After leaving the bakery the trio headed back to the hotel assuming that was where Vash had gone. No one was surprised to see the parked vehicles out in front all loaded up. Vash was leaning back against the side of the car waiting impatiently for them with legs and arms crossed.
Rinnah let her eyes roam over his tall lithe frame with appreciation. The black sleeveless shirt fit him snugly defining chest muscles and thin hips. His long, lean legs were clad in dark leather.. in... what the hell were those things anyway? Chaps, thigh boots, modified fishing waders? She had never seen anything like them before. Whatever they were, they looked good on him with the straps buckled around his calves and thighs like that. The long leather glove-arm guard on his right arm didn’t hide the muscles there and even his mechanical arm wasn’t hard on the eyes either.
She stopped short in her tracks, horrified at where her thoughts were headed. She had never, not ever, in her life thought of a male, or anyone for that matter, in such a manner before. Somebody, shoot me, please! Feeling flustered and panicky she tried to force herself to think about something else. I do not and can not be interested in someone who has all the sparkling personality of a comatose turtle. I forbid it! She estimated her supply of pills again and how long she could make them last. Maybe just staying upwind of him will solve my problem. I could hang an air freshener on him. Nah, he’d never go for it.
I hate my hormones!
I hate this whole stupid reproductive thing!
I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! Worse, Rinnah admitted that she hated how it made her feel, not in control of her emotions or reactions. She shortened her steps, letting Milly and Nicholas pass her and arrive at the car ahead of her as she followed behind them, letting them be a barrier between her and Vash.
Was this lust? Rinnah pondered the question not really knowing. She had never experienced physical attraction to anyone before and had definitely never been in love. She wasn’t even sure she would know the difference. She may be ignorant and naive about this discomforting, twitchy feeling and what to do about it, but she knew one thing for sure. She didn’t like it. Not at all! It left her feeling like she was at her first prom with sweaty palms, nervous flutters, and heart pounding. The black-haired hybrid was not used to feeling unnerved, embarrassed, and awkward. This mixture of unpleasant emotions was definitely making her ill tempered. And it’s all his fault!
As she drew near the car she took an experimental sniff. Sure enough. There was a strong scent coming off of him. Good, she needed to blame someone and who better than the pheromone emitting stinkweed! Feeling righteously vindicated, even if so small a thing as her nose being right she came to stand next to Milly as Nicholas and Vash pointed to a couple of different places talking over where to head next.
Mind still pondering what could be a dilemma, of course she wasn’t going to let it affect her, she was going to figure out a way to control herself. She absolutely refused to be a victim of hormones or the Antressla mating drive. Just thinking about it made her to start to fume and she had to force her jaw muscles to relax as she vowed once again that she would never let herself be at the mercy of anything that came from that sorry excuse for an intelligent species!
It was simple to come to the decision that if Vash’s little problem was taken care of, then it wouldn’t enflame her similar problem and hence, problem solved! I are a genius! In deep thought, she rubbed the length of her nose with a forefinger, she wondered if Vash had a girlfriend that they could swing by to visit. Just a matter of tossing him out the car, let them go at it and resume journey. How handy would that be? I’ll have to ask Milly if Vash has one. Of course with his personality, or lack thereof, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. So, we may have to fall back on one of those... places... that he can get... well, taken care of, for a... er, price. Rinnah could feel her face warming from just thinking about it! Oh this is just so pathetic! Well, at least I have figured out what the problem is. And, better yet, I have a solution. Well done sweetie! Feeling smug she circled around to the back of her jeep to check to see if she needed any supplies while they were still in town.
Across the street, under the saloon overhang, two men pulled up after stumbling through the swinging doors. One was mostly sober and his partner was only half way drunk.
“Hey.” Said the one was the more upright of the two.
“What?” Asked the other, slightly shorter man.
The taller of the two said, “She... looks fam.. fam a leer,... I seen her before. She an old girlfriend of the boss’s?” Outside of the boss, none of his buddies had good-looking girlfriends, or to be specific, none of his buddies had girlfriends, unless you counted hookers.
His friend looked across the street at the tall sandy-colored haired Amazon. Nope, he had never seen her before; he would have remembered her.
“Nah. She a tall one. Me, I’d ‘member dat one.”
“Not the tall one ya thomas spit! Dat black-haired one next to her.”
His friend tossed a look and then did a double take.
“I dahn believe it! C’mon.”
Then wheeling back through the saloon doors he dragged his buddy with him.
A former gang member and friend of the boss who had his lower leg blown off years ago owned the saloon, The Broken Bottle. This was one of their hangouts when they were in the neighborhood.
Looking up from a card game to note the entrance of two of his gang, the boss noticed the excited expressions on his men’s faces.
“What?” He grunted, prepared not to be impressed.
“Boss! We seen her... “ Started the short one.
“Her who?” The boss was looking over yet another losing hand with annoyance, third in a row.
“That sheila we found in the desert...” The boss looked up, eyes now intent and warning, “And what has got... our... er, jeep.” He amended quickly. The boss was still a little sore about the loss. He had shot Roberts in the leg when he had moaned about losing it to the sheila while drunk one evening last town back. And Johnson had lost a couple of teeth from a rifle butt, and... Well, it was just a good idea not to be specific when mentioning... the jeep.
The boss sat up straight.
“Where?” He demanded. His dark eyes glittered in the dim illumination of the room.
“Just across the street boss, in front of the hotel.”
The boss took a minute to consider and then stood up.
“Get the rest of the boys. We’re going to get out property back and that includes the little sheila. But we’ll do things a little differently this time.”
Rinnah was in a good mood after the dark thoughts of earlier. Milly had come over and asked if she could ride with Rinnah in the jeep and suggested they stop by an ice cream shop before they left town. Even as she was mentioning that, Milly positioned her back to the boys and with a flick of her finger indicated the large cloth bag she carried and opened it so Rinnah could peer in to the black fabric nestled within.
“Vash’s coat.” Whispered Milly. “If I ride with you I will have plenty of time to work on one of the sleeve‘s. Besides we never got to chat last night.” She finished apologetically.
“Sure Milly. Hey, should we go get the ice cream while they are still trying to decide where to go or wait until they are done? Geez, how long does it take to figure out where to drive to next? I thought Vash was in a hurry and now we are just standing here waiting.” Disgruntled she shot a look at the two men.
Milly shrugged. It was always like this. Leaving depended on when Vash was ready to go.
“Oh don’t tell me we are waiting for that prima dona to decide when the moons are in the right alignment before we can leave!”
Rinnah stalked over to where Vash and Nicholas were intently tracing their fingers over the map lay across the front hood of the car. Inserting herself between them as they stared down at her in surprise, she sized up the nearest towns and the number of plant angels penciled in next to each one. With a quick glance she calculated how close each town was.
She stabbed a finger at one, “There!” And turned to walk away.
Long fingers wrapped around her upper arm and jerked her back.
This was getting old.
She snapped at him, “I am NOT a yo-yo so stop doing that!”
Vash leaned his face down until he was nose to nose with her.
“You know nothing about what is going on here.... ”
“Will you stop flirting with me! It’s getting downright embarrassing!”
Vash froze, mouth hanging open.
Wolfwood was tickled. Things were so much more fun now that Rinnah had joined them. With the exception of last night’s incident, he and Vash and had not had a serious clash since meeting her.
If Vash’s hostility poured out on Rinnah, who acted like she was able to handle it, he certainly wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. She held her own and gave back as good as she got. He reached in his breast pocked for a cigarette. Might as well enjoy the break.
Rinnah’s mind froze. Now she was in it. Oh crap. She hadn’t meant to say THAT! I meant to shine with the brilliant wittiness I am so known for! Once again, I’ve been slapped up alongside the head with a stupid stick! Really got to start ducking those things! Quickly coming to a decision that there was only one thing to do while Vash was still frozen with surprise, she went on the offensive.
“What’s taking you so long to decide? Your antenna spikes not receiving today?”
Vash gave his head a shake and took a breath and started in on her, “What would you know about anything! You are a right pain in the ass, you know that! You came waltzing in on this at the last minute, you haven‘t even taken the time to learn anything about what‘s....”
Wolfwood stepped a few feet away and closed his eyes, lifting his face to the sun as he leaned against the side of their vehicle savoring his habit with the deep satisfaction that only another addict could understand. Vash and Rinnah were nose to nose discussing each other’s ancestry in very clear and graphic detail, oh and spiking it with a few venomous threats just to keep it interesting. He had never seen Vash act like this. It was refreshing and a faint smile lifted his lips. He let himself relax. This may take awhile.
But Wolfwood was wrong. It didn’t last long at all.
Milly edged over to him and tugged on his sleeve. He had to admit it; he had gotten caught up in the heated exchange. Opening one eye he looked down into Milly’s face to see what she wanted. Noting the anxiety there, he opened both eyes and dropped his cigarette to the ground.
“Trouble.” She whispered, her eyes pointed over to the side.
He stood up straight, eyes sharp and questing. Usually he and Vash were the alert ones keeping an eye on their environment scanning it for danger.
She was right. He cursed himself for a fool. He had let his guard down and now were surrounding by unwanted company, with guns, lots of them, all pointed in their direction. Great. It’s getting so a guy can’t even take a cigarette break anymore.
In one glance he saw the men moving around trying to circle them along with men already positioned on the roof tops while two men walked towards them. He didn’t know if they were after Vash, himself, or the both of them. He straightened, already calculating the seconds it would take to grab his cross, swing it around and take aim at his first target.
Stopping a good distance away one of the two said, “Hey! You black-haired strike snake....”
This was different.
Rinnah was their target. He turned to look at her.
Rinnah broke off in the middle of an exceptionally pointed remark about Vash’s hygiene habits to look around at the two men advancing on them. They didn’t look familiar but the clothes they wore did. Dull tan tank tops, faded fatigues and desert boots.
Rinnah turned in their direction. Oh, them again.
Smiling broadly she held out her hands as if in welcome.
Wolfwood asked in a low voice, “You know these scum?”
Rinnah cocked her head reprovingly at him and said, “Now, Nicholas, is that any way to talk about my financial backers?” Turning back to the gentlemen in question, she said firmly, “but not to worry, this is my affair from before. You folks just put your feet up. I’ll handle this.”
The two men had stopped about three car distances away. Hunched and nervous as eyes leaped from her to her friends and back again. They weren’t sure what she had meant but she, and her friends, seemed much too confident for being confronted and ringed in by armed men. Suddenly, this didn’t seem like such a good idea, even with the foursome being outnumbered and outgunned.
“Say gents....” Rinnah started to say in a cheery voice while taking a step forward when she felt that familiar strong hand clamp down on her shoulder hauling her back to his side.
Before she could spit an angry remark at him, he stated flatly “This involves all of us now.”
The men darted looks at the tall, lean man with the spiky black hair. His hard eyes bore into theirs warning, promising dangerous retaliation. The dark-haired, dark-suited man had a similar look in his eyes. Eyes belonging to killers.
Wolfwood casually reached in the back seat and pulled out a huge cross-wrapped in canvas.
Rinnah’s eyebrows went up. What was Nicholas going to do with that thing, preach them into submission or hit them over the head until they got religion?
“Nah id doesn’t. Black-haired sheila stole our money and we want it back and her too. Boss wants her.”
I’m sure he does. Thought Rinnah.
“Stole?” Asked three different voices and she could feel the weight of three sets of eyes on her.
“Rinnah?” Came Milly’s soft question.
Feeling a desire to justify herself to Milly more than anyone else she quickly highlighted the main points of the previous meeting with this gang of dubious gentlemen.
“... And I doubt they had my best interests in mind so I took their jeep and left. I only found the money later.”
“Oh.” Milly turned now hostile eyes to the gang that had them totally surrounded. She didn’t take kindly to men who tried to take advantage of poor defenseless women traveling by themselves in the desert.
With a flick of his wrist, Wolfwood unsnapped a strap and the black leather strips holding the cloth came flying off revealing a beautiful silver cross. Rinnah’s eyes nearly bugged out. How much did that thing weigh?
“Would you like some help getting rid of your admirers?”
Finding her voice, she managed, “Uh, well, now that you mention it, it would be quicker this way.” Still wondering what he was going to do with that thing, she tore her eyes away from the giant cross and turned back to consider the situation. In a quick sweep she decided what she wanted to do as old training took over.
Without thinking Rinnah rattled off orders. “Plant boy you go high, Nicholas you take Chip n Dale, Milly watch my left flank... while I have a chat with the CEO.”
Through tight lips Vash said, “What the hell are you talking about now....” and a confused Nicholas was mouthing, “Whaaaa...?“ However Milly was yelling “Yeah!“ She didn’t understand what Rinnah said but to her it sounded like “charge” and that was all she needed for encouragement. Reaching into her coat for her large handgun she started to follow Rinnah when Wolfwood noticed. Quickly latching onto her he pulled her, refusing to let go as she tried to follow her friend.
“Shut up Milly! You’re not that good a shot yet! Not at this distance!”
Rinnah was already gone; leaving puffs of dust kicked up to linger in the air behind her. If they were going to shoot at her, she wanted to make sure her friends weren’t in the line of fire when the bullets began to fly.
She was right; the shots fired at her spurted up following in her footsteps but went wide on either side. She wouldn’t have to dodge the bullets; they weren’t aiming at her but around her trying to pen her in. They wouldn’t hurt her until they had their money back safely.
With a smooth blurred motion too quick for the eye, her six shooters filled both hands. With a grim light in her eye, she sighted and fired within the space of a breath. She returned fire shooting several guns out of hands astonishing their owners who were now having second thoughts. Sliding to a halt she danced to the side as she fired at some strategic spots on the pillars holding up the overhangs, causing them to loosen from their place. Quickly weaving back and forth between the bullets, she found a covered spot and took the opportunity to pop open and shake the spent bullets loose before reloading in a flash. She was noticing that the shots were becoming less frequent with each passing moment.
She raced out and fired again at the overhang. And the supporting pillars went from creaked ominously to squeaking and wobbling back and forth causing the men on them to yell and scramble to get away before they fell with it. Running over, she threw herself into the air and spun a kick at a strategic weak point to help the process. With a wrenching groan and a crack the supports gave and toppled over. Darting back, she watched with satisfaction as a part of the overhang and roof fell away.
Rinnah heard the echo of gunshots behind her. She could tell the higher pitched ones that came from Vash’s gun and another deeper tone that had to be coming from Nicholas’s cross gun. Nicholas must be stronger than he looks and he sure was fast with that thing. She didn’t hear Milly’s handgun though. She chanced a look over her shoulder and saw that Nicholas had shoved an irritated Milly behind him. No wonder she was unable to got off a shot.
Nicholas was crouched and a little preoccupied with handling a Milly who didn’t want to be shoved safely behind anyone. So it wasn’t a wonder that he only could get off a few shots here and there.
“I can take care of myself Mr. Priest!” Milly exclaimed. In the excitement, she forgot to call him by his name.
“Wolfwood or Nicholas, Honey!”
“Sorry dear!” And darted around him to get off a shot which didn’t come anywhere near anyone. He let out an oath, grabbed her and shoved her back behind him again, much to her annoyance.
Vash, on the other hand, was standing straight and had his body turned to the side, presenting less of a target to the marksmen in front of him but not to the men off to the side. His long lanky arm looked like a blur as he moved his gun from one target to the next. Unlike his companions, many of his targets were bleeding from bullet wounds.
Rinnah was glad to note that everyone in her group had shot to wound and not kill although she was starting to wonder about Vash. When last she had glanced at him, she had watched him shoot someone in the shoulder and had seen the look on his face... The lack of expression she should say. Nothing but a cold empty eyes and then that smile, so predator and sadistic had spread across his face. Rinnah was glad that the gang members who weren’t wounded had taken the hint and were scattering, some taking hurt members with them and some not. However the means, the gang decided that this was one fight they were not going to win easily, which eased her mind. She didn’t want to see what Vash would do if provoked any further than he already was.
Just then she saw the leader sprawled in the dirt bleeding from a couple of leg wounds. She remembered him from their first meeting. He certainly hadn’t improved in looks since then. He still needed a shave and she could smell the stink of many weeks’ worth of accumulated sweat on him. She walked over to him, taking in the sight of his grazed thigh on one leg and hole through the calf in the other. He would live. He brought his thick dark brows down in a scowl, hatred pouring out of his eyes as he watched her come over and kneel next to him.
Milly saw Rinnah holster her guns as she walked toward the gang leader and kneel down by him. They spoke for a few minutes, the man’s face becoming unhappier and unhappier with each passing moment. Finally, mouth down turned, he nodded. Rinnah stood back up with a graceful movement and turned back towards them. Milly noticed that Vash’s lips were set in a grim tight line, as his eyes never left Rinnah, following her every move. She wondered what that meant. She hoped Vash wasn’t going to be mean and rude to Rinnah again like he so often was.
Turning her attention back to Rinnah as she walked back to them, she smiled and asked, “Are they going to leave you alone now?”
Rinnah smiled with white teeth flashing, “Yeah, I think he has seen the error of his ways. Although he’s still upset about the money.”
“Well, he shouldn’t live such an immoral life; it only catches up with you after a while.” She leaned around Rinnah to frown accusingly at him. He missed her look as several men were helping him up from his gang and carried away cursing.
Rinnah asked, “Do you still want to ride with me? I‘m not being shot at anymore so I think it‘s safe!”
Milly piped up, “Sure do!”
Rinnah turned to Vash, “Well plant boy, where do you want to head next?”
In a blink Vash was inside her personal space, yet again. Couldn’t he just talk to her from,... well, over there?
“Don’t call me that.”
Both Milly and Wolfwood sighed at the same time. Milly wondered if this was what a “pissing contest” was. She shifted her stance until she leaned into Wolfwood, who wrapped an arm around her shoulder even as he held his cross gun with the other. He kept an eye scanning up and down the street, windows, shadows, doors, and rooftops. He wasn’t going to let them be taken by surprise again, even if things had gone in their favor this time.
In the meantime, not missing a beat Rinnah pointed to Nicholas and looked up into Vash’s face, her chin nearly grazing his chest that was how close they were standing to each other.
“Then don’t call him Chapel. He doesn’t like it.” Wolfwood’s eyebrows went up. This was unexpected.
Vash glared down at her. “That’s between me and Chapel.”
“No plant boy, it isn’t. It used to be between you and him. Now we are a team and what affects one of us, affects us all. As you said earlier, ‘This involves all of us.’”
“You are dead serious about this aren’t you?” It wasn’t really a question. Whatever he was feeling was hidden behind hooded eyes. One hand came up and rubbed his chin in thought.
“Damn straight.” She rested her hands on the butts of her modified colts. Taking a step back so she could look him in the eye better, she locked an unwavering bright blue gaze with his blue-green ones.
Vash humped and said with a glance at Wolfwood and a shrug of a shoulder, “Wolfwood it is then.“
Then looking back down at her with a frown, he informed her, “And the next town we come to we are going to sell your jeep and our truck. Since you have as much money as there is sand in the desert, you can buy us a larger and better sand terrain vehicle.”
He turned and walked toward the first vehicle and hopped in.
Beaming at his back and bouncing on her toes, Rinnah responded, “Thanks for putting me in Coach!”
Milly giggled. Sometimes she didn’t understand what Rinnah said but she sure was funny in saying it.
Rinnah gave Milly a thumbs up sign and a wink before they both climbed into the jeep and followed the boy’s vehicle out of town.
“Hey, what about the ice cream?”
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