Chapter One"Now, now, quit whimperin'." The tall woman pushed the ten-gallon hat back on her head, wisps of black hair slipping across her forehead. She bent down to one knee. "After all, 'tain't like it's yer money." She smiled in a way that she might have thought friendly, but would have put the fear into a gila monster. Frightened blue eyes stared back at her, tears running down milky cheeks and dampening the blue bandana that had been tied in the trembling mouth. "Boss, it's getting late." Clem Burke glanced outside, down the dusty street, to see if anyone was watching, but saw nothing but the horses he'd tied outside the bank shortly before. "Sweet Lorraine" Stargill looked up from her study of the gagged face before her. "I'm only havin' some fun here," she snarled. "We got time. The bank don't open again fer ten hours… we'll be long away 'fore anyone notices." She placed a callus-hardened finger under the chin of the gagged bank teller. "You wouldn’t want me to rush things, wouldja, darlin'?" Clem exchanged a glance with the hard-faced blond woman that was the third member of their party; they both knew that Sweet Lorraine's dallying would get them caught one day. And it was such a needless risk! After all, hadn't the plan worked to perfection? They had cased the bank for days. Clem Burke and Blanche Dickson had pretended to be husband and wife, applying for a loan to start a new store, and while the bank manager prattled on about services and interest payments, they had learned everything Sweet Lorraine needed to put the plan in place. They had hit the bank just before closing. While Blanche kept the manager busy enough not to look at the clock, Clem had let Sweet Lorraine in, and in moments had a gun to the guard's head. "This is a robbery," Sweet Lorraine had announced, brandishing the Colt .44 that looked twice and big and ugly as it did in any man's hand. The bank manager had spluttered and raged until Clem's Baker shotgun rapped him sharply on the back of the head; he then cold-cocked the guard, as well. Clem then turned his attention back to the frightened employees, the ugly maw of the shotgun glaring blackly at them. "All right, ladies," Lorraine drawled. "We're gonna relieve yer vault of some of its contents… and we're gonna need you to be nice and quiet while we do that." From the leather pouch over her shoulder, she drew out a roll of rope, coarse but flexible. "Clem, you start loadin' them sacks," she called over her shoulder. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the two trembling bank tellers: one was a tiny blonde who looked as though she were going to pass out at any moment; the other was a brunette with hair to her shoulders, a wonderfully pouty red mouth, and clear blue eyes that were trying to hide their fear. Lorraine poked the blonde with her gun. "Blanche, you truss this one up." She turned to look at the brunette, her gaze lingering on the firm breasts against the thin calico fabric. "Me… I'm gonna take care of this li'l gal." The brunette opened her mouth to protest, but the tip of the cold, oily gunbarrel on the roof of her mouth stopped her. "Shut up yer mouth, honey, and don’t make me no trouble. You just settle back an' let Sweet Lorraine wrap y'up good." The tall woman slowly withdrew the gun from the teller's mouth, drinking in the fear that radiated from her face. "Oh, yeah. Now turn around, li'l lady, and put yer hands behind yer back." The shivering girl did as she was told. Lorraine slipped a large hunting knife out of her boot, sliced off some lengths of the rope… and began. She started by crossing the wrists over each other, behind the girl's back. Her fingers wrapped themselves around the slender wrists, and Lorraine felt the beating of the pulse… frantic, terrified… Lorraine fed on it. She looped the rope about the wrists, and watched it crush the dress's patterned sleeve against the milky skin. She saw the hands flinch as they were turned and bound together. Lorraine took another length of rope, and reached around the front of her captive, letting it settle gently about her torso… then pulling it hard, up under the woman's breasts; she positively chortled at the gasp that elicited. "Mmmmm.." the tall bandit breathed deeply. "You shore smell purty." The lewd compliment was punctuated by a sharp tug, as Lorraine used the rope to outline the breasts in a manner almost obscene. Clem watched, fascinated. On one side of the room, Blanche was trussing the blonde in a businesslike manner, fastening the wrists and ankles, and roping the arms to the torso. As he watched Lorraine, though, Clem became aware of being acutely uncomfortable. The big woman's hands seemed somehow to turn the act of tying up a prisoner into an act of romance... of lust. The sight of the trembling brunette's body being warped fully to Lorraine's will was nearly causing his mouth to water… among other physical responses. With the woman's hands tied behind her, arms roped to the torso, Lorraine paused, smiling into the clear blue eyes. "Now, my little filly... we don't want you hoppin' out the corral, do we?" She reached down to the bottom seam of the calico dress... and began to raise it slowly up. Clem swallowed hard. His experience with women's legs was usually limited to the two-dollar whores he would indulge in after a bank job. Not a one of them had the milky-white skin of this lovely young woman... and Lorraine was exposing that flesh to him, an inch at a time. He reckoned he'd die of heart failure if Lorraine actually took off the gal's high-heeled boots, but the dark-haired robber satisfied herself with hiking the dress up above the girl's knees. In one hand, she held more rope, to tie the trim ankles, but she allowed herself a moment to lightly pass her rough palm along the inside of the creamy thighs. "P..please... what are you doing...?" The girl was crying, now. Clem had a flash of something that might have almost been shame as he watched... but Lorraine had no such qualms. "Hush up, little pigeon. You be a good girl for Lorraine 'lessen you wanna find out some interestin' places I can tie these here ropes." She bent her head and nipped the quivering lower lip in her teeth as her hand slid all the way down the girl's leg to her ankles. Releasing her hold on the girl's mouth, Lorraine crossed the ankles, the fingers of one hand holding them together while the other looped more of the coarse rope around them. She tied them above the tops of the short stockings, and the white flesh was crushed and scraped as the loop was pulled tightly. Lorraine then placed her powerful hands on the girl's hips; after rocking her back and forth in this position for a moment, she rolled her over onto her stomach. "All right, now, li'l dogie," she laughed, "You and yer friend gotta stay put." She took the bound ankles and pulled the girl's legs up and over her back. If she noticed the stifled gasp, it slowed her not at all as she bent the legs uncomfortably, and brought bound ankles to meet bound wrists, fastening them to each other. As the young bank teller lay helpless, face-down on the floor, she felt the bandit's callused hand run lewdly along her buttocks. "Nice little hogtied heifer you are, sweetie;" the woman's voice was like poisoned honey in her ears. Rough fingers were now gliding through the silky brown hair, as though examining a new mount... and the girl chilled as that image came screaming obscenely into her brain. Lorraine held the girl's head still, using her tongue to lap up one teardrop from the soft cheek. Clem was right, though-- there wasn't time to go as far as she would have liked. "Shame I gots to be goin'," the big bandit sighed. Before the relief could flood into the bound form, Lorraine had closed the lanky fingers into a fist, and lifted the girl's head back, painfully, by her glossy mane. "But here's somethin' to remember me by!" Lorraine reached to her neck, and pulled off her blue neckerchief. Still holding her prisoner's head immobilized, she forced the sweat-stained cloth between the girl's fine white teeth, stuffing it up into her cheeks, filling her mouth. "Huuggh!" The girl made hacking, choking sounds as the foul-tasting rag invaded her mouth. She winced and shrieked as more of the coarse rope was wrapped around her head, painfully abrading her cheeks, holding the gag in place in her mouth. For a moment, she flailed her head from side to side; when it became obvious that she could not expel the intrusion, she tried to relax and breathe normally, to keep her gag reflex under control. "Nice an' quiet, darlin'. That's a good gal." Lorraine's study of the bound girl was interrupted by Clem's plea to be up and moving. After a few moments' argument, though, Lorraine acknowledged that Clem was probably right-- no point in letting all that lovely money go back into the bank after they had worked so hard to take it out! As she finally acknowledged Clem's urging, Lorraine planted a kiss on the top of the girl's head, inhaling the sweet scent one last time, and stood up. "Guess we better be goin'. Clem, take the bags out to the horses." The big man grunted resentfully, but with the look of a man who knew upon which side his bread was buttered, he slung the shotgun and headed outside. "Lorraine, why'd you take so long?" Blanche was still worried that the big woman's dalliance had kept them in the bank a dangerously long time. As if on cue, there were shouts from outside, and the single Crack! of a pistol shot. Clem came staggering backwards into the bank: he had evidently dropped the sacks to unsling his shotgun and draw down on someone... but the neat black and red hole in the center of his forehead showed that he had been too slow. Lorraine and Blanche were stunned speechless as the hulking form crashed to the floor, the shotgun clattering toward the front door of the bank, and out of their reach. It was kicked outside by a soft brown leather boot... a boot at the end of a shapely, muscular leg that looked as though it had been poured into a pair of denim pants that would have shocked Mr. Strauss into blushing. Blanche was goggling as her gaze moved up to the light-blue cotton shirt with the glittering star pinned just above the swell of firm breasts, and the red bandana tied about a throat that might have done for an especially elegant swan. Hair the color of ripe wheat cascaded down from below a brown Stetson hat, and ice-blue eyes were regarding the two surviving bandits. "Your friend was stupid and slow. For your sake, I hope he was the only member of your party so afflicted. Get 'em up." The mean-looking black mouth of a .455 Webley-Fosbery pistol was steady on the two robbers, and for some reason, Blanche had the horrible sensation of it looking to spit lead straight into her nose; she turned pale as she tried to suppress the nauseating thought. "What the hell--" Lorraine cursed. "A Marshal?" "Marshall Shane McQueen," the blonde's voice was clipped; the fading sunlight framed her in the doorway, the outline dramatic.. "What happened to old Brennan?" Lorraine spluttered. "Marshal Brennan's been... 'put out to pasture,' you might say. His afternoon 'siestas' were interfering with the performance of his duties. This territory's my jurisdiction now." Lorraine growled. She'd never had any trouble eluding old Brennan-- he was too slow and lazy to catch any but the stupidest criminals-- but she should have realized the U.S. Marshals wouldn't put up with that forever. Lorraine gauged the space between herself and the Marshal. She cursed herself for being so artful in her binding of the bank teller-- she couldn't use the girl as a shield without bending down to pick her up, and exposing herself to the blond Marshal's aim. The blond girl Blanche had tied was similarly out of reach. Which left only… Lorraine's left hand whipped sideways and she threw herself behind Blanche. She wrapped her arm around her erstwhile partner's throat, and jammed the gun into her temple. "All right, Marshal," Lorraine sneered. "You just back off, now." She waited… She waited, watching for the doubt to creep into the blond lawwoman's eyes; the gun barrel to lower... but she saw neither of these things. She saw the blue eyes narrow slightly... an eyebrow raise… "What do you think, Lady?" the woman addressed Blanche mildly. "Think I can plug her one, right past your head?" Blanche's eyes grew to the size of saucers, she pictured the slug headed straight for her nose… and passed out! "Blanche! No!" Lorraine desperately tried to hold the slumping woman up, but she couldn't lift her high enough-- and the sagging head caught on the barrel of the gun, yanking it from Lorraine's hand. "Now, lady--" Shane McQueen smiled. "Let's make this easy, OK?" With a snarl of rage, Lorraine hurled the unconscious Blanche at the Marshal. Shane instinctively threw out a hand, saw her gun hit the ground, and in the next moment, the big woman was upon her. Lorraine laughed as she closed with the blond Marshal; she'd met few men in her life that she couldn't physically handle, and no one had ever been foolish enough to send a woman after her. She squeezed the blonde in a crushing embrace, ready to choke off the woman's air… when she felt a booted heel smash down on her toe; she gasped, and found herself clutching air. "Arrgghh!" Lorraine grunted in surprise and pain. The blonde had slipped from her grasp, and ducked down, ramming an elbow back into the big bandit's midriff. She turned to face Lorraine, and saw the woman's face purpling as she tried to raise her gun. Shane McQueen lashed a booted foot in the direction of Lorraine's pistol, and sent it skittering across the room to the tune of foul cursing as the boot's toe smashed fingers against steel. Now both women had lost their guns… but Shane carried a second pistol in the elegant leather rig slung at her waist. Shane could draw with her left hand nearly as well as with her right, but in a situation like this, life and death were measured in tiny fractions of seconds. She used the momentum of her kick to carry herself forward, spun to avoid Lorranie's flailing left hand, and seized the woman's right wrist, applying even more pressure to the smashed fingers. "Ahhh-- ggaaggh!!" Lorraine whimpered, unable to block out the pain enough to bring her superior strength to bear. "Blanche--" she gasped, but the blonde robber was still nothing more than a heap on the floor. In the next moment, she felt the Marshal twist her arm behind her and encircle her throat with her other hand. Lorraine was now gasping for air, as well as in pain, and Shane reached to the ground and snatched up a length of the cord that Lorraine had used for binding her captive. The blond Marshal forced both of Lorraine's arms behind her, and wound the cord tightly about the big woman's wrists, knotting it with a precision that would have done any seaman proud. Now, she pulled her other pistol, and let Lorraine feel it at the back of her head as she used her other hand to make a loop in the cord, wrap it around Lorraine's booted ankles, and yank them up into the air, fastening the other end to the bar of one of the teller cages. "God damn you." Lorraine growled a curse as she lay on her stomach, legs pulled up behind her at a sharp angle, hands tied behind, helpless as a fish on a line. Shane ignored the coarse remark, and set about unbinding the dark-haired bank teller. She slid the damp neckerchief free from the girl's mouth, and was greeted with weeping gratitude. "I… I can't tell you… you saved… oh, that horrible woman…" "Here, untie your friend," Shane demurred, clearly somewhat embarrassed by the girl's display of emotion. She handed her Lorraine's knife, and went outside the bank. She returned, moments later, with a large set of metal cuffs. "Didn't know I'd be bringing prisoners back with me," she smiled as she cuffed the unconscious Blanche. Lorraine was still muttering angrily, cursing foully at the bank tellers, her former partners, and the Marshal indiscriminately. Shane frowned. "You know, I really hate to hear that kind of language." She took the damp bandana she had tucked into her belt, and knelt down beside Lorraine, who had managed to turn herself to her back, but was just as helpless that way as she had been face-down. "And I don't care to hear any more of it on our trip to the local hoosegow." Lorraine's eyes grew wide; the realization that she should have simply clamped her mouth shut came just a fraction after she spat out one last curse, and the lawwoman jammed the sweat-and-saliva-stained cloth into her mouth. "Not as effective as washing your mouth out with soap," Shane remarked cheerily as she used rope to bind the gag in place, "but I suspect it will teach you a lesson." As the Marshal busied herself with making the arrangements to transport her prisoners back to the jail, Lorraine raged into the foul gag, and thought to herself. Just you wait, lady… next time we meet, I'll be the one doing some teaching! ********************** "Comfy, ma'am?" Little Jill Brubaker chucked the handsome woman under the chin. The muffled whimpering was the pretty much the response she had expected. After all, a woman with half the contents of her underwear drawer stuffed into her mouth wasn't going to be making a lot of noise. Jill stood up from the bed, nodding to herself, as she began to dress. As she tugged the short bolero jacket over her small, muscular shoulders, she addressed her well-gagged captive. "Sorry for the deception. Sometimes it's necessary in these hard times." Watery brown eyes regarded her over the stuffed mouth, not with fear, so much as with hurt and confusion. "I know you thought I was looking for some intimate comfort from you. If it's any consolation, you're still a fine-looking woman, and you needn't feel ashamed that I wasn't looking to take what you were trying to give me." She'd used the ploy a dozen times... she showed up at the nicest cathouse in a new town, a woman, trying to make her way in a man's world, come upon hard times... who knew that better than a whore? And in so many of these cathouses, you found that the softest heart belonged to the madam. She was invariably a bit older, stouter, and past her prime... and susceptible to the sort of flattery she'd have disdained in her "working" days. This one… Jill couldn't even remember the name… had taken to the small gambler with the mannish hairstyle and finely chiseled features, as so many of them did. One thing Jill had learned in her travels-- a woman who dealt with men and their beastly desires all day could turn to pudding at the thought of tenderness from a woman. So, Jill had planted that thought. Had been invited upstairs, had sent her practiced thief's eye around the room as the two women had undressed, marking those valuables she could most easily carry, had watched her hostess recline languidly on the bed, her smile inviting Jill to undo the heavy corset… Jill had smiled, walked over to the bed… and seized the edge of the silk sheet and rolled it around the whore's body. At first, the woman's smile became puzzled… then Jill couldn't see her face any more as she rolled her around on the bed-- once, twice-- cocooning her in the scarlet silk. Once the woman was thoroughly wrapped, Jill had stripped cords from the bed's canopy and used them to bind the woman's legs and torso, trapping her completely in her silken prison. The whore laughed uneasily… whimpered… started to ask a question… and had her mouth stifled as Jill forced silk and linen undergarments between her teeth. Jill used a pair of bloomers to tie around the woman's head, holding the gag in place. Jill then moved quickly, filling her pockets and satchel with jewelry, money, and some silver pieces that looked valuable. She turned to leave, and cast one last look at the weeping woman, bound and gagged on the bed. Jill knew it wasn't the loss of the money or the valuables that drew the tears; it was the betrayal. She shrugged. Some day, this part of the country will get civilized… and there will be constables and magistrates, and a woman like her will have somewhere to turn… if they don't run her out of town first. Till then, it's every man… and woman… for themselves. She blew a kiss off her fingertips, slipped her black flat-brimmed hat on her smooth blond hair, and headed downstairs, quietly slipping out the door, into the dawn, to where her horse was tied up in back. She had just stashed the satchel in her saddlebag, when a voice spoke from behind her. "I think you've forgotten something." Jill squinted, trying to adjust her eyes to the angle of the bright sunlight. The voice belonged to a woman... a tall, trim,blond woman, who was framed by the early-morning sun at her back. "Who the hell are you? And what would you know about what I might have forgotten?" "I know that you forgot to return the money and jewelry you're carrying in that satchel... and you sure forgot to untie poor ol' Sal up in her bed." Jill didn't blink. "Lady, you don't want to be making trouble for yourself..." the threat trailed off as the woman stepped closer, and Jill could see the star gleaming on the woman's prominent chest. "U.S. Marshals are pretty comfortable with trouble, Slick." The woman was blond, with clear blue eyes, and a smile that bespoke rare confidence. "You planning on making some?" Jill watched silently, for a moment. Her right hand drooped lazily at her belt, the fingertips just tickling the pearl-handled Colt slung in the holster there. If there was a woman who could clear and fire from a dead start faster than she... well, Little Jill sure hadn't heard of her. '"Don't." The Marshal's voice had no threat in it... she might have been giving advice to a child. "Really... you don't want to do that." Jill didn't know if the woman had misread her, or simply didn't care, but if the bitch wanted to slap leather, Jill would oblige... and wouldn't wait to take ten paces, either. She kept her breathing low and slow... kept her eyes fixed on the blond woman's face... and with an almost imperceptible flick of her wrist, went to draw her gun. Looking back on it, Jill would have sworn the woman must have drawn first... must not have waited for Jill to make her move. How else to explain the fact that the pearl-handled Colt was still several degrees from the vertical when it was rocketed explosively from her fist? She winced in pain, but her instincts... both as a gambler and a gunslinger... told her to focus. She still had a trick up her sleeve... literally. Ignoring the numbness in her right hand, she gave her left shoulder a shake, delivering into her hand the Iver Johnson single-shot Derringer-style pistol that had settled more than one gambling discussion in her favor. The move was no slower than a nerve impulse along her arm... but, at that, it was too slow. The blond Marshal made no move to fan or cock her pistol, but simply twitched her hand a fraction, and the hammer slammed out another bullet-- this one nicked Jill's left wrist, and the tiny gun slipped to the dirt, Little Jill following it to one knee. "Agghh-- my hand!" Jill looked up at the Marshal, who was smiling thinly and not even breathing hard. "You've maybe not seen this before. A friend sent them from England... repeating revolver." Jill tensed her muscles, as though considering one more option; Shane McQueen dotted the ground around the kneeling woman with four more bullets in the space of little more than a second, dust flying into Little Jill's face. Before she had even emptied the first gun, Shane's left hand was holding a matching pistol, trained on Jill with rock-solid accuracy. "Now," the Marshal went on, conversationally, "let's go see how Sal is doing." She tucked the empty gun in her right holster, and picked Jill up by the back of her collar. Jill couldn't see if the woman still held a gun in her left hand, but she was too dazed by the pain in her hand... and by the display of shooting she had just seen... to resist as she felt her arms pulled behind her, and cold steel shackles clamp down on her wrists. She was yanked by her collar again, her hat tumbling to the dirt, and stumbled forward, back into the doorway now lined with gaping whores; the whole thing had happened so quickly that it was over before most of them had a chance to get to a window. Two of the whores had already rushed upstairs to free their employer, and Sal now came, staggering, down the stairs, red-faced and perspiring from the time she had spend bound in the bundle. "O.K., Sal?" The blond Marshal was grinning. "Oh, I'll be fine." Pain was traced across the flushed features. "I guess I just let my heart do the thinking that I know my head oughtta be doin'." Shane clucked her tongue, and gave Jill's collar a shake. "You oughtta be ashamed of yourself," the Marshal pontificated. "Playin' a cruel joke on my friend Sal." Jill didn't respond, and allowed herself to be led away. Her mind, though, was filled with images of U.S. Marshal Shane McQueen in a variety of painful and humiliating positions... someday... ********************** The wagon crashed along the rain-rutted road, and the prisoners were thrown against each other, side to side, over and over. "You'd think they could get us a wagon with metal springs in it," Jill observed, mostly to herself. She really hadn't expected a response, but the big dark-haired woman next to her laughed, and raised her shackled hands as far from her lap as she could. "They shore didn't skimp on the metal for these things!" Not the most original joke she'd ever heard, but Jill liked the idea that there was another woman in this group not cowed by their circumstances. She chuckled, introduced herself, and learned that her companion was called "Sweet Lorraine." "So how'd you wind up here?" Jill asked. "Damn U.S. Marshal stickin' her nose in," the big woman growled. "'Her' nose?" Jill repeated, surprised. "A woman Marshal? Gold hair and a fancy two-gun rig?" "That's the one," Lorraine nodded. "She git you, too?" "Bad, dumb luck," the little gambler chuckled wryly. "How did I know the old whore I was conning was in with that blondie law dog?" "When I get outta here..." Lorraine was snarling. "You'd like to get your hands on Marshal McQueen, right?" Jill smiled. "Oh, you just wait and see if I don't show that smarty gal a thing or two if I ever see her again." "Well," Jill mused, "what would you do if we did get out? Another bank?" "I suppose so," Lorranie shrugged. "You?" "Well,after I string up that Marshal, I know a few card games I might extract a few dollars from." "You gals are thinkin' too small." The speaker was a wizened Indian woman; Jill figured her for having been run out of town as a Medicine quack. "There's been some big changes in a town down South of here... the kinda place where a pair of sharp gals could make themselves a nice, comfortable livin', without worryin' too much about the law." Jill wasn't sure just how "sharp" she thought Lorraine was, but the idea was intriguing. "You two get us outa here," the crone went on, "and you head South." "And why are you tellin' us all this?" Lorraine scowled. "What's in it for you?" "I figger if I let you know there's a place nearby that you can hide out safely, it'll be worth your while to bust outa here. You do that, and I'll get back to my people with no problem... the lardbutts drivin' this wagon won't catch me once I get a start." Jill nodded thoughtfully. "Well, ma'am, this might prove to be right useful information. How do we find this here Paradise for free-thinkin' folks?" The crone smiled. "Follow that gully," she nodded to the South, "and you can't miss it." "We might miss it if'n you don't tell us the name," Lorranie offered reasonably. "Whut's the place called?" The crone smiled, showing gapped teeth. "Rio Bondo."