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Never Apologize for Winning

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Sheriff Rahl sat reclined in front of the town's only saloon, like he always did before sunset, cigarette to his lips, wide-brimmed hat tilted low over his face, shielding his eyes from the harshest of the descending rays. He inhaled slowly, like he always did, put his boot on the bottom rail like he always did.

Unlike he always did, his head lifted at the sound of thundering hooves in the distance, eyes squinting at the rapidly approaching figure. It was a woman, dressed in white, on a jet black stallion, kicking up dust as they came. Long, dark curls sashayed behind her with each forward lurch of the beast, then settled briefly only to be thrown back again.

The horse came skidding to a stop in front of the sheriff, dirt spraying his well-worn pants and duster, and the woman had dismounted before he came to his feet, and was headed toward him, eyes hard, determined. "Woah there, lady," he said, holding up his hands. "What's the rush?"

"I seek shelter," the woman said, head turning to search the horizon for any sign of pursuers. "I must be inside before sundown." She stepped right past him and into the saloon.

He followed shortly, to see her hand at an employee's throat, and was caught off-guard by the impact of air around the stranger.

When her hand released his throat, she was already speaking, not giving him time to kneel before her. "See to my horse."

"Yes, Confessor."

The man hurried outside, as murmurs erupted around the saloon, several men drawing weapons, though none raised them to the woman in white.

Her eyes scanned the room for a threat as she moved gracefully to the bar, taking a seat on a barstool at one end, her back to the wall. "I'll have a whiskey," she spoke up loudly when the barmaid failed to approach her.

Still, the barmaid was either too afraid or too angry to serve her.

The sheriff spoke up. "Eden, get the woman a whiskey."

The barmaid scowled, set a bottle on the bartop and slid it toward the Confessor, unwilling to get within ten feet of her.

The Confessor's hand shot out to grab the bottle before it could fall off the edge of the counter, her white-knuckled grip the only sign she took offense at the affront. "And a glass, please, Eden," she said coolly.

The barmaid regarded the stranger just as coolly. "We're fresh out. Surely if you can Confess a good man before giving him a chance to choose to help you, then your manners are not refined enough to require a glass for your whiskey."

Something shone in the Confessor's eyes - shame, perhaps guilt - but it was quickly snuffed out. Delicate fingers wrapped around the neck of the whiskey bottle, her other hand twisting off the cap, and she threw back a swig.

The entire saloon was silent, watching her, fearful of her every move, save the sheriff. He approached and sat on the stool beside her, signaling Eden for a whiskey of his own, his eyes on the Confessor. He tipped his hat to her in respect and rolled his extinguished cigarette between thumb and forefinger. "I'm Sheriff Rahl, most folks call me Richard, or just Sheriff. I'm guessing you have yourself a name besides Confessor?"

The Confessor regarded him frankly. She wasn't used to people asking her name. Her fingers betrayed her hesitance to answer, idly picking at the bottle's paper label. Finally she looked up at him, her green eyes wary. "Kahlan Amnell," she said, quietly but proudly. "Mother Confessor."

The sheriff leaned in closer. "The last of your line, aren't you?" He lowered his voice to avoid being overheard.

Kahlan's heart pained. She gave a curt nod in response. She might have added words, but a loud bang from overhead commanded everyone's attention, followed by raucous laughter and a woman's voice.

"Come back any time, Deputy! On the house!"

Kahlan's head turned when the 'Deputy' came down the stairs. Her gaze landed on black boots first, followed by blood-red suede the like she had never seen. Fringe of the same color lined the outside edges from the knee down, tangling and bouncing as the woman walked.

No. That wasn't a walk. That was a swagger. Even the Mother Confessor was captivated by the sway of hips and confident, lazy stride. Her eyes traveled further up, over a strip of bare skin between the top of the woman's chaps and the bottom of her shirt - white cotton, long sleeves with the cuffs rolled up almost to the elbow, shirttails hanging down in a mess, a kink on each side indicating they were usually tied in a knot.

The woman had long hair, blonde, pulled into a loose braid, the plait draped over her right shoulder. By the time Kahlan's slightly wide eyes reached the woman's face, the deputy had noticed her and was sauntering over, a smirk on unpainted lips. The woman needed no paint - she was gorgeous. Kahlan had never seen anyone like her. So... improper.

"That is your deputy?" she inquired discreetly of the sheriff.

"That is my deputy," Sheriff Rahl replied, tipping his hat to the blonde. "Cara. Cara Mason."

Cara reached them, one eyebrow raised, eyes on Kahlan as she becokened the barmaid with one curled finger, hip leaned against the counter. She stood on the other side of Richard, apart from the stranger.

"She Confessed Da'ron," Eden said darkly without preamble, setting a mug on the counter in front of Cara and pouring her a whiskey.

Blue eyes flamed and settled, Cara's piercing stare never leaving the Confessor. "Did she now?" she asked, curling one hand around the mug of whiskey and lifting it as she advanced on the woman in white.

Kahlan was experiencing several sensations at once, and did not want the deputy to get any closer. However, none of the sensations were pricks of danger, so she allowed it. "It was necessary," she said, chin held high.

"Are you tryin' to convince me, or yourself?" Cara asked, unafraid of the stranger, leaning in close enough to breathe on her lips. "Why are you here, Confessor?"

Kahlan wondered whether to say. She decided it couldn't hurt. "I seek shelter from two Quads."

Cara's eyes widened and she set her whiskey down to grab the Confessor by both upper arms, dragging her off the barstool and slamming her into the wall. "You'd bring those big burly assholes into my town?" she hissed, her grip painful.

Kahlan's jaw clenched as her head hit the wall, muscles protesting the rough treatment. "Do you have any idea who you're speaking to? Unhand me at once," she said calmly.

"I'm not afraid of you," Cara said, head tilting to the side. "Leave. We ain't hidin' a Conessor from a Quad. If you've done somethin' to piss off Darken Hood and his band of merry men, that's your own problem." She glanced to Richard. "Which reminds me, he left a pair of tights last time he was here."

"You realize you called it 'your' town," Richard said, sipping his spirit.

Cara smirked a little until the Confessor's voice boomed through the saloon, the air around them crackling.

"You think this is a game?!" Kahlan thundered, enraged.

Everyone flinched besides the three at the bar. Cara laid her forearm across the Confessor's chest, pressing her harder into the wall. "Why are you here?" she asked again. "You coulda' gone anywhere. Why here?" Her voice was just as angry.

Kahlan's rage slowly subsided, the electricity in the air settling down. "There are things I must learn from you. Things I have heard about the sheriff of Stowecroft and his deputy."

"We deny most of it," Richard said with a grin, unfazed by the womens' anger.

"Agreed," Cara snorted. "Except the part about me and my way with women. That's true as it comes."

Kahlan felt her face flushing, and she finally pushed the deputy away with a mighty shove. "I must learn to shoot, and use a rope, and ride without a saddle."

"All you're gonna learn here is how to lose at poker and pay your debt in flesh, Sugar," Cara purred, deliberately honing in on the one subject she could tell made the Confessor uncomfortable.

"My name is Kahlan," Kahlan said stiffly, fighting the blush. "Or Mother Confessor. And I know your skill with a pistol. You will teach me or I will Confess you, and then you will still teach me."

Cara's grin turned wicked. "You can Confess me, Mama, but I'd be dead before I could teach you how t'shoot." She pushed her right sleeve up further to reveal a star and crescent brand on her bicep. Right there in glaring detail.

"Mord-Sith," Kahlan gasped, so quietly she barely heard herself. "The legend is true?"

Cara shrugged. "Confess me'n find out."

Kahlan's bravado fell away and she looked pleadingly into the deputy's amused face. "Please," she begged. "I must learn to shoot. And I must learn from you."

"If you want anything from me, you'd better start talkin'."

Kahlan straightened herself, smoothed her dress. "Very well. Is there somewhere private we might speak?"

"The two of us, or the three of us?"

"Whichever you prefer."

Cara shrugged one shoulder to Richard. He shrugged back.

"You might as well," she told him. "I'm bettin' this story is long, and I ain't likely to memorize enough of it to relay later." She started for the stairs, stopped, turned. Pointed a finger at the Confessor. "If we do get to shootin', you ain't doin' it in that dress, that's for damn sure."

Kahlan was in awe of this paradox of a woman. So soft and feminine on the outside, except for the chaps, but that mouth! None in her city would have stood for a mouth like that on a woman, other than a Confessor, over whom they had no control. Cara's mouth was witty and feisty and... suggestive. Then again, it was to be expected of a Mord-Sith. Now that she knew the star and crescent were not just a legend.

--

"I don't know where to begin," Kahlan said once they were alone, the three of them, seated at a table in one of the saloon girls' rooms. Of course the blonde was straddling a chair backwards, her chin resting atop her hands, which were curled over the top of the chair's back. Kahlan chose to sit like a lady, legs crossed at the ankle, hands in her lap.

"Just pick a spot and start talkin'," Cara said impatiently.

Richard jabbed her in the ribs with his elbow; she kicked him under the table.

Kahlan frowned. They were like children. "This is not a game," she repeated. "I was driven from my city by a horde of gars."

She had their attention now, their teasing smiles gone.

"You lie," Cara said boldly. "You would be deader than Richard's great granddaddy."

"Allow me to finish," Kahlan said with a cool stare. "I would have been overtaken in a matter of minutes, but for some reason unknown to me, a witch woman appeared and set each of them on fire, then took me to her home."

"The witch woman helped you?" Richard asked, eyes round.

"Shota? Helped you?" Cara asked, a slight sneer curling her lips.

"You know her?" Kahlan asked, sitting straighter, a shiver running along her spine at learning the witch woman's name. The memory of their time together was less than pleasant.

"Our paths've crossed," Cara said, her sneer turning to a smirk. "I s'pose she told you to come here?"

Kahlan nodded, surprised that the other woman knew all this. "She had a vision, she told me. That I was to come to Stowecroft and learn to shoot and rope and ride bareback from the sheriff and his deputy."

Ride bareback indeed, Cara thought. She could teach the Confessor about riding bareback... and not just on a horse. "I don't s'pose she said why?"

"Because you are the best," Kahlan said simply.

Cara grinned. "I meant why you need to learn to shoot and rope and ride... bareback."

Kahlan didn't miss the note of suggestion in that last word, and chose to ignore it. "She only told me that one day I will need it, and that if I do not possess the skill, I will perish."

Cara looked as if she had tasted something unpleasant. "That's really... fucking... dramatic."

Kahlan's disapproval of the crass language did not prevent her from a reply. "Will you help me, or not?"

"Of course we will," Richard cut in before Cara could say anything else.

"Speak for yourself," Cara drawled, pulling a dagger and flicking dirt from under her fingernails with the tip. "I'm not here to help children."

"I am not a child!" Kahlan finally raised her voice, and her body, standing above Cara, eyes flashing dangerously. "I am the Mother Confessor and you will treat me as such!"

Cara regarded her for an interminable moment, tongue to cheek. "My apologies," she said insincerely, a smirk curving her wicked mouth.

"I am not a child, and I am not stupid," Kahlan continued. She turned to Richard. "What can you teach me?"

Cara pushed back her chair and stood, having to look up only slightly to Kahlan's taller height. "No. I will do it."

"All of it?"

"All of it."

"Starting now?"

"Starting now. First, we ride. Get out of that dress."

"I don't have anything else to wear."

Cara gestured toward Richard as she headed for the door. "Richard has pants that will fit you."

Richard looked offended, but said nothing.

"And a shirt?"

"Figure it out," Cara said, annoyed, glancing over her shoulder at Kahlan as she yanked open the door. "Get dressed and meet me out back."

--

The pants were loose, but suitable, and they made Kahlan squirm. She had never worn pants, ever. She kept adjusting them, much to the deputy's amusement, she could tell. When her eyes fell on the lounge whip in the woman's hand, she frowned. "What do you need that for?"

"Are you gonna question me every step of the way, or do you wanna learn to ride?"

"All right," Kahlan said, stepping up to her horse. They were in a field, without fences, and she glanced back to the deputy. "How am I meant to mount him?"

Cara snorted at the wording of the Confessor's question, and waved her hand toward the stallion's mane. "Grab his mane and jump."

"Jump? You expect me to be able to jump that high?"

"If you wanna get on the horse," Cara said, folding her arms beneath her chest and just watching.

Kahlan puffed out a breath and gripped her horse's mane, attempting to jump onto his back. She failed, and with a grunt of frustration, turned back to Cara. "Help me," she said through gritted teeth. "That's what you're supposed to be doing."

"No, I'm teaching you. There's a difference. If you can't even get on the horse, you ain't gonna be able to learn to ride. You think when you need to mount up in a hurry, there's gonna be someone there to hold your hand? Get on the horse."

Kahlan tried again, and failed. And again. And again. Each time with the same results.

"Take a few steps run at 'im," Cara finally said.

Kahlan did, and ended up on the stallion's back at last.

"Those are the kinda things you'll need to think up on your own," Cara said. "Now make 'im walk."

Kahlan patted the horse's neck and had him walk forward, until Cara called to circle in both directions, first wide and then a tighter circle. She was able to do it, and stayed on.

"Now, when you ask 'im to trot, you're gonna have to squeeze your thighs hard enough to stay on, but not hard enough to make 'im canter. Don't try to turn, just trot forward a few steps and stop."

Kahlan fell. She got back on and overcorrected, cantering the next time. Then she fell again. And again. Finally she stayed on the horse at a trot, letting him go a good hundred yards before she slowed to a stop and had him turn. She fell twice more on the way back, but got up, determined, and made it back to the trainer.

Cara nodded. "We'll save trotting in a circle for later. For now, try a canter. Straight line first, back to me, then around in a wide circle and pull up short to stop. Without flyin' off."

Kahlan did, easily. It was the trotting she was going to have a problem with. She skidded to a stop in front of the trainer, then took the horse in a canter the other direction, around several times, pulling the circle tighter with each go, until the stallion was spinning in place. First one way, then the other. Satisfied after a bit, and to avoid becoming dizzy, she stopped.

"Impressive," Cara smirked. "Now, try trotting again. Once you've gone down and back ten times without falling, try turning."

"Any advice?" Kahlan asked, preparing to take off again.

Cara's eyes sparkled. "Don't plan to sit tomorrow?"

Brows furrowed, Kahlan turned away and squeezed her legs, urging the horse into a trot. She fell. Then again. She fell.

"Lean forward to keep your balance," Cara told her.

It helped, some, and she went down and back three times before she caught sight of a squirrel on the fourth run and lost her focus, and fell. This time, she sat in the grass, sulking.

"Up!" Cara called from her perch against a tree. "Get back on."

Growling, Kahlan got back on the horse and made the run two more times before she fell again. "I'm not getting back on!" she shouted, refusing to rise.

Cara's eyebrows lifted; she started a slow walk toward the Confessor. "Get back up," she said.

"No."

"You need to learn to ride. Get back up."

"No."

The Mord-Sith swung the lounge whip in an arc above her head and cracked it in the air, an inch from Kahlan's face. "The next one makes contact. Get up!"

Kahlan shrieked and scrambled backwards in the grass, climbing to her feet in a hurry. "Have you lost your mind?" she hissed, eyes wide, but when the whip began another arc, she ran and jumped on the horse, taking off at a canter until she was far enough away to feel safe slowing to a trot. As soon as she slowed, she fell.

An uncharacteristic curse left her lips, and she jumped back on the horse, more determined than before. She was the Mother Confessor. There was nothing she could not do.

--

By the time it was too dark to be safe for practicing, Kahlan was still falling, but not nearly as often, and only on trotting turns, or going from a canter into a trot.

As they walked back to the saloon, after Kahlan had groomed and stabled her horse, she looked at the deputy sideways. "Don't ever crack that thing in my face again."

Cara chuckled. "I will if you try to give up. Now let's get your backside checked out."

"What?!"

"I ain't teachin' you more unless y'take proper care of yourself," Cara explained unapologetically.

"There is nothing wrong with my--" As she reached back to touch it, she winced. "Oh."

Cara hid her grin. "Come on back to my place." She veered away from the saloon.

Kahlan followed silently, taking her hand from the injured area.

--

Cara's cabin looked cozy from the outside. Built with care, as were all of the townspeople's homes. A few birds perched on the edge of the awning; that made her smile. She hoped it was as cozy inside.

Kahlan didn't have time for more than a cursory glance before the blonde was in front of her. "Out of your pants."

"I beg your pard--" She hadn't finished speaking before her trousers were yanked down, and she gasped.

"And these." Cara smirked, tugged down the Confessor's underthings, watching her face turn bright red, and gave her a gentle shove down on the cushioned bench.

Kahlan put her arms out to break her fall, and buried her face so tightly into the cushion that she had to readjust before she could breathe. "This... this is... unacceptable," she whispered, searching for the right words and finding none better than that.

"Some skin is broken," Cara said blandly. "No doubt from the amount of times you fell. Even the grass is littered with rocks and dirt." Fingers probed, none too gently, and the Confessor whimpered. She didn't take the time to appreciate that as much as she would have liked to. "You're bruised, but that is to be expected." She patted Kahlan's bottom. "Stay there."

Kahlan pressed her face harder into the cushion, unable to believe the situation she was currently in. Never would she have expected herself to be in this particular... position. She would just... try to pretend it wasn't happening, and never speak of it once it had passed. She heard shuffling, and footsteps, and felt a weight on the cushion with her.

"This will--"

"Aaaaah!"

"--sting," Cara finished with a smirk, tossing the disinfectant-doused strip into the trash. She tossed her braid over her shoulder, to keep it out of the way as she leaned forward and blew on the stinging abrasions. They were very minor, but anything could get infected out here in the dirt and grime of Stowecroft, and it was better to be safe than sorry, even if that was an overused sentiment. Thrilled with the Confessor's shiver, she covered the abrasions each with a small bandage, then patted Kahlan's bottom again and shimmied her underthings back into place. "All set, Sugar."

Kahlan didn't think she could ever move again, unless she brought the bench with her. Her face burned, and she mumbed a 'thank-you', voice muffled by the cushion. The deputy left her trousers around her knees, and she reached back to pull them up, groaning at the tension the awkward movement put on her very sore thigh muscles. Riding without a saddle took much more out of her than riding with one ever had.

"I s'pose I ought to feed you," Cara said, rising from the bench, "though it ain't my problem you landed in my lap t'begin with. I hope you like meat, cause I ain't goin' outta my way to make you somethin' special." She paused, grinned, though the Confessor couldn't see it with her face buried like that. "I'll bring it out to you, since you can't sit at the table."

Kahlan was only glad that no one from her city could see her like this. She would have lost all respect and authority. The only reason she wasn't out of the Mord-Sith's cabin like a shot was because she still had much to learn, and she took the witch woman's warning very seriously.

--

Kahlan ate more than she thought she would, and slept soundly on the cushioned bench, finding it oddly comfortable.

When the sun was just beginning to peak over the mountains to the east, Cara put one boot on the Confessor's shoulder and shook her awake. "C'mon, Sugar, it's shootin' time."

Kahlan mumbled in protest and rolled away from the intrusion to her sleep, promptly falling to the floor with a thud. Her eyes shot open and she glared up at the deputy, who was far too amused for this early in the morning. "There is something wrong with you," she said darkly, pushing to her feet.

Cara just handed her a pistol, said "try not to shoot yourself, m'kay?" and sauntered out the door.

Kahlan grumbled, composed herself, and followed. There were tin cans set on top of railings outside the saloon, and Richard was there, as were Eden and the man she'd confessed.

Da'ron approached his Mistress and bowed deeply. "How may I serve you, Confessor?"

Kahlan noticed the barmaid's furious, yet cold, expression. "Live as though you have not been confessed," she ordered.

"Yes, Confessor," Da'ron said with another bow, and turned, disappearing inside the saloon.

"Mornin', Kahlan," Richard said brightly, tipping his hat to her. "Cara here tells us it's shootin' time."

"And you came to watch my humiliation," Kahlan half joked, for some reason feeling at ease with the sheriff. Perhaps because he was the only person to ever call her by name.

"No, no," Richard shook his head. "I came to participate in your humiliation."

Kahlan laughed, and before she had time to realize what she was doing, she hit him lightly on the arm with the back of her hand. She was relieved when he didn't flinch.

He snickered and nudged her back. "You'll do fine. Cara's a great teacher."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Kahlan muttered under her breath. And then, "we need to move these cans or I'll end up shooting out a window."

Cara walked up and stood beside Kahlan, blue eyes sparkling. "The cans stay. If you shoot out a window, you'll work it off."

"That is not an acceptable option," Kahlan replied immediately.

"It's your only option," Cara returned, one eyebrow lifting as she stared the Confessor down.

"How is it my only option? We could stack boulders in the road and put the cans on top of them," Kahlan suggested, waving her arm away from the saloon.

"It's your only option because I'm the gunslinger of the two of us and I say it's your only option. You wanna keep arguin' or start shootin'?"

"Oh I'd like to start shooting," Kahlan said, eyes flashing, her meaning not lost on the deputy.

Cara smirked and gave her backside a swat as she passed, chuckling as the Confessor yelped. "Such an undignified sound from such a classy lady," she tsked. "Do you know how to hold a pistol, or are we startin' with that?"

"Stop doing that!" Kahlan complained indignantly, her cheeks flushing, and she stared at the pistol in her hands. "I know how to hold it." Pause. "I think." She positioned her right hand around the grip, her index finger extended to lay on the trigger. She could feel the eagle carving pressing into her palm... the pistol she held had a butt of smooth pink ivory, an ornate, detailed eagle protruding from it. As if the deputy had it crafted on the chance she might happen by. It fit her hand perfectly. The barrel was polished pewter, intricate designs patterning across the back half of it, the front clean of carvings, simple and smooth. She was already in love with the gun.

Cara sidled over and peered at her grip, giving a curt nod. "Yep. Now, cock the hammer."

Kahlan slid her thumb over the cool ivory and up the cooler metal, bringing back the hammer until she heard and felt the click.

"Now, point it at the target and shoot."

Kahlan had started to raise her arm, but stopped and let it fall back to her side, giving Cara an incredulous look. "That's it? That's your method of teaching? Just do it?"

"Yes, little miss smarty-pants," Cara said with a half smirk. "Until I know how godawful a shot you are, I can't know where to start correctin', now can I?"

Richard coughed to muffle his snort of laughter, bringing his fist to his mouth to further subvert suspicion. It didn't work. The Mother Confessor glared at him.

Kahlan pointed her pistol at one of the cans and shot out a window. "No!" she gasped, left hand to her mouth, right hand vibrating from the kickback.

Cara's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. She hadn't thought the Confessor would actually shoot out a window. As Da'ron rushed to clean it up, she held out a hand toward him, approaching the porch. "Stop!" she told him, and he did. "I need to see where the impact was. I need to know how far off the shot was."

Kahlan was more embarrassed by that than anything prior in her life, and she stared at the pistol as if it had betrayed her.

Cara discerned the location of the shot, then allowed Da'ron to clean up the mess. She turned back to Kahlan, approaching with a smirk. "You busted it from the bottom. So that's about a five-inch gap between your shot and the target. Where were you lookin' when you shot?"

"At the can, where else would I have been looking?" Kahlan snapped, still embarrassed.

"Did you match up the end of the barrel with your line of sight?"

"I'm fairly certain I did not," Kahlan frowned. "I may have hit the target if I had."

"Hold up your gun."

Kahlan did.

"Y'see this?" Cara pointed to a small protrusion at the end of the barrel. When the Confessor nodded, she went on. "Line up this little piece'a metal with the smack dab middle'a your target, and don't move your hand when you pull the trigger."

"You're still not going to move the cans?" Kahlan asked, not sure why she was surprised.

"No Ma'am," Cara said, grinning. "The floors could use a good scrubbin'."

That darkened Kahlan's eyes and strengthened her resolve. But when she pulled the trigger, her hand moved, and she shot out another window. "Spirits!" she cursed, tossing the gun to the dirt.

"Temper, temper, Confessor," Cara said, clearly amused, picking up the pistol and handing it back to Kahlan. "Don't give up so easily. I'll help you this time, how's that."

Kahlan set her jaw and nodded as she took the pistol. She hated not being good at something.

Cara shoved her own gun in the back of her waistband and stepped up behind Kahlan, pressing their bodies together. She placed an arm under the Confessor's and lifted, until Kahlan got the idea and aimed the pistol, allowing Cara's arm beneath her own for support. "You aim, you shoot. All I'm gonna do is hold you steady." She wrapped her hand tightly around Kahlan's wrist.

It was a good thing Cara was holding her wrist, or she would have dropped the gun. Warm breath on her ear caressed and teased her senses, sending a gasping shiver through her. Breasts against her back warmed her from the inside out, and hips against her sore backside made her bite her lip to keep in a groan. She adjusted her aim, sweat prickling the back of her neck, and pulled the trigger.

A metallic clang bounced off the porch and into the air around them, the can folding in on itself and rocketing backward into the saloon's outer wall, five inches below the window panes.

While Kahlan was distracted by the fact that she'd hit the target, Cara took the opportunity to bring her face closer and breathe in the scent of the Confessor's hair. It had been taunting her from afar. It smelled delicious, like apples and rain. Nobody should be allowed to smell that good.

"I did it!" Kahlan said excitedly, spinning around to stare at the deputy, accidentally discharging her fourth bullet into the dirt, and shrieking when she did.

"Kahlan!" Cara exclaimed, eyes wide, grabbing the gun from her. "Be careful! Do not get excited with a gun in your hand. Treat this like you treat your Confessor power. Don't go shootin' it off all over the place."

Kahlan blushed again, chastised, and stared at the ground. "I was just... I've never shot anything before, it was exhilarating. I didn't mean to..."

"She ain't very careful with her Confessor power, either," Eden spoke up. "Lets it fly on a whim."

"Are we going to do this?" Kahlan spoke up, eyes snapping to the woman. "I have already ordered him to live as though he were never confessed."

"And you think that means he can?" Eden asked with a derisive snort. "We'll see what happens when I ask him to bed tonight. If he refuses, like last night, then you have taken my husband from me to tend to your horse."

Kahlan's mouth opened and closed, and for the first time ever, she was ashamed of having used her power. She had often been regretful at having to use it, but never ashamed. She tried again to speak, tears brimming in her eyes. "I did not know he was a husband," she started, but Eden cut her off.

"Because you didn't ask! You walked in and boom! Hand at his throat, no questions, no compassion, no mercy. He is a good man. He would have tended your horse and saw to it you got anything you needed. But you took his soul from him, for what? For WHAT?"

"I didn't know," Kahlan stammered, her hands shaking. "I didn't know what to expect here, I'm used to blind hatred, I-- I'm sorry," she breathed, and turned, and ran.

Cara shot a withering glare to Eden, gave Kahlan a few minutes head start, then went after her. She caught up a little ways down the road, and fell into step beside the crying woman. "I am Mord-Sith," she said, inexperienced at comforting people. "I'm used to blind hatred too."

Kahlan appreciated the effort, but it didn't help much. "Have you ever put your Agiel to a man's heart before seeking his true nature?"

"Many, many times."

Kahlan was surprised. "You have?"

Cara lifted an eyebrow. "What do you think a Mord-Sith is?" she snickered.

That made Kahlan feel better and she wiped her tears, giving a little sniff as she smiled. "So I guess shooting is over for today."

"Please. Don't think you're gettin' off that easy." She stopped and moved in front of Kahlan to stop her as well. A slow grin spread over her lips as she stood taller. "Mistress Cara never does anything halfway."

"Mistress Cara?" Kahlan asked, her turn to raise an eyebrow.

"Mm," Cara nodded, playing with the end of her braid. "Mistress Cara of the Mord-Sith. That's who I was."

"It isn't still?" Sometimes Kahlan wished she could say that the Mother Confessor was who she used to be. But she knew her Confessor power would be with her always.

"In some ways, I s'pose," Cara said, dropping her braid, starting to walk again. "Mostly now I'm Deputy Cara Mason, of Stowecroft."

"Well," Kahlan said, swallowing nervously at what she was about to say. She took a few more steps before she said it. "You still seem pretty badass to me."

Cara roared with laughter. "I can't believe the Mother Confessor just said badass..."

Kahlan flushed. She seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "Don't tell anyone. I'll deny it."

Cara laughed again. "Care to raise the stakes on our shootout?"

Kahlan regarded her curiously. "I'm not much for betting..."

"Ain't a bet," Cara said, eyes gleaming. "Every target you hit, by yourself, without me holdin' your arm steady, I lose a stitch of clothin'."

Kahlan's eyes went wide. She stopped walking, quickly counting the items of clothing Cara wore. "I'd only have to hit four targets to have you naked!"

The gleam in Cara's eyes seemed to magnify. She laced her fingers together and turned her hands outward in a stretch. "Three," she corrected with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Thr--" Kahlan's throat went dry. Pants, chaps, shirt. She could clearly see all three of those. That meant nothing underneath. "You won't really do it," she finally said, lifting her chin haughtily.

"I won't have to. You ain't gonna hit a thing," Cara baited her.

"Oh, I see how you are," Kahlan rose to the bait, folding her arms beneath her chest. "Where are the targets? Give me my gun."

"Your gun?" Cara drawled, backing up a step. "Come'n get it."

"You think I won't?" Kahlan advanced slowly.

"You ain't gonna d--"

Cara's eyes went wide as Kahlan lunged at her, the utter unexpectedness of the action catching her off guard enough to allow Kahlan to knock her over.

They twisted back and forth in a tangle of limbs and shrieks, until Kahlan emerged victorious, gun in hand while still managing to pin Cara down.

The atmosphere went from competitive to sexually charged in an instant, and Kahlan scrambled off of the deputy, shaking her head in apology. "I'm sorry, I..."

Cara leapt to her feet, grinning. "Never apologize for winning."

"No, that's not what I'm ap--"

"Never. Apologize. For winning," Cara cut her off.

"All right," Kahlan said, staring her down. "I won't apologize when I win and have you naked, either."

"Wouldn't expect you to," Cara smirked. "Now, rules of the game."

--

Cara carved a target into a lone oak tree that sat in the middle of an empty field. For every shot that Kahlan got inside the ring, she'd take off a piece of clothing. For every shot that Kahlan missed, she'd put one back on. "You ready, Confessor?" she asked, moving off twenty paces, just to be safe, and leaning against the fence at the edge of the field.

By midday, she was tired of taking her chaps off and putting them back on again. Kahlan could not hit two in a row. Finally she spoke up. "I'm institutin' a time limit. You got ten more minutes."

Kahlan looked over at her, eyes twinkling mischievously, then turned back to the target and fired three in a row, all well within the ring.

Cara's jaw dropped.

Smug, Kahlan brought the gun up to her lips and blew across the end of the barrel, then tucked it away in the back of her trousers. "Pay up, Deputy."

Cara stripped off her shirt and undid her pants as she advanced on Kahlan. Her boots had been discarded the first time she took off her chaps, so her feet were bare. "You. Cheated," she said, head tilted in accusation as she pushed her pants down over her hips and kicked them off, watching Kahlan watch her.

Kahlan's throat went dry. She tried not to let her eyes wander. She couldn't help letting them flick briefly to the deputy's chest before refocusing on her face. "What I did wasn't cheating," she said in a raspy voice. Seeing the blonde's naked body was having quite an effect on her, one she wasn't entirely used to. "I would have shot three in a row anyway, even if I hadn't pretended to still be inconsistent after awhile. I just would have done it sooner. It's not cheating. It's delaying." She was rambling.

"You made me change in and out of my chaps fifty times," Cara said, moving closer still, jabbing a finger into Kahlan's chest.

Kahlan swallowed hard, backing up a step. "Well now, to be fair," she said, holding her hands up, "you disrobed me without asking last night, and you... you... patted my bottom. Several times! I, I think payback's only fair."

Cara grabbed her behind the neck and kissed her. Hard, but with her mouth closed, lasting only for a few seconds, then stepped back. "I can't wait to see what y'come up with as payback for that." She turned and sauntered back toward the fence, picking up her clothes as she went.

Kahlan stood there, breathing hard, chest on fire as Cara walked away. Her lips tingled like mad, and she put a hand to her mouth, trembling fingers feathering over the memory of the kiss. After a few minutes, she refocused on the world, and Cara was already dressed.

"Next up? How to use a rope."

--

They agreed to have lunch first. Kahlan was nervous about eating food Eden had served them.

Cara smirked and leaned over to whisper in the Confessor's ear. "Don't worry. If she poisons you, I'll give you the Breath of Life."

Kahlan felt silly and looked away, picking up her fork. "Can you really do that, though? I mean-- not because of the food, I'm just curious now," she asked softly.

"I can," Cara said, looking thoughtful, as if trying to figure out the real reason Kahlan was asking.

"To anyone?"

"Yes Ma'am."

Kahlan nodded and gave her a smile, then started eating.

When they finished, Cara took her to the stable and disappeared into the tack room, returning with a long, sturdy rope in one hand and a riding crop in the other.

"What's that for?"

"I always take one if I go more'n a mile out," Cara explained, setting it between her teeth and opening the gate to the pasture. Her gelding came running, stopping in front of her with a whinny, then nudged her lightly with his muzzle and nickered. "Tck yr hrse," she told Kahlan, vowel sounds omitted due to the riding crop in her mouth.

Kahlan understood anyway and nodded, reaching out to pat her stallion as he came up to the adjacent fence. "Where is my equipment?"

Cara nodded her head toward the tack room.

Fifteen minutes later they were tacked and mounted, Kahlan with a terrible wince. She shifted in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable position, and finally stood in the stirrups.

Cara snickered and nudged her gelding forward, Kahlan's stallion trotting up next to him. The contrast of the deep, coal-black coat of Kahlan's horse and the pristine white of Cara's was majestic.

They rode for well over an hour before Cara finally veered them off the trail, into a large clearing bathed by sunlight. The ground was loose, tan dirt with the occasional patch of grass or flowers.

"Why did we have to come all the way here to learn to rope?" Kahlan asked, sliding out of the saddle and to the ground with a soft thud.

Cara followed, removing her horse's bit so he could eat, tying the lead off on a sturdy branch, indicating for Kahlan to do the same. As the beasts happily munched away, she took the practice rope from the saddlebag and led Kahlan to the center of the clearing. "No distractions out here. And believe it or not, this is the only clearin' big enough once you hit the woods out of Stowecroft. It was this or out back'a the saloon."

Kahlan looked around, nodded. "I guess this is better."

Cara snorted and tied a loose knot in the rope, forming a lasso. She swung it around her head a few times to get momentum, then threw it out and caught Kahlan, yanking tight.

Kahlan squeaked as her arms were suddenly held tight to her sides without warning. Cara released her though, and she put her hands on her hips. "Do you really have to show off like that?"

Cara gave her a dreamy smile. "Just showin' you what you'll be able to do before we leave this clearin'."

Kahlan was a natural with the rope, for which she thanked the spirits, given the hard time she'd had with the horse and the pistol. She picked up the motions easily, and was able to capture a still Cara within the hour. Now Cara was moving, and she was having a harder time. Obviously. But finally, she timed it right, and caught the blonde, yanking the noose tight around her midsection. Really, very tight.

When the Confessor didn't release her right away, Cara raised an eyebrow. "Kahlan?"

Kahlan walked slowly forward, jerking the rope tighter as she did, making it impossible for Cara to move her upper arms at all.

"You're cuttin' off the circulation," Cara informed her.

"Baby," Kahlan whispered, leaning forward, feathering her lips across the shell of Cara's ear. "Payback's a bitch, isn't it?"

Cara glowered. "You'll regret this." She stood calmly, waiting for Kahlan to tire of the game and release her.

Kahlan waited a few minutes, hovering, and then finally chuckled and released the tension on the rope, freeing the deputy.

Cara rolled up her sleeves and scowled at the chafing just above her elbows. "You are really. Going. To regret that," she promised.

Kahlan suddenly didn't think it was so funny. "You're not-- I mean I'm-- are you really angry? I'm sorry, I didn't think--"

"If I was angry, you would have either an Agiel to your throat or a pistol pointed at your head," Cara said smoothly. "Just because I ain't angry doesn't mean you won't regret it."

Kahlan almost sighed with relief. Until she started wondering what Cara was going to do to make her regret it.

"Now try t'catch me and drag me off my horse," Cara said, handing her back the rope.

"What?"

Cara fixed the bit back into her gelding's mouth and swung up into the saddle, then reached down to tighten the cinch. "Y'heard me."

"I think that's a terrible idea," Kahlan said, shaking her head vehemently.

"You'd better catch me... you'll have a hard time findin' your way back on your own if y'don't. I'll give you three circles around the perimeter of the clearing, and if you ain't caught me by then, may your good sense guide'ya."

"You're insane," Kahlan breathed, but her eyes flashed with the thrill of the challenge. "Why would you want to be dragged from your horse?"

"Because I'm just that dedicated of a teacher," Cara said with a sweet smile, then yelled and spurred her horse into action.

Kahlan geared up, preparing the rope in her hands, swinging it overhead until she felt confident enough to try throwing it. She missed the first two times and caught her prey on the third, and only the fear of being left to find her way back to town alone gave her the nerve to yank the blonde from her horse.

Cara rolled when she landed, minimizing the impact - she'd leapt from her horse enough times to consider herself skilled in the act. She still gave a grunt of pain as she came to a stop in the dirt, face-up, letting her arms splay out to her sides. "Not bad."

"Not bad?" Kahlan scoffed, extending a hand to help her up. "You were only on your second lap."

Cara's lips twitched into a smirk, and she picked up the rope. "That's enough for today. Tomorrow you'll be on the horse too. See if you're still so damn cocky." She turned to put the rope in the saddlebag, and picked out the riding crop to rearrange things and make more room.

"If you kill me and revive me, Eden's husband would no longer be confessed," Kahlan said suddenly, having the courage while Cara's back was turned.

Cara spun fiercely without paying attention to what she was holding, and the riding crop thwacked solidly against Kahlan's inner thigh.

"OW!" Kahlan shrieked, clutching her thigh, eyes wide and stunned.

"Shit," Cara cursed through clenched teeth.

"Ow," Kahlan said again, more calmly this time, now rubbing the wounded flesh. "That hurt." But the longer they stood there staring at each other, the less it hurt, and the more she liked it. She stopped rubbing and swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat.

Cara wasn't sure what exactly was going on in Kahlan's mind, but she could tell it was something. She didn't know whether to apologize for the accidental smack or smack her again because of what she'd said. "That was an accident." She settled for middle ground.

"I gathered that," Kahlan said, her voice less controlled than she would have liked. Her hands shook with the restraint she employed to avoid grabbing Cara by the head and kissing her.

"Let me have a l--"

"No!" Kahlan gasped, hands going to the catch of her pants and holding it securely. "No, it's fine..."

Cara stepped closer, laying her hands gently over Kahlan's. "Let me have a look," she insisted quietly, closing her eyes when the Confessor whimpered and let her own hands fall out of the way. She undid the catch and slowly slid her hands inside, pushing Kahlan's trousers down, lowering herself to her knees at the same time.

Kahlan's knees shook with the effort to keep her standing. She had never been this close to anyone before, not like this.

There was a bright red mark where the crop had hit, and before she entirely knew what she was doing, Cara had leaned forward and pressed her mouth to it, tonguing the abused skin.

Kahlan gasped wildly, her power rattling through her, and she clamped down on it harder than she'd ever had to before, to keep from confessing Cara. She placed her hand on Cara's forehead and gave a forceful push. "You can't take me by surprise like that," she panted. "I almost confessed you."

Cara, sprawled in the dirt, looked positively scandalous. "Is that the only reason you pushed me away, Confessor?"

"It's the only one I can think of for now," Kahlan admitted. "I'm sure if I had time, I could think of a thousand reasons why that wouldn't have been a good idea."

Undeterred, Cara got to her feet and brushed off her chaps. "But not a thousand reasons why you wouldn't want to continue."

"No," Kahlan whispered. "My skin is burning where you kissed me." She closed her eyes, reached for her trousers, but Cara had moved forward again, and she caught Kahlan's hands.

"Let me," Cara murmured, gripping the waist of Kahlan's pants and tugging them up over her hips, into place, then doing up the catch with painstaking deliberation. Once Kahlan's pants were secure, she ran her teeth over her bottom lip, leaning to the Confessor's ear. "Do you know what I have?" she whispered.

Kahlan shivered. She didn't answer.

"Back at the saloon... in the vault..." Cara kissed the shell of her ear. "With all the town's valuables... there's a Rada'Han."

Kahlan faltered and leaned against the fence for support, breath leaving her in one swift rush. Not at Cara's words, but at the kiss. "I will never wear a Rada'Han," she whispered back.

If Cara was disappointed, she didn't show it. She merely shrugged and walked away, putting the riding crop back in the saddlebag and mounting her gelding. "It'll be dark soon, c'mon, let's get." She turned her horse and urged it forward, not waiting for Kahlan, but not picking up to a trot or a canter, either.

Kahlan collected herself, rubbing her palm over her ear firmly to stop the tingling, and mounted her horse.

--

They rode at a leisurely walk, in no hurry despite the setting sun. It was a comfortable silence between them, which was strange given the last things they'd said to each other, but nonetheless, both were in good spirits.

Suddenly, Cara grabbed Kahlan's reins and stoked the horses into a frenzy, off into the woods, and Kahlan grabbed the saddlehorn to keep her balance. "What are you doing?" she hissed.

"Shut up!" Cara hissed back. When they were a hundred yards off the trail, she slid off her horse and helped Kahlan off, dragging her further into the woods by the hand, and when they reached a fallen log, she shoved Kahlan to the dirt and lay on top of her, wedging them both under one side of the log, a hand over Kahlan's mouth to keep her quiet.

Kahlan struggled at first but quickly realized that Cara meant business, and went stock still. She barely dared to breathe, nostrils flared with the effort to do so silently. Her eyes were wide, darting around, but all she could see, from her current position on her stomach in the dirt, was more dirt. And bugs. She squirmed as one crawled toward her, and Cara jerked on her mouth in warning.

Finally she heard thundering hooves on the trail, and when the hooves stopped, men's voices. She stiffened in terror. The quads. She couldn't make out what they were saying, they were too far, but when the horses started up again, the sound was heading away from them. She exhaled, shaking, and only then realized her face was wet with tears.

Cara was breathing hard herself, and held their positions a little longer than necessary, just to be sure. When she finally released Kahlan's mouth, she felt wetness on her hand, and wished she knew how to reassure the Confessor. "We can't go back tonight."

"Where will we go? And what about Richard?"

"Richard's a smart man. He'll get rid of 'em without lettin' anybody get hurt."

After another minute, when Cara was still laying on top of her, Kahlan said hesitantly, "your belt buckle is really hurting my backside."

Cara shifted carefully off of the Confessor, still wary even though the quads were gone. She helped Kahlan to her feet and brushed the bugs from them both, then wiped the tear tracks from the Confessor's face. "We'll go to the witch woman."

"What?" Kahlan murmured, going stiff again. "Why would we go there? Almost anywhere is better than that..."

"And nowhere is safer than Agaden Reach," Cara said, raising an eyebrow.

"Because you'd have to be a fool to go there," Kahlan argued.

Cara grabbed her by the front of her trousers and yanked her close. "Get on your fuckin' horse."

--

"Can I help you fellas?" Richard asked as eight men stepped into the saloon. He knew exactly who they were before they'd even dismounted their warhorses.

"We're looking for the Confessor."

Richard already knew what he was going to say. "She came through with a wizard, asked to borrow a courtesan's dress, and continued on. The Mother Confessor, yes? The one in white?"

The leader of the quads nodded with a grunt. "When was this?"

Richard pretended to think. "Before sunset yesterday. She left her Confessor's dress here, if you fellas need it."

"No," the man said gruffly. "We will wait the night in case she returns for the dress."

Richard hated that idea, but didn't let on. "Sure, sure. Would you care for rooms upstairs? I believe we can make eight available."

"We don't sleep. We require food for ourselves and our horses."

"Would you like them bathed and groomed, or simply put to pasture in waiting?"

"Keep them armored. Pasture them and feed them. Provide them water. We will eat, and post ourselves around the permiter of the town."

Richard nodded and signaled to Da'ron, who came over dutifully. He called to Eden. "Get these men some of your finest, on the house." Oh how he hated to kiss the ass of swine, but he had to make them think he was eager to help them. As the men found tables, he took Da'ron outside. "Put them in the far pasture, remove only their bits so they can eat, and loosen the cinches, but don't untack them. And do not, under any circumstances, mention that you have been confessed. Do not say anything about the Mother Confessor at all, even if asked. You are to lie if need be, to protect your mistress." Richard knew how confession worked.

"Of course, Sheriff," Da'ron said, taking it all in and preparing for his role in the protection of his mistress.

--

Every so often, Kahlan tried to make Cara change her mind. "What if we go in the direction they came from? They wouldn't travel back over covered ground..." This was her latest attempt.

Cara smirked, shook her head, but continued to face forward. "We're going to Agaden Reach."

Finally, she gave in, but sulked. "I'm afraid to go there," she said quietly.

"You should be more afraid not to," Cara said, "and we're almost there, anyway. I got me some questions for Shota."

--

They arrived in the middle of the night, but Shota wasn't sleeping. She was perched in a tree, watching them approach, her long auburn hair draped over her shoulders, reaching her ankles in her crouched position. When they were directly below her, she whistled.

Kahlan nearly fell off her horse. Cara just glanced up, unsurprised. "I can see up your dress."

Shota jumped to the ground in front of them, long black dress billowing with the motion. Her bare feet made no sound when she landed, and she straightened, eyeing Kahlan intensely.

Kahlan was uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

Shota tilted her head to the side, unreadable eyes still fixed on the Confessor. "Still a virgin, I see..."

Kahlan was afraid she might die of pure embarrassment. Suddenly she debated whether taking their chances with the quads would have been the wiser choice.

"Fess up, Witch," Cara said with a smirk. "That's really why you sent her to me, isn't it? For deflowering?"

Kahlan gasped.

Shota dismissed the question. "Don't be ridiculous, child."

Cara was off her horse, advancing on Shota, walking right up into her space. Kahlan wondered if she'd gone temporarily mad. Fear for the deputy overshadowed her embarrassment for the moment.

"I've told you not to call me that, Shota. Do you remember what happened the last time you forgot?" Cara's grin was wicked.

Kahlan watched in utter amazement as the witch woman's cheeks colored. "Please say it," she found herself asking, eager to repay the witch woman's debt of humiliation.

Cara slowly circled around behind her, pulling Shota's hair out of the way as she went. She leaned her chin forward on the woman's shoulder, pressing their cheeks together as she spoke to Kahlan. "Shota got a spanking," she said quietly, grinning.

Shota scowled, but knew her magic didn't work on Cara, and that she was outmatched in the arena of physical strength. Her face burned.

Kahlan's jaw dropped a little as she stared. She was startled by her reaction to the news, shifting on the horse as a wetness grew between her legs. At the same time, inexplicable jealousy flared mildly in her chest.

"For someone seeking shelter, you certainly take liberties, Cara," Shota finally said.

"You had yourself a vision of our comin'," Cara said. "How quaint."

"Yes," Shota said simply. "Follow me."

--

They took care of the horses first, allowing them water from Shota's stream, and fresh grass from her fields. Kahlan reached to pick a pear from a fruit tree, but her hand froze halfway there and she was unable to move it.

"How dare you," Shota hissed, suddenly standing in front of Kahlan. "You would think to touch my property without asking? Where are your manners, you heathen?"

Kahlan blinked, and when the web was released, lowered her hand with a frown. "I wanted to give the horses a treat," she explained. "You have so many, freely growing here, I didn't think you would mind."

"Mind?" Shota asked coldly, her voice rising in pitch. "Mind? Of course I mind!"

Cara was there in a flash, plucking a pear from the tree and handing it to Kahlan.

Kahlan couldn't help smirking a little at Shota as she walked away to offer the pear to the horses.

--

"Would you care to share my bed?" Shota asked Cara after they had bathed and eaten some bread and cheese.

"No!" Kahlan spoke up, cheeks flushing as she did. Oh, wonderful. Now what was she going to say?

Both sets of eyes were on her, waiting.

Cara would have come to her aid, but she really didn't want to. She wanted to hear whatever explanation the Confessor was going to fabricate. She did issue a warning, however. "Where I sleep depends on what you say."

Kahlan twisted her fingers together, pleading eyes looking into Cara's, but to no avail. She wouldn't lie, but she didn't think she could tell the whole truth, either. "I don't want to be alone," she finally said.

"You're not alone," Shota said smoothly. "I shall bewitch a suit of armor to life, it shall stand guard over your bedside."

"I want Cara to stay with me," Kahlan said in a rush, turning away from them both.

She missed Shota's smirk, and the way the witch woman winked at Cara.

Cara nudged Shota with her hips and went to Kahlan, resting her hands on the Confessor's waist from behind. "Lead the way, little lady."

Kahlan gasped, she hadn't heard Cara approach, nor had she expected hands on her. "I didn't mean..." she whispered.

Cara laughed and patted her backside, much to Kahlan's dismay. "Your virtue's safe, Confessor," she promised with a snicker.

Kahlan wasn't sure she wanted her virtue to be safe, but she wasn't going to tell Cara that and let the blonde think it was an open invitation.

When they got to the room Shota had designated as Kahlan's for the night, Cara stripped naked and climbed into bed. Kahlan's eyes widened slightly, and she removed her boots, then hesitated.

Cara sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed, close to Kahlan, and put her hands on the Confessor's trousers, front and center.

Kahlan's breath caught and she had to close her eyes, folding her hands behind her back to keep from pushing Cara's away. Her stomach quivered at the brush of knuckles across it, as Cara undid the catch of her pants and slid them down, off.

"Kahlan," Cara breathed, ghosting her lips over the Confessor's woven blouse as she stood up, fingers working the buttons slowly open. She parted the fabric and slid it off over Kahlan's shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. "I want you to sleep naked with me." Her voice was soft, wispy, as she very gently began to push Kahlan's underthings down.

Kahlan trembled more violently than she had ever before had cause to do. When she was naked, she slid into bed and under the blankets with an urgency to her movements.

Cara steadied her breathing before walking around to her own side of the bed and joining the Confessor. When they were both under the blankets, she blew out the lamp and moved closer to Kahlan, reaching out a hand. "Move back," she whispered, the words a soft caress.

Kahlan held her breath and allowed Cara to guide her backwards, giving a shudder as their warm flesh pressed together, her back to Cara's front. Hard nipples brushed against the underside of her shoulder blades, and she couldn't help a small moan of contentment at the feel.

Cara pressed her face into Kahlan's hair and inhaled deeply, summoning all of her self-control to keep her hand at Kahlan's waist. She had never exercised such restraint with anyone before, but she knew it was necessary. For some reason, she couldn't stand the thought of driving the Confessor away.

"You're... excited," Kahlan said awkwardly, quietly. She could feel warmth on her backside, the warmth of Cara's groin.

"What makes y'say that?" Cara drawled, holding perfectly still, her voice partly muffled by Kahlan's hair.

"You're very... warm," Kahlan explained, barely able to hear herself. "And I can feel... you... against my back." She couldn't bring herself to describe parts of Cara's body.

"These?" Cara asked, bringing her hand from Kahlan's waist to her own breasts instead, squeezing each one in turn, her nipples pressing more firmly against Kahlan's skin.

Kahlan's face was flushed again, even in the dark, even facing away from Cara. "Yes," she answered, feeling a stirring in her own groin.

"They're called nipples," Cara teased softly, rubbing them up and down Kahlan's shoulder blades, just a few inches. "Have you ever said that word before?"

Kahlan shook her head.

"Say it," Cara urged, returning her hand to Kahlan's waist, just resting there.

"I can't..." She shook her head again.

"Yes you can," Cara purred, nuzzling the back of the Confessor's head with her nose. "Try. Say 'I can feel your nipples against my back'."

Kahlan tried to summon the nerve. She could feel them. She would just be telling the truth. When Cara squeezed her waist in encouragement, she opened her mouth. "I can feel your... your nipples against my back," she said in a rush, the dirty language giving her an unexpected thrill, even as it embarrassed her.

"How do they feel?" Cara asked, thumb stroking back and forth over Kahlan's hip.

"Hard," Kahlan answered, reveling in the gentle touch.

"Just hard?" Cara murmured, stroking her fingers now as well.

"Hard and... maybe expectant," Kahlan breathed.

"Expectant of what?" Cara asked, rubbing up to Kahlan's ribs with her palm and back down to her hip. "What do you think they might be expecting?"

"I don't know. Touch," Kahlan guessed, unfamiliar with such a type of conversation.

"Will you touch them, Kahlan?" Cara's voice was low, rumbling.

Kahlan found it hard to breathe. Her chest ached with the effort. "I don't... I'm not sure..."

"Turn over," Cara mumbled into her hair.

Kahlan could at least do that. She slowly rolled to her back, then to face Cara. She could just make out the blonde's beautiful face in the moonlight that streamed through the windows.

"Give me your hand."

Kahlan did.

Cara brought their hands to her chest and pressed Kahlan's palm against her straining nipple.

Kahlan gasped, fingers reflexively curling around Cara's breast. It felt... amazing. Exhilarating.

"Do you feel that, Kahlan? Do you feel how hard I am? That's for you. You make me that hard."

Kahlan's thighs clenched, warmth spreading through her stomach, and lower. "I do?" she asked in wonder.

"Yes," came Cara's husky response. "You make me hard here... and wet between my legs."

Kahlan whimpered softly, tucking her bottom lip between her teeth. She had no words in reply, she merely held her hand over Cara's breast and lay still.

They lay like that for a long time, and just as Kahlan was about to say something, she realized that Cara had fallen asleep.

--

Richard didn't sleep. He had a feeling Cara would've noticed the quads and that's why she and Kahlan hadn't come back yet, but he was still uneasy. What if they'd just lost track of time? Or had gone so far out that they wouldn't be back until the middle of the morning hours? He wanted to direct the quads to the north end of town, the opposite of where Cara and Kahlan would return, but at this hour that would be suspicious. He just had to hope that if the women did return, they'd see the quads' horses in the far pasture and have enough time to run.

--

Shota breezed into the large guest chambers as the sun made its ascent into the sky, setting a tray of breakfast foods at the foot of the bed. When both women grudgingly awoke, and both had taken a moment to focus, she swept her arm in a grand gesture toward the tray. "Breakfast, children." She glanced to Kahlan. "You are both naked, yet you are still a virgin. This is greatly disappointing. Were the accommodations not to your liking?"

Kahlan stared at her, embarrassment creeping up again at the subject of conversation.

Cara snorted. "Shut up, Witch."

Shota merely smiled, bowed her head as she turned, and nearly skipped out of the room.

"Does she have to keep saying that?" Kahlan complained once they were alone.

"It's how she is," Cara snickered, sitting up and reaching for a piece of fruit from the tray. She chose a ripe, juicy blackberry and dipped it in cream, then turned and brought it to Kahlan's lips.

Surprised, Kahlan allowed her lips to part, and made an indecent noise as she bit into the fruit. Purplish juice dribbled down her chin, and Cara leaned over to lick it away with a quick swipe of her tongue.

Kahlan moaned, eyes darkening and filling with lust that she tried so hard to keep at bay. She stared up at Cara, whose face was inches from her own, and deliberately chewed the berry, swallowing with exaggerated force.

Cara placed the other half of the berry between her teeth and bit down, dripping juice into Kahlan's open mouth. She grinned and spit the berry over the side of the bed, and smoothed her lips over Kahlan's.

Kahlan gave up the pretense of eating at the same time Cara did, and slid her tongue into the other woman's mouth, hands tangling in loose blonde hair. She didn't remember seeing Cara take her braid out, but her hair was free now, and it felt like silk.

The sheets fell away as Cara climbed over Kahlan on all fours, and she could see the Confessor's body clearly in the morning light. She let her gaze rake over Kahlan's naked breasts, her ribs, her quivering stomach. "Kahlan," she breathed, letting her head drop down between her shoulders, hair falling on either side of her face. "I ain't used to controllin' my urges."

Kahlan's cheeks flamed at the way Cara looked at her. She felt so exposed, so... pretty. Like a valuable gem just discovered after being buried for centuries. She didn't know what to say. Didn't know what Cara wanted her to say. What Cara expected her to say.

When Kahlan just looked at her, Cara realized she'd have to flat-out ask for what she wanted. "I wanna touch you." Pause. "I wanna spread your legs so wide, Confessor, an' put my fingers in'ya until you scream."

Kahlan lost her breath, embarrassment flooding through her. She didn't know how Cara could just say things like that. But spirits, it sounded wonderful. No one had ever wanted to do those things to her, no one had ever even wanted to be near her unless they were confessed. She was usually met with stares of fear, or hatred, wherever she traveled. But Cara, now, here... she wanted it. She wanted it so badly even though she was terrified of having it. "Please," she whimpered, closing her eyes.

That one little word, whimpered like that, sent a jolt of excitement through Cara. But she didn't want to misunderstand. She pressed a hand firmly on Kahlan's stomach, fingers splayed. "Please touch you, or please don't?"

"Don't hurt me," Kahlan breathed, her eyes still closed.

"Hurt you?" Cara asked, brows furrowing into a frown. She gentled her touch on the Confessor's stomach, stopped pushing down and just rested her hand there.

"I, I'm very... You know I've never..." Kahlan tried to get out, stumbling over the words.

"You're afraid it's gonna hurt?" Cara asked, and at Kahlan's hesitant nod, she rubbed her belly. "It ain't gonna hurt, I swear it," she promised, dropping onto her side half on top of the Confessor instead of hovering above her.

Kahlan shivered, believing what Cara told her, but doubts still lingered in the forefront of her mind. Doubts she couldn't shake. "What if, what if I confess you? By accident?"

Cara brushed her lips over the Confessor's. "I ain't inclined to worry about what-ifs," she said with a smile. "But if you don't want me to--"

"I do, I really do," Kahlan interrupted, flushing. "I never even realized how badly I could want something until now. I'm just afraid."

Cara kissed her, poured confidence into her, did everything she could to chase the Confessor's fears away. "I don't know if it's on account'a makin' myself wait, or what, but Confessor... damn. I ain't wanted anyone this badly since I was fourteen an' hot for my schoolteacher."

Kahlan smiled shyly, her lips tingling from the kiss. "Will you go slow? I don't want to make you-- hold you back," she said tentatively, biting her lip.

"This ain't just about me," Cara said, probably more gently than she'd spoken to anyone before. She kissed the tip of Kahlan's nose. "I don't think you're ready."

Kahlan's eyes were desperate, she knew they were. "I am," she insisted, summoning all her nerve in order to spread her legs a little.

Cara felt the motion, could see it out of the corner of her eye, and smirked. "Well maybe I ain't ready."

Kahlan's cheeks reddened, and she clenched her thighs together again, tears brimming in her eyes. "I understand," she managed to choke out, wanting to get up and run. "You are apprehensive that my inexperience will render me unable to please you."

"Are you off your fuckin' nut?" Cara asked, eyebrows shooting skyward, one hand snaking down between Kahlan's thighs to urge them back apart.

Kahlan didn't know that expression, but she knew what Cara's hand was saying, and she relaxed a little, allowing her muscles to slacken and her thighs to fall apart once more.

"First of all," Cara said sternly, "I was jokin'. I'm readier'n you'll ever know, and always will be. And secondly, if I weren't ready, it wouldn't have nothin' to do with your inexperience. You hear?"

"I, I hear you," Kahlan acknowledged, hissing in a breath when Cara's hand slid upward, so close to where she ached.

Cara could feel the heat, the restrained power in this woman, and it was intoxicating. She feathered the tip of one finger through the dark curls covering the Confessor's sex, and watched in fascination as Kahlan's hips jerked entirely off the bed. "You okay?" she asked. She'd never done this with a virgin before.

"Yes I just," Kahlan gasped, eyes wild. "I just didn't know it would..."

Cara repeated the motion, teasingly, making Kahlan buck again. "You mean you've never even touched yourself?" she asked, unable to wrap her mind around why anyone would go completely without.

"Of course not!" Kahlan hissed, unable to imagine doing such a thing. She groaned and her hands shot back to grab the slats in the solid oak headboard as Cara pressed her finger more firmly.

"Shhh," Cara said with a wry smile, circling her fingertip and dragging it slowly through the Confessor's copious wetness, pausing at her entrance. "Are you ready for me to go in'ya?"

Kahlan bit her lip again and nodded.

"Show me you're ready by spreadin' your legs a little more and pressin' yourself into my finger."

Kahlan's eyelids fluttered and she obediently spread her legs, pushing her hips up subtly against Cara's hand.

Cara grinned and slid inside, just a little, pausing to let the Confessor adjust to the feeling of being penetrated for the first time.

Kahlan sucked in a sharp breath, chest heaving, eyes squeezing shut, knuckles turned white from gripping the headboard. She let the breath out in a soft moan. The feeling was indescribable. It was uncomfortable, but at the same time, more amazing than anything she could imagine.

As Cara gently pushed deeper, her discomfort grew, and she squirmed her hips, trying to relieve the pressure, but nothing worked. It was strange, so strange, and she was about to ask Cara to take it out when Cara curled her finger, pressing against a spot that made sparks of pleasure ignite in her belly and between her legs. "Oh," she murmured, parting her lips to get more air.

"That's right, oh," Cara echoed, dropping her lips to Kahlan's ear. "You're so tight," she whispered, nibbling the lobe, making Kahlan shiver. "I can barely fit one finger inside'ya... but you feel that?" She moved her finger again, wiggling it inside of Kahlan. "You feel that? You're tight, but I'm in'ya so deep, Confessor... I'm your first, and I'm takin' your innocence. I'll never forget what you're givin' me right now. I've never taken anyone's innocence before... so this is a first f'r me too." Maybe that's why she was suddenly rambling like an idiot. She stopped being sentimental and withdrew her finger, sliding it smoothly back in again. The warmth enveloping her finger was delicious, and the tightness made her work harder to be gentle, and she found she liked that.

Kahlan couldn't focus on anything but the sensation of being filled, of her body's desire to stop the intrusion, but at the same time, the desire to take more. "More," she breathed, arching into the touch.

Cara shook her head. "That'll hurt, Sugar. An' I swore it wouldn't hurt."

"Oh," Kahlan murmured again, spreading her legs wider, rocking her hips each time Cara pressed in.

Cara kissed the side of Kahlan's face, dragged her tongue down until she could wrap her lips around the side of the Confessor's throat and suck. She left a mark, dark and glaring, then continued on to lick and kiss her way across pale skin to one peaked nipple, biting softly.

Kahlan was writhing under Cara's skilled hands and mouth, unable to hold still. "I can't believe you're actually inside me," she whispered, blushing at her own candor.

"Just wait 'til you look down an' see my head between your legs and feel my tongue on'ya and in'ya," Cara said, slowly snaking her way down, feathering kisses everywhere as she went.

She blew a warm breath over Kahlan's sensitized clit, and the Confessor cried out loudly, one hand shooting down to cover the area.

Cara snickered and took Kahlan by the wrist, removing her hand. "Don't you put your hand in my way," she scolded, blowing another stream of air, this one cool, watching Kahlan's hand twitch with the need to cover herself, but she didn't. "Good girl," she purred, extending her tongue and drawing circles over Kahlan's clit with the tip.

When Cara's mouth finally captured her clit and pulled it into the warm, wet space, Kahlan's magic surged through her, uncontrolled, and she wrenched herself from the blonde with a shriek of terror, scrambling off the bed as the magic released.

Cara watched in complete confusion at first until the air concussed around her, and she understood, a shiver taking her spine at what had almost happened, without her even being aware there was a chance of it. Kahlan had said, 'what if I confess you?', but Cara hadn't taken that seriously. Now, she was grateful that Kahlan had acted so quickly, and a lot less sure that being a cocky Mord-Sith or the Deputy of Stowecroft made her invincible.

After a few minutes, Cara realized that Kahlan was crying. "Hey, gorgeous, what's wrong?" she asked, scooting off the bed to crouch in front of Kahlan, who was curled up in the corner formed by the bed and the wall.

"I almost confessed you," Kahlan said quietly, blinking as more tears fell. "I almost confessed the one person in the world that's been a friend to me." She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Well, one of two people. Richard has been friendly, too."

"Not as friendly as me," Cara smirked, moving Kahlan's hand out of the way so she could take a turn wiping the tears. "It's my fault, Sugar. Don't you think on it any more, y'hear?"

"But I must," Kahlan insisted, shaking her head. "I should never have allowed you to touch me, I knew the potential danger. I was selfish, and it almost cost you your free will."

"But it didn't, and like I said, I ain't inclined to worry about what-ifs."

Kahlan wasn't convinced, but she at least stopped arguing. "I want to get dressed now," she whispered.

Cara grinned. "Y'have'ta wait. Shota's minions are washin' our clothes."

"What?" She looked around, and was surprised to see none of their things. "When...?"

"When we were sleepin'. They should be done in a bit, an' we can head back to Stowecroft. In the meantime, I expect you t'finish what I started. Get back on the bed."

Kahlan's heart sped up, and she looked away, embarrassed. "I can't, I don't even know how."

"You ain't gonna learn unless you get on that bed," Cara said, raising an eyebrow. "Believe me... it's worth goin' through a little embarrassment. You'll thank me after, I swear it." She pulled on Kahlan's hand, getting her to her feet, and pushed her lightly onto the bed. "On your back, Sugar."

Kahlan wasn't sure exactly when she'd started to like that nickname, but she did. Heart still pounding, she lay on her back, looking up at Cara expectantly.

Cara knelt in front of the Confessor, reached out a finger and pressed it to her clit. "Rub right here, nice an' firm, in circles, an' don't stop even when ya'feel like the pleasure's about t'kill'ya."

Kahlan twitched at the touch, and moved her hand between her own legs, unable to believe she was actually letting Cara talk her into this. But her body was thrumming with need, unlike anything she had ever experienced, and she wanted to know what it felt like to... finish.

Cara took her hand and placed it on top of Kahlan's, helping her find a rhythm before she backed off.

Kahlan used her free hand to pick up a pillow and put it over her face.

Cara smirked but didn't comment. "Does it feel good?" she asked instead, wanting to make sure Kahlan's fingers were in the right spot.

Kahlan nodded, the pillow moving with her head, and kept rubbing. Firm, circles, exactly how Cara had been doing it before, but with two fingers instead of one. She needed all the margin for error she could get.

Cara watched in silence, her own heart racing as Kahlan finally started to get worked up again, hips rolling, thighs sliding further apart, the muscles in her forearm rippling beneath the skin.

It was too hot, Kahlan flung the pillow away from her face and sucked in a deep breath, the cool air a sharp relief to her neglected lungs. She kept her eyes closed, moved her fingers faster, committing every single sensation to memory. The slow build in her lower belly was steady and warm at first, then grew exponentially as she neared release. Her thighs were sweating, her skin clammy, hair sticking to the sides of her face as she rubbed, forgetting everything else around her, her universe concentrated into one tiny spot.

Finally, the pleasure peaked, and she gave a piercing cry that echoed in her ears as the liquid heat wracked her body, hips bucking off the bed, thighs clamped shut.

Shame chased the pleasure, but she didn't let it win, because Cara didn't look disapproving, she looked... hungry.

When she had settled enough to fully appreciate the pleasure that had just consumed her, she smiled. "Wow," she whispered.

"Incredible, right?" Cara asked.

"Yes," Kahlan agreed. "I don't even have words."

Cara smirked. "Our clothes should be about ready, I'll yell for them."

"Wait," Kahlan said, sitting up abruptly. "What about you?"

Cara tilted her head. "What about me?"

"You didn't get to..." She let her words trail off.

"To come?"

Kahlan nodded.

"Say it."

"To come," Kahlan whispered, cheeks flaming yet again. "You didn't get to come."

"Don't worry about me, I can take care'a myself. We should get goin'."

Kahlan shook her head. "No, I want to--"

"Absolutely not," Cara scoffed. "You just had your first time. I ain't gonna taint it by askin' you t'reciprocate."

Kahlan's expression hardened. "You didn't ask, now, did you?"

"Kahl--"

"Are you afraid I won't be able to please you?" Kahlan asked, her voice clipped.

"That has nothin' t--"

"Then lie down."

"You don't have'ta--"

Kahlan placed a hand square on Cara's chest and shoved her down on the bed. "Unless you explicitly say that you do not want me to touch you, then I intend to continue despite any other protests you might have."

"You might not like it," Cara said, the first sign of any insecurity Kahlan had seen from her since they'd met.

"I might not," Kahlan agreed, moving between Cara's knees. "But I might." She leaned her face down and breathed in. "I really think I might," she almost growled. "You smell good."

Cara said nothing, but she inched her thighs apart and reached down to tangle a fist in Kahlan's hair.

Kahlan removed the fist forcefully, slamming Cara's wrist back to the mattress. "My show."

Cara was a little bit stunned, and watched curiously for Kahlan's next move.

Emboldened by the compliance, Kahlan gripped Cara's knees and forced them further apart, digging her fingertips into the pale flesh until she got a sharp intake of breath from the blonde. "Is this what you like?" she asked.

Cara considered her for a moment, and nodded. She didn't bother to ask how Kahlan came to that conclusion - she was a Mord-Sith. "I like it t'hurt."

Kahlan didn't know if she could justify hurting anyone simply because they liked it, but she would try. Cara had been gentle with her, because that's what she needed, so she would be rough in return, because that's what Cara wanted.

Cara would never have expected this in a million years. It was so surprising and exciting that she couldn't help getting her hopes up that Kahlan could deliver. When fingernails scratched fiercely down the inside of her thighs, she groaned. A pulsing sting was left in their wake, and it was crazy, and amazing. "Are you sure you--"

"Quiet," Kahlan hissed, slapping her thigh sharply, and Cara's eyes went wide. She wondered if she had gone too far, but the wide eyes darkened with lust. So she took it further. "Don't speak again unless it's to beg." Pause. "Or to answer a question, or help me please you." The look on Cara's face let her know she'd said something right. The blonde nodded, barely perceptible.

Kahlan was nervous, but not as nervous as she thought she'd be. It was far less scary for her to touch another than to be touched. She licked her way up one thigh and down the other, soothing the angry welts with her tongue. Cara moaned beneath her, and the sound was empowering in a way she'd never felt before. It was one thing to hold power over those that feared you, because they feared you, but it was another entirely to hold power over someone this way. It went straight to her head.

Cara couldn't believe she was feeling the Confessor's tongue working up and down her thighs, and she fisted the sheets to keep from grabbing Kahlan's hair and forcing her mouth where she wanted it.

Kahlan settled herself on her stomach between the blonde's legs, reaching out with both hands, using her thumbs to part Cara's folds and hold her open to inspection. Her eyes took in every nuance, every muscle, every inch of skin, every shimmer.

Cara made a noise she never wanted to hear herself make again. It was a pitiful mixture of a whine and a whimper that was unbecoming of a Mord-Sith. "What are you--"

Kahlan slapped her thigh again, raising both eyebrows in disapproval. "That didn't sound like it was going to be begging," she said, "or helpful. And I know I didn't ask you a question. Was I unclear in my directive?"

Cara swallowed, shook her head.

"No, I was not," Kahlan agreed, settling her hands back where they'd been before, gently pulling Cara open to her again.

Cara was not one to be embarrassed by sins of the flesh, but no one had ever dared do something like this to her, and the urge to squirm away was getting stronger by the second.

Kahlan held until she was satisfied that Cara had stopped resisting, then gently ran her thumbs up and down, eliciting a soft moan from the other woman. She pressed the tip of one thumb inside, exploring with little circles, and she liked the way it felt.

The soft touches were soon driving Cara to distraction, and she thrashed her head to the side to keep quiet. Although, Kahlan had said she was allowed to beg. "Please," she finally groaned.

Kahlan hadn't realized she was teasing until she heard the breathy quality in Cara's plea. "Sorry," she murmured, lowering her lips to Cara's dripping center, closing them over the tight bundle of nerves at the apex, and sucking. Tenderly at first, then harder, then hard. Cara's hips bucked into her mouth, a strangled gasp leaving the blonde's throat. Kahlan took that as a good sign, flicked her tongue over the little bud with rapid strokes.

Cara arched off the bed, desperate for more, to be filled. "Inside, please," she panted, running her hands through her sweaty hair, pulling it away from her face. "Your fingers, I need your-- want your-- fingers, please," she begged, unashamed to ask for what she wanted.

Kahlan turned her hand, angled it better, made sure she was in the right spot, and pushed two fingers into Cara. Slow, smooth, deep. She buried them all the way, eyes closing at the slick heat surrounding her hand. "You're so..." She blushed, wanting to say it, but the word was too vulgar when employed in this manner.

"I'm wet," Cara said it for her, unable to resist curling a hand in the Confessor's hair, but she didn't force, only guided. "I'm soakin' wet, on account'a you," she breathed, appreciating the fullness that Kahlan's fingers provided, and the sheer, stark pleasure of having such an inexperienced mouth on her clit. It was a thousand times better than if Kahlan had done this a thousand times before.

"Help me please you," Kahlan whispered. "I want it to be good."

"It is good," Cara promised. "It's so--" Kahlan thrust and she groaned, "--good."

"But how do I make you come?" Kahlan breathed.

Cara nearly did just at hearing Kahlan say that. "Confessor," she hissed, throwing her head to the other side, clamping her thighs around Kahlan's head. "This," she said, reaching to touch her clit. "Suck on this while y'fuck me with your fingers."

Kahlan eagerly complied, sucking at Cara while she thrust her fingers, and the tighter she could feel Cara's body winding, the rougher she became, sucking harder, using her teeth, curling her fingers and scraping on the way back out each time. Finally she could just tell that they were almost there, and she bit down, adding a third finger, and Cara came completely undone with an unearthly howl.

Shocked didn't begin to cover it. Kahlan bit her, and knew to add another finger even though she'd never done this before. Spasms of pleasure seared through her, shaking her to the core, and her hips jerked off the bed so violently that Kahlan's free forearm came down across them to hold her still. She rode it out, Kahlan's fingers milking every last drop of energy from her body. She lay panting, winded, and so satisfied it almost hurt.

Kahlan withdrew and cleaned her fingers with her tongue, savoring the taste, and crawled up Cara's body, laying on top of her. "That was incredible," she said. "I have never been part of anything so beautiful."

Cara... blushed. She could feel her face heat up, an unfamiliar sensation, and knew she was blushing.

Kahlan's eyes went slightly wide, and after a minute of awkward silence, she laughed. Sweet and gentle, a soft laugh not meant to tease, and she kissed the blushing blonde. "It's about time," she whispered. "I've been doing that all day."

"No one's ever called me beautiful," Cara admitted sheepishly. "I ain't used to it."

"Well then they must have been too afraid to," Kahlan said, kissing her again. "Because you are beautiful. Everything about you is. Your hair, your skin, your eyes, your lips, your body..." Another kiss. "All beautiful."

Cara's blush deepened, started to spread down her neck, and she suddenly felt too hot in her own body, like she was suffocating. "Stop, you'll kill me dead," she begged, lifting an arm to cover her face.

"Now you know how I feel when you say dirty things," Kahlan told her. Another kiss. "Do you think it's safe to return to Stowecroft yet? Richard must be worried about you."

Cara nodded. "Lemme get our clothes." She wriggled out from underneath the Confessor and went to the door, peeking her head out. "SHOTA!"

The witch woman came down the hall, gliding effortlessly, not in a hurry despite Cara's shout. "Yes?" she asked, breezing past Cara into the room, a slow smirk forming as she inhaled the scent that lingered in the air. Hawklike eyes turned to Kahlan, amusement dancing in them. "I see the Confessor has finally been defiled," she said flatly. "I was beginning to worry."

"Why would that make you worry?" Kahlan asked, managing not to blush this time.

Shota's eyes flashed. "I was not speaking to you, child."

"Shota," Cara warned. "Where's our fuckin' clothes?"

Shota shot a glare toward Cara, but waved her hand, and one of her servants came scurrying into the room holding their clothing. "I trust you will be gone within the hour?"

"We'll be gone within ten minutes, long as our horses are ready," Cara answered, grabbing their things and tossing them onto the bed, starting to dress.

Shota nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her.

--

As she watched the two ride out of Agaden Reach, Shota smiled. She had done her part to send the prophecy down the correct fork - she had provided an opportunity for Cara and Kahlan to meet, bond, and share intimacies. She was only grateful that the opportunity she provided had proved to allow events to come to pass. Now, the quads would leave Stowecroft, the Mother Confessor would remain there with Cara, continuing to learn to fight and defend. The woman she had once loved would be happy and fulfilled, she would protect the Mother Confessor with her life, and Kahlan would do the same in return. War would be abated, Darken Rahl defeated, the Keeper kept confined to the underworld, and Agaden Reach would be safe from those that would seek to harm it.