The theory of who owned the knife came up many times.

It surely was not a gentleman's for the sheer veracity of blade's curvature was not something aristocracy prized. Of this Macleane was absolutely certain.

What puzzled him however was why this was at the forefront of tonight's robbery. Or that it was his own preoccupation with a certain turquoise plated necklace that sealed his fate.

A pair of cineral coals instinctively stole a glance in his direction from a nearby elm tree and rolled his eager orbs to the velvety horizon. Seven times in one bloody hour.

-plunk.

The distant sounds of a late night carriage perked his lobes and Plunkett gripped his notably sized pistol with unmistakable giddiness. Tonight, no masks. This was personal. His onyx gaze, 2 large dark gems that burned with insatiable fire, cast down at his brown carryon bag as it dug like a reminder into his right hip.

"Game face on mate." Plunkett instructed, watching intently as the gaslights from the carriage snaked around the edge of a nearby hill with ease. "Chase's carriage approaches."

A whir of angry metal lacerated the air with such viciousness the pupils of Plunkett's dark gaze expanded, startled.

"Whatever happens, don't get in my way." SLAM!

Plunkett splayed his hands as a peace offering ("Woah!") until those perceptive coals tweaked upon the sweet curvature of an all too familiar blade penetrating the bark of the nearby elm tree.

His.

"Where the bloody hell did you get this? I've been looking all over for -"

From razor-sharp end-to-nose tip (it was blindingly fast); the only thing that resonated was a pair of large dark green orbs that burned poison-tipped daggers into his.

"The blade you took off me in the jails."

A slight half smile miraculously curved slowly on Plunkett's lips surprising his friend and highwayman-in-arms greatly. For this was not an easy feat.

"You've been known (places special emphasis on this particular word as though treading with extreme caution) to have tricky fingers."

His dark gaze combed every resplendent feature searching intensely for any indication of what lie beneath the surface. It wasn't easy. For their newest ally from foreign shores, was stalwart in emotional discipline and just as wickedly stubborn to protect this part of her at all costs.

She arched a challenging eyebrow at him, in no way giving a mile; her dark greens glimmered with faint amusement.

And this time she broke into a crooked Mona-Lisa smile-for some reason Plunkett's heart started to thunder drowning out all sounds of the London night.

For he got the feeling, it was meant entirely for him.

"I want my blade back when you're done with it." Reaching inside her olive-green knee high boots, she expertly palmed a similar non-serrated blade.

Pointing the end of the rather spectacular blade at Plunkett, she cracked an infectious angelic grin solely on him.

"Don't make me come after you."

And with that, she charged brazenly onto the path of the highway, the sounds of gunfire left in her wake. Macleane gave him the biggest cheshire cat grin, his sapphire blues sparkling with boyish amusement at the normally feisty Plunkett being stunned into silence, before following suit behind her.

Plunkett however, his normally nimble legs leaden with a paralysis that sparked a terror to the beat of a human organ he refused to name. Never. Not in so long.

For some reason, he could scarcely breathe.

"Blythe."

Summoning ALL his will power, Plunkett forcibly shut his lids, rallying until once again resuming his mastery and proceeded GAME-BLOODY-FACE-ON hell bent on what would be their salvation for the evening.

Swift-Succinct & Lethally Demanding.

That was the state of half-turns fixed and burned into the back of her head. Still she refused to give an inch refusing to budge on this. Even under his fierce obsidian glare, unyielding and uncompromising invoking answers.

The truth of what had been done kept her awake EVERY night.

And now the UNFORGIVABLEhad stared her mockingly in the face-taunting with a ferocity that stripped any semblance of rational control or thought.

"YOU were the only one of them that refused to cry." Chase's harsh voice speared a sudden ice storm in her veins, his bulging icy blue orbs flashing with recognition immediately upon her as he tried vainly to stomp out that fire that roared to life in those penetrating dark emeralds of hers. (Some of it dimmed, Chase smirks triumphantly, baring his yellow-teeth) "Even the wildest stallion can be broken in."

This was nothing next to the engaged yet highly unreadable look; Plunkett had afforded her with in this moment trying to interpret. It went beyond anything any man had bestowed upon her before. His dark gaze glistening with an emotional collision of rage? and concern. Yes, definitely undeniable and undiluted concern. Boom- Boom-Boom. Her heart menaced with an abnormal frenzy under this. Why she didn't know.

Still, the frantic urgency of Plunkett's dark gaze shooting between Chase (with aberrant loathing-that much was clear) and she (with anxiety and hyper-alertness) was clear. She could actually see the mechanics of his apt mind so perceptive in its keen calculation laboring (sighs with relief on that one) to decode the underlying message of Chase's missile loaded with her darkest hour.

Something he had no right to take.

Quickly, she snapped (oh, ache beyond ache) her gaze from the invoking downright magnetic pull of his gentle dark orbs. Noting Chase's sudden reversion to smug fiend, her gaze blackened slightly disoriented, her tulip shaped nose slightly affronted with the unmistakable scent of mildew and the putrid stench of prisoner decay.

Without warning, Blythe SLAMMED from tip all the way to hilt of a sai-like dagger purposefully driving all the way through Chase's plump shoulder locking him in place. See how you like it.

Plunkett's breathing suddenly became hoarse, his stark ivory yet magnetizing features smacked with clear shock.

Watching, as she next proceeded to shove an unobtrusive stick needling it pliably into his mouth. Still, Chase fought against her despite the fact he was now seeping blood. He appeared very much a cornered animal so agitated to defend its right to life. Yet, it was in the nature of this beast to probe to the edge of destruction.

"I still have the knife from that night." His. The one he...

The vital color in her luminous ivory features drained considerably at this. And that's when, Plunkett noticed that particular stick filled to the brim with gunpowder and something unmistakable-an experimental type of acid derivitive he had been playing with, tweaking.

The curve of his slight yet tender lips twitched as he watched, torn between paralysis as he had been moments earlier and a state of excitement as he watched intensely as she lit the fuse.

Plunkett's heart raced exuberantly at this, waiting baited breath until Chase could neither spit, nor flee as she ripped her palms from his fat chapped lips.

Without looking, Blythe turned as though sensing his presence beside her and pushed Plunkett completely out of the inferno path. Bam!

He landed harshly but very much alive onto a patch of dry cold grass sprinkled with recent iridescent snow. His dark gaze scanned the road, first falling upon Macleane who was ambling slightly off balance and was now properly righting himself from the opposite side of the carriage.

A piercing scream instantly played havoc with his heart strings because he instantly recognized the source of this affliction. Even though he had never heard it before.

His ally lay in a crumpled pile, desperately gnawing on a lush pair of pink rose petal lips-her eyes streaming with red, salty painful tears. Plunkett could sense she was trying avidly not to look at him, turning her tense pretty features from his direction. But the pain was too great, too dire...

Too searing... Suddenly, Plunkett felt an unmistakable burning fizzing indisputably on his chest. His eyelids fluttered heavily recognizing that unmistakable chemical for exactly what it was.

His ears perked as Macleane ushered both him and Blythe to their feet clearly not realizing what had occurred.

"Come now you two. We must get off the road. Rebecca's convoy is just beyond that ridge."

It was true-Rebecca was guarding their respective steads in a rarely used cave. She was only 4 weeks pregnant and Macleane refused to allow her to lift a finger, knowing darn well how adept she was with a pistol. Still so early in the pregnancy Macleane refused to risk it. Rebecca had disputed it but caved under the gutted puppy pouting look. BOTH Plunkett and Blythe had to suppress the urge not to laugh at their friend, clearly love drunk, as Rebecca granted them with a knowing wink.

Noting Macleane's eagerness to be beside Rebecca once more, he feared for her safety in these times. He had seen the looks men had ogled her with-even now. Plunkett tilted his head in the direction of the ridge,

"Go on. We'll be right behind you mate." Before Macleane could contest it, Plunkett afforded him with a genuinely severe look under the strain of the chemical and thankfully he heeded it disappearing into the night.

"Bly-" Plunkett turned, his dark orbs popped when he realized that his ally was no longer beside him.

Frantically pivoting, Plunkett's gaze fretted until he spotted Blythe walking in a determined frenzy towards the blazing carriage currently smacking the onyx country sky with large orange and crimson flames.

Sizzle.

Ignoring the flesh cries from her back, Blythe knew the chemical was eating away at her clothes and on its way to consuming her back. Her footsteps pounded against the winter sodden dirt road more determined than ever. One way or another.

The second she grazed the sweltering flames, a pair of unexpectedly strong arms wretched her back. No!

"Wait! I have to see!" Blythe countered, her body pulled forward against his hold. "Just ONE look...please..."

The last part she uttered out so softly-a touch of vulnerability engulfed the highwayman and for a mere micro second he was at a loss not knowing where this came from.

Finally, sense assumed control and Plunkett grabbed her, whipping her around to face him. Still she refused to meet his gaze, fighting it desperately since the carriage ambush minutes earlier.

But he could tell she was listening raptly, her gaze limited to the lower portion of his face. It was better than nothing. Plunkett decided.

"If we don't remove that chemical from your body, it will consume your flesh until there's nothing but bone. It's made from acid." Plunkett said a little too harshly, but that must have gotten the message across because she nodded in frenzy that piercing emerald gaze shifted onto his palms.

Dawning realization took over him, he was holding her-unconsciously so. Just as suddenly he released her, a surprising sense of loss filled him and they both broke into a run in the forest.

In wake of their flight of frenzy, something gnawed away at Plunkett-burning him deeper than any chemical in his apothecary.

It wasn't just Chase's words, but his stare- wet with unsated deviancy, the pupils of has large pale blues expanded with a rapture so sickening upon Blythe he felt a feral wrath take hold of him.

The crunch of her olive green boots against the forest greenery instantly called attention to the frayed back of her royal blue jacket, her ivory flesh nearly exposed. And yet, she hadn't cried out once since the explosion.

He sucked harshly on his teeth, trying to stifle the pain but at this point his own vision skewed. They had to stop. Soon. It would be too late by the time they made it to the cave.

The second his vision realigned, Blythe was a good 70 feet to his far right. She was faster than he realized.

Good thing, so was he.Plunkett couldn't risk calling out to her, a couple of hundred yards back he could have sworn he overheard Chase's cavalry just arriving on scene.

It was a worthy distraction that would buy them some time. By now, Macleane must have made it to the pass that was a good half hour from the cave.

The second he caught up to her, she paused abruptly allowing Plunkett to latch onto both her shoulders-steadying himself in the process, the roughness of his fingertips unconsciously making contact with her exposed skin.

He thought -he swore - he overheard her gasp slightly at this unexpected closeness. The jarring events that had only minutes ago unfolded on the main road must have taken its toll demanding sleep neither could permit in these crucial moments. Finally, something resonated as both her shoulders relaxed when she realized it was him.

Plunkett tried desperately to catch his breath, following her dark green gaze upon something he had never spied in all his time mentoring Macleane to shoot properly in these fields behind them.

The sounds of a churning brook delightedly perked his lobes. The spot was as inconspicuous as it was nestled just beneath the bramble of both oak and elm trees obstructing a spot nature truly intended for seclusion.

It was their only chance.

He felt her tip her chin up in his direction-not exactly meeting his gaze, but there was trust banked there clearly looking for his approval.

"Come on." Plunkett said softly, granting her right arm with a comforting squeeze as he ushered her forward.

Right now, the pain was so searing he actually moaned.

"Oh God. You too?" Blythe uttered out, he thought he actually heard worry in her voice

Removing his coat, his fingers trembling as they fought to undo the intricate buttons of his cotton white shirt.

"The explosion ricocheted hitting us both." Plunkett explained while adversely trying to pull off both his boots, gritting his teeth to combat with the near-blinding agony. "We have to clean off any exposed flesh and cortorize any open wounds so it doesn't get into our blood stream."

A wave of cold air sliced through them both as Blythe appeared momentarily panicked before stepping into the frosty water.

Those dark cineral orbs watched gob smacked before adamantly protesting (bellowing is the more appropriate term), "Wait! What the bloody hell are you doing woman?"

Plunkett plunked ("Damn It!") his way into the icy four foot water, his body making the command decisions on its own accord. His dark orbs swirled as she started to tremble from the temperature. This time she looked him straight in the eye, fear and shame glistened anxiously as he approached.

He recognized that look immediately; he paused rooted to the spot. "You'll freeze that way once you step out of the water."

In a small voice, she managed,

"I know." and as an afterthought "Please turn around."

His eyelids fluttered with confusion; clearly they would have to help each other. His dark gaze lightly glossed over her; he didn't see any visible reasons for her to cringe from his gaze.

"Look my dear if you are scarred in some way it will not bother me. I give you my word." Plunkett held up his right hand as though swearing some official oath, he felt her gaze soften immeasurably at this and he proceeded to approach her.

In his left, he shakily held up a 6 inch vial for her inspection-he had only just drank a portion of it. Her deep set greens settled from the vial recognizing the contents and finally to him.

"I promise." Plunkett declared his own voice softening as he was now standing a half-breath in front of her.

Astonishment popped those perfectly lush pink rose petal lips and Blythe felt that unnamable organ hammering so loudly inside her at this declaration-so genuine so unbelievably sweet.

Her will alone surrendered to it.

Those inky coals that burned her marrow-deep upon first glance, were now intensely studying her mouth. Something she had never seen him do before. What would it take to get a man such as this attention? Blythe trembled even further and this time she suspected it had nothing to do with the frosty temperature.

The way in which his gaze raked her mouth made her weak in the knees. Ignore. Ignore. It was simply the icy effects of pneumonia causing this delirium to set in.

Finally, she nodded. This gesture alone seemed to bring him to his senses because now he was all Plunkett again and was wearing that irresistible saucy grin during that first-second-and now 22nd Run-In together.

Damn him! And the effects of that super-delicious smile she found so endearing. Not like she would ever tell him that to his face. Nor that he fascinated and challenged her on every-level possible.

"You ready to dive?" Plunkett said through chattering teeth, his sass not deterred in any measure.

Stubborn-as-hell.

"You first." Flashing him an infectious little girl's grin that was as wicked as it was innocence.

A hearty chuckle escaped the sliver of his tender lips-his dark coals twinkled with amusement.

"Fair enough. How about together? (Blythe gave him a faux indifferent shrug amidst 'the chill') On 3.1-2"

They both submerged completely on 3 as though anticipating each other's moves and the core of winter frost nearly engulfed them from first contact.

Before Blythe knew it, her body wailed against the frost and both instantly swam to the surface and hurled themselves upon the forest floor exhausted beyond measure. "He (teeth chattering, feather light dark brown hair matted considerably to his entrancing features) recognized you."

The words had escaped William Plunkett's mouth before he had a chance to think or muzzle them.

Oh Shiit - he had noticed after all. Blythe instantly froze calling his attentive gaze to the very graceful slopes of her exposed shoulder blades. Her neck turned frantically from him, the gesture of which completely loosened those luxurious snow-white waves from a very intricately woven french braid.

Refusing to look directly at him, shame and white-hot anger instantly prickled her ivory and rose features considerably just as she released a weak.

"Yes."

There was no need to go any further than that.

Inhaling deeply, Blythe fiercely tried to suppress the blistering memory of the Tiburon gallows-the sight of a young teenage boy swaying lifelessly above her, undoubtedly rotting for days.

Swallowing hard, Blythe could sense him patiently at that (one word she would never thought to associate with this man before) waiting for her to continue.

Never give an inch. Not one inch.

Summoning ALL her will power, she weakly but stubbornly tried to stand in one go. Big-fucking-mistake.

Her quivering slender form instantly fell out from underneath her. Unexpectedly, she felt the familiar rough palms grapple her firmly in time, catching her in place.

A-was that a relieved?- grin cracking reassured at the corners of the slivers of his sensual lips. Oh shit, had she really just though that about 'let's keep things professional' Plunkett?

The very expression he hurled at Macleane a 1,000 times a day?

"Careful dear, looks like you've got American legs." there was an actual teasing quality to his voice, a kind light glowing fondly in his eyes as he-just-held her.

Arching her signature challenging attitude in chic eyebrow up at him, "What are you talking about? My legs are a thing of beauty, they go on forever."

Second Miracle: He gave her that oh-so-rare amused toothy grin. It was downright adorable.

"Never said I was complaining." there was a surprising huskiness to his British accent as he crooked a single snow-white crinkly lock behind her ear with such gentleness her legs again felt like jelly. "Just that you might not be used to how cold English water can be."

Suddenly, it was her turn to grin-those lush folds slowly curving into that irresistible Mona-Lisa firecracker grin.

Teeth chattering, she forged ahead anyway.

"Clearly you've never been to Brooklyn."

His dark cineral orbs absolutely glowed at just how fast she reigned in her emotion palette-she was as wily as she was vulnerable. The last part he suspected she rarely let out.

Just like the whole truth. Sure, she did so sparingly: more on a need-to-know basis than anything else. But who exactly gave up that part of themselves, without giving up everything in the process?

That he understood-with everyone who had ever let her down, who had betrayed her without a second thought to the self-destruction it would ultimately cause-but not with him.

He had never given her any reason to doubt him or his motives. He would never betray her nor would he ever think to. Not as life had done him a few years back. Cheated him of Mary.

She was studying him now intensely-her exquisite (my God were they breathtaking-why had he ignored this) dark green orbs swirled with a sudden seriousness up at him. Clearly, in their abrupt silence, she was taken with interpreting his expression.

"Tell me how you know him Blythe. (he quickly added) You never told me-(quickly corrects himself) us-what.."

Those gorgeous emerald orbs suddenly had sparks of rage in them as they narrowed to slits up at him.

"NO." She said through clenched teeth, in this moment she looked capable of anything.

And it suddenly dawned on him-she would protect that terror that lived inside her body to the last gasping breath.

Fair enough. That was admirable.

"He killed my partner." Plunkett revealed unexpectedly, his accent feather soft as the memory sank with renewed painful vigor over him. "Cruelly and vicious. We were on a job and he was injured. Chase's loyal dogs would be eminently upon us. I didn't want to leave him but he pleaded with me. Macleane filled in the rest...The worst part is I left him. I have to live with that."

Those emerald fire rivets suddenly crashed with shock and empathy at this layer of him he had been holding onto for close to a year. Those dark coals glistened wet and red with tears that refused to fall and unexpectedly Plunkett felt a pair of ivory silk fingertips gingerly caress the side of his cheek.

It was such a surprise that his body leaned forward eagerly into her touch on its own accord. Sweet heaven. Had he really gone this long?

"He stole my little brother, Francis at 15 years old." the words spilled out so unexpectedly -easy, well easier than she thought-"Charged to hang until dead for stealing to eat just to survive. It took me a week to get here and when I did...the first thing I saw was him swaying. And you know what the worst part is? There was no one there to save him, no one to give him those last moments of comfort..(her voice caught on a tempered sob). That's on me. So I had to make it right."

A single wet pearl pooled at the crevice of her right orb spilling without restraint-and for the first time not wanting to-down the delicateness of her suddenly pink cheekbones from this revelation.

A sigh of utter relief filled Plunkett as he recognized the gravity of what this meant to her-to both of them. Sniffing, an embarrassed smile at feeling so bare, so naked in his dark eyes crossed her lips and instinctively she wiped the salty stream with the hem of her royal blue jacket.

"I'm sorry you had to see me like this." Blythe felt the attentiveness of his gaze intensify and she tried-ached-not to flounder under it. "It's been so long (roughly tries to cease the flow of tears)..they just won't stop falling."

A firm hand gripped her tiny wrist in place, pausing her-her skin prickled like a live wire desperately seeking more contact like this.

"Let them." Plunkett said, his voice had an unexpected tenderness to it

Her heart did that silly BOOM-BOOM-BOOM thunder thing which was completely dangerous for her to get caught up in. One day her heart and her mind better sit down to conference on this.

Desperately seeking a distraction, Blythe's emerald fire gaze somehow landed on the antidote vial-a valuable serum the highwayman carried upon his person at all times.

Cocking her head pointedly at the vial, Plunkett nodded and pulled his body close enough to grab it. In order to administer it, he would need a steady hand as would she.

Placing his body into a momentary sitting position, Plunkett maxed out what was left of his adrenaline to once again stand up. On a grunted curse and a silent prayer, Plunkett heaved his body into an unexpectedly straight stance.

The effort alone caused his vision to blacken only once before realigning on his willfully spirited ally who was now using the base of oak tree to stand properly. She bit so hard on that lush lower pink rose lip, a droplet of blood manifested at the center as salty tears once again threaten to fall from her eyes.

Catching her breath, her riveting emeralds settled with a pleased-as-punch joy at having conquered her body with sheer will power. The effect of which produced a sweet lopsided grin at the corners of that mouth.

"Okay. You first." Blythe commanded as she settled her back into the base of the 100 year old oak, resting her arms on the basis of two willing branches.

It was Plunkett's turn to shake his head.

"No dear, you were closer to the explosion and you handled that particular ammunition." Plunkett disagreed on the side of caution, his dark coals spoke true as they leveled with her emerald-tilting his head pointedly at her. "Both very good reasons for you to have this administered before me."

Her dark jades went wide with a mixture of anxiety and excitement at this. Finally, her head nodded rampantly on its own accord mumbling incoherently, stumbling like a drunkard over words in a stupor.

He fluttered his eyelids, his dark gaze lighting with genuine amusement at this gesture surely.

"Blythe, you're going to have to turn around. The acid is on its way to eating your back, infecting your bloodstream."

"O-Ok."

Those dark coals of his flashed with shards of astonishment-this reaction (from her in particular) truly floored him. Out of everything in their 1 year alliance that they had forged, willing compliance was not something he had witnessed in her. Not even once. Until this moment.

Without a second's hesitation, Blythe swiftly turned her back to him, but not before stealing a momentary rushed glance in his direction as he approached from behind.

From this close, Plunkett could indeed tell that his earlier deduction had been correct. As he surveyed the flayed royal blue cotton material which hung defeated, its hem completely charred beyond recognition, his onyx gaze was especially drawn to the way the stubborn frozen material now clung to exposed skin with life-clinging force.

Bracing her arms up against the tree's branches, she felt him even while he got to work inspecting first (gaze first)- ever the scientific mind. She held her breath and her shoulders tensed. He will see. He will know.

Suddenly, Plunkett gripped both her shoulders firmly as though to keep her in place. "Easy. Dear. Easy." that simple stroke of that feather light voice caressed her right ear and she felt the tension melt from it.

"I'm going to have to break the material to get at the wound."

Fair warning she knew but the mere sound of a blade that close to her body sent a familiar spasm throughout her lithe body. Riiiip. Her fingers trembled on their own accord, her jaw tensed on an all too fresh memory that SHOULD have been beaten into oblivion after tonight but simply wasn't.

The second Plunkett plied the material completely apart, his heart fell into his stomach as his inky dark gaze fell upon something that ripped the air out of his lungs.

He couldn't breathe. He couldn't speak.

5 large angry abrasions lacerated her smooth ivory back. There was such a vile ferocity in these wounds, administered with such loathing and relish it burned Plunkett to the spot. But it was the graceful shudder of those sublime shoulders that truly captured his attention-they quaked under his dark gaze.

"Oh sweetheart." Plunkett finally found his voice, there was such torment in it as his fingertips extended to touch the start of an angry abrasion. One soft gentle caress.

Oh-dear-God... he had never called her that before. Woman! Blythe and more recently -dear. But never.

Nervously, she summoned her willpower but suddenly that didn't seem so important right now. Not in his eyes. She tilted her head just so catching those heart stopping dark coals the instant they met. Those beautiful dark eyes of his that challenged her with every breath they stole.

And in this moment, there was a multitude of killer rage, concern and compassion fretting in his dark coals all on her behalf. His dark gaze shifted once more to her back and she felt her anxiety heighten -her emeralds watching intensely with such hyper awareness. Still, there was not even a flicker of disgust or repulsion of her imperfections. His gaze lifted to meet hers, heavy with dark emotion, radiated with torment.

"Chase." The word was as aberrant as it was loathsome, instantly tensing her up again.

Wham! A murderous fury instantly fueled every contour of his magnetic ivory features, it bordered on a snarl. Woah...

He had figured as much. But what had precipitated such an action in the first place hung ominous over him-the not knowing. For it should never have occurred at all.

But she seemed to have anticipated the direction of his train of thought,

"I was the one to cut my brother down. I had to bury him with no answers as to why he was dead. Until I found the conviction list and the man responsible...(her voice caught on her throat) I had to make him pay! This is my baby brother! Chase caught me sneaking into his jail. Tortured me...tried to (swallows hard as the memory contorted into a wrathful menacing expression on her angelic features) rape me."

Plunkett fisted his palm furiously over the hilt of his blade, right now he was seething past any rationality. But this time, she didn't retract her piercing green gaze from his-he was surprised to notice an warmth glowing up at him.

"It was your knife that saved me."

The blade that he lost while waiting for Macleane to 'finish' with the jailer's daughter. He had merely placed it on the table, half-listening to the crude bets being placed - his mind honing in on how they could be mutually beneficial to one another.

Not realizing that a pair of nimble dainty ivory fingertips had managed to casually pick up the hilt scoring a choice blade. One that made all the difference.

Sure, he had raved for hours to Macleane afterwards only able to soothe the loss by securing its twin in a secret compartment inside the seam of his lengthy rugged brown leather coat.

But, the mere thought that his knife had saved her relieved him considerably and caused his heart to swell with relief. That even in ownership only he played a small role in her escape.

There was such gentleness in his dark eyes-something she saw occasionally flicker to the surface-but this time it was directed solely on her. That she would forever associate her liberation with him.

Words ceased to form in this moment between them. That perfect silence that followed was only superseded by an unspoken understanding as the two allies once again anticipated the other.

Once again, Blythe turned around and splayed her palms against the base of the 100 year old oak tree. Her lithe form had completely relaxed against the bark as against all odds was able to do something she would have never done before-leave her back exposed. To him was a different thing entirely.

Tap! Tap!

The glass extractor smiled receptively up at Plunkett's analytical dark gaze as he measured the exact amount required to eliminate any infection. He had suspected that the chemical had already spread to their blood stream but he knew he bore not cuts or bruises to speak of.

The little cylinder was ready to be administered and Blythe readied herself -sensing him before she felt him.

Plying the fabric completely apart, so that he would not fail to miss any spot as the cylindrical glass wand flourished wet and undeniably warm across the legions fleshed out across her silky flesh.

Blythe gnawed on her lower lip, feeling his closeness-his heat- bone deep. The heed to ignore started fading.

Suddenly, Plunkett ceased applying the serum -his dark coals turned hazy upon the ivory silk of her back, those scars could do nothing to mar her beauty. As defiant and stubbornly fierce as she is.

That dark obsidian gaze of his roasted with a hunger so deep and undeniable in its arousal it near consumed his long-neglected body.

The grace of her ivory collarbone felt Plunkett's breathing go shallow, choppy and undeniably ragged. The entire time the sizzle of her back completely abated leaving nothing left between them.

Except this heat . Without expecting to Plunkett (in all these lonely years he purposefully isolated that unnamable organ that beat erratically now in his chest) began to pulsate with unexpected desire. The need to be closer to her, holding her in his arms -he found himself surrendering into lithe lacerated silk ivory heaven (sheer bliss) that was her back.

Still, somehow he didn't feel close enough to her. The sizzle that now existed between them -searing her from the flesh of her back to the light of her soul was not enough. She needed him more and more.

She was now entirely on fire, her body heated with primal awareness at the intimacy of their closeness. She knew she wanted William Plunkett the first time they met. Now it went beyond need and became soul-defining essential.

The crook of his pointed nose was undeniably smelling her hair and for the first time those sensual wonders (his lips) were a torturous breath above the nape of her neck. The mere gesture of which instantly speared white-hot need pooling like an electric rod to the very core of her.

Her right arm arched slightly, to turn to face him-both of them pulsing with need against the other-the effect of which caused the shoulder of her straps to falter. Both-Trembling, Aching, Wanting.

Plunkett tried really hard not to -but instinct drove those brilliant hungry dark coals to the exposed piece of flesh. The side of her right breast beckoned invitingly up at him, his mouth watered at the thought.

He very quickly replaced the material refastening it appropriately just in time to catch the thunderstruck expression in those emerald green orbs. It did nothing to dampen the arousal in her eyes, if anything it increased.

He could have had her in that moment alone, she wouldn't have refused but that fact that he chose not to act on his own desire caused her legs to feel utterly weightless.

It called to mind the moment when she overheard Plunkett chastising Macleane about losing his focus on the job at hand by getting caught up chasing women.

Macleane had of course sniggered and threw the outrageous statement back at him, "Oh come on ol'boy. Like you've never been in love?"

"No." Plunkett answered a little too quickly, too on edge his magnetic features had a troubled look cross them and added as an afterthought "Never."

It was a downright lie. And it had shaken her to the core, leaving her rattled for days knowing he had someone precious that had loved him, touched him. Feeling worse that maybe someone had broken his heart. Feeling the ultimate devastation when she overheard him telling Macleane that this special someone had gotten sick and died. That he-a man who had once owned an apothecary shop-couldn't nurse her back to health.

Blythe ached as a gaping hole started to grow in her heart from that day forward. Pretending to force a smile and act like she hadn't over heard as she sauntered into the room cut her deep. And damn it, there were days it stung worse than others.

Because she never had anyone like that. It was her greatest tragedy. Worse yet, she wanted and craved him still. Perhaps, she didn't realize it on an conscious level but after that day she kept her distance until they took their revenge on the man who had taken so much from all four of them.

It was just easier that way. When this was all over, Plunkett would soon forget her and buy a ticket to her homeland. Huh-of course. She had thought mulling over the irony of the very man she couldn't have traipsing around her stomping ground.

If that wasn't ammunition enough to go on a picketing spree, she didn't know what. So she did exactly what had kept her and her mother fed and sheltered after they had been evicted, her fingers hungrily worked on affluent upper class English manor homes. Pawning next. This she did in a wonderful uninterrupted stupor for days, feeding off the risk and danger in such a uniquely peaceful way the bleak world started to slip into the shadows and she could just play.

After cashing in a rare piece of jewelry, Blythe had stepped into the main square only to be assaulted with the excruciating vision of Macleane and Plunkett striding haphazardly at that out of a nearby brothel. Both appeared out of sorts-but Plunkett appeared to be weathering a volatile rage.

Quickly, she hid inside a general store pretending to take a passing fancy in the chocolate bars directly in front of her. Inside, she was screaming. Hurting, not knowing why she allowed this damn man to become so vital. Of course, she realized that it wouldn't be uncommon for men to visit such an 'establishment'. Macleane sure. But Plunkett?

For some odd reason, Macleane's sapphire blues spotted her as they passed, froze but never said anything. Nor did he ever mention it to her in the future.

That very afternoon Macleane would recall Lady-the richest woman in England that had given him the pox-vacuous estate had been burglarized. Apparently, 'someone' had walked in and walked out as quick as you please with a pair of royal ruby jewels that had been given to her by the Queen as a wedding present. It was downright suicidal to steal from aristocracy-the brass alone, the utter cheek.

"Check this out mate." Macleane tossed the article to Plunkett, who was assessing the worth of a diamond called into question.

Plunkett picked up the afternoon paper, folded it and honed his dark coals across the shocking title.

Macleane of course could always be counted on-arching an eyebrow cheekily at his friend.

"Sound like anyone we know?"

She had never pawned those babies -she wanted them as a constant reminder. Never give an inch. Not one inch.

Blythe was fortunate that up to now she had done just that. Until 5 minutes ago.

Radiant green wildfire suddenly met piercing dark coal, her head tilting up-suddenly she was breathless. His dark cineral gaze glistened intensely rocketing a tenderness with something she never saw coming-a hibernating vulnerability that peered at her with both guardedness and desire.

Suddenly, that hole in her heart didn't feel so heavy-the hurt so devastating.

The intensity of his gaze was searing-not even the acid derative she pocketed for tonight could compare-as those coals raked the sensuous rose petal feast that was her lips.

"Distracting." He had once told Macleane when they had went a whole week without receiving any word from their newest ally.

"Come again?" Macleane had glanced up from practicing the newest strut that was in vogue for the spring.

Truth was, that would always be the first word he would associate with Blythe. The way her lips distracted him, the manner in which she could game-set-and-bloody match him anytime through banter, the way in which any form of contact (voluntary or involuntary) from her forced him to grit his teeth and try not to hiss as his skin started to prickle like a live wire.

Worse yet...the manner in which she had strode in a week later and avoided said radiant emerald gaze with him as the four of them prepared for this night. Tilting his head to the right, squinting noting how she met both Macleane and Rebecca's gaze both amiably and with consideration and avoided his entirely. The whole time keeping her features smooth and infuriatingly inscrutable.

Not knowing what had caused this personal disaster between them. It troubled him more than he would like.

And now this-the slivers of his sensuous mouth hovered a mere breath above her own. From this angle, he could feel the frenzy of her heart drumming wildly surrendering completely to the way her exquisite green orbs just got lost-hypnotized, drowning equally in his.

Their lips crashed in one sensuous caress-hot, long and undeniably erotic.

It was something neither expected.

Suddenly, their lips dueled for all consuming dominance-battling hungrily, achingly so as teeth gnashed and tongues sensuously stroked without restraint. Their lips actually hungered for the other, unable to sever for air-nor wanting to-as the fire they felt sizzled for that much more.

Stopping for a mere micro-second, Blythe drank in the seriousness brimming intensely in those dark obsidian coals and she allowed the rest of the material to fall freely from her. It settled neatly around her waist just above her dark cotton pants.

Plunkett, couldn't help it, his tongue licked his lower lip at the thought of taking the left and then the right into his mouth. The way those rose-tipped nipples sung with arousal in his presence..

Suddenly, his lobes perked to the sound of a branch snapping. Then another.

Fuck! Chase's men.

Noting the alarm flashing in those radiant emerald orbs of hers, Plunkett instantly wrapped his arms soothingly around those graceful shoulders and drew a single finger to his mouth invoking silence. Blythe nodded, already her lovely face was filled with anxiety-but it did nothing to dampen the rosy arousal in her cheeks.

Then those sensual slivers placed a lingering kiss tenderly upon the middle of her forehead filling her with a renewed reassurance. Those wondrous dark coals spied his carryon leather bag just behind the boulder.

"Come on luv." Plunkett instructed (Blythe felt that BOOM-BOOM-BOOM once more-darling man) as he crouched down and hurriedly began to toss whatever clothes he could find at the both of them.

With what dry clothes they had on, Plunkett grabbed Blythe's right hand and broke into a run-his own heart running away from him.

And for the first time, in a long time nothing could stop that irrepressible smile from growing on his face.

With a sigh of relief, Macleane exited the pass and hastily proceeded up the corner most right path-a recently abandoned route which had been used primarily by miners to haul coal to the village below.

The journey through the pass had been largely uneventful and he had to rely heavily upon a rather bulbous torch through the pitch-black cavern. But all in all, job well done.

The bastard ultimately got what was coming to him.

His footsteps quieted as he approached the ridge leading into the abandoned cave. He didn't want to alarm Rebecca in the slightest.

Unexpectedly, the right side of his head was now greeted with the barrel of a long pistol. "Bang-you're dead." the familiar soft inflection of that voice also maintained a razor-sharp seriousness.

Macleane swallowed hard, before tilting his head knowingly upon the most sublime dark haired angel to have ever graced him with her presence. Those radiant cerium blues sparkled with sheer amusement.

"Since when is the gentleman highwayman caught off guard?"

Cupping those cherub cheeks gently into the palm of his hands, Macleane claimed those rich full coral lips in a tender caress.

Macleane parted only to study and marvel at the way this woman-this undominatable force-was so brave enough to fall for him. "Since you stepped into his life and became the only thing to truly rock his world."

Two heart beats absolutely fluttered at this declaration. A truly touched tender smile manifested at the corners of that coral mouth destined to tame him from the very first time they spoke.

"Awww-that's a wonderful color of rogue Rebecca." a rich upper-class voice teased mercilessly from behind them, noting that glowing flush spread across her cheekbones "She wears it well."

Macleane turned, his sapphire blues widened with surprise to notice Lord Rochester relaxing tartly against a small boulder.

"Rochester!" his face broke into a pleased grin, as his friend held up an flask undoubtedly filled to the brim with the latest and most expensive wine. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Sighs and grants Macleane with the sort of kind expression one presents to a child. "Oh look at him dear Rebecca! He's sooo cute when he's trying to figure something out. Now, I couldn't leave my dear friend Rebecca all by her lonesome in this delicate condition, could I? What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn't offer my assistance?"

"Good man."Macleane nodded and placed the palms of his hand to his wife's stomach.

Whack! Rebecca stepped back and gave him a pointed meaningful stare.

"James! Where are dear Plunkett and Blythe?"

James Macleane shut his lids raptly fiercely cajoling himself for not thinking about this sooner.

"They shouldn't be too far behind me. Plunkett was trying to aide sweet ("Ummm." Rochester declared naughtily "That she is.") Blythe. The blast from the charge was rather overpowering."

Rebecca's dark blues widened with unmistakable worry and concern.

"What if they're injured? What if they need our help?"

A rather loud melodramatic sigh radiated from Lord Rochester's painted ruby lips.

"Oh dear Rebecca." Lord Rochester strut adorned in next season's garb straight over to the couple. "Have you not met these too? They are the most stubborn willful resilient pair I have ever had the pleasure not too ravage. (sucks thoughtfully on his crimson lips) It surprises me greatly that neither hasn't pounced at each other."

An incredulous sparkle radiated incredulously in James Macleane's sapphire blues at the thought.

"Oh come now ol' boy. Those two?" Macleane sniggered trying to stifle the very idea of it.

"Huh." Rebecca said and yet there was consideration in her voice, a coy smile curling on those fabulous lips.

Rochester exchanged a knowing look with Rebecca, wily scrunching up his nose. "So you've noticed it too?"

Before Macleane could utter a word of protest, a dual pair of footsteps stampeded up the ridge breaking fast.

Three heads whipped with shock on the pair. Both were breathless, trembling and nearly naked apart from the triple layers of long cotton shirts now adorning their persons. It also didn't help their case that a pair of cineral coals and dark emeralds couldn't exactly meet each other's gaze.

"What happened?" Macleane was on his partner at once "We thought you might have been bloody injured."

In unison, a quick flick (not exactly making eye contact and not exactly ignoring the other either) exchanged between Plunkett and Blythe.

"We..uh."Plunkett was still short of breath and was avidly trying to regain his composure. "We had to stop. There was acid in the charges. Otherwise, we wouldn't have made it this far."

Rochester could have passionately kissed Rebecca for what was inquired next. "What happened to your clothes?" Lady Rebecca inquired, confusion laced her soft voice.

Another can't-meet-each-other's gaze exchange, nervousness and something else colored both their cheeks.

Casting both Rebecca & James with an 'I-Told-You-So' glance, Rochester swung both his arms across the two of them and winked cheekily at Plunkett & Blythe. "I just adore awkward silences, don't you? They have a way of speaking volumes. Besides, I'd love to see you two talk your way out of this one."

Without acknowledging anything, Plunkett stepped in front of Blythe, and addressed the confusion and inquisitive gazes of his friends.

"Look, we have to go now. Chase's men are only 10 minutes behind us."

Suddenly, a nervous energy broke out amongst them. Rebecca tossed Blythe an extra crimson hooded robe she took with her in case it got too cold while she waited and Macleane handed Plunkett (who still couldn't entirely meet his friend's gaze) an extra pair of trousers he kept in a concealed bag at the entrance of the cavern.

As the five of them climbed aboard their mares (both Macleane and Rochester assisted Rebecca), only one thought claimed James Macleane's mind.

Something had happened.

And he'd be damned if he didn't find out what.

*Hope you enjoyed reading. There is a definitely a conclusion on its way to you soon. If you enjoy or have questions, let me know. Thanks.

~Sidicious