CHAPTER ONE: Each Bloom Brings A Longing Hope

Kahlan Amnell was mayor of Aydindril, Montana, though she was young for the job (which she would be the first to admit). Her mother had been mayor, and her grandmother. People in Aydindril liked tradition, and an Amnell woman was traditionally mayor, ever since Kahlan's great great grandmother kicked out the town's brothel owner 150 years before when she arrived on the first train from the east. They were notorious for their mettle and serious interest in justice tempered with love and respect for duty. Kahlan was no different in this regard.

Kahlan Amnell was also very lonely, but it was not a new sensation for her. Rather, the loneliness that plagued her now was simply a new variation on a theme that had haunted her entire life. She had been a shy child before her mother died and her father took to drinking, but now when the afternoon light caught the facets of the little gem inset into the wedding ring she had carefully placed next to the sink while she did the dishes, the loneliness changed and shifted into a new shape that was swiftly becoming as familiar as the old one.

A sharp rap on the door startled her and she dropped the sponge into the sink of soapy water before drying her hands on a dish rag. Carefully, she tucked the loose strands of her long dark hair behind her ears. Every day she dreaded the sound of the door. She nearly succumbed to a panic attack each time a neighbor came to visit or the newspaper boy dropped off her morning edition. It was a fear that was common to military wives, and despite barely feeling like a wife, the fear of that particular knock on the door had buried itself deep inside her soul.

She must have been taking too long because whoever was at the door knocked again – loud and crisp – almost military, she feared. The military wouldn't stop by on a Saturday, though, surely? Still, she had been at her chores all day, so she paused to check her reflection in the entryway mirror. Kahlan was an uncommon beauty – dark hair, smooth skin and a charming dusting of freckles. She also possessed an exemplary figure that she kept up with daily jogging and the occasionally kick-boxing class. She surveyed it all in the mirror and caught none of her own loveliness, instead she focused on how ragged her comfortable cleaning clothes, sweatshirt and sweatpants, looked and how dark the circles under her eyes were becoming. Nothing to be done for it now, she mused, as a third, decidedly impatient knock drew her attention back to the door.

A particularly vivid scene had coalesced in Kahlan's imagination aided by months of nightmares and fretting. She knew, from movies of course, that the Army would send two men in crisp uniforms with hooded eyes and official expressions, who would give her a worn set of dog tags and express her country's gratitude and deepest sympathies. She would be stuck forever then with the ghost of a man she barely knew, haunted by unrealized possibilities. In one variation of the nightmare, the men give her Richard's severed head – they are the angels of death.

Whatever heart wrenching tableau Kahlan had thought to find behind her front door, it wasn't there. Instead there was a woman in faded blue jeans that clung to her thighs like a second skin and a rumpled t-shirt. Her blonde hair had the messy just-slept-on-the-bus look, which Kahlan reasoned, she probably had since it was the easiest way to Aydindril and she personally knew everyone that lived in town. This woman did not look like she lived in rural Montana – there was just that aura about her. It was so thick that Kahlan could nearly taste it, the hint of danger and violence that poured off of her. She stood, hip cocked and dull olive duffel over one shoulder, free hand raised and prepared to bring knuckles against wood again.

"Oh," Kahlan exhaled. A moment passed while her overactive mind caught up to reality. Not precisely the angels of death.

"Mrs Rahl?" the stranger asked, voice hinting at an accent Kahlan couldn't place.

She supposed she was "Mrs Rahl", though she had not gotten around to changing her name or accustoming herself to the sound of it. If Richard – When Richard returned, she would have to prioritize it. "Yes. Can I help you?" Kahlan stepped out on the wide porch, pushing open the screen door and letting it swing shut behind her. The loud smack of the slightly unsquared door hitting the edge of the frame caused the blonde to visibly flinch and reach for her waist. Her hand dropped quickly back to her side, failing to grasp whatever phantom she was reflexively searching for.

By way of reply, the blonde dropped the duffel off her shoulder and began to root through it. Not one much for words, Kahlan assumed. She found whatever she was looking for and offered it to Kahlan as she said in flat voice, "Richard sent me."

Kahlan took the proffered item – a printed photograph – and peered at it. Richard in desert fatigues, grinning widely through the dust, leaned against a Humvee next to the blonde woman. She was wearing a uniform too, but different from Richard's and Kahlan didn't recognize it from a movie. Searching for more explanation, she flipped the picture over. In careful script someone had written "Cypher and Mord-Sith 001" on the back.

"We were in Operation Seeker together." The woman secured her duffel again and tossed it up onto her shoulder. The bag looked full and presumably heavy, but the woman maneuvered it as if it were a feather. "He told me about you. Wanted me to come have a look at things out here since they were sending me to the States." She gestured around her as her, and the little yard in front of Kahlan's old Victorian and presumably the dusty town that lay beyond, full upper lip curled with a hint of contempt. "It doesn't look like much."

Kahlan had met Richard when he was blowing through Aydindril. He was from a small town in Idaho where he had been a logger until his dad died. He told her he was wandering east to see his grandfather in Ohio. He whispered it into her ear while they slow danced down at Denee's bar, and the ambiance and his voice made it seem like the grandest adventure. He must have seen something he liked, since he didn't make it any further. They spent two months skinnydipping in ponds, laying out under the stars, and pouring their hearts out to each other. Kahlan felt like the teenager she had never been and Richard was so sensitive and attentive. And then he had gotten the call. His unit was called up and being deployed. Three days before he left, he asked her to marry him. She stood in front of the clerk at the Courthouse with Denee as her witness, in an old pair of jeans. That night they made love (that's how she thought of the event) for the first and only time, and then he was gone, promising to love her across the miles and write frequently.

She knew that Richard wanted two kids, a boy and a girl. She knew he joined the National Guard instead of going to college, because he said it felt like he was protecting freedom. On his pancakes, he liked blueberry syrup instead of maple. But, she didn't know why he would send a jumpy Army buddy out to see her.

"Is he coming home?" She asked, folding her arms across her full chest and stepping back to lean against the screen door. The blonde was studying her with eyes so intent, that she reminded Kahlan of a wolf or a cougar.

"Not for a while." The movement of her lips only served to draw Kahlan's attention to the fact that the rest of the woman was very still. "That's why he sent me – to look after you."

Cara Mason – the name seemed almost too normal for the woman. Kahlan had decided that her accent, coupled with her full lips and nearly almond eyes made her too exotic to have a last name like Mason. In her mind, she decided that Mason must be a cover name or a code; Cara certainly wasn't American, after all, but she remained tight lipped about who exactly she was. Despite how uneasy Cara's presence made Kahlan feel, she was too kind to turn her out. There was no hotel in Aydindril and the closest motel was down the highway toward North Dakota several miles.

She gratefully retreated to the kitchen after showing Cara the spare bedroom to start dinner. Stirring the biscuit mix, chopping the vegetables for the salad and generally being domestic usually freed her mind to focus on the important things in the day – like what she would have to do at the office in the morning, or who she needed to call about the new zoning laws. Cara Mason dominated her thoughts instead, pushing out even her ever present concern about Richard.

The woman hadn't spoken again once Kahlan led her into the house. She looked around, studying everything with the same intensity that she had earlier trained on Kahlan, like she was memorizing the size of each room and the number of stairs so that she could retrace her steps in the dark. She tossed her duffel on the narrow guest bed and trailed her fingers over the edge of the dresser, all without saying anything else. So, Kahlan had left her to herself, glancing over her shoulder once on her way out. The woman did cut a fine figure, and a stab of jealousy shot through Kahlan as she considered how exactly Richard knew her.

The oven chimed, heated to the requisite 375 degrees for her biscuits and she carefully slid the tray inside. She had forgotten to ask if Cara like biscuits, or salad or pot roast. Maybe she didn't like any of it; maybe they didn't eat those kinds of things where she was from. She tossed the oven mitt onto the counter and sat down at the kitchen table to flip through the newspaper while she waited for dinner to be ready.

When the timer rang and Kahlan dropped the paper, she was startled nearly off of her chair. Cara was sitting across from her, arms folded over her chest and frighteningly still as was apparently her way. Kahlan hadn't heard her come down the stairs or sit down. Will power alone kept Kahlan from screaming in surprise.

"I'm going to have to put a bell on you," Kahlan muttered over her shoulder on her way to the oven. Cara didn't respond, so Kahlan tried to put the other woman's unnerving behavior out of her mind as she pulled the roast out and began preparing plates piled with food.

"I'm not a house cat," Cara responded dryly.

CHAPTER TWO: I rode a tank, Held a general's rank, When the Blitzkrieg raged

Richard was an absolute moron, Cara was sure of it - totally and completely convinced that Richard might have ridden the short bus to school every day. Aydindril was a pit, a backwater full of barely literate morons. She had decided on that fact about thirty seconds after stepping off the bus. Even the relief at finally being able to stretch her legs couldn't tamp down the growing sense of angry exasperation that overcame her as she surveyed what she could only presume was the town's main street. This was only a good location to hide by virtue of the fact that even her enemies would have a hard time stomaching the place long enough to kill her. Cities were more of Cara's style, bustling with people and surrounded by noise.

However, she had made a promise to Richard and since he had saved her life, just that once, she knew that honor required her to fulfill it. He had sent her here for her safety too, and she wasn't sure whether that was touching or aggravating. Aggravated was a more familiar emotion to her, so she consciously decided to feel that one as she made her way down Main Street and turned down a smaller road labeled "Elm". The large Victorian sat at the end of the lane, just like Richard had described, surrounded by a well trimmed lawn and sporting a wide porch trimmed in neat flower beds. All of it disgustingly as she expected. The sound of the screen door slamming nearly caused her to scream. For a nerve-shattering moment, it was the sound of a high-powered sniper rifle and Cara was back in the field, covered in her own gore and surrounded by death. Those moments were becoming increasingly frequent, set off by loud noises generally. The best way to handle it, she had found, was to simply take all of her feelings of any kind and squeeze them into a tiny ball before shoving it as far out of her conscious mind as she good. Emotions only made a soldier weak, except maybe lust and wrath, and weakness was the root of her current mental disturbance.

The woman who opened the door was not was she expected however. Of course Richard had told her the whole, long and unnecessarily involved story of how he had met Kahlan Amnell and fallen irrevocably in love with her in a matter of a few short weeks. He hadn't skimped on a single, sentimental detail despite Cara's obvious discomfort and distaste. From all of his endless blather about evenings spent laying on the hood of his old Ford while the moon rose and whispered declarations of love while they floated in the cool river, she had assumed that his new wife was a young, uncouth peasant-type woman – the kind she imagined shitty little towns like Aydindril were crawling with.

Well, Cara had to admit that Kahlan was, yes, young, but she was a woman not a girl as she had originally imagined her. Even dressed like a washer-woman, there was nothing peasant-like about her. Kahlan had a commanding presence, an air of power about her that Cara liked in a woman. It had something to do, she had finally pinpointed, with how she held her chin and the confident angle of her shoulders, which only served to enhance the visual appeal of her bosom. It was no mystery why Richard snapped her up as fast as he could, but Richard probably wasn't man enough to keep her.

The house itself was pedestrian and woefully unsecure, which she would have to set about remedying at the earliest possible opportunity. The room that Kahlan offered her was clean, tidy and what would probably be described by a native as "cozy". She tapped the walls, tested the floorboards, checked under the bed and finally after a great deal of searching found a loose slat at the back of the little closet. The space behind the wood was not large, barely big enough for the worn envelope of cash and the fully-loaded Agiel Class 2 Mord-Sith issue firearm she shoved into it. When the board was replaced there was no visible seam that would alert a careless eye to the presence of the cache behind.

She unpacked her duffel and settled the neatly folded clothes, corners military sharp, into the dresser. Who knew how long she would have to stay to discharge her duty to Richard. And if he never returned, if he died – Cara wasn't sure how to proceed in that scenario. She set the concern out of mind, carefully balled, she would handle that thorny issue if it arose. There were more important issues at hand.

Cara never tried to be quiet or still. These were qualities that had long since passed into instinct after years and years of harsh training. Whatever Kahlan was cooking vaguely smelled like something that she used to eat at the canteen. Not the ugly, loud American one where she had been forced to sit and listen to hours of Richard's prattle, but the quiet, well-appointed officers' canteen she had eaten at before she had defected – back when her decisions were simple and life was black and white. Duty, service, loyalty. Above all else: unquestioning obedience. She turned her mind from the memory. From there it would only be a short mental leap to the gore, the gun fire and the feeling of her own entrails leaking out of her

Her presence scared the other woman though, and she made a mental note to consciously create more noise in the future. She barely noticed whatever Kahlan said as she went to the oven, barely registered that she said something short in return. She was far to focused on the curve of Kahlan's ass as she bent to pull the pot roast out of the oven.

She had promised Richard to protect and take care of Kahlan, promised to make sure that no harm came to her. Ogling her wasn't causing harm, right?

Kahlan turned in early, muttering something about heading into the office at sunrise. Cara took the opportunity to prowl through the house again, running her fingers along the walls and checking the placement of windows. Mentally she calculated the amount of equipment she would need: a standard alarm system, motion detectors at the windows, better locks and reinforced doors. She toyed with whether bullet-proof glass would be worth the added expense. Bullet-proof glass might simply freak out Kahlan unnecessarily and Cara did not anticipate a long-range attack – that wasn't really her people's style.

When Kahlan went to work in the morning, she suggested that Cara check out the town, and offered to have lunch with her around noon, which left the blonde with what felt like a million hours to fill alone in the tiniest, backwater in the history of the world. She walked into town and made a lap of Main Street in roughly five minutes. There was a little grocery store with an attached gas station, a library housed in a double wide, city hall where Kahlan had explained that her office was and the bus stop. Set back on other smaller roads were a number of dingy houses, Kahlan's appeared to be the nicest in town – which didn't surprise her.

After wandering around for a few more moments aimlessly, reaching the outskirts of town in every compass direction, she headed back into downtown. With a heavy sigh, she finally settled on a visit to the library. Hopefully Aydindril would subscribe to Soldier of Fortune magazine. An hour and a half she trudged back out, sighing again. No, the Aydindril Public Library had every romance novel published in the 1980's, and it subscribed to a whole plethora of gardening and ranching magazines, but it did not have Soldier of Fortune or really anything that sounded interesting to read.

Finding Kahlan's office was pretty easy. There were only two hallways and three offices. Kahlan had a cute young secretary who manned a large cold-war era metal desk next to a glass paneled door that presumably opened onto the Mayor's office proper. The secretary caught Cara's eye and smiled shyly, "Welcome to the Mayor Amnell's office. What can I help you with today?"

It was too much for Cara. She checked her watch discreetly, she was several minutes early to meet Kahlan, and she hadn't really been around civilians in such a long time, especially such pretty civilians. She leaned against the corner of the desk next to the secretary and leaned over on one hand. The position almost made her tower over the girl, and allowed her the perfect view down her shirt – both of which caused the secretary to blush.

"You could help me by telling your name," Cara purred. The blush only made her more interested.

"Emily," the secretary offered in a breathy voice. Cara was used to this sort of behavior. There was something about her that oozed raw sensuality few people could resist. Of course, the poor girl would probably feel a little ashamed about their whole encounter later, but that wasn't really Cara's problem.

"Well, Emily," Cara let the name roll on her tongue, transformed into something exotic by her accent. "Does your cruel taskmistress ever give you a break?"

"Well, I get lunch and, you know, a coffee break and stuff." Emily's eyes were drawn inexorably up Cara's torso, across her flat muscled abs shown off by the worn t-shirt she was wearing and onward to her full breasts. They paused there for a long time before heading further north, pausing again at Cara's full lips before settling on her green eyes. Her blush deepened in response to the obvious lascivious glint she saw there.

"Would you like—" Whatever proposition Cara was about to make was cut short by the sharp sound of the Mayor's door opening . Cara's attention shifted immediately, and she slipped off the desk. Emily nearly fell out of her chair and squeaked in a rather unattractive way before ducking her head to hide how flustered she was.

"Cara, are you ready for lunch?" Kahlan seemed entirely unaware of the scene that was playing out so close to her office. For reasons that Cara preferred not to dwell on, Kahlan's naivety relieved her.

"Yes. But I'm not sure where we will have lunch in this town, unless you wanted to dine in a field surrounded by cows." Cara held the door for Kahlan and grinned over her shoulder at the still flustered secretary.

CHAPTER THREE: I don't wanna bend, Let the bad girls bend

Kahlan did her best to remain composed, though Emily's bright red face made her suspect something untoward was happening just outside her door. Maybe Cara was being crude? Since Emily had not complained, Kahlan figured it was better to just ignore it. She led Cara out of City Hall and down Main Street. She turned onto one of Aydindril's unpaved, unmarked roads moving at a brisk pace that Cara easily matched and appeared to enjoy. A dingy building with a sign proclaiming it "Denee's" was hidden back from the road on the other side of a pot-holed gravel parking lot.

She didn't paused, beelining across the parking lot and pushing open the swinging wooden door with her hip. Cara slipped in behind her. The interior was rather as dingy as the exterior. The walls were wooden, decorated with neon beer signs and posters, and the floor was bare concrete. There wasn't much else to it, just a rectangular room divided in two with old leather booths on one side and an open dance floor on the other. Cara paused just inside, taking in her surroundings carefully. Kahlan didn't pause, she made her way directly to her usual table and slid into place. She didn't need to order, her food would be out in a few minutes. She had taken the liberty of calling in an order for Cara too, though she still wasn't sure what exactly Cara liked but she had figured out one thing that she was particular to – meat.

The entire day had been almost surreal. She sat in her office, working sporadically and trying to puzzle out the enigma that Cara was to her. Richard never intruded on her thoughts once. When she stopped to consider that surprising fact, she realized that it was the first day she hadn't spent a substantial amount of time wondering about where he was, fretting about his safety, or composing long mental letters to him about the minutiae of her day. There was something liberating about that, and something that made Kahlan very nervous.

Cara settled into her seat just as a pert little waitress sashayed over and set down two plates heaping with French fries and large, meaty cheeseburgers. "I hope you like American food," Kahlan offered almost apologetically, but her fear was alleviated by the voracious way that Cara tore into the food in front of her. The other woman was not much of a talker, but she made it through her food fairly quickly, allowing her to sit back and study Kahlan while she took a more leisurely time with her meal.

"So, that picture you showed me, what did the stuff on the back mean? Cypher and Mord-Sith 001?" Kahlan asked between bites after delicately swiping her lips with her napkin.

While studying Kahlan, Cara began shredding her own napkin, carefully tearing it into evenly sized pieces. "Cypher is Richard Rahl's call sign," Cara replied, averting her eyes from Kahlan's.

"And Mord-Sith 001?" she prodded. Kahlan could tell that Cara was being evasive, from the tone of her voice and her inability to maintain eye contact. Her behavior only further piqued Kahlan's curiosity.

Cara drug her fingertip through the pile of confetti, scattering it in a sinuous pattern along the table next to her empty plate. "That's not a call sign. That's a designation – a title. And a job."

"What sort of job?" Kahlan didn't look up from her food, so she didn't see Cara become unnaturally still again, as if time for her had simply paused for a moment. When Cara didn't respond right away, Kahlan dropped her fork onto her plate with a louder clatter than she had intended, causing Cara to flinch.

"Like a commando," Cara finally offered in a voice totally devoid of emotion.

That wasn't at all the sort of response that Kahlan had expected. She knew from the picture that Cara was a soldier, but she had assumed that she was the sort of soldier that didn't actually fight. Maybe Cara pushed papers or something like she imagined women in the American military did. The unexpected revelation cast Cara in a new light. Kahlan studied her for a second, noticing really for the first time the hard lines of the muscles in her shoulders and forearms, and the easy way she sat – Kahlan shuddered – as if she were familiar with violence.

"Does that bother you?" Cara quirked an eyebrow and nearly sneered as she asked the question.

"No." Kahlan went back to her food diligently, trying to push the thought of Cara killing out of her head.

They didn't talk for the rest of lunch, and Kahlan tried to hide her relief when Cara dropped her off back at her office, walking her all the way to the door. She waved Emily's polite chatter off, retrieving her messages and then closed the door firmly behind her. She dropped into her chair, leafing through the little slips without actually reading them before discarding them onto her desk.

Thoughts roiled through her head, and she finally stopped fighting them. She would be no good to anyone until she sorted herself out. If Cara was a commando, and she was Richard's friend, that meant that he was more than a simple infantryman like he had led her to believe. That also meant he was probably in more danger than she had ever realized. Cara's face pushed Richard entirely out fairly quickly though. The blonde woman wasn't even as tall as she was, but she knew how to kill. Kahlan could tell by the hard look that sometimes crossed her face, that Cara didn't just know how but that she actually had – maybe a lot.

Kahlan spun around in her chair and caught herself at the end of the rotation on the corner of her desk. The jolt shocked her and she had to pause before she spun herself again. Cara might be some kind of killer, but Richard sent her, so he must trust her. That must make her safe. Not a killer than, Kahlan decided, but a hero. Probably a really impressive war hero. Everything about Cara was quietly impressive, so Kahlan had little trouble imagining the whole box full of medals she had probably earned; medals won probably making the world safe for freedom and democracy like Richard was always talking about.

A mental image formed of Cara in a pressed uniform, like the one Richard had worn to their wedding, with a row of medals on her chest and her hat tucked firmly under her cocked arm. It sent a pleasurable shiver down her spine and made her breath catch. How had she not noticed how good looking Cara was? Well, she had noticed, but only in passing as she tried not to guess whether Richard knew her biblically, but now her attractiveness struck Kahlan in a way unrelated to Richard – in a universe far far away from the one where Richard existed. She squirmed in her chair a little.

A woman had never really affected her like this. To be fair, Kahlan had little sexual experience at all before she met Richard. She was a quiet girl and slow to trust, and the men that usually inhabited a place like Aydindril were loud and coarse with very particular ideas about how to treat a woman. She was forward-thinking, however, and the idea didn't necessarily bother her on principle.

"You're a married woman," Kahlan whispered to herself. "And Richard is away defending your country." Saying the words out loud almost helped.

Consciously mentioning Richard every moment her mind was idle for the rest of the workday helped dispel some of her guilt and the shadow that Cara was casting across her mind. She felt pleased with herself, like a trial had been overcome. Until she arrived home and Cara was lounging in the kitchen in a tight pair of boxer shorts and a white tank top. There was no bra under the tank top, and there was not much left to the imagination as a result. Her feet were kicked up on the edge of the table and a heaping bowl of something steaming was sitting across from her, and in front of the other empty chair was a second bowl.

Kahlan stopped in the doorway to the kitchen, catching herself on the frame. There was no way in hell she was going into the den of iniquity that her kitchen had become. Cara's barely clothed presence had managed to taint the entire room with barely contained, raw sensuality that Kahlan could not handle, not after the distracting day she had. Before she could slip quietly upstairs to her bedroom, Cara noticed her.

"I made dinner." She didn't sound as if she expected a reply, and went back to spooning the exotic looking stew into her mouth without waiting to see if Kahlan decided to try some.

Careful to avoid looking directly at the blonde woman, who reminded her strikingly of a lioness feasting at that moment, Kahlan made her way into the kitchen and sat down. She couldn't be rude, no matter how much she wanted to, it wasn't in her DNA. The food was unfamiliar but good, and Kahlan had little trouble pretending to enjoy it as they ate in silence.

She had never eaten dinner with Richard at her kitchen table. He had never even cooked her dinner. Suddenly, Kahlan felt very lonely.

CHAPTER FOUR: I'm paranoid of all the people I meet, why are they talking to me?

Cara borrowed Kahlan's old GMC Sierra to drive, and took off the entire next day, driving the two hours to the largest town in the county where her shipment of equipment was waiting. It was also the closest place with a fully stocked hardware store. She got home after Kahlan was already in bed, and set about, even in the dark, to begin to secure the house. The motion detectors were installed and she was well into placing the pressure sensors under the windows when Kahlan woke up and padded down the stairs in her bathrobe. Cara hadn't slept at all that night, but she felt rested and still alert.

Kahlan looked rumpled, her long silky hair tangled around her head and her eyes hooded by heavy lids. Cara sat back on her heels, holding her screwdriver still, and watched intently as the woman passed. Really, every angle as a good angle for her, and nothing but her friendship with Richard was keeping Cara's wandering hands in check. Not for the first time, she cursed the obnoxious man who had rescued her.

The mess of boxes and unfamiliar electronics equipment finally penetrated Kahlan's sleep fogged brain and she paused in the middle of the living room, staring around her.

"What are you doing?"

Cara held up the screwdriver. "Fixing your house," she explained in a slow voice, dragging out each word in case Kahlan was too dumb to understand.

"My house was broken?"

There was no good way to explain to an innocent (though beautiful) civilian that her house was essentially a giant dwelling of death. She could think of thirty or forty ways to kill everyone in side right at that instant without even straining her mental powers much. Given a couple of hours and a floorplan which could easily be obtained from the county, Cara could devise literally hundreds of ways to kill everything that had ever set foot inside the place. She went for the easy lie instead.

"Yes. Very broken." Cara patted the floorboard in front of where she was crouched. "All fixed now."

"O-kay," Kahlan rubbed her eyes. "Will it be more fixed – and clean – when I get home from work today?"

"Yes." The sooner the house was safe, the sooner Cara could actually sleep in it and the sooner she would stop looking over her shoulder every time she passed a window. But, Kahlan's concern made Cara feel better about her decision to leave the bullet-proof glass leaning outside. She definitely did not want to explain that.

Halfway through the afternoon, the heat began to send trails of sweat down between Cara's shoulder blades as she hoisted and set the new window panes. Neighbors walked by and stared curiously. The milkman (there was a fucking milkman in town!) even slowed down as his truck rolled past. Just as she hefted the next pane up the ladder, the phone inside rang insistently. It was an old corded model with a loud mechanical ring that grated against Cara's nerves, and nothing would stop the hideous noise faster than simply answering it.

She carefully retreated down the ladder and leaned the pane against the wall, before jogging into the house. The voice on the other end of the line was not Kahlan like she had expected. She assumed that in a small town like this, someone had stopped into ask the mayor what the hell was going on at her house and when had she hired a stranger to start fixing the place up?

"Cara?" the voice purred, in a low tone and an accent like her own.

"Who the fuck is this?" Cara growled in return, spinning around in the hallway to study her surroundings. How close where they? What did they want? The hairs on the back of her neck stood up.

"You haven't forgotten your sisters so soon have you?" the voice laughed softly, menacingly. "We haven't forgotten you."

Cara dropped the receiver back on the cradle and sprinted around the corner, blasting through the living room and taking the stairs three at a time. Her breath was coming hard, burning her lungs, and her heart rate accelerated – the first warning signs of an impending panic attack. She tore her fingertips up, scrambling to move the hidden board and retrieve her sidearm. That's how Kahlan found her an hour later, pressed into the corner of the guest room closet, holding her Agiel so tight her knuckles had turned white and her fingers cramped.

The fact that the house was still in disarray, and missing several windows, may have been the impetus that sent Kahlan looking for Cara, but when she got a good look at the other woman, she charged to her side and dropped to her knees in front of her. Gingerly she reached out and put her hands over Cara's on the gun. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"It's not safe for me here." Cara stared through Kahlan's concerned face into the dark space inside of her own mind. The called had sounded familiar, not just in the accent which reminded her of home, but the silken purr and the sensual menace underlying each syllable. Violence usually followed in the wake of that voice. She had been wrong to think that simple things like new windows and an alarm system would make her safe. She would never be safe. Her troubled thoughts inflamed the scars that crisscrossed her back and belly, reminding her of the final explosive blast of pain that shook her permanently from her old life and set her on the path that led her to Aydindril.

"And you're probably not safe here anymore either. They've probably seen you." The Mord-Sith never let a sister leave alive, and collateral damage didn't keep them up at night.

Instead of reacting how Cara had expected, by crying or fainting from fear, Kahlan leaned forward, her hands still covering Cara's own, and pressed her soft lips to Cara's. The kiss was chaste, but Kahlan filled Cara's senses, and Cara was powerless to not lean into it.

"Don't worry," Kahlan murmured when she finally pulled away, "I'll protect you."

CHAPTER FIVE: Don't even talk about the consequence
Cause right now you're the only thing that's making any sense to me

Kahlan had lost her mind. Somehow and somewhere, her mind had fallen out of her head and wandered away. There was no other explanation for the brazen way she had just kissed a nearly complete stranger –another woman!—right after receiving news like that. Her body didn't mind the loss of her mind though, and had already begun clambering for more. She fisted her hands against her thighs to keep from reaching out to grab Cara and pull her in again. She took a few deep breathes while her eyes remained locked with Cara's. The expression on the blonde's face was impossible to read. She hadn't slapped her yet, which was probably a good sign.

Time ticked away. Seconds extended into minutes into eternity. Kahlan felt almost certain she had been trapped in that in between moment for her entire life. Then Cara moved, just slightly, a pulling back, a caving in. She hunched her shoulders up, pushing further into the closet, hands still tight on the gun. The obvious vulnerability of her posture tugged at Kahlan.

"I need you to move," she said finally, and Kahlan was startled at how steady her voice sounded. "You're making me feel trapped."

Letting out a long breath of air in an audible woosh, Kahlan sat back on her heels and then slowly pushed herself to her feet. Her knees ached from kneeling. She couldn't think of any words to say so she turned to exit the bedroom, pausing to linger at the door and look over her shoulder at Cara. They made eye contact again, and Kahlan wasn't sure if it made her feel like she was being undressed, or being sized up for a coffin.

The downstairs was still littered with construction materials, forcing Kahlan to pick her path carefully into the kitchen. There was half a carafe of tepid coffee in the pot, so Kahlan poured herself a mug and sat at the table, back comfortingly to a wall. She would be lying to herself if she didn't admit that Cara's behavior scared her a little, not really because she feared danger there in her own house, in her own town – the setting was simply too banal – but more that Cara had been unflappable in the few days she had known her. Thinking about Cara's stoicism only brought to mind her smirk, which was the only expression she displayed besides her impassive mask, and that naturally led to thinking about her lips as she smirked, and from there it was a simple progression to reminiscing about the silky feel of them under her own as they kissed.

Her chin was propped in her hand while she daydreamed, sipping her stale coffee. When Cara finally descended the stairs, she found her off in her own fantasyland. Cara's full duffel was over the blonde's shoulder, and she tossed a similar, though empty, one at the table in front of Kahlan.

"You need to pack."

Cara's actual lips were moving but Kahlan had to force herself to physically concentrate on the words they were forming and not the curve of their sensual shape. That was just wrong. She never had that trouble with Richard. He was handsome, to be sure, but not distractingly so. A tidal wave of guilt hit her low in the gut – Richard, her husband. She had kissed someone that wasn't her husband and worse still, she enjoyed it and she wanted to repeat the experience.

"You. Need. To. Pack." Cara repeated slowly, enunciating exaggeratedly like she was talking to a small child.

Her brisk attitude, delivered from such a divinely kissable mouth, met Kahlan's guilt and transmuted, twisting into hot anger. Words, powered by the force of her emotion, spilled out of her nearly unbidden and certainly more than she meant to verbalize. "No. I am not going anywhere. This is my house, the house my grandmother built, and I am the Mayor of this town. I can't just walk away from my duty," Kahlan slapped her palm against the tabletop to emphasize her point. "Especially without any explanation from you. Just because you're in league with Richard doesn't mean you can just walk in and run my life!" Inwardly she cringed at how much the last part reminded her of herself as a teenager, raging at her mother who insisted that Kahlan accompany her to the Mayor's office so she could learn the ins and outs of government bureaucracy firsthand.

"You're in danger. Isn't that explanation enough?" Cara sounded decidedly exasperated.

"No. It's not."

Cara's duffel slipped off her shoulder and thumped against the floor next to her feet. She followed, dropping onto the floor across from Kahlan. "What do you need explained exactly? The dictionary definition of the word 'danger'?"

Kahlan wanted a lot of things explained, dangerous things. Cara's mystery was magnetic to her, an enigma that she wanted to crawl inside. She wanted to know everything about her, be the only person who really knew her, be privy to her immeasurable secrets. She imagined that knowing even the littlest thing about Cara would be more intimate even then sex. And just as unlikely to occur. Kahlan refocused herself on the more pressing issues.

"Why are we in danger? Why do we have to leave? Why are you renovating my house without permission?" Kahlan heard her voice rising in pitch but she couldn't control it now. "Who you are? How you know Richard? Why he sent you here?"

"That's a lot of questions." Cara set her elbows on the table and leaned forward. Intensity radiated off of her. "Why don't you ask the question you are really curious about, and then you can get to packing."

"What question is that?" Kahlan leaned back to match Cara's advance. Inexplicably, she began to blush.

"Did I like it when you kissed me?" Cara nearly purred. Her accent made the question nearly obscene. Kahlan gasped softly and tried to look anywhere but directly at Cara. "And the answer is yes. I did. But now we need to get moving."

Waves of heat started around Kahlan's breasts and swept downward, inundating her body. Dampness gathered between her thighs, but she had to concentrate. Richard, Kahlan mentally chanted, Richard, Richard, Richard, Richard. She tried to summon a mental image of him, but it was muddy and dissipated as soon as she glanced across the table. It felt like Cara was swelling to fill her reality, causing her skin to tingle and buzz. She shifted in her chair.

"I need more than that," Kahlan breathed, unsure herself of whether she meant information or Cara.

Either oblivious to Kahlan's growing arousal, or ignoring it, Cara chose to interpret Kahlan literally. "The…people…I used to work for. I think they've found me. And they will have seen you, and they are not afraid of," Cara paused meaningfully, "collateral damage."

The idea of commandos repelling into Aydindril to shoot the place up was just too ridiculous, to foreign to her entire concept of the world. Kahlan's mind rejected it, saving her from the mental dissonance it would cause. "I think maybe you are really tired Cara. This isn't a battlezone, its Montana. You're safe here. I told you I would protect you." Kahlan stood up, moving to the sink to rinse out her coffee mug to keep her hands busy. It was easier to talk with her back to the blonde. "Tomorrow I'll make you an appointment to see the doctor. Maybe the war just…got to you."

That was a mistake. She could hear the scratching of the chair against the floor as Cara stood, and exited the room without another word. Whatever she had hoped to accomplish with their conversation, she had failed, and she had learned nothing more about the circumstances that had brought Cara to her.

CHAPTER SIX: Here we go again, I kinda wanna be more than friends

The explosion of mortars around her kicked dust into the air, chocking her as she tried to scream. Muzzle flares flashed off through the growing clouds of chaos, disrupting her feeble attempts to concentrate enough to push to her feet. She crawled to her knees. Blood and gore hung down from the huge hole in her stomach she could no longer feel. She was in shock. A hand reached down, grasping her hair and yanking her hard to her feet. Instinctively she reached back, grabbing at the wrist of her capture, to no avail. Blood loss had made her inexcusably weak.

"Cara," her attacker leaned close, murmuring into her ear, reminding her off all the times that Triana had whispered her name like that while they lay naked in bed. Power plays were power plays though, and nothing was a better cover for a political assassination then a battle – Cara should have remembered that. No one reached the top in an organization like the elite Mord-Sith without breaking a few eggs, and the upper echelons of their military encouraged such behavior – weed out the weak, feed the killer instinct, allow the cream to rise to the top. Now the cream was being skimmed.

The knife slid in, so sharp it was nearly painless, parting the flesh between her ribs. A last, unnecessary gesture since her life was quickly running out of her, like her guts. Triana's laugh followed Cara into the darkness of eternity.

Grime and goo crusted Cara's eyes closed and it was torturous to open them. More of a struggle was mentally sorting out how it was that being dead she still had eyes to open. In the low light, and perhaps as a result of the head wound she had sustained besides, it took longer than usual for her eyes to focus. Standing over her was an American, dressed in an ACU with Major's insignia – and the shaggiest haircut she had ever seen on a soldier. The change in her breathing must have given away her return to consciousness because he leaned forward before her eyes were totally opened and reached out to check the pulse at her neck.

He waited until she had reoriented herself before speaking. She was laying on a cot, covered to the neck by a white sheet, in a tent printed in desert camo colors. Cool air was being circulated by a buzzing machine in the corner but aside from a few tables and the beeping of the medical equipment connected to her by a series of wires and tubes the tent was empty. Apparently she was the only patient.

"Welcome to Operation Seeker," the man above her smiled kindly. "My name is Major Rahl and I have been authorized by my government to provide you with this offer for your consideration."

For your consideration.

For your consideration.

BUZZ. BUZZ. BUZZ.

Cara snapped immediately from sleep to wakefulness, a skill that had served her well as a soldier. In a split second she evaluated the room, everything was in order. That didn't necessarily improve her mood, however, trapped as she still was in Kahlan's deathtrap of a Victorian and no closer to convincing the frustrating woman into heading somewhere safer with her.

Days had passed, nearly a week Cara realized, since the phone call. Kahlan had remained adamant – she went to work, accompanied by a watchful Cara; she ate lunch at Denee's, accompanied by a watchful Cara; she insisted on doing all the cooking and cleaning, still accompanied by a watchful Cara. There was no way that the Mord-Sith were joking. They hadn't forgotten about her, which would have been perfectly fine in the nihilistic sense if Richard's full blown stupidity and dangerous desire to care for people hadn't brought her to Aydindril and put Kahlan directly in the cross-hairs.

The time spent together was not exactly a chore, Cara was forced to admit. Kahlan did everything with a natural grace and dignity that seemed wholly out of place in her rural surroundings. It was a particular pleasure to watch her walk, from behind, and Kahlan either didn't notice or chose to ignore Cara's ogling, which had become more blatant. If Cara was going to be responsible for something horrible happening to that woman (and her breathtaking rack) then she was at least going to enjoy the view while everything was in one piece. They talked, rather Kahlan talked, over lunch about little things. Kahlan's favorite topic of conversation seemed to be feelings – not Cara's favorite. But there was something mesmerizing about the play of the muscles in her throat as she swallowed and spoke, so Cara forgave her tendency to chatter on.

What she couldn't forgive was how readily her body responded to the slightest stimuli related to Kahlan. The brush of her hand on Cara's when they both reached for the salt, the bump of her hip when they walked too close together on the way to her office in the morning, the intensity that burned in her blue eyes whenever they made eye contact – all of it spelled doom for the physical integrity of Cara's panties. It was a terrible breach of the iron control that she usually exerted. Years of training, physical and mental, had honed her body into the perfect weapon – weapons were only perfect when they were well balanced. Being lust drunk over your friend's wife was indicative of an imbalance.

Cara slid out of bed, pulling the tank top on that she had discarded on the floor next to her bed the night before, and made her way downstairs, fully expecting to see Kahlan cooking breakfast. There was no coffee brewing when she reached the kitchen, and the brunette was nowhere to be seen. She was a morning person, something that Cara found annoying, and so there had not been a single morning that she hadn't woken up before Cara. Concerned, Cara headed back upstairs to check her bedroom. Kahlan's sheets had been slept in, the room smelled like the perfume she spritzed on after doing her hair and right before putting on her jewelry (Cara prided herself on remembering the little things). No sign of a struggle.

A mounting sense of concern crept into the back of Cara's mind. Maybe her nightmare was a premonition, her subconscious alerting her to the presence of danger. She grabbed her Agiel, slipping into the back waistband of the jeans she hurriedly pulled on before dashing out of the house. She prowled the exterior, searching for even the most minute sign of intrusion. Her senses were honed – in war details were the difference between life and death. Nothing was out of place. Concern reached the it's peak, transforming into unfamiliar anxiety.

She sprinted down the street, accelerating past quiet houses full of sleeping occupants unaware of all the wolves in their midst, and took the corner onto Main Street so fast that her bare feet (and when had she forgotten to put her shoes on!) slipped on the gravel, causing her to nearly tumble. Her reflexes saved her from disaster and she regained her balance, not even pausing in her run.

The door nearly came off the hinges, Cara hit it so hard as she charged into City Hall. Her breath was coming hard now, raggedly tearing at her lungs. Around the corner, down the hall, through the door – like she had every day that week, except now she looked wild and half-dressed, moving at a speed that turned her into a blur.

Emily screamed as Cara burst in, but Cara didn't stop. Just as she slammed open the door to Kahlan's office, the brunette was leaping out of her chair, probably scared by the sounds of her secretary's distress.

"Shit," Cara murmured, stopped finally in her tracks by the sight of Kahlan unharmed. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.