"Excuse me...Coming through... Pardon me." I made my way through the crowd into the night. The Tavern was full of people. The cold New Year air nipped at my cheeks. I was tired and sore. There was laughter and easiness in the air. Snow fall had begun just after dark, so the ground reminded me of a thin cotton ball. Finally, a moment all to myself. The day had been hectic with and I was sure the evening would never end.

I had spent all morning and afternoon decorating The Tavern. Wrapping pine garland down the stair rails, along the bar and in front of the stage. After Riddick hauled in a fresh tree, I donned and dressed it in ornaments and ribbon. From Christmas to New Years', Mere stressed the importance of keeping the seasonal look of The Tavern. "Our guests drink and spend more money when this place looks alive and festive; especially when you decorate." That's what mere had told me. At first I was completely excited, but now I felt used and abused.

"Hey Rivy, we need you." The showgirl could see my exhausted work. "Think of it this way, we'll all have tomorrow off." I smiled as I reached for her. Truth was I loved The Tavern, even if it did work me to an early grave.

"Yeah, your right, but I'm still tired." As I came into the hall, music and laughter filled my ears. There was storytelling, singing, flirting and drinking. No smoking or gambling was allowed in the main hall. All though a "friendly" game of cards could be seen in several areas. I smiled to one of the bouncer's who was carrying a guy who'd been making trouble. "Hey Marshall," I mouthed. He gave me a nod.

"Where's Mere?" My eyes scanned the room. There was Courtney, the handler, Sarah, the accountant, Sonya, the entertainer, but no Mere. I moved with little struggle through the crowd; bobbing, weaving, crawling over and sometimes under the wave of customers that crowded The Tavern. When I was sure she wasn't in the main hall, I started asking around, occasionally calling over the large crowd.

"I think she's taking care of some guests." Showgirl Sherry swerved around so fast, I almost ran into her. Her face had this gleam it that reminded me of someone who loved a challenge. "And Girl, they are some handsome men." She handed me a tub then pushed me towards the tables. "Now, we gotta hurry and collect all the dishes so that the kitchen can wash 'em and so we can refill these drunkards' bellies." We giggled to each other. I picked up various dishes; plates, cups, shot glasses, wine goblets and trays.

I listened to the storytellers, sung with the drunks and watched a poker game. The game was fun to watch. I tried to guess silently who was lying and who was telling the truth. Although I myself could never lie, it was interesting to try and weed out which poker face was which.

The evening was lively and hyped. Men laughed and women gathered their tired children; taking them upstairs to the large play room Sherry and I had suggested to keep customers in The Tavern longer. There were plenty of blankets and a few old mattresses there for mothers to drop off their little ones then continue to join in the festivities too. I had just delivered another tray full of cutlery and dishware, I caught sight of Meredith talking to the bartender, seeming to give strict orders.

I waved Tim over and begged him to take my place for a few minutes. When he saw the direction I was heading he replied, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

He knows me all too well, I thought. "I'm just curious about these guests that have the town talking." He gave me a snort.

"Ah, let her go," Daphne intervened. "Besides, me and the girls are dying to know just who those men are."

"Did you see them?" I asked Daphne excitedly.

"Only one, when I was walking back from the storage room. Girl he looked like absolutely delectable. I just wanted to waltz right in that bathroom and show him a good saddle ride myself." Daphne started to fan herself. "I think I saw heaven in them eyes. I'm getting hot just thinking about him. But Susan saw the whole bunch when she took out the trash. When she came back she was pretty much panting with lust."

"Well, Courtney told me there were quite a few of them. Maybe they're a pack or gang or something?" We both laughed when Tim, snorted.

"Don't worry, Timmy dear, we all love you." Courtney and I chimed together. With that we smiled and kissed him on the cheek. Tim just blushed and went back to work mumbling about girls. I caught a glimpse of Mere leaving the bar and heading out.

I stealthily made my way down the hall to follow her. The passage went behind the bar to the back of the building and two flights of stairs. I knew where she was heading. There was a huge lounge room with wall windows that faced the town and captured the view of the country, as well as four large gambling card tables. It was used for private parties and really rich people who wished to "dine away from small talk" as Mere put it. When she entered, I quickly snuck past the door and stood on a barrel. From there I hoisted myself up onto the roof to catch a better view. I opened the stutters then climbed back into the building through them. It lead to a secret room which I frequently explored. The room had a mirror which I could see through to the guests and which they could not see me.

Sherry was right!

I had never seen such good-looking people before. They moved with elegance and grace and made gestures that gave them such princely features. Their skin was flawless in complexion, they had soft hair in various natural colors, clean postures and masculine bodies, some larger than others. But they were all strong, that was said without doubt. They are beautiful. I thought to myself. It was no wonder they came through the back. Every girl in the saloon would want to entertain them and leave the regulars to their own amusement. I wonder what they are doing here?

"I think you should try the red river chili." My eyes focused on one in particular. He looked to be several years old than myself but I was sure he was younger than almost all of the others. He sat quietly listening to Mere give off a list of food and beverages she felt he would like.

"I wouldn't order the chili; you never know what Chef will throw in there." I commented to myself. It was the truth. One day it was pork beans, hot sauce and beef; the next, black pintos, fire red tobacco sauce with hot seasoned chicken. Chef said he just used what he had, which usually caused the faint of heart to faint or worse, take an all night reservation in the outdoor restroom. Mere refused to have the toilets in The Tavern smell profusely.

"Meredith, who is that girl?" His voice was deep, yet full of youth and life. But that wasn't what held my very breath.

"What? What girl?" she answered with a rather irritated tone.

"In that room over there, near the small door." He nodded his head my way. The room seemed to stop and stare at me; waiting, listening. "You're already caught so why not come out." The young man approached the mirror; Staring straight at me. After a bit of hesitation, the small door mentioned before by my discoverer, hidden by an old rocking chair in the corner of the room opened at my expense. I crawled through and came face to face with the people in the room. Especially, this man, who had exposed me.

"Alright then, what do you suggest?"

"Excuse me?" My voiced was slightly choked. I was gawking at him. Up close his face was pure fascination to my senses.

He leaned in close to me until we were inches apart, while annunciating each word. "What do you suggest?" He had earlier motioned me to stand next to Mere. As he bent forward I couldn't help but catch his scent, warm, musk that wasn't dosed in hard whiskey or bourbon.

"That depends; what do you like to eat?" I answered cautiously. "Greens or meat?"

The man gave a wolfish smile revealing two teeth that reminded me of an animal. "I'm quite... carnivorous…" His eyes gave a glint of intelligence as if to test me, "…and I have an audacious appetite, so again, what do you suggest?" His eyes seemed to explore my body and my... mind.

Such a words! And they were used by him! Most people didn't even know that word existed. And yet, he used it so sensually, almost sexually.

"Hmmm, then I'd say an old fashion steak cooked in red wine with very few greens for you.... you probably like yours rare." He seemed impressed that I knew my vocabulary. This was not an understatement. Let's just say it was a product of my reading obsession. I'd meant it to be a joke. I wasn't serious. I thought he laugh but instead he gave me a smile so melting I thought about what would happen if I'd faint.

"You have no idea." Some of the men laughed while others the older men grunted in disapproval.

"I'm River, nice to meet you," I offered after Meredith pinched me to remind me of my manners.

"The pleasure is truly mine." I knew he wouldn't offer his name.

"Can I get you anything?" I asked innocently.

His eyes flashed a bit of something with sadness before commenting that my assumption was correct and that Mere was to get him what I'd suggested. "Anything, more?" I asked a final time.

"Not willfully, so how about a little conversation?" I was sure he saw the curiosity light in my eyes, but I knew my place. I had no right to question his comments, especially when he didn't offer his name. When he realized I wouldn't ask, he continued. "I don't see you around much, why is that?"

"I work the day shift most of the time and perform the night shifts anytime someone can't make it." I thought for another moment and he waited patiently for me to gather my thoughts. "Then again, Meredith doesn't like me going out at night either." His eyes seemed to contemplate some kind of dark understanding. They pulled the next words from my heart. "I'm often targeted at night since I'm so small."

"How long have you been here?"

"Awhile." He smiled at my aversive answer; knowing what I was up to. Just because I couldn't question him didn't mean he could have all the answers he wanted. Anyone with half a brain could tell we were challenging each other.

"What has someone such as yourself been doing to preoccupy your curiosity?" He gave another wolf like smile. "Spying on people?"

"Research," I corrected with double meaning. Then the battle began.

"What how old are you?"

"I'm not old, fairly young I'd say." We stared eye for eye.

"How young?"

"Well, not too young that I would make meager wages of wealth but not old to roll in cash like the other girls here." I expressed.

"Hm," he looked thoughtful. "You are much too modest for a bar wench but—"

"A showgirl." I interrupted. While it wasn't my job, those were my friends and they weren't the kind to sell their bodies so easily to various and multiple men. He'd irked me with his terminology.

"My apologies" he replied sincerely. "For a showgirl," he corrected, "but not a simple minded hand either." He once again overlooked my being. "My, how you do intrigue me."

I shifted my weight to my other foot, placed my hands on my hips and shoved mannerisms out the window. "Are you flirting with me?" I wasn't the first time, but now my curiosity had won over so my mind was gonna be spoken.

"Maybe." He watched my reaction.

I decided to switch the subject."You're all together so I'm assuming this is some pack." I motioned around the room.

"Why a pack?" A older man asked. I had forgotten that anyone else was in the room. His voice actually scared me causing a little jump.

"Well… all of you," I slowly turned around, "remind me of predators. Ready to pounce upon they're next prey. It's kind of weird, but at the same time is really… cool."

"Cool?" Another person asked, making me jump again. I really had to remember other people were here other than me and Mc Dreamy.

"Yeah like a brotherhood, like a pack. You know all for one and on for all?"

They all seemed amazed. Either I hand hit the mark or I was one dazed gal. But hey that's what sensed between this bunch of good looking men. In that moment, Mere returned with the food. "River, we need you to serve downstairs..." Then minded her manners and asked my very handsome fellow, "If that's alright with you?"

"Ahhh, yes, continue your chores," his eyes never left mine. "Before I so rudely distracted you."

He lifted my hand and kissed it very lightly and at that moment, my body shivered and my mind remembered a piece of the past.

I was hurt and in the middle of a pasture. My face wet with tears and my mind, traumatized. I shivered on the ground, waiting for death to claim me as it had the others.

"Are you alright?" a beautiful angel asked in concern.

I moaned in pain, my head was throbbing. "What should we do with her?" I thought I heard someone debating. There was a long pause. Perhaps they were gazing over the massacre. More voices in a distance could be heard. "Someone's coming." Bushes rustled.

"Think we should leave her?" A sniveling voice inquired.

"No, she'd die out here and that wouldn't make the boss happy," came a gruff reply.

"Do you think he'd really be that mad? We'll just say she left us no choice, make up a good story and keep it simple." A third voice chimed in.

"He wouldn't want us leaving the kid out here especially if she survived."The sniveling snake of a man assessed. Then he began to whine. "Ah man, this is all your fault; we should have never gotten so rowdy. It's gonna take forever to clean up most of this mess."

"Yeah, but we still… he'll want to see the body."

"It'll be fine, as long as we set the house on fire then we could say she ran in and didn't make it out." The men agreed to the gruff man's scheme if they couldn't find who they were looking for.

"Do you think we'll find her, tonight?" One of the other guys asked as they moved farther and farther away.

"It's too late back in town, so no one is awake to help her flee. She'd have to crawl all the way there unnoticed by us. If she is alive we'll find her.

Silence faded in. I'm going to die here!!! I screamed in my head. I could feel myself going in and out of consciousness. I felt light as if I was leaving the earth. My body felt as if it was swaying back and forth, through the life and death. Help, someone please, help me.

"Don't worry," The angel replied. "You're a lucky girl. Get some rest, your safe now, I'll protect you."

"Who are you?" I pushed myself to ask. "Are you angel?"

"No," the voice replied. "I am quite the opposite, now rest." And I drifted into slumber.

"Now rest."

Bright beams of sun flashed over my face. I rose from my bed, momentarily confused about where I was and how I'd gotten there. My clock said that it was about nine thirty in the morning. I pulled on a red dress with a gold V-waist and gold colored shoes. As I looked in the mirror I scanned myself in the mirror. My red hair was beginning to grow out. I had gotten cut short after a scissor incident with Maggie so that it would be even. I enjoyed leaving my hair in that cute spike bed hair style with bang swept to the side. My lips were full, unlike some of the girls here who had dainty little mouths. My body while it wasn't skinny, I certainly wasn't fat. I was somewhat gifted in the chest departed, with a medium waist and hips. I was also short. I couldn't be more than five feet.

Sighing, I left my room and headed downstairs. Christopher was cleaning the bar. "Hey need any help with inventory?"

Chris turned to me putting on one of his charming smiles that were often a big hit with our female customers. "No, thanks. But do you want anything?"

"No, why would I?" I asked grabbing a broom to start sweeping. I couldn't imagine why his question has suddenly made me anxious.

"Well thought you might like a drink, instead any of that tonic stuff Chef was making for you. Are you sure you don't want anything, should you really be doing such work?"

That made me stop and look up at Chris' worried face. "What are you talking about? What do you mean—"

"You know since you fainted and all."

"No way."

"Yes, way."

"I didn't."

"You did."

"I did." I slumped over the broom. Chris came rushing around the bar about ready to have a cow.

"Are you sure you sure you're okay?" He looked about ready to send for Doc., "maybe we should take you to—"

"How did I get back to my room?" I whispered harshly

"This guy carried you. If Mere hadn't been with you, I think Tim or Marshall would have charged him. We thought for a second you were being… taken advantage of." I gave him an apologetic smile, as he embraced me. "Don't ever scare us like that again."

"I'm sorry." It felt good to know others cared so deeply about me.

All day questions flooded my mind. Where had that dream come from? Were those people looking for me? Why did he carry me back to my room? Who was he? Where did they come from? Are they coming back tonight? There was only one way of finding out. "Time to do some research."