Charlie walks alone down a dusty street in a little town not far from Amarillo, Texas. Her dark blond hair hangs in a long braid down her back. Her face is tanned. Small wrinkles frame her eyes and mouth. She wears snug jeans that hug her curves and a sleeveless shirt the same color as her blue eyes. Her boots lace up to her knees. A bow is slung over one shoulder. A quiver of bolts is strapped to her back and a large knife is bound to her thigh with crisscrossing leather straps.
She walks with purpose and a natural confidence. Always on alert; she takes note of every person and every building with careful scrutiny as she passes.
People stop whatever they are doing to watch this new arrival but she doesn't pay them any attention. She's used to people staring. It's not just her curves or her confidence that begs for attention. It's not the long hair or the blue eyes, and it's not her weapons. No, the first thing anyone ever notices about her these days is the scar.
Starkly white against the tan of her skin, the thick line of raised scar tissue starts just below her left eye, snaking down her face and throat and under the collar of her shirt. If her jeans ride low or her shirt rides high, it is quickly evident that the scar continues below her waist.
The main street of this dingy little town is maybe a block long. She slows as she gets to the end of the block where the bars are located. She pulls a faded piece of paper from her pocket and compares it to the sign on one of the bars. She takes the two steps up and opens the door.
The interior is dim. Lanterns are scattered here and there but smoke hangs in the air, dulling their impact. She takes it all in without expression and makes her way to the old bar top that lines the back wall.
The man tending bar watches her approach with narrowed eyes. His salt and pepper curls are short and his gray beard is trimmed close. His eyes are a brilliant blue even in the darkness of the bar. He takes a drag on a hand rolled cigarette and exhales slowly, still watching her approach. His expression is blank. He hasn't moved from where he's leaning. Behind him, an assortment of bottles stand against an old mirror.
She takes a seat across from where he stands behind the bar. She sets her bow and quiver on the bar before giving him her full attention. When she speaks, her voice sounds hoarse and unused even to her own ears. "Smoking will kill ya, you know."
"Promise?" Bass Monroe asks before sucking in another lungful of smoke.
Her lips twitch with a hint of a smile that doesn't develop fully. "Didn't figure it was really you."
"It's really me. How'd you find me?" He does not look happy to have been found.
"Wasn't trying to. But someone drew this. I saw it and figured it might be something I wanted to check out." She pushes the paper his way. On it is a crude drawing of the sign above his bar's door. It's an upside down crown. The peaks on the crown form an M. Below it are the words Jimmy King.
He glances at the paper but doesn't acknowledge it further. "Drink?"
"Good stuff. No watered down shit."
He nods before reaching under the bar to retrieve a jar of something clear. He pours a glass for each of them. She takes a whiff and winces. "Rocket fuel?"
"At least it's not watered down."
She takes a drink, enjoying the burn as the grain alcohol spills down her throat. "It's been what, ten years?"
"Last I heard, you were maybe heading to South America."
"I was there for a while. Came back."
He shrugs, taking a drink from his own glass. "Didn't like it."
"I remember you being chattier," she says.
He shrugs, watching her. "What do you want?"
"Nothing." Charlie takes another drink, watching him. He's different and yet the same. He's older and grayer. The wrinkles she remembers are now deeply carved lines around his eyes. He's clearly taken good care of himself (other than the smoking). His shirt clings to thicker biceps than she remembers. The vee of his shirt's collar shows a hint of a large tattoo on his sculpted chest. He looks very good.
Bass walks down the bar when a customer asks for a drink and then he's back. He's openly looking at her scar. "How far down does it go?" he asks.
"Most people pretend they don't see it." She takes another drink, her expression dark.
"I'm not most people."
"It starts on my face and ends above my knee. The worst of it is hidden unless I'm naked."
Rage sparks hot behind his eyes but all he does is nod. "Did he pay?"
"Who?" She knows though. She understands what he's asking.
"The fucker who cut you?"
"He thought I was unconscious. I slit his throat with his own knife."
Bass narrows his eyes. "If I'd been there, I'd have tortured his ass and then slit his throat."
"I was bleeding out and all alone. Didn't have time to pull out any of his toenails."
"Why were you alone? On one of your death wish solo trips?"
"Jesus." She drinks what's left in her glass and slams it down. "I'm always alone." The pain in her voice belies her stony expression.
Bass pours her another drink without being asked. "Where did you get that paper?"
She is surprised by the change of topic but shifts gears easily. "It was in Miles' things. I found it after he died. Says Amarillo on the back. Figured it might be nothing. Might be something."
"He never told you he found me?"
Bass pulls another cigarette from a small metal case and lights it, inhaling deeply. "Four years ago. Walked in like he owned the place. He was here for a week. We talked a lot. Worked shit out."
"You didn't even blink when I said he had died." She shakes her head. "You already knew."
"His wife sent me a letter. Miles and I had written back and forth a few times. He'd told her to tell me."
"He was happy at the end. I thought it was just his wife and their kid but maybe it was because you guys had cleared the air too."
"I don't want to talk about them anymore." His eyes are shuttered. "None of them."
"Okay. Tell me about your ink." She nods to his chest. "What is it? A bird?"
"It's a bunch of stuff. Most of it is hidden unless I'm naked." He smiles then, amused at having used her words from earlier. The smile fades as quickly as it had appeared. "How about you? Any tattoos?"
"No. The closest thing I have is this." She holds up her arm, flashing the familiar Monroe brand on her wrist. "Besides, after I got cut up, the idea of mutilation for fun just doesn't do it for me."
"What does do it for you then?" his eyes are dark and hot. Charlie feels heat swirling deep within and it's not due to the rocket fuel she's drinking.
"Whatever feels good, I guess. High quality whiskey and a willing body once in a while usually does the trick." She hesitates. "No promises. No regrets. That's what does it for me."
Their eyes hold for a long time. He smokes and she sips her drink.
The silence isn't uncomfortable exactly, but she finds herself becoming flustered which isn't like her at all. She feels the need to turn the tables. "Did you ever think about it back then?"
"What?" he asks but she can tell by the look in his eyes, that he knows exactly what she's asking.
"You and me? Under different circumstances maybe?"
"Yes." He doesn't hesitate and he doesn't expand on his admission. His gaze burns into hers.
"Me too." She looks around the bar, feeling a sudden need to break the eye contact. When he looks at her like that, she feels too exposed. There are a handful of people sitting on barstools or at tables. Nobody is paying them any attention. When she looks up again, he's gone. Startled, she looks for him and sees he's walked to the other end of the bar.
He casually takes a shotgun from where it had been hanging on a back wall. "Everyone out," he says. He doesn't even really raise his voice, but then the sound of the gun cocking helps get everyone's attention.
Charlie stands but stops cold when he points the gun at her. "Not you, Charlotte. Everyone else."
She sits back down slowly, memories of all the crazy General Monroe stories she'd heard over the years echoing in her head. When the last of his customers has left, he locks the door and hangs the gun back on its perch. He walks back over to where he'd been standing before and pours them another round.
"Why did you do that?" Charlie asks. "With the gun?"
"I wanted them to leave."
"Because I want to see the rest of your scars." He stubs his cigarette out in a small glass dish. "Come with me."
She follows him through a door and up a flight of stairs. His rooms are on the second floor. They walk through a small kitchen with a table and two chairs. There's an ice box and a small wood burning stove. On the other side of the kitchen is a bedroom. It is furnished sparsely with a neatly made queen sized bed and a bookshelf that holds both his books and his clothes. Everything is tidy and impersonal. She looks at him and sees he's watching her again. "Show me," he says.
"Seriously, you want to see my scars?"
"I seriously want to fuck you, Charlie, and I intend to do that, but I want to see the scars first."
"This is stupid. I didn't come here for -"
He moves into her personal space without touching her. "Yes, you did. It's the whole reason you came here. We are the only two people on earth who know why we shouldn't do this. Now that the rest of them are dead, we can do whatever we want."
"You said you don't want to talk about them."
"I don't." He reaches out tracing the white line of raised flesh from her cheek and down her throat. At her collar bone it breaks briefly before starting again. He leans in close, his lips at her ear. "Show me."
She doesn't argue, pulling her shirt over her head. Underneath she's wearing a simple black bra. She reaches behind her back and unfastens it. Letting it fall. His fingers continue to trace the scar as it swoops around her left breast and then trails down her ribs. A mass of curling white lines break up her abdomen. "Jesus," he says under his breath. He can't trace them anymore. At this point there are too many to single out with his finger.
Charlie is breathing hard, feeling his hands on her as he takes in the ugly gashes that mar her skin. She watches as his gaze takes her in. His jaw is tight. "I'm sorry. I should have been there."
"No. This isn't your fault." She brings his hand up to her breast and he cups the fullness without further encouragement.
He leans in, his lips ghosting over hers. "I want you." He kisses her then with a fierce intensity that rattles her to the core. He's opening her jeans but she stops him, leaning down to untie her boots and unfasten her knife. Then he's back at work. Within minutes she stands before him, naked and exposed.
Bass falls to his knees, pressing soft kisses across the mottled mass of scars that flower across her abdomen. He traces the big one with his tongue as it snakes away from the mass and down her thigh. He stands up again, pulling her body to his and Charlie melts into his arms.
Their mouths meet again as Bass cradles her ass in his hands. She moans against his lips and reaches for his shirt. She pulls blindly at the buttons and when they are free, she shoves the shirt over his shoulders and onto the floor. Charlie leans back, taking in the intricately inked art on his chest. She runs her fingers along his well defined shoulders and pecs. A huge black bird is front and center. The bird's wings spread wide onto Bass' shoulders. In the bird's talons is a strip of cloth. From each end of the cloth hangs an emblem. She recognizes both. One is the USMC seal. The other is the Monroe Republic insignia.
She's inspecting the bird's feathers, noticing that she can detect tiny letters in some of them. But Bass is getting impatient. He reaches for his belt and then his pants are on the floor.
Charlie takes in the view. He's all hard muscle and masculinity. She eyes his cock which is thick and throbbing. "How old are you?" she asks, breathless.
"Fifty-eight, I think." He grasps his cock firmly, stroking it as he takes her in. With his free hand he reaches between her thighs, smiling when he finds her wet and ready. "Doesn't seem to be a problem."
She shakes her head. "No problem."
"Get on the bed."
Charlie backs toward it and sits when her calves hit the edge. He motions for her to scoot back so she does, stopping when she's lying in the middle of the bed, propped up on her elbows. "You are so beautiful." His voice sounds awed. Reverent.
Charlie shakes her head in the negative.
"You are beautiful. No question. Touch yourself for me, Charlie. Show me what you used to do when you would think of me."
She reaches down and touches herself, tentatively at first. Her pussy is drenched and she moans under her breath when her fingers brush against her clit. He's standing at the end of the bed, slowly jacking his dick as he watches her. "Now use your wrist."
She doesn't understand at first but suddenly his request is clear. "The brand?" she asks.
"Yeah, touch yourself with my brand."
Charlie spreads her legs wider and shifts her weight so that she can line her wrist up against her sex. She begins to rub the raised flesh of the M against her clit. She looks up at him as she does it. Her heart is pounding and her body is quaking with need.
Bass moves in then, crawling between her legs and grabbing her hand, bringing her wrist to his lips. He licks her juices from her flesh before kneeling down and burying his face in her pussy, licking her slit with long lingering stripes. "You taste so good," he says before going in again. He pumps two fingers into her heat as he licks and sucks at her clit.
"Monroe," she begs. "Please."
"Please fuck me." Her pupils are blown and she's so close to orgasm, she worries that she's going to explode before she can ever feel that cock deep inside.
He moves up her body, pressing his lips against hers. He licks into her mouth, kissing her urgently as he lines his cock up against her drenched opening. He sinks in slowly, pushing steadily until he's buried to the hilt.
"Goddamn." His voice is low and raspy.
He pulls from her slowly, dragging his thick cock along her sensitive flesh. He shoves back in and repeats. It's a mix of fast and slow, deep and shallow. He finds all the spots that drive her crazy and when he senses that she's close he picks up the pace. "Come for me, Charlie." His words are whispered in her ear just before he bites down lightly on the lobe.
She comes apart, shaking and quivering around his cock. He pauses while she recovers and then he starts to move again. He fucks her with slow and steady strokes, alternating between kissing and watching her. He feels his balls tighten and knows he's almost there. Charlie senses it too, locking her legs around him in an unspoken invitation.
Bass roars as he comes, buried deep inside her heat. He collapses on top of her in a boneless heap. They are both breathing heavily. Hearts are pounding.
They lie motionless for a few moments. Bass slowly pulls out, watching as his dick is followed by a mix of her juices and his semen. "I should have asked," he says.
She involuntarily touches the mass of scars on her belly. "I can't get pregnant so it doesn't matter."
He moves up to the head of the bed, leaning against the wall and pulling her up next to him. She snuggles into his chest, tracing the feathers on the bird tattoo. "I wasn't lying. I didn't come here to get laid."
"Yes you did."
She doesn't say anything right away, turning her attention to the tiny letters in the inked feathers. She squints and then makes out a word. "Connor." She looks up and sees his expression is guarded. She looks down again, finding another name. "Miles." Her eyes dart around. "Shelly. Angie. Gayle." She looks up into his face. "I don't know some of these names. Old girlfriends?"
"Shelly was, yes. Gayle was my Mom. Angie was one of my sisters." His tone is expressionless.
Charlie continues to explore. She sees other names she doesn't know. Her breath catches when she finds the one she'd been looking for. "Charlotte," she says, tracing where her own name is inked on his chest just above his heart. "You have my name on your skin."
He gently brings the branded wrist to his lips once more. "It was the least I could do."
"And my name is right over your heart."
He shrugs. "I just gave the guy a list of names and he put them wherever they fit best."
She watches him closely. "Bullshit."
"Does it really matter?"
"Maybe." She relaxes against him and he wraps his arms around her shoulders. "If we'd done this back then, would it have changed anything?"
He gently kisses the top of her head. "What was it you said? No promises. No regrets."
"So, I should leave," she says. But she doesn't leave. They drift to sleep, satisfied and exhausted. The next morning when they wake, she rides him at a slow and leisurely pace. "I love the way this feels," she says.
He doesn't say anything, his eyes trained on her as he memorizes the way she looks in this moment.
Later he asks what she's going to do next.
"I don't know. I don't have a home. Wisconsin was only home as long as Miles was there."
"What about Miles' boy? He's your half brother."
"He's a good kid, but he's a kid. I'm thirty-three. He's ten."
Bass nods in understanding. "You could stick around Amarillo for a while."
She meets his eyes, seeing something in his expression she hadn't expected, something vulnerable. "Maybe," Charlie says. "But no promises."
"And no regrets."