slit and shoved under the steps. Not waiting for Val and Scott, he began to look for signs. He followed footprints, a man’s prints, which looked like he was running, deep heel marks and long strides. But the dark prevented easy tracking. Using a sense that he’d developed, a sense that had helped him stay alive on many occasions, Johnny ventured into the back of the town, the place where no one would be unless they didn’t want to be seen. Just the sort of place a man like Masters would seek out.

 Slowing his pace, he peered into the darkness and summoned Madrid's instincts. Madrid had never let him down, and he'd never needed Madrid as he did at this moment. Whatever happened, Masters would pay, and most likely, with his life. He fervently hoped Holly was able to hold her own against this madman, but whatever happened she would always be his love, his life. Johnny focused on the unusual, what was out of place, what was there that shouldn’t be and finding it as quickly as possible.

Off to his left was a stable, windows dark in the night, then he heard it: a door closing. It was very subtle, but he heard it. The hunter was now the hunted and Johnny was closing in.

He had to get to Holly. The thought of her in the hands of this maniac sickened him, but Madrid pushed that thought away and focused on overpowering Masters. The bastard would not be getting away this time. If Holly was hurt, Masters would die, simple as that.

He reached the door, slipped inside and stopped. The place was filthy, cobwebs hanging from every beam and corner and the stench was stale, like rotting straw and mold. There was a dim light coming from behind a large pile of old crates, crates that had no cobwebs on them, crates that had just been moved. With cat-like grace Johnny stepped up to the wall of boxes, and taking a quick look around he noticed the heavy tarps hung over the windows, and realized that someone wanted to keep prying eyes out.

This was an evil place created by an evil, sick person. Quietly, Johnny stepped around the crates, and black rage filled him as his blood boiled, searing his brain. Holly lay tied, beaten and abused on a threadbare blanket and he had all he could do not to explode when he saw what could only be teeth marks on her body. She was gagged but on seeing Johnny in the shadows violently shook her head ‘no’ as she watched him approach. He quickly looked around then felt the jab of a gun on his spine.

“Ah, our hero didn’t bite! I applaud you, Madr… I mean Lancer! How very astute you are! Drop your gun… Now!” Masters said, jamming the gun harder into his back. “Slowly, I would hate to have to shoot you prematurely. You can’t outdraw me, Madrid, my finger is already on the trigger,” Masters almost purred.

Slowly Johnny let his gun drop to his feet and turned calmly to face the maniac. Masters grinned with evil, devil-like madness. "Now, kick it over there!” Johnny did as he was told, his cold, death-filled eyes never leaving Master's face.

There was no fear in Madrid's eyes, and Masters didn't like that. Certainly what they say about him can’t be true? Even unarmed he isn’t afraid of his opponent? Masters took a close look into those eyes, the eyes that spoke of death, his death and now Masters was the one to feel a shiver crawl down his back. This isn’t supposed to happen! He should be cowering; I have this gun pointed at him… What the… And not waiting for Madrid to move, Masters fired a split second after Johnny's hand shot out to knock the weapon away. The bullet hit Johnny in the left thigh, slamming him back to sprawl in the dirt beside Holly.

Holly's scream was muffled as she watched Johnny’s blood spurting out of his leg in a gruesome flood. She went wild trying to get to him; she had to stop the flow before he bled out! Masters, again, grinned as he leered at Holly struggling to reach her lover. He pointed the gun at her head, hoping to bring a heightened degree of fear to her. In his fascination of watching Holly, he failed to see Johnny fighting for consciousness, failed to see that any second the volcano would erupt.

“Oh, my love, I am so sorry, no, I’m not, but that was necessary, he must not get in the way
of my plans for you, I have had you once already, and I plan to taste that sweet fruit again, and my seed will certainly take root and grow inside you! Then I will have that bitch friend of yours, too!" His eyes were glazing thinking of having her again. His brain seared with images so depraved…

Johnny came up off the floor in a blur, exploding like dynamite. All sense of control vanished as the adrenaline coursed wildly through his body, catching Masters by surprise as he latched onto the madman’s throat, squeezing as the insane man discharged the gun again.

Masters' brain refused to accept the fact that Madrid was not dead. Johnny’s grip held and when Madrid slammed his right fist into Masters' jaw with the power of a blacksmith's sledge, the gun flew from Masters' hand. Johnny’s hold was deadly, vise-like fingers were tearing apart the skin on Masters' throat leaving bloody trails and ripped hide. The larynx collapsed, crushed in the death grip, Masters' eyes bulged, sight no longer possible, and quickly glazed over. Johnny’s hands were still locked around Masters' neck, and his blood continued to spurt out of his body. Holly knew he had only minutes before there would be no more blood left. She desperately tried screaming but only muffled sound reached her ears and eyes overflowing with tears as she watched her Johnny dying.

There was movement beside the crates and Scott, Val, and Sheriff Brody surrounded them. The shots brought them to the barn, and after assessing the situation, they charged in. Val quickly removed his jacket and covered Holly. Scott reached Johnny and pulled him off Masters' dead body. Hands dripping with the bastard’s blood, Johnny fell forward into Scott’s arms. The release of hatred, violence, and pain won over, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he passed out cold.

"Sheriff, get the doc, quick!" Scott ordered, terrified for his brother's life. Val reached for his boot and the knife he carried, then slid the blade carefully under the rope that bound Holly's wrists, releasing her, and she was beside Johnny in a heartbeat. Both Scott and Val handed her their bandanas, she fashioned a bandage and applied pressure to stop the pumping blood. Scott feared she was going into shock. He spoke to her, but she did not reply.

<><><><> 

Waiting was always the hardest part. Scott paced as Val and Chrissy sat together, his arm around her shoulders hugging her close to his body sharing his warmth. Doc had wanted Holly to wait with the others and rest, but she would have no part of that. She would assist Hanley as he removed the bullet.

The door to the office opened, Sheriff Brody came in and sat across from Chrissy. Val and Scott had already discussed confiding in Brody the details but asked that they remain in confidence as Holly and Chrissy did not deserve any persecution as a result of Masters' history. Brody agreed, saying nothing good could come of that and details would remain confidential.

Val, having done his best attending to Chrissy’s cut, held her close as her head relaxed against his shoulder and she nodded off to sleep. Scott and Val kept looking at the clock, hoping that Johnny would be alright and Holly not suffer any effects of her ordeal with that maniac.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later Dr. Hanley came out into the waiting area. Scott stopped dead in his tracks and held his breath.

Doc sighed deeply. "The bullet is out, and he's resting as comfortably as can be expected. You already know he's lost an incredible amount of blood. But, barring any future blood loss, fever, and infection, he has a good chance. As I understand, keeping him in bed is going to be the challenge. Well, I just ordered supplies and have all the sleeping powers that he'll need!"

“Can I see him, Doc?” Scott asked hopefully.

“Certainly, right through there,” Hanley said, indicating the examination room.

As he stood in the doorway, he watched Holly tenderly wiping Johnny’s face with a damp, cool cloth. Johnny, very pale after profound blood loss, lay on the bed, his leg immobilized and covered in bandages. Scott noticed that Holly's wrists were bandaged and the cuts on her mouth had been looked after. Scott also knew that the doctor had probably looked after her more personal injuries after the assault. This was a strong woman; Scott hoped that she would recover not only physically but mentally. He advanced into the room and lightly touched Holly’s shoulder.

She looked up at Scott. Tears gathered in her eyes and slid down her face. “If it weren’t for me, this would n-never have happened,” the hitch in her voice gave way to her grief.

“Holly, this was not your fault. Because of you, that bastard will never again terrorize anyone." He knew these were just words and she honestly blamed herself for what had happened. And Scott also knew that Johnny would blame himself for not figuring out what was happening and getting there in time. Holly had suffered, and he would hold himself to blame. They were two of a kind. And two people that he was proud to know.

<><><><> 

For the next day and a half, Holly never left his side. She would sleep in a chair and even carefully lay next to Johnny on the bed after the doctor went out. Hoping that she wouldn’t be asleep when he woke, Holly watched him the entire time that he slept. Late in the afternoon of the second day, his long black lashes fluttered, and deep blue eyes, blurry from pain, exhaustion, and sleep opened a bit. He tried to focus, but it was too much for him. Closing them again, he mumbled, “Holly,” and she was there, holding his hand and brushing the tangle of dark hair off his forehead.

“Rest, Querido, rest. It’s alright now.” He relaxed and was out again. Holly smiled.

<><><><> 

Johnny woke to find Hanley checking his injuries, and the doctor apologized for disturbing him.

“S’kay, Doc,” and he hissed when Hanley touched a particularly sore spot. “Hey, Doc? Can I ask ya somethin’?”

“Sure Johnny, what can I help you with?”

“How did Masters get that control over Holly? She’s the strongest person I know ta survived all she’s been through an’ then ta have that sadistic bastard dominate her like he did... I can’t figure it out…” Johnny lay back on the bed and watched the doctor.

“It’s not that difficult. Emotions. Emotions are volatile states of mind, Johnny. She loves you. She would have died to keep you safe if she could. He convinced her he would kill you and others. Control is a powerful motivator, so is a sick, deranged mind and put them together they are dangerous and lethal,” Hanley explained.

“Doc, he had her dead center an’ didn’t pull the trigger.”

The doctor shuddered at Johnny’s statement. “That’s the control he thought he had over her. Someone weaker would have been completely under his control, but Holly is strong, we both know that.” Hanley smiled.

<><><><> 

The next few days passed with agonizing slowness for all involved as Johnny began to heal. The leg wound was serious, the blood loss astounding, but the recuperation was horrendous. The second shot Masters had fired grazed Johnny's side but nothing that wouldn’t heal quickly.

Doctor Hanley was beginning to look forward to the day when Johnny would be discharged into Holly’s care and out of his hair. Johnny had already tried to get out of bed and dressed by himself and was constantly complaining about the ‘soft diet'.  “What I need is a big rare steak! What about it, Doc?”

"Stop your whining, or I'll have Holly force more sleeping powders down you!" It seemed as though Holly was the only one who could make Johnny toe the line. And so it went for the next week, and Dr. Hanley finally kicked Johnny out and into Holly’s care. Doc knew he would be in bed; he just hoped it was rest Johnny was in bed for… rest and not for the company.

<><><><> 

“I don’t know, Scott,” Johnny sighed letting his head fall back onto the pillow. “I couldn’t keep her safe…” Johnny confessed to his brother, sounding lost and dejected.

“Johnny! You stop right there! This is not your fault! You can’t blame yourself for what happened just like I told Holly it wasn’t her fault, either. Masters was mentally ill, and no matter what he did, you couldn’t be there to prevent it. Did Holly ever tell you about him?”

"No," Johnny said quietly.

“So, how were you supposed to know that this possibility even existed? Look, Johnny, Holly is a free spirit, just like you. She wants to be her own woman, just like you are your own
man. Unfortunately, a woman living alone can be at risk, especially with someone as unbalanced as Masters.” Scott smiled at Johnny. “Holly asked me once ‘How long do you think Johnny would last if he were caged?’  She’s just like you, Johnny. Think about it.”
Scott left his brother and entered Holly’s kitchen.

She looked up from her cooking and smiled at him. “How is he?” she asked.

"You know Johnny; he's blaming himself,” Scott answered with a sigh.

Holly shrugged. Yes, she knew he would.

<><><><> 

She sat at her dressing table brushing out her long, beautiful hair until it was shiny and silky. Johnny longed to run his fingers through it, breathe in the fragrance that was Holly’s scent alone. It was soft and smooth and made his head spin when he touched it.

Holly put her brush away and turned down the blankets. She looked at Johnny, and he closed his eyes. Something was bothering him, and she knew what it was. She turned down the lamp and got into bed. Putting a finger under his chin, she turned his face to her.

Querido, tell me, what is bothering you, miel," she coaxed. She could see pain in his eyes, and it was not because of his injuries.

"'M sorry, Holly, I couldn't keep you safe…" His voice was strained as he whispered. Holly sighed then she started to talk, and she made sure he understood what she was saying.

Looking straight into his dark, miserable eyes she forced her heart not to break and began to speak. “Johnny, you taught me how to defend myself- you taught me, and I stayed alive because of it, because of you."

“But he hurt you…” Johnny whispered.

Holly never broke the eye contact. "I've been hurt before, and I am alive. I can live with that... Can you?"

He reached out with his right arm and pulled her close. “Yeah, I can live with that,” he said softly.

She smiled into his eyes, his beautiful deep blue eyes. “Show me…” she whispered.

 

 

~end~

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