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Heaven Sent by Sophie
This is a sequel to another story which can be found at :
Innocence and Justice


Part 4

Within the time limit, Richie had showered, and dressed with surprising sophistication, considering the rough work for which he had packed his bag. He stood alone in the bunkhouse, brushing the dust, which seemed to get everywhere in the dry atmosphere, off the second pair of boots he had brought. The air about him was casual, jeans and a shirt, but the even creases and obvious care in the final appearance gave him something extra. Once upon a time, Richard Ryan would not have thought twice about stains on his clothing, or brushing his hair, but he smiled to himself as, staring in the mirror, he recognised Tessa's touch on him. He still missed the European beauty, her understanding of the excitement of youth, that sometimes, Mac could overlook. He was glad that her influence was still with him.

The young man turned from the small mirror and knew full well that Duncan's coaching came into play as his eyes rested on the long thin black pouch containing his sword. He hesitated for a moment as he considered whether to take the dangerous blade; he was leaving the ranch, the town was not on holy ground, but he was in the company of friends. It was the Immortal who made the decision, he reached for the weapon with the paranoia that helped all of his race live that little bit longer. The rapier slipped easily into the folds of the jacket he carried, and feeling that strange security which off set the internal warning system, the driver went out to find his transport.

Naomi was waiting outside for him as he entered the encroaching night. He was all eyes; the young woman stood on the walkway, smiling coyly at him as she gauged his reaction to her effort. Richie started at her ankles hidden by leather boots and worked up. He decided very quickly that the modern cowgirl image suited the slender frame. Legs, perfect in every proportion, stretched up for a time which sent the youth's heart a little faster until eventually being topped just below the buttock with a neat denim mini belted at a wonderfully trim waist. The girl's shirt was black and translucent, and excentuated her torso which was silhouetted by a lycra body. Naomi was his goddess without even trying, but the set of her hair and the depth that black eye pencil gave her eyes was enough to take her beyond description. The youth stopped his jaw from going slack, but as their gazes met, it was obvious to both what the other was thinking; it appeared that Naomi was not altogether unimpressed by her companion's choice of attire and the curl of her lips showed it.

"You look wonderful," Richie complimented, giving the young woman a light kiss on the cheek and wrapping an arm around her waist.

The female body so close felt good, but the youth kept firm hold of his hormones as the truth of their relationship stayed at the forefront of his mind. Yet, as his comrade's own arm slipped about his hips, an instinct caught in his brain and he glanced down at the soft features. He saw her smile, the twinkle in her visage and knew it was not the same. There was something about the girl's reaction which did not feel the same as it had ten months previously when the gesture had been accepted with a knowledge of friendship. The oddness that was a vague feeling left Richie bewildered by his own observational skills. There were mixed up signals that always passed between them, there had been since the day they had met, but this was something extra that gave even more of the wrong impression to his male instincts. It was quite a confused beau who walked into the main house to find the others.

Everyone was gathered in the dining room, the only place big enough to hold them all, and it was quite obvious who had, and who hadn't taken up the invitation due to the states of attire. Kim and Tay were sat at one end of the window seat that ran along the length of the room, talking and generally being ignored by their comrades - they were not planning on going anywhere. Annie was running around the room in her night clothes, being chased, by of all people, Biff, whose face was lit up in fun as she played tag - the tomboy was also not ready for a night out. Yet, her three friends seemed to have voted for the dance, all of them with their hair brushed and faces washed. No one else, except Agatha, Kathleen, Jon and Garion were not dolled up: Mimi was at her most outrageous, gold and makeup everywhere; all the youths had done fairly well in selecting neat, well presented clothing, and there was a distinct scent of after-shave in the room; Emily, Mary and Martha seemed to have shared out clothing belonging to the two `sisters', and there was no sign of the more demure girl as she tried out a Goth image for the evening; Amber was stood in the corner, looking as attractive as usual and drawing more than one pair of eyes; Luke was keeping a firm, proud hold on Jessie, who was happy to be appreciated by the love of her life.

Richie released his companion and with a whoop, grabbed the small body which charged up to him. Her giggles as his strong arms whirled her around him like a large doll brought anyone who hadn't recognised his presence around to the fact that the enigmatic man was back.

"At last," Jake made a show of looking at his watch, but was still grinning.

The other just shrugged and continued to play with his tiny charge. His return to the disclosure was by the way and teasing as he mused, "Well if you don't want me to drive you all to town..."

There were calls and murmurs from all the company in response, and the youth grinned impishly; he was in a buoyant mood, refreshed and ready for a good time.

"Okay, lets go!" he called enthusiastically, and bodies were moving in moments.

Harry went out with the youngsters to get them into the van as the elder two partiers stayed behind to say their goodbyes.

"Keep an eye on them," Kathleen advised, but did not seem too serious as her bright face followed the packing of the van outside.

"Oh, it wasn't so long ago I was one of them," Richie returned with assurity, "they won't get up to much."

The woman raised an eyebrow, but said no more.

Agatha held out her arms for Annie, and the Immortal handed her over with a little regret in his soul. At the lowest level of his subconscious, he didn't want to leave the unusual child, and he felt the instinct as a pang of guilt. Yet, the girl smiled at him, her eyes sleepy as she laid her head on the older woman's shoulder. Impulsively, the youth laid a kiss on the bonnie curls and whispered, "You go to sleep when Agatha tells you, and I promise I'll come look in you when I get back."

There was a brief nod of response; there would be no debate about sleeping tonight, the child was exhausted by the late night and the long day.

"Have a good time," the ranch owner told him as his attention moved up to her face.

"We will, thanks," Naomi responded and slipped her hand into the crook of her companion's arm, giving him a gentle pull towards the door.

"Bye," the pair continued in unison and them were gone.

The dance was being held in the church hall, the only building in the town itself large enough to house such an event. Even without Naomi's directions, it would not have been difficult to discover which building was the right one; the town of Indian Rock was not very large, one street mainly shops, a bar, a bus stop, a church and a couple of houses, but most of the people who frequented the place were from the surrounding farms. There were plenty of four-wheel-drives parked around the only building that, save the church, more than a storey high, and there was music coming from within. There were whistles and whoops of delight as the youngsters recognised the quality of a live band which was favouring modern country rather than the more usual impression of the music that had been joked about in the van on the way in.

Inside, the place was lit with various coloured lights and filled with the sound of the band at the far end. There were quite a few bodies already on the dance floor, moving in unison in one of the group hops, and others were scattered around in bunches, talking more with hand signals than voice. Some also stood by a table offering punch. A few looked round at the invasion of so many young strangers, but most were involved in their own thing. Only two people responded to the newcomers, one was a tall man in his forties, whose smile and the small pin of a cross in his collar gave him away as the minister, the other was an elegant woman of roughly the same age, who was led gracefully over on his arm.

"Hello, Josh, Harriet," Naomi greeted and accepted a light peck of a kiss as a greeting, and then turned to introduce anyone who stayed around long enough; only Richie was still by her side. "This is Richie Ryan," she breathed a look passing between her and her friends that the youth could not interpret, "and the mass heading that way are the group I told you about last week," she waved after the excited bunch.

"Welcome to our town," Josh stuck out a hand.

"Glad to be here," the young man returned and shook the offered palm warmly.

In the few minutes before Naomi dragged him onto the dance floor, Richie decided that he liked the Reverend Josh Wilks and his wife Harriet. They were a couple, who, at first, didn't strike him as the religious type; the man was not in a black shirt and white collar, the normal way he expected a priest to be, and Harriet certainly didn't dress in floral and deny herself makeup, as his in-built ideas told him a minister's wife should look. Both were warm, friendly souls, who seemed at peace with their world, happy with each other and their three sons, who were all enjoying the event.

The music was loud, the atmosphere comfortable and full of fun, but it took Naomi and Richie's lead to prize any of the strangers from the walls. The music varied through ordinary dancing music to the group moves, and the couple took the opportunity to encourage their charges onto the floor when the next universal number came along. The locals were welcoming and happily showed the newcomers the steps that went along with the rhythmic chords. The dance wasn't hard, and soon there was total accord in the dancers as they enjoyed the tune.

The band recognised the mood and continued for a good twenty minutes in similar fashion, and succeeded in mixing the two very different sets of people. By the time the music slowed to a track for couples, those without partners were quite happy to leave the floor and find some refreshments with their new friends. It did not go unnoticed who stayed with the tune; Luke and Jessie were no surprise, but Jake and Martha, as he picked up the courage to ask her, was a pleasant turn up for the books. There were a few looks and smiles when Naomi persuaded her companion to stay close, but Richie chose to ignore them and winked instead at his younger comrade in support.

It felt so good to be holding the slender figure close to him, and quickly, the rest of the world didn't matter to Richard Ryan. His universe centred around the gentle beauty who placed her head against his chest in a manner which made his heart jump a beat. Her touch was divine, so light it was like silk drifting over the small of his back through the thick cloth of his shirt. He had made love to women before, but he knew at that moment that if this was as close as he ever came to consummating the union of their souls, then it was close enough. There was more than the physical satisfaction of pleasant shivers up his spine that the young woman's `innocent' grasp around him inspired; he felt the calm and depth of mental alliance. The supernatural sense of possibility sung in harmony with the soft music and took him to planes of life that rose a heat inside him. Slowly, the intensity in his spirit grew, with each shift of the adorable creature, maybe to the music, the man perceived his grip on resistance drifting out of reach. At first, he didn't really recognise the tension in his muscles, as Naomi aroused his feelings for her, as a problem; the feeling was pleasant, he felt whole and natural with his soul mate. It was as his desire looked up into his gaze, her face open and showing a love he couldn't deny, that he understood the instinct in his soul. He could have easily bent a little and placed a passionate kiss on the sensuous lips that were asking him to respond, but reality was not that far away. The large wooden cross now sat on the young woman's wall and had been replaced with a smaller, gold necklace of the same symbol, and it glinted up at the possessed male. It presence reminded him of vows that Naomi seemed to have forgotten, and very suddenly, the young man refused his ardour. His reaction was sharp, jarred by the self-destruction of the moment, he released the girl and backed away. The youth didn't understand the sadness and shock in the eyes of his love, and he turned from it rapidly, confused and angry at how close he had come to forgetting. There was more than one pair of eyes on his back as he retreated from the building at speed.

The air outside was beginning to cool, and its freshness was welcome to damp the heat inside the young Immortal. Yet, it did not calm the angst that the encounter had caused in his spirit. The young man was shivering as he flattened himself against the outside wall in some kind of defence to the feelings that were running about inside his being. The youth was angry, but couldn't find the source - was it his near indiscretion, or his awkward reaction to it, or at Naomi for just being there, or the fact that he hadn't taken up the offer that had been presented? Richie didn't know which, maybe it was a mixture of them all, but it wasn't an agreeable emotion. Yet, it wouldn't go away.

Diversion came in an unexpected guise; first Richie stared madly up at the clear, starry sky, but its midnight blue held no solace, so he turned instead to glance down the deserted street. He recognised a short, surreptitious figure heading towards the bar; it was Randy. The prospect was not good, and quickly, the chaperone was back in control and headed after his wayward quarry. His personal emotions were drowned by the responsibility he felt for the teenager, it was a welcome distraction.

Richie wasn't sure what he was going to say, or do, as he stepped inside the door, but he knew it would result in Randy being propelled from the public bar in one form or another. It was almost a hunting instinct that the boy's wanderings caused in the young man, and his eyes were alert, his body taut as he scanned the smoky interior for his charge. As his gaze fell on the young form, a sense of, I-should-have- known, sunk into the group leader; Randy was standing by the pool table, already in aggressive conversation with those who were playing. There was money on the cushion surround, and it was obvious by the stance, that the cowboy on whom the youth was centred was taking the bait. As soon as he gauged what was happening, Ryan moved in to stop it.

"Randy," he called on his way over, "put that money away now."

Not one, but two hostile pairs of eyes laid themselves on the newcomer and he stopped a few paces away from the large pool player.

"He's hustling you, Man," the ex-street-punk disclosed, and then gritted his teeth as the response from the man's companions was laughter.

The young man was enough of a judge of character to see the adverse reaction that such amusement caused in the bar patron. His shoulders raised, he straightened, and the glare that Richie received told him that such news was not welcomed.

"What business is it to you?" the cowboy demanded coldly.

There was not much point in responding, the youth was not going to rise to any confrontation. Instead, Ryan turned to his subordinate, who by now was looking no more than defeated.

"Pick up your money, we're leaving," the Immortal ordered firmly.

There was no defiance in the boy, he just turned and reached for the ten dollars he had lain on the table a few moments ago. However, it wasn't going to be that easy, as another palm dwarfed Randy's as it covered his fingers and held him down on the wood.

"Leave the money," came from the mouth which was fast becoming clear was affected by drink.

"Come on," Richie reasoned as calmly as possible, "give him his bill back and get on with your game."

"We made a bargain," the giant turned on the newcomer and stared down on him, "and he ain't gonna back out now, kid or no kid, that money's mine by forfeit."

The elder youth snorted, he was no going to be intimidated by a half drunk lout, and he snarled back, "You'd have lost anyway."

That caused some more laughter from the three other men around the table, and with a sinking feeling, Ryan realised he too had been baited. The cowboy's eyebrows raised and he sneered, "Well, lets find out."

His lips pursed, hands on hips in consternation, the young man glanced over to his immature hustler. The look in the boy's eyes said lets take them, and coupled with the hostile attitude of the challenger, Richie couldn't deny his sense of mischief. His gaze was set hard as he glared back up at the stranger; he paused for a moment, and then shrugged, "It's your funeral."

There was a gleam of predatory guile in Randy's eyes as he watched the balls being set up. His chaperone bit his tongue and backed away from the game, well aware that he'd just done the wrong thing as a responsible adult. He hovered guiltily in the semi-gloom around the pool table where its covered light didn't reach, and watched. The game unfolded quickly, and it was obvious who was the better player. Richie tried to dim his sense of satisfaction as the unnamed cowboy began to lose badly. The teenager was an expert, and he toyed with the man, letting him catch up and then potting ball after ball. Yet, Randy was aware of the position in which he had put his superior, and he hurried the game to a close. Within a few minutes, the black ball went down with a final, sufficient clunk. The boy grinned up his opponent, grabbed the two bills on the table and then turned rapidly to his companion. The look on the elder player's face was not happy, so, with a quick nod of dismissal, the pair headed towards the door at as casual a pace as they could manage.

A call of `hey!' followed the hustlers out of the door, and they were well aware that the part inebriated rival was heading after them.

"The hall, now," Richie urged, speeding up considerably once they were in the open.

Randy was not arguing, and they were trotting as they crossed the street. Both tactfully ignored the call which daggered across the quiet night, but there were fast sounds of boots on tarmac as their pursuer tried to catch them. However, a saviour appeared at the door to the hall in the shape of Minister Wilks. Richie thought quickly; he grabbed the collar of his companion and hissed, "Remember the poor box?"

He received the affirmative and continued, "Well, we're gonna do a version of that," then he turned to Josh and called, "Minister Wilks, Randy has a contribution for your roof fund."

There was a groan from beside him, and the young man empathised with the emotion he perceived; he remembered such situations with Father Macey only too well. The young man grinned broadly and brought his charge to a smart halt in front of the holy man. There was a pause as Josh looked expectantly towards the boy, and with a tap on his shoulder from his companion, Randy eventually held out the money in his hand. The Immortal glanced backwards, and grimaced as he turned to his comrades; greeting the local churchman didn't seem to have thwarted the big cowboy, and he was still coming. His meaning was understood by the perceptive priest, and he was wearing a serious frown as the pool player approached. The look was aimed at the newcomer, and it slowed him; the set of his features began to change into a consideration of what he was doing and whom he was approaching. The giant stopped a few feet away, hovering uncertainly as the heavy gaze was laid upon him.

"Anything we can do for you, Kyle?" the broad preacher questioned ominously.

"Um," the man shifted on the spot, looking a little sheepish, "we were playing pool, and.."

"And?" Josh demanded, his tone sharp.

"Er, nothin'," the cowboy quickly changed his mind and turned on his heel.

"Shame on you Kyle Gravels," Josh called after him, but he was smiling to himself as he scolded the man's folly, "betting on a child. Go home to Dolly and sober up."

However, the gaze he then laid on both Randy and his chaperone was a mask of seriousness over his amusement.

"This type of behaviour will get you nothing but trouble," the man advised the teenager carefully.

Randy did have the conscience to look guilty, but Richie knew that one hiccup would not stop the young hustler for long. Instead of dwelling on the point, however, he patted the kid on the back and told him, "Go on inside; ask Amber for a dance, you might be surprised."

The street kid coloured at the suggestion, but he was grinning stupidly to himself as he quickly took the opportunity to escape a lecture. The young man watched him go, but was not about to follow, he knew what kind of impression he had given in the hall only a few minutes ago, and he wasn't ready to face Naomi with his feelings in the mess that they were whenever he thought about it. Josh did not seem at odds with his companion's reluctance to join the party, in fact, there was a look in his eyes as the youth turned back to him which spoke of an understanding. It may have been the chaotic nature to his new friend's face, or something he had been considering for some time, but Richie wasn't surprised when his comrade took a deep breath and began quietly, "I wonder if you'd mind if we had a talk?"

There was no need to vocalise what it would be about, that was obvious to both men. The youth stood silent for a moment, judging his own emotional state as well as his associate's intentions; this was a relative stranger, but the manner of the address told him that however unfamiliar he was with the minister, the preacher knew him rather well. The decision did not take much, there did not seem to be any reason to object, so Richie nodded meekly. The other gave him a supportive smile and indicated away from the noise of the dance.

"Lets walk," was the suggestion and the younger fell in beside the cogitative form.

There was silence for a few moments as each man contemplated their own thoughts; Josh was considering an opening sentence, Richie was caught by the turmoil that returned to his being with the ending of the Randy incident. The anger had abated, but there was still confusion in his spirit when it came to the jumble of signals that his desire had been displaying. Despite the smooth image he could portray when it came to handling the opposite sex, when it came down to it, the Immortal was still young and was wondering if he was misinterpreting the messages. Inside, he hoped that talking to someone who had known Naomi for the months in between their last meeting would answer some of his doubts. There was something about a holy man, whatever creed, and the air about Josh Wilks put aside any pretence that Richie might have been carrying around with him; when the elder glanced at him, he saw the perplexed, unsure boy that the disastrous moment had inspired. His tone was calm and reassuring as he disclosed, "Naomi came to me almost as soon as she arrived here, at first just to offer her help with the church (in which capacity she had been a great boon to both Harriet and myself)," the man smiled and his companion recognised the young woman's generous touch on him. "But later I encouraged her to talk to me about her calling and then she began to tell me about you.

Have you and she discussed your feelings for each other recently?"

"Not in any practical way since the night we first admitted it," Richie answered, his manner pained, and ironic as he continued, "I thought that was obvious."

"Yes, I thought as much," Josh nodded to himself and there was a deeper consideration in his eyes as he paused the flow; there was no urge from the second to break the moment, and so it lasted for quite some time as they continued up the dark street.

The music was a distant, hollow sound, being replaced by the wild night as the small piece of urbania gave way to an open road and the wide valley. There was a light breeze and the Immortal let it run through him, cooling the passion, easing the tension. He was more collected when Josh finally stopped their pace and faced him. There was careful examination in the man's eyes as he thought his words through one more time, and wondered if he was doing the right thing.

"What is it, Josh?" Richard Ryan asked smoothly, feeling more in control of his emotions.

"I really think Naomi should be telling this to you herself, and maybe she will, but after picking up the pieces you so hastily left in the hall, I believe that this is something you ought to know," came out quite fast, more for justification than information; the youth merely waited for further explanation, and it came more slowly as the minister caught himself, "When Naomi came here, she and her siblings were still in shock over the loss of their father, her faith was a great help to her in the first few months and I encouraged her to explore it. That has led to it changing in ways neither of us really recognised at first, but in he last few months, she's been examining the nature of her calling and how it relates to her life - in one aspect, you."

Richie's face was darkening as he picked up on the edge to the disclosure. His suspicion was obvious to the priest, who was looking for the light dawning, and a hand was laid quickly on his arm to emphasise the next revelation, "Naomi is considering revoking her novice vows and becoming a lay member of our church."

The youth backed away, unable to contend with the idea; the girl was everything to him, and the taboo nature of their relationship was so ingrained that the contradiction was frightening. He had seen the strength that the faith had given his beloved, and at that moment, the very thought of anything else meant destruction of something that was exquisitely perfect. He was angry at the thought, as enraged as he had been at the consideration that he had nearly crossed the line himself only minutes ago. Josh began to tame the fire that rose so suddenly.

"Richie, don't get mad about this. Please listen to the rest of what I have to say," the man was emphatic.

Ryan stood where he was, resisting the urge to deny all and walk away from the conversation. He was a taut, uncomfortable statue, his brow creased into a frown, his eyes flaring occasionally as the statement went round and round in his mind. Yet, he listened.

"Naomi grew up among Nuns, a demonstration of faith at its extreme, all, or nothing, very noble, but not for everyone," the reverend told his companion slowly and deliberately. "She chose to follow that faith when she experienced a trauma, some kind of news about her life that she still hasn't revealed to me. At that time, it was a comfortable choice, she would still be near her family, and she went into vows with their blessing. Yet, you all went through another horrific time when Patrick was killed, and she was torn away from that life through necessity, more than that, she met you and questioned her decision for the first time. At first, she was afraid that admitting she wanted something else from life, other than the convent would mean losing her faith. She came to me for guidance, and I tried to give her enough information and reassurance to make a decision. I have not tried to influence her one way or another, but slowly, considering that completing her vows would mean leaving her brothers and sister over whom she now sees herself as a guardian, and also knowing what she feels for you, her choice has nearly been made."

"And I'm the only deciding line left," the youth nodded to himself, feeling oddly guilty and illogically angry at his position.

"If I'm honest, then yes," Josh answered flatly, "her decision could still go either way at the moment, her faith is very important to her. Naomi is still a little confused about what she wants, and your presence here has brought a long time of contemplation to a head. What happened in the hall tonight was a result of her indecision; you know her well enough to realise that she wasn't intending to lead you on, it just happened that way. She's very upset about it, feeling guilty and wondering if you'll ever go near her again. All I can tell you is that she needs to talk to you."

Richie just stared at his associate, at a loss to meet the truth in the statement. At that moment, it wasn't only his goddess who was feeling mixed up and in emotional turmoil. In reality, he had only been close to Naomi for a matter of days, the time in between had been spent a long distance apart with only phone calls and letters to keep the relationship alive. A few days ago, he'd been so sure about the ground on which they stood, however hard it may have been - now, in a few minutes, everything to which he had come to terms was shifting and it swallowed his sanity when he thought about it. At once there were passionate possibilities, but also devastation of what was running about in his thoughts, and it was all very hot to handle.

Yet, even as he considered that his mind would never come back under control, something cut through the tumult, a sweet, gentle touch of knowing to be. Josh was surprised when the young man's gaze faltered and he turned his head, there had been no sound he had heard, but sure enough, there was someone approaching. Naomi had been crying, there were streaks down her sculpted cheeks and she carried a handkerchief, but there was purpose in her eyes as she neared. The mess of thoughts didn't go away, but it dimmed to manageable proportions as the sight of resolve inspired the youth back to ground. His action was instinctive as he held out a hand to the slight figure. There was a creature close to him once more in moments as the offer was gladly taken, and despite the insecurity he was facing, Richie felt a warmth at the embrace.

"I'll leave you two alone," the Minster disclosed quickly, and with a helpful smile, was gone with diplomatic speed.

"We've made a mess of this one," the young man broke the short silence which followed with the heavy irony he felt.

Naomi laughed, half a sob, half a girlish giggle, for the first time, her companion wasn't sure how to interpret it. Only as she pulled away and looked up into his face did he see the choice in her eyes. There was so much emotion between the couple, so much that had not yet been spoken, and before he faced the possibility of being the means by which the young woman broke her vows, he needed to vocalise his concerns. He was serious and almost a little cold as he chose the roll of devil's advocate.

"This is a big decision," he murmured, standing away from the body which he wanted so badly.

"And I've had a long time to make it," came the almost rehearsed response.

"What's making you change your mind?" the young man challenged, hiding his chagrin at the hurt the icy question inspired in his deity.

Richie turned half away from the beauty, trying to ignore his own internal conflict and listen to her words as she pressed with heartfelt emotion, "Lots of things. The thought of leaving the others - I mean there isn't a convent within two hundred miles of here and I'm responsible for them now with Patrick gone. The other alternatives - Josh and Harriet both serve God every day, and they haven't abandoned life to do it."

"Being a Nun doesn't mean abandoning life," the youth found himself perversely arguing the case against his own happiness as he considered the awful possibility of destroying his love's faith if the decision was wrong. "Darius was a friend, he was a monk, and he loved life and people. Don't ever see your vows as running away."

"Why not, that's what I was doing," Naomi screamed, and her companion turned rapidly to face the storm in the delicate body; the girl calmed a little at his attention, but continued in a vehement hiss, "I was terrified of the idea of living forever - looking at Annie and Garion and Tay and Harry, I couldn't handle the idea, so I used God as a security blanket. Then you came along, and I started to wonder if there was more to life, and eventually I realised that I want you, Richie."

Immortal, man, boy, Richard Ryan heard the words and couldn't understand his reaction; the youth was frozen by the clear, coherent reasoning and he couldn't define why. His pause was taken as rejection by his Venus, and she yelled at him again in defence of her own sanity, "What is it, Richie, after all this don't you want me?"

There was a desperation in her tone, and it inspired the youth to action; he was rough, uncontrolled as he grabbed her by the shoulders and stared deep into her soul. The man was poignant in his madness as he tried to explain, "I want you more than life, and that scares me. I felt everything for you all at once the first moment I saw you; I can't think when I try to work out all of this. Look at us, we're shouting at each other and neither of us can think straight. Yesterday, everything was plain, now, I see myself destroying something that makes you what you are. I can't handle this so fast, Naomi, we've only been back together for a day. Please, I know what you were asking in the dance, and at the moment, I don't think I'm safe to give it. Please can we take our time, we have four more days, lets use them to work this out slowly."

Richie wasn't sure what the look in his darling's eyes meant, only that she had listened to his words, but had maybe not understood his reasoning - hell, he didn't comprehend it either. All he could do was turn and walk away from the docile creature his tone had formed, his sane, logical mind telling him he was mad and the crazy part of his soul controlling the helpless psyche.

Richie, as promised, looked in on Annie when they returned to the ranch, but she did not stir even as their spirits touched, a house full of Immortals making her immune to the feeling. He left quickly, painfully aware that Naomi was waiting in the kitchen for him to finish in her bedroom; the trip back had been silent between them, the only pair of four couples now formed, who were stiffly awkward with each other. Most of the passengers noticed, but no one chose to comment on the cold, wet look in Naomi's eyes or the steel in her companion's. It was only as the youth entered the bunk house that the younger Romeos decided to offer some advice.

The group leader was silent and looked weary as he walked into the hubbub of a discussion on the dance. However, he soon became the focus of attention when Jake called across the room, "What is wrong with you, Man?"

The look the teenager received was hostile, as the confused soul's first reaction was defence; however, his gaze softened as he remembered from whom the comment had come, and he turned absently back to finding himself a towel for the bathroom.

"What are you doing back here?" Luke joined in with enthusiasm, "she's hot for you, you got it made."

"Naomi is a novice Nun," the young man responded flatly, the argument sounding hollow and insufficient.

That fact had not been left out of the Immortal's previous descriptions of the young woman, and Randy came in quickly with, "Doesn't being a novice mean she can change her mind."

"Her calling is very important," Richie countered without much enthusiasm, drained by the confusing pit of emotion that was his spirit. "I would be encouraging her to break her vows."

"She doesn't need any encouragement!" came a quip from an unexpected source in Michael, "she wants to get into your pants all on her own."

There was no verbal response to the effrontery, only a glare that if had been physical would have killed. Yet, the kids weren't going to let the subject drop that easily. Despite their companion's obvious hostility to the conversation, Jake came in again with, "Look, Rich, I've seen couples before, and I can tell when things are right. You two are hot, Man. I've never seen two people give off so much steam."

"Enough!" the young man ordered suddenly, his eyes blazing, unable to handle the good-natured observations.

The room was ominously silent as the tense figure stalked quickly to the shower.

End Of Part 4