Disclaimer: The characters of Tessa Alvarado, Marta, and Colonel Montoya are copyrighted by the producers, Fireworks Productions and Paramount. No infringement or revenue is intended.

This story takes place immediately after "Death to the Queen"

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Noche Dulce by Ella Quince

From the shadows, Tessa whispered, "Marta, you're going to scold me again."

The Gypsy whirled around, pulling her shawl more tightly around her shoulders as if to ward off a blow. "Why?" she asked sharply. Her eyes studied the darkened doorway and the slender silhouette of the woman standing there. "What have you done? Or done to yourself?" Her voice took on an edge of panic and Tessa quickly stepped forward into the bedroom of the Alvarado hacienda.

"I'm fine... but my clothes..." She spread her arms and let the light of the candles play over her pants and blouse. The dark material has been colored a light gray by a dusting of ash and dirt.

"Ay dios," sighed Marta. "More laundry." Then, wrinkling her nose, she moved closer and sniffed the air. "Dirt I expect, but... gunpowder? How did--" She broke off and with an angry wave of her hand said, "No, don't tell me. I don't want to know... do I?"

"Probably not," admitted the young woman ruefully, thinking back to the explosion she had triggered in the tunnel of the gold mine. In better light Marta would probably find signs of singeing on the cloth, but no sense in alarming her any further tonight; morning would bring a calmer assessment of the damage, or so Tessa hoped.

"But it was worth the effort, Marta," Tessa grinned broadly as she stripped off her blouse. "If you could have seen the look on Montoya's face! He thought he had caught the Queen, but she outwitted him again."

The Gypsy did not react. Instead, with a brusque gesture she pushed Tessa down onto the wide canopied bed. "Your boots are filthy," she noted tersely as she wrestled them off.

"You're angry with me."

"No."

"Then you're still frightened for me," suggested Tessa gently.

Marta's lips, usually so full, were thinned with tension. "I have good reason to be."

"But Marta, you saw my destiny, you advised me to--"

"I did not!" said the Gypsy. "I told you to look for yourself; you saw, you chose. I have no control over your life, because if I did I would keep you safe and away from harm, so I won't have to bury--" She bit her lip to keep from saying more, or perhaps to cover the choking in her throat. After a moment she recovered enough to say, in despair, "I don't want to go through another day like yesterday, Teresa." A day in which for an excruciating hour she had thought the Queen dead. And even after finding her alive, the telltale traces of Tessa's wounds had threatened to reveal her identity that same evening at Montoya's party.

"I know, but I'll be more careful. It won't happen again."

So young, so sure of herself.

Not for the first time, Marta felt the unwelcome weight of her greater age pressing down on her shoulders. I know better. "You can't make that promise!"

She cast these words at her companion like a slap to the face. They fought the duel in silence, dark eyes locked in an unwavering stare. Above all else, they had never lied to each other.

"No, I can't," confessed Tessa at last. Reaching out, she pulled the older woman down beside her onto the bed and into a close embrace, their bodies molding together, supple and warm. "All I can promise is to make tonight sweet enough for a lifetime."

"Ah, reina de mi corazon," sighed Marta, so softly Tessa could barely make out the words -- queen of my heart. "That will have to do for now."

Once their lips touched, there was no longer a need for words.

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