Un Jour Il Viendra
By TakersLover


Tess slowly opened her eyes. She looked around, trying to adjust her vision to the darkness, and saw the outline of a large desk. The study. She thought. She hated this room. This was where Frank spent most of his time when he was at home. He called her in here often and she often woke up on the floor the next morning, bloody and sore. She looked around the room to see if Frank was still there. He wasn't.

The study wasn't as big as the other rooms in the house, but was big enough for Frank to work in comfortably. To the right of the door was a large Mahogany desk and on top of it sat a computer, a phone, and a reading lamp. There was a printer and a fax machine on a smaller mahogany desk that sat to the right of the large one facing the door forming an "L" shape. There was a mahogany filing cabinet to the back and left of the desk. On the wall across from the door was a large bay window that overlooked the garden. The drapes that covered the window were burgundy with gold trim and were pulled back and held open with gold ropes. To the left of the door was a television that sat on a small mahogany table. Frank liked to watch the news while he worked. There were two chairs in front of the desk as well as Frank's chair behind it. All three chairs were covered in burgundy leather. The plush carpet was also burgundy. The wallpaper was burgundy with thin gold stripes. On the walls, there were portraits of his father, grandfather, and other ancestors. All of who had been successful businessmen.

Slowly, she pulled herself up and sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, her head spinning. She rubbed the side of her head, felt the drying blood matted in her hair, and tried to remember what happened.

Frank had come home from work in a very bad mood. She had walked past the study on her way upstairs to her room when he called out her name and told her to come to him. He didn't say anything at first, he just sat staring at her. Then he stood up, walked over to her and hit her hard across her jaw causing her to fall. He started screaming at her, something about how women were bitches, how all they were good for was sex... She couldn't remember exactly what he said. He reached down, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her up, accusing her of cheating on him. He hit her again, knocking her down, then kicked her until she stopped moving. She lay motionless on the floor at his feet, hoping he would believe she were unconscious. With one final kick to her head he left her there.

Slowly, she stood up holding on to the edge of the desk for support, and felt a wave of dizziness wash over her. She leaned over, placing her hands on the desk, until the dizziness faded, then slowly she made her way out of the study to the stairs. She felt dizzy again as she looked up at the top of the staircase and wondered how she was going to make it to the top.

She grasped onto the handrail and, one by one, began climbing the stairs. Her whole body hurt from the attack. She wondered suddenly where Frank was. She didn't want to look at the top of the staircase again for fear she would fall. So she continued her accent, hoping he wasn't there. If he were at the top, maybe he would push her down, sending her plummeting to her death. She didn't really want to die, but she couldn't live like this anymore.

Her hand came to the end of the railing and slowly she looked up and saw she was at the top of the staircase. She let out a heavy sigh of relief when she didn't see Frank there. Supporting herself against the wall, she walked toward the end of the long hallway to her bedroom. Once inside her room, she closed the door and leaned back against it fighting yet another wave of dizziness.

Her room was small. She wasn't sure what it had been used for in the past, maybe as a servants quarters, but it was hers now. This was the only room in the house Frank wouldn't enter. This was her sanctuary. She was safe here. Bookshelves lined three of the four walls of the room and were filled with a large variety of books. She had novels of all kinds, horror, romance, mystery, along with books on medicine, auto mechanics, and witchcraft. Reading was her only hobby since she rarely left the house and didn't have any friends. On the wall to her right was a small oak dresser. There were more books on top and a picture of her parents. Next to the dresser was a small oak desk, which held her computer, phone, a radio, a small digital alarm clock, and some computer books, and in front of the desk was an oak chair. On the other side of the desk, in the corner, was a small walk-in closet. Across from the door was a bay window that overlooked the garden in the back yard and was covered with faded blue drapes. To her left in the corner was her bed, which had an oak headboard. The bed was covered in an old white comforter with tiny blue flowers. The carpet was faded blue and the wallpaper was white with large blue flowers. To the immediate left of the door was her bathroom. It was small as well. The shower had a glass door, the floor was covered with blue tile, and the wallpaper was the same as in the bedroom.

She took a deep breath and walked into the bathroom. Stepping in front of the mirror, she looked at her reflection and sighed. She had a bruise on her left cheek and eye and on her right jaw. Bruises covered most of her body, some were from tonight, but most had already been there. She always had bruises, but she refused to feel sorry for herself. She wouldn't give Frank the satisfaction. She knew that it was her fault he beat her, although she wasn't sure why. She didn't cheat like he was always accusing her of doing, but she must be doing something to provoke him. She lowered her head fighting back the tears that were threatening to fall. Stop it. She told herself. You're not going to cry. She walked over to the shower and turned on the water.

Slowly, she pulled her clothes off, wincing with every move. Her entire body felt like it had been thrown down the side of a mountain. She looked down at her body and saw a few bruises on her arms and legs, but most of them were on her abdomen, sides, and back. Carefully she stepped into the shower. The hot water felt good on her sore muscles. She was unable to hold the tears back as she slowly began to wash the blood out of her hair. She had a cut on the top left side of her head. It didn't feel deep and it had already stopped bleeding. "No reason to see Dr. Monroe about that." She whispered then picked up the bar of soap, lathered the washcloth and began washing her body. A bolt of pain ripped through her as the washcloth slid over her ribs. She pushed on them slightly to see if they were broken. No, she didn't think they were broken, bruised perhaps. After rinsing off, she stood under the water and let it flow down her body until it started to turn cold then turned it off. After toweling off, she wrapped the towel around herself, and went back into the bedroom. Exhausted, she fell back on the bed and closed her eyes.

She saw her husband standing over her, screaming at her. She felt the first blow as he hit the side of her face, then the next. The blows kept coming as she curled up in the fetal position and covered her head with her hands, trying to protect herself. She felt the toe of his shoe as it connected with the middle of her back then everything went black.

She bolted up in bed, trembling and covered with sweat. Tears filled her eyes as she remembered what had happened. Why had he attacked her this time? He accused her of cheating, didn't he? He always did. She pulled the comforter down and crawled into bed, not bothering to take off the towel or to put on her nightgown. She looked at the clock on her desk and groaned. 4:30 a.m. Rolling over, she closed her eyes once again and fell into a restless sleep.

Chapter One

Tess felt the warmth of the sun on her face and smiled. She opened her eyes, squinting at first from the brightness of the sun then yawned and tried to stretch a little, still very sore from the night before. She got up out of bed, put on her nightgown and bathrobe, and went downstairs hoping Frank had already left for work. Silently, she walked to the dining room, peeked in, and saw Frank eating breakfast. Just as she was turning to go back upstairs, he saw her and cleared his throat. Taking a deep breath, she turned, walked over to the table, and sat down. Mary, their housekeeper of ten years, brought her a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast. Smiling weakly, she thanked Mary then watched her as she walked away, leaving her alone with her husband.

Mary was a kind woman. She was well into her fifties, but still managed to take care of Tess and Frank. She didn't live in the house, but came over at 5:30 every morning and worked until 8:00 at night. She hated seeing the way Tess was treated, but there was nothing she could do. She was shorter than Tess, and more petite, and she wasn't able to defend herself against Frank much less protect Tess. Even though the young woman didn't hold it against her, she felt guilty about not doing something to help her.

"You know, you could at least try to make yourself presentable before coming to the table." Frank said in a cold tone. "I've lost my appetite." He threw his napkin down on the table and pushed his plate back a little.

Tess looked down at the table and closed her eyes. She didn't know why his comments still hurt her, she should be use to them by now. "I'm sorry." She replied quietly. He snorted, picked up his fork, and continued eating. She had lost her appetite - not that she had much of one to begin with - but picked up her fork and began to eat anyway.

Frank watched her as she ate her meal. Why did he treat her like this? He knew she didn't deserve it, she never did. She was a kind, compassionate, beautiful woman. Even with the bruises, she was beautiful. He wanted to make up to her for what he did last night, for every night, but how? Then it came to him. It was something she had wanted since he could remember but he would never allow. "I want you to get a tattoo." He said as he sipped his coffee. He never thought tattoos were suitable for women, but after "finding" Christine's the night before, he quickly changed his mind.

She looked at him, her eyes wide with shock. He said he hated tattoos that they were something only bikers and lower class people had. She knew that somehow she fit in with that group of people - the lower class - but Frank still wouldn't allow her to have one.

"Don't look at me!" he yelled, and she quickly looked away. "Don't think I'm doing this for you. Some women are more attractive with tattoos. You have no idea what it's like trying to have sex with a woman that looks like you." He ate the last of his eggs and drained his coffee cup before continuing, "I want it on your ankle. And don't make it too big." He stood up and, tossing his napkin onto the plate, said, "Do it today." Then he turned and left the room.

Tess sat quietly and waited for him to leave. Hearing the front door slam shut, she jumped up and, without finishing her food, ran upstairs to her room. And she was sorry she did. A sharp pain shot up her right side causing her to double over and fall to her knees. After a few moments she was able to stand up again. "I've got to stop doing that." She said aloud.

She sighed, opened her closet, and looked through her clothes. Pulling out her favorite sundress, she slipped it on over her head. It fit her perfectly, showing off every curve as the purple silk clung to her body. Spaghetti straps held it in place on her shoulders, and the hem stopped just above the middle of her thighs. She slipped into a pair of white sandals, then went into the bathroom.

She brushed out her long brown hair and pulled it back into a ponytail, then decided to wear it down instead - it would cover the bruises on the back of her neck and shoulders. Then she began to put on her makeup, flinching as she covered the tender bruises then looked in the mirror. She had learned to cover the bruises well these past years and these were almost invisible now. She hated wearing makeup, but she hated the stares and whispers even more. People always seemed to stare at her, even without bruises, and she never understood why. She looked closely and could still see the bruises under the makeup, then she took a step back and looked again, and they were gone. 'No one's going to be that close to my face anyway', she thought. She sighed heavily and walked back into her bedroom.

She walked over to her desk and sat down then opened the book she was reading, took out the bookmark, and looked at it. It was the picture of a long stem purple rose. She had drawn the picture from a book she had and had it laminated to use as a bookmark. She smiled as she looked at it, then opened the desk drawer and pulled out the phone book. Flipping quickly to the tattoo section in the yellow pages, she scanned over the names of various shops. "The Snake Pit." She read aloud. "Well, it beats 'Tattoos-R-Us'." She wrote down the address, grabbed her purse, and left.

Having lived here all her life, she found the address with no problem. She pulled in the parking lot, which was empty except for one Harley Davidson parked infront of the shop, parked next to the Harley, and got out, stopping to admire the motorcycle. She had always liked Harley's. 'Must be the rebel in me.' She thought with a grin as she walked past the bike to the door. Putting her hand on the door, she stopped. She was very nervous. 'I must be out of my mind.' She thought, as if she had a choice. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, and stepped inside.

She stopped just inside the door and looked around. In front of her and to the left she saw a counter with the cash register on top. Further to the left, in the back, was a hallway, directly to her left by the front window was a pool table, and to her right along the wall was another counter, with photo albums scattered across the top of it. 'Tattoo designs.' She looked back at the counter in front of her and saw a biker sitting there staring at her.

The typical biker, he was clad in a black shirt, which he graciously left unbuttoned, and a pair of faded blue jeans. His long red hair hung down his back from beneath a Harley-Davidson baseball cap. His long tree-like arms, which were covered in intricate tattoos, were folded across his broad chest. He pulled a dark pair of sunglasses off, revealing his beautiful sage green eyes, and laid them down on the counter. 'What did you expect? A suit and tie?' She asked herself.

Mark was sitting behind the counter reading a magazine when the bell above the door rang, signaling the arrival of a new customer. He looked up expecting to see his brother, who was supposed to have been there half an hour ago, and instead saw the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. She stood about 5' 8. She had long brown hair, which hung in large soft curls down her back, deep blue eyes, and full sensual lips. She wore a little too much makeup, he noticed. He didn't like for women to hide their faces behind makeup. Her purple dress clung to her body as she walked toward him, outlining the soft curve of her hips and the fullness of her breasts. She was visibly nervous, probably having second thoughts as to whether or not this was such a good idea. Glancing past the woman, he looked out the window at the silver Porche parked next to his bike. Just as he thought, she was out of her element. Turning his attention back to the woman, he licked his lips, his mouth having suddenly gone dry, and asked, "What can I do for ya, Honey?"

The woman walked to the counter and opened her purse. "I'd like to get this." She answered softly handing him a drawing of a rose.

He looked at the picture and nodded. "Where would you like it?" He asked softening his voice a little. Her hands were trembling when she handed him the picture and she wouldn't look him in the eye. She seemed to be more afraid than nervous, he thought. Not that he could blame her. She was one of those high-class women, who did things like getting a tattoo when they felt like "slumming it", and he was a big, dirty biker, who slept with women like her for sport. He had already taken care of three rich bitches this week and wasn't in the mood to deal with another one. He should have turned her away and told her they were closed. And he would have if she hadn't been so damned pretty.

"On my ankle." She replied. Her voice was soft and silky, and Mark had no problem imagining her calling out his name as he held her naked body in his arms. When he didn't reply, she looked up, not quite meeting his gaze, and asked, "Can you do it now, or do I need to make an appointment?"

He looked up, a little embarrassed at the fact that he had been caught blatantly staring at her breasts, although he didn't think she noticed. "I can do it now, if you're ready."

She nodded. "I'm ready."

He nodded and stood up. She took a step backward, her eyes wide as he reached his full height, and he worried suddenly that she might change her mind and leave. "Are you sure you want to do this?" He asked softly. He didn't want her to go, although he wasn't sure why, but he also wanted her to be absolutely sure she wanted to do this. A tattoo wasn't something you could just get rid of if you didn't like it. It was permanent.

She swallowed past the large lump in her throat. "I'm sure." She answered, but her voice was shaky and unsure. Frank told her to get a tattoo and if she didn't come home with one, there would be hell to pay.

He studied her for a moment. He hadn't worked on anyone like her before, all of them - the rich bitches - had been nervous, excited, even a little scared once they saw the needles, but none of them had been afraid of him. He was a bad boy, the kind of man they wanted to sleep with to get back at their husbands for sleeping with their secretaries, not some psycho waiting to attack them the first chance he got, which is how she was making him feel now. "This way." He said motioning toward the hall as he placed his hand on her back. He could feel the heat from her body radiating through the silk, and felt his body respond immediately.

He watched her as she sat down in the leather chair, then turned and absently started pulling out his supplies. He had to stop looking at her that way, stop thinking about all the things he would do to her, if given half the chance, before he did something he would regret.

Tess watched him as he poured the ink into tiny paper cups and readied the needle. She couldn't have picked "Tattoos-R-Us", no, she had to pick "The Snake Pit", home of the biggest, roughest looking biker on the planet. Big didn't really describe him, though. He was huge! Nearly seven feet tall, from what she could tell, his shoulders and chest were massive, and his arms and legs were as big as some of the small trees in her garden. She took a deep breath as he sat down and pulled her leg into his lap. 'Just sit still and don't say anything.' She told herself. 'And maybe you won't make him angry.' The bruise on her cheek began to throb, reminding her of what Frank was capable of, and warning her how much worse this man could do if provoked. In spite of the potential danger, she couldn't help noticing the way the muscles in his chest rippled with his movements, or the way his tattoos danced over his arms.

"This is going to sting like hell." He told her keeping his voice soft. "You ready?"

His voice was silky and deep and she could hear the not-too-heavy Texas accent when he spoke. She nodded her head in response, still not meeting his gaze, and heard him let out a jagged sigh as he lowered the needle to her flesh. She knew what that sigh meant - he was frustrated - and she frantically searched her mind trying to figure out what she had done to upset him. This was one man she didn't want to anger, and she was prepared to do anything to keep him happy.

She sat quietly and watched him work. As big as he was, he had the gentlest touch, she noticed. His eyes were lowered, shielding his green ones from her gaze. They were green, weren't they? Yes, she believed they were, and a beautiful shade, if she remembered correctly. He looked up suddenly, as if he'd heard her thoughts, and smiled. She smiled politely and quickly turned her head.

'Why won't she look at me?' He asked himself as he studied her profile. He didn't know why it bothered him that she wouldn't look at him for more than a few seconds at a time, but it did. Did he frighten her that badly? Obviously he did, but why? He pondered the question as he turned his attention back to his work. Her leg was long and slender, and his mouth watered at the thought of how those legs would feel wrapped around his waist. He wanted her, damn it.

His heart began pounding furiously as his gaze shifted up the length of her leg then nearly stopped a moment later as an invisible hand gripped it and squeezed hard. A bruise the size of a baseball and almost as round lay just below the hem of her dress. It was reddish-purple in color, signifying that it had just happened, and was somewhat swollen. Anger coursed through him as he thought about how she had probably gotten a bruise that size. 'Someone put it there.' He thought bitterly. 'You don't know that. She could have fallen down or been hit while playing baseball.' A little voice inside told him. 'Yeah, right.'

Her fingers appeared as he studied the bruise, and pulled her dress down to cover it. She had already turned her head when he looked up, but he could still see the moister in her eyes from her unshed tears. And although he couldn't see them, he knew instinctively that there were more bruises under the pile of makeup that covered her face. No wonder she was afraid of him, he thought. He was significantly bigger than most men were, and if her husband beat her this badly, she was probably imagining what he could do to her. Turning his attention once again to the work at hand, he dipped the needle in the ink and began drawing the rose's stem.

"What's your name?" Her head snapped around at his question, her eyes wide.

"My...my name?" She asked, wanting to verify the question. Why in the world would he want to know her name? No one ever asked her that. If people didn't already know who she was, they didn't want to know.

He smiled and nodded. "Yes, your name."

His smile was kind and his voice gentle, and Tess found herself answering his question without thinking. "Tess. Tess Walker"

"Mark Calaway." He replied as he stretched out his hand. Tentatively she reached out and placed her hand in his much larger one and was rewarded with another smile. Dear Lord, he had a beautiful smile. Looking up slowly, she met his gaze, and if she didn't know better, she could have sworn she saw a triumphant gleam in his eyes, as if he had just accomplished some sort of goal.

'Finally!' His mind screamed triumphantly as she looked at him. He was beginning to think she'd never look him in the eye. It shouldn't have mattered to him one way or the other, but she was clearly afraid of him and he didn't like it one bit. 'She looked at you and she didn't run away screaming. Now let it go. You're never going to see her again anyway.' That annoying little voice said. But he couldn't let it go. There was something about her that seemed to draw him to her, made him want to know everything about her, to protect her, to strip off that dress and make love to her like it was his last day on Earth. Okay, the lust could be explained - she was the sexiest woman he'd ever seen - but the other attraction he felt for her couldn't be explained - or ignored. "How's that?" He asked a few minutes later after he finished the design.

Her eyes lit up and a smile slowly crept across her face, as she looked down at her new tattoo, telling him how much she liked it better than words ever could. Without touching it, her fingers moved over the rose. "It's beautiful." She said in awe. "You do wonderful work."

His breath caught in his chest as she looked up at him smiling. 'I could watch you smile all day,' he told her silently. Did she have any idea how beautiful she was? 'Probably not,' he thought as he remembered the large bruise on her leg. "Let me put some cream on that for ya." He said as he stood up to get the tube and a large bandage from the cabinet.

As he applied the cream and bandage to her ankle, he explained how to care for the tattoo until it was healed, then took her hand and helped her to her feet. Tess could feel the electricity surge from his hand and pulled her hand away abruptly as if she had been burned. This man was having a strange affect on her. The way he looked at her, the soft tone of his voice, and the gentle touch of his hand left her pulse racing, her knees weak, and gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach. She may not have understood those feelings, but they were so intense that she was sure they couldn't be good.

Those feelings became stronger as he placed his hand on her back as he led her back to the front of the shop. 'I've got to get away from here.' She thought as she opened her purse and counted out the money.

Mark watched her as she rummaged through her purse. He had felt the electricity between them when he took her hand to help her up from the chair, and by her reaction, as odd as it seemed, so had she. Any other woman would have welcomed the feeling, some would have even acted on it, but no one had ever shied away from it. Then again, she wasn't like any other woman.

"Here you go." She said handing him the money

The sound of her voice sent a shiver down his spine. Reaching out, he took the money, purposefully covering her fingers with his own, and felt another volt of electricity shoot through him. Once again, she pulled her hand from his and took a step back, lowering her eyes. Why did he have to be attracted to the only woman in this God forsaken city who was afraid of him?

"Thank you for your time." She said after an extended moment of uneasy silence. She knew she had to leave, but there was something about him that made her want to stay. Whether it was his soft voice, his gentle touch, or his rugged good looks, she didn't know. All she knew was that she had to leave and get as far away from this man as she possibly could. She may not have had much experience with men, but she knew that, although nothing had actually happened, there was something between them. And that meant severe punishment from Frank should he ever find out, or even suspect. Reluctantly, she turned and started toward the front of the shop.

"Wait!" Mark called out. Tess turned around immediately and waited for him to continue. 'What the hell am I doing?' He asked himself. "Would you like something to drink before you go? Maybe shoot a game of pool?" He asked leaning against the counter, trying not to look too anxious.

Biting her bottom lip, Tess looked over at the pool table. Oh, how she loved to shoot pool! "I'm sorry, but I have to be going." She answered looking back at Mark. She heard the disappointment in her own voice and cursed herself for letting it show.

"Some other time then?" Mark asked.

"Perhaps." She answered with a smile. "It was nice meeting you, Mr. Calaway."

"It's Mark. And the pleasure was mine, Tess." He replied, not waiting for permission to use her fist name.

"Mark." She corrected herself, smiling, then turned and once again headed toward the door. Just as she reached for the handle, the door swung open causing her to stumble backward. There stood a man just as tall as Mark and built just as big. His long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, his eyes were a mesmerizing hazel, and he had a lot of the same facial features Mark had. 'His brother.' "Excuse me." She said softly as she brushed past him.

She stopped after opening the car door and looked inside. The man was talking to Mark who, it seemed, was more interested in watching her. She smiled in spite of herself, then climbed in the car and drove away.

Chapter Two

"Earth to Mark!" Glen called out waving his hand infront of Mark's face. "Anybody in there?" He was trying not to laugh at his older brother. Mark was the one who had taught him that women were no more than play things, especially the high-class women, and to see him practically drooling over one was almost too much. Finally, after the woman had driven off, Mark turned his attention to Glen and glared at him. Unable to control himself any longer, Glen burst out laughing, and was rewarded with a punch to the arm. "What was that for?" He asked rubbing his biceps.

Without answering, Mark walked to the pool table and began pulling the balls from the pockets. He was acting like a love-struck teenager and Glen had every right to laugh at him. 'At least he wasn't here when I tried getting her to stay. I'd never hear the end of it.' Mark smiled at the thought, careful not to let his brother see him lighten up. He wasn't about to let Glen off that easy. "You up for a game?" He asked after recomposing himself, then watched as his little brother made his way across the room.

Glen took the first shot, knocking in several balls, then stood up and watched Mark take his shot. "Okay, spill it." He said, leaning against the wall.

Mark took another shot and looked up. "What are you talking about?" He asked, knowing damn well that he was talking about Tess.

"Tell me about that woman. Why are you letting her get to you like this?" He asked calmly. He may be younger than Mark, but he knew Mark too well. This woman had done something to him, and he wasn't sure he liked it.

"There's nothing to tell. Nothing happened." Mark replied as he leaned against the pool table and waited for Glen to come and take his shot.

"No? Then why are you acting like Miss Travis just kissed you?" He demanded. Miss Travis had been Mark's fourth grade English teacher, and he'd had a huge crush on her.

Taking a deep breath, Mark pushed himself off the pool table, walked to the window, and stared out. He and Glen were the only family either of them had, except for their father who lived in Florida, as well as best friends and they kept no secrets from each other, but how was he suppose to explain his feelings for Tess when he didn't understand them himself? "I can't explain it." He said quietly, breaking the silence. "She came in to have a rose put on her leg and by the time she left…" He trailed off then let out a heavy sigh and turned to face Glen.

Glen saw the confusion in Mark's eyes as well as pain, and knew that Karen had crept into his brother's thoughts again. "You can't fall for her, Mark. She belongs to someone else." He said gently, trying to soften the blow of his words. He hated to be the one to bring it up, but he knew his brother. The last time Mark showed any interest in a woman, other than sexually, he had his heart ripped out and thrown back in his face, and he'd be damned if he was going to sit back and let it happen again!

"She isn't like Karen!" Mark growled, "Don't ever compare Tess to that back-stabbing bitch again!" After taking a couple of deep breaths he continued, "I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. I didn't fall for her, exactly. I was...intrigued. She was afraid of me, but not the way all the others are - she was genuinely scared." He tried to explain.

"Why would she be afraid of you?" Glen asked, knowing his brother would never hurt a woman - except maybe Karen.

Mark didn't say anything right away. Closing his eyes, he pictured the bruise on her leg. What happened between her and her husband was none of his business, and he knew that was the first thing Glen was going to say. He wanted to beat the ever-loving shit out of the waste of flesh that called himself her husband, for laying his hands on Tess. He deserved it - any man who would beat a woman deserved it. Taking a deep breath he answered quietly, "He beats her."

Glen's eyes grew wide. "She told you this?" He asked stunned. For a moment, he wasn't sure he and Mark were talking about the same woman. The woman he saw leaving the shop was beautiful, a trophy, if nothing else, for any man. Then he thought about the way she avoided his eyes and the nervousness in her voice.

"No, she didn't tell me." Mark answered, "I saw the bruises." Bruise - bruises...so he stretched the truth a little.

"That doesn't necessarily mean..."

"Don't say it." Mark warned, cutting Glen off mid-sentence. "I know, there are a million ways she could have gotten them. But you weren't there. You didn't see the look in her eyes or hear the tremor in her voice."

Glen sighed. Mark wasn't one to go around making accusations, especially ones like this. "It's none of our business." He replied, "No matter how you or I feel about it, it's out of our hands."

"I know." Mark answered simply. He didn't want to think about her anymore, and he certainly didn't want to talk about it. "I'm going to get some lunch. You want anything?" He asked and Glen shook his head no. "I'll see ya later." He said as he walked past Glen and out the door. He had to get her off his mind, and if that pretty little waitress at the truck stop couldn't do it, nothing could.

Tess sat at a red light lost in her thoughts. She knew that something had happened between her and Mark back at The Snake Pit, but for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what it was. She thought that the drive home would clear her mind, help her forget the way his hands felt on her skin, the way his voice echoed in her ears, but it only served to pull her deeper into those disturbing thoughts. She had to stop thinking about him before Frank came home. He was already convinced that she was cheating on him, if he knew she was thinking about another man, he would beat her without mercy, maybe even kill her. She shuddered at the thought. For years now, she hadn't cared whether she lived or died, but now, for the first time in all those years, she cared. She wanted to live.

A blue Camaro sped through the light just as it turned green. 'Idiot.' She thought. Then she recognized the car. It belonged to Frank's secretary, Christine. Tess' eyes narrowed and for a minute she thought about following her, maybe run her off the side of the road, but then reality hit. If Christine was heading East then she had been at her house, and that meant Frank was home. The guy in the car behind her blew his horn pulling her out of her thoughts, and she stepped on the gas.

Frank's car sat in it's usual spot in the driveway. "Damn!" She swore. She had hoped that maybe she was wrong about him being home early - he could have sent her there to pick up some papers or something. But the thought died quickly. Reaching for the ignition, she thought about putting the car in reverse and driving away as fast as that Porche could go. Unfortunately, she had already tried that once and ended spending nearly a month in the hospital. Sighing heavily, she turned the car off and climbed out.

"Get in here!" Frank yelled from the study as soon as she opened the door. Bracing herself for the worst, she walked to the study, stopping at the door. Frank was leaning back in his chair. His jacket was crumpled on the floor by the TV, his shirt was lying over the back of a chair, his hair was disheveled, and sweat glistened on his skin. There was no question as to what he had been doing. She just hoped Christine was good at it, then maybe he would go easy on her this once. He looked at her for a moment, sizing her up, then said, "Come here." Tentatively, she walked to him as he sat up.

Frank's eyes narrowed slightly as she stood before him. "Let me see it." His words, although calm, sent a shiver racing down her spine. She placed her hand on the desk for support as she lifted her knee. Grabbing her ankle, he pulled her foot to his lap roughly and ripped the bandage off. Tess tried not to cry out as she felt the tape being pulled away from her flesh, which wasn't easy. Getting the tattoo didn't hurt nearly as bad.

He studied the tattoo silently. After what felt like hours to Tess, he said, "Not bad." Looking up, he met her gaze then slowly stood up, letting her foot fall to the floor. They stood face to face for several minutes, then out of nowhere, he reared back and hit her hard across the face and knocked her down. "You bitch!" He screamed, "You fucked him, didn't you?" Grabbing a handful of hair, he pulled her to her feet.

Her hands flew to his instinctively. "No, Frank, I didn't. I didn't do anything. I swear!"

"You're lying." His tone was low and deadly. "You're a whore! He gave you the tattoo and you spread your legs for him. Didn't you!"

"No." She tried saying the word, but Frank closed his hand over her throat before she could get it out.

A wicked smile spread across his face. "I'm going to show you what I do to whores like you." He said as he opened the front of his pants. He shimmied out of them easily and was soon naked. Releasing her throat, he pulled at the delicate fabric until it ripped and tore it from her body. "You planned on sleeping with him all along, didn't you?" He asked seeing she wasn't wearing a bra. "I'm surprised you even bothered with these." He continued as he ripped her panties off. Once again he grabbed her throat and threw her across the desk.

Following her around the desk, he saw her trying to get up and quickly buried his heel in the middle of her back, pressing it into the large bruise he left there the night before. "You're not going anywhere." He fell on her, his knee replacing his heel and smiled when he heard her cry out. Without another word, he slid his knee down her back pressing it against her spine, and pushed her legs open. Forcefully, he thrust into her and pounded into her relentlessly. Having already been with Christine, his body was tired and he cursed her when he climaxed before he wanted to.

He stood and looked down at her. Her body was trembling and he could see that she was trying not to cry. He didn't know why, but seeing his wife lying curled up on the floor helplessly, completely at his mercy, enraged him. Why did she give up so easily? When they were married thirteen years ago, she would fight back and try to save herself, but now she would just lay there and take whatever he dished out, no matter how severe. He couldn't stop himself from hurting her, it was like a demon lived inside him that couldn't be controlled, or destroyed. He didn't like the thought of her giving up like this. He wanted her to fight, to try to survive, and maybe some day find peace. His anger grew the longer he watched her, until it took control of his body. Taking a few steps back, he put his pants back on and slipped into his shoes.

Tess cried out as he buried his foot in her ribcage. He kicked her again and again until he felt his anger subside. The last kick connected with the side of her head and she immediately went still. Frank watched as blood spilled down her face and the back of her head, and pooled beneath her. He rubbed his face as the severity of what he'd done began to sink in. "Oh God, what have I done." He said aloud. He didn't want to be near her anymore. Pulling on the rest of his clothes, he walked out quickly.

Mark looked down at the woman lying in his arms. The entire time he had been making love to her, he was thinking of Tess. That was something that had never happened before. 'So much for taking my mind off her.' He thought. As he closed his eyes, he could still see Tess lying beneath him, and hear her voice calling out his name. He felt a pair of warm lips on his and opened his eyes.

"Are you hungry?" She asked. They'd left the truck stop before he had a chance to eat and after the way he'd made love to her, she knew that he must be starving.

"Nah." He answered, "I've got to get back." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and casually pulled his clothes back on. He hated this part. She was young and the young ones always got emotionally attached. He never understood that. Why couldn't women just do it and get on with their lives like men did?

"Are you sure?" She asked gliding, her hands down his back.

"Yeah." He answered standing up, then without looking back, he walked out the door.

Frank flipped on the light switch and stood frozen in place, staring at the floor. Tess was still lying there motionless just as she was when he left - six hours ago. At first he couldn't move, couldn't breath, then he saw her chest rise and fall slightly. He walked over to her, bent down, and lightly pressed his fingers to her throat. He let out a sigh of relief as he felt the strong pounding of her heart. Carefully, he picked her up and carried her upstairs to her room. After laying her gently on her bed, he brushed the blood soaked hair from her face and watched her. He watched her every night, although she didn't know it. It was the only time he could look at her and not feel the need to hurt her. Bending over, he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, "I'm sorry, Tess."

Chapter Three

~ Mark slid his hands over Tess' delicate body. Her soft skin seared his fingertips, and the sound of her voice set his soul on fire. "Oh, Mark..." She moaned as his mouth covered her breast. Her fingers entangled his hair as she pulled him closer to her. He could feel his sex throbbing against her leg demanding its release. Slowly he made his way back up her body, sliding one arm beneath her as he did, and cupping her face with his free hand as his mouth claimed hers. The kiss was slow, passionate and full of the promise of a lifetime of happiness together. Pulling away, he looked lovingly into her eyes and saw in them all the love she held for him in her heart.

He ran his fingers through her hair as they lay together. He saw the love in her eyes fade away, as fear slowly began to take over. "Honey, what's wrong?" He asked gently. She didn't answer. Pulling his fingers from her hair, he lovingly stroked her cheek. "Honey..." His breath caught in his chest as he gazed down at her blood streaked face. He looked at his fingers, which were now covered with blood, then back down at Tess' pale complexion. "Tess!" He shouted as his fingers dived into her blood soaked hair. ~

"NO!" Mark screamed as he bolted upright in bed. A cold sweat covered his body, his heart pounded furiously, and his entire body trembled with fear. "What the Hell?" He hadn't had a nightmare since he was a child and never one this bad. The clock on the nightstand read 4:30. It was still too early to get up, so he laid back down and closed his eyes. A picture of Tess lying in a pool of blood was embedded in his mind and no matter what he did, he couldn't erase it. Had his dream meant something? He didn't really believe that. He couldn't. There was only one interpretation and it was that something horrible had happened to Tess, and he refused to believe that. She was fine.

"Mark?" Glen called out as he knocked softly on the door.


Glen opened the door and peeked inside. "I heard you scream. Are you alright?" He asked.

"Yeah. Just a bad dream." Mark replied sitting up.

"You want to talk about it?" Glen asked sitting down on the edge of the bed. He didn't remember his brother ever having a bad dream, and if he did he certainly didn't wake up from it screaming. He listened in stunned silence while Mark told him about his dream. "Shit." He muttered as he pictured the scene in his mind. "No wonder you woke up screaming."

"You don't think it meant anything, do you?" Mark asked. He needed to hear that it was just a dream and that she was okay.

"I don't know." Glen answered. "Some people believe that your dreams come from your subconscience, your deepest fears and desires. I know you want to sleep with her, and you said she had some bruises. Your subconscience probably just conjured the whole thing up."

Mark thought about it for a moment. Glen was probably right. His explanation made sense and he had been obsessed with her ever since she left the shop yesterday. "You're probably right." Mark said quietly. "Thanks."

"No problem." Glen replied standing up. "Get some sleep, okay? You look like Hell."

"Goodnight." Mark said acting annoyed at the statement, and heard Glen chuckle as he closed the door. Exhausted, he laid back again and closed his eyes. But sleep didn't come easily, and when it did, it was anything but restful.

Tess opened her eyes slowly. Her vision was blurred, her head pounded unforgivingly, and for a moment she didn't know where she was, or who she was, then bit by bit it all started coming back to her. Too sore to move, she closed her eyes and laid still as her memories returned. After what seemed like hours, she remembered everything, including last night. What she didn't remember was coming to her room. Surely she would remember waking up and climbing a flight of stairs. She took a deep breath and sighed - it didn't really matter. The smell of blood filled the air and her stomach turned at the smell. Blood had crusted on her face making it stiff, and her hair sticky and heavy with it. Carefully she sat up and saw even more blood on her pillow and comforter, and since she had been in the study when Frank attacked her, she knew that there was more in there. 'How much blood did I lose?' She wondered. Slowly she stood up and made her way to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Tears flowed down her face as she watched the crimson water flow down the drain. Feeling overcome by pain, she slid down the shower wall and sobbed.

Mary knocked lightly on the door and opened it slightly to see if Tess was still unconscious. Hearing the water running in the shower, she walked in. A tear slipped down her cheek as she stripped the bed. Why a man would treat his wife like this was beyond her. 'The bastard ought to be shot.' She thought ruefully. And now he would deposit more money into her bank account, he always did after he beat her, as if a couple thousand dollars could make up for nearly killing her again. After the bed was made, she stood up, picked up the dirty linens, and walked toward the door.

As she pulled the door closed, she heard a muffled sound coming from the bathroom. Mr. Walker had warned her never to bother Tess, which she learned the hard way, also meant not to help her. She bit her bottom lip as she stared at the open bathroom door listening to the young woman cry. Mr. Walker was at work, and she couldn't just leave her there. And there had been so much blood. What if she needed help? Knowing she was probably going to pay for it later, she dropped her load, walked to the bathroom door, and peeked in. "Mrs. Walker?" She called softly as she stepped inside. She saw Tess trough the glass door and rushed over to her. "This water's freezing." She said turning off the water. Picking up a towel, she wrapped it around Tess' shoulders and helped her to her feet. "Let's get you dried off." She said. She dried her off and dressed her like she would a child then sat her down in the chair and examined the wound. "You should have a doctor look at this as soon as possible." She instructed. "It looks pretty deep." Tess nodded her response. Mary gave her one more worried look then turned to go.

"Is she awake?" Frank asked as Mary closed the bedroom door.

Startled, Mary jumped and spun around, nearly dropping the bed linens she carried in her arms. "Yes sir." She answered simply. Mr. Walker hated long explanations. He looked at the blood soaked comforter and nodded. Not waiting for him to accuse her of disturbing his wife, she slipped past him and hurried downstairs to the laundry room.

Frank placed his hand on the doorknob and stopped. This was her room and, except for his unknown visits late at night, he never went in there. Letting go, he brought his hand back to knock then stopped. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, but he knew that if he saw her, he would hurt her again. Taking a deep breath he turned and walked away.

Tess slowly began to come around. As her mind began to clear, she started to put her thoughts in order. Her parents died when she was four, and she went to live with her Aunt, Uncle, and cousin. They abused her emotionally until she married Frank. They didn't want her there, but they were her only family and had an obligation, and they did everything they could to make her life miserable. Frank was her knight in shining armor. He was handsome and kind, and he loved her, or so she thought. On her sixteenth birthday he asked her to marry him when she turned eighteen. Her uncle overheard this and persuaded him to marry her right away instead of waiting, and Tess happily agreed, if for no other reason to get away from the hellhole she was living in. They were married before the Justice of The Peace a week later, then honeymooned in the Keys. The day they got back from their honeymoon was the day he started beating her No matter what she said or did, he would always accuse her of something, usually cheating on him, then beat her for it. She lived in solitude with no friends, no family, and certainly with no lover. Her life had been a void, until yesterday.

She smiled when she thought about Mark. Yes, there was definitely something between them but what, she still didn't know. What she did know was that until yesterday, she didn't care what Frank did or whom he did it with and she didn't care whether she lived or died. But when she saw Christine at that red light she felt jealous and angry, and when he beat her she found that she wanted to live. Yes, she wanted to live, and she wanted to see Mark again. 'It's not like I'd be having an affair. Just a friendship.' She thought. But if Frank ever found out he would beat her senseless. 'He beats me senseless anyway.'

Smiling, she stood up with the intention of getting ready to go back to The Snake Pit and felt her head spin. She leaned against the chair until the room stopped moving. Maybe she would go back tomorrow, today she was going to see Dr. Monroe. Tears fell as she carefully pulled a brush through her hair a few times, and didn't bother putting on any makeup - it's not like she was going anywhere else anyway, and the doctor had seen her like this before. Her body was weak and she felt like she could sleep for an entire week, but she left anyway. She had to know that she would be okay.

Tess' stomach growled loudly as she sat listening to the good doctor. She had a slight concussion, a couple of broken ribs, and too many bruises to count. Dr. M., as she affectionately called him, watched her silently after he'd finished speaking. "In thirteen years I've never pried into your personal life, Tess, but I have to say this. I don't know how much more of this abuse you can take. Physically - your body is slowly dying. The more he beats you, the more your body deteriorates. Emotionally - you're probably the strongest person I've ever known, but he's wearing you down. You use to be so full of fire, and now you just...exist. It's that inner strength that's kept you alive all these years and if something doesn't change... You've come to mean a lot to me over the years, Honey, and the thought of outliving you breaks my heart."

Tess wiped the tears from her face. She knew what he said was true, she had always known she just didn't care until now. "I know." She answered, "But there's nothing I can do. He owns the police, the DA, attorneys, judges, politicians...doctors. And you remember what happened when I tried to leave him."

Dr. M. nodded. He already knew all this. "Actually, I had something else in mind."

Tess looked at him puzzled. "What else is there?" She asked hoping he would have the answer.

Dr. M. leaned close and whispered in her ear, "Kill him."

Tess gasped. "Oh no, I can't do that." The thought had crossed her mind on more than one occasion, but murdering him would only bring her down to his level and send her to prison.

Dr. M. nodded. "I understand. But think about it. It may be the only way out for you." He stood up, walked over to his desk and wrote out a prescription. "I'm prescribing some pain medication for your head and ribs. Take one every four hours." He handed her the slip of paper, "If the pain doesn't go away or if it gets worse, call me, day or night."

Tess took the paper and nodded, "Thank you, Dr. M."

"Any time, Honey. Take care of yourself." He smiled.

"I will." She replied, and walked out of the office.

Chapter Four

Tess sat in the nearly deserted diner pondering what Dr. M. had said to her. He was the man who healed her when she was sick, cared for her when she was hurt, the man who had saved her life more than once. He was the only person on the planet she could trust, and he just told her to kill her husband. No, as much as she wanted to, she just couldn't do it. 'It would be nice to be free though.' She thought, smiling as she pictured Mark sitting behind the counter at the tattoo shop. He had looked so handsome. He had been kind to her, keeping his voice soft and gentle, as if he were trying not to frighten her. 'Don't be stupid.' She told herself. 'Have you forgotten how kind and loving Frank was?' She blinked back the tears that had formed in her eyes, and pushed Frank from her mind refusing to let him invade her thoughts.

Mark and Glen pulled their Harleys into the parking lot of their favorite diner and turned off the engines. Mark had been in La-La land all day, so when lunch-time rolled around - which was late afternoon for them since they didn't open for business until 11:00 a.m. - he convinced his brother to close up the shop and go with him get something to eat. Usually, Mark would never have closed the shop in the middle of the afternoon, but today, he barely protested. Mark didn't know it yet, but Glen was going to have a very long talk with him about women - the same talk he received from Mark when they were younger. Mark had obviously fallen for Tess and Glen had every intention of straightening him out once and for all, before she could hurt him.

Mark stopped dead in is tracks as he walked through the door causing Glen to run smack into his back. "What in the hell did you stop for?" Glen asked rubbing nose. Mark was staring straight ahead and didn't answer. "What are you looking at?" He asked stepping up next to him. His eyes grew wide as he looked across the diner and saw Tess sitting alone at a booth in the back staring out the window. At least he thought it was Tess. The bruises on her face were visible now that she wasn't wearing makeup and she was deathly pale, her hair was windblown and didn't look as soft as it had, and her eyes were filled with pain and sadness. She was leaning forward slightly in her seat with her arms folded across her abdomen, as if she were holding her ribcage. Without speaking a word, Mark stepped forward and started walking toward the table, pulling Glen back to the moment and he quickly followed.

They stood silently beside the table for a moment, then Mark spoke softly, "Hello, Tess." Tess was lost in her thoughts and didn't see the men approach or hear Mark speak. He smiled slightly then reached out and gently touched her arm.

Startled by the feel of a large hand on her arm, Tess jumped and spun in her seat looking up at the intruder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." Mark apologized.

Tess held her breath for a moment until the pain in her ribs from the sudden movement subsided, and tried not to let it show in her face. "Hi, Mark." She greeted with a forced smile, then looked to the other man, "Hello."

"Hi." Glen replied smiling.

"Mind if we join you?" Mark asked. He had fallen hard for her and wanted to get to know her better. He also wanted to know exactly how she got those bruises and who gave them to her, although he had a feeling he already knew the answers.

Tess looked around the diner and out the window searching for any sign of Frank, then turned her attention back to the two large men standing infront of her. "I…um…no…I mean…please, sit down." 'Have I lost my mind?' She asked herself as she watched Mark and his friend slide into the seat infront of her. For a moment no one said anything, then Tess turned to the unknown man, extended her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Tess."

Glen took her small hand in his. "Hi. I'm Mark's brother, Glen. It's nice to meet you." He replied, and Tess smiled.

"I want to thank you again for the tattoo, Mark. You're very talented." She said with a smile. She was going to enjoy this visit, no matter what the consequences were.

Mark smiled in return. "It was my pleasure." His stomach turned as he looked at her face. She was so beautiful, and so pale that he thought she might pass out at any minute. He heard Glen say something and saw Tess look in his direction and smile. Silently he watched her as she held the conversation with his brother until he felt the urge to kill the son of a bitch that did this to her begin to take over, then he looked away. He didn't want her to see him angry. Seeing a prescription bottle sitting on the table, he picked it up and read the label. 'Morphine.' His eyes grew wide as he stared at the bottle. He knew that doctors didn't prescribe this very often, in fact the doctors he knew did everything in their power not to prescribe drugs this strong. Either she was addicted, or she was in some serious pain. Looking up, he saw her watching him. "What are these for?" He asked gently. He hated to ask, but he had to know. He wasn't about to get involved with another addict.

"My doctor prescribed them." She answered.

"What are they for?"

"They're for pain." Tess was starting to feel uncomfortable. She knew what he was thinking, but she barely knew him, and she didn't want to tell him what Frank had done.

Mark set the bottle down and looked into her eyes. "What pain, Tess? Why would your doctor give you morphine?"

Tess closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then looked into Mark's green eyes. "I have a mild concussion and a couple of broken ribs. He gave me these to help with the pain." She explained.

Mark's heart stopped beating for an instant. Did she say concussion? 'My God, what did he do to her?'

"Shouldn't you be in the hospital?" Glen asked concerned.

Tess shook her head. "No, it isn't that bad." She answered.

"But wouldn't your doctor want to keep you there anyway for observation?"

Tess shook her head again and looked down. "I don't know. Probably. But it isn't bad enough."

Mark hooked his fingers under her chin and lifted her face. "Did your husband do this to you? Is he the reason you're not in the hospital?" Tess' eyes filled with tears as he looked at her, but she refused to let them fall. Her silence confirmed his suspicions. He slid his fingers from beneath her chin and cupped her face. How long had she been living like this? Why didn't she leave him? Did she want him to kill the son of a bitch? He had so many questions. He tenderly stroked her cheek, taking in all her features. She was more beautiful than he remembered, even with the bruises. Absently, he slid his fingers into her hairline and gently ran them back through her hair. She jerked away from him suddenly as a tear slid down her cheek.

"It's getting late. I have to go." She said putting the medicine bottle in her purse. "It was nice seeing you again, Mark." She picked up her purse and looked at Glen, "It was nice meeting you."

"Wait!" Mark said taking her hand in his, "I shouldn't have pried, I'm sorry."

Tess smiled at him. "It's okay." She replied simply.

"Will you stay for awhile?" Glen asked. He was starting to have feelings for her, but not like Mark's, although he could see how it had been so easy for Mark to fall for her so easily.

"I can't." Tess said looking over at him and smiled. "It really is getting late and I have to be home before..." Tess stopped and looked down. She didn't want to tell them that she had to be home before Frank. "I'm very tired. I need to go home and get some rest."

Glen nodded. Mark placed his hand on her cheek and turned her face toward him again. Tenderly he ran his fingers up to her hairline and stopped, remembering how she had pulled away from him the last time. "Will you be okay?" He asked.

Tess nodded. "I'll be fine." Her head hurt terribly and she could feel a few drops of blood trickle down toward his fingers. She took his hand and pulled it away as she stood up.

Mark watched her leave. She moved gingerly as not to hurt her ribs, and it looked as if she had to concentrate on each step she took to keep from falling. His eyes didn't leave her until she was out of sight.

"Uh, Mark?"

"Yeah." Mark answered turning to face his brother. Glen was staring down, his face pale. "What is it?"

"Your fingers." Glen answered simply.

Mark looked down and froze. His fingers were smeared with blood. "Oh God." He looked out the window searching for Tess, but she was nowhere I sight. "Tell me I didn't just let her walk into her grave."

Glen put his hand on Mark's shoulder. "She'll be fine." He replied trying to convince himself as well as Mark.

Neither man said anything during the course of their meal. Glen knew how his brother felt about wife beaters and that he cared for her. And he hated what he was about to say. "Mark, this is none of our business." He kept his voice low as the restaurant had already begun filling with the evening's patrons. "I know how you feel about her situation and I know that you've fallen for her, but she is his wife. Whatever happens in that marriage is between them."

"It is my business." Mark protested.

"No! You've seen her twice, the first time was business, and today was as an acquaintance. That's it. You have to stay out of this, Mark. You know part of what she's going through, and if her husband is as jealous as I think he probably is, she's going to end up in the hospital, or worse, if you get involved."

"So you want me to turn my back on her? I can't do that!" Mark was getting angry and had to struggle to keep is voice in check.

"You're not turning your back on her. She never came to you." Why did Mark have to be so passionate about his convictions?

Taking a deep breath, Mark turned away. Glen had a point. Leave it to his baby brother to be the level headed one. Then a thought came to him. "What if she does come to me?"

Glen chuckled. "You've got it bad, man!" Mark glared at him. "If she comes to you, be her friend. Let her take the lead and control whatever relationship you two might have."

"And if she asks for my help?"

Glen leaned across the table and lowered his voice. "Then you beat that bastard to a bloody pulp."

Mark smiled at the thought. "You think I'm over reacting, don't you?"

"Yeah, but only because your whipped." Glen answered ducking a flying French fry.

"Come on," Mark said standing up, "We've got a business to run."

Tess walked into the house relieved not to see Frank's car in the driveway. "Come here, Tess." Tess swirled around and saw Frank sitting bent over his desk doing some paperwork. His eyes narrowed as he looked up at her. "Don't make me tell you again, woman. Get your ass in here now!" He stood up as she drew closer, and stepping around the desk, he met her. He noticed her posture wasn't as straight as normal, and she seemed to move with an effort. The bruises on her face stood out against her unusually pale skin, he could see her hair darkening where he kicked her, and smell the faint scent of blood. "Get out." He said coldly. He could feel his rage beginning to build and he didn't want to hurt her again. "I said to get out!" He screamed and shoved her backward.

Tess landed on the floor with a thump and looked up, Frank was facing his desk. Quickly she scrambled to her feet, ignoring the pain that shot through her, and made her way up to her room. She didn't stop until she was safe in her room, the door closed, and then doubled over and fell to the floor. Slowly, she crawled to her bed and climbed in, exhausted. 'Sleep.' She thought. 'I just need some sleep and I'll be okay.' Unable to move or even think, she closed her eyes and let the darkness pull her in.

Chapter Five

Tess slept day and night for four days, plagued with dreams of Mark only to have them crushed by nightmares of Frank. Her head had stopped bleeding almost as soon as she laid down, but a fever set in soon after.

When she didn't come down to breakfast for the third morning in a row, he sent Mary in to check on her. Mary found her lying across the bed on her back, still in the clothes she'd worn when she went to the doctor, her shoes still on her feet, and drenched with sweat. After hearing her condition, and a little manipulating by Mary, Frank allowed Mary to nurse her until she awoke. She stripped Tess of her clothes and lathe her body with cold water until she felt the fever begin to break, then covered her with a thin sheet and kissed her forehead. "Sleep well, child." She whispered.

~ Tess was standing on the shore facing the ocean. Waves crashed over her bare feet, the sky was black with the approaching storm, thunder rolled and lightning lit up the sky, and it seemed as though all of nature had come together to destroy itself with one perilous act.

She felt a pair of arms encircle her waist and looked down, smiling at the tattoos that covered them. She could feel the strength and power of those arms as they pulled her back into a hard chest, shielding her from harm. "I'm here. I won't let him hurt you." His voice was soft and deep, "I'll protect you." He said calming what was left of her fears. A familiar scent surrounded her, a masculine scent, carried on the wind and almost lost in the thick salty air.

She moaned as he kissed the back of her neck and shoulder. His arms loosened and his hands glided over her stomach and up her ribcage to her breasts, cupping them and lifting them as he gently squeezed them through the thin cotton nightgown. Reaching back, she grasped his thighs feeling his muscles dance beneath her hands, and squeezed as his fingers manipulated her nipples and his lips continued to work on her neck. She could feel the moister between her legs as her body readied itself to accept him.

His hands slid down her body to the bed of curls nestled between her thighs, and lightly his thumbs grazed her nether lips. She felt his fingers glide over her thighs, which were wet with her juices, and his hands press into her skin as he pulled her legs apart. With one hand he opened her, and with the other he found her clitoris, and pressing on it, he began circling it, bringing her closer and closer to orgasm. Another moan escaped as he slid his finger inside her, then another, thrusting them in and out rhythmically. Her hands tightened their hold on his thighs, pulling him closer and she felt his erection pressing into her back. Curling his fingers, he pressed them into her slick wall quickly finding her G-spot, and sent her spiraling over the edge. Feeling him pull his fingers from her body, she turned around in his arms and gazed up at him.

He lowered his lips to hers, claiming them in a tender yet passionate kiss, letting her know beyond all doubt that she was his, that they belonged together. His hands roamed down over her back and buttocks, pressing his hardened member into her stomach as he did. Thunder boomed and the wind howled. The storm was growing more intense by the second, threatening to pull them into it. Pulling her gown over her head, he discarded it ignoring the cold rain, which was now beating down on them. Carefully he lowered her into the sand, covering her body with his own. His hair, drenched from the rain, cascaded over his shoulders as he looked down at her. Gently he bent his knee and pushed her legs apart, taking his position over her, and pressed his sex against her warm, moist hole.

She cried out as he entered her. His size was incredible and pleasure accompanied the pain as he began to move inside her. His thrusts were slow and gentle at first, and she could see his face strain as he struggled to control himself, to keep from hurting her. Slowly she saw that control begin to crumble and felt him move a little harder, a little faster. "Please, Mark..." She begged. "Please..." What control he had slipped away when he heard those words, and he began driving into her almost savagely. Her whimpers mingled with his groans, and seemed to echo in the fury around them. Her back arched toward him and she screamed his name as her body exploded into a million pieces and with a few more thrusts, he followed her into oblivion, collapsing on top of her.

The storm was over. The danger was gone. After catching his breath, he leaned up on his elbows, gently brushed the hair from her face. "I love you, Baby." ~

Tess' eyes fluttered open. She looked around the room for a moment, a little disoriented. Her dream seemed so real. She could almost feel Mark's hands on her body, his lips on hers, and his member buried inside her.

"Thank Heaven you're awake!" Mary exclaimed as she made her way across the room.

"Yeah." Tess answered groggily. "You shouldn't be in here. Frank would be angry if he found out."

"Mr. Walker sent me." Mary replied sitting down next to her on the edge of the bed. Seeing the confusion in her eyes she continued, "After you didn't come to breakfast again yesterday, he started to worry that you might… need some help. He asked me to take care of you until you woke up."

"Wait a minute... What do you mean when I didn't come down to breakfast again? How long have I been asleep?" Tess asked.

Mary could hear the panic in her voice. Taking Tess' hands in hers, she comforted the young woman as much as she could. "You've been unconscious for four days. But you're going to be fine. Your fever's gone, and your head is healing quickly. The only thing we have to worry about now is getting some food into you before the wind picks you up and blows you away."

Tess smiled at the older woman. "I am kind of hungry."

Mary chuckled as she stood up. "Why don't you take a nice long shower while I go down and make you some soup."

"Okay." Tess answered. Slowly, she stood up. Her legs were weak and she wondered briefly if she were going to be able to walk. Carefully, she took a step, then another, and soon was standing infront of the bathroom sink. 'Four days.' She thought looking at her reflection. She must have been worse off than she thought. Thank God, he let Mary check on her. There's no telling what would have happened otherwise. The other day, she had had a revelation - that no matter what she did or said Frank was going to beat her. She had almost made the decision to try to enjoy her life, or what was left of it. To have friends, and do things outside this house for a change. Yes it meant being beaten, but wasn't it worth it? Wasn't it worth the risk if it meant being happy?

She let out a heavy sigh. All this came about because of Mark, because he was nice to her. A lot of people were nice to her, but she didn't go around making life-altering decisions because of them. Why was he so different? Maybe it wasn't him at all. Maybe it was the concussion. Maybe Frank had finally kicked some sense into her. Or maybe it was temporary insanity. Yes, she had to be insane to think that she could change like that. Her life was as good as it was going to get, and she wasn't going to screw it up.

After taking a deep breath she turned and stepped into the shower. She didn't realize how dirty she felt until she felt the clean hot water flow down her body. Her ribs weren't nearly as sore as they had been, the merciless pounding in her head was now a dull throb, and the bruises that had covered her body were almost gone. Yes, sleep is just what she had needed.

Mark worked silently as the woman chattered on about how she had always wanted a tattoo and how she loved motorcycles and blah blah blah... 'Jesus, doesn't this woman ever shut up?' She was another rich bitch, and he knew what would happen next - she would pay for the work, then try to seduce him. She wasn't a bad looking woman, kind of cute actually, but he couldn't picture himself in bed with her, although he was pretty horny. He dreamed about Tess every night. The dreams were the most erotic he'd ever had, but always turned to nightmares in the end. Except for the one last night. That dream ended with her in his arms telling him that she loved him, and her husband was out of her life for good.

"That'll do it." He said standing up.

"Thank you." The woman purred pressing her body against him, "Now, how can I show you how much I appreciate this?" Her hand slid under his tee shirt and started up his chest.

Gently, he took her arm and pulled her hand back out of his shirt with every intention of sending her away, but thinking about Tess had made him hard and his erection was pressing painfully into his jeans demanding to be released. 'I'm probably going to regret this later.' He thought as he placed her hand on his crotch and began stroking the bulge. With his free hand, he cupped the back of her head, pulled her closer, and brought his mouth to hers. Once she had a rhythm he liked, he released her hand and slid his over her buttocks. Pulling her skirt up to her waist, he quickly discarded her panties and pushed her back against the wall. Her fingers made quick work of the button and zipper on his jeans to release his manhood. Grabbing her by the hips, he lifted her up and impaled her. His movements were fast and hard and he heard her whimper in pleasure, which only served to enflame his desire. Sweat glistened on her forehead, her head hit the wall rhythmically with his thrusts and soon her whimpers turned to screams as an orgasm washed over her. His thrusts became shorter and quicker, and he roared as he emptied his load inside her.

He held her there for a moment while he caught his breath, then gently set her down. After straitening their clothes, they went to the front where she paid for the tattoo and left.

Glen watched his brother complete his business with the woman and sit down on the barstool behind the counter. "Well, it's about time." He said grinning. Mark looked up from the magazine he had opened, glaring at him. "Oh come on, don't look at me like that. You've been walking around with a hard on for a week now. You needed that."

Mark shook his head and tossed the magazine back on the counter. "Do you think it's your duty to keep track of my sex life, or is yours so dead that you have to live precariously through me?"

Glen looked at him amusedly and said, "I'm not trying to keep track, and for the record, my sex life is a hell of a lot more active than yours. It's just that you've been walking around in a daze ever since you met Tess. It isn't healthy to obsess like that."

"I'm not obsessed." Mark said patiently.

"No?" Glen raised his eyebrow. "How many times have you dreamed about her this week?"

"You can't control your dreams. And, not that it's any of your business, but she always ends up dead at the end." Mark tried to hide the pain he felt as he said the words. Mark studied Glen as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "What?" Mark asked, seeing the troubled look on his face.

Glen didn't answer right away. "I'm worried about you, brother. I've never seen you like this before. Not even with Karen."

Mark took a deep breath and as calmly as he could, he said, "I told you not to compare her to Karen. Tess isn't a drug addict, she isn't trying to seduce me, and she isn't after my money. She's an extremely beautiful woman who lives in Hell and just happened to have caught my eye. Yeah, I feel something for her, but nothing will ever come of it because I'll probably never see her again."

"Don't get me wrong, Mark, I'm all for you falling in love and living happily ever after and all that if that's what you want, but Tess is married, and I don't think she's going to leave her husband any time soon. Hell, I don't think she could if she wanted to."

Mark knew what he was saying was true, but he couldn't control how he felt. Getting up, he walked over to the pool table, hoping Glen would get the hint and drop the subject.

Glen got the hint. Picking up his beer, he joined Mark at the table. "So, how was she?" He asked smiling.

Mark grinned, "Not bad. Not bad at all."

Chapter Six

"Damn it!" Tess cursed waking up from yet another dream about Mark. She had dreamt of him every night, sometimes twice a night, for the over a month now. Each dream was more realistic than the last, and although her life was the same as it always had been, Frank was no longer a part of them. 'Why can't I stop thinking about him?' She didn't try to think about him, or even want to. What she wanted was for things to go back to the way they were before she met him, before he began haunting her dreams, before he awakened those feelings deep inside her that threatened to take control of her heart and send her back to him. 'God, I sound like a cheap romance novel.' Groaning at the thought of getting out of bed, she stretched and forced her legs over the side.

The door opened slightly and Mary tapped lightly as she peeked inside. "Mrs. Walker?"

"I'm up." Tess rasped her voice raw from the night before.

Mary opened the door a little further and stepped inside. "Mr. Walker asked that you join him for breakfast."

"Why?" Tess asked before she could stop herself, but before Mary could respond, she continued, "Never mind. I'll be right down." Mary turned and walked away as Tess stood and slipped her robe on. She went to the bathroom to wash her face before going downstairs. The bruise on her cheek was almost gone, but the ones on her throat were fresh. Lightly touching her throat, she traced the bruises as she recalled what had happened.

He had called her into the study, again, then knocked her to the floor, yelling at her for seeing the lover she didn't have then picked her up by her throat and threw her across the room. After ripping her clothes off, he pressed her hard against the wall, and held her there while he raped her. He kept a firm grasp on her throat long after he'd finished with her, until she passed out.

'And he's waiting for you downstairs.' She silently reminded herself. She sighed and turned to go to him.

"It's about time." Frank growled as she walked into the room. "Sit down." Tess knew that this must have something to do with business, he never asked for her to join him unless it did. But he never discussed business this early in the morning, with anyone. "An emergency has come up in Detroit and I have to fly out there immediately." He said. He watched her silently for a moment then stood and walked around the table to where Tess was sitting and placing one hand on each side of the cushioned seat, he leaned over bringing his face to hers. The look in his eyes was deadly and his tone murderous as he continued, "I'll be gone three days, if that. You're going to behave yourself while I'm gone," His eyes shifted to her throat as his fingers grazed the finger prints he'd left there, "Or I'll have to punish you again." His eyes returned to hers and his hand moved gently to cup her cheek. "Do you understand?"

Tess sat motionless as he spoke, fear gripping her insides. She had never seen him look more deadly or heard him speak in a more threatening tone and that said a lot considering he was the most dangerous person she knew. He backed away and backhanded her hard, splitting open the corner of her bottom lip, then resumed his place infront of her. "Don't make me ask you again."

"I understand." Her voice was just above a whisper.

"Good." He wiped the tear from her cheek then ran his fingertips down her face to the bruises on her throat and smiled wickedly, "Then again, maybe you should go out and fuck every man you can get your hands on."

Stunned, Tess watched him leave the room. She had always known that he beat her because she deserved it, but she never thought he actually enjoyed it. After hearing the front door slam shut, she slowly made her way to her room. Her head was spinning, her heart racing, and she could taste the blood from the cut on her lip flow into her mouth. She had to get out of there. Throwing on a comfortable pair of denim cut-offs, a white tank top, and her favorite old pair of tennis shoes, she grabbed her purse, determined to clear her head and relax for a change. After giving Mary the night off, she headed out. Tess rarely had this kind of freedom and when she did, she did everything she could to make it memorable.

Tess smiled as she watched two little boys play in the sandbox and climb the monkey bars. 'They're so innocent.' She thought as one of the boys gave his mom a handful of daffodils. His little brother interrupted suddenly with a boo-boo that needed a kiss, which didn't go over too well with the older boy. She smiled again as their mom pulled them both onto her lap and gave each of them a lollipop and a kiss before sending them back out to play.

Taking a deep breath, she looked away. On the other side of the tree, a couple was laying on a blanket - the woman on her back and the man on his side facing her - kissing...still. 'Get a room.' She thought bitterly. She knew she shouldn't be so jealous, she was married to a very successful businessman. She had money, jewelry, an expensive car, a yacht...everything a girl could want. Didn't she? 'Hell no.' She knew the answer before the thought ever formed in her mind. She wasn't loved. Then again, she didn't believe in love. Love was just a trick the mind played on the heart. It would put up a great front for awhile, then disappear without warning, leaving you with nothing but cold hard reality. Was that what those feelings for Mark was? Love? God, she hoped not. Her life was difficult enough without being in love, especially with a man she couldn't be with. Letting out a deep sigh, she laid back in the grass and closed her eyes. God what she would do to see Mark again. 'Just fall asleep.' A little voice whispered in her mind, and she smiled at the thought.

After picking up a sandwich, a Coke, a bag of potato chips, and a Snickers candy bar, Tess made her way to the front of the convenience store. She had dozed off in the park and slept nearly two hours. When she woke up it was almost four in the afternoon and not having had breakfast or lunch, she was famished.

"You're not going to eat all that, are you?" A deep voice said behind her.

Tess spun around and looked up, way up, into a familiar face. "Glen?" She asked cautiously after studying him for a second.

His smile widened as he answered, "I wasn't sure if you'd remember me." She looked so different than she had in the cafe' that he almost didn't recognize her. She still didn't wear any makeup, and he could see the fading bruise on her face and the fresh ones on her throat. "How have you been?" He asked, involuntarily glancing at her throat again.

"I've been good. How about you?" She asked in reply. He had the same friendly smile and kind eyes he'd had that day in the cafe', and she felt completely at ease with him.

"Pretty good, thanks." He replied simply. Damn, she was attractive. 'No wonder Mark fell for her so fast.' He pictured her suddenly lying beneath him as he made love to her. 'Stop it!' He commanded himself. If anyone was going to have her it would be Mark. He refused to hurt his brother that way. Even if he didn't tell him what happened, Mark would figure it out, he always did.

They stood and studied each other in silence for a few moments. "So." Tess said breaking the silence, "How is Mark?"

"He's good." Glen answered, "We're, uh... We're going to grill some steaks this evening. Why don't you come over?" Why he asked her over, he didn't know. He was only going to be torturing himself unless he stopped thinking about the things he wanted to do with her and started looking at her as a friend, nothing more.

"Oh, I can't." Tess answered disappointedly, "But thank you for the invitation."

"Are you sure?" 'Can you beg a little more?' He asked himself.

"Yeah. No, I uh, I've got some things I have to get done today." She answered reluctantly.

"Okay. I'll see you around then."

"Yeah. I'll see you around." Tess watched as he walked away. 'Why didn't you say yes?' She knew she couldn't accept his offer - Frank would kill her.

After paying for the food, she drove back to the park and sat down at a picnic table. She played with her sandwich, absently tearing it into tiny pieces, but didn't eat it. The more she thought about Glen's offer, the more she wanted to accept. She looked down at the pieces of sandwich and felt her stomach turn at the sight. Grilled steaks sounded so much better. 'Frank is going to kill me for this.' She thought as she threw the sandwich in the trash can. Stopping by the convenience store on the way, she picked up two cases of beer and headed for the tattoo shop.

As she approached 'The Snake Pit' she noticed the parking lot was empty save for one motorcycle pulling onto the street infront of her. 'God, I hope this is either Mark or Glen.' She thought as she followed it down the street. They pulled off the highway a few miles down the road then made a couple more turns before she saw the motorcycle pull into a trailer park. At the end of the street she saw the bike she had been following along with several others parked in a yard beside the street. The driver, of course, was nowhere in sight. Taking a deep breath, she slowly pulled the car forward. She could hear the laughter growing louder the closer she came. 'Dear God, I must have been out of my mind.' She thought as she pulled off to the side of the road and sat looking at the small group of bikers. She was about to forget the whole stupid idea when she saw Glen walk into the house, then gathering all her courage, she climbed out of the car before she could talk herself out of it. Grabbing the cases of beer, she made her was slowly across the yard toward the front door.

The laughter died and voices faded as she drew closer. All eyes were on her. She had never been so scared or so excited before in her life. It was exhilarating.

"What's going on out here?" Glen asked stepping outside. His eyes followed his friends' across the lawn to Tess.

"Hi Glen." She smiled and started forward again.

"Hey! What are you doing here?" He asked stepping toward her.

"I changed my mind." Tess answered smiling, "I hope you don't mind."

"No. No, of course not. How did you find us?" He asked realizing she wasn't suppose to know where they lived.

"I went by the shop looking for you and followed a bike here." She answered smiling at the surprised expression on his face. "Oh, I brought some beer too." She said holding up the cases.

"Now this is my kind of woman." Said a burly man to her left smiling as he took the beer from her.

"Back off, John, this one's Mark's." Glen warned smiling at the reaction on the other man's face.

"He didn't mention anyone." A buxom blonde sitting behind Glen spoke up.

"He didn't know she was coming, Rose." Glen replied over his shoulder then turned his attention back to Tess. "He's inside." He said answering her unasked question. "Come on. I'll introduce you before Mark steals you away from us." Turning toward his guests, he began the introductions, "Everyone, this is Tess. Tess, this is Ron, Jake, Angel, Rose, Steve, Gabrielle, Chris, and you've already met John."

"Hi." She said, shaking hands with each of them, except for Rose, who simply glared at her. They were a laid back, down-to-earth group, and Tess felt at home with them instantly, unlike the boring, uptight jackasses Frank was always around.

"Come on. I'll take you inside." Angel said shooting Rose a warning look, "Mark will be glad you’re here."

"Great." Tess replied simply as Angel took her arm.

Mark opened a beer and took a long drink. Jake brought his sister Rose with him today hoping that he would hit it off with her. Rose had taken to him instantly, but he, on the other hand, still had his mind on Tess. He swallowed what was left in the bottle and opened another one. He wasn't going to let the memory of a woman he could never have stop him from having some fun with Rose, and if he had to get drunk to do it, so be it.

"You might want to slow down there Mark." Angel said as they walked up behind him. "You wouldn't want to disappoint your woman."

His woman... 'Did she just call me his woman?' Tess asked herself as Angel pulled her closer to Mark. She couldn't stop the smile that spread across her lips, or the butterflies that invaded her stomach as he turned around.

Mark's stared at her for a moment not believing what he was seeing. 'What did they put in this stuff?' "Tess?" He stepped forward and without thinking took her face in his hand. "What are you doing here?" He asked, as a smile spread across his face at the realization that she was there, that he was touching her.

Tess' smile grew, if that were possible, as she answered, "Glen invited me."

"When?" He asked speculatively, "He didn't mention seeing you."

"This afternoon, at a convenience store. We ran into each other and he asked me over."

"So, that's why he came back without the beer." Mark chuckled.

Tess laughed. "Well, it's a good thing I brought some then."

"Would you like one?" He asked walking to the refrigerator.

"That would be great." She watched him as he bent over and grabbed a bottle, completely enjoying the view, then walk back over to her and handed her the beer. "Thank you." Their fingers touched as she took the bottle sending familiar electricity running through her veins, but this time she didn't pull away. This time she invited it, as scary as it was, and let it fill her up.

"Would you like to sit down?" He asked placing his hand on her back as he led her to the couch. They sat in silence watching each other for what seemed like an eternity, not that either of them minded it in the least. The last time he saw her, she looked like death warmed over - covered with bruises, broken ribs, a concussion - and now she was radiant. She looked healthy, except for an almost invisible bruise on her cheek and the black and blue hand print on her throat, and happy. She looked so happy. 'Where's her husband?' The thought popped into his head without warning. He didn't want to ask, but he didn't want that bastard to hurt her again. He looked away and took a deep breath.

"What is it?" Tess asked, although she had a feeling she knew the answer.

"Why are you here?" He asked looking up at her.

"Glen invited me..." She began then it hit her. He was with Rose, he didn't want her here. "I'm sorry. You and Rose are… I'm sorry." She said standing up. "I shouldn't have come."

Mark stood up. "Wait, I didn't mean it that way." Mark grabbed her arm and gently turned her around to face him. "I meant..." He touched her throat lightly with his fingertips. "I just don't want to give him a reason to hurt you again. If anything happened to you because of me..." Tess brought her fingers to his lips to silence him. Taking her hand in his, he kissed her fingers and pulled her hand away. "He doesn't need a reason, does he?" He watched her blink back the tears that threatened to fall.

"No." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

He closed his eyes for a moment and looked into hers. "If he found out you were here..." His voice faded as the thought surfaced.

"He won't find out." Tess said, her eyes twinkling, "He's out of town." Seeing Mark smile she continued, "Besides, sitting at home alone in my room wouldn't make any difference anyway. Like you said, he doesn't need a reason, so why not enjoy myself before he comes back?"

She had a point, although Mark wished she didn't, that her sitting at home would somehow make a difference. "Well, if it's fun you're after, Honey, you've come to the right place." He smiled, "The music is great, the people are friendly, and the food is to die for."

"Well, the music needs some work, but he's right on about the people and the food." Glen said grinning as he walked to Mark's CD collection. "No offense, Brother, but B.B. King just isn't cutting it this time."

Mark glared at his brother. "There ain't nothing wrong with B.B. King."

"Guys," Tess interrupted chuckling, "I've got some CDs in the car if you want to use them."

"What have you got?" Glen asked.

"I don't know... Aerosmith, The Eagles, Limp Bizkit, Bob Marley... a little of everything, I guess." Pulling her keys from her pocket, she tossed them to him. "They're in a case behind the driver's seat. Help yourself."

"Thanks." Glen replied walking to the door.

"You guys better get out here if you want any of these steaks." Ron said poking his head in the door.

"We'll be right there." Mark answered as Ron ducked back outside, then he turned his attention back to Tess. "You hungry?"

"I'm starving." She answered smiling. She couldn't believe how comfortable she felt around Mark, or Glen for that matter. She had always been shy and nervous, and had never been comfortable around anyone, especially men.

Tess washed the dishes and Mark dried them, while Glen picked up the empty beer bottles and cans that were strewn everywhere. The others were gone, one by one over the past hour or so, leaving Tess alone with Mark and Glen. Tess couldn't remember ever having so much fun. Everyone seemed to accept her into their group, even Rose after awhile. She had even made plans to have lunch with Rose, Angel, and Gabrielle the next day, and then go shopping. 'Shopping with the girls.' She smiled at the thought.

"What's that for?" Mark asked drying his hands on the dish towel.

"What is what for?" Tess asked inquisitively.

Mark brushed the hair from her face. "That beautiful smile." He replied softly causing her to blush slightly at the intimate sound of his voice.

"I was just thinking about how much fun I've had today. Thank you." Her smile faded along with his, and her lips parted involuntarily as he placed his hand on her back and drew her close. He lowered his head to hers, brushing her lips lightly with his.

"Hey Mark, have you… Oh shit! I... I'm sorry." Glen stuttered as Mark straightened and Tess took a step back.

"No, it's okay. I should be leaving anyway." Tess said trying to hide her embarrassment. Whether she was embarrassed at the fact that she had almost kissed Mark or that they had gotten caught, she didn't know.

"Don't go." Mark said gently taking her by the arm.

"It's already after 11 and I've got a pretty busy day tomorrow..."

"Is your husband waiting for you?" Glen asked remembering their last confrontation.

"No. He's in Detroit." Tess knew why he was asking.

"Are you going to be alright? Want me to follow you home?" Mark asked.

Tess saw something in his eyes, the same thing she saw just before he tried to kiss her, and she knew that if he followed her home, he wouldn't leave. "No, I'll be fine." She answered reluctantly, "My next door neighbor is somewhat of a night owl, and ever since her accident, she likes to sit at her front window with a pair of binoculars. She also has a very big mouth. If she were to see you…" She looked up at Mark, "Frank would have his reason."

Although Glen had a puzzled look on his face, Mark understood what she meant. "Okay." He said, "I'll walk you out."

After saying goodnight to Tess, Mark walked back inside, fell onto the couch and closed his eyes. He could still smell her scent in the air. A smile spread across his lips as he thought about what had happened, he almost kissed her. And he would have if Glen hadn't have walked in.

"What was that all about?" Glen asked standing over Mark with his arms crossed over his chest, "And what did she mean by, 'Frank would have his reason'?"

Mark's smile faded as he opened his eyes. "That was all about me kissing her until a certain little brother walked in. And as far as what she said, Frank is her husband." Mark answered hoping it would be enough of an answer for Glen. The look on his face told him it wasn't. Mark took a deep breath, sat up and began telling Glen about his conversation with Tess earlier.

"Hang on...you mean he LOOKS for a reason to beat her?" Glen asked dumbfounded, and Mark nodded. "Shit. And she still wanted to stay?"


Glen smiled. "Looks like you're not the only one falling in love." He said ducking an empty bottle.

"We're not falling in love." Mark said between gritted teeth.

"Have it your way," Glen replied pulling off his shirt as he walked across the room, "But don't come running to me thirty years from now crying that your one and only true love slipped through your fingers because you were too pigheaded to admit that you loved her."

"Since when do you believe in true love?" Mark asked stopping Glen before he stepped into the hall.

Glen turned to face Mark smiling and answered, "Since I watched you fall in love."

Mark let out a long sigh then stood up and walked to his room. Of course he was in love with her, unfortunately there was one thing standing in his way of having her, Frank. 'I could kill him.' He pushed the thought, as sweet as it sounded, out of his head. Sure the guy deserved to die for the things he did to Tess and Mark wanted nothing more than to beat the man into oblivion, but he wasn't a murderer. 'There has to be a way to get her away from him.' He thought as he laid down across the bed. He wanted to get her away from him, not just so he could spend time with her without having to worry about what would happen to her later, but to give her the freedom she deserved. Closing his eyes, he let her take over his mind as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Seven

Tess and Angel laughed and talked like two old friends. In the course of one afternoon, they had formed a tight bond, and felt as though they had known each other for years. Gabrielle and Rose unfortunately had stayed home to nurse their hangovers, but promised to get together with them soon.

The girls had a lot in common. Their taste in clothes, food, music, movies, and men were almost identical. The only real difference between them was their home life. Tess lived in her own personal hell, and Frank was the demon that presided over her. She never ventured far from home, but often dreamed of traveling the world. Or at least across America. Consequently, this left her with no friends. Angel, on the other hand, was single, and a free spirit. She was friendly and outgoing, and considered friendship to be a tie stronger than blood, and although this friendship with Tess had just formed, she knew that it was one of the strongest she would ever have. It was the friendship of a lifetime, for both of them.

"Oh shit!" Angel hissed looking at her watch, "I didn't realize how late it was getting."

"It's only 4:00." Tess replied looking at her watch as well.

"Yeah, but I've got to be at work at 6 and I still have to go home and take a shower." Angel answered picking up her bags.

"What do you do?" Tess asked as they made their way to the entrance where they'd come in.

"I'm a stripper." Angel wasn't one to beat around the bush or to sugarcoat the facts and she laughed out loud as she watched Tess' face turn dark red.

"Oh..." Tess replied stepping out into the fading sunlight.

"That's what everyone says." Angel replied still giggling.

Hearing this, Tess burst out laughing, causing Angel to do the same.

"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."

The girls spun around to face the voice. Nothing was said for a moment and Angel took the opportunity to take a good look at the stranger. He was tall, about 6' 4, with broad shoulders, lean hips, and impressively large arms. His hair was jet black and cut short, his eyes were ice blue and the look she saw in them now, although friendly, sent a shiver of fear racing down her spine.

"Frank." Tess said breaking the uneasy silence.

Taking a step forward, Frank placed his hands on Tess' arms and said, "Hello, Darling." He bent to gently kiss her cheek, then smiling he asked, "You've been okay while I was gone?"

Tess gave her best smile, which wasn't easy knowing what lay in store for her, and answered, "Yes."

"Good." Wrapping his arm around Tess he turned toward Angel, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend, Dear?"

"I'm sorry." Tess said gathering her senses, "Frank, this is Angel. Angel, this is my husband, Frank." She hoped the words came out smoothly. Frank hated for her to show her fear of him infront of others.

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Frank said smiling as he held out his hand.

Taking his hand Angel replied, "It's nice to meet you Frank." He seemed friendly enough, 'Not to mention sexy', but there was something about him that made her uncomfortable. It was probably the way he was looking at her, devouring her with his eyes like a predator who'd just found his next meal, or the look of fear that flashed in Tess' eyes before she could mask it. "Well, I hate to go, but I'm running late." She said to Frank then turned to Tess, "Call me and we'll do this again."

"Okay." Tess replied and watched as Angel walked away.

"Get in you car and go home." Frank said, "Wait for me in the study." Then without another word, he walked away.

Tears filled her eyes as she watched him go, but she quickly blinked them back. She couldn't give him that kind of satisfaction. 'The study.' She didn't want to begin to think about what he was going to do to her. Taking her bags to the car, she drove home.

Thunder boomed overhead and the rain pounded furiously on the floor length windows. Tess sat in a chair watching Heaven's assault on the Earth, waiting for Frank to come home. As she waited, she remembered a dream she'd had of a storm just like this one, of Mark's arms wrapped around her, holding her while he made love to her, protecting her from harm, and she smiled as a tear ran down her cheek. A bolt of lightening struck down somewhere near the water fountain lighting up the garden for an instant before the darkness overtook it again. She never heard the front door open or Frank walk up behind her.

Frank stood there for a moment with the gun aimed at the back of Tess' head. She would never feel the bullet, never even know she'd been shot. He grasped his wrist with his free hand to steady it and pulled the hammer back. Sweat trickled down his forehead, his hands trembled violently, and his breathing became heavy. An image of Tess and Angel laughing together suddenly flashed in his mind. 'What are you doing?' His mind screamed, 'All she did was go shopping with a friend!' His finger began to squeeze the trigger. Tess sniffled suddenly and wiped her face. 'Is she crying?' She never cried. A single tear every now and then sure, but she hadn't actually cried in years. Slowly his finger released the trigger and his arms fell to his sides. The gun slipped from his hand and landed with a soft thud on the carpet at his feet.

Startled by the sound, Tess jumped up and spun around to face her husband. The world came to a halt in the deathly silence that surrounded them, and time seemed to stand still as she stood waiting for the explosion she knew was coming. She could see Frank's body trembling with rage. He turned slightly as if he were turning to go, then came back around, his fist connecting with her jaw. Tess' head snapped around from the force of the blow and her body followed as she fell against the window. Bending down, he picked up the gun and walked to his wife. Bringing the pistol up over his head, he thrust it down hard, hitting her just above her left eye. Blood splattered on the window and she cried out in pain, which only served enflamed his rage. Once again she was backing down from him. "Why won't you fight back?" He screamed, hitting her again with the handle of the gun, "God damn it, fight back!" He hit her again and again until she lay motionless in a pool of blood.

Frank looked down at the seemingly lifeless body of his wife. His chest heaved with labored breaths and his body trembled violently as he stood over her. The blood that pooled beneath her began to spread and he had to take a step back to avoid standing in it. 'This will leave a stain.' He thought bitterly, watching it seep into the carpet. Stains practically covered this floor, although you could barely see them due to the burgundy color. He'd had to replace the gold carpet he'd had in here because of the bloodstains, and eventually the burgundy replacement as well.

After calming down, he pushed against Tess' back with the toe of his shoe. "Get up." He commanded calmly. Tess didn't move. Letting out a heavy sigh he knelt down beside her and placing his hand on her shoulder, he shook her, "Get up, Tess." She still didn't move. Frank could feel his anger rising again at her disobedience. How dare she ignore him? Taking a firm hold on her arm, he rolled her over. She had a nasty gash over her left eye from the first blow and a few bruises on her face, bruises on her arms where she tried to protect herself, and there would be more on her shoulders and back, and her hair was turning dark with blood. "Why do you make me do these things to you?" He asked the unconscious woman. Taking a deep breath, he slid one arm under her back and the other under her legs, picked her up, and carried her upstairs to her room, then after changing out of his bloodied clothes, he called Dr. Monroe.

"She's going to be fine." Dr. Monroe told Frank after examining Tess. "She doesn't have a concussion this time, but it was a pretty hard blow so she may feel a bit dazed for a few days. I wouldn't be surprised if she woke up with temporary amnesia. The cut above her eye needed stitches. I'm prescribing an antibiotic to help prevent infection." He handed the prescription to Frank.

Frank took the paper and studied the older man for a minute. He looked as if there was more he wanted to say, but other than the many bruises Tess had, he didn't know what it could be. Finally, the silence got to him and wanting to get rid of the doctor, he asked, "Is there anything else?"

"No. Other than several fresh bruises, that's it." He answered unable to keep the disdain from his tone.

"Is there something you want to say to me?" Frank asked challenging the doctor.

He'd made it a point not to involve himself in this marriage, other than the advise he'd given Tess that one time, if for no other reason than to avoid Frank's wrath, but he couldn't hold his tongue any longer. "There are many things I want to say to you, but I can't." He replied.

"Come on, Dr. M." Frank said taunting him by using the name only Tess was allowed to use, "Sure you can."

Dr. Monroe could hear the danger in his tone, but his damned male ego couldn't let it go. "Have it your way." He replied, "I think you are the luckiest man on the planet, and the stupidest. Tess is one of the smartest, funniest, most beautiful women I've ever known, but instead of appreciating what you have, you treat her like shit. You use her as your own personal punching bag when you should be worshipping the ground she walks on. I don't pretend to know what goes on in that head of yours, but if I were you, I'd find some other way to vent my anger before she ends up dead."

Frank stared at him in stunned silence. No one had ever spoken to him like that before, and he wasn't going to let this prick get away with it now. He brought his fist back and sent it barreling into the doctor's jaw, sending the man stumbling back into the wall. "Get out." He hissed and watched as the doctor picked up his bag and walk to the stairs.

"You're killing her." The doctor said calmly from the top of the stairs, "If you love her, if you ever loved her, you'll let her go." Then he turned and walked away.

After hearing the front door close, Frank stormed down to the study and sat at his desk brooding over his confrontation with the doctor. He glanced over at the fresh bloodstain under the window. The carpet was still wet and the smell of Tess' blood filled the air. He knew he was killing her, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stop the abuse. He knew she'd be better off without him, but the thought of leaving her was heart wrenching. He loved her and in his own twisted way, he needed her, he couldn't live without her. He would simply have to learn to control his temper, to stop beating her. At least not as badly as he did. She was a woman after all, and there were many other ways to hurt a woman. If he had to, he would have to come up with more creative, less physical ways to punish her.

Tess opened her eyes, squinting at the sunlight that flooded the room. She didn't want to get up. Why, did she think that after all these years, she could change her life? She should have known that Frank would punish her for it.

"Mrs. Walker?" Mary called out as she opened the door.

"I'm up." Tess answered.

Mary walked to the bed and sat down beside Tess with a bottle of medicine and a glass of water. "Try to sit up." She commanded gently as she sat the water on the night stand and opened the bottle, "Dr. Monroe prescribed these for you."

"What are they?" Tess asked sitting up.

Mary poured two pills into Tess hand and handed her the water. "They're antibiotics." She answered.

Tess swallowed the pills and asked. "Antibiotics? For what?"

"The cut above your eye needed stitches. He didn't want it getting infected." Mary stood and turned to go.

"Mary," Tess said, stopping her, "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course you can." Mary returned to the bed and sat down next to Tess.

Tess took a deep breath. "He did this because I went shopping with a friend. A female friend." She paused to watch Mary's reaction and saw her eyes grow moist with tears. "Do you think it was worth it? Is having a friend worth getting…this?" She asked motioning toward her eye.

Mary turned her head to blink back her tears then turned to face Tess again. "I can't answer that for you. What do you think?"

"I think he would have done it anyway." Tess answered. Mary nodded in agreement. Tess leaned forward and lowered her voice, "But what if that friend were a man?"

Mary's eyes grew wide. "Are you seeing someone?" She asked, her eyes sparkling.

Tess couldn't help but smile as she answered, "No. Well, not exactly." She looked out the door into the hall. "Is he home?"

"No. He called and said he would be home late." Mary answered in the same hushed tone, "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Tess bit her lower lip pondering the question for a second. God, how she needed to talk to someone, and she didn't know yet if she and Angel could remain friends. "You can't tell Frank. If he were to find out, he would kill me. Literally."

"I won't." Mary promised, "Besides, I don't think Mr. Walker is interested in anything I have to say."

Tess told her about Mark. From meeting him at the tattoo shop to seeing him and Glen in the diner to the Bar-b-q where she met his friends and how they accepted her and made her feel like she was one of them. Then about almost kissing Mark. "The worst part is, I wanted him to kiss me." Tess said looking down at her hands.

Mary lifted her chin and smiling she said, "Honey, it's okay. Mark sounds like a wonderful man, and I don't blame you for being attracted to him." She paused debating whether or not she should continue. If she did, she would be responsible for whatever happened to Tess, and she wasn't sure she could live with that kind of guilt, but the sparkle she saw in Tess' eyes as she spoke of her new friends smothered those doubts. "I never thought I'd say this, but if I were you, I would go see Mark again, and as often as I could. I don't condone extramarital affairs, and I'm not saying this is morally the right thing to do, but you're never going to be happy with Mr. Walker, and Tess," She took Tess' hand in hers, "You deserve to be happy. And who knows, maybe some day Mark will beat some sense into that husband of yours and convince him to let you go."

Tess smiled brightly. "Thank you for listening, Mary. And for the advise"

Mary smiled in return. "You're welcome." She replied standing up, "There is one more thing."

"Shoot." Tess replied.

"The next time Mark tries to kiss you, make sure he follows through with it." Mary said grinning, "And I want to hear all about it."

Tess' smile widened. "You will. I promise."

Mary chuckled and walked to the door. "You take a shower now, then come down and get something to eat, so I can change those sheets."

Chapter Eight

Mark let out a heavy sigh as he began coloring in the heart. He was working on another 'rich bitch' and was not looking forward to what was coming next. He really didn't want to sleep with her, but she had already started coming on to him and that combined with the ever-present thoughts of Tess were really getting to him. Why in the hell did these women have to start coming here? It was as if they had advertised that they catered to beautiful wealthy women. 'Word of mouth.' Now that was one thing women were good for. Just show them a good time and before long every woman, and half the men, in town would hear about it. There was one man he wished would hear about it. He wished Tess would tell her husband that he'd tried to kiss her, then bring Frank here to seek his revenge. Yeah... Then he'd show that waste of flesh what real pain feels like. He grinned at the thought. It would be a pleasure to beat the life out of that one.

"Are you finished already?" The woman asked looking over her shoulder at him through half closed eyelids.

"Yeah. That'll be $95." He answered stepping past her to the open door.

Stepping up to him, she ran her hands up his back. "Isn't there anything else I can give you for taking such good care of me?" She asked. Her hands slid around the front of his waist and covered his crotch with one hand, firmly stroking his erection through his jeans, while the other glided up his chest. "Mmmm... You're all ready for me." Her hands came together at the waistband of his jeans and began to unbutton them. "I can make you feel so good."

Mark grasped her hands and pulled them away. "I don't think so." His tone was soft but firm, letting her know he meant business. Without looking back at her, he walked out of the room.

She gaped at him in shock as he walked away, then gathering what was left of her pride she followed him to the register and paid for the work.

Glen and Angel watched the silent transaction from the pool table. "He's in love with Tess, isn't he?" Angel asked.

"Is it that obvious?" Glen retorted. Although the subject of Mark and Tess hadn't come up once since the bar-b-q, he didn't want her to bring it up now. Mark's love for Tess was driving him crazy. Yes he was happy for his brother, but he was also jealous. No matter what he thought about women in general, he still wanted someone to look at him the way Tess had looked at Mark.

"You're not jealous are you?" Angel asked smiling.

"No, I'm not jealous. I just wish he'd find someone who wasn't already spoken for."

Angel laughed out loud. "You are! You're jealous!"

Glen glared at her for a moment then turned back to the game. He was not going to discuss this with her.

Walking over to him, Angel put her arm around his shoulder. "Don't worry Hon, you'll meet someone someday."

"You sound like my mother." Glen muttered as he took his next shot.

"Maybe, but I'm right."

Frustrated, Glen took a menacing step toward her, "If you want to stay healthy..."

"Whoa!" Mark stepped infront of Glen and put his hands on his chest to keep him from advancing on the woman. "You don't want to do this."

Of course he didn't want to hurt Angel, but she made him so angry sometimes. Turning, he walked to the window and stared out in silence.

Knowing Glen wouldn't be any help, Mark turned to Angel and asked, "You want to tell me what's going on?"

"Glen is just mad because he's…" Angel stopped. They sounded like two bickering children and Mark the ever-patient adult. Besides, she knew Glen was sensitive about showing his feelings, especially infront of his brother, and she didn't want to embarrass him. "Nothing's wrong." Walking to Glen, she put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Glen. I shouldn't have taunted you like that. Forgive me?"

Glen looked down into her big brown puppy-dog eyes and rolled his eyes. "Of course I do." He answered wrapping his arm around her waist.

"Well, as touching as this is, I'm afraid I have to go." She said smiling. "I'll see you two later."

Tess smiled when she saw Mark's Harley parked infront of the shop, she was hoping he'd be here today. Next to his bike was Glen's and next to that was Angel's car. Pulling in next to Mark's bike, she turned off the engine and looked in the rear view mirror to check that the bandage was in place. Unfortunately, it wasn't big enough to entirely cover the bruise that accompanied the cut and she didn't have any of the larger ones on-hand this morning. As comfortable as she felt around him, she didn't want Mark to see the cut, or at least not right away. He was sure to look under the gauze eventually.

She had lain awake all night trying to decide what she was going to do - make Mark part of her life, or go out of her way to never see him again. No matter how loud her mind screamed for her to stay away, in her heart she knew she couldn't. She would just have to hope that Frank would never find out, and deal with his wrath if he did. He went to the office early this morning, as he did often after beating her this severely. 'The office. Yeah, and I'm the Queen of England.' She knew about his lovers, not who they were but that he had them, and she knew intuitively that he was with one now. He had been courteous enough not to flaunt his affairs too badly, although everyone in town knew about them, and she never had to see him with any of them, and for that she was grateful. As cruel as he was, he was still her husband and she didn't think she could handle seeing him with another woman. Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door, grabbed the bag on the passenger's seat, and climbed out.

Mark, Glen, and Angel all looked toward the door when the bell above it rang. "Tess!" Angel exclaimed and ran over to her, throwing her arms around her and held her tightly. She'd had a bad feeling about Frank, although she couldn't put her finger on what it was exactly, and she'd been worried about Tess all night.

"Let the poor girl breathe." Glen said peeling Angel off the other woman. Tess smiled brightly as she released her friend from the embrace.

"I hate to bump into you and run, but I'm going to be late." Angel told her new friend.

"Oh, that's okay." Tess replied and held up the bag she was carrying. "This is yours. I must have grabbed it by mistake when we left the mall."

"Thank you." Angel said taking the bag, and hugged her again. "Call me tomorrow."

"I will." Tess replied and watched Angel leave the shop, then she turned toward Glen and Mark. She could see the concern on Glen's face and the anger Mark was trying to hide. The bell above the door rang again and a man walked in.

"What can I do for you?" Glen asked as he stepped past Tess to the man.

Tess walked over to the pool table where Mark was standing. He immediately reached out and touched the bandage lightly. "Let's go in the back." He said quietly. Not waiting for her to agree, he took her hand and led her to a small room in the back, closing the door behind them. Stepping up to her he reached out again and carefully pulled the tape back revealing the stitched wound. "Are you okay?"

Although his voice was gentle, she could hear the anger that was reflected in his eyes. "I'm fine." Her heart pounded furiously as he examined the wound, and she expected an eruption of some kind at any moment.

Mark looked down into hers eyes and saw nothing more than two lifeless blue pools void of any emotion, and her body was stiff. It was her defense mechanism - to close herself off as much as possible before…before what? He wasn't going to do anything to her. 'She probably doesn't know that.' A little voice inside told him. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, intentionally subduing his anger before meeting her gaze again. Gently, he stroked her cheek and felt her jerk away from him slightly. "I'm not going to hurt you, Tess." His voice was soft and gentle, and she began to relax immediately. "Do you want to talk about it?" He asked sitting down in a chair.

Tess sat down in a chair across from him. "Not really." She answered quietly.

"Will you tell me anyway?" He pressed. "What did he do to you?"

Tess opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by a knock on the door. "You two decent in here?" Glen asked peeking in the door.

"Yeah." Mark answered not taking his eyes off Tess.

Glen stepped in the room, leaving the door open, and took a seat on the stool that sat in the corner.

Tess took a deep breath. No, she didn't want to tell them, but they would probably make up their own story if she didn't. Either way, they were going to be angry, so why not give them the facts? "Frank saw me and Angel leaving the mall the other day. After Angel left he sent me home to wait for him." She looked down at her hands. She really didn't want to finish this story.

Mark hooked his fingers under her chin and pulled her face up to his. "It's okay, Baby." He whispered stroking her cheek with his thumb.

Letting out a ragged sigh, she reluctantly continued, "It had already started to storm outside. I was watching it come down outside in the garden and he… I didn't hear him come in. When I did hear him, I stood up and turned toward him. He was angry again. I could feel it, like the heat radiating from a furnace. He started to turn away, but at the last second he came back around and hit me." She stopped unable to continue.

Glen knelt down beside her and lightly touched the bruise around the cut. "He did this with his fist?" He asked. Surely he hadn't hit her that hard.

Tess shook her head. "No. After the first blow, he picked up a gun. He did it... He used the gun."

"How many times did he hit you with it?" Mark asked. His voice was strained and he avoided looking directly into her eyes as not to frighten her again, and ran his hands gently over her bruised arm, noticing that many of the bruises were rather severe.

"I don't know." She answered blinking back the tears she refused to shed. "I passed out."

"Did he hit you in the head again?" Glen asked.

She nodded. "Yeah. I don't remember it though. You usually don't with that type of trauma."

Despite the anger and hatred that was boiling beneath the surface Mark couldn't help but smile. "You know, you sound just like a doctor."

Tess smiled back at him. "Yeah, I guess I do."

"So, what brings you here today?" Glen asked, "You want another tattoo?"

Tess chuckled. "No. Actually I came to take Mark up on a game of pool." She looked back to Mark. "That is, if the offer still stands."

Mark didn't seem to hear her at first, but quickly recovered after hearing Glen clear his throat. Glen leaned close to Tess' ear. "I don't think a game of pool is what he has in mind." He whispered, then laughed as Tess' face and neck turned bright red. The bell above the door rang again, and Glen stood up. "I'll take this one." He stopped in the doorway and turned to Tess. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." He said smiling.

Tess' face turned a darker shade of red. "Is he always like that?" She asked Mark.

"Pretty much, yeah. He likes to keep the mood light." Mark answered.

His expression became serious once again and Tess began to feel uncomfortable under his gaze. "Maybe I shouldn't have come here." Her voice, although soft, broke the silence and Mark blinked several times as he was pulled from his trance. Tess stood up and smiled at him. He obviously had something on his mind, and she was in the way. She would come back later.

"Don't go." Mark said standing as she took a step toward the door.

"I really should be going. You're pretty preoccupied and Dr. M wanted me to come in today anyway so he could take a look at these stitches. I'll see you later." She promised.

Mark watched her walk away. She was right, he was very preoccupied - with thoughts of dismembering her husband - and seeing her, the damage he'd done to her, only enraged him more. He had frightened her once already during her short visit and he knew that if she stayed, he would only frighten her again. He needed to vent this anger before he ended up driving her away for good. Sighing heavily, he walked out to the front of the shop and sat down behind the counter. Oh, if he could get his hands on the bastard, just once... 'Too bad you don't know what he looks like.' He thought. "I've got to let this go." He muttered to himself. Glen was right, he was obsessing, and he needed to stop, or he was going to regret it.

A tear slid down Tess' cheek as she sat in the chair infront of her desk looking at the picture of the rose Mark had used to draw her tattoo. Why did she have to fall for him? She could still see the anger in his eyes, still hear his strained voice. She had seen those same features in Frank far too many times, and the last thing she needed was another man who treated her the way Frank did. A knock at the door pulled her from her thoughts.

"Mrs. Walker, dinner is being served." Mary said quietly.

"I'll be right down." Tess replied standing up. After straitening her clothes and hair, she walked downstairs to the dining room to join Frank for dinner.

Chapter Nine

"Okay, spill it." Angel said as she and Tess sat down at the booth in the back of the restaurant. Over the past month, she and Tess had spent more and more time together, and had become very close. Tess had told her about Frank, somewhat. She knew by the ever-present bruises on her friend that he did more than just cheat and lie, but she never pushed the subject. Tess knew she was there for her should she ever want to talk.

Tess sat her purse down in the seat next to her and looked at Angel. "What are you talking about?" She asked.

"Can I get you ladies something to drink?" A waitress asked as she handed the girls a couple of menus.

"I'll have a sweet tea." Tess answered.

"Make it two." Angel replied. The waitress nodded and walked away. "Why have you been avoiding Mark?" Angel asked, turning her attention back to Tess.

Tess looked up from her menu. "I haven't been avoiding him." She answered defensively.

"Oh, come on Tess. You haven't been by to visit him, and when you do see him you do everything you can to keep your distance from him. You don't even talk about him." Angel answered.

"Here you go. Two ice teas. Are you lady's ready to order?" The waitress asked cheerfully.

"Yes. I'll have the Caesar salad with house dressing." Tess answered.

"I'll have a cheeseburger and fries." Angel said not taking her eyes off Tess.

The waitress wrote the orders down and turned away.

Tess met Angel's gaze. Of course she was avoiding Mark, but what else could she do? She couldn't allow herself to get involved with another man, especially one with a temper so close to Frank's.

"Talk to me." Angel said quietly, "Why are you pushing him away?"

Tess let out a heavy sigh. "I have to." She replied softly, "I can't get too close to him. If anything ever happened between us..."

"But you're in love with him." Angel argued.

Tess shook her head. "That doesn't matter."

"The hell it doesn't." Angel retorted. "Is it because of Frank? Are you really so afraid of him that you would throw away any chance of happiness you might have?"

"Yes, I am afraid of Frank. But there's more to it than that." Seeing that Angel was waiting for an answer, Tess continued, "Mark has a temper. He tries to hide it, but I can see it in his eyes. It's the same anger and hatred that I see in Frank, and it scares the hell out of me." Tears filled her eyes as she spoke, "I know that Mark isn't Frank, and deep down I know that he's angry at Frank and not at me, and that he would probably never hurt me. But I went through this exact same thing with Frank before we got married. He would rant for hours about how horrible my family treated me, about how he was going to take me away from all that, and how happy we were going to be together. And I've been in a living hell ever since. Trusting Frank was the biggest mistake of my life. I can't afford to make that same mistake again."

Angel understood what Tess was saying, although she hated to admit it.

"Here we are." The waitress said placing the food infront of the women. "Can I get you anything else?" She asked.

"No thank you." Tess answered smiling politely. The waitress smiled in return and left quietly.

Mark turned and stepped past Glen. They had stopped at a red light, seen the girls through the window, and stopped to see them. Mark had been intent on finding out why Tess had been avoiding him over the past month, and now he had his answer. He had assumed that Frank had hurt her worse than she was telling him, or had threatened her in some way if she didn't stay away from him, assuming he knew about him. He knew Tess was frightened of her husband, but he never imagined she would be afraid of him.

Glen followed his brother back to the shop. He had been just as surprised at Tess' confession as Mark had been, but unlike Mark, he understood where her fear came from.

Pulling off his jacket, Mark stormed across the room to the counter and threw the jacket against the wall. "How could she think that I would hurt her? I'm not her husband. I don't beat women!" He yelled at Glen who calmly laid his jacket across the counter. "I'm nothing like that bastard!"

"I know you're not." Glen answered calmly, "But you have to look at this from her point of view. She has been living in hell for the past thirteen years with a man who said he loved her. He made a vow before God to love and protect her, and he obviously hasn't done either. You can't expect her to fall into your arms when she sees the same rage in you that she sees in him."

"But you know me, Glen. I would never hurt her." Mark's voice cracked as he spoke. Just knowing that she couldn't trust him, that she believed he could hurt her was enough to break his heart.

Glen wrapped his arm around Mark's shoulder. "I know you wouldn't, but I'm not the one you have to convince."

"How am I suppose to do that?" Mark asked defeated. "I've already told her I wouldn't hurt her, and she knows I'm not angry with her. What can I say that will convince her I won't hurt her?"

"I don't think words are going to help. You're going to have to get rid of your anger toward Frank and show her that you won't hurt her. It's going to take a lot of time to repair the damage that that bastard has done to her."

Mark glared at Glen for a moment. Unfortunately he was right. "What am I suppose to do in the mean time?" He asked lowering his voice.

"I don't know. Join a gym?" Glen offered. Patience was the one virtue Mark was lacking. He loved his brother, but the man had to learn to be more patient.

"I already did." Mark muttered, "But that's not what I'm talking about. What am I suppose to do about the women who come in here? I'm about to go crazy waiting for Tess. I can't wait very much longer." Glen laughed out loud. "It's not funny." Mark growled, "You try living like a monk when you have a beautiful woman constantly on your mind, and more women coming on to you every other day."

Glen stopped laughing and took a deep breath. "No one ever said you had to stop getting laid." He said walking around to the back of the counter, "As bad as her marriage is, Tess is still a married woman. Don't commit yourself to her until she's out of that marriage and free to be with you."

Mark nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Again."

The bell above the door rang and the men turned to see an attractive, well-dressed woman walk in. Glen turned to Mark and grinned, "Be my guest."

Mark growled softly then walked over to the woman.

Tess looked down at her watch. She was supposed to meet Angel for lunch and she was over an hour late. 'This isn't like her.' She told herself. Pulling out her cell phone, she dialed Angel's number again, and listened to it ring several times before hanging up. Something was wrong. Angel always called when she was running late or if she had to cancel. Tess laid some money on the table for the tea she'd had while waiting and hurried out to her car.

Although Angel didn't live too far from the diner, it seemed to take forever to get there. As she approached Angel's apartment, she saw a familiar car parked next to Angel's. "Frank?" Tess said quietly as she pulled in next to the gray BMW. A feeling of dread came over her as she tried to imagine, or not imagine, what Frank was doing here. Whatever he was up to, it meant trouble for Angel, she was sure of that. 'Get out of the car.' A small voice inside told her. She had never confronted Frank before, or at least not in the past ten years or so, and she was terrified of doing so now. But Frank was in there with her best friend, her only friend and she couldn't sit by while he did God only knew what to her. Gathering up all her courage, she climbed out of the car and walked across the small yard to the front of the building. The front door was open a few inches, something Angel would never do. Tess' heart pounded furiously as she pushed it open and stepped inside.

"Angel?" Tess called out softly. 'She isn't going to hear that.' A little voice inside told her. "Angel?" She called out again, a little louder this time, as she walked across the small living room and through the kitchen toward the back of the apartment where the bedroom and bathroom were. She noticed Angel's purse and keys on the counter as she passed. Angel had planned on meeting her for lunch. Frank probably showed up just as she was leaving, she surmised.

As she continued toward the bedroom, she heard a muffled sound coming from behind the closed door, then the sound of something break. With a trembling hand, she turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open, not wanting to see whatever was behind it, but knowing she had to.

Tess' heart sank as she looked at Angel's bed. As hard as she tried, she couldn't tear her eyes from the couple making love in front of her, seemingly unaware of her presence, or block out the sound of their voices as they called out each other's names. She felt as though reality was slipping away from her, like she was in some sort of dream and would wake up at any minute.

"Tess." Angel said breathlessly, pulling Tess from her daze.

Frank, still lying on top of Angel, looked over casually and smiled. "Well, hello Honey." He greeted cheerfully, "You want to join us?" His smile grew as he watched Tess' eyes fill with tears. "No? That's okay. I need to be getting back to the office anyway." He rolled off of Angel and climbed out of bed. "Why don't we make it a threesome next time?" He said pulling on his clothes, then walking over to Tess, he took her face in his hands. Gently, he ran his thumbs over her cheeks, wiping away the tears she couldn't keep from falling. "No threesome? Have it your way." His voice remained cheerful as he spoke, and his eyes gleamed with humor. Leaning forward, he kissed her lips softly then looked into her watery eyes. "Thank you for introducing me to Angel. She was magnificent." Laughing, Frank walked past his wife and left the apartment.

An eternity passed in the next few minutes as Tess and Angel stared at each other. "Did he force you?" Tess asked breaking the silence that had fallen over the room, desperately hoping that Angel hadn't betrayed her. "Did he threaten you? What did he do, Angel? What happened?" Frank no doubt had done this with every intention of her finding out about it, but she didn't want... no, she couldn't believe that Angel had gone along with it, even if she was unaware of Frank's intentions, and that Frank had somehow forced her into bed.

Angel wiped her own tears away as she began to speak. "He was standing in the door when I opened it to leave to meet you for lunch. He invited himself inside, then he started coming on to me." Angel took a deep breath, swallowing the sob that threatened to escape, before continuing. This was no doubt the hardest thing she'd ever had to do. "He kept coming closer and closer until he had me pinned up against the wall. Then kissed me. I tried to fight him at first, but the next thing I knew I was kissing him back. One thing led to another and… I never meant for it to happen, Tess. I'm so sorry."

Tess looked down into Angel's tear stained face, pushing all the hurt she felt deep inside and burying it under the anger that had already begun to surface. "How could you?" She spat. "Frank was right, I am better off alone." Turning, she stormed through the apartment, slamming the door closed behind her as she left.

Angel buried her face in her hands and cried. She knew that Tess didn't have any friends, and she had a pretty good idea of how Frank treated her, yet she still let him seduce her. She turned her back on her best friend for an hour of pleasure with a man she already despised.

Tess lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. After catching Frank and Angel in bed together, she had come home and basically locked herself in her room. To her relief, Frank hadn't insisted that she come down for dinner as he usually did when she tried to skip a meal, but she knew he wouldn't tolerate her skipping breakfast as well.

Sighing heavily, Tess climbed out of bed, slipped into her robe, and went downstairs. She froze at the bottom of the staircase as strange, yet familiar voices came from the dining room. She listened closely and slowly began to recognize them as her aunt, uncle, and cousin. Silently she walked to the doorway and listened to the conversation inside. Frank was talking about the inheritance Bethany, her cousin, would receive when he died, and about how he had already changed his will and life insurance policies making her the sole recipient.

"What about Tess?" She heard Bethany ask.

Frank laughed. "Do you really care?" He answered, "Don't worry about her. She still has her bank account. I'm not taking that away from her. She'll have to get by on whatever she has left."

"Where is she?" Bethany asked, "Is she going to be okay with me moving in with you?"

"She doesn't have a say in it. She'll do as I tell her." Frank answered casually.

"Stop bothering Frank about that girl." Uncle Carl said roughly. "He has better things to worry about than that little slut."

"Carl." Aunt Gretchen said in a scolding tone. "We're in Frank's home now, and it's rude to speak about his wife that way. You'll mind your manners while your here." Carl snorted in response and continued eating.

Frank listened silently, and his blood ran cold at Carl's words. No one spoke about his wife that way, no matter who they were. He may make Tess' life a living hell, but deep down he still loved her. These people didn't. Besides, the more afraid she was of him, the further he was able to keep her from his business affairs, which ironically, kept her out of harm's way. Unfortunately he needed to buy Carl's company so he could sell it and repay some of the debt he was in, and the only way he could do that was to make Bethany his sole heir and secure Carl and Gretchen's future. Although he made millions for the Mafia by laundering money through his banks and setting up dummy corporations, he had accumulated quite a debt for himself in the process, including to a couple of loan sharks. If only he could use the money in the dummy corporations he'd set up. But that would mean stealing from the mob and he wasn't ready to die.

Tess swallowed hard past the lump that had formed in her throat. After all these years, they still hated her, and now she was going to have to live with Bethany again. Taking a deep breath, she stood straight and walked quietly to the table taking her place beside Frank.

Bethany gasped when she saw Tess. She had a large bruise over her left eye and bruises on her throat that, if she didn't know better, looked like a hand print. She looked pale and thin, not the tanned, spirited girl she'd grown up with. She had lost the fire that had burned in her soul. A fire that, even after years of emotional abuse, her mother and father hadn't been able to extinguish.

"It's good to see you've been keeping her in line." Carl said to Frank while smiling wickedly at his niece.

"Carl." Gretchen hissed, then turned her attention to Tess. "It's lovely to see you again Dear. I trust Frank's been taking good care of you."

Tess' stomach turned at the tone of her aunt's voice. Although her words sounded kind, they were underlined with malice. "Yes, ma'am." She answered softly, knowing she couldn't give her any other answer, and that they wouldn't care even if she did. "Thank you." She said quietly to Mary as she placed her breakfast infront of her.

"I have some good news." Carl said to Tess, "Bethany is moving in with Frank." Tess looked up at Frank who had yet to say anything, then at her uncle. "We've already taken her suitcases up to Frank's room. Why don't you take Bethany upstairs and help her get settled in." Tess laid her fork down beside her plate slowly, hoping Frank would intervene in some way so she could stay and finish her meal, but he didn't. "Don't worry about your breakfast, girl. You can afford to skip a meal." Carl was getting impatient and it reflected in his voice.

Tess looked over at Frank again and saw his anger starting to rise. Quickly she put her napkin down, stood up, and looked across the table at Bethany who stood up and followed her out of the dining room.

Neither girl said anything while Tess unpacked the suitcases, folding her cousin's clothes and neatly putting them in the dresser, and hanging others neatly in the closet beside Frank's. As Tess was zipping up the last piece of luggage to be stored away, Bethany broke the silence and asked, "What happened to your eye?"

"Don't worry about it." The girls both turned toward Frank, who was leaning against the door frame watching them. "Your parents are leaving. You should go down and say goodbye." Bethany nodded and quietly left the room.

Tess and Frank stood in silence watching each other for what seemed like an eternity. It had been years since she'd been in Frank's room and she wasn't sure what Frank's reaction would be seeing her in here, but she was sure there would be another punishment in store for her. Unable to wait for the inevitable, she broke the silence, "I'll take these to the attic." Picking up Bethany's luggage, she started toward the door.

"These can wait." Frank said stepping in her path, "I warned you once never to come in here again." The suitcases slipped from Tess' arms unnoticed as Frank reached out and grabbed her by the hair. "What am I going to do with you?" He asked absently as he traced the outline of her face with his free hand, and slowly made a trail down the front of her robe to the belt. "There are only two things a person does in a bedroom - sleep and have sex. And since you just woke up, I assume you came in here for the latter." Untangling his fingers from her hair, he slid his hand down her body. With a firm tug, the belt came undone and the robe fell open.

Frank licked his lips as he watched the heavy robe fall to the floor then quickly reached down and pulled the thin nightgown up and over her head. The elastic tore into Tess' flesh as he ripped the panties off her, and he heard her try to muffle the cry that accompanied it. She looked angelic standing naked before him, her hair a nest of tangles from the night before. And for an instant he felt remorse for the scars and bruises that covered her body, he felt the need to take her in his arms and make love to her the way he knew she deserved to be loved. But it was only for an instant and it was over now.

He made quick work of his own robe and the pair of pajama pants he wore beneath it, pulled Tess roughly against his body, and captured her mouth in a hard, demanding kiss, while pushing her backward across the room to the bed. Tess instinctively clutched his shoulders as they fell, only to have him rip her hands away from him and hold them down over her head. As he positioned himself between her legs, his mouth left hers and trailed to her throat, where he sucked and bit on her tender skin. With one hard thrust, he buried himself inside her and heard her try to muffle another cry as she took him in.

Her body trembled beneath him as he pounded his length into her relentlessly, and tears spilled down her cheeks at the pain and unwanted pleasure of his onslaught. As rough as he was with her, this was as close to making love as he ever came, and her body betrayed her every time.

The harder his thrusts became, the harder it was for her to remain silent, and he heard the whimper that eventually managed to escape her lips. "Shut up." He growled angrily. Lowering his mouth to her throat, he sank his teeth into her flesh easily drawing blood. Her body stiffened for a moment then began to tremble violently as she tried desperately to suppress her cries. He moved faster inside her and his thrusts became harder, savage. Roaring his release, his body went stiff above her as he spilled his seed inside her, then he collapsed on top of her, pushing her into the mattress under his full weight.

After catching his breath, Frank rolled off of her and stood beside the bed. Without saying a word, he bent down and picked up her robe, then grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out of bed. After pulling her across the room, he shoved her out the door and into the hallway, slamming the door behind her.

Tess fell into the wall hard, hitting her head on the door frame of the guest room across the hall, which knocked her off her feet. Shaking off the wave of dizziness that threatened to come over her, she stood up, and clutching the robe to her chest, quickly made her way down the hall to her room.

Falling against the bedroom door, Tess fought to stop the tears that flowed down her face. Her world was spinning out of control. Within the past 24 hours she had admitted to being in love with Mark and had come to a conscience decision to stay as far away from him as possible. Her best friend had betrayed her by sleeping with her husband, and one of the people who hated her the most was moving in with them and sleeping in her husband's bed. She had to do something. If she didn't get some measure of control, she was going to go insane. Pushing herself off the door, she walked into the bathroom and turned the water on in the shower.

Bethany watched Frank's assault on his wife silently from the hall, too afraid to intervene. She'd had a huge crush on Frank when she and Tess were young, but Frank, like every other boy, chose Tess over her. She felt guilty, and very foolish, for the jealousy she'd felt toward Tess all these years. As much as she hated her cousin, her heart broke for her. 'She deserved it.' The little voice inside told her. She had to believe that. She couldn't believe that he would mistreat Tess without a reason, especially now that she was, in a way, taking Tess' place.

Chapter Ten

Frank watched Tess silently as Bethany went on and on about how wonderful it was to be there and how she was looking forward to getting to know him better, but he didn't hear a word she said. His mind was on the woman sitting to his right. They had long since finished dinner and the chocolate mousse, which had been served for dessert, was now nothing more than a warm puddle of brown goo. Tess had barely touched her food and the look in her eyes told him that she was more than a little anxious to get out of there and retire to her room for the night.

"I have some fabulous news!" Bethany said to Tess excitedly. Tess gave her best smile and tried to look interested as her cousin spoke. "Frank and I are going to have a baby!"

All of the color rushed out of Tess' face and her stomach knotted as a wave of nausea washed over her.

"Isn't that wonderful?" Bethany asked reveling in Tess' reaction to the news.

"Yes, wonderful." Tess replied as she fought to hold back the tears that had already begun to fall. "Excuse me." Her voice was barely audible as she pushed her chair away from the table and hurried out of the room and upstairs to her bedroom.

Frank watched his wife leave the room. He worried briefly that maybe he had gone too far but he quickly dismissed the notion. 'At least I haven't hit her today.' He told himself, trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing, that hurting her emotionally was better than beating her. At least his words couldn't kill her. But he felt that in some way Tess would rather be hit than be forced to watch her husband and her cousin living together as lovers and raise a child together. A child... That had been an accident. He never had any intentions of having children, and if he ever did father a child he wanted Tess to be it's mother, not this spoiled brat he had been forced into living with. With a registered sigh, he tossed his napkin on the table and went to the study.

Tess tossed and turned all night, but as hard as she tried, she couldn't fall asleep. The image of Frank, Bethany and their child had imbedded itself in her mind. Wasn't forcing her to watch them living together enough? Why did he have to get her pregnant? Her hands moved to her belly and tears formed in her eyes as the memories came back to her. Dr. M. told her years ago that, after being beaten, she was bleeding internally and would have to have a hysterectomy, and that she would never be able to have children. Frank of course blamed her for this and put her in the ICU. It was a year after that incident that she decided to leave him. He found her quickly and nearly beat her to death saying that she was his and that the only way he would let her leave him was if she died. Death didn't sound too bad at the moment.

'No!' She commanded herself as she sat up. She was not going to let him do this to her. She may not love her life, but she certainly wasn't ready to die! It was going to tear her up inside to watch them day in and day out, but she wasn't going to let it completely destroy her. She ran her fingers through her hair and looked at the clock. 3:38 a.m. Sighing heavily, she climbed out of bed and silently made her way downstairs to the kitchen. If she wasn't going to get any sleep, she may as well fill her empty stomach.

As Tess approached the kitchen, she heard the rattling of dishes and saw the glow of the overhead light spilling from beneath the door. Pressing her ear to the door, she heard Bethany singing to herself on the other side. She wasn't sure if she was relieved that it wasn't Frank, or disappointed. In a way she would rather make another trip to the emergency room than to have to face Bethany. But she would have to face her eventually, and her stomach demanded that she fill it, so she took a deep breath and walked in.

Bethany closed the dishwasher and turned around when she heard the door open. "Couldn't sleep?" She asked Tess with an evil grin. Oh how she loved making her cousin's life hell.

Tess didn't miss the look on Bethany's face or the tone in her voice - Bethany was enjoying herself. 'Maybe it's time I had a little fun.' Tess told herself. If seeing her miserable was so much fun, perhaps acting the opposite would ruffle her feathers a bit. She smiled sweetly at her cousin. "No, my stomach kept growling and waking me up." She answered as she walked to the refrigerator and opened it.

Bethany glared at Tess' back for a moment then regained her composer. "Well, you should have eaten dinner. Why don't you go back to your room, I'm sure Mary will make you a little extra for breakfast if you ask her to."

Frank listened from behind the closed door. He had heard Tess come downstairs and followed her. "Come on Tess, don't let her talk to you that way. Fight back." He whispered under his breath. The more he thought about his situation with Bethany, the more he resented her, and he would be more than happy to ship her back to her parents, at her request of course. Maybe Tess would make her angry enough that she would want to go home.

"I'm sure she would, but I'm wide awake and I'd never get back to sleep now. Besides, this will give us a chance to talk." Tess answered. She pulled out a pack of roast beef, the Swiss cheese, and the container of mustard and placed them on the island in the center of the room, then closed the refrigerator door and retrieved the bread from the pantry. "Would you like a sandwich?" She asked cheerfully. Bethany stared at her as though she'd grown another head, and Tess had to bite her tongue in order to hide the smile that threatened to form on her lips.

Shaking herself mentally, Bethany answered, "No. I just ate some leftovers." How could she have let Tess get the upper hand like this? Well, it wasn't going to last. "Since we're up and you're in the mood to talk, could I get your opinion on something?"

"Shoot." Tess had a feeling that she would either bring up something about Frank and sex, or the baby. Either way, she was determined to stand her ground. Bethany helped to make her childhood a nightmare, but she wasn't a child anymore, and she wasn't going to give Bethany the satisfaction of knowing how much she was hurting her.

"I can't decide what color to paint the nursery. I'm afraid if I paint it blue I'll have a girl, and if I paint it pink I'll have a boy. What do you think?" Tess put a slice of cheese on the ham then rubbed herchi n. "Well, you could paint it a neutral color, like green or yellow."

"No, I never really liked those colors."

"Oh, okay..." Tess replied as she placed a second slice of bread on top of the cheese. "You could always wait until you find out what your having before you decorate. That way you'll still have plenty of time to get it done before the little one's born, and you won't have to guess what colors to use."

"I wasn't going to find out the sex of the child." Bethany hissed, "Frank and I want it to be a surprise."

Tess swallowed the bite she'd taken as she thought of a suitable response. "You could always wait until after the baby's born. He, or she, will be staying in the room with you anyway for the first couple of months. You know, you really shouldn't worry about it too much. You're not due for another six months, and that kind of stress isn't good for the baby."

Bethany took a deep breath. She wasn't getting anywhere this way. "You're right. I have plenty of time to think about it." Damn it! What did she have to do to get a rise out of Tess? Drag her into the bedroom and make her watch while she made love to Frank? A smile slowly spread across her lips. "Could I ask you something else?"

'Here it comes.' She thought as she casually answered, "Sure."

"It's about Frank. When he's with you does he..." Bethany felt her face begin to flush. She was supposed to be pissing off Tess, not embarrassing herself. "Does he ever give you oral sex?"

Frank gritted his teeth. It wasn't enough for her to rub their baby in Tess' face, now she was dragging their sex life into it.

"Of course he has." Tess blushed slightly as she answered. She wasn't use to talking about sex, and it showed brilliantly on her cheeks. "Doesn't he do it for you?"

Bethany's face contorted in anger as she glared at the other woman. "That's none of your business!" She yelled at Tess, "You're such a bitch! It's no wonder Franks beats you!" With that, she stormed out of the kitchen.

Frank stepped back just as the door slammed open, nearly hitting him in the face. He slipped into the kitchen silently and watched Tess put away the food she'd taken out a short time earlier. He couldn't help but smile as he watched her. Bethany had challenged her to a battle of the wits and had lost miserably. His smile faded quickly as she turned around. "What in the hell was that all about?" He asked, pretending not to have heard the confrontation.

Tess froze when she saw Frank standing across from her and almost missed his question altogether. "I don't know." She answered weakly as Frank made his way around the island to her. What was she supposed to say? 'I outwitted your new little toy and pissed her off because I had nothing better to do at the time'?

"Bull shit!" He yelled and backhanded her across the mouth. "What did you say to her?"

Tess fell backward against the refrigerator, instinctively raising her arms to protect herself. "Nothing."

Frank hit her again. "Try again."

"I didn't say anything, Frank, I swear. She asked me a question and I answered it. I don't know why she's angry." Tess pleaded silently for some sort of intervention, but none came. Frank hit her again, knocking her to the ground, then began kicking her, and yelling at her until she stopped moving. With one final kick to her head, he left her there.

"Mrs. Walker!" Mary exclaimed seeing the young woman lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Rushing over to her, she knelt down beside her and gently patted her face, trying to wake her up.

Tess came around slowly and Mary's worried face slowly came into focus. She remembered most of what had happened, and the parts she couldn't remember, she could easily fill in. "Help me up." Tess said as she pushed herself off the floor.

Mary took her arm and helped her to her feet. "Are you okay, Ma'am?" She asked as Tess leaned against the counter.

"I'll be fine. I just need to go to my room.

"Of course, Dear." Mary replied as she slid Tess' arm over her shoulder and around her neck. Slowly they made it through the house and upstairs to Tess' room. "Can I get you anything?" Mary asked helping Tess onto her bed.

"No thank you, Mary. You should go back downstairs. Frank and Bethany will be up soon." Tess gently warned the older woman.

Mary nodded and turned to go back downstairs to begin the day's work.

Tess laid back on the bed and closed her eyes. She didn't see any blood on the floor in the kitchen where she'd been laying. That was good. Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to escape the bruises that she knew were probably visible now. She had to get out of this house, even if all she did was drive around the block in circles all day.

Mary knocked softly on the door. "Mrs. Walker?" She called out softly, "Mr. Walker wants you to join them for breakfast."

"I'll be right down." Tess groaned. If she'd known he was going to be up this early, she wouldn't have bothered coming upstairs at all this morning.

Glen paced back and forth across Mark's living room floor. It had been two days since they had seen or heard from Angel and he was beginning to worry, even though Mark had assured him several times that she was okay. "Maybe she's sick." He said, "She wouldn't come around if she was, and she could have a sore throat, so she wouldn't call."

"Why don't you go over there and find out." Mark interrupted. Although he knew that Glen cared about Angel, he was staring to get annoyed with the constant excuses Glen was coming up with as to why he hadn't heard from her.

"Go see her?" Glen confirmed. Why hadn't he thought of that?

"Yeah." Mark replied, "I'll go open the shop and you can come take over after you see that there's nothing to worry about." The weather had started getting colder and business had slowed down considerably, so he and Glen took turns running the shop. This gave them every other day off to relax and get ready for spring when business would pick up again.

"Okay." Glen said putting on his jacket. "I'll see you at the shop later."

Mark chuckled as he went to his room to get dressed. "That boy's got it bad." He said to himself as he slipped his boots on.

Glen raced to Angel's apartment, praying that all the cops were taking their doughnut breaks and not cruising the streets. He calmed down a little when he saw her car sitting in its usual space, only to be reminded of all the things that could have happened to her in the apartment. Taking long strides, he covered the ground to her front door in no time and banged loudly as he called out her name. When the door finally opened, he stood looking at Angel in shock. She was pale and thin with dark circles under her eyes, and her eyes were red, as if she had been crying. "Angel? Are you okay?" He asked softly.

Angel turned and walked back into the living room, leaving the door open as an invitation for him to come in. Glen followed her inside and sat down beside her as she spoke. "No, I'm not okay Glen"

"What's wrong?" He asked thinking that someone close to her had died or that she found out that she was dying. 'Stop it.' He commanded himself.

Angel took a ragged breath. "I'm so stupid."

"Why do you think that?" He asked, putting his arm around her shoulders.

"I hurt her. I threw away the best friendship I've ever had." Her voice cracked and her shoulders shook as she started to cry.

"Who did you hurt?" He asked, "What did you do that was so bad?" Glen's heart broke for this woman. She felt that friendship was one of the greatest things in life, and if she had done something to make her think she'd lost a friend, it must have been eating her up inside.

Taking a deep breath, she answered him. "Tess. I betrayed her, and she'll never forgive me for it."

Glen was completely confused now. Angel wasn't the type of person to betray another, and Tess wasn't the type to carry a grudge. At least he didn't think she was. "Tess loves you, Angel. Go and talk to her. She's probably forgotten all about it by now."

"I slept with her husband, Glen." Angel said bitterly as she stood up and crossed the room. "He didn't threaten me, and he didn't rape me. I had sex with that bastard and she walked in and caught us! She isn't going to forgive me for that!"

Glen sat staring at Angel as her words slowly began to sink in. "You slept with Tess' husband?" He asked in disbelief as he stood up. Angel didn't answer, only nodded. "What in the hell were you thinking?" He shouted, clutching his hands into fists to keep from wrapping them around her neck.

"I don't know." She confessed, "It all happened so fast."

Glen closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, then in a much calmer tone he said, "Tell me what happened."

He listened closely as she told the story from beginning to end, leaving out most of the intimate details. When she finished she sat down next to him again. "Do you think she'll ever forgive me?"

Glen could see the regret in her eyes and hear the desperation in her voice, and he wished he could tell her that everything would be okay. But he couldn't. "I don't know." He answered quietly, "Maybe someday she will. I don't think you did it intentionally, and once she cools down, I don't think Tess will either."

"I really screwed this up, didn't I?" Angel said wiping the tears from her face.

"Yeah, you did." Glen answered, "Just don't beat yourself up too long. Mark really misses you."

Angel laughed. "I bet he does." She replied sarcastically.

Glen stood up and pulled Angel up with him. "I've gotta go. It's Mark's day off and he's probably itching to get out of the shop." He said hugging her close to him.

"Thank you." Angel said into Glen's chest.

"Anytime, Babe." He replied kissing her forehead before pulling back from the embrace. "Don't be surprised if Mark shows up on your doorstep in about an hour or so."

"To rip my head off for hurting Tess?" She asked grimly believing he'd be angry enough to do just that.

"I told you, he misses you." Glen said grinning, "Don't worry, I'll make him swear not to kill you before he leaves."

"Gee, thanks Glen." She sighed as she watched him walk to his bike and drive away. Why was it so hard for her to say goodbye to him? She known him for years, and, although they never dated, she felt an empty space in her heart everytime she watched him go. 'You're being stupid.' She scolded herself, 'It isn't like you'll never see him again.'

Mark looked up when Glen walked in the shop and tossing the magazine he was reading down beside the cash register, he watched his brother walk silently across the room and to the office in the back. A moment later, he came out without his jacket and walked over to the pool table. "Well?" He asked after a long moment of silence.

Glen placed his hands on the edge of the pool table and leaned over. He'd made such a fuss over Angel not calling him that he couldn't not tell Mark what he'd been told. "She's fine. Just depressed."

"Depressed? About what?" Mark asked bewildered. In all the years they known Angel, she had never been depressed before.

Glen shook his head. "Man, you don't want to know." Mark stood up, crossed his arms over his chest, and gave him the look that said he'd better start talking if he didn't want to end up bleeding. "Alright!" Glen said holding his hands up, "But you're not going to like it."

Mark listened silently as Glen told him the story as it was told to him, his anger rising with each word that was spoken. By the time Glen finished, he was steaming. It wasn't bad enough that Tess' husband used her as his own personal punching bag, but she had to catch her best friend in bed with him. Snatching his jacket up off the counter, he started toward the door.

"Where are you going?" Glen asked walking over to him.

Mark stopped at the door and sighed. "I'm going home. It's my day off, remember?"

"You're not going to Angel's?" Glen knew deep down that Mark wouldn't hurt her, but he wasn't beyond scaring the hell out of her.

"Now why would I go over there?" Mark asked sarcastically.

"To kill her?" Mark raised an eyebrow questioningly and Glen lowered his eyes. "I promised her I'd make you swear not to kill her before you left." Glen confessed. His voice was soft when he spoke and he avoided looking Mark directly in the eye.

Mark studied Glen closely for a moment. "You're not falling in love with her, are you?" He asked suspiciously.

Glen's head snapped up, but as soon as he met Mark's gaze he turned away. "Of course not! What gave you that idea?"

Mark chuckled softly. "How could you tell I was in love with Tess?"

"Oh shut up." Glen grumbled as he turned and headed across to the counter.

Mark laughed out loud. "I'll see you later." He called out as he walked out the door.

Chapter Eleven

Tess drove around for hours, not really going anywhere. The rain came down in buckets, and the thunder boomed loudly overhead. She felt so lost and alone. A picture of Mark flashed in her mind suddenly, and for an instant she thought about going to see him, but, remembering the anger she'd seen in his eyes, she quickly dismissed the thought. God knew he'd be angry again once he saw the fresh bruises on her bare arms and the teeth marks on her neck. 'I wonder what he would do if he ever got his hands on Frank.' She thought. Her smile grew as the possibilities began to surface. Just the thought of seeing Frank in the hospital, in the same condition she'd been in so many times before, was almost enough to make her introduce him to Mark. Unfortunately, Frank had many very influential friends, and would be more than happy to have them take care of Mark for him. 'Kill him.' Dr. M.'s words rang in her ears. If only she could.

Making a left turn, Tess realized that, while deep in thought, she had driven to Mark's and was pulling up infront of the small trailer behind his Harley. "Damn it!" She swore as she stared at the front door. "What in the hell am I doing?" Tess opened the car door and climbed out. The rain beat down on her as she made her way across the small yard to the front door, then taking a deep breath she raised her hand and knocked.

Frank's anger rose steadily as he watched the front door of the trailer open and a man - a very big man - answer, and his blood boiled as the man gently caressed Tess' cheek then stepped back so she could go inside. He had seen Tess driving around town and after seeing the expression on her face, decided to follow her and make sure she was okay. He cursed himself for not seeing this coming. After years of accusing her of cheating, she was finally doing it. "You won't get away with this, bitch." He growled as he made a U-turn and headed back to town.

Mark stared in disbelief as Tess stood before him. After what she'd told Angel about being afraid of him, he never thought he'd see her again. Yet here she stood flesh and blood, and dripping wet. "Let me get you a towel." He said after snapping out of his daze. Stepping past Tess, he walked quickly to the bathroom and came back a moment later with a towel.

"Thank you." Tess said as he handed it to her.

"You're welcome." His gaze fell immediately to the teeth marks on her neck. Lowering his head, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was determined not to do anything to scare her off. God only knew when, and if, she would ever be back. He wanted her to feel safe with him, and that meant he had to ignore her injuries and suppress the anger and hatred he knew far too well.

Tess could see that he was fighting to keep his temper in check, and she loved him for it, but she had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that something terrible was going to happen. But she ignored that feeling. "I uh...I'm not sure why I came here." Tess said breaking the prolonged silence, "I was driving around and...well, here I am." Tess smiled blushing slightly. "Did I catch you at a bad time? I could leave and..."

"No." Mark interrupted, "This isn't a bad time. I'm just a little shocked to see you."

"Why?" Tess asked curiously.

Mark ran his fingers through his hair. "I heard what you told Angel in the restaurant." He answered quietly, "About how I frighten you." Tess lowered her head - he wasn't supposed to hear that. Mark hooked his fingers under her chin and gently lifted her face. "Do I still frighten you?"

Tess looked up at Mark with tear filled eyes. "I don't know." She answered, "I don't know what I feel anymore."

Mark sighed. He had hoped this subject wouldn't come up. "Glen talked to Angel this morning. She told him about what happened with Frank."

"So you know what happened?" She asked and Mark confirmed with a nod. "I don't suppose she told him why she did it."


Tess let out a jagged sigh. "It doesn't matter anyway." The tremor in her voice told Mark that she was suffering more than he knew.

"Come here." Mark said. Taking her by the hand, he led her to the couch, and they both sat down. "Is there anything you want to talk about?" He asked gently, his eyes falling once again to the bite marks on her neck.

"No. Do you want me to tell you anyway?" Tess answered with a small smile.

Mark chuckled softly. "Yes. Tell me everything."

Tess took a deep breath and began to tell her tale, beginning with the incident at Angel's house, to her cousin's moving in, the rape, the baby, the beating...everything. She hadn't meant to tell him so much, but once she spoke those first words, she couldn't stop, and as she spoke, she watched Mark's anger slowly turn to pain.

Mark reached out and tenderly brushed the hair away from her face. He had so many things he wanted to say, but only one question came to mind. "Why don't you leave him?"

"I tried to." Tess answered as a tear spilled down her cheek.

"And he beat you for it." Mark said. He lowered his head and took a ragged breath. Looking up, he met Tess' gaze. The pain, loneliness, and pure exhaustion she felt reflected in her eyes. Reaching out, he gently caressed her cheek then, running his fingers through her hair, he cupped the back of her head as he leaned forward. He felt her body tense up as he closed the space between them, but she didn't pull away. Slowly, he brought his lips to hers in a tender kiss.

His kiss was soft, gentle, and full of love, and Tess found herself instantly getting lost in these new sensations. After what seemed like an eternity, he pulled away and looked deep in her eyes. "I should go." She said breaking the silence, and stood up unsteadily.

"No." Mark replied standing up with her. He reached out, cupped her face in his hands and stepped closer, then lowered his mouth to hers again. "Stay with me." He breathed against her lips, and before she could protest, he pressed his mouth to hers. Taking his hands from her face, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close.

Tess sighed as she felt his body press against hers. Hesitantly, she reached up and placed her hands on his chest, expecting him to push her away at any moment, but instead of pushing her away, he pulled her closer. Getting a little bolder, she slid her hands up his bare chest and around his neck, and still he held her. Her heart pounded in her chest as his hands slid up her back and down, then covered her bottom and squeezed it gently. She felt his tongue press gently against her lips and opened her mouth, inviting him in. She moaned as he slid his tongue into her hot mouth and froze. Once again, instead of pushing her away, he held her close. Cautiously, she slid her tongue into his mouth and slowly began to explore, eliciting a moan from him, which only fueled the flame that burned inside her. She could feel the moister between her legs as her body readied itself for him, and she knew that she would be his, if only for today.

Mark felt the uncertainty of her touch and the hesitation in her kiss, as if she'd never been with a man before, and he wondered for a moment why she would be so cautious. Surely her husband made love to her. How could a man be married to a woman like Tess and not make love to her every chance he got? Then again, how could a man treat his wife the way this one did? He didn't want to rush her or pressure her into doing anything she didn't want to do, but he didn't think he could stop himself either. Slowly, he slid his hands around her waist and lightly up her stomach to her breasts, and covered them with his large hands. He felt her stiffen for a moment then relax and pull away from him slightly, giving him better access, as she pulled her hands from his neck and ran them over his chest.

Pulling away from the kiss, he reached down, pulled her tee shirt up over her head and tossed it aside, then reaching behind her, he unhooked her bra. His hands glided up the length of her back to her shoulders, slowly pushing the straps of the bra down as they slid down her arms. With a feather-light touch, his fingers traced the outline of her face, then traveled down her body to the waistband of her jeans, unbuttoning them easily.

Kneeling before her, he took off her tennis shoes and socks then turned his attention back to her pants, slowly pulling them open. His heart raced with the anticipation of what lay ahead of him, of having what his heart and body had desired from the moment that he first laid eyes on her. Slowly, he pulled the heavy material over her hips and down her long legs and helped her step out of them. Wrapping a hand gently around each of her calves, he ran them up her legs to her hips and bottom, caressing her lovingly before he slipped his thumbs into the elastic waistband of her panties and pulled them down, revealing the bed of curls that lay nestled between her thighs. His eyes followed his hands up her legs and over her body to her face, where he met her gaze. The look in her eyes nearly blew him away. As he gazed into their deep blue depths, he saw her love and desire for him, the anticipation of his touch, as well as fear of the unknown. He smiled easily up at her and was rewarded a smile in return.

Leaving her eyes, he turned his gaze back to her body. She was a goddess standing naked before him. The bruises and scars that covered her body were invisible now as he began to explore her with eager hands. He could feel his erection growing steadily inside his jeans as her body responded to his every touch. Her womanly scent assaulted his senses, leaving him with a hunger for her stronger than he'd ever felt before.

Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to hers then began blazing a trail from her mouth to her breasts. Taking a nipple in his mouth, he sucked gently on it, rolled his tongue around it and bit down lightly, then moved across her chest to her other breast where he continued his ministrations. He felt her hands on his head encouraging him and heard her moan in pleasure, which only made him want her more. Slowly he continued his decent, covering her soft skin with his hot mouth. As he reached the junction between her legs, he took a deep breath, inhaling her sweet scent, then gently pulled her legs open.

As his hands moved up her thighs toward her stomach, his thumbs glided up her inner thighs and parted her hair as they opened her to his gaze. He could already see the juices gathering around the edge of her sheath and extended his tongue to lap them up. Her hands closed into fists, tangling her fingers in his hair as he licked. Taking her bottom in his hands, he held her close to his mouth and pressed his tongue against her clitoris, rubbing back and forth against it until he felt her body begin to stiffen with the impending orgasm, then slid his tongue deep inside her. Her walls closed around him, squeezing his tongue, as she came, covering his tongue and filling his mouth with her sweet nectar.

Pulling away from the feast, he looked into her eyes as he stood up. After a moment of silence, Tess reached out and pulled him to her, kissing him full on the mouth. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he picked her up and carried her to the bedroom, then laid her down on the bed and stood up. Not taking his eyes off Tess, he unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans and slid them off.

Gently, he laid down on the bed beside Tess, propping himself up on his elbow, and with his free hand he stroked her face as he leaned closer and tenderly kissed her lips. Pulling back, he looked deep into her eyes. "Are you sure this is what you want?" He asked softly, giving her one more chance to back out before it was too late.

Tess smiled warmly and ran her fingers through his hair. "I'm sure." Her voice was soft, yet raw with passion. "Make love to me Mark."

Mark didn't need to be asked twice. She opened her legs as he rolled on top of her, covering her body with his own. He pressed is length against her opening and stopped. Stroking her cheek, he looked into her eyes. "I love you Tess."

"I love you too."

Gently, he pushed himself inside her warm body, and stopped, giving her time to adjust to his size. She was so tight around him that he felt like he would explode under the pressure. After regaining some measure of control he began to move slowly in and out of her and gradually began to move faster. She wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him in deeper, and let her hands roam over his back. He moved faster as his thrusts became harder, and soon he was driving into her relentlessly. Her moans turned to whimpers, then to screams as she plummeted over the edge again and again under his weight. He continued to thrust into her as his own climax was fast approaching. He grunted as he moved faster, then screamed as he buried himself in her one last time and exploded deep inside her.

Mark collapsed on top of her, catching his weight on his elbows as not to hurt her, and rested his head in the crook of her neck. He could feel her heart beating against his chest, and her fingers in his hair. After catching his breath, he leaned up and watched her for a moment, wanting to make sure that he hadn't hurt her, and found her smiling at him.

She pulled her fingers from his hair and touched his face, taking in his beauty as well as savoring the moment.

"Well, isn't this cozy."

Mark rolled off of Tess and turned toward the voice coming from his bedroom door. "Who are you, and what in the hell are you doing in my house?" Mark growled at the intruder as he sat up.

The man smiled and calmly replied, "My name is Frank Walker." He looked past Mark at Tess, his smile becoming rather evil. "And I'm here for my wife."

Mark turned toward Tess found her staring at Frank with the same dead stare that he'd seen in the tattoo shop. Turning back to Frank, he said, "She isn't going anywhere."

"Yes, she is." Frank stepped aside and four men holding guns walked into the room, then he looked back at Tess and held out his hand. "Tess..."

As if in a trance, Tess climbed off the side of the bed and walked slowly toward her husband, seemingly unaware of her nakedness, and stopped infront of him.

Frank looked her up and down then backhanded her hard across her mouth, splitting open her bottom lip. Mark immediately leaped up and was met with four guns cocked and aimed at his head.

"Not so fast lover-boy." Frank pulled a switchblade out of his jacket pocket and opened it. Turning to his men, he said, "Go find her keys and take her car back to the house."

"What about him?" Asked one of the men.

Looking at Mark, Frank grinned as he replied, "Oh, I don't think he'll give me any more trouble. Will you bug guy?" Mark sneered at the smaller man. Frank knew he was just waiting for a chance to get him alone, and Tess certainly wouldn't be any help. He looked back at the man who'd spoken and saw the question in his eyes. "Alright Sonny, you stay. The rest of you get out. Now!" The other three men left the room quickly and a few moments later left with Tess' car.

After they were gone, Frank stepped up to Tess and cupped her chin roughly with his free hand. "I can't say I blame you." He said to Mark, "She is quite the vision." Letting go of her chin, he grabbed her arm and swung her around to face the man on the bed. Sonny walked silently to the side of the bed and aimed his gun at Mark's head, waiting for him to cause any trouble.

"What was it that attracted you to her?" Frank asked Mark. Still standing behind her, he reached around and lightly ran the knife down Tess' naked body. "Was it her long, sexy legs?" He asked. Tess screamed as the blade sliced through her thigh. Mark started at the sound of her scream, but Sonny held him in place with his gun. Frank grabbed Tess by her throat and squeezed hard as he pulled her back against him and screamed, "Shut up!" Tess immediately pressed her lips together, muffling the cries. "Or was it her slender body?" Tess bit her lip as the knife sliced through her abdomen and would have doubled over if Frank hadn't been holding her up by her throat. "Her full, firm breasts?" Frank pressed the knife into her chest and cut along the top underneath her collarbone. Tears streamed down Tess' face, but she still fought to contain her cries. "Maybe it was her pretty face..." Frank brought the knife up and cut her across her cheek. Tess screamed again and slipped to the floor. "I told you to shut up!" Frank yelled at her, then kicked her hard in the stomach. Frank knelt down beside Tess, grabbed a handful of hair and lifted her face to his. "Get dressed." He growled shoving the first article of clothing he saw into her arms. Standing up, he walked to the bed and leaned over, bringing his face inches from Mark's. "If you ever come near my wife again... I'll kill her." With that he stood up, grabbed Tess by the arm and dragged her out to his car, with Sonny following close behind them.

Mark sat trembling with rage as he stared at the empty doorway. He looked down and saw the fresh blood stains on the floor and his anger slowly faded into guilt as he thought about what had just happened - the knife slicing through Tess' delicate skin, her screams of pain...and it was all his fault. He knew he shouldn't have slept with her, but he gave in to his lust and Tess had been hurt because of it. Defeated, he buried his face in his hands.

Angel opened the door and was about to step out when she saw Frank dragging Tess to his car. Quickly, she pulled the door shut and peeked out through the window. "I thought you were leaving." Glen said walking up behind her.

"I was." She replied as she watched the car pull away from Mark's.

"What are you looking at?" Glen asked. Stepping up behind her, he looked out across the street to his brother's place.

"Frank. He just left with Tess." Angel turned to Glen, her eyes wide with fear. "She was hurt, Glen."

"Are you sure it was him?" Glen asked as he walked through the living room toward his bedroom.

"I'm sure. "Angel answered.

Glen came back a moment later wearing a pair of jeans and pulling a tee shirt over his head. "Come on." Not waiting for her, he walked out the door and hurried across the street.

"Mark?" Glen called out as he walked in the front door.

"Listen." Angel whispered, hearing a muffled sound coming from the bedroom. "In there."

They walked cautiously to the bedroom and peeked inside. Seeing his brother, he rushed over to the bed and sat down on the edge. "Mark?"

Mark looked up. "It's all my fault." He said helplessly. "That son of a bitch hurt her because of me and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it."

"What happened?" Glen asked gently.

"Oh my God." The men looked at Angel who was staring at the floor, then down at the spot she was looking at.

"That's Tess' blood." Mark said weakly.

"What happened?" Glen asked again, turning his attention back to Mark.

Mark took a shaky breath and told them what happened, including what Tess told him had happened to her. "I should have let her go. I should have never touched her."

Glen lowered his head, trying to think of a way to help Mark help Tess. "We could go after him." He offered.

"No. Those guys were professionals, Mafia maybe." He replied as he recalled the gunmen.

"Then we'll call the police." Angel said walking toward the phone.

"No. If those guys were Mafia, then Frank is Mafia." Mark saw the question in Angel's eyes and explained. "The Mafia owns the police department, most of it anyway, anything we report will be ignored legally, and probably reported back to Frank. God only knows what he'd do to her then." Looking his brother in the eye, he said, "Glen, please tell me that letting him take her was the right thing to do." Glen placed his hand on Mark's shoulder, offering as much support as he could. "It was the only thing you could do. If you had tried to stop him, his friend would have killed you."

Mark nodded in agreement. Hoping to change the subject for the time being, he looked at Angel and grinned. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at the shop?"

Glen, knowing his brother didn't want to talk about Tess anymore, smiled and looked at Angel. "We decided to have a little lunch." Angel instantly turned a bright shade of red.

Mark laughed aloud and said, "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get dressed." Angel looked at Mark and, seeing he wasn't wearing anything, turned an even brighter red and hurried out the door.

Glen laughed then turned to Mark. "Call if you need anything."

"I will." Mark replied simply, then watched as the couple left. All of the humor drained from his face as he fell back on the bed, his eyes closed. He could still smell Tess' scent on the sheets, still hear the sound of her voice as she called out his name, still feel her body surrounding him. And he could still see the blood running down her tender body and the pain in her eyes as she tried to remain silent throughout the assault. "Dear God. What have I done?"

Chapter Twelve

Frank sat silently in the hospital room watching his wife sleep. Tenderly, he brushed the hair from her face. "Why'd you do it, Tess?" He whispered, "I didn't want to hurt you Baby, but I couldn't let you get away with it. God, why didn't you fight back?" He had cut her abdomen deeper - much deeper - than he'd wanted to, puncturing her small intestine. She had had several complications during surgery and had flat lined twice, the second time she almost didn't make it back. Now she lay in ICU in critical and unstable condition. After surgery, the doctor told him that she should have died instantly, and that it would take a miracle for her to make it through the night.

"Mr. Walker?" Dr. Monroe walked to the side of the bed, watching the man opposite him. He was rather surprised to see Frank there, as he never came to the hospital while Tess was admitted. The doctor in him wanted to console Frank and assure him that his wife would be all right, but the man in him wanted to put him in the morgue.

Frank looked up at the sound of his name. "What are you doing here?" He commanded angrily.

"I'm just checking up on her. I am her doctor." Dr. Monroe replied shortly.

Frank gritted his teeth. "What are you doing here this time of night?"

Dr. Monroe sighed. He wasn't going to be able to check on his patient until he got rid of Frank, so calmly he answered, "I was at a hospital function near here. I thought I'd come by and see how she was doing before I headed home."

Frank looked down at Tess as the doctor began his examination. She looked so pale and thin and for a moment he thought she might already be dead. "Is she going to make it?" He asked quietly, keeping his eyes on Tess.

The doctor straightened and took a deep breath. "I don't know." He could feel the tears in his own eyes and forced himself to push them back. "She's strong, but… All we can do is wait."

With that, Frank stood up and silently left the room. He should have cut the bastard she was in bed with, not Tess. Not the woman he loved, the woman he lived for, the woman he beat mercilessly for no reason whatsoever. If only she would have fought back, then maybe she wouldn't be lying in that hospital room dying. But he knew better. Sonny would have shot her lover, and he would have beaten her to death, if he didn't slice her up with that knife first. "God damn it!" He screamed slamming his fists down on the steering wheel. Throwing the car in gear, he raced out of the parking garage, tires squealing, and headed home.

Mark laid in the dark, staring blankly up at the ceiling. It had been three days since he'd seen Tess and he hadn't had a wink of sleep since.

He spent his every waking hour trying to think of a way to get her away from Frank and to take revenge on the bastard for what he'd done to her, but none of his schemes would work. He was right when he told Glen and Angel that Frank was probably in the Mafia. He'd gone that afternoon and spoke to a friend of his in the FBI, and his friend told him to let it go, that Frank Walker had more influence and was more dangerous than even he knew. If Mark killed him, his friends on the police force would arrest him for the crime and make sure the DA had solid evidence against him, if they didn't kill him first. Not to mention the mob bosses that would be after him. If he went anywhere near Tess again, Frank would punish her for it, and he wasn't about to put her in any more danger than she was already in. His friend also told him that Tess had no idea what her husband did for a living, let alone that he worked for the mob. That sounded a little too outrageous at first, but after Mark thought about it, it didn't sound so farfetched at all.

Sighing heavily, Mark rolled out of bed, stumbled into the kitchen, and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator. He drank deeply, downing half the bottle at once. If he couldn't sleep, he may as well get drunk.

"I should have killed you."

Mark swung around and stood face to face with Frank. "Get out of my house." He said through clinched teeth.

Frank stood silent for a moment. He'd thought about having his men kill Mark, but his pride demanded that he seek justice himself. He had convinced himself that everything that had happened was Mark's fault - he seduced Tess into his bed then did nothing while she was being sliced open. "We have some business to finish first." He said taking off his jacket, "If it weren't for you, if you hadn't seduced her, my wife wouldn't be lying in that hospital bed fighting for her life."

"If it weren't for me? You were the one with the knife." Mark replied setting his beer down on top of the refrigerator, more than ready for a fight. He cast a side-glance to the door, knowing that Frank's men were probably right outside waiting for the signal to burst in shooting.

Frank, seeing Mark looking at the door, said, "It's just you and me. Man to man." He took a step closer to Mark. "You had no right sleeping with my wife."

Stepping forward, Mark nodded in agreement as he replied, "No, I didn't. But you have no right treating her the way you do. She deserves better."

"I didn't come here to talk." Frank reached back and swung his fist around as hard as he could and hit Mark square in the jaw. Mark stumbled back then came around and launched himself toward the smaller man. The two fought passionately, savagely hitting each other with tremendous blows, until only one man was left standing.

Holding Frank up by the collar of his shirt, Mark reared back and delivered one final blow, sending the man unconscious to the floor. He looked down at Frank's motionless body and raked his fingers through his hair. "That was stupid." He muttered knowing Tess would probably be hurt because of this. Walking to the refrigerator, he took his beer from the top and downed the rest of the bottle then took another one and sat down on the couch. As he stared down at Frank, he studied him curiously. Frank wasn't a bad looking man, he had money, a big house, a beautiful wife - everything a man could want - why in the hell was he so cruel to Tess?

Frank rolled his head to the side and, moaning, slowly came around. He got up unsteadily, holding his jaw in his hand and glared at Mark who had yet to lift a finger to help him. Stumbling, he made it to the door and turned toward Mark. "Stay away from her." He said, rubbing his jaw. "Don't make me finish what I started here the other day." With that, he walked out the door.

Tess sat dressed on the edge of the hospital bed. Frank had talked to Dr. M. and had ordered for her to be released as soon as she was awake. Of course neither Frank nor Bethany were there to pick her up, Frank sent a limousine instead, not that Tess minded that too much. At least she could relax across the seat on the drive home and wouldn't have to put up with a rambling cab driver or her cousin pushing her relationship in her face. She knew that she had come close to dying several times in the past few days, and the only thing that had kept her alive were the memories of Mark. She closed her eyes as she remembered again the love in his eyes, the passion in his touch. Never had she felt so alive, so complete as she did in his arms, and she knew that if she wanted to live to see him again, she had to get away from Frank. He would no doubt punish her for months for what she and Mark had done.

Dr. Monroe stood quietly in the door watching Tess. She needed to stay at least a few more days, but if he didn't send her home now, he would have her husband and his goons to deal with. He wasn't afraid of Frank, and would gladly put his own life on the line for the young woman he'd come to care about so much over the years, but he couldn't help her from the grave and she didn't trust anyone else to care for her. So, reluctantly, he would do as her husband commanded. "Are you ready to go?" He asked gently as he walked to the bed.

Tess looked up and smiled weakly. "I'm ready."

The doctor's heart broke at the pain he heard in her voice. "Here." He said handing her a small brown bottle, "It's Morphine."

Tess took the bottle and tears filled her eyes as she stared at it. "Thank you." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

Dr. M. sat down next to her. "I know I never ask, but I have to know. Why did he do this to you?" He asked softly.

"You're not going to believe it." She replied, "He caught me in bed with another man."

Dr. Monroe's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "Another man?"

Tess glanced at the doctor and, seeing the expression on his face, burst out laughing. "I know, that's the last thing you expected to hear, isn't it?" She said.

"To say the least." He replied, "Will you tell me about it?"

Tess nodded. "I met him at a tattoo shop. I had made friends with a friend of his, a woman. She would take me over to his place to pick up this or drop off that, and slowly I started to fall for him. Then she slept with Frank, Bethany moved in and told me she was pregnant with Frank's child and...my whole world was spinning out of control. I don't know why I went over there. We started talking and..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "Frank walked in on us and pulled out a knife."

Dr. M. listened quietly to Tess. He knew Frank beat her, but he had no idea that he was living with her cousin or that they were having a baby. The emotional abuse Tess was suffering was almost as bad as the physical abuse. It was no wonder she'd gone to this other man. "Why didn't you tell me about all this?" He asked after a moment of silence.

Tess shook her head. "Frank would have been angry with me. I guess it would have been safer than going to Mark's." She replied quietly. If she had been thinking at all that day, she would have just gone home and cried herself to sleep and not gone to Mark's or to the good doctor's. "I should go. The car's waiting and Frank will be angry if I'm not home soon."

Doctor M. nodded and stood up. "Don't get up." He said gently, putting his hand on her arm to keep her from standing. "I'll get you a wheelchair." Tess nodded and waited for the doctor to return. "Here we go." He helped her into the chair and wheeled her down to the emergency room exit, where he instructed the driver to pick her up.

The limousine was waiting as they stepped outside. Not waiting for the driver, the doctor opened the door and helped her inside. "I'll come by tomorrow to check on you." He told Tess.

Tess smiled. "Thank you Dr. M." The doctor smiled in return and closed the door.

"Well I hope you bury him next time!" Angel said angrily. She had come by the shop to see Glen and seeing the bruise that adorned Mark's left eye, talked him into telling her what had happened.

"Who said there was going to be a next time?" Mark asked, picking up a magazine.

Angel put her hand on the top of the magazine and pushed it to the counter. "He's in the Mafia, Mark. You don't really think he's going let it go that easily, do you?"

"What do you want me to do?" Mark said raising his voice slightly, "If I go looking for him, he'll kill me, and if I go anywhere near Tess, he'll kill her."

"You could leave town." Angel said quietly, knowing he'd blow up at the idea.

Mark stood up, grabbed her by her shirt collar, and pulled her close. He wanted to tell her that he wasn't going let that SOB run him out of town, or keep him away from the woman he loved, but he couldn't. Letting go of her shirt, he sat back down. "I'm not leaving." He replied quietly. For the first time in his life, he felt completely helpless.

"I don't mean you should move away, just take a few weeks and get away. Give Frank time to cool down." Angel said. Perhaps she was over-reacting, but she loved Mark like a brother and she didn't want to see him get hurt - or worse.

"She's right." Glen said. He'd been in the back with a customer and had come out to see Mark letting go of Angel's shirt.

"I guess you're right." Mark replied, defeated. "I'll take my bike to Octoberfest in Daytona next week. I'll be back the week after next." He looked at Glen then Angel, "Satisfied?"

Angel walked around the counter and wrapped her arms around him. "Thank you."

Mark smiled despite himself. "Just promise me something, " He said looking at Glen, "If you hear anything, good or bad, you call me."

Glen nodded, "Of course."

"What do you mean the accounts are empty?" Vincent Gano screamed at his accountant.

"I'm sorry," The man said trembling, "But all of the accounts are empty. Someone broke into the bank's computers and cashed out all of them. There's nothing left."

"Two Hundred Million Dollars..." Vincent muttered then slammed his fists down on the desk. "Damn him!"

Tess stood in the dark looking out her bedroom window at the garden below. She'd been home from the hospital a week now and Frank had already reopened her wounds once and, had it not been for a phone call earlier that evening, would have done so again. Thunder boomed loudly overhead. It had been storming all night and had gotten worse within the last hour. A flash of lightning lit up the garden and Tess saw a figure run across the stone path between two rows of rose bushes, carrying something in his arms. 'A gun.' Tess ran silently across her room to the door and pressed her ear to. After a few moments of dead silence, she heard a whisper then Frank's bedroom door open, and soon some muffled noises, like someone being taken against their will. Moving silently back to her bed, she laid down, pulled the covers up, and closed her eyes. Her heart pounded in her ears and her body trembled uncontrollably as she waited for something to happen.

After what seemed like an eternity, Tess heard the doorknob click and the door slide across the carpet. She could feel the presence of someone standing beside the bed, then that person lean over her, before whispering to someone else. A hand pulled down the bedspread carefully, as if trying not to wake her up, then slid under her as a second hand covered her mouth and lifted her from the bed. Tess' eyes flew open and she struggled to get away from the intruder, but stopped abruptly as an arm pulled against her wounded abdomen and held her close to a strange male body. The stranger, keeping his arm firmly around her waist, carried her downstairs to the study.

The man dropped Tess in the middle of the room and stepped back. "Mrs. Walker." A voice said from infront of her. Tess blinked back the tears that had sprung to her eyes and a pair of black leather shoes came into focus. Slowly she looked up to the man's face. He was an older man and one of obvious importance. She saw the look of shock in his gray-blue eyes when he saw the bandage on her face.

"She's the one." Bethany said in a high pitched voice, "She did it."

"Quiet." The man said to Bethany as he kneeled infront of Tess. He studied the bandage on her cheek for a moment then moved his gaze down her body. Slowly, he reached out and pulled her arm away from her stomach, revealing the fresh bloodstain on her white gown. Anger flashed in his eyes briefly and he turned his head to Frank. "You did this?"

"She... I didn't... If she..." He stammered as he searched for an answer. Mr. Gano may be the head of the largest crime family in the country, but he didn't tolerate abuse to women and children. "It was her fault. She..."

"Enough. I know what happened." The man said. He turned his gaze back to Tess as he spoke to Frank. "You should have taken your revenge on her lover, not her. But that isn't why we're here. Do you know who I am, Mrs. Walker?" He asked Tess.

"No." Her voice was barely above a whisper.

The man nodded. "Do you know what your husband does for a living?"

Tess glanced at Frank then back at the man infront of her. "He um... he owns a bank."

The man nodded again. "Do you know anything about banks, how they operate?"

Tess shook her head. "No."

The man nodded again then reached out and gently stroked her cheek, noting the fading bruise on her right eye. Standing up, he reached out his hand and helped Tess to her feet. "I want you to go to your room and get dressed. Then you're going to go to the hospital and check yourself in. Okay?"

Tess nodded and replied quietly, "Okay."

The man smiled and turned to another man. "Sonny, help Mrs. Walker to her room." Sonny put his arm around Tess and led her back upstairs. Tess knew that Frank was in some kind of trouble and if his boss said to leave, she sure as hell wasn't sticking around to find out why.

After pulling on a loose fitting pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt and slipped into her tennis shoes, she grabbed her purse and keys, that Frank's men graciously left on her desk, and walked out. Sonny was waiting for her and, putting his arm around her waist helped her downstairs.

Tess couldn't help but look in the study as they passed, and she saw one of the larger men hit Frank in the stomach hard with a bat. Sonny's arm tightened slightly and she heard him whisper, "Come on."

When they reached her car, he took the keys from her and opened the driver side door then handed them to Tess and helped her climb in. Sighing uneasily, she started the car, put it in gear and backed out of the driveway.


Mark, Glen, and Angel walked across the well-trimmed lawn to the two fresh graves. Glen and Angel had decided at the last minute to go with Mark to Daytona. They'd been there four days when they heard the story on the news - businessman Frank Walker and his wife had been murdered in their home during an attempted robbery. Mark had barely spoken since he heard the news, Angel cried constantly, and Glen wasn't doing much better. They stood over the graves with their heads bowed and tears in their eyes.

Angel looked at Frank's headstone and spit. "I hope you rot in Hell, you bastard." Bending down, she reached out to place a bouquet of roses next to the other headstone and gazed up at the name. "Bethany Davenport." She stood up and turned to face the men and asked, "Who is she?"

"Bethany was my cousin."

Mark and Glen spun around to face the voice, and there stood Tess, smiling up at them. Mark stared at her for a moment. The sun shone through her hair, giving it a golden tint, the cut on her face was still red, but had healed considerably and looked as if it would leave only a faint scar. There were no bruises on her face or neck and her smile was radiant, she was radiant. Reaching out, he tenderly stroked her cheek then, realizing he wasn't imagining her, he pulled her into his arms and lifted her up, hugging her tight, then buried his face in her hair and inhaled deeply. "I thought I lost you." He mumbled against her neck.

Tess felt the tears well up in her eyes at the thought. Gently, Mark set her down and gazed down at her, his hands touching her arms, shoulders and face, his fingers running through her hair.

"They said you were dead. What happened?" Glen asked standing next to his brother.

Tess smiled at him. "I was in the hospital."

"He hurt you again?" Glen asked hugging her.

"No. Well, he did but not that night. See, earlier that week, he reopened some of my stitches. I woke up that night in pain, the cut on my stomach was bleeding and the Morphine wasn't working, so I got dressed and went to the hospital. They were killed sometime after I left."

"Thank God you did." Angel said stepping up between the men. The smile faded from Tess' face as she looked at Angel. "I know you probably hate me for what I did, but I want you to know that I'm truly sorry. I know I don't deserve to ask, but will you forgive me?"

Tess looked down at the ground. She had already forgiven Angel, but she was tempted to let her grovel a little more. Looking up, Tess smiled. "Of course I forgive you."

Angel flew into Tess arms. " I've missed you so much."

"I missed you too." Tess replied returning the hug. Pulling away, she looked Angel in the eye and said, "But if I ever catch you looking at Mark that way, I'm going to break every bone in your body."

"I don't think you'll have to worry about that. Angel replied grinning and looked over at Glen.

Tess looked at Glen then back at Angel. "You mean you and Glen... You've got to tell me everything."

Glen's faced flushed a soft red and Mark laughed. Putting his arm around Tess, Mark said. "Come on. Let's get outta here."

Tess wrapped her arm around Mark as they walked and put her hand in his back pocket. She hated lying to them about what had happened, but she couldn't tell them the truth. That she had changed legal documents and put the inheritance back in her name; stolen money from the Mafia and framed Frank which she knew would get him killed, then sent the account numbers to the offshore accounts where she'd hidden the money anonymously to the Godfather.

Mark sat down on his Harley and turned to Tess. "Are you okay?" He asked.

Tess smiled. "I am now." She reached in her pocket and fished out her car keys. "Hey Angel. Do you like my Porche?"

"Are you kidding? I love that car!" Angel replied.

Tess tossed Angel the car keys. "Happy Birthday." She said smiling then climbed on the back of Mark's bike.

"You can't just give it away like that." Angel said walking toward Tess.

"I just did." Mark started the bike and revved the engine. "Besides," Tess yelled over the roar of the engine, "I already have a ride." She wrapped her arms around Mark's waist and rested her chin on his shoulder as they pulled away.

The End
©TakersLover 2001

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