Tanner Home~ 8:30 am
Barbara and Mallory had taken off early to go over the details for this afternoon’s rehearsal, as well as the dinner that was to follow. Jason and Andi had gone shopping with Max, with Walter as their protector, and Kelli was still sleeping. Ezra found himself alone in the Tanner’s kitchen, talking to himself, and pacing
“Relax Standish. You love this woman; you want to spend the rest of your life with her…” Ezra groaned and sat down. “The rest of my life… What in the hell am I doing?”
Vin and Chris walked in the back door and assumed Ezra was talking to someone. They were both surprised to find him alone.
“Hey Ez, you okay?” Vin headed for the coffee pot.
"Brothers, what in the hell was I thinking when I asked Barbara to marry me? I'm not the marrying kind. I'm inconsiderate, selfish and totally enjoy having my freedom. I'm going to ruin her life." Standish replied.
Wide grins spread across Vin and Chris's faces in response to his questions irked Ezra. "I do not see the amusement in this situation.”
"Relax, Ez." Vin said, finishing pouring his cup of coffee and moving over to join the Southerner at the table. "You're just experiencin' pre-weddin' jitters. Everyone has 'em."
“Are you telling me that you had doubts about marrying Kelli?” Ezra challenged.
Vin sighed, lying to Ezra would solve nothing “No, I didn’t, but she sure as hell did.” He sat down across from Standish. “Kel…had never let her emotions rule her…a lot like you. She trusted me, but she didn’t know enough about real love to convince herself that we were doin' the right thing. Given half a chance…she would have been in worse shape than you are now.”
“With me, I couldn’t believe a woman like Sarah would give me the time of day, much less consent to marry me. I almost didn’t show up.” Chris nodded. “That would have been the biggest mistake of my life.”
"As it would be the biggest mistake of my life if I let my beautiful, compassionate woman slip through my fingers." Ezra acknowledged.
"That's right." Vin agreed. "I promise you that all of your fears about marryin' Barbara will wash away the moment you see her in her weddin' gown.”
“You’re right…it seems that Kel and I have more in common than one would think. I do love Barbara, and I know this is right for us. I just forgot why for a few minutes.” Ezra exhaled. “In case I have been remiss in telling you Vin, I appreciate your consent for us to use your cabin for a week. I know it is special for you and Kel.”
“Considering the need for security, it’s the best we could come up with. It gives you and Barbara privacy, and it’s within our security boundaries for the ranch". Chris stated. “We checked it out yesterday and everything is ready for you and your lovely bride.”
“I guarantee that you and Barbara will love it as much as we do.” Vin offered. Besides, it’s not the place that counts, but the one you share it with.”
"Assuredly so,” Ezra said with a smile. "Thank you, brothers for alleviating my concerns about my impending nuptials. I feel much more relaxed than I was only moments before."
"You are quite welcome." Larabee said with a laugh, “Anything to help a drowning man."
Standish chuckled, and the other two men joined in. "I would like to ask one more thing of you both...can we please keep the contents of this conversation between us?"
"You got it, Ez." Vin readily agreed and Chris nodded his assent.
Standish stood. “I am to meet with the contractors at nine. If we are to have a home ready to move into anytime in the near future, I need to be there. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I shall be on my way.”
“I’ll walk out with you. I need to get home and check on Grace and Linda.” Chris walked toward the door. “See you at the rehearsal Vin.”
“Later.” Vin said as he walked over to the sink, and rinsed out his coffee cup. After the two men had left, Tanner headed to the bedroom that he shared with his wife. Kelli was still asleep and he was glad. As the pregnancy progressed, she grew tired easily and with her difficulty in sleeping at night, any undisturbed rest that she could get during the day was good.
He stood in the doorway, gazing down at her as she slept and couldn't help thinking what a miracle she was in his life. Chris and the rest of his brothers had given him a place to belong, a family...but his redhead had given him a purpose for all the detours his life had taken to get here.
Kelli stirred and Vin smiled as he watched her open her eyes. “Good mornin’ beautiful,” he moved over to the bed.
“Mornin’,” Kelli tried to stretch and groaned. “Remind me not to do that.”
Vin offered her his hand to help her up. She was only six months pregnant, but she looked as if she was ready to deliver anytime, and getting up and down easily was becoming a problem for her.
“Thanks Tanner.” Kelli headed for the bathroom, and Vin sat down on the bed to wait for her. “You and Dad have a good ride?” She yelled through the open door. "The kids take off with Max and Walter?”
“Yep, we did, and yes they did.” Vin removed his boots, stretched out, and leaned back against the headboard with his hands clasped behind his head.
Kelli walked out of the bathroom about ten minutes later, and rejoined her husband. “Since you’re here, you wanna help me with somethin’?”
“Name it baby.” He swung his long legs over the edge of the bed, and sat up.
“I need to try on my dress for tomorrow, and make sure it still fits. It’s been two weeks since Barbara picked it up for me, and…I reckon I’ve grown a bit since then.” She now stood in front of Vin.
Reaching out with one hand to rub her stomach, Vin used the other to pull her closer. “I’ll help you, but I gotta say good mornin’ to the boys first.” He tenderly caressed her stomach area and spoke softly to the twins. “Rise and shine boys, you need to play all day so your Mom can sleep tonight.” He smiled when the babies moved in response to his voice.
“I think they wait to hear your voice.” Kelli laughed,” As if they need an excuse to get started.”
Vin ran his hands upward and sighed. “Unless you wanna go back to bed right now, we better get that dress.” He stood up and reluctantly moved over to the closet, and then brought out Kelli’s Matron of Honor dress. “Come here woman.” Vin took the wrapping off the hanger, and had the dress ready to go over her head.
Kelli dropped her robe and allowed Vin to maneuver the emerald green gown onto her oversized body. “Turn around baby, and let me zip it.” Vin stood back and looked at his wife. The emerald green that Barbara had chosen was a good color for Kelli. The dress was sleeveless, and had an empire waist design that worked well for her, and the V neckline accenting her breasts that had increased in size as her pregnancy progressed, worked for him. “You look beautiful Kel.”
She walked over to stand in front of the floor length mirror and gasped. “Lord Vin, how can you say that? I don’t look beautiful. I look…like…like a St. Patrick's Day float.” Kelli shook her head. “I can’t do this. I’ll ruin all the weddin’ pictures, and probably spill out of the top of this thing before the day is over.” Kelli was almost in tears. “I can’t even see my feet, much less wear heels.”
"So, you'll wear flats or slippers instead." Vin said, moving toward her. He came to a stop behind her and wrapped his arms around her. "You are even more beautiful now than you were the day I first set eyes upon you. There's life growin' inside of you Kel. Two perfect little babies that you and I created together. They are our little miracles and nothin' about the changes your body has made to accommodate them growin' can ever make you anythin' but beautiful in my eyes."
Sighing deeply, she leaned back. “To you maybe, but Vin there will be pictures…lots of ‘em. Pictures Barbara and Ezra will want to look at for years to come. All they’ll see is a big green blob.”
“Kel, the only thing Barbara and Ez will see when they look at their weddin’ pictures is the family that will be surroundin’ ‘em. When they look at you, they’ll see the beauty two people in love create when joined together.”
“Are you sure?” Kelli looked at the mirror again, her doubts evident on her face.
The Texan closed his eyes and smiled. His Kel was a sharpshooter who could drop a criminal with one shot, intimidate a suspect with her tough ass attitude, and conduct a helluva interrogation that would rival one of his own. She would defend him, and their children against anyone that might harm them, and would walk into hell to take on the devil himself for something she believed in. She was a great mother, a fantastic lover, and the love of his life. Yet she sounded more like Andi right now than any of those other things. She was a woman needing reassurance from the man she loved about her attraction, something he could easily offer, and find immense pleasure in doing so.
“Now I’m willin’ to make a few allowances because you’re pregnant baby, but no one, and that includes you, is gonna get away with sayin’ insultin’ remarks about my wife, or they’ll have to answer to me.” Vin spoke softly as he kissed the back of her neck, and tightened his hold on her.” So I reckon I’ll have to deal with you myself.” Vin unzipped the dress, carefully removed it, and placed it on the hanger, making certain it remained intact.
Making love had become extra special during her pregnancy, and they had found several positions that were comfortable for Kelli, and pleasurable for both of them. The intimacy they shared only enhanced the experience, and instead of lessening, their mutual desire for one another had increased. Vin had also become a master at giving sensual massages, which only heightened their pleasure and passion. He was done talking; drawing her into his arms he possessed her with a searing kiss that left no doubt about where they were heading and what would happen once they got there.
Vin deepened the kiss, knowing their private paradise was waiting for them.
Wedding Rehearsal ~3:00pm
The ladies of the Wild Bunch had done an outstanding job with the preparations, and the Colorado weather seemed to be cooperating. The forecast was for clear skies and a temperature in the mid-seventies for tomorrow. Mallory directed the men on the set-up of the chairs, and the temporary dance floor that had been constructed was ready to try out, while Walter, Max and Nettie rode heard over the kids. Twenty-four hours from now Ezra and Barbara would be Mr. and Mrs. Standish.
“Okay Kel, your list is completed, Casey, check, Inez, check, and Rain, finished.” Mallory marked off the names on her master list. “Ladies, I think we’re ready.”
“As soon as Linda and Chris get here we can go over the ceremony.” Rain said. “Linda called just before I left the house and said they were running late.”
“Is everything okay?” Inez questioned.
“Yes, Linda is just at the stage of moving slower, and Grace was still napping.” Rain answered.
Casey laughed. “I think we can all relate to moving slower, right Kel?”
“Definitely, Linda only has six weeks to go…lucky lady.” Kelli sighed. “Don’t get me wrong I love being pregnant, but…”
“You’re ready to feel like you again.” Casey grinned. “Lilah and Daisy had me tired from day one. By the time I made it to where you are, I was more than ready to deliver… safely of course.”
“You and Vin have names picked out yet?” Mallory asked.
“Yep, but we’re not ready to tell.” Kelli smiled. “I promised Vin that he would get the honors and he’ll choose the time.”
Barbara joined the small group accompanied by a beautiful lady with reddish brown hair. “Ladies, I would like you to meet my other bridesmaid, Dr. Caitlyn Broderick PhD. Caitlyn, Mallory Sanchez, Inez Wilmington, Kelli Tanner, and I believe you have already met Casey and Dr. Jackson.”
“Dr. Broderick, it’s good to put a face with the name.” Inez smiled. “We have been looking forward to meeting you.”
“Please, it’s Caitlyn. Barbara has talked so much about all of you I feel as if I already know you, and I am indebted to each of you for your help with the equine center.”
“You might as well come meet the rest of the Wild Bunch.” Mallory nodded toward the canopied area. “Looks as if Chris and Linda are here, and our husbands are looking this way.”
“All the men might seem a bit..." Barbara tried to find the right words to use to describe Ezra's six brothers without making it sound like she was insulting them.
Kelli, Casey, Inez, and Mallory helped Barbara by coming up with colorful adjectives to described their respective husbands as individuals, and as a whole group.
"I like to think of Nathan as larger than life myself." Rain added, chuckling over her Wild Bunch sisters' antics.
"Ooh... don't go there." Kelli commented teasingly. "That’s more information than any of us needs to know."
"Kelli!" Rain exclaimed, blushing slightly as the other women laughed. "That wasn't what I was referring to at all."
"Crazy...might be a better term to describe the whole lot of you." Barbara laughed. "...but then, what does that say about me since I'm going to be marrying into this Wild Bunch?”
“Don’t worry, Barbara...you'll still have at least one sane friend." Caitlyn chimed in. "Me."
Caitlyn Broderick might not have known it then, but the ease in which she had joined in with their silliness had just endeared her further to the women of the Wild Bunch. In fact, they had held a rather good opinion of her from the moment Barbara had first told them about the equine center Caitlyn planned to open. It appeared that she was going to fit in well.
"Come on; let me introduce you to the men before one of them gets a strain in his neck for gawking our way." Barbara said finally, slipping her hand through Caitlyn's arm and leading her toward the canopied area.
All the men, including Ezra, stood up when Barbara and Caitlyn arrived where they were all sitting. Caitlyn gazed from one imposing man to the other and had to agree that the men's wives descriptive words summed up her first impression of their husband's, or in Barbara's case, husband-to-be.
There were other adjectives that she mentally added along with the first set: handsome, good-looking, muscular, and virile. Aloud she said, “Scary, intimidating, dangerous, terrifying, and crazy. You ladies were right, those words about sum up what it's like to meet your men for the first time. Thank God, I'm not a criminal or I'd be quivering in my shoes right about now."
All six men burst out laughing at Caitlyn's ease in which she said the words. "Oh, I like her." Buck commented.
There were choruses of 'So do I' from the rest of the men, before Barbara made the proper introductions.
"Caitlyn, you already know Ezra."
"Good to see you again.” Ezra smiled his welcome at her.
"The rest of the rowdy bunch are Buck Wilmington, Nathan Jackson, Vin Tanner, Josiah Sanchez, JD Dunne, and coming up behind you with his wife Linda, and youngest daughter, Grace, is Chris Larabee."
"It's nice to meet you all." Caitlyn told the men standing in front of her. “I can't thank you all enough for volunteering your time, land and financial support for the equine center."
"Don't mention it." Chris said quietly as he helped Linda into a chair and turned to face her. “We’re all glad to be able to help out for such a worthy venture."
“We have all been very pleased to hear about your plans. Ms. Broderick.” Linda extended her hand to the new arrival. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Okay, we all know each other.” Buck rubbed his hand together. “I get to ramrod this rehearsal so let’s get started.”
“You just want to hurry so you can eat sooner.” JD laughed. “Besides, who put you in charge?”
Josiah raised his hand, “Guilty.”
“Lord, help us all.” Nathan grinned. “What do you know about weddings?”
“I’m married ain’t I?” Buck smirked.” Now listen up. Ezra, you stand at the front to the right of Josiah. Best man…Vin, you walk Kelli, the Matron of honor, down the aisle. I’d say from the looks of her current condition, it’s about time you make an honest woman out of her.” Buck laughed when both Tanners shot him icy glares.” Kel you stand to the left of Josiah, and Vin you join Ezra on the right.”
“Would that be on the right side to Ezra’s right, or the right to his left, Bucklin?” With amusement dancing in his eyes, Vin questioned innocently.
“Right, to his right, I think." Wilmington narrowed his brows. "Right?”
“Right, Buck,” Chris chuckled, “but that would be your left.”
Sarah ran up and pulled on her Dad’s shirt. “Is it our turn Daddy?"
“Not yet, sweetheart,” Buck took a deep breath. “Next would be Uncle Chris and the bridesmaid, then Jason and Caleb and then…”
“Then the flower girls, right Daddy?” Sarah asked again.
“No darlin’, they stand on the left.” Buck answered without thinking.
Ezra rolled his eyes, “Enough! Someone else needs to supervise where we are supposed to stand, or I may very well end up marrying Kelli tomorrow instead of Barbara."
"You can't marry Aunt Kelli; she's already married to Uncle Vin, Uncle Ra." Sarah told him with wide dark eyes. "And Aunt Barbara doesn't have any husbands yet."
"Dear Lord." Standish exclaimed. "Someone assist me out of the situation I just seemed to place myself into."
“Uncle Ez wasn't serious about marryin' your Aunt Kelli." Vin crouched down to tell Sarah. "He just said that because your dad is makin' him confused."
"Oh.” She gave her daddy her serious look. “Why you making Uncle Ra 'fused?"
"Sarah, that’s enough with the questions." Inez stepped in to corral their daughter from asking anymore questions, and Buck through her a grateful look.
"Okay...let's try this again. Ezra go stand to the right of Josiah. Vin you stand to the right of the altar, just like Ezra...but you'll be standing on his left side, and then Chris will stand to your left.” Buck directed.
Standish moved to do as Wilmington directed. Kelli looped her hand through Vin's arm and the Tanners moved slowly down the aisle as Buck had earlier indicated and took their places. Chris escorted Caitlyn next, followed by Jason, who stood beside his Uncle Chris and Caleb who stood next to Caitlyn. The boys took their responsibility of holding the rings very seriously. Three delightful flower girls, Sarah, Andi and Joanne made their way down the aisle, to stand with the bridal party. Then it was Barbara’s turn
Barbara walked down the aisle and Ezra met her at the altar, then Josiah took over.
“We will say the vows you have chosen, then after the exchange of rings I will pronounce you husband and wife. Then you can kiss your bride Ezra.” Josiah grinned as Standish rehearsed the kiss.
Vin elbowed Ezra.” I think you’ve got it. Can we move on?”
Sanchez cleared his throat “Yes, well…then I present you to your guests, and you two walk out followed by Vin and Kelli, then Chris and Caitlyn and of course the children.’
“Thank heavens, now can we eat?” Buck asked.
"You're incorrigible." Inez told her husband good-naturedly, "But I love you anyway."
Buck kissed her soundly on the lips. "It's a good thing, ‘cause I'm rather stuck on you too."
Mallory took charge of showing all of them where they were to be seated, both for that evening's meal, and for the reception. The other Wild Bunch wives, except for Kelli and Linda, aided her.
When everyone had eaten their fill of the delicious meal the ladies had prepared, Chris stood up. " I thought that it might be a good idea for us to say a few words in Ezra and Barbara's honor, sort of get into practice for the real event so as we don't embarrass them in front of the other guests attending. So, anyone who has something to say, speak up, don't be shy."
JD stood up.” Actually I have something to say from all of us.” He cleared his throat. “Ezra, Barbara, we have honored your request about wedding presents, and each of us have made a donation in your names to the equine center. That said, we felt we at least had to get something for our new sister.’
Everyone applauded and urged JD to continue.
“Barbara, we fixed this up for you.” He pulled a knapsack out from underneath the table. “It’s a Standish emergency kit.”
"A what?" Ezra sputtered, nearly choking on the sip of wine he had just taken.
"A Standish emergency kit." his six brothers shouted together to the amusement of Barbara, Caitlyn, and the other ladies of the Wild Bunch.
JD moved from the table where he was sitting at and walked over to the table that Barbara and Ezra were seated. He handed the knapsack to Barbara.
“Enclosed in this bag you will find a bottle of Spray and Wash and a sewing kit, to help keep Ezra at his impeccable best. Ear muffs to drown him out when he gets too carried away talking about...anything. A Standish/ English translation dictionary so that you will be better able to interpret whatever the hell he's saying, and a nail gun to nail his ass to the door whenever he steps out of line."
Barbara began to laugh and hugged JD. “Thanks, to all of you. I did not know when I agreed to marry Ezra that he came with a crazy family, but I have come to love each one of you. You have no idea how much your acceptance means to me.”
“Buck yelled. “Hell darlin’, we were gonna get you a card, but they don’t make congratulation/condolence cards so you’ll just have to settle for us.”
Another bout of laughter filled the air in response to Buck's words. Ezra stood up and everyone fell silent. Standish struggled to get his thoughts together and his emotions under control.
"When I walked into the ATF bullpen for the first time, oh so many years ago, I had no idea how drastically my life was going to change. I could not have imagined that my new co-workers were going to become anything other than what they already were. I was surprisingly, and most gratefully, wrong. "
His green eyes sought the faces of each one of his brothers in turn, until settling on Chris's face last. “Not only did I learn for the first time what it meant to really trust someone, and be trusted in turn, I learned that I was wanted, needed, and appreciated. I found out what it meant to have someone stand by you through all your ups and downs, insecurities and tribulations, and want nothing back from you other than what was offered in return. It's been a long and perilous journey, filled with obstacles and pitfalls for all of us at one time or another, but through it all we've managed to remain as a whole, a team, and as a band of brothers."
Ezra fumbled in his pants pocket for a handkerchief to wipe the tears from his face, unashamedly, and worked to clear the lump of emotion from his throat. “I want to tell each and every one of my brothers how deeply your respect, friendship, trust, and love, has meant to me, and I cherish each and every one of you."
For several moments silence settled over everyone, only to be broken by a sniffle or two as all the adults worked to get their emotions under control.
When Ezra found that he could speak again, he continued, "Caitlyn I hope that you've gotten a little more insight into the crazy bunch of people you've hooked yourself up with to make your Reins of Change a successful enterprise."
Caitlyn nodded as Ezra took Barbara's hand. "We thank y'all for being with us as we start our journey together, and for your support.” Ezra turned to Barbara. "If someone would start the music, I would like to ask this beautiful lady for a dance.”
Ezra led Barbara to the dance floor, followed by other couples. The Reins of Change had come to the Larabee 7 in more ways than one.
Journal Entry ~Sunday ~April 8th~6:00am
I was looking over some of my old entries and had to laugh when I found this one from almost two years ago…
Ezra, though, is still the stable one. Did I really just write that? His life continues to amaze and amuse me, but one of these days, he will surprise the hell out of all of us and let his last defenses fall. When he does, some woman will be there to catch him… *
Well, he did, and she was. As Vin would say, our Ezra is taking a step into his destiny. Barbara will be a delightful addition to the Wild Bunch and I feel confident they will make a good life together. I also believed when Ezra married it would be all formal, and by 'The Book of Protocol', but he and Barbara decided to involve the entire family, throwing the book out the window. They are building a home here, and bringing Reins of Change to the ranch.
Change seems appropriate, because that is exactly what is happening around here. Buck and Vin have built a great tree house for Jason and Caleb, but there are no girls allowed of course. They have even reserved a place for Adam, Terrell, Cody and the Tanner twins. Vin has almost run out of building projects since he completed the corral and barn close to his house, and has offered to help with the equine center. Construction began last week, and if the weather cooperates, Reins of Change will be up and running by September.
Cody’s room is finished, and we almost have the twins nursery completed. Linda and I only have a few short weeks to go before our son is born, and then…our time is finished. It has been surprisingly pleasant between us, since we decided to go our separate ways, proving that we are better lovers than husband and wife. I do wish her well, and maybe someday Linda will find what she is looking for. Grace and Cody will be keeping me busy, and as of now I have no other plans except to be the best Dad I can be to them.
Do I have regrets? Yes. I wish we could have found a way past the obstacles we managed to throw in our path. Can I live with the failure of our marriage? Yes, because I don’t think it was a complete failure. We have both resolved issues that were holding us back; we are moving on, reasonably intact and ready to face our separate futures. That in itself is a success. Our children are an extra bonus for me, one I will never take for granted.
As for me personally, I made it through a dark period in my life, and have managed to come out of it stronger than I was before. I am surrounded by the strength and love of my family, and I know I will never go back to that hellish place. My brothers and I are on solid ground, and no matter what the future may bring, we will face it together. A man can’t ask for more than that.
Guess I should close now, as groomsman I have to make sure Ezra is ready for today, and that his best man doesn’t get cold feet about wearing the monkey suit.
Tanner home ~7:00am
Vin had slipped out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen. The least he could do was to fix breakfast for the kids before the chaos began. Within a few hours he knew his home would be full of women scrambling to make everything perfect for today’s nuptials. He wanted to spend some time with his wife and children first.
“Morning Dad,” Jason was the first one up.
“Mornin’ son,” Vin smiled. “I thought us men would give the women a break. You want help me with breakfast?”
Jason moved over next to Vin and grabbed a piece of bacon. “Sure Dad.”
“Get your little paws off the bacon son,” Tanner grinned. “Start settin’ the table, and then you can help with the eggs."
"Okay." Jason replied, gobbling up the strip of bacon he had snatched, and went to work.
By the time that Kelli and Andi had joined them in the kitchen, the Tanner men had breakfast ready.
"Mornin' baby," Vin said, leaning over to kiss Kelli good-morning as she walked over to the table. He set the platter of eggs down and then placed a hand on Kelli's stomach.
"Mornin' boys... I hope you’re mindin' your manners and givin' your Mom an easy time of it. He felt one of the twins kick and grinned. ”I guess not.”
“They like the sound of your voice,” Kelli smiled. “The same as I do.” Kelli hugged Jason, while Andi received a hug from her dad. Tanner pulled out a chair for his wife so she could sit down.
“I know today will be busy baby, but you make sure you don’t over do it.”
“I’ll be fine Vin. Besides, I get the easy part, walkin’ down the aisle with the best lookin’ man around.” Kelli grinned when the kids giggled over her remark. “By the way, thanks for breakfast.”
“You are welcome. When you finish, I’ll help you get ready before we get invaded, and then Jason and I will head over to Chris’s about noon.
“Sounds like a plan to me, Tanner.”
Larabee Home ~ Noon
Ezra was still grumbling about being separated from Barbara overnight. He thought it was silly, but finally agreed when he realized how nervous she was. He had slept late, showered, had a light breakfast and was now ready to get things moving. In two hours his life would be changed forever, and he found he was no longer anxious about the impending nuptials, but looking forward to it.
"How are you doing, Ezra?" Chris asked as he came out of Grace's room after putting his youngest daughter down for a nap before the festivities began.
"I am ready for the wedding to be over already so I can have my beautiful bride to myself." Standish admitted.
Larabee laughed. "That's as honest a statement as I've ever heard from you. If you can hang on just a little bit longer, you'll have your wish soon enough."
Tanner chose that moment to arrive at the Larabees. He let himself into the house and moved through the kitchen into the living room with his garment bag hung over one shoulder. Jason followed his dad into the house, carrying his own bag in a similar fashion.
"You look calmer than I had expected, Ez." Vin said as he and Jason joined Standish and Larabee in the living room.
"It's all a facade." Ezra replied with a grin. "I just hide my nervousness much better than others do."
“Standish you are full of it.” Chris grinned. “You are more than ready for this, and way past due.”
“Yep, and judgin’ from the scene we just left at my house, I’d say Barbara is ready too.” Vin shook his head. “If we ever need to direct a major offensive against anyone, we should put Barbara, Caitlyn and Kel in charge. They have this thing covered down to the last detail.” Tanner reached in his pocket and handed a telegram to Ezra. "This came a short while ago and I told Walter I'd give it to you."
Standish took the envelope from Vin and read the contents. "It seems that my mother is bound and determined to upstage me, even on my wedding day. Maude was married yesterday in France." Ezra sighed. "I will not let her take away from our special day. If she wants us to meet husband number six, it will have to be later…much later."
“Good. Today belongs to you and Barbara. The cabin is all set, and Walter and Justin have security taken care of. Your guests should be arriving soon, and no one will get through the front gates without an invitation.” Chris stated. “Now all we have to do is get you dressed.”
Standish looked at them both in mock horror. "I'm quite capable of getting dressed by myself gentlemen.”
Vin and Chris burst out laughing. “You better go do it then, because I can almost guarantee that the next two hours are going to go by much faster than you think they will. Vin, Jason, and I will be dressing as well. If you run into a problem just holler and either Vin or I will come help you."
Mallory, Rain, and Casey were working with Max and Nettie greeting the guests and tending to last minute details. Caitlyn and Kelli were helping Barbara dress, while Inez tackled preparing the flower girls.
“Daddy is going to dress at home. He and Caleb are babysitting Tannis and Maria while I help our little princesses.” Inez said as she attempted to braid Sarah’s hair.
"Are you done yet?" Sarah asked her mother, fidgeting as Inez worked on her dark hair.
"No, I'm not. If you would quit squirming for just a few seconds, Sarah, I'd have your hair done." Inez told her daughter.
Sarah worked to keep still so her mom could finish her hair. Inez quickly finished the hairstyle she had been aiming at, and hugged her daughter. "Thank you for holding still."
Inez instructed Sarah to sit down, and then went to work on first Joanne's hair, and then Andi's. Soon she had all three of the little girls’ hair done up with beautiful curls. "Now, you girls don't get up from those chairs. We don’t want you getting your dresses mussed up before the wedding. I'm going to go check on how Aunt Barbara is getting along.
"Barbara, you're beautiful!" Inez said as she joined them in the next room where the bride, Kelli, and Caitlyn had gotten dressed.
"Thank you, Inez." Barbara said sincerely, dabbing at the tears in her eyes with a corner of a tissue, so as not to mess up her makeup that Caitlyn had skillfully applied. "I can't believe the day is finally here. Soon, I'm really going to be Mrs. Ezra Standish."
"Ez sure took his time.” Kelli commented.
Barbara laughed, and both Caitlyn and Kelli joined in, lightening the mood for a moment. "He sure did...but he was well worth the wait."
"You two look amazing, as well." Inez complimented Caitlyn and Kelli.
"Are the girls ready?" Kelli asked.
"Yes...I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help in here?"
“We’re just about there.” Barbara smiled. “I want to get this over and done with.”
Caitlyn grinned, “You’re just anxious to get Ezra alone in that cabin.”
“Well yes, I am.” Barbara freely admitted.
“It’s almost one; let’s move this crew over to the tent site. The cabana is prepared for us, and we’ll be out of sight until the ceremony.” Kelli grabbed a large sheet to cover Barbara, keeping her dress concealed. “Let’s go.”
As the women moved their base of operation closer to the tent, the men emerged from the Larabee home and sought out Josiah.
“Ezra, I’m turning you over to Josiah.” Chris greeted Sanchez. “Vin, Buck, the boys, and I will seat your guests, and then we’ll get this show on the road.”
“Brother Standish, come with me.” Josiah took charge of the groom.
Buck, Vin, and Chris had coached Jason and Caleb as to how they should behave when escorting female guests to their chairs. JD was in charge of the sound system, and the photography. Nathan’s job was to assist Max and Nettie with the children, keeping the little ones corralled, and out of trouble…easier said than done.
The wedding that Ezra and Barbara had decided on was simple but elegant. Bouquets of Champagne roses graced the tables, and stood upon either side of the arch where they would be married. Streamers of the same colors lined the rows of chairs to form an aisle on the soft grass of the meadow that they had picked to hold the wedding. Rose petals made up the aisle that the wedding participants would walk down. The reception would be held in the meadow, green linen covered tables were already set up for the guests with coordinating flower arrangements, and the food prepared. Everything was stored in a tent, and would be carried out following the ceremony
The men wore five-button Nehru collar tuxedos with point collar shirts and fullback vest. Ezra's vest and tie were ivory, Chris and Vin’s were emerald green, as their individual roles as groom, best man, and groomsman. Jason’s attire matched his dad’s, and Caleb sported a vest and tie coordinating with the groom.
The Matron of Honor and bridesmaid were wearing a floor length, sleeveless, beaded chiffon with a V neck and empire styling. Both were the same emerald green as Chris and Vin’s vests. Full circular shaped dresses with boat neck sleeveless bodices, in three of the prominent wedding colors, had been chosen for the trio of little girls who had been designated as flower girls. Barbara’s dress was a-line, sleeveless, ivory organza with a halter neckline. A matching shawl, hand sewn beads, and embroidery accented the hem and three tied cathedral sweep of the skirt. She would be carrying a bouquet of champagne roses, and wearing diamond stud earrings with a matching single teardrop necklace.
They had decided against a band, opting to have JD act as a DJ. Soft, classical music permeated the air as Chris and the others aided in seating the guests that Barbara and Ezra had invited to the wedding. Chris seated Linda on the front row next to Rain, making certain she was comfortable before returning to his duties. All of the one hundred guests were present, seated, and waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Chris and Vin headed to the entrance of the changing tent, as Josiah walked out with Ezra, both taking their positions at the altar. The music changed, and the crowd grew quiet. One last check on the bride, and Kelli was satisfied all was ready. She hugged Barbara, and then stepped outside where Vin waited for her.
Vin smiled as Kelli took his arm. Leaning over he whispered to her. “You look beautiful baby.” Together they walked down the aisle and took their places on each side of the arch.
Caitlyn was next. She took the arm Chris offered and they repeated the steps the Tanners had taken. Jason and Caleb made an uneventful walk down the pathway, Jason joining his Dad and Uncle, Caleb standing with Kelli and Caitlyn. Sarah was the perfect little lady as she proudly led the way for her cousins. Andi got carried away with the throwing of rose petals providing a moment of entertainment for the guests, and wore a huge smile as she took her place next to Sarah. Joanne brought a bit of dignity back to the procession as she followed Andi.
Finally it was Barbara’s turn to take center stage. She took a deep breath, clutched her bouquet tightly, and fixed her eyes on Ezra. She began the walk that would change her forever, and take her to the man she planned to spend the rest of her life with. Gracefully moving down the aisle, Barbara smiled when Ezra turned and stepped toward her. Since her father was not here, she walked alone to meet her future husband, he intended to meet her halfway.
Ezra took the hand she offered and together they took the final steps to the altar. Barbara handed her bouquet to Kelli to hold, and then faced Ezra as Josiah began to speak.
“Friends, family…we are gathered here to share this special time with Ezra and Barbara.” As Josiah's melodic voice continued the familiar words of the traditional wedding ceremony, each one of Standish's brothers reflected on how much their own lives had been changed when they had heard them.
“Marriage is an honorable estate. It is not to be entered into lightly or unadvisedly, but discreetly and soberly. Into this relationship these two persons come now to be joined”
Vin's blue eyes strayed off of Josiah and settled onto Kelli's profile, his thoughts racing back to the first time he had seen her…the day that fate set him on the road that had brought them here. He had never thought that his days could be so wonderful, even with the shady business of Karl Chambers and the RMR still hanging over his head. The broken paths in his life had led him to join with the woman he was destined to spend his life with, and he loved every second they had together. The addition of Jason and Andi had been an amazing bonus, and now they had been granted another miracle with the impending birth of two more babies. Their incredible journey had started the same way it was beginning for Ezra and Barbara, surrounded by family, and they took that first step into a loving commitment he prayed would never end.
“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish...”
Chris found himself going back in time to when he and Sarah had been married. What a nervous experience that had been for them both. Neither of them had been prepared for what marriage had to offer, but knew that they couldn't spend their lives alone. Having Sarah taken from him so soon had been devastating, but he had gotten through it. While his marriage to Linda had fallen short of that promise, and was nearly over, Larabee found himself able to look back on the day that they had said their vows with a bittersweet smile. How could he regret their marriage, when he had been gifted with two babies from their union?
“Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, so long as you both shall live?”
JD reached down and took Casey's free hand in his. They exchanged a loving look over the heads of the twins. Dunne remembered that he hadn't been able to eat anything leading up to his wedding for fear he was going to get sick during the ceremony and ruin it for Casey. The moment he had laid eyes on Casey in her beautiful dress, dark eyes shining happily at him, all thoughts of nervousness had fled his mind. She and the twins were everything to him.
“I accept this ring in token of our constant faith and abiding love.”
Nathan put his arm around the back of Rain's chair, and stroked his fingers through her long, glossy hair. Rain was his lifeline. Even though they had been together for several years, the day they had said ' I Do' had been one of the happiest moment of his life. Watching Terrell come into the world to join their family, had been another. His family had been made complete the day that Ronesha had come into their lives, and he was looking forward to their future.
“With this ring I thee wed, and will all my love I thee endow.”
Buck found himself wandering into the past to the time Inez had finally agreed to marry him. Their wedding ceremony had been far simpler than the one that Ezra and Barbara had planned, but it had been filled with just as much love and joy as was evident today. He believed he could not love her more than he did that day. A few years, and four children later, he found their love had grown far beyond anything he could have imagined. He hoped Barbara and Ezra would find the same happiness he and Inez had.
As he spoke the words of the wedding ceremony, Josiah couldn't help but think of his own nuptials and remember how truly beautiful Mallory had looked in her dress. The love that they had shared almost from the start had been overflowing the day of their nuptials, and had been a solid thread in their relationship.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
Ezra needed no encouragement. As soon as Josiah spoke the words, Ezra gently drew Barbara into his arms, and claimed his bride with a long lingering kiss. Forgetting where they were, the couple was lost in one another, until Josiah’s voice broke through their haze of passion.
“I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Standish.”
As the guest rose to their feet Ezra escorted his wife down the aisle followed by Vin and Kelli, and then Chris and Caitlyn. Inez and Buck took charge of the smaller attendants and everyone gathered by the tables that had been set-up for the reception. After a ton of pictures had been taken, and the newly married couple had made the rounds to greet their guest, they finally sat down to eat.
Vin stood up and let out a shrill whistle to gain everyone’s attention. “As best man ‘m supposed to make the first toast. If you’re expectin’ a lot of fancy words…you’re just out of luck.” He turned to face Barbara and Ezra. “Ezra, we thank you for givin’ us a beautiful new sister to add to the Wild Bunch. You’ve finally convinced us that you do have good taste. We wish you both a long life filled with love, happiness, and family.” He raised his glass for a toast, “Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Standish, congratulations.” Quickly joined by the other guests, another round of toasts ensued, followed by applause, and then the urging to cut the cake began.
The bouquet had been tossed, and caught by Katrina, the garter belt thrown, and Mark was the lucky recipient. Kelli and Caitlyn then stole Barbara long enough to help her change clothes as Chris helped Ezra. All of the guests, except for the Wild Bunch, had made their departures already, and at last it was time for the newlyweds to make their escape.
Hugs and kisses were bountiful as Ezra led Barbara to his decorated JAG and helped her into it. He went around the car to the driver's side, but paused before getting in it to gaze back over the assorted members of his adopted family. "I'm at a loss for words to express just how much each one of you means to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love and support, and especially for making this day an amazing memory for both of us." He said hoarsely, before getting quickly into the car and starting the engine. The family watched as the newlyweds left for their honeymoon.
The ranch hands began tearing down the tents, and folding chairs, while most of the Wild Bunch prepared to go to their homes and change into work clothes to help with the clean-up
“As soon as I get Linda and Grace settled, I’ll be back.” Chris took note of how tired his wife was, and it looked as if Grace was ready to crash for a while.
“Me too,” Vin picked Andi up and motioned for Jason to join them.” I need to get Kel home, she barely made it through the one dance we had, and these two little imps should change before they get any more rambunctious.”
“I think we should all change and plan to meet back here in about thirty minutes to finish up.” Buck suggested, and the others quickly agreed, heading to their respective homes.
"Caitlyn seems to be a very nice person." Linda commented as she and Chris, with Grace in his arms, headed toward their house.
"That she does." Chris replied. "All of us are quite eager to see how this equine center turns out."
"I admire her dedication to children." Linda said as they reached the house at last. “I hope that it is a success."
Larabee heard the sincerity in her voice and couldn't help flashing an approving smile. Not so long ago he would have heard something quite different come out of Linda's mouth. “It will be great to see Reins for Change up and operating.
“You’ll have to let me know how it turns out.” Linda said before she headed to her bedroom.
Chris shook his head; for a moment he had almost forgotten that Linda wouldn’t be here much longer. For a brief instant he wondered how different their lives would be if they had worked as hard to stay together as they had to separate, but that was a bridge that had already been burned. He cleared his thoughts, put a sleeping Grace down, and went to his room to change.
As he prepared to go back and join the clean-up brigade his phone rang. Chris started to ignore it, but recognized the number as one belonging to Travis, and decided to answer. “Larabee…”
Vin set Andi down and instructed her and Jason to go and change. He then turned his attention to Kelli. “You, Lady, are going to get off your feet.”
“I need to help, too. That’s one of my duties as Matron of honor.”
“Uh uh, your ankles are swollen, and you’re so tired you can barely stand.” Vin led her to the bedroom, and began to help her out of her dress. “As soon as you’re changed, and in that bed, I’ll take the kids with me. We’ll make sure everythin’ gets taken care off, but I want you and our babies to rest.”
“Shh … no arguments Kel,” Vin pulled out a gown from the dresser drawer, slipped it on her, and then made her get in the bed. “I love you baby.” He kissed her gently, and smiled when Kelli immediately pulled her body pillow to her, and sighed. Exhaustion took over, and she was asleep before he made it to the door. Vin watched her for a few minutes, and even from across the room he saw the babies moving. He didn’t know how she managed to get any rest at all, as active as those boys were, but he vowed to himself to do everything possible to help Kelli get through the next three months. Quietly he shut the door and went to gather their children.
Working together it did not take long to return the meadow to its original state. The arch that stood at the altar was stored to go to the Standish home when it was completed. The chairs were ready for the rental company to pick up, and the leftover food had been divided up among the families.
“Vin, I’m taking Jason and Andi home with me. You tell Kelli not to worry about staying home to rest. That’s where she needs to be, and we’re fine.” Inez told Vin before she and the other women took their leave.
Chris had asked the brothers to stay for a few minutes, but waited until everyone else had left before he told them why. Larabee was well aware of the strain Vin was under, and hated to add to it. Hell the entire team stayed on edge all of the time. After the attack on Ezra, the RMR was getting more brazen. The written threats were bad enough, but last week the MCAT office had been vandalized and racist messages had been spray painted on the outside of the hangers. They were still trying to find out how their location had been discovered since it was not public knowledge where MCAT had moved to. So far, it looked as if one of them had been followed to work. Now he had more bad news to convey.
“Travis called. Frank Harrison was murdered today. It looks like it was an execution.”
“You think it was because he talked to us?” Buck questioned. “They know we followed him to make those arrests?”
Josiah nodded. “That would be a reasonable assumption.”
“We didn’t even use his name, we only used confidential informant in the report. How would anyone know?” JD asked.
“There is always someone willing to talk for the right price or reason.” Nathan answered "Plus, we know every move we make is being watched."
“Nate’s right, “Vin tried to explain. “These groups have sympathizers in every walk of life, includin' cops, judges, bankin' executives, and politicians. They may not be active, but they do support the resistance with money, information, and use their influence to aid the cause where they can. Bigots, militia members, and white separatists don’t walk around with an X on their forehead; they look just like you or me.”
Larabee added.” Right now Karl Chambers is apparently calling the shots, and it appears there are enough loyal followers to carry out his orders. These fanatics are terrorists who use bombs, murder, arson, and assaults in their genocidal war, and we are their enemy. There are over three hundred different hate groups in this country, and the Aryan brotherhood is running rampant in our prisons. We can’t stop all of them, but when we stop Chambers we will at least halt their current reign of terror.”
“Then we trust no one but us, to make sure Vin gets to testify.” Buck stated. “The ranch should be secure enough for Nathan, Vin and our families until the trial.”
“We still need to stay on high alert, and there will be court appearances between now and then.” Chris looked at Vin and Nathan. “Until this is over, neither of you will leave here without two of our agents… no exceptions. We’ll leave the investigation of Harrison’s death to the FBI. Our job is to make certain Karl Chambers gets convicted, and making certain no one has the opportunity to reach our families.”
“Do we tell Ezra?” Buck hated to think about disturbing the newlyweds so soon.
“Ezra and Barbara are safe at the cabin. There will be plenty of time to tell him when they get back from their honeymoon.” Chris said. “In the meantime we put the rest of the team on high alert. Now go home, and spend time with your families.” One by one they departed until it was only Chris and Vin left.
“You know if they want to get to me they will eventually find a way to do it.”
“Not on my watch Tanner.”
Ezra observed his bride’s reaction as they arrived at the cabin, and he was pleased to see the delight in her eyes when she got her first view of the lake. He had been concerned when their options for a honeymoon location had been severely restricted for security reasons.
“It’s beautiful, Ezra. Now I know why Kelli loves it up here so much.” Barbara graced him with her smile. “I know you were worried, but just being here alone with you is all I need.”
“You Lady are the beautiful one around here.” Catching her off-guard Ezra swept her off her feet and into his arms. Between their laughter and kisses, he carried her to the cabin, and across the threshold. “Here we are.”
“Ezra, this is wonderful, our own private paradise.” Barbara smiled up at her new husband. “Let’s explore.”
Together they checked out the cabin, in the kitchen they found a fully stocked fridge, that included a plateful of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of vintage champagne. The note that was attached to the bottle simply said, 'enjoy', and was signed by the Wild Bunch. Barbara loved the skylights, and Ezra decided he like the double shower in the bathroom. He took her hand and led her into the next room. Ezra didn't stop walking until he had reached the bedroom, and was pleased to see the blue satin sheets someone had thoughtfully selected for them.
Barbara faced her husband and slipped her arms around his neck. Thank you Ezra, you have given me something I thought I would never find…A place to belong and a family to share it with. I love you.”
“We are a family now, and I promise you. I will cherish that gift. I love you, too.” Ezra laid Barbara down upon the bed, and gazed at her for a long moment, drinking in the sight of her. While he had thought each of his sisters had looked beautiful on their wedding day, none of them could hold a candle to his own bride. He took off his tie and slipped out of his jacket, laying it across the back of the easy chair in the room. He then stretched out on the bed beside Barbara and took her into his arms.
Barbara went eagerly into Ezra's embrace, her hands slipping around his neck as he brought his mouth down upon hers in a blissful kiss. Passion ignited between them as the kiss deepened. Clothes were soon shed as hands became even more eager to touch bare skin Barbara stroked his head, his wide shoulders and back. She couldn't get enough of touching him. She had had other partners before, but none of them had given their all to her. She had learned what true passion really was with Ezra. It consisted of not only the physical touch of skin upon skin, but of the emotional touch of soul upon soul. Ezra Standish was her lover, her husband, and her soul mate.
Barbara and Ezra were content; they had found in one another what they had both missed in their lives, commitment, family, and a future that promised love and happiness.
Thursday ~May 3rd
Camp Larabee ~ Noon
Tanner had given the agents an invigorating workout this morning. Most of them had returned to the office, with the exception of Nathan, Buck, and Chris. Jackson was now staying on the ranch with his family, after receiving additional racist threats in the mail, and Buck was accompanying Tanner and Larabee on an errand this afternoon. Vin was putting away equipment from this morning’s training session and listening to Chris talk at the same time.
The report on the activities of the resistance was not encouraging and it was becoming evident that there were more participants involved than just the RMR. Over the last three weeks they had increased their aggressive activities at the same time Chambers’s lawyer was being more vocal. There had been two clinics attacked, and a bombing of a church that had resulted in two deaths. All three crimes had been linked to the White Supremacy groups.
“It’s discouraging as hell Vin. An FBI task force is investigating all the incidents that are related, but not making much progress finding a ringleader.” Chris threw down the notes from the last team meeting. “Someone is directing these bastards, but leaving a damn hard trail to follow.”
“It has to be Karl. Even from jail he has a long reach, and enough contacts to keep things stirred up.” Vin stated. “MCAT should be the lead investigators, not the FBI.”
Chris sighed. “Maybe, but right now we have our hands full keeping you, Nathan, and all our families protected. I won’t compromise on that Vin; it takes priority over anything else.”
“I appreciate that Chris, but until Karl’s lawyer quits fuckin’ around and delayin’ this damn trial, the harassment and violence isn’t gonna end.” Vin threw the last of the equipment in the closet and closed it. “So far I have managed to keep the worst of it from Kel, but she knows those bastards are out there waitin’ for their chance to hurt one of us. I don’t want her so stressed that she goes into labor early so I pretend everythin’ is under control and try to keep things as normal as possible.”
“When you make your appearance in court tomorrow, I’m taking no chances.” Chris grinned. “You’ll have more bodyguards than a rock star.”
Vin scowled. “You really think that’s necessary?”
“Yes I do, and it’s not up for discussion.” The two men walked toward the door. “Let’s lock up and go find Buck. If we’re gonna pick up those horses for Jason and Caleb today, we’d better get a move on it.” Buck had decided to buy Caleb a horse at the same time, Chris bought Jason’s. The boys were together practically all the time anyway, they might as well get their horses at the same time.
“Chris, are you certain you want to take off work to do this? Jason has his colt to work with and would understand if we have to wait.” Although Larabee had told Jason he was buying him a horse that was ready to ride, Vin was concerned about the timing.
“We’ve got things covered, and I made that boy a promise. I intend to keep it.” Chris opened the door, letting Vin exit first. “Besides, Jason and Caleb need their own horses, and the weather is perfect this afternoon to take them out riding.”
Vin opened his truck door. “I’ll go check on Kel, pick up Jason, and meet y’all at the barn.”
Jason was waiting on his dad and met him at the door. “Are we still going?”
“Yep, I just want to check on Mom before we leave.” Vin headed for the big room and found Kelli sitting in the recliner with a laptop. Tracker lay beside the chair, and Andi sat next to her intent on drawing in her coloring book.
"What are y’all doin’?" Vin asked his wife with interest.
“Me making a picture for the babies,” Andi answered without looking up from her work.
"Doin' some profilin' homework," Kelli said with a laugh as she looked up from the laptop. “Josiah wants me to make up some profiles on the suspects in these files he sent over. Some of them are legitimate criminals, while the others are actually ones that he has made up. I'm supposed to be able to differentiate between which are real, and which are false, among other things."
"Make certain you rest." he cautioned as he walked over to her, and leaned down, first kissing his daughter on the head and then lingered as he kissed his wife.
"I will." Kelli promised. “Besides Vin, operating a laptop is not that strenuous.”
Tanner laughed. “I know you, and I’d bet you’ll find somethin’ else to get into within twenty minutes. Just behave until we get back.” He was glad to see Kelli working on the profiling assignments; he would worry about her less knowing she was concentrating on investigating and profiling instead of climbing rafters, and sitting on top of buildings waiting to become a target. Vin knew he could always train another sharpshooter, but replacing his wife was something he had no plans on doing…ever.
By the time Jason and Vin reached the barn, Chris, Buck, and Caleb had the trailer hitched to the Ram, and ready to go. George and Angelo had both been working with the yearlings on the ranch, but none of them were yet suitable for the boys to ride. Chris and Buck had been looking for some time now for two special horses for two special little boys.
"Let's go pick up those horses." Buck told Caleb and Jason as the Tanners joined the Wilmingtons and Larabee at the barn.
They all piled into Chris’s truck for a ride. Chris and Buck had found the horses, and both were satisfied they were gentle enough for the kids. Larabee made sure he had Vin’s approval on the horse he found for Jason before he had told his nephew the news. The horses they had chosen were at a ranch about an hour and a half drive away, but for the anxious little boys it seemed to take forever to get there.
They had been on the road a little over an hour before Vin suddenly yelled. “Chris, pull over here!”
Not certain what had caught the Texan’s attention, Larabee turned into the large driveway in front of a business. He turned around to ask Tanner what was so important, but Vin was already out of the truck and jogging toward the front of the building. “Where in the he…heck is he going?
Surprisingly, it was Jason who answered, “Rocker.”
“What?” Buck asked.
“See that rockin' chair over there.” Jason pointed to the building. “That’s what Dad saw.”
For the first time Chris noted the name of the business they were in front of, “Lane’s antiques.” There were several pieces of furniture sitting in view of the road and right in the middle was an antique rocking chair. “I’ll be damned.” Chris exclaimed. “Only Vin could have seen that from the back seat while traveling fifty miles an hour."
“Think I should go check on him Chris?”
“Buck, I doubt there are any RMR members lurking around an old antique barn, waiting for Vin to show up.” Chris watched as Tanner examined the chair and then spoke to the owner.
“Dad’s been looking for two perfect rockers to give Mom for their anniversary.” Jason sighed, as he watched money exchange hands. “Looks like he found one of 'em, maybe we can get our horses now.”
Chris chuckled. “I think our big bad sharpshooter is going soft on us Buck. He has a bad case of babies on the brain.”
“I wouldn’t say that too loud, he still has an ornery side.” Buck laughed, “But I have to admit he's been bitten by the baby bug.” He watched as Vin picked up the chair and began to walk back to the Ram. He placed the chair into the bed of the truck and strapped it down before getting inside.
“You get a good deal?” Chris questioned.
“Yep, solid oak, hand crafted, sturdy, documented history, and in very good condition. I need to find one more before Monday and ‘m done.” Tanner answered with a grin. "With two babies comin', we need two rockers for the nursery.”
“Can we go now?” Jason asked.
Chris answered. “We’re going Jason. Remind me later Vin, I might know where you can find a second one worthy of rocking my new nephews.”
There were no more unplanned stops, and within an hour the final deal was made for two bay geldings. They were then loaded into the trailer, and on their way to a new home at the Larabee7, accompanied by two very pleased little boys. It was late afternoon when they returned to the ranch. By the time they had taken an initiation ride, and introduced the newest equines to their stable mates, it was time to head home for the evening.
Vin placed the rocker in the barn, and covered it, he would not be giving it to Kelli before Monday, and he wanted to do some touch up work on it first. Chris dropped off Buck and Caleb and then drove to Vin’s house. Jason scrambled out of the truck, and ran ahead to tell Andi and his Mom about his new horse.
“I’ll be here to pick you up by seven Vin. Court starts at eight and we had best be on time.”
“No problem Chris, I’ll be ready.” Vin opened the passenger side door to exit the vehicle, but Chris stopped him.
“Wear your vest, we probably won’t have any problems, but I want to be ready for anything.”
“Do you really think Kel would let me leave the house without wearin’ a vest?” Tanner laughed. “If she had her way I’d be wrapped up in full body armor.”
“That might not be such a bad idea Tanner.”
“Not a chance in hell Chris. I draw the line at wearin’ a vest, save the fully body armor for someone who needs it.” Vin got out and shut the door. “See you in the mornin’, Cowboy.”
Friday May 4th ~ Noon
Chris had brought half the MCAT team with them, and had them spread out around the courthouse. Larabee was spending his time pacing up and down the corridor. Ezra was reading a law journal, Josiah was reviewing case files on some of the RMR members, and Buck was watching the crowd outside. Chambers’s lawyers had been making motions to the Judge all morning, and here they all sat waiting for court to convene again.
“Hurry up and wait. They insist we be here before eight, and here it is four hours later and all they’ve done is delay.” Vin grumbled.
Josiah set the file he was reading aside. He found the dynamics that were at work in Rocky Meadows fascinating from a profiler’s point of view. “Vin, why do you think all the good citizens of Rocky Meadows supported the RMR so strongly?”
“Hell, most of them were members of the RMR, and the rest were sympathizers. Bubba, the Sheriff, his son, any one of them would have laid down their own lives to protect Karl.”
“Why are you asking Josiah?” Chris stopped pacing in front of Sanchez.
“JD did a background check on everyone that lives in Rocky Meadows, and found some interesting coincidences.” Sanchez pointed to the stack of folders. “Did you know that Sheriff Brodie, Karl, Bubba, and eight other men from Rocky Meadows went to college together? Twelve others went to the same college, different years. That particular campus has a passive acceptance attitude concerning racial issues and it, has been the site of many of the RMR’s hate rallies. It appears that over 300 violent racism incidents have been documented there over the last twenty five years.”
"You're joshin' us, right? All of 'em good ole boys of the RMR are college educated?" Buck exclaimed.
"Many of them yes, and it’s the perfect cover. No one is going to pay too much attention to a little backwards 'good ole boys’ making some ruckus every now and again." Chris said.
"Exactly," Josiah agreed. "Give people the illusion that it's just some country boys raising cain every now and again, and no one would ever suspect that underneath that mirage are extremely intelligent men who plan intricate, lethal plots that bring such heartache and devastation to their unfortunate victims."
“That’s how Karl has been able to operate as long as he has. He has contacts that would shock the hell out of you.” Vin added.” Most of his support comes from everyday people you would never guess are bigots. They help out of loyalty to the fight for the white race to survive, and distrust of the government. Some of ‘em hold position of power in the government they fight against, cops, politicians, judges, you name it and Karl has a connection somehow.”
“Chambers’s also amassed a small fortune over the years from those same people. Even with the records we confiscated we have no way of knowing who all his contacts are, or how powerful they might be.” Chris looked at his watch. “I hope like hell they either get you in there soon Vin, or dismiss us. That crowd outside is growing, instead of the fifty when we arrived here, there must be over two hundred out there now.”
The federal prosecutor walked out of the courtroom and looked in their direction before making his way over to the Agents. “I have good news, and bad news.”
“Perhaps it would be prudent to simply convey all pertinent information at one time.” Ezra replied.
“Good news, you can go home, bad news we have to wait while the judge reviews all the defense motions, and the trial date has been postponed, again. Instead of starting in three weeks it has been reset for August.”
“Damnit, that means three more months of this bullshit!” Vin railed. “Can’t you do somethin’ to speed things up?”
“Sorry, no. You’ll have to be available between now and then of course, but you won’t be testifying until after the trial begins.” The prosecutor sighed. “I will call you Agent Tanner if anything changes.” He then picked up his briefcase headed to his office.
“Buck, alert the team we’re coming out.” Chris ordered. “Vin put this on.” He handed Tanner a ball cap and pulled one out for Josiah, Ezra and Buck as well.” No sense in adverting where you are with all that unruly hair flying all over the place.”
“I like my hair, thank you.” Vin mumbled, but pulled his hair up and tucked it under the cap anyway.
Chris grinned.” Damn Tanner, you almost look like a real government agent.” He ignored the hand gesture Vin flashed him. “Let’s move out the door, and straight to the truck.”
Tanner was only too happy to move out of the stifling courthouse and into the fresh air. He was surrounded on all sides by his four brothers as they reached the stairs to begin their descent toward the mob of people that were barely being kept at bay by local law enforcement officers.
"Damn, it's going to be harder than hell to squeeze our way through this group of yahoos." Buck exclaimed as they neared the bottom of the stairs.
"They'll move." Larabee said with resolve. “Close up ranks around Vin."
"Y'all get any closer and we might as well be wearin' the same clothes." Tanner commented sarcastically, hating the confined area in which he was forced to walk, even though he knew it was for his own good.
The eyes of the four men surrounding their fifth continuously swept about the crowd, looking for any signs of suspicious movements that would indicate a hidden weapon was being brought to bear on Tanner.
The shots came from the right and startled the hell out of all of them. The first bullet passed through the skin of Josiah's left arm, but bypassed the other men entirely. Pandemonium broke out as the crowd reacted to hearing gunshots, and they scattered in all directions, making Tanner an even larger target than he had been a moment before. Two more gunshots rang out as Chris threw an arm out to drag Vin to the ground. The first of these two shots hit Vin square in the chest, knocking him backwards, and the other embedded itself into the back of Chris's Kevlar vest as he used his body to further shield Tanner from anymore gunfire.
The other three men whipped out their weapons and went into action. The DPD officers did likewise, scanning the area to find out where the shots had been fired from. Ezra caught a glint of metal and a glimpse of a man in black clothing running into the rapidly diminishing crowd, and took off in pursuit of the apparent gunman, calling out for some of the DPD officers to follow him, while Josiah and Buck both remained in protective mode.
Chris winced as pain lanced through his back from where the bullet had struck his vest, as he fumbled quickly to turn Vin over so that he could examine his best friend to make sure he was alive.
Vin gasped in relief as he regained the ability to breathe again. "I'm all right."
"You better be alright or I'll have to kick your ass." Larabee declared, forcing down his fear.
Tanner attempted to sit up, but Chris held him down. “An ambulance is on the way, you will stay put, and we’ll let the doctor decide if you’re okay.”
“Same goes for you too Larabee and Sanchez,” Buck admonished his CO and brothers. You two were hit, so both of you behave and keep still ‘til we can get you out of here.”
Ezra returned at the same time the paramedics arrived. “We lost him, but I know who he was.” He stood aside as the EMS examined Tanner, Sanchez, and Larabee. “We saw him when we were in Rocky Meadows.”
“Forensics’ is on their way to sweep the area, and I’m leaving Justin in change of the scene.” Buck informed him. “You and I will accompany these three to the hospital.”
"Someone call Kelli. I don't want her hearin' anythin' about the shootin' on the news." Vin said as he was reluctantly loaded onto a stretcher and placed in the back of an ambulance with Chris and Josiah."
“Better alert Mallory and Linda, too.” Chris said just as the doors of the ambulance closed.
Buck climbed into the driver’s side of the truck, leaving Ezra to make those phone calls as they followed the ambulance to the hospital.
Denver Memorial Hospital~ 1:30pm
Nathan, Mallory, and JD arrived at the emergency room ten minutes behind the ambulance. Chris and Vin were already being examined. Although it appeared that neither of them were seriously injured, the possibility of internal damage from the force of the shots making contact against their bodies could not yet be ruled out. Josiah was in an adjoining treatment room waiting to have his arm sutured.
Buck explained to them what had transpired.” We were exiting the courthouse from the front entrance, and had just started through the mob of people out front when three shots rang out. The first shot grazed Josiah's arm, the second hit Vin center mass, and the third clipped Chris in the back as he threw himself into Vin and took him to the ground. All of them were fired from a solitary gunman using a 357 magnum, and the shots were at close range. Before you asked, yes they were wearing vests, and no I don’t know how badly any of them are hurt."
Ezra continued the narration. “The shooter got away, but we do know what he looks like. In fact, Buck and I ran across the man in Rocky Meadows last November. Forensics is on the scene and Justin is handling the interviews with witnesses. Let's just hope that he can find any willing to talk.”
“Has anyone called Kel or Linda?” Mallory asked.
“They have been informed. “Ezra answered.” Inez and Rain are going over to stay with Linda. Max and Walter have the kids, and Raphael is bringing Kel here, Barbara will be with them.”
"Thank God they wore their vests, and the gunman was not a great shooter or we could very well have been attending two, if not three, funerals in the next couple of days. Instead we get to visit our brothers in a hospital room." JD said solemnly.
"Amen to that brother." Josiah said as he joined them in the waiting room.
"How's your arm?" Nathan asked, walking up to Sanchez.
Josiah held up his bandage left arm. "It would be a bit painful to shoot with it for the next week or so until it heals, but other than that it's just fine. It was only a flesh wound requiring four stitches. The doctor gave me something to take for the pain as well as scripts for antibiotics to stave off any infection. How are Chris and Vin?"
Mallory slid her hand across Josiah’s back. “We don’t know yet.” She looked into her husband’s blue eyes. “Are you certain you’re okay?”
Josiah leaned down and kissed his wife. “I’m fine honey.”
“Nate, see what you can find out for us.” Buck urged Jackson to search out some answers. “I want to have something to tell Kelli when she gets here.”
"All right," Nathan told him. "I'll see what they'll tell me." He disappeared through the doors that led into the examination rooms. Jackson was still absent when Kelli arrived with Barbara and Raphael.
There was panic written clearly in Kelli's blue eyes, but she held her emotions in check as she made her way slowly toward where the group that made up her husband and father's brothers, and Mallory were waiting. "How are they? What happened?" she asked Buck with a steady voice that belied her inner turmoil.
Buck cocked an eyebrow at Ezra over Kelli's head. It was clear to him that Standish must not have told his partner all of the details of what had happened.
"Ezra told me that Vin, Josiah, and Dad were shot.” Kelli told him, interpreting the look that Wilmington had sent to Standish. "He just didn't get into the specifics of how the shootin' had occurred, or how someone had gotten that close to y'all without any of you knowin'."
Buck quickly filled her, Barbara, and Raphael in on what had happened, and Wilmington was alarmed when Kelli's face suddenly paled. “Sit down, Kel." he quickly escorted her over to a chair. “JD, go get her a glass of water."
It was at that moment that Nathan made his reappearance in the waiting room. He quickly assessed the situation and was at Kelli's side. "Take slow even breaths Kelli.”
“I’m fine Nathan. Tell me about Vin and Dad.”
“Both of them were wearing vest, and the bullets were trapped in them. X-rays show nothing broken, and there’s no indication of internal bleeding. They’re bruised up pretty good though, and Doc wants to hold them overnight for observation, “Nathan checked her pulse as he spoke. “The nurses are moving them to a room now, and I’ll take you there in a few minutes.”
Kelli watched Nathan’s body language and relaxed when she realized he was not tense. “Thanks Nathan.”
Hospital Room 407~3:00pm
It was about another thirty minutes before the group was allowed to proceed upstairs to the room in which both the MCAT CO and Captain had been put into for their overnight stay. Both Mallory and Barbara were sticking close to Kelli as they made the trip up to the fourth floor in the elevator. The male members of the family, along with Raphael, kept the three women in a protective bubble that threatened to suffocate Kelli while she waited for the elevator doors to open. The sooner she saw Vin, the better off she would be. She knew that the family was only showing their concern for her, but she wished that they wouldn't do it so close. The elevator doors opened and the group made their way to room 407.
The nurse had just finished checking the vitals on her new charges, and was satisfied that her patients were settled. “If either of you need anything, just push the button.”
Chris answered irritably. “We know the routine, thanks.” He was a bit uncomfortable, but not convinced that there was a need to stay overnight. Larabee was more concerned about finding out who had shot at them, and what his team was doing about it.
“It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger Chris, you know who was behind it.” Vin hissed as he tried to shift his position. “Damn, fuckin' bruises." He grumbled. "You just had to play cowboy, and get yourself shot too, didn’t you Lar’bee?”
“You’re better off bruised than dead, Tanner!” Chris snapped as pain ripped across his back. “You can thank me any time for covering your ornery Texas ass.”
“Next time, you do it without gettin’ yourself shot!" Vin barked.
Chris retorted, “Next time you go to court you’ll wear full body armor.”
“The hell I won’t, Lar’bee!”
“You damn sure will, Tanner!”
The door to their room was pushed open, and Buck stepped inside, only seconds in front of the rest of the family. He had heard the last exchange between Larabee and Tanner, and decided a warning was necessary. “Lighten up fellows. Ladies are on their way in.”
“You didn’t need to warn ‘em Buck.” Kelli said as she walked in and headed straight for Vin’s bedside. “Being grumpy and stubborn is a natural state for both of ‘em.” She took the hand Vin held out to her, and tried to hang on to her control. “You were supposed to duck, Tanner.”
“I’m fine baby.” He squeezed her hand. She may sound okay, but Vin could see she was struggling to keep her emotions in check. “I probably need a new vest though; the old one is pretty much shot.”
“Very funny Tanner, let me see.” Kelli knew what happened when a 357 slammed into a vest at close range. She pulled the sheet down to view Vin’s chest. Just as she suspected, it was covered with the start of a colorful array of bruises. She much preferred her husband's chest unmarred, but if she had to choose between bruises or something far more serious, then a bruised up Tanner was something she could live with, and so could Vin. When she was done checking out the extent of her husband's injuries, she turned her attention onto the other bed. “Okay Dad, you’re next.”
Chris obliged and carefully turned on his side so Kelli could see his back. “Are you satisfied, Missy?"
“Hell no, I'm not satisfied! Havin' to visit my husband and my father in a hospital is not a scenario I care for at all, but I guess I'm goin' to have to deal with it." Kelli told him, her control slipping a little. “Now, why don't all tell me how in the hell someone from the RMR got close enough to pull off a close quarters shootin'?"
“That's a good question, Kel.” Mallory spoke up from her place beside her husband. “Half the MCAT team was present as security, watching out for trouble. Yet, three of you managed to get shot.”
“We’re working on that.” Buck said. “We know what the guy looks like, and why he did it, now all we have to do is figured out where the SOB is.”
“Our shooter has probably burrowed into a deep hole somewhere, but if he hasn’t we won’t give him another target.” Chris raised his bed to sit up. “I want the ranch security on high alert. Kel…”
Kelli was already shaking her head no. “Don’t go there, Dad. The kids are safe, and I plan on stayin' here ‘til Vin goes home.”
Ezra could feel the high emotions and tensions radiating not only from Kelli, but from every person in the room. It was a close call today, too damn close. The fact that no one was killed had nothing to do with skill, but fate. He decided to try and diffuse the situation before someone reached an ignition point and exploded. “I would be more than happy to reserve a suite for you Kel, at the excellent hotel adjacent to this establishment.” Ezra offered. “Barbara and I will stay with you.”
“No! Kel’s not staying here or at a hotel, she is going home!” Chris was adamant. “That is an order!”
“Last time I checked, I was still on medical leave Larabee. You can’t order me to do anythin'!” Kelli exclaimed, glaring at her father.
“Yes, I can!" Chris declared. He wasn't in the mood to argue, especially not with Kelli, but he would if that was the only way he was going to get her to obey his orders. "JD, you get that feature recognition program of yours going on that laptop of yours, and get me a name to go with the face of the shooter. Raphael, head over to the courthouse and help Justin with the interviews. Nathan, find out how early we can leave in the morning. Mallory, take your husband home. No arguments, Josiah."
Larabee cast the profiler a look that clearly stated to Josiah that he expected his orders to be followed without any further arguments. "Kelli, the last thing you need is to be spending a night in an uncomfortable chair. Go home, get some rest. Vin and I will be fine."
“What part of 'I ain't goin' home' don't you understand Larabee?" Kelli demanded, her blue eyes flashing with anger as she stood with her hands on her hips and stared down her father.
Chris glared back at her and opened his mouth to speak again, but Vin beat him to the chase. “Kel, get off your feet, and unwind that temper of yours before you raise your blood pressure.” Vin told his wife while, sending Chris a warning look to back off and let him handle Kelli.” We’ll talk about it, but for now one Tanner as a patient is all this place can handle.” He patted the side of the bed.” Come on, sit here.”
Kelli stood for a few moments longer staring at her father, before she relented and moved over to the side of Vin's hospital bed that had a chair next to it and sat down.
Ezra moved over next to JD to give him a description of the young man he had chased through the crowd. Josiah left with his wife so she could assure herself he was really okay, and pamper him the rest of the day. Raphael headed over to the courthouse to assist Justin, and Nathan went to hunt down Dr. Landers.
Barbara decided to do something useful. “I’m going down to the cafeteria and pick up some sandwiches and drinks for everyone, except our patients, of course.” She leaned over and kissed Ezra. “Be back in a little while.” She asked the others, “Any special request?”
Vin was concerned about how pale Kelli looked. “Barbara, I think that Kel and the boys would like some juice and maybe some fruit if you can find any.” In an ideal world he wanted her at home, safe and sound, but he knew he would only worry more if she was there. Dr. Weeks had warned them about stress levels, and how too much could bring on premature delivery. If the stress of the RMR attempting to kill him was going to cause problems, he preferred it happen here at the hospital where the doctors were only a few minutes away. “Would you also check with the nurses and see about more comfortable arrangements for her for the night?”
“You got it.” Barbara answered as she opened the door and walked out of the room.
Chris raised a brow and questioned, “Vin?”
“We’ll be fine Chris, and it will be better for both of us for her to stay.” Vin’s answer was firm. *It’s not up for discussion Chris.*
Buck saw the handwriting on the wall when he realized Chris was not going to continue to push the issue. He also knew that if it were him in that bed and Inez was seven months pregnant with twins, he would want to have her close enough to keep an eye on her. “’I’ll set up security for the night, and check in with Justin.”
Larabee nodded his agreement, and then picked up the phone. He thought maybe it was time to call Linda and make certain all was well with her and baby Cody.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Saturday May 5th ~8:00 am
Chris felt one hundred percent better and was anxious to get out of the confining hospital room. Across the room his daughter slept peacefully on a roll away bed the nurse had brought in the evening before. Grudgingly he had to admit that Vin had made a good decision in allowing Kelli to stay. If he had forced Kelli to go home, she would have stayed in a state of anxiety that would not have been good for her condition. The opening of the bathroom door drew his attention, and Vin walked out.
“How are you feeling this morning?” Chris kept his voice low.
“Still sore, but I’ll live." Tanner's eyes locked on Kelli’s sleeping form, and he grinned. “The boys are active this mornin’.” The more Vin continued to talk the more the babies moved.
Chris saw what Tanner was talking about. “They always react to your voice that way?”
“Pretty much,” Vin answered as he walked over to the bed, reached down and pushed Kelli’s tousled hair back from her face. “I want Dr. Weeks to check Kel over before we go home. She warned us that stress was not good for the pregnancy, and it seems that thanks to Karl and the RMR, we’ve had more than enough of it.”
"It couldn't hurt." Larabee said as Kelli stirred under Vin's hand and her eyes fluttered open.
"Hi." she offered Vin up a sleepy grin as he leaned over and gave her a kiss.
"Mornin'," Vin replied. “How are you feelin'?"
The ease of his voice did nothing to hide his concern for her health and that of the twins she carried. "A bit sore, I suppose. The boys have been pretty active and this bed isn't quite as comfortable as our own, but otherwise I'm okay." Kelli searched his face for any signs of pain. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. “Vin assured her as he helped her up from the low bed. “We’re gonna see Dr. Weeks before we leave here Kel, just to make me feel even better.” She nodded and he watched as she made her way to the bathroom.
"Rise and shine everybody." Buck said, as he walked into the room carrying a tray of steaming plastic cups from Starbucks. Ezra followed him into the room carrying a couple of bags.
"Buck, you are a lifesaver." Chris exclaimed, his green eyes lighting up as Wilmington handed him one of the steaming mugs. "This hospital's coffee is even worse than Tanner's.”
"There is nothin' wrong with my coffee." Vin told Larabee. "Just takes a real man to drink it." Chris shot him a dirty look and Kelli cleared her throat as she reentered the room, and looked pointedly at Vin. "That is, with the exception of Kelli of course."
Buck handed her one of the cups and practically got his head chewed off by Vin and Chris both. "Relax, it's not coffee. I got her a hot caramel apple cider."
Kelli frowned at the cup, before hesitantly lifting it up to her lips and taking a sip. "Mmm…that's good."
“Inez always liked it in place of her beloved morning coffee when she was pregnant.” Buck grinned. “So, I brought the coffee, and Ezra brought the clothes. You two ready to get sprung?”
“Doc promised to be here before nine, but before we go home, we are going to accompany Vin and Kel on a stop to meet with her doctor." Chris answered.” I doubt the RMR will try again so soon, but we aren’t taking any chances.”
Thirty minutes later Larabee and Tanner were checked out. Dr. Weeks had arranged to meet Kelli and Vin at her hospital office on the third floor, and that is where they all were now, waiting for her. Vin had informed Dr. Weeks about the chain of events that led to the hospital overnight, and the doctor had been concerned enough about the effects on Kelli to order an ultrasound, just to be on the safe side.
Much to both Vin and Kelli's relief, both the ultrasound and the physical examination that Dr. Weeks had done showed no evidence that the stress that Kelli had been under had any adverse effects on the twins. The Tanners thanked her and rejoined Chris, Buck, and Ezra in the waiting room.
All four men moved easily into a protective circle around Kelli as they exited the hospital and headed toward the vehicles that would provide them transportation back to the Larabee 7. Kelli couldn't help reflecting ruefully that only 24 hours earlier, she had been in a similar circle going up to the hospital room that Vin and Chris had been placed in together. Somehow though, this moving huddle that the men were doing around her didn't bother her. Once all five of them were seated in Chris's Ram, with Buck driving, the men relaxed a bit.
Kelli couldn't help chuckling at the almost collective sighs that her husband, father, and their two brothers gave as Buck headed the Ram down the road in the direction of the Larabee 7.
"What's so funny?" Vin asked, from his position beside her.
"Nothin'....just takin' notice of how y'all reacted when we got into the Ram is all." Kelli told him.
"How was that?" Chris asked, wincing as he glanced over the back of the front seat at her.
"Like four Mama grizzly bears who managed to get their cubs all safe and sound to their dens." she replied with a wide grin.
"You best resign yourself to staying in that den, Missy. The only time you'll be out of it is when you see Dr. Weeks." Chris had already decided that until the threat to Tanner and Jackson was over he was taking no unnecessary chances. All of their families would be spending most of their time on Larabee 7 property. His eyes met Vin's and he saw no argument coming from the Texan.
Buck took Kelli and Vin to their house first, leaving Ezra to get them settled, and as the designated protection detail. He then drove Chris to his home where he had left his truck.
“Thanks Buck” Chris climbed out of the truck. “After you look in on your family, I need your help on a project that needs finishing.”
“Sure Chris, I’ll be back in about thirty minutes.”
“Take what time you need, I want to track Travis down and fill him in on what MCAT is doing to follow up on yesterday’s attack.”
“How long will he be in Washington?”
“He is supposed to be back by Monday. He said he wanted to be here for MCAT’s second anniversary.”
“Lord I hope he doesn’t have anything planned. We’ve had all the excitement we need for a while.”
“Amen to that Buck.” Larabee went into the house as Buck climbed into his truck and headed home.
Linda had been watching from the window and met Chris at the door. “You okay?” She asked Larabee anxiously, her green eyes running over him.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Doc just wanted to be sure before he cut me loose.” Chris smiled ruefully at the genuine concern for his well being that he heard in Linda's voice as he set his bag down. There had been so many times in the past when he had wished that she had shown as much concern for him, as she was showing now. He supposed late was better than never. " What about you, Grace, and Cody?”
Linda smiled up at him. “We’re all fine. I rested, and Inez took Grace home with her for the night. She thought it might be easier on you.”
"I'll call Inez and see if Grace needs anything." Chris said, picking up his bag of dirty clothes and started across the room toward his bedroom.
Larabee turned at the sound of his name.
"I'm really glad that you are okay." Linda said softly.
Even from across the room, Chris could read the sincerity in Linda's green eyes. "Thank you." he replied just as softly, before turning around and continuing onto his bedroom.
When he had finished depositing his dirty clothes into the hamper, Larabee phoned the Wilmington's. After Inez had assured him that she had everything she needed to keep Grace overnight, Chris talked to Buck for a couple of minutes. Letting Buck know what he needed to complete his plans, and they agreed to meet in fifteen minutes.
“I know how special this chair is to you. Are you sure about this Chris?” Buck had gone into the Larabee attic and pulled down the rocking chair Chris had made for Sarah when she was expecting Adam.
Pleasant memories from another time in his life flooded his thoughts. “I’m sure.” Chris ran his hand lovingly over the back of the chair. “Linda refused to use it because it belonged to Sarah, so we have another one she purchased for Grace. I’ll continue to use that chair with Cody. This will make a good match for the antique rocker Vin found, and I want my daughter to have it.”
“I think Sarah would approve.” Buck knew how many hours of work, and love Chris had poured into making this rocker.
“Yeah she would,” Chris said softly.” All we have to do is touch up a few places on both chairs, add a coat of varnish, and then I’ll let Vin know they’re ready.” He knew it was the perfect time to pass this family heirloom to his eldest daughter.
Ezra sat on the couch and watched as Jason and Andi filled in their parents on everything that had happened over the last twenty four hours. He smiled as Andi continued to rattle on about Buttons, Tracker, their turtle, and her fish. The amazing thing to Ezra was that she was telling all this to her unborn brothers, as if she expected them to answer her at any moment.
Standish waited until the kids had left the room before asking. “Does Andi believe the babies can hear her?"
“They can Ez,” Kelli answered.” At this stage they recognize the voices they hear often, and the boys always respond when they hear Vin, Andi and Jason talk to ‘em all the time.
“It seems I have a lot to learn.” Ezra grinned. “Of course Barbara and I have some time to educate ourselves before that becomes necessary.”
“Become educated about what darling?” Barbara walked in.
“Babies,” Vin chuckled. “When you’re ready I can give you some books to read, and every URL on the Internet that gives good information.”
“Vin has taken a crash course on pregnancy, and I swear he knows almost as much as Dr, Weeks does.” Kelli added. “We’ve planned what we hope will be a natural delivery, which means family can be present. Any of y’all that feel comfortable with that are welcome to be there when our boys decide to arrive.”
“I would be honored to be there.” Barbara replied. “If you’re certain it’s okay.”
"We're fine with it." Vin assured her. "Neither Kelli nor I had family when we were younger to share important milestones with. Now that we are blessed with the Wild Bunch, we want everyone to be there to welcome our babies into it."
Barbara and Ezra understood how they felt. Having their chosen family around them was a wonderful feeling. “We’ll be there.” Ezra answered for both of them as he intertwined the fingers of his hand with his wife's.
“While you and Larabee were vacationing in the hospital, the other ladies and I came up with an idea.” Barbara changed the subject. “With your approval we’d like to host a party tomorrow at our house. A combination of a celebration of life, your anniversary, and Vin’s birthday all rolled into one.”
“Barbara, y’all just moved in last weekend. Are you sure?” Kelli questioned.
“That sounds good to me. We wanted the kids to be with us this year for our anniversary, and tomorrow would be fine.” Vin said with a smile. “Kel and I celebrate us everyday; sharing a day with family is a blessin’ after yesterday, so count us in.”
Bubba was furious. He had orchestrated the attack on Tanner at the courthouse yesterday and he had expected it to be a triumph for the movement. Yet, that traitor was still alive, and still a threat to Karl’s freedom.
“Damnit, how in the hell could you miss?” Bubba yelled at the man he had sent to take out Tanner. “You were right there!”
“Those bastards had him surrounded, and he was wearing a damn vest!”
“That’s why I told you to take a head shot, you idiot!” Bubba threw a packet at the young man. “Take this, there’s a new identity and three thousand dollars. You need to disappear for a while. Lay low and do NOT contact any of us!“
Bubba was not interested in the bounty money. It was rage that fueled his desire to see Vin Tanner dead or suffering. He hated the government, and to have an agent come into Rocky Meadows and successfully deceive them was bad enough. To see that same man bring down Karl Chambers was unacceptable. Everything they had built up for the last thirty years was at risk, and he had no intention of letting Tanner get away with destroying it. The survival of the white race was at stake in this war, and the genius of Karl Chambers would not be lost to the cause due to the actions of a deceiving traitor.
It was time to make his own plans, and sending Vin Tanner into a living hell was tops on his list.
Standish Home ~Sunday ~May 6th
Barbara and Ezra had planned their home with a lot of thought. They had included four bedrooms, all on the top floor, plus a guest bathroom, a huge family room, a dining room, laundry room, kitchen, office space, and another bathroom downstairs. Many hours had been spent consulting with interior designers on the color scheme for their home. They had wanted it to be a perfect melding of both their tastes and had found that they needed outside help to achieve that.
Elegant, but sturdy furniture had been custom made out of cherry or maple wood to fit in with the needs of the Standish's to accommodate not only themselves, but the various members of the Wild Bunch as well. Rich fabrics in Ezra's favorite colors of maroon and emerald green were used throughout the house in the upholstery on the furniture, as well as the drapery. Softer tones of the same shades were used in accent pillows, bedcovers and area rugs for the hardwood floors. Splashes of gold and silver in candle holders, picture frames and assorted knickknacks were a nice addition to the darker color scheme.
Barbara took pleasure in showing their new home to the other women, while the brothers gravitated together.
“Ezra this has been a great celebration. The food was fantastic, the company even better, and we needed this time together.” Josiah placed a hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “Thank you Brother, the next one is on us for Adam’s birthday on the twentieth.”
“I am looking forward to it. I have been the recipient of many such wonderful events in my brothers’ homes over the years. I am pleased to have them here in mine.” Ezra quickly corrected himself. “Rather I should say we are pleased to have y’all in our home.”
JD laughed. “It does take some getting use to, thinking ours instead of mine, but it’s worth it.” He kept a close eye on Lilah and Daisy; both seemed to be fascinated with Tannis. Inez even let each of them hold her, with a little help.
Nathan smiled as he held on to Terrell while Rain took Ronesha with her for a tour of the house. “Rain is such a part of my life; it’s hard to remember when she wasn’t in it, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Ezra watched Barbara walk down the stairs with the other wives and smiled. “I wholly concur, Brother Nathan.”
“Vin, you keep rubbing your chest, you okay?” Buck had been watching Vin and Chris closely.
“Yeah, it’s just sore enough to remind me how our work has changed.” Vin stated. “We seem to land in the middle of the worst of the worst lately.”
Chris had to agree, it did seem that since MCAT had been formed they had been thrown into the fire time and time again. They had tackled cases that would give lesser men nightmares for the rest of their lives, yet they had survived and their bond had strengthened. The world may not be a more dangerous place than in years past, but the danger was certainly striking closer to home. Bottom line, none of them had ever been the type of men that stood outside the fire and watched it burn. Whenever there was a fork in the road they took the hardest one. They were who they were, and although having families did give them more to consider, they always rose to the occasion and did what had to be done.
“Maybe the last two years have been more difficult for most of us, but in spite of a few unpleasant detours we’re still standing. Chris looked from one brother to another. “Personally, I can’t think of any men better to stand with other than the six of you. Together we are unbeatable and we have survived all the scum that has tried to break us. Lady Ice, Reed, Cleaver, Deveraux, Donner and Jack all tried, along with a multitude of others and they failed. Karl Chambers will fail, also.”
Chris extended his hand out palm up, and one atop another six more followed. Josiah was the last to lay his hand with his brothers’, and as he completed their union of solidarity he simply said, “Amen Brothers.”
Monday~ May 7th~9:00am
Vin and Kelli had discussed the possibility of taking a short trip for their anniversary, but the thought of having a bodyguard tagging along changed their plans. Instead of allowing it to upset them, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity to share their special day with Jason and Andi. Karl Chambers and the threat from the RMR would not cheat them out of spending enjoyable time with their children.
After a late breakfast, the Tanners were outlining their plans for the day with the kids. A knock at the front door interrupted them. Vin went to open it, and was met by Chris and Buck, each carrying a rocking chair. Tanner recognized one of the chairs as the one he had bought last Friday. “Chris, what in the hell are y’all doin'?”
“Making sure our brother has an anniversary gift.” Larabee answered as he set the chair down.
“We only finished what you would have if you hadn’t been injured.” Buck walked in and set the second chair down. “You found this one, and said yourself it only needed a touch up.”
“This one is a close match, and it belongs in the family.”
*Sarah’s chair, Chris?*
*It was; now it belongs to you and Kel.*
Kelli walked in from the kitchen. “Vin, who was at the door?” She stopped when she saw Chris and Buck. “Hi.”
“Morning Kel, happy anniversary,” Chris kissed her on the cheek.
“Thanks Dad.” She tried to see what the trio was attempting to conceal. “What’s behind y’all?”
“Kel, I had planned to give you a pair of rockin’ chairs for today, but as of last Friday I had only found one that I thought was good enough. I was goin' to look for another one, and to do some touch up work on ’em over the weekend, but…well you know what happened.”
“So Buck and I decided to help out.” Chris joined in on the explanation.” Vin found the perfect antique rocker, and it deserved a worthy match. I happened to have one.” He moved so Kelli could see both chairs.
“Oh…oh they’re beautiful.” She moved closer to see, and was overcome with a wave of emotion.
“The one on the right, I found at an antique barn, I even have a documented history on it.” Vin move next to his wife. “The other one…”
”Has a documented history too.” Chris handed her an envelope. “I hand crafted it for Sarah when we found out she was expecting Adam. I’m passing it to my eldest daughter to rock my first grandchildren. I know Sarah would have approved.”
Tears slipped down her cheeks as she hugged first Vin, and then her Dad.” Are you sure you want me to have Sarah’s chair?”
“Absolutely, it’s almost a perfect match to the one Vin found, and I want my daughter to have it.” Chris hugged her back. “Make some happy memories Kel. Sarah did, and I know she would have loved you as much as I do.” Her tears fell harder, and Chris let Vin take over the care of his wife, while he and Buck carried the rockers to the nursery before they headed off to work.
Although Vin had built the new barn and corral fairly close to the house, Kelli felt as if she had walked fifty miles nonstop. The babies were growing like crazy and pushing for more room which sometimes caused her to have shortness of breath, but she was determined to keep up a moderate exercise regimen as long as possible. Breathing heavily she leaned against the fence railing. “Your sons are tryin' to take over every inch of available space in my body for their own private football game.”
Walking up behind his wife, Vin wrapped his arms around her, and hid his grin as he asked, “My sons? I thought they were ours.” He ran his hand over her stomach, and spoke softly. “You two settle down, your sister and brother need some time with Mama too,”
Kelli leaned back against Vin, careful to not apply too much pressure on his bruised chest. Her thoughts turned to how close she came to losing him only three short days ago. “You think they’re out there somewhere just watchin’ and waitin’ for another chance to get to you Vin?
Tanner’s eyes scanned the horizon. He saw nothing out of the ordinary; however it was probable that someone from the RMR was monitoring the activities on the ranch. “We are not goin’ to live in fear of what might be baby. If they’re out there, we’ll deal with it when the time comes. We’re gonna celebrate this beautiful day with our family.”
“Dad, look at Dreamer!” Jason’s excited shout changed the course of their thoughts as he proudly led his colt into the corral. “Mom, he let me slip the halter on with no fussin’.”
“When do I get a horse? Jason already has two of ‘em.” Andi stood next to her mama, on the bottom rail for a better view.
Kelli pulled Andi to her with a hug, “Soon, baby girl. The only reason Jason has two is because Dreamer is still too young for him to ride."
“Thor is gentle enough for him to ride now.” Vin explained. “When you get just a little bigger, we’ll find a horse that’s right for you too, Sugar. For now though, you can ride with me.” Assured that Kelli was comfortable, Vin left her to watch Jason, and he took Andi with him to the barn to saddle his horse. He had moved Peso, Dancer, Thor, Midnight, and Dreamer to the new barn a few days ago. Lady Brianna, Sandy and their other mares were left in the breeding barns. The plan for today was to give each of the kids a chance to ride, and then have a picnic lunch. Afterwards the children were going to spend the night at the Wilmingtons, and then the rest of the evening would belong to Vin and Kelli.
Two hours later the horses had been taken care of, and their picnic lunch was almost finished. Jason and Andi hit the monkey bars while Vin sat with Kelli on the swing. Keeping one eye on their children, they talked about the nursery.
"Jason is really happy about us usin' his suggestion. I think decoratin' the nursery with wallpaper of old west designs, and all those pictures of horses was perfect. Barbara findin' those lampshades with horses on them was a stroke of luck, too." Kelli yawned.
“Are you holdin' up okay baby?” He positioned himself so she could lean back against him.
“It’s been a great day, Vin. Big family breakfast, the horses, time with the kids, and we have two beautiful rockin’ chairs for our babies.” Kelli closed her eyes. “I am a bit tired though." She snuggled closer.
Vin kept the swing in motion by pushing with his foot. Within five minutes Kelli was asleep in his arms, and the kids were still going strong on the playground. Watching Jason and Andi play as he held his wife, he could feel his unborn children moving inside her while she slept. As far as Vin was concerned life didn’t get much better that this.
It was late afternoon when Vin and Kelli told Max to go home, and then took Jason, Andi and Tracker over to the Wilmingtons for the night. When they returned home, the Tanners worked together to make a light meal of pasta and salad. After the dishes were done, Vin led his wife over to the couch in the living room to rest.
"Sit here and relax while I prepare our room for us." he instructed Kelli, who agreed despite her curiosity to know what he was talking about.
After locking the doors, and setting the alarm, Tanner moved into the kitchen. He rummaged through the refrigerator to pull out a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling cider, and placed it into an ice bucket. Grabbing a platter he put two glasses on it, and added some cheese, crackers, and fruit. Next stop was their bedroom.
Vin set the ice bucket and platter on the bedside table while he pulled out a bag of items he had asked Ezra to obtain for him. Inside were several white candles that he placed sporadically around the room and in the adjoining bathroom to create a relaxing atmosphere. Pulling the comforter to the foot of the bed, he turned down the sheets and added extra pillows. The stereo was loaded with an assortment of cds that would fill the room with soft romantic music.
In the bathroom he arranged several oversized bath towels on the lid of the toilet, and laid her robe over the towel bar. The hot tub was out for this stage of Kelli's pregnancy, but their sunken tub was okay for a warm bath to help alleviate the ache in her back and legs. Turning on the faucet, he added her favorite scented bath oil, and the tub slowly began to fill with warm water. Satisfied that everything was ready, he stripped out of his clothes, and slipped on his robe. Vin turned down the lights, and then went back to his wife, who he found dozing.
A soft smile creased his lips as he crouched down in front of her. “Wake up Kel."
Kelli's eyes open as she raised her head up and smiled guiltily at Vin." I'm sorry. Seems like lately all I do is eat and sleep."
“You eat all the time ‘cause our boys stay hungry, and you want to sleep ‘cause they wear your butt out.” Tanner grinned and took her hand.” As of this moment you are in my hands for the rest of the night.” He assisted her up, and slipped his arm around her as they walked toward the bedroom. “I told you months ago that I intended to spoil you, and I am a man of my word.”
Kelli stopped to face him and placed her hand gently on his chest. "Are you sure you've healed enough for this?"
“I’m fine Kel, nothing we do is gonna hurt me." He gently drew her closer. "Trust me.”
There was no question about Kelli trusting Vin, she did. Relaxing into his arms she sighed with contentment. “I’m in your hands, Tanner, lead on.”
"Smart move, Lady," He took her hand and continued on with his surprise.
Vin opened their door, and allowed Kelli to enter first. Seeing the delight on her face when she saw his handiwork made him smile. Wrapping his arms around her he kissed the back of her neck and whispered. “Relax and enjoy Kel, tonight we’re gonna make some memories, baby.”
Vin knew making love to his wife would be pleasurable, but he also had learned from loving Kelli that having sex wasn't the only thing of importance between a man and a woman. Tonight he planned to pamper the mother of his children, share an intimacy with his wife that belonged only to them, and make certain she was aware of how beautiful he thought she was.
MCAT Office ~May 18 ~3:00pm
Chris had read the report in front of him three times, and still had no idea what it said. It was still early when he got home after his NA meeting last night, but Linda was already asleep. In fact, over the last ten days, it seemed she was deliberately distancing herself from him and Grace. After the last few months of peace between them he was almost disappointed to see the small changes that were occurring. He had mixed feelings about it. On one hand he knew they could not go back and become different people in order to continue this truce forever. On the other he wanted it to last long enough for him to take part in the birth of his son.
*Admit it Larabee…you want it all and that is not gonna happen. Once Cody arrives, your life will take one path, and Linda’s another. All you can do is play the hand that fate has dealt, and look to your future with Cody, and Grace.*
Buck walked in the office without knocking. Taking note of the faraway look on Chris’s face he knew his thoughts were a million miles from here. “Hey stud, are you still with us?”
“Yeah… I was just thinking.”
“Why don’t you think yourself home? It’s almost closing time anyway.”
Larabee sighed. “I might do that. The toy store called today. Grace’s birthday present is in, and I could pick it up on the way home.”
Buck grinned, “You got her the rocking horse didn’t you?”
“Yep, and I’m hiding it at your house until her party.” Chris smiled. “Since she started walking, she’s all over our house, and would probably run across it sooner or later.”
It’s hard to believe our little Grace is walking. Shoot, before you know it Tannis will be chasing after her.” Buck frowned. “That is something I’m not looking forward to, once they walk there’s no stopping ‘em, and your baby is gone. You’ll still have Cody, but Tannis will probably be our last one. “
“Tannis will always be your baby Buck, even when she’s grown with kids of her own.”
“I reckon so.” Buck thought for a moment and then asked. “You think of Kel as your baby too, don’t you?”
“I might have missed her first steps, and words, hell, her first everything, but she’ll always be my baby. Now that I’ve found her, nothing will ever change that.”
“I’d say we’re damn lucky men Chris. With seven chosen brothers, and a wild bunch of women and kids, we’ve managed to build one hell of a family.
“That we are, Buck.” Chris shut down his computer, stood up, and gathered his work to put in his briefcase. “I’m out of here, there’s a rocking horse waiting on me.”
Journal Entry ~ Sunday ~ May 20th ~Midnight
Adam Sanchez turned two-years-old today. How in the hell do these kids grow so fast? It seems like only yesterday when Josiah announced he and Mallory were expecting again, and now… A lot has happened in two years, some good, some not so good, but one thing has not changed…Time moves on, whether we want it to or not.
We have had a lot to be thankful for this month. Most importantly we survived an attempt on Vin’s life at the courthouse, and no one was seriously injured. Ezra and Barbara moved into their new home and building began on Reins for Change. I received my nine month coin from my NA meeting yesterday, and in another week or two my son will be arriving. We made it through Vin and Kelli’s anniversary, Tanner’s birthday, and MCAT”S second year. Travis conceded to my recommendation, and did not insist on hosting a big celebration. Instead we have focused on monitoring all known members of the RMR and security for Tanner and Jackson, along with their families.
The last two weeks have been an exercise in frustration for our team though. Our shooter seems to have vanished into thin air, and we are no closer to ending this nightmare. For every man we take into custody another one climbs out of the woodwork to take his place. We are keeping the U.S. Attorneys busy though. As of the last Friday we have arrested thirty-seven militia members, and have a good case against each of them. Karl’s attorney is still playing games and it looks as if his trial won’t begin until late August. We had hoped to have this over and done with before school started again, but the children might have to continue being home schooled a little longer.
Realistically, I suppose we could all give up the dangerous, sometimes nerve-racking, work of law enforcement, and concentrate on raising horses. It would certainly be safer for our families, but none of us would even consider doing that, at least not for a few more years. The work we do is essential, and keeping MCAT operating with the best available team is too important. The world we live in makes fighting major crime and acts of terrorism a necessity and as long as evil tries to attack us, we need to be there to stop it, or at the very least slow it down. We have to have faith, and trust in fate to lead us safely through.
Larabee 7~Thursday ~ May 24th ~8:00am
Chris had left for work over an hour ago, dropping Grace off with Max on his way out. Linda had given Louisa the day off and now stood alone in the house that was never really hers. Rubbing her hand across her extended belly, she spoke softly to her son who was making his presence known fiercely. “Easy Cody, it won’t be long and you will be greeting the world. I promise you’ll like what you find here. You have a terrific Dad waiting to hold you, and he will always be there for you. You have two older sisters in Kelli and Grace. Grace is only a little older than you, and she is beautiful. I imagine that the two of you will be very close, so long as each of you stops to listen to what the other has to say, and be willing to compromise on things that you don't agree upon. The other one, Kelli, is all grown up, but she already loves you, and she is also the best friend your mother ever had. The problem is that I didn’t know that until after I sabotaged our friendship. ”
She delicately made her way through the house room, by room, reflecting on the last two years of her life. “What can I tell you about me? I won’t be here as you grow up, but trust me, one day you will appreciate that fact. I’m just not mom material…I didn’t know that until after Grace was born, but all the same it’s true.” Linda laughed aloud. “I guess the only time I learn anything is when it’s too late…oh and the things I always want the most, are those that I can’t have. Once I get them, I tend to lose interest, and want to move on to something else.”
Linda stood at the door of the bedroom that she used to share with Chris. “That’s what happened with your father and me. When we met I wanted what he had to offer. My own father had recently died and I thought here is a man that is older, loves me, and will spoil me the same way my Daddy did. Don’t get me wrong, your father is a fine man, and I do love him, but not the way I should…I just learned real quick like that he really expected me to be adult about all the awful things that happened during the time we were together. Well, your mama likes to be the center of attention, and I am used to being sheltered from the bad things that happen in life. Not a good combination for the wife of a man whose career is in law enforcement and has a family the size of Texas.”
Moving on, she stopped at the room that used to be Adam’s before she redecorated. “If I were a different type of woman, I probably could have accepted that Chris had another wife and son before me, but instead of accepting that fact, I tried to make him forget. Looking back, I realize now that was most likely not one of my better moves. He told me before we made…well before…about them, and that they were a part of who he was, but I thought I could change that…I was wrong”.
She ended up in the kitchen and sat down at the table with a cup of hot tea. “Bottom line Cody, you will have a great life here. You’ll have lots of cousins to play with, a ton of uncles and aunts that will love you, and you will never want for anything. Except maybe a mother…I’ll visit, and buy you and your sister expensive things your father will have a fit over, but this life is just not for me. I need to travel, go where I want, when I want, not live on a schedule that revolves around the needs other of others. I need someone that will revolve their life around my needs and wants. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love you or Grace…I only know it would hurt you both if I stayed and y’all began to think either of you were responsible for me being unhappy here. None of it is your fault or your sister’s. It just is…the way it is.”
Apparently her talking had put the baby to sleep because his gymnastic act was over and he was calm. Linda reached for the telephone; she had a few loose ends to tie up before her final act. This time next month, she would be lying on a beach on the French Riviera soaking up the sun, but now she had to finish this chapter of her life.
Dialing a familiar number she waited for an answer. “Kel, I was wondering if you and I could have a private lunch today.”
“Why don’t you come here for lunch?" Kelli replied immediately, wondering what it was that Linda wanted. "Say eleven-thirty? It’s Thursday, which means trainin’ at Camp Larabee, so Vin wont be back until after one, and we can have some privacy in the sun room.”
Linda hesitated for only a moment. “I’ll be there.”
Surprisingly Linda felt a bit nervous. She was going to ask Kelli for a huge favor, for old time’s sake, and she was not sure how the redhead would respond to her request. Even though they had agreed on a truce, she knew that Kelli might refuse, and truthfully there was no one else she could ask.
Kelli met her at the door with a questioning smile. “Hi, come on in. I have our lunch ready and waitin’ in the sun room, along with a couple of comfortable chairs.”
Linda had not seen Kelli since the Standish wedding and was somewhat surprised at how much bigger she was in only three weeks. “Good lord Kel, you look like the one that is due to deliver tomorrow, not me.”
“I had another ultrasound day before yesterday, and we still have another six weeks to go.” Kelli sighed as they walked slowly to the sun room. “What about you? How have you been feelin’?”
“Better than I did at this stage with Grace. Although this one is much more active that she was, and I thought that was impossible.” Linda grinned as Cody started moving again. “It seems that every time you and I get close he gets more active.”
“Maybe the boys are communicatin’ like their fathers, because I’ve noticed it too.” Kelli instantly regretted bringing up a sore subject. Linda never did like the fact that Chris and Vin had some sort of link to silently communicate. She changed the subject quickly. “I made us a salad with grilled chicken breast, but if you would rather have somethin’ else…”
“This is fine Kel, and it looks great.” The two women ate in comfortable silence for a bit before Linda spoke. “Kel, I have a favor to ask of you?”
Kelli laid down her fork and took a sip of tea before answering. “What kind of favor, Linda?”
“Chris has been great about working with me to make our arrangements, but I need you to do something that I’m not certain he would do.” Linda reached into her bag and brought out a stack of letters. “I have written a letter to each of the wives, and brothers that I would like for you to pass on for me. I also wrote a few to Grace and Cody, for when they are older, of course. I have each one dated, and I thought maybe you would see that they got them. I know you have letters from Jason and Andi’s mom that you are holding for them.”
“Linda, I’ll pass the ones to the wild bunch on if you want, but you act as if you will never see the kids at all. Couldn’t you just mail them theirs, or hand the letters to the children when it’s time?”
“Hell, you know me better that anyone, Kel. If I don’t give them to you now, who knows what I will be thinking in fifteen or sixteen years. I want them to know what I feel now and why I am leaving, not some story I make up years from now to make it sound better.” Linda added. “If I give them to you I know I won’t be tempted to lie to the children later on. You and I both know I probably would.”
Kelli did know that Linda was capable of doing something like that, not to be malicious, but she liked to be seen in the best possible light at all times. She would retreat when necessary, however her nature was to try and bluff her way through unpleasant circumstances. The blond was definitely a gambler when it came to getting what she wanted, but she was a gracious loser when it did not work out. Linda always knew when to cut her losses and walk away from the table. “Give ‘em to me.” The redhead growled. “I hope you don’t expect me to hide these from Chris, because I won’t.”
“I know, and that’s okay. I knew he wouldn’t understand my reasons, but you would.” Linda used her fork to play with her salad. “There is a letter in there for you too. Please wait until after I leave to read it.”
Nodding her head in agreement Kelli swallowed her last bite of chicken. “Do you think you’ll get along with the woman Max found to help out with Cody and Grace?” Max had recommended a lady to Chris that she knew would be great with Grace. Max trained with Dorothy 'Dottie' Morris as a nurse in the Navy. While Max made the service a career, Dottie went back to civilian life when her hitch was over and had specialized in pediatric care. She had impeccable references and was capable of handling a newborn. Chris had one meeting with the grandmotherly lady, and after watching how she interacted with Grace, he hired her. Dottie Morris was scheduled to move into the Larabee household the day that Cody was brought home from the hospital.
“I am positive that Mrs. Morris and I will have no problems.” Linda assured her. “I also understand that Mila will be here helping Max with your household. Louisa is pleased about that.”
“Mila has already started, and Max has her in trainin'.” Kelli laughed. “By the time the babies get here Max plans to have Mila runnin’ the household so she can spend all her time with the children. Since Rain has decided to work at the equine center as well as Casey, Caitlyn is plannin’ on addin’ a daycare on the premises for Lilah, Daisy, Terrell, Ronesha, Joanne, and Adam. Inez has her four, and that leaves Max with our twins, Andi and Jason after I go back to work, and both Andi and Jason will be in school come fall.
“Sounds as if y’all have it all worked out. It’s hard to believe that Andi will be going to school though.”
“With sixteen kids to look after on the Larabee 7, it takes some preplannin’, and it’s hard for me to believe that Andi will be going to preschool next year, too.” Kelli smiled. “Hell, it’s hard for me to believe that by the time school starts again that I’ll have four kids. I never expected to have even one.”
“I’m really happy that things have worked out for you Kel…I wish.” The blonde started to say more, but stopped. “Never mind, you know I’ll be thinkin’ about you.” Linda stood up to leave. “I think I will head home and take a nice long nap.”
Kelli walked her to the door. “I do plan on bein' at the hospital when you go. You’ll have to give me a review on the new birthin’ suites.”
“I took a tour of it last Monday; I think you will like it.” Linda hugged her oldest friend. “It’s hard to say goodbye after all these years, you’ve always been no more than a phone call away. Kel, thanks for always being there when I needed you, especially after Daddy died.”
Kelli suddenly realized that Linda was saying her final goodbye. After more than eleven years of back and forth visits and phone calls, their relationship would be permanently changed when Linda walked out that door. She may see her at the hospital, and a few times after that, but Linda was cutting their ties. Even after all the disagreements and arguments they had had over the years, and especially over the last year, Kelli felt a profound sense of loss for a part of her life that was no more. “Find what you need to be happy, Linda, and when you do hold onto it.”
“I plan to.” Linda hugged Kelli again, just before she walked out. “I’m gonna miss you Kel, you take care.”
Quietly closing the door behind the blond, Kelli leaned against it and was surprised by the tears that fell. Linda could be a real piece of work sometimes, but she was also very vulnerable to the realities of life. They had been roommates, partners, confidents, and for a good part of Kelli’s life Linda was the only person she had considered a friend. Fate had taken them in different directions over the last two years though, and just as Kelli had found her way to happiness, Linda had lost hers. *One door opens, and another one closes, Kel.* Life sometimes had a strange way of moving on.
Outside the door Linda took a deep breath. She and Kelly had been though a lot together, but they had reached a fork in the road of their friendship. Kelli’s path stopped here on the Larabee7, but for Linda it was only a temporary healing place. She was herself again, and her father’s death was behind her. It was time to look forward because this chapter of her life was quickly coming to a close. Linda pushed a stray wisp of pale blonde hair off her brow and glanced at her watch she knew she would have to rush to make her appointment, but it would be worth it. She had scheduled an afternoon of pampering at her favorite beauty salon, because she would be the center of attention when Cody was born, and she intended to look her best.
Friday May 25th ~ 5:30am
Chris was awakened by the sound of soft knocking on his bedroom door. Immediately he was on his feet, and at the door, opening it to find Linda standing there. She was fully dressed and wearing make-up, very unusual for her at this time of the morning.
“Chris, it’s time. Dr Ryder had planned to induce me this morning, but Cody decided to come on his own. I thought you might want to have breakfast before we leave for the hospital.” Linda smiled. “I made your favorite eggs, just the way you like them.”
Larabee raised a brow. “You’re in labor, and you made me eggs?”
“Really Chris, there is no reason we can’t be civil to one another. We have some time before we need to leave, and it will be a long day for you, you should eat.”
He was not sure where this Linda came from, but she was not the same woman he married, or the one he had been living with the last five months. This one was a totally new personality, one he didn’t know at all. “I’ll dress and meet you in the kitchen.”
“Okay,” Linda started to move away from the door and stopped. “Oh. I already called Max, and she’s expecting us to bring Grace over on our way out. Vin and Kelli will bring her up to the hospital when they come.”
Denver Memorial Hospital ~9:00am
Chris had to admit, he was impressed. Linda had a birth plan worked out and so far she was on schedule. The private birthing suite was set-up for comfort with an at home atmosphere that included a private washroom, shower, vanity, and a comfortable bed. It was also a functional room, equipped to handle each phase of delivery and recovery, as well as prepared to handle more complicated procedures, such as cesarean or any emergency. For the baby there was a pediatrician available, and a specialized nurse to take care of any situation that might occur. As an added bonus everything was videotaped so fathers could concentrate on the mothers instead of a camera.
Linda wanted to try to get through Cody’s birth without a c-section. Dr. Ryder had agreed, but had an OR on stand-by just in case it became necessary. In the meantime Linda was in the early stages of labor, and not uncomfortable. In this more relaxed setting it was pretty much up to the mother who she wanted present, and how she wanted to handle her labor. So far Linda was staying on her feet and walking around the room as much as possible, while Chris elected to remain seated to read the newspaper. He felt confident Linda would let him know when she needed his assistance. She had family in and out and had been visiting with Matt for over thirty minutes when Kelli and Vin brought Grace up. Vin handed her over to Chris, while he looked over the room.
Kelli had told Vin she wanted to have a natural childbirth experience; Dr. Weeks nixed a home delivery, but did suggest they check out the new suites here at the hospital. Kelli could direct her labor they way she wanted, to a point, but if there were any problems, help was only moments away. Tanner decided to reserve judgment until her saw how it worked for Linda.
“Kel, what do you think? Isn’t this great?” Linda gave the redhead the grand tour. “I want you and Vin to stay as long as you are comfortable. That way you get a chance to see firsthand how great these rooms are.”
“I like what I see, but Dr. Weeks has to approve whatever birth plan we decide on. It really depends on the boys, and how they are when the time comes.” Kelli tried out one of the chairs and was surprised to find it very comfortable. “I do like the all the windows, and the natural light is great. It almost seems like a secluded hideaway in here.”
“All the medical equipment is camouflaged by artwork and the chairs make into a bed if dad wants to stay overnight. For the new mom’s that are so inclined the baby can stay twenty-four-seven, and other siblings are welcome.” Linda had memorized all the details.
“We’ve already signed Jason and Andi up for the siblings' class they offer here.” Vin told them. "We haven’t decided how much they are gonna be involved though. A lot depends on how it looks when we get closer.”
“Y’all would really consider letting Jason and Andi be there for the delivery?” Linda asked, although she could not imagine wanting extra children around during labor.
“Not all of it, but we want them to be involved, and be there as soon as possible after the boys are born.” Kelli explained. “They already talk to ‘em all the time, and they must have watched the video of the ultrasound as much as we have. Why shouldn’t they be here to welcome their brothers into the world?”
“No reason at all.” Chris answered." I expect Grace will either be in here or in the adjoining waiting room until Cody arrives.”
Dr. Ryder entered the room. “How are you doing Mrs. Larabee?” She picked up Linda’s chart to read.
“So far I’m good." Linda answered. “I do hope we can do this without surgery this time.”
“You’re blood pressure is in a normal range for now, we’ll keep a close watch on it. Let’s see how your labor is progressing.” Dr. Ryder waited while Linda laid down to be examined.
Kelli stood up. “We can take Grace, and visit the gift shop while you do that.”
Chris handed Grace over to Vin, and waved to her as Vin and Kelli walked out with her. He then turned his concentration to Dr. Ryder and what she had to say.
The doctor removed her gloves and smiled. “Everything looks good, but we are still in the early stage of labor. I’ll be back in an hour to check on you.”
"Can I get you anything?" Chris asked Linda when the doctor had left, “Some water or ice chips?”
"No, I’m fine, nothing right now." Linda answered him softly. "Just you being here is enough."
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, Linda." Larabee told her sincerely. “We may be lousy marriage partners, but hopefully we’re still friends.”
Linda was startled when she felt a stronger contraction. “I suppose our son agrees with you.”
Chris chuckled. “He’s just anxious to make his presence known to the Wild Bunch."
"He's doing a damn good job of it." Linda gasped out past the contraction that had just swept through her abdomen.
For the next hour her contractions came faster, each one a little harder than last. Linda had begun to have second thoughts about this natural delivery idea. Dr Ryder returned and after checking her progress and told her she still had a good way to go before baby Cody arrived.
Couple by couple, each member of the Wild Bunch stopped by to say hello and show their support for Chris. The adjoining room was filled with family, all waiting for the newest Larabee to arrive.
Chris was concerned because Vin, Kelli, and Grace had not returned. He mentally kicked himself for not thinking about sending someone with them…just in case.
“Linda, I’ll be back in one minute.” Chris went to the waiting room and JD was the first one he saw. “I need you to go down to the gift shop and check on Tanner.” Larabee instructed. “When you find him, stay with him JD.”
"You got it, Chris." JD kissed Casey before heading downstairs to the gift shop. When he stepped out of the elevator onto the lobby floor, JD bumped into two men dressed in orderly uniforms and hats. Each man carried a small, black duffle bag with them. Both men had longish hair, unshaven faces, and attempted to stare him down.
"Sorry." JD apologized as he side-stepped around them and stepped out into the corridor. As the elevator doors closed behind him and he started down the hall toward the direction he knew the gift shop was in, Dunne couldn't help reflecting on how odd the two men had acted, and that he felt he should have known the smaller of the two men from somewhere.
It didn't hit him where he had seen the man before until he reached the entrance to the Gift Shop. ”Shit!" he exclaimed, earning him a disapproving look from the matronly woman who was standing behind the desk. He offered her a quick apology as he scanned the interior of the Gift Shop for the Tanners and didn't find them.
*Please let them be okay* was a running dialogue in JD's mind as the MCAT agent hurried over to the bank of elevators and waited for one to arrive on the floor he was on.
It seemed like forever passed before one of the elevator's doors opened and he was able to step inside and punch the number to the floor the maternity ward was on. Never was he more happy to see someone in his life as he was when he caught sight of the Tanners walking toward him from the direction of the nursery.
The relief must have shown on his face, because Vin gave him a funny look. "JD, you okay?"
“I think something's about to go down." JD told the Tanners.
"Chris sent me down to look for you. When I reached the lobby floor, I encountered two men in orderly outfits carrying small black duffel bags. They were both unshaven, menacing looking and I thought one was oddly familiar. It was Rhett Myers...he's a known member of the Ledger Militia."
"Just what we freakin' need," Vin growled out. “Can’t a man welcome the birth of his child into the world without some hate filled fanatics interruptin'?”
“You think they know about the baby Vin?" Kelli asked, concerned about her little brother’s safety.
A flash of a memory came to Vin. “Damnit, when we took Chambers down, we looked at his files. The floor plan on this maternity wing was among the papers we confiscated. At the time we assumed their target was Kelli when she delivers, but...JD, you go to hospital security and put them on alert. I'll tell Chris who you saw."
"I'm on it." JD told him and immediately headed to the security office.
The Tanners returned to the suite that Linda was in. It took one look at Vin for Chris to know something wasn't right. Kelli and Vin moved into the adjoining room where Tanner passed Grace over into Casey's waiting arms, as Kelli settled herself into one of the chairs and he beckoned to his brothers to follow him out into the corridor.
"I'm going to go and see if I can't get you some more ice chips." Chris told Linda. "I'll be back in just a minute."
"What's going on?" he said as soon as he had joined the others.
"JD encountered two men in the elevators earlier. One of them is a known member of the Ledger Militia, a Rhett Myers." Vin told them." He observed them dressed in orderly clothing and carrying black bags. I sent him down to alert security that we might have a situation."
“Sonofabitch,” Chris cursed. “Buck, call the team. I want this hospital searched from top to bottom. You better tell Mark to bring Bandit, we can’t rule out some kind of bomb threat. ”Larabee mentally checked off what they needed to do.” When JD comes back, have him hook up his laptop to a printer. I want a picture of Rhett Myers on every floor on this hospital.”
“Chris, you should go back inside with Linda.” Josiah advised him. ‘We can handle this.”
"Family comes first, Chris. Go be with Linda." Nathan knew Chris was feeling the weight of responsibly as MCAT commander, and attempting to put his personal feelings aside.
"We shall of course, maintain communications with you." Ezra promised.
"Is one fucking day of peace without having to deal with the RMR too much to ask?" The signs of frustration were clearly evident on Larabee's face.
"I don't like it anymore than you do, Cowboy, but it is what it is. Now, go, you need to be there when your boy is born." Vin urged him.
Larabee hesitated. He didn't like the thought of leaving Linda, but yet he felt obligated in leading the team as they tried to thwart whatever nefarious plans the RMR or the Ledger Militia, or both had in store for the hospital. Ultimately it was the thought of Adam that made Chris's decision; he had failed to be with his son when he needed his father the most. Larabee would not make that mistake again. "Keep me posted." Chris said before he went back into the room.
Linda had moved into her second stage of labor, and her resolve to tough it out without taking something for the pain was waning. “Chris, did you bring more ice chips?” She asked between contractions.
Larabee had forgotten all about the ice. “It was too far to go. I’ll have the nurse bring some.” He sat down next to her bedside and took her hand. “Relax Linda, pace yourself.”
"Right, that’s easy for you to say.” She snapped. “I don’t remember it hurting like this when Grace was born.”
Chris attempted to sound reassuring. “You didn’t get this far, before Dr. Ryder decided you needed a c-section.” He knew he needed to be here with Linda during the birth of his son, but his thoughts were with his team as the hunted down the threat to the hospital. “What you’re feeling is natural, Linda. Hang in there; it will be over before you know it.”
*Cody, whenever you're ready son, it's okay. Daddy's here waiting for you.*
Denver Memorial Hospital ~Security Center ~1:00pm
JD had Mallory take his place in the security center monitoring the bank of video screens with hospital security. Dunne made copies of the poster showing Rhett Myers as a wanted man, and then joined the rest of the team in a floor by floor search for the man. Taking charge, Buck ordered Vin and Nathan to stay in the waiting room, It was taking too much of a risk to make them an additional target otherwise.
Mallory carefully studied the hospital monitors and felt a frown settle on her face as she took in two white men, dressed in hospital scrubs crouch down in front of what appeared to be the screen leading to a ventilation shaft for the duo heating and air conditioning system. As she pulled out her cell phone to call her husband, since he was actually leading some of the personnel on that floor, she spotted two more men doing something similar on another floor.
She turned to the head of the hospital security." Mr. Smithy, can I borrow your radio please?"
"Sure, Agent Sanchez," Peter Smithy replied, shifting in his chair to hand the radio over to her. "Did you catch sight of your man?"
“No, but I've got a few others dressed in the same garb, with black bags on different floors setting what I believe are explosives. What frequency do you use to radio your people?"
"Channel 12," Smithy said, as he gazed into the monitors and picked out the men that she had seen.
Josiah led the way down one side of the second floor, three of the security personnel beside him as they did a sweep of each room looking for Rhett Myers and his cohort. The radios that all three of the security guards carried squawked to life, followed by the familiar voice of his wife.
"Can I see that?" Josiah asked one of the men, indicating the radio, as Mallory began to describe what she had spotted on the monitors. Sanchez felt his gut twist at the thought of what would happen if he and the other MCAT agents and hospital security weren't able to find all of the explosives before time ran out.
Hearing his name called broke through his thoughts. "Yes."
"Two of the men are right around the corner from you. Take care of them."
Sanchez smiled. "Oh, I will.”
Justin and Selina were working the third floor, and had heard the communication between Josiah and Mallory.
“Watch for the black bags, they’ll be easier to pick out than the men dressed as orderlies.” Justin instructed Selina and the security officers with them.
Word quickly spread to all the agents that there were more men involved than they originally thought. Buck had a decision to make. Could they chance finding all the men and the explosives, or should he order an evacuation?
“Buck?” Ezra tried to get Wilmington’s attention.
“What?” Buck answered, clearly concerned about making the right call.
"It would seem prudent that the only possible choice you can make is to set an evacuation in motion.” Standish told Wilmington. "We have no idea of the amount of time those dastardly miscreants have set on the explosives, an evacuation post-haste is the only course of action." Ezra knew it would be chaos, and in the process they could lose their suspects, but there were too many lives at stake.
“I Know.” As incident Commander it was his responsibility to make the decision. Buck picked up one of the radios to let security know he was ordering an immediate evacuation of the hospital. Denver Memorial as well as every other hospital had a plan in place for such situations. “Set your evacuation procedure in motion, we do have known explosives on the premises.”
Once the call was made an orderly chaos ensued. The in-patient area supervisor was in charge of implementing a prepared plan for the hospital, and all available law enforcement offices as well as EMS would respond to the call. Ambulatory patients would be escorted out and Ambulances would transport the most critical patients. The biggest problem would be those in surgery and in labor.
Buck headed to Linda’s room to inform Chris.
"That's it, Linda...breathe." Larabee was in the middle of coaxing his pregnant wife through her breathing when Wilmington entered the suite.
Buck closed the door behind him and moved into the adjoining suite, knowing that Chris would join them as soon as he could.
"How are things?" Nathan asked.
"Did you catch them?" Vin queried.
"I've just ordered an emergency evacuation of the hospital." Buck told them.
"Why? How serious is the situation?" Larabee demanded as he entered the room.
"Mallory caught at least four more men on the video screens dressed as orderlies with black bags. They were planting explosives in the hospital's duo heating/air conditioning ventilation system. She signaled the rest of us via radio. We’ve arrested two, but we don’t know how many more there are.”
“Damnit, Linda is too close to delivering to evacuate.” Chris ran his hand through his hair. “She can’t leave.”
“Chris, I have every available agent on this, more local officers are on their way, and the hospital is taking care of the evacuation, but we can’t take the risk of missing anything.” Buck told him. “Mark, Bandit and six other teams are searching for explosives…”
Larabee sighed,” Vin, Nathan, you two get the women and Grace out of here. You’ll have to cover each other, so watch your backs.” He turned to Buck. “Find the bastards!”
"Chrissss...!" Linda screamed out her husband's name as she felt a strong contraction rip across her abdomen. "Chris....the baby's coming!”
Denver Memorial Hospital ~2:00pm
The medical staff took control of evacuating the patients, and within ten minutes there were over one hundred police and firemen at the hospital to assist. News crews were on the scene, and a triage tent was set up in the parking lot to house the patients that were unable to be moved to other facilities.
The MCAT team along with twenty DPD officers, and Hospital security were working their way through the building looking for explosives and suspects. Vin and Nathan both had a hard time leaving the hospital with their wives, Grace, and the other women in the Wild Bunch. Neither man liking the fact that again they had to hide out while their brothers and teammates dealt with the bad guys. They did it nevertheless, knowing that it would be easier on the other MCAT agents to know that the majority of their family members were safe from harm.
It didn't prevent Tanner from calling ahead to the Larabee 7 and alerting Walter to tighten security measures. ”Walter, put the ranch on lockdown. We’ll be at the front gates in fifteen minutes.”
Who knew what the RMR was planning on doing in correspondence to what was happening at the hospital. Whether this was yet another personal attempt of Chambers associates to take out the MCAT Team, or something even more evil, it didn't matter. Until the crisis was over, all of them had to be on alert to insure that their families were protected. It was an unspoken decision by both Nathan and Vin that everyone was brought over to the Tanner home until they heard from Chris.
In spite of the fact that Linda believed Cody was ready to arrive, Dr. Ryder told her she not quite ready to deliver. Chris and the doctor had agreed not to tell Linda about the evacuation, she was too far along to move, and there was no reason to risk an elevation in her blood pressure.
“It won’t be long now, Linda,” Dr Ryder said. “I need you to push when I tell you to.”
"I want this baby out now!" Linda cried back, squeezing Chris's hand so tightly Larabee felt it going numb.
"Breathe, Linda..." Chris coaxed her again, mimicking the 'huffing' sounds for her to follow.
"I don't want to breathe! I just want drugs!" Linda cried out as she was hit by another contraction.
"It’s too late for that now." Dr. Ryder told Linda calmly as she positioned herself at the foot of the bed in preparation of checking how far along she was again.
A surprise awaited her. “Nurse, make sure that everything is ready. Chris, you better scrub up now. It looks like your son is about to be born."
Larabee worked to untangle his hand from the grip that Linda held on it and then washed up under the nurse's instructions. He was already dressed in scrubs and immediately returned to his position beside his wife and listened as Dr. Ryder gave Linda instructions to follow.
"Linda, the baby’s head is crowning. I want you to take a deep breath and push hard." The doctor instructed.
Chris supported Linda's back as she did as Dr. Ryder instructed and bore down as hard as she could, her face twisting into a wrinkled mass of pain and concentration.
“That’s it, now relax for a moment. One more contraction and a push is all we need.” Dr. Ryder waited for the next contraction. “Now push.”
Linda did as she was told and screamed out in pain as Cody Christopher Larabee made his loud entrance into the world. Dr. Ryder placed him on Linda’s stomach and the nurse showed Chris where to cut the cord.
Larabee's hand was trembling as he took the scissors that the nurse provided him with and cut the umbilical cord that attached his newborn son with his wife. Tears filled his green eyes and ran unchecked down his face as he gazed in amazement at his son.
Maternal emotions stirred deep within Linda as she gazed tiredly at the wrinkled, red face of her newborn son and wondered momentarily if she had made a mistake in signing her rights to him and Grace away. She pushed the unwanted thought away, knowing that she couldn't give into whatever overwhelming feeling swept through her at such an emotional occasion. In the long run, she knew Chris would be the better parent to both Cody and Grace and she couldn't let herself be fooled by whatever odd emotion she was feeling now.
"Would you like to hold your baby, Mrs. Larabee?" the nurse asked, having taken the wriggling mass off of her abdomen and cleaned him up while her thoughts were elsewhere.
"No...Let Chris hold him." Linda said, feigning tiredness as her reason for not holding Cody.
The nurse moved around the bed to where Chris stood and gently handed him his son. Larabee took Cody into his arms and felt his heart give a lurch when he noticed familiarities in the infant's facial features that were similar to Adam's when he had been born.
"He's beautiful." Chris said softly, lifting his eyes off of Cody's face and gazed over at Linda. "Thank you for giving me my son. You did a terrific job.”
Tears filled Linda's eyes at the soft accolade given to her by Chris. "We both did."
“Mrs. Larabee, we need to move you now.” Dr. Ryder had finished, and agreed that Linda could be moved. “You and your son will be going downstairs now.”
“No, I’m supposed to be able to stay in this room and I’m damn tired!” Linda protested. “Why in the hell would I be going downstairs?”
“Linda,” Chris tried to take her hand, but she refused. “The hospital is being evacuated and I want you and Cody out of here.”
“The hospital's being evacuated? Why? What happened?”
“I’ll explain on the way down, right now we need to get you downstairs.” Chris stepped back as the nurses prepared Linda to be moved. He knew Linda would be outraged when she found out his work was related to the threat to the hospital, but he would deal with it later. Right now he needed to secure his family, and then join his team.
Hospital Security Center ~3:00pm ~May 25th
Josiah Sanchez could be a patient man at times; this was not one of them. He had the two men he had arrested in front of him, and one way or another he planned on making them talk.
"You can't make us do squat. We've got rights, whether you like it or not!" the man spat back in his face.
Josiah leaned into the taller of the two men, invading the hell out of his personal space. “You’ve got exactly five seconds to decide if you're going to help me and my friends find all of the explosives that you creeps planted in the hospital or tell me what you want inscribed on your tombstones because…” He moved closer,” … if this hospital goes up in flames the two of you are going to be riding them straight to hell!"
"Rights?” Sanchez's voice rose as he fought to keep control of his anger." You're rights became null and void the moment that you both stepped into this hospital with the intent on killing several hundred people, including many innocent children!"
The other man had paled at Josiah's words, and was clearly showing his distress at the predicament he was in. "Look man, we don't have to tell you nothing!"
His false bravado wasn't fooling anyone, especially not Josiah. Sanchez turned towards him. "Then you best kiss your ass goodbye.”
He turned to one of the security officers with him. "Do you have some cuffs on you?"
The security officer nodded and removed a pair of cuffs from his belt and handed them to Josiah. Sanchez forced one prisoner, and then the other onto the floor and after looping the cuffs through the lines of the cover for the ventilator shaft; he locked one cuff on each of the men's wrists and started to walk away.
The personnel people glanced at each other, and then followed after the MCAT leader. One of the prisoners yelled after them. "You can't leave us here!" Josiah kept walking until he and the guards were around the corner and out of sight.
"Wait! Come back! You can't leave us here!" Both men were yelling now, panicking at the thought of being left to die by the very explosives that they had helped to plant. Josiah waited for a few more minutes and then returned to where he had left the two men.
"Are you going to help me or are you going to die?” Josiah queried.
"We'll do anything you want. Just don't leave us here!" The two men exclaimed together.
Sanchez smiled. "I thought you'd see things my way." he said as he took the key from the guard who had given him the cuffs and let the two men loose. “Start talking.”
“There are twelve of us, six teams, and we were paid to plant the explosives.” The first man rushed his words nervously.
Josiah threw down a blueprint of the building in front of him. “Show me where.” He turned to the second man and threw him a pen and paper. “I want names of all the men involved, including the one who paid you.”
Within five minutes Sanchez had the locations of the explosives, a description of the type of device they were using, and the names of a dozen men involved in the plan. He broadcast the information on the radio channel the MCAT team was using. It did not take long to locate four of the five remaining devices, and six more men were arrested. The only name missing was the one of the man that paid them because they didn’t know it.
JD was on the fifth floor, and that was where the remaining device was to be hidden. While he waited for Buck and Mark, he went into the supply area to confirm the location of the last explosive mechanism. He found it, but he also found the two men planting it.
"Freeze, Federal Agent." JD called out, his gun steady on the two men.
The men's heads whipped around, not having heard or seen anyone approaching as they had been concentrating on the job at hand.
"You're a might puny to be a Fed." One of the men told JD laughingly, not in the least bit unnerved to have a gun pointed at him.
His partner laughed outright. "He is at that.”
“Size aside, I am a federal agent and you two are under arrest." JD informed them, stepping closer to them.
The first man's face darkened with anger. "It's going to take a helluva lot more than just you to arrest me."
He stood up suddenly and JD's grip on his gun tightened. "Don't do anything stupid."
"What are you going to do, shoot me? High and mighty federal agent is going to shoot an unarmed man? No, I don't think so. He's too yeller to go against the rules."
"Don’t bet your life on it." JD warned in a lethal tone that would have made any of his brothers proud.
They rushed him at the same time, and suddenly JD found himself in a fight for his life. His gun went off and he saw one of the men flinch as he was struck by the bullet. JD went down in a defensive crouch as the other man tackled him, flinging Dunne backwards into the wall behind him.
JD felt pain explode inside his head as his body made contact with the wall, and his weapon slipped from his hand and fell to the floor. He brought his hands up to defend himself from the flurry of fists that his opponent flung at him. Even though he managed to fight off the brunt of the blows, he still felt one connect with his mouth and almost instantly he tasted blood.
As the man's partner, the one who had been shot, moved forward to join in the fight, JD kicked out with one leg and caught the wounded man in his knee and sent him crumpling to the ground in even more pain.
"One down, one to go." he exclaimed aloud even as he continued to grapple with the other man.
His antagonist grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and slammed him back against the wall again, making white stars dance before his eyes and a sharp pain shoot down his spine. He tried to free the hands from where they were twisted in the collar of his shirt, but couldn't. Instead he kneed the man in the groin and was relieved when the man fell to the ground. JD slumped against the wall for a minute to try and catch his breath, before he leaned down to pick up his fallen weapon. Before his fingers could touch it, the gun was grabbed up by the wounded man who flipped it over and used the butt of it to crack JD over the head.
JD fell to the ground and lay unconscious as the wounded second man slowly rose to his feet onto his feet, while his partner set the timer on the explosives. "Let's get the hell out of here."
The man holding the gun wavered for a moment as he pointed it at the young MCAT agent, but finally seemed to agree with his partner that their best course of action was to get out of the hospital before the fireworks began.
“Damnit, JD is still not answering!” Buck growled at the radio as he waited for the elevator. “The hell with this, I’m taking the stairs.” Wilmington was on the tenth floor; he opened the stairwell door and began his decent. Mark and Bandit followed him.
It did not take long for them to reach the fifth floor; as soon as they entered the radio came alive. Justin reported, “Captain, we’ve apprehended two men exiting down the back stairs. One of them was covered in blood, and collapsed; the other one tripped over him and took a header down a flight of stairs. They had a black bag, but no explosives were found.”
“Mark, turn that dog loose and find those explosives.” Buck ordered.
Bandit took off with his nose to the floor, and led them to the supply area. Opening the door, the first thing Buck saw was JD’s body. “Oh God, no!” He knelt down beside his brother and was relieved to find a pulse. “Officer down, we need medical help ASAP.” He shouted into the radio. “Hang on JD.”
“Buck? We have a bigger problem here. I found our explosives, and the timer reads two minutes thirty seconds.” Mark pulled Bandit away from the device.
"Damn it!" Buck exclaimed, scrambling away from JD's side over to where Mark was crouched down beside Bandit in front of an open ventilation shaft.
"We've got no choice but to try to disarm it before it goes off." Wilmington told Westin.
Westin nodded and began taking out the disarming tools he carried with him.
"I'll do it. You hand me the tools." Buck told him, and Mark nodded his agreement. Wilmington took a closer look at the bomb and its components. "A run of the mill bomb made of TNT, wires, blasting putty and a timer. Hand me a screwdriver."
Westin handed over the requested tool, and watched anxiously as Buck removed the screws holding the plastic covering in place. Palming the screws, he carefully lifted the covering off and set it aside. Perspiration ran in his blue eyes as he studied the wires for a moment, following each one from where it emerged from out of the sticks of dynamite to where they were attached to the time
"Thirty seconds." Mark said tensely.
"I know.” Buck replied. He took the set of mini scissors that Westin handed to him and taking a deep breath he set them in place to cut the yellow wire. He closed his eyes and snipped. After waiting for the explosion to come, he opened his eyes and glanced at the timer. It read two seconds. He had done it! He sank back with relief as Mark let out a joyful cheer as their radio squawked to life.
Slightly shaking fingers clasped around the radio as Buck answered the call." The last bomb has been disarmed." He moved over beside JD and grinned when he saw his eyes open. “Hey, you back with us?”
JD was having difficulty focusing, but he knew that voice. “Buck?”
“Yep, it’s me. Doc is on his way and you’re gonna be just fine. “He pushed JD’s hair back to see how badly he was hurt. “If it wasn’t for you kid, a lot of people could have died today. You recognized Rhett Myers, thwarting their plans to kill many innocent people. Also, unless I miss my guess, you’re the one that took out one of the two we just found on the back stairs.”
“My head hurts.”
“I bet it does.” Buck heard movement in the hallway. “Hang on JD, the doc is on his way,” As soon as he said it the doctor was entering the room behind him with a real orderly. Buck moved aside and let the doctor examine his young brother
“We’ll take him from here.” After a brief examination, the doctor had JD moved onto the gurney in the hallway. “We’re going to take him down to the ER for a thorough exam, but his vitals and reflexes are good.”
“I’m going with you.” Wilmington followed the gurney as they moved JD downstairs.
Larabee 7 ~6:00pm
The Wild Bunch waited for news, the only thing keeping Vin and Nathan in check was the presence of the children. Otherwise they would be ranting, cursing, and pacing. It was difficult to sit on the sidelines, when their brothers were out there in the danger zone.
“Damnit, somebody had better call soon.” Vin was on edge and jumped when the phone finally did ring. “Tanner!” He listened as Chris gave him a rundown on what was going on. “”Yeah, congratulations Cowboy, See you tomorrow,”
Nathan was on his feet. “Well, is it over?”
“Yep, eight arrested, two dead, six explosive devices were found and neutralized.” He looked toward the women. “Casey, JD has a slight concussion, but he’ll be fine, he’s on his way home now with Buck. They’re also allowing everyone back into the hospital as we speak.”
“What about the baby?” Kelli asked anxiously.
Tanner grinned.” Your baby brother is fine. Seven pounds, eight ounces, twenty one inches, and both Cody and Linda are okay.”
“Do we know who hired these men?” Nathan asked.
“No, not even a description, but all the men are members of either the RMR or the Ledger militants.” Vin looked at Kelli. “It appears that Nathan and I are not their only targets. It’s become a vendetta against anyone associated with MCAT.” He was beginning to doubt if the risks to his family were worth staying the course to convict Chambers.
“Karl is behind all of it Vin. You have to testify to make certain he loses his power to hurt anyone. ‘Kelli recognized the shadow of doubt in his eyes, and walked over to hug her husband. “We will be okay and you...” She hugged him tighter.” …will do what’s right Tanner.”
Vin held her close, he knew he could not back down, but he worried that Karl was not through with his reign of terror against them. The fact that he was willing to kill hundreds of innocent people in that hospital for a chance to reach his family proved that even behind bars, Chambers was still a dangerous man. Tanner knew that somehow they had to find a way to keep their families safe, and stop Karl Chambers.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Saturday ~May 26th ~7:00pm
Chris could not get enough of holding Cody. Earlier today Buck had brought Grace up to meet her brother and seeing the two of them together was one of the best moments of his life. He regretted that Vin and Kelli could not be here, but he decided not to tempt fate. They would have to wait until he brought Cody home tomorrow to see him. The hospital was running almost back to normal, but the new security measures were not completely in place. Chris had made several suggestions as to how they could avoid a repeat of yesterdays near disaster. Fortunately the administrator was listening and promised to follow through with implementing each one. At least by the time Kelli was due to deliver they would not have to worry about the militia getting in with bombs. For now though he did not want her or Vin anywhere near this place.
Linda roused from her nap and gingerly moved. She had minor surgery this morning to have her tubes tied, and was still sore from yesterday’s delivery. The doctor assured her she would be feeling much better by morning, but for now she was taking it easy. “Chris?”
“Hey, how are you feeling?”
“Okay, I guess, considering.” Linda managed to sit up with the help of some pillows. “I still can’t believe my delivery was upstaged by a stupid bomb threat.”
Chris smiled. This was the Linda he knew, after all that had happened she was miffed about not being the center of attention when Cody was born. “You want to hold Cody?”
“No, you’re doing fine with him.” Linda looked at the flowers in the room, noting some new deliveries. ”Oh they’re beautiful and so many! Hand me the cards, will you?”
Moving a sleeping Cody back into his bassinette and then took the stack of cards from the dresser. “Three new one came in while you slept. From Ezra and Barbara, Travis, and one from Louisiana sighed only with the initial V.”
Linda took the card from him, she knew who the last one was from, but she was not sharing that information with Chris. “I have some thank you notes and stamps in my bag, if you’ll dig them out, I’ll start writing.”
“Cody can leave tomorrow, and unless you have any complication from the surgery so can you. You can do that at home can’t you?” The look on her face clearly said no, and he proceeded to dig out the thank you notes.
“Thank you.” Linda said as he gave the notes to her. She looked at him thoughtfully while she gathered her words.” We had some good times together, didn’t we, Chris?”
“Yes we did.” Chris answered honestly.” We needed what we had at that particular turn in our lives, and I don’t regret the time we had together. “He grinned. “I probably should say not most of it anyway.”
“Grace and Cody are lucky to have you.” Linda sighed. “I want you to go home tonight Chris, rest, and don’t come back before tomorrow afternoon to pick up Cody.”
“Linda, I can stay.”
She was already shaking her head. “I need some time to myself. Have the nurse take Cody to the nursery, Chris. I need my space.”
“All right, I’ll wait til tomorrow afternoon to come back if that’s what you want. As soon as Cody is moved, I’ll leave.” He rang for the nurse and she immediately came for the baby. Chris leaned down and kissed Linda on the forehead.” See you tomorrow.”
Linda grabbed his hand and squeezed hard. “I do care about you Larabee, and I want you to have a good life with our children.”
Chris had the feeling that Linda was mentally letting go. “We’ll be fine Linda, and so will you.” He gently laid her hand on the bed. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight Chris.” She watched him leave, and was surprised to find that only a single tear fell as the door closed.
Larabee 7- Sunday ~May 27th-9:00am
Chris had decided that today would be the best time to call a meeting of the brothers to discuss ranch business. He knew once he brought Cody home that his time would be limited and they had some decisions to make. They had agreed to meet at Vin's house because he did not want to be too far away from Kelli. She still had six weeks to go before the twins were due to arrive, but the doctor had warned them that with multiples an early delivery was always a possibility. Chris walked with Grace over to the Tanner's.
Max met him at the door to take Grace. "There's our girl." She smiled when the baby came to her willingly. "The men are in the front room waiting for you. Grace and I will stay busy while you have your meeting."
Chris kissed Grace on the cheek. "Thanks Max." He proceeded into the living room to join his brothers.
"There's the new Dad now." Buck grinned. "How's our boy Cody doing?"
"Great." Chris answered proudly, placing a hand on JD's shoulder. "" How are you feeling?"
"Headache is gone and I'm fine." JD responded reluctant to admit that his back was still sore from his battle with the RMR/ Ledger Militia members the day before.
"You did a good job at the hospital JD. If you hadn't recognized Rhett Meyers, Friday could have ended in disaster." Chris moved on to sit down after JD acknowledged his words with a nod of his head.
Settling in Larabee wasted no time starting their discussion. "I know it was short notice to meet this morning, but I wasn't sure when we would have another opportunity for a while. We need to make a few decisions concerning ranch business and I wanted us all to have a chance to hear Ezra's latest financial report." He nodded to Standish to take over.
"I won't bore y'all with mundane fact and figures, your printout will show you that, but you should know that the Larabee 7 is in sound shape…financially that is. Even with all our extra expenses for security, we have are having a good year. The reason I asked Chris to call this meeting is for us to decide the direction we wish to pursue for the future. Our quarter horse business is now equal to, if not more lucrative than our thoroughbred business. We can continue to add to both; however I recommend that we concentrate on one or the other." Ezra waited for some reactions.
"Before you say anything, I want you all to know that while I was the one that pushed for breeding thoroughbreds and hopefully racing some winners, it is not my priority now. At the time we began I never expected to have more children to keep me busy, and I thought that horseracing would fill in some empty spaces for me." Chris leaned forward. "Now though, I have Grace and Cody in my life, as well as Kelli and two grandchildren on the way. With them, and work, I'm positive my days will be full of enough excitement to keep me going."
Josiah smiled. "It's funny how our plans and expectations change without us lifting a finger to redirect them."
Nathan nodded thinking about Ronesha and how suddenly their life had changed. "I agree. We always thought Terrell would be our only child, not we have Ronesha and I cannot imagine our life without her."
"All of our lives have changed over the last two years at home and at work." JD reflected on the events he had experienced in his own life.
*You ready to give up the dream Cowboy?*
*Thoroughbred horseracing? Hell yes. I don't need it anymore. I expect Grace and Cody will keep me busy for at least the next twenty years or so."
*Quarter horses it is then.*
Buck had watched the silent exchange between Chris and Vin and he knew a decision had been made. "So, how do we work this changeover?"
"We can keep Bounty Hunter for stud and a few selected mares with the best bloodlines to breed. I'd also like to donate five mares to the Reins of Change program." Chris looked at Vin. "I propose we sell the rest along with Texas Lady. Since she was originally a wedding gift for Vin and Kelli, we should split her sale price between the Larabee 7 and them."
"Chris, that's not necessary, we gave her to you…" Vin began to protest. He knew Chris would just as soon have Texas Lady gone due to her connection with Linda, but he was not comfortable with making any financial gain on it.
"I say we vote. All in favor of Chris's proposal raise your hand." Ezra quickly interceded and was not surprised to see six hands go up. "We are agreed by majority. What else?"
*Get over it Vin, it's a done deal.* Chris was well aware that Tanner was not happy about this turn of events, but that was just too bad as far as he was concerned. Larabee had wanted them to keep the horse in the first place.
Vin shook his head and sighed. "George and Angelo have done a good job with the quarter horses. I say we give them the go ahead to expand the operation."
"Buck agreed."That sounds like a plan to me."
"I'll defer to your and Chris's knowledge of horse and agree too." Nathan nodded his agreement. That was followed by the same response from Josiah, JD, and Ezra.
Chris stood up. "I think we're done here. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I have a play date with a little blonde whirlwind named Grace."
Buck grinned. "You two play nice."
Laughter from his other brothers elicited a smile from Chris as he headed out of the room to collect his baby daughter.
Chris waited until afternoon to return to the hospital. He was anxious to see Cody again, but he took a good part of the day to spend some alone time with Grace before going back to Denver Memorial. His first stop was Linda’s room, and she was not there. He started to turn back to the door when he caught sight of something on the table. It was a note that had his name scrawled across the front of it. Picking it up, he read:
Chris, I told you when I first met you to expect the unexpected from me. I thought a clean break between us would be best. Send the flowers to the children’s ward, and love our babies.
Thanks for the ride Cowboy. Remember me fondly to the children, and try to find love again. Good-bye.
It took a minute for Linda’s words to sink in, but when they did Chris began to laugh. It was so much in character for her to leave this way, and she had warned him to expect the unexpected. He should have seen this coming, but had been too distracted by Karl Chambers and the RMR. Sticking the note in his pocket he sighed. It was time for a new chapter of his life to begin, and a big part of it was waiting down the hall in the hospital nursery.
Chris Larabee was taking his son home.
Journal Entry ~June 3rd ~ 5:00am
This is the first opportunity I have had to sit down and write since Cody was born. Not that I am complaining, but it has been a hectic week of adjustments around here. Linda has been gone seven days and no one has heard a word from her, not even Matt. I know I could probably track her down if I wanted to, but I am going to respect her decision as to how she handled her departure. In retrospect, I can see where she had her disappearance planned down to the last detail. I supposed I should not have been surprised, no matter how good the last few months have been for us, Linda was still Linda. She made her exit her way, and I should have seen it coming.
Expect the unexpected. She warned me when we meet, but I thought it was all about being spontaneous and found it endearing…at first. There is nothing wrong with being impulsive, but there are limits, and unfortunately Linda never found those boundaries. While I could never do what she has done, she made her choice freely, and I wish her well. Ezra has filed our divorce petition, and now all that is left for me to do, is to wait for it to become final.
Bringing Cody home was bittersweet. It marked the ending of my marriage, but the beginning of my future. Having him with me and Grace has completed a journey I thought I could never finish after Sarah and Adam died. When I look at my newborn son, I swear I can feel their presence, surrounding us with love. I believe that Grace, Cody, and I have two special guardian angels to watch over us.
Uncle Matt has been here every day, getting to know his nephew, and letting Grace know he plans to be a big part of her life. I honestly have no problem with him being here for the children, and I am making room for him in their lives. Finding Dottie Morris as a caregiver for the kids has been a godsend for me, too. She is great with the children. Grace already loves her, and Cody will as he gets older
Today is Grace’s birthday party, and the entire Wild Bunch will be in attendance, along with her Uncle Matt. So far she has not shown any reaction to her mother being gone, but I'll deal with it if she does. All I want is for today to be great for her, and then we will take the future, one day at a time.
I hear Cody, and he sounds like he is ready for breakfast, so I'll close now.
Larabee 7 ~ 3:00pm
They had been through cake, ice cream, and presents. The rocking horse from her father was Grace's favorite gift, followed by the stuffed pony Kelli had given her. Grace was running across the yard as fast as her little legs would carry her, giggling in delight as he daddy pretended to chase her. "Got you, imp!" Chris grinned as he caught her, and then swept her into his arms.
"She's faster than you are Chris." JD laughed. "I hate to interrupt playtime between father and daughter, but I believe you are being paged on the deck by your other offspring. "Go on, Grace can play with Lilah and Daisy, and I won't take my eyes off her." He grinned as he reached out to take the birthday girl.
Chris looked over and saw that Dottie had brought Cody out. That meant it was feeding time. He knew she was capable of taking good care of his son, but he insisted on handling his son's feeding as often as possible. "Thanks, JD." He let go of a giggling Grace and went to take care of his youngest.
Ten minutes later Vin joined Chris on the deck. “Hey Chris, how’s our little cowboy doin’?” He peered over the top of Cody’s blanket to see his new godson.
"He's doing just fine." Larabee said, gazing down at his son. "This is what it's all about, Vin, children, and family. Everything else is just secondary."
"Don't I know it?" Tanner told him. "Kelli and the kids have changed my life in ways I can't even begin to tell you about.”
"We're lucky bastards." Chris told him.
"That we are." Vin agreed. His eyes found Kelli as he reassured himself she was doing okay. With just a little over a month to her due date, he kept a close watch on her.
"She's not going to disappear, Vin." Chris chuckled. "Besides at this stage she's doing good to make it ten feet without assistance. Is the doctor concerned at all about how big she is?"
"No... And don't let Kel here you say that, she's a mite sensitive about the size issue. Actually she's within the weight that’s normal for twins; they’re just big healthy boys. Her blood pressure has stayed pretty even, considerin' all the stress we've had around here." Tanner told him. "It's just that we're so close to havin' what we've wanted for so long that I'm almost afraid that somethin' is goin' to happen to ruin it."
Chris reached out a hand and placed it on Vin's shoulder. "It's understandable that you’re apprehensive. Hell, it's even expected with everything we've gone through lately, but don't let those thoughts take hold. Everything is going to be just fine, and in just a short month you are going to be holding your boys in your arms, just like I'm holding Cody now."
“Thanks Chris, I hope you’re right. It’s like waitin' for the other shoe to drop, and even with all the arrests y’all have made we’re no closer to ending this nightmare.” Vin was unconvinced.
“Maybe this will help.” Buck sat down, having heard Vin’s statement. He held a file in his hands.” According to jail records, Karl has not had any visitors other than his lawyer, and no phone calls. That means he is not directin' shit. Someone on the outside is helpin' him big-time.”
Chris handed Cody to Vin, and began to read the file. “Unless his lawyer is passing messages for him, and with his reputation, that’s highly unlikely. Who have we missed in his organization that could have enough power to keep these attacks going?”
“Not sure, but I think we might need to back up and look at this from another angle. We have been thinking Karl is behind all this mess. Vin, can you think of anyone else?” Buck asked.
“No, whoever it is, he or she has been keepin' under the radar.”
Inez came up the stairs and put her hands on her hips. “You three should be ashamed of yourselves. It’s Grace’s birthday and you’re hiding up here looking at work.” She walked over to Vin. “Hand over that sweet baby, and all of you get out there with the other kids.”
Buck grinned. “Yes ma’am.” He stood up and kissed his wife. “Next weekend we celebrate your birthday lady, so don’t get too bossy.”
Inez cocked an eyebrow at her husband." You love me anyway you can get me, and you know it. "
"She's got you there, Buck." Vin said with as smile.
"Too true," Buck admitted readily. “Half the fun of getting her all riled up is knowing just how much I'm going to enjoy cooling her off again."
Chris and Vin burst out laughing.
"You're impossible. I don't know why I even put up with you sometimes.” Inez said in mock anger.
"Because you love me," Buck responded, kissing her soundly on the lips. With Cody safely snuggled in Inez’s arms, the trio headed over to join in the other children.
Kelli settled herself into a chair and let out a sigh." You okay, Kelli?" Barbara asked with concern
"I'm fine. The boys are just actin' up, and wearin’ me out." Kelli assured her. "What kind of plans have you made for Ezra's birthday?"
"We are spending it working with Caitlyn on Reins of Change, his choice."
"How are things comin' with the construction over there?"
"There was a temporary setback due to some of the lumber being used for the construction not being the right measurements that Caitlyn specified, but other than that things seem to be moving right along."
"Good. I'm lookin' forward to seein' how things turn out once everythin' is done." Kelli told her.
“Have you heard from Linda?" Barbara asked. “I haven’t heard Chris even mention her name.”
“No, and I don’t expect to.” Kelli thought about the letter Linda had left for her. “She’s moved on, and I think Dad is workin' to do the same thing.” She watched Chris, and the other men with the kids. She and Vin had struggled trying to decide if they should tell Chris about the contents of the letter. Eventually they had both agreed that nothing would be gained from him knowing that Linda had taken off to Europe with Marshall Vanderson to join the 'beautiful elite ' of the jet set world.
Barbara nodded in agreement. “I suppose so. From what I can see he’s doing just fine with Cody and Grace.”
“He is.” Kelli smiled as she watched her Dad and remembered what Max had told her not long ago.
For everything there is a season, and the winds of change are blowing, only this time they're blowing for Chris Larabee.
Journal Entry ~July 1st ~10: 00pm
Linda has been gone for a month and it has not been as difficult as I expected to adjust. Truthfully, Grace, Cody, meetings, and work keep me so busy I have not had much time to dwell on the failure of our marriage. While Grace has been the light in my life; Cody is the wind that fills my sails. Each time I look into the beautiful faces of my babies my heart fills with so much love it feels as if it will burst. They are the most wonderful gifts a man could ask for in this life. Dottie is great with both children and I feel confident that we are going to do just fine.
It would be easy to use my dwindling time as an excuse to quit going to my NA meetings, but I won’t. I go not because I feel I need to, but because I made a commitment to myself to see this through and I intend to do just that. As much as I would like to erase that part of my life with Jack and the pills, it makes up who I am, and has shaped my future whether I wanted it to or not. Attending the meetings keeps me focused on what is important in my life, and how fragile it really is. In the blink of an eye we can lose what we hold most precious through no fault of our own. It is how we handle it and move forward that determines our destiny. We can wallow in our misfortune or take a stand to become stronger. I chose to make a stand to hold on to life’s most precious treasures, and have come through it all a better man.
Today Inez had a big blowout birthday party for Caleb and Buck since his birthday was yesterday. I was not here when Caleb joined their family, but seeing him today you would think he had always been a part of their lives. He has thrived under their love and protection, and his sisters adore their big brother. Not to mention that Caleb and Jason are closer than some biological kin I have seen, but then I should know better than most that the brothers we choose are the miracles in our lives.
Kelli is fourteen days away from her due date and has been experiencing false labor for the last two weeks. I am not sure who is more on edge, her or Vin. Dr Weeks is very satisfied that she has carried the twins over thirty-eight weeks, especially considering that she has estimated each of them to be over seven pounds in weight. Vin wants to take an active part in the delivery and if all goes well he might have the chance to do so. Kelli is just tired, and I believe more than ready to deliver anytime the boys decide to make an entrance. Buck says they are waiting for my birthday, if that’s so, we’ll know in six more days.
I know it will be a relief to all of us to see those babies safely delivered. With all that’s happened, and the bomb scare at the hospital when Cody was born, I am not the only one concerned. Thank God JD was alert or we could have had a major disaster. Tomorrow Vin has to be back in court, and I hope this is the last time before the trial. We still have not found anyone other than Karl who could be directing the activities of the militia, but we will not give up the search. We have too much riding on the outcome.
Federal Courthouse ~July 2nd ~11:00am
Vin felt as if he was the prisoner, not Karl Chambers. Chris had insisted that he, Josiah, Buck, and Ezra accompany the Texan to court. After pushing their way through a mob of Chamber’s followers outside this morning, they had finally made their way into the building. It was unlikely that Vin would be called to testify today; however, his presence was required. If they did not get to him today, then tomorrow for sure, at least that’s what the prosecutor planned. Tanner needed to tell his story to the judge in order to keep important evidence in play.
Chambers's attorney was making every effort to have as much evidence thrown out as possible. Tanner could put the man on death row and Karl knew it. He also knew that the Texan was the only link between himself and the incriminating evidence. Without Vin’s testimony most of the damning proof would have to be thrown out. Karl was getting desperate, and new rumors were spreading that he had upped the price to a million dollars to make certain that Vin did not testify. The money was only payable upon Karl’s release, in order to insure that he walked out of jail a free man.
The security for Vin and his family had been increased after the failed attempt to kill Tanner the last time they were here, and Chris was taking no chances. There were a million reasons for Larabee to worry. He knew that all the delaying tactics and postponements used by Chamber’s attorneys were wearing on Vin’s nerves, especially now. In a world where everything was fair, this mess would already have been over with, and Tanner would be home with his wife waiting on the imminent birth of their twins. Instead he was stuck all day in a federal courthouse with a bounty on his head, while the wheels of justice turned ever so slowly.
Court had been recessed for fifteen minutes, and the agents waited in the hallway for it to reconvene. The vest Tanner was wearing under his suit was uncomfortable as hell, but he had promised Kelli he would not take it off. She was into her ninth month, and the Texan wanted to be with her, not sitting around in a crowded courthouse waiting for the opposing attorneys to drag things out. Tanner looked at his watch for the umpteenth time.
“Vin, it’s only been five minutes since the last time you looked at your watch.” Chris noted. “I know you don’t want to be here, but it’s…”
“Bullshit, that’s what it is Chris.” Tanner said with disgust. “Five weeks to trial and they’re playing lawyer games that won’t change a damn thing.”
“Regardless of what his attorney tries, your testimony will put the man away Vin.” Buck addressed the Texan. “All the game playing in the world won’t change the truth.”
“Did y’all see the sadistic smile that bastard wore? I don’t like this.” Vin began to pace as he thought about the cocky assuredness of Karl Chambers in the courtroom. “If Karl has raised the price on my head to insure his freedom, we need to tighten the security on Kel and the kids. He’ll try to use them to get to me.” He stopped in front of Chris. “Get us the hell out of here.”
“Shelly Turner made a plea bargain and got three to five. Gary Hough is looking at twenty-five to life, and eleven of Karl’s followers have already had their trials and been found guilty under the RICCO act. You know Chambers has to be getting worried Vin. That’s all you’re seeing.” Chris held up his hands when Vin glared his way.” Alright, I’ll talk to the prosecutor and see what he can tell me.” He walked down the hall to find the U.S. Attorney.
“The money is only payable if Mr. Chambers walks out of jail a free man, and that brother is not going to happen.” Although Standish could not envision how Vin actually felt, his time with Barbara had taught him how vulnerable his own feelings had become when he dared to share his life with someone special. Ezra could not even imagine how those feeling increased when your wife and children were threatened. Knowing that a madman wanted to harm his family had to have Vin trapped in a personal hell. “Mark is with Kel, and Barbara will be checking on her later this afternoon. I am confident that your concern is unwarranted.”
The bailiff stepped into the corridor and announced that court would be back in sessions in five minutes.
Tanner reached for his cell phone before he remembered he had to leave it with the bailiff. It seemed that Judge Langley did not allow them in his courtroom. “Damn, I need to call home.” He started to exit through the front doors.
“Hold on Vin.” Buck stopped him. “You are not going out there.”
“It don’t feel right Bucklin, I need to make sure Kel is okay.” Vin pulled away from Wilmington and moved toward the double doors.
“Tanner, stop!” Chris yelled as he walked up. “Where in the hell do you think you are going? You have to be in that courtroom in less than two minutes.”
“Chris, the trial is five weeks off! Why in the hell are we here?” Vin replied angrily.
Larabee sighed. “Chambers’s attorney is trying to get the judge to dismiss you as a witness, and If he does that his client walks. The federal prosecutors might need you to answer some questions for the Judge so he won’t exclude your testimony.”
“That is highly unusual. “Ezra commented. “Unquestionably this is just another delaying tactic.”
“Yes it is, but the defense made a motion. The Judge is bound by law to hear it, and that means you have to be available to answer his questions if need be.” Chris explained. “It’s all bullshit, but the Judge insists you be present.”
“Vin, go on in, we’ve come too far to lose this guy now.’ Buck offered.” I’ll call and check on Kel for you.”
“Don’t upset her, but make sure…hell, just tell her I’ll be home as soon as I can." Vin swore softly. “Damnit, make certain Buck.”
“Mark is there, and so is Walter. She’ll be fine.” Chris placed his hand on Vin’s back. “Let’s go nail that bastard, and shut his lawyer up.”
Vin hesitated and then nodded. “Maybe, ’m overreactin’, but they better damn well get this over with soon. I should be with my wife, not here watchin’ Karl play the system.” He pushed open the door to enter the courtroom, followed by Chris and Ezra.
Buck headed outside, opened his cell, and dialed the Tanner’s number receiving only a busy signal. He tried three more times and it was still busy. Finally he called Inez, and when he found out she had talked to Kelli not long ago he was satisfied all was well. He closed his cell phone and headed into the courtroom, they would break for lunch soon, and he would try again.
Kelli hung up the phone and smiled. Inez was the fifth person to call today to check on her. Dr. Weeks had told them that the babies were ready, and could arrive anytime now. Her only concern was about the size of the boys, she estimated that both of them weighed at least seven pounds. Their twins were not in the percentage of multiples that arrived early, so far they were right on schedule, and as long as Kelli delivered soon, all should be fine. Dr Weeks was concerned about the possibility of a hard delivery if the babies grew much more, so she had advised Kelli to walk as much as possible. Andi was staying with the Wilmington's until lunchtime, but Jason was concerned, and had been shadowing his mother all morning.
“Missy, you need to light somewhere.” Max had watched Kelli flit around all morning. She had packed, unpacked, and repacked her bag to take to the hospital twice. The nursery had been inspected from top to bottom, making certain that nothing had been forgotten, between the baby shower the women had for her last week, and what she and Vin had added, Max was fairly sure they had all they needed.
“I’m fine Max. Dr Weeks told me to stay as active as possible, and that’s what ‘m doin’.” Kelli stopped to touch the cradles Vin had made for the boys gently setting them into motion. “Oh Max, it won’t be long and until those cradles will be full of Tanner babies.” She smiled. “You know, I think ‘m gonna miss being pregnant though.”
Max burst out laughing. “You, Missy, are in a nesting mode. When those boys get here you won’t have time to miss being pregnant.”
“Maybe,” Kelli sighed. “I promised Jason I’d walk down to the barn with him after lunch to spend time with his horses. If I lay down for a while will you make certain ‘m up by twelve-thirty?”
“I promise.” Max turned down the covers for her. “Now rest, I’ll keep Jason busy, and Mila will have lunch ready when you get up.”
Federal Courthouse ~12:30pm
Vin was the first one out of the courtroom when they broke for lunch. They were not required to return until two o’clock and he planned on making a trip home in the meantime. Something had been nagging at him all day, and one thing he learned long ago was not to ignore his instincts.
“Look Vin, I understand your anxiety, but you are overreacting.” Chris pulled Tanner aside. “The ranch is as secure as we can make it, and if Kelli began having labor pains, you know Max would reach us.”
“Chris, we have to leave…NOW!”
Larabee studied his brother’s face. What he saw was more than an anxious husband, and father-to-be. He recognized the look of a man set on a clear-cut course of action. Chris had learned not to ignore Tanner in this state of mind, and he knew that no amount of talking would persuade him to change his decision. “Okay, just let me tell the attorney we’re leaving.”
Buck and Ezra had watched the exchange between Tanner and Larabee, and neither man was surprised at the outcome. Vin had made up his mind to leave, with or without them. Larabee would not even consider letting him walk out of here alone.
Larabee 7 ~12:45
Lunch was well underway at the Tanner household. Walter had already finished the bowl of soup and the sandwich that his wife had prepared for him. He was enjoying his second cup of coffee and the lively conversation going on around him, when the radio he carried on his belt came to life.
"Boss, are you there?"
"Excuse me." Walter said, rising from the table and stepping outside onto the porch to take the report from one his men. "Go ahead Bill."
"Don and I found a suspicious looking black bag nestled down in a pile of the leaves close to Camp Larabee."
Walter swore softly. "Stay with it. Be on alert and I'll be there in a few minutes with Agent Westin to check it out."
"Copy that, boss."
Walter walked back inside. "Mark, could I trouble you for a moment?"
Westin looked up from the stacked sandwich that he had just finished building with surprise. "Sure.”
"I'll be back to eat that." He told Max as he got up from the table to join Walter.
"Something wrong, Walter?" Mark asked, once he stepped out onto the porch.
"Some of my men found a suspicious black bag that I think you, Bandit, and I should go check out.” Walter told him and then filled him in on the description of the bag and the location where it had been found.
Westin made a quick decision. He didn't like leaving his post as Kelli's bodyguard, but if the RMR had gone to the trouble again to plant more explosives on the ranch they needed to know. "All right, just let me go talk to Kelli for a minute." Mark told the older man.
He went back inside. "Kelli, Walter has asked me to go take a look at something. Will you be all right until I get back?"
"Sure." Kelli told him, "Go on ahead." She laughed as she considered her oversized condition. “It’s not like ‘m goin' to go very far from here anytime soon.”
Ten minutes after Mark and Walter had left; Jason was done with his lunch and was chopping at the bit to go down to the barn as Kelli had told them they would do.
"Can we go now?" Jason asked. "Do we have to wait until Mark comes back?"
Kelli considered his question carefully. She knew she should wait until Mark had come back from wherever he had gone to with Walter, but she didn't want to disappoint Jason. "All right, go get your boots on." She told her son finally, spending time with Jason was important. He was more worried about something going wrong with the babies than Andi, and Kelli wanted to make things as normal as possible for him.
"If Mark comes to the house before Jason and I come back, will you send him on down to the barn?" Kelli asked Max.
"Sure...Andi and I are going to tackle making dessert for after dinner tonight." Max said as she noticed Andi's crestfallen face at having not been included in going to the barn with her mom and brother. Andi beamed at Max's words.
Jason was determined to take care of his mom, and he filled Kelli's water bottle to take with them. Dad said it was important for her to drink plenty of water. He handed Kelli her sunglasses before the two of them headed outside.
Normally Jason would run ahead and be waiting on her in front of Thor’s stall, but today he walked by his mom’s side. Kelli moved slow and awkward. The babies were not as active as they had been, but the doctor said it was because they were running out of room to move around. She believed it, and it felt like she had gained a lot more than forty three pounds. Reaching the entrance to the barn was a personal triumph for her.
“Okay, let’s start with Dreamer, and we’ll work our way up to Peso.” Honestly she found grooming the horses relaxing, and soon forgot her discomfort, and the time.
When they had groomed Dreamer, and Thor, they started on Dancer. Kelli found that she had already emptied the water bottle that Jason had filled for her before they had left the house.
"Jason, will you go and get me some more cold water?" Kelli asked her son.
"Sure." Jason said and started out of the barn. “Are you going to be okay here all by yourself?"
Kelli smiled at his thoughtfulness. “I’ll be fine. I'm going to go over here and sit down on one of these bales of hay to rest until you come back."
Jason had not been gone but two minutes when Kelli realized he had forgotten to take the water bottle. Shaking her head, she smiled, and decided to try and yell loud enough for him to hear her. She moved to the barn door with Tracker on her heels.
Suddenly the light was block out by an imposing shadow that moved steadily towards her. “Hello Blaze.” Kelli felt a blow to her head before she saw who was there. Reeling backwards she fell against the side of Peso’s stall. Tracker lunged at her attacker.
Tracker took the man by surprise, but the large man recovered quickly and violently threw the dog off him. Kelli heard the Aussie whimper as he hit the ground. “God damn dog,” the intruder yelled.
Kelli managed to take a deep breath and tried to pull herself upright by grasping the railing of the stall. “Who are you, and what do you want?” She demanded.
The shadow laughed and moved into the light. “I’m hurt darlin'. You don’t remember me…Mrs. Tanner? Or should I say Blaze?”
“Bubba?" Kelli recognized the imposing figure that approached her.
"That's right...Bubba, just the dumb hick bartender you played for a fool in Rocky Meadows, or so you think. I am also the man who is going to use you to send your bastard of a husband to hell for his double-crossing ways." He brandished a twelve inch blade in front of her. First though, I’m going to give him a present.”
“Karl sent you to do his dirty work didn’t he?” Kelli’s mind raced, trying to think of a way to get rid of this man before Jason returned.
“Bubba laughed. “Karl didn’t need to send me. I am his protector, and have been all my life. Not that it matters, but you won’t be telling anyone anyway, so I’ll explain. Karl and I are brothers, I was born on the wrong side of the blanket as they say, but it never made a difference to Karl. We are brothers in every way that counts, and partners. All these years, as Karl worked to fight the enforcers and purify the white race; I covered his back, and still do. It all comes down to family and loyalty. Your traitorous husband tried to destroy my family, and I have spent the last seven months stalking his. It was all me; the letters, the attacks, and the bombs. It was only due to the incompetence of the men I hired that Tanner is still alive.”
Kelli slid along the wall closer to the latch of the gate of Peso’s stall. “Y’all didn’t kill for a cause. Y’all killed to protect your money. I bet Agent Abbott found out about you and Karl didn't he? That’s why he died.”
“Abbott was going to expose us, and that was simply not acceptable, anymore than what Dusty Slater did.” He grinned wickedly. “Now he’ll pay, because I plan to finish this personally. Too bad he’ll miss the delivery of his baby, but at least he’ll see the results of my work. Once I deliver your whelp, I'll deal with your son when he returns.” Bubba raised the knife menacingly over Kelli’s abdomen.
“Go to hell!” With one hand Kelli struck out to ward off Bubba’s attack with the knife while the fingers of her other hand tripped the latch on the stall gate. An agitated Peso ran out of the stall and into the man that had invaded his territory and was attacking his master’s mate.
Jason was just running out of the house with another bottle of water for his mom when his Dad and Uncles arrived back at the ranch.
"Jason, where are you off to in such a hurry?" Vin asked as he got out of the truck.
"Down to the barn, Mom's waitin' for me." Jason replied as he continued toward the Tanner stable.
It was just about that time when they heard a scream pierce the air. "That's Kelli!" Vin exclaimed and took off running ahead of his son.
Chris and Vin were the first to enter through the door, Buck, Josiah and Ezra only seconds behind them. Sanchez grabbed Jason to hold him back as Tanner’s eyes scanned the barn and found Kelli sitting on the ground with her back against Peso’s stall. He raced over to her while Buck and Chris approached the man Peso had pinned against the opposite wall intent on doing some serious damage to.
“Get him away from me!” Bubba yelled as the horse’s hooves struck close to his head.
Buck shook his head, “I don’t know Chris. I say we should let Peso finish the bastard off.”
Tanner yelled. “Kill the sonofabitch for all I care, get Rain over here ASAP.” Vin knelt down in front of Kelli to access how badly she was injured.
“Vin, I’ll be okay. Call Matt, Tracker is hurt.” Kelli protested his attention.
“We’ll take care of Tracker, but you’re first.” He saw the bruise forming on her temple and the blood on her hand. “Tell me where you’re hurt baby.”
“Nowhere...maybe my head…Hell, I don’t know. He was goin' to…” Kelli began to shake when she realized how close they had come to losing their babies. “Vin, it was Bubba… he… he was going to cut the babies out of me and then kill Jason.”
"You're gonna be alright..." Vin told her softly as he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and bound Kelli's bleeding hand with it until they could get it checked out.
He helped her slowly to her feet, slipping an arm around her waist to support her as they made their way to the door. Kelli's legs buckled under her and only quick thinking on his part kept her from tumbling to the ground again. He swept her up into his arms as Jason broke away from Ezra, and ran forward.
"Mom! Dad, is she okay?" Jason's eyes were wide as he took in the blood soaked makeshift bandage on Kelli's hand and the bruise on her face.
"She's goin' to be just fine." Vin assured him as he started toward the house with his wife.
"Rain and Nathan are on their way over." Ezra said as he, Josiah, and Jason followed after Tanner to the house
"Good.” Tanner replied. "We need to put a call in to Dr. Weeks too and let her know what's happened."
"I'm on it." Standish assured him.
They reached the house at last and Vin moved through the kitchen to settle Kelli onto the couch where she would be the most comfortable. Max took Andi and Jason out of the room as Tanner hovered over his pregnant wife.
It was just at that moment that Mark and Walter returned to the house, with Bandit on their heels. "What happened?" Westin asked.
"My wife was attacked in the barn by one of the RMR men." Tanner's eyes were laced with fury as he gazed at the MCAT agent. "Where the hell were you? You were supposed to be guardin' her and my kids?"
Mark paled as Tanner’s words sunk in. “She said she would be okay.”
“Does she look okay to you?” Tanner shouted.
Walter stepped forward. “Vin my men found what looked like a bag of explosives up by Camp Larabee. I asked Mark to bring Bandit and check it out. “He looked over at Kelli. “I’m sorry. What happened to the man who attacked her?”
“Chris is dealin’ with him.” Vin trusted his brother to see to Bubba. He turned his attention back to Kelli, while they waited for the Jacksons and a return call from Dr. Weeks.
Larabee 7 ~Tanner Barn
Buck had managed to slip a rope around Peso’s neck to lead him back to his stall, and Chris moved in to apprehend Bubba. The provoked man swung out at the advancing MCAT Commander, but Larabee easily ducked the blow and drew back his own hand in retaliation. His right fist hit solidly with Bubba's chin, while his left one followed up with an undercut to the man's stomach.
Bubba tried to defend himself against the continuous punches that rained down on him, but he was no match for an enraged Larabee. Realizing that if he didn't step in and do something Chris was going to kill the man with his bare hands, Buck swore and grabbed Larabee in a headlock to pull him away from Bubba.
“Larabee! Calm down! It's me, Buck! The man's not worth throwing your life away.” Bubba slid to the ground, as Chris tried to free himself from the headlock Buck had him in.
“Damnit Buck! Let me go!” Chris yelled. “I’m not going to kill the bastard. Okay?”
Buck loosened his hold on Larabee. “You could’ve fooled me.”
“Get the sonofabitch out of my sight.” Larabee shook off some of his anger as he caught sight of Tracker. Obviously the dog was injured, but he was alive, and Chris intended for him to stay that way. He trusted Vin to take care of Kelli and pulled out his cell phone to call Matt as he knelt down beside the dog that had been injured trying to protect his daughter.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Rain had taken one look at Kelli and insisted she go to the emergency room even before Dr. Weeks called. She was too far along to take any risks, and the number of possible problems this latest incident could cause for the babies were too many to count. Dr. Weeks was waiting for Kelli when they arrived at the hospital, and immediately took charge, throwing everyone out of the exam room, except Vin.
Buck had turned Bubba over to Mark, giving him an opportunity to redeem himself with Vin and Chris. Evidently the bag discovered near Camp Larabee was a deliberate ploy to get Mark and Walter away from the house. Bubba had been monitoring the activities at the ranch for so long he knew one man had a good chance to slip inside, if he could isolate his target. When he saw Kelli head to the barn with no bodyguard, he knew he might not get a better opportunity to kill her.
After Matt assured Jason and Andi he would take good care of Tracker, Chris left the kids in Max and Walter’s care, promising to let them know about their mom’s condition as soon as possible. Ezra called the court explaining why Tanner would not be returning for the afternoon session. Buck drove Chris to the hospital where they joined the rest of the Wild Bunch as they waited on word from Vin about Kelli.
Kelli gripped one of Vin's hands with her uninjured hand as Dr. Weeks finished examining her. When she had completed the examination, Dr. Weeks stripped off the soiled gloves and stood up. She moved over to the counter to wash her hands and then picked up Kelli's chart and palmed through it before she finally turned her attention onto the Tanners.
“We were lucky, everything looks good.” She told them softly with a smile. “Vitals for all three are normal, except Kelli's blood pressure is slightly elevated and that is to be expected after what she just went through. There is the bruise on her face and there will be some bruising along the lower back region due to Kelli's fall against the stall wall. Of course the cut she sustained on her hand will require stitches, but I don't see that there is anything for us to be worried about at this point." Helen Weeks sighed as she patted Kelli on the shoulder. "The stress you have been under all these months would have put most women into premature labor or worse."
Kelli wept with relief against Vin, as Tanner fought to control his own emotions. He knew that both of them had been fearful that this time they weren't going to be so lucky about the babies escaping unscathed by the actions of Bubba.
"Kel is not most women." Vin told her as he assisted his wife off the examination table. "Thank you, Dr. Weeks. You don't know how relieved we are to hear that nothin' is wrong with the boys."
Dr. Weeks nodded.” I think I do know, however, she needs to be watched closely for the next 24 hours to be on the safe side. Make sure that she gets plenty of rest." She smiled. “It won’t be long, your boys are almost ready, and I bet I see you before the end of the week. Vin, as soon as we suture that cut you can take her home."
It took six stitches to close the wound on Kelli's hand. Vin helped his wife dress, and together they walked out to the waiting room when they were met by anxious family. “Doc said the babies are fine, and Kel can go home.”
Chris was relieved, but he still needed to know the details of what had happened. “I’m glad, and I hate to do this, but I need a few questions answered.”
“Not now Chris. “Vin answered.
Kelli placed her uninjured hand on Vin’s arm. “It’s okay, let’s get this over with.”
Vin found a chair for her to sit on, and stayed close while she told them what Bubba had said. When she repeated his intention to cut the babies out for Vin to find, it was more than Vin, Chris, or the others wanted to hear.
“I was too easy on the sonofabitch.” Chris growled. “We should have let Peso kill him.”
JD addressed Kelli. “I’m sorry; I did the background on him and Karl. I should have been able to find their connection.”
“They spent a lifetime hidin' that fact JD; you had no way to find somethin' that couldn’t be found.” Kelli sighed. “I’m tired, if you want a formal statement it will have to wait til tomorrow. I need to see our kids and there is a certain dog and horse I would like to check on.”
“Tomorrow is fine and according to Matt, Tracker will be fine. George checked on Peso, and he's okay, too.” Chris stood up. “Come on, Buck and I will take you both home.”
Max had her hands full trying to keep Jason and Andi in the house when the Tanner children heard their Uncle Chris's truck pull into the yard. Vin and Kelli were barely through the door before Jason and Andi were on them. “Is Mom alright? What about our brothers, are they okay?" Jason asked his dad, as Andi hugged Kelli.
"Your mom and your brothers are just fine.”Vin was quick to assure the children.
"Vin, Kelli...we're going to head on home. You’ll let us know if the two of you need anything?" Chris asked.
Tanner looked at Kelli, Jason, and Andi. “Thanks Chris, we have all we need.” Vin knew there would probably be nightmares to contend with, and damage control with the kids, but they were all alive, and together. That was the only thing that was important.
Chris felt the emotions of the day catch up with him. He had come too damn close to losing one of his children again, and it made him anxious to get home to Grace and Cody. Bubba Jones had acted out of an unwarranted loyalty to a man who he considered family. In the process he had almost killed part of Chris’s family. If Kelli and the babies had been taken, Vin might not have been able to ever completely recover from the loss, and Chris knew it. Fate had stepped in, in the form of an ornery horse, and an obstinate Aussie Shepherd to protect his daughter, and Chris Larabee would be forever grateful.
Saturday ~July 7th~ 5:00am
Vin knew when the nightmares returned. He felt Kelli jerk in her sleep, and he began whispering soothing words in her ear to calm her. It had been a nightly ritual since Bubba Jones had attempted to kill her and their babies. He had had a few unnerving moments himself when he thought about what Bubba had planned for him to find, and refused to be separated from Kelli until after their boys were safely delivered. Tanner told the U.S. Attorneys that they could either work around him not being in court or fine him for contempt. Jones had been charged with the attempted murder of Kelli, conspiracy to commit the murder of FBI Agent Daniel Abbot, was arraigned, and now resided in the same jail as Karl. As far as Vin was concerned they could both rot in there.
“You’re safe Kel.” He spoke softly as he tightened his arm around her. “Our boys are fine, and ‘m right here with you.”
Kelli was now wide awake, and felt secure with Vin holding her. “I’m okay, Vin, but I do need to get up for another trip to the bathroom.”
The stitches in her hand made even the simplest of tasks difficult. “I think we can manage that.” Vin rolled out of bed to assist Kelli to her feet. It amazed him that she could get around at all as big as she was, and he could not see how she would make it another seven days to her due date. Of course he would never voice that thought aloud, to him she was beautiful, but she was sensitive about her size.
Once the necessities had been taken care of, Vin suggested that she go back to bed for a while. “We don’t have to be at Chris’s until eleven for his birthday feast.” Chris really resisted the idea of a party, but he had agreed to a barbeque lunch with only the Wild Bunch in attendance. He also stipulated that in lieu of gifts, those so inclined to get one should make a donation to Reins of Change instead.
“I don’t know Tanner; my back really hurts this mornin’ and I'm havin' a few contractions. Maybe I should do some more walkin’ to try to convince your sons it’s time to see the outside world.” She leaned against Vin for support,
He gently rubbed her back with firm circular motions that seemed to help with her discomfort. “Our boys will get here when they’re ready baby.”
She answered with a deep sigh. “I know, and I really enjoy bein' pregnant, but I think we’re runnin’ out of room for the three of us to share one body.”
“All right boys, listen up, your room is ready, and your mom and I have kept a journal of your journey, both written and in photos. You have a brother and sister anxious to meet you, as well as twelve cousins, six uncles, five aunts, and assorted extended members of the Wild Bunch. The camcorder is charged. I have plenty of film for the camera, our bags are packed, and ‘m gonna be waitin’ for you as you take your first breaths.” Vin patted her stomach. “So what do you say, y’all ready to give your mom her body back?”
Kelli smiled. “Nice try Dad, but I don’t think they’re listenin’.”
“Then let me help you dress, and then I’ll make you a fantastic breakfast. All you have to do is sit and keep me company while I do it.” Vin reached for the camera he kept close by. “One more picture for their baby journal.” He snapped a photo of her stomach, and jotted down the date in their birth diary. He had managed to get some terrific pictures; even a few of a foot, and a hand outlined under her skin, and they had documented every stage of her pregnancy.
“No more Vin. You have enough pictures, and ‘m hungry.”
“Someday you’ll appreciate my talent for photography.” Vin teased. “Right now though I reckon I should feed you, and then, we’ll take a walk.” They finished dressing, and walked together into the kitchen, Tracker trailing behind them. A busy day waited ahead, for both of them.
Tanner Home~ 10:45 AM
Kelli’s backache had graduated to consistent contractions, and she and Vin had been monitoring the timing of them all morning. Nothing definitive, but enough for Vin to be concerned, and he was the one to make the call to Dr. Weeks. Better to be nothing and call, than to be something and not call.
Vin hung up the phone and turned to Kelli. “Helen suspects that you are in the early stages of labor. She said not to panic, just monitor the contractions as we have been, and watch for any changes in intensity or timin’. You still want to go over to Chris’s?”
“Why not? You can watch me there the same as you are here, and I really don’t want to miss dad’s birthday.”
Tanner walked over and wrapped his arms around his wife. He knew this could be one of the last moments they had alone before the babies were born. Kissing her forehead as he rubbed her back, he whispered to her. “We started this incredible journey together, and I want you to know how much I have enjoyed sharin’ it with you. I love you Kel.”
“I love you too Tanner.” Kelli was anxious, but knowing that Vin was here gave her the strength to get through anything. “I don’t think I could be this calm without you here with me.”
“Then you’ll be glad to know I have no intention of being more than three feet away from you for the duration.” He lowered his mouth and claimed a long slow kiss before speaking again. “Let’s go wish Chris a happy birthday.”
Larabee Home ~ 11:00am
It was a beautiful summer day in Colorado, a gentle breeze was blowing, and the temperature was not expected to reach over eighty-eight. A perfect day for an outdoor barbeque, and the kids were ready to play while the adults worked. Josiah had fired up the grill early and the ladies were busy preparing food in the Larabee kitchen. Under Nettie and Max’s supervision it was a well coordinated effort for the ideal birthday dinner.
The Wild Bunch had become experts at throwing great celebrations. They had learned to seize the good moments whenever possible, and to deal with the bad ones together, as a family. Today was a good one, Chris was never one that liked to see his birthday observed, but this year he felt he had a lot to celebrate. He had survived one of the most unstable years of his life, and come out emotionally strong, healthy, and had two of the most beautiful babies in the world that were his alone. His best friend and eldest daughter were about to experience one of those miraculous moments life offered, watching their twin sons being born. Chris knew from his own experience how wonderful it would be for them, and he was looking forward to being there with them when the time came.
Larabee was certain that Tanner was going to experience all sorts of new emotions while being an active participant in the birth of his sons. Watching life being born was ultimately the most sacred thing for anyone to have the privileged to witness, and he knew that Vin and Kelli's lives would be forever changed because of it, just like his had been. There was also no doubt in his mind that they loved Jason and Andi with all their hearts and would never let the fact that they had created the twins together, change how they would treat their older children. Family was family, regardless if siblings shared the same blood or not. Chris knew that for a fact, because he had six brothers to prove it.
“Is this where you want it. “Buck and Nathan asked. Chris had them move one of the cushioned redwood loungers off the deck to under the tree where most of the adults were gathering to watch the children. Vin had called ahead to warn him that Kelli was having some contractions and that she could be in active labor at anytime.
“That’s fine. I wanted Kelli to have a comfortable place to sit with the rest of us.” Chris answered.
Buck laughed. “Chris, she’s nine months pregnant, there ain’t no place she’s gonna be comfortable.”
Chris grinned back at him. "Maybe not, but we can attempt to make her as comfortable as possible.”
"True." Nathan said as he watched Vin and Kelli slowly head their way, he had to laugh when he saw that she was barefooted. Rain couldn’t wear shoes the last couple of weeks she was pregnant with Terrell either.
"Thanks, boys," Vin said appreciatively as he helped Kelli to stretch out on the lounger. "Sittin' up or standin' doesn't seem to be doin' much to ease the discomfort that Kelli's in... maybe layin' down will."
"Don't talk around me as if I’m not here, Vin." Kelli said irritably, laying one hand on her stomach as another contraction hit her.
"Sorry, Kel," Tanner replied automatically as he began to time the contraction that she was having.
Buck and Nathan exchanged knowing looks. Vin was in for a wake up call. All of the brothers knew about the extensive reading that the Texan had done about bringing babies into the world, but they were sure that there were a few things he would learn first hand. One of them being that a woman in labor almost always takes every last ounce of pain she experiences out on her unsuspecting husband.
"That one wasn't bad." Vin told Kelli, as he sat down in the chair beside her lounger.
"Says who?" Kelli asked him with a cocked eyebrow. “You didn’t feel it, I did.” She looked over to Chris, “Happy Birthday Dad.”
“Thank you, daughter,” Chris smiled. “You plan on having a special delivery for me today?”
“Maybe, if the boys cooperate.” Kelli said wearily. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s damn uncomfortable.”
"How close are her contractions now?" Nathan asked Vin.
"They’re still nine to ten minutes apart." Tanner assured him.
"You stay here and take care of Kelli while we go see if there is anything else we need to help out with." Buck said and then he and Nathan headed off toward the house where the rest of the ladies were beginning to bring out condiments, salads and other food items from the kitchen.
JD moved his chair so he could see Lilah and Daisy. “Did you get to try out the lens attachment I sent over for your camera, Vin?
“Yep, and it’s great. I already took some shots with it, and I like the way the pictures came out.” Vin answered as he kept one eye on Kelli.
Chris chuckled. “If I know Vin he's not only tried it out, but can tell you everything about it.”
“Our brother does have a need to know every detail of the mechanism he aspires to use.” Ezra smiled.” Of course that is why he is the best sharpshooter in the country. Very few details escape his meticulous attention.”
"Ah don't be going and telling him things like that." Buck told Standish as he returned with some juice for Kelli." You’re liable to give him a swelled head or something and then he won't be fit to be around." He handed the glass to Kelli as he spoke, who nodded her thanks.
The brothers burst out laughing in response to Wilmington's words. Other men might get a bit too full of themselves over hearing praise in regards to their accomplishments, but not Vin Tanner. He didn't care about accolades or prizes; he only cared about doing the best job he knew how with the skills he held.
More ribbing continued between the men until the ladies announced that lunch was finally ready.
Tanner made sure that Jason and Andi were seated at one of the tables eating, before he made plates for him and Kelli. He was cautioned by both Rain and Nathan not to try and force Kelli to eat too much, and Tanner had listened to their advice. He handed Kelli her plate and then seated himself in the chair beside her. “You want somethin' else to drink, maybe some sweet tea or water, anything?"
"Water." Kelli said as she raised an olive to her lips to eat, when a strong contraction struck her abdomen. Her paper plate full of food went flying as she clutched at her stomach and tried to breathe through the contraction. "Vin!" She gasped out his name.
“Right here, baby.” He grabbed her hand as he looked at his watch, noting that one was only sevens minutes from the last one, and then made a decision. “That one was closer and harder. I think it’s time we leave for the hospital.” He pulled out his cell phone to alert Dr. Weeks.
Kelli did not argue with him, “All right.” Vin helped her to her feet.
Chris stood next to them. “I’ll drive, you sit with Kel.” He handed Cody to Dottie, and then bent down to kiss Grace. “Buck and Inez are going to bring Jason and Andi to the hospital with them.”
Since their bags were already in the Silverado with his camera, Vin gave Chris his keys, while Kelli hugged Jason and Andi, assuring them she would see them at the hospital. The rest of the Wild Bunch would follow in a short time.
Denver Memorial Hospital ~12:30pm
A maternity nurse had been waiting for the Tanners at the hospital entrance with a wheelchair for Kelli. She let Vin help to settle his wife into it, but had stubbornly refused to relinquish the control of it over to the anxious father-to-be, as they headed inside the hospital.
Within a few minutes of her arrival in one of the suites of the maternity ward, Kelli had been helped by Vin to change her clothing, and both the babies and her heartbeat's were being monitored. Vin held her hand and offered reassuring encouragement as she breathed her way through another contraction. Dr. Weeks arrived a few moments later and did an exam to find out how far along she had progressed in her labor.
"You are doing well Kelli." Dr. Weeks told her when the exam was finished. “You are already dilated to three centimeters, and Baby A is in a good position, hopefully he will set a good example for his brother to follow. “She patted Kelli on the shoulder. “I know you wanted an all natural delivery, but your high risk status prevents that. You have had a lot of stress during this pregnancy and that concerns me. The same scar tissue that made it difficult to become pregnant in the first place could factor into a problem with internal hemorrhaging. Add that to the fact that multiples are expected and we could have any number of scenarios play out today. I will do all I can to make certain you have as much freedom as possible to do things your way, but my objective is to have two healthy babies. I intend to keep a very close watch on all three of you. You can however get up and walk around the room as much you feel that you can, but don't eat or drink anything."
"What about ice chips?" Vin asked.
"Those are alright." Dr. Weeks replied. "I'll be back in to check on you in just a little while.”
The nurse disconnected the monitor lines from Kelli, and Vin helped her to stand. Her walking was limited to the room, but it was a big area, and although they had to forgo home delivery, they were determined to make it as natural as possible under the circumstance. After all they had faced to get here they could not help but believe that this was going to be the easy part.
Chris had sat by silently, allowing the doctor to exam his daughter. He wanted to be the least intrusive as possible, but was thrilled Vin had asked him to be here. “Pace yourself Kel, you still have a good ways to go.”
Kelli had almost forgotten he was there. “Dad, I’m sorry we ruined your birthday dinner. You barely had time to eat.”
“I can eat anytime. Being a witness to my daughter giving birth for the first time is the best birthday gift I could ever hope for."
"I'm not sure how much company I'm goin' to be." Kelli warned him. "This isn't exactly a walk in the park that's goin' on here."
"I wasn't expecting you to be at your best, Kel.” Chris reassured her. "Giving birth is hard work, that’s why they call it labor. We'll all be close to support you through it. "
"Thanks. I'm thinkin' that the next time around, Vin's goin' to be the one doin' the havin' instead of me. "
"That's anatomically impossible Kel, "Tanner told her patiently, “but you know that I'd take the pain away from you if I could."
"I know." Kelli gasped out, halting in mid-stride as another contraction hit her. Vin stayed at her side, alternately rubbing her back and speaking encouraging words in her ear.
Chris watched the two of them and thought about how it was when Sarah was having Adam. He smiled to himself remembering how smart they thought they were, but how little they really knew about what to expect. Neither of them had had an inkling of an idea about the powerful emotions they would feel when Adam finally made his arrival, or how their lives would be forever altered. Larabee found he was anxious to see those same emotions on the faces of his best friend and eldest daughter.
Larabee did have one question. “Vin you keep saying, boys, twins, or brothers. Are you having trouble coming up with names?”
Kelli looked over at Vin “It’s your call.” They had selected names, but she had promised him it was his decision to make about when they announced them.
Vin was ready to share with Chris. “We compromised. Kelli chose the name for the firstborn, and I decide on the name for the second.” Vin smiled. “My only condition was no Vincent Jamison Tanner Jr. or Vincent anything. My sweet wife found a way around that though, and chose to name him after me anyway. She decided on Bren Jamison.”
Chris laughed. “That’s my girl. It’s not junior, or Vincent and you didn’t say it couldn’t sound like Vin… Bren Tanner, I like it. So, what about Bren’s brother?”
“Well, I thought about the men that have had an influence on my life. The first name I considered was Christopher, but Cody already has claim on that one. Other than you, there are two men that changed the course of my life. My grandfather, Treyton Hawk, was the first, and Trey will carry his name. Another one was a Texas Ranger named Jake Mackenzie. He took Kel in, loved her, and set her on a course that would eventually cross paths with mine. Naming our son Trey Mackenzie will honor them both
“Bren Jamison and Trey Mackenzie are good choices Vin.” Chris nodded in agreement,” Named for three fine men.”
The door burst open and Andi was the first one through it. “Are my brothers here yet? “She yelled as she ran to her mother.
“No, not yet Sugar.” Kelli answered, squeezing Vin’s hand when another contraction hit her.
Andi patted her mom’s tummy. “This is Andi. You can come out now, ‘m here.”
Jason joined his sister. “They don’t have to listen to you.”
“Do too! I’m the big sister.”
Vin saw the argument that was coming and interceded. “Okay, the boys are on the way, but it’ll take a while so no arguin’. Y’all can sit in here with us for a bit, or in the room through that door.” He indicated the adjoining waiting room. “There’s a television, some colorin’ books for Andi, and some horse magazines you might wanna look at Jason.
Buck rubbed his hands together. “That sounds like a cool room. Wanna go with Uncle Buck and check it out?”
Jason stood in indecision looking from his Mom to the doorway in which his uncle and sister had gone through a few moments earlier.
You can come back in here at any time you want to." Vin told him softly.
"Okay." Jason said, letting Vin make his decision for him. He went to join his Uncle Buck and Andi in the other room.
"He takes on too much for a little boy." Inez commented quietly.
Yes, he does." Vin agreed.
"You and Kelli have done wonders for Jason and Andi." Chris said. “While Jason does tend to be a bit more serious about things than a little boy his age should, he's learned to be a kid again under your guidance and love."
‘It’s easy when you have two great kids to start with, especially Jason. No one could ask for a better child, he’s compassionate, responsible, and super smart. We’re hoping when the babies get here he’ll realize that all things in life don’t have to turn out badly, and relax ever more.” Vin explained and smiled when he heard Jason laugh with Buck in the next room.
“Their laughter is music to my ears. “Kelli smiled too. “I always…ohhh…Vin, I think my water broke with that contraction.”
“Let’s get you back to the bed and call the nurse.” Tanner walked her back to the bedside, and found her a dry gown to change into. Chris stepped out of the room with Inez to give her some privacy.
"Damn..." Kelli exclaimed as another contraction hit and she leaned into Vin for support until it had passed. "They seem to be comin' faster now."
"They are." Vin agreed as he tied the strings of the gown into a bow and helped her back into the bed.
“I wish the boys would decide to come all ready. I'm anxious to be able to hold them in my arms, instead of inside of me."
“I know...they'll be comin' sooner than you think. Just wait and see." Vin said soothingly as he fluffed up her pillows so that she could sit more comfortably. "Do you want some more ice chips?"
“No, what I want is to move this along.”
“You’re impatience is showin’ baby. When the time is…”
“I know, I know, when the time is right.” Kelli snapped. “Do you have to be so logical? It’s irritatin’.”
“She sounds like you did Case.” JD grinned as he and his wife walked in the room. “Only I think Casey was worse.”
Casey elbowed him in the side. “It’s still early for her, but if you don’t hush it may be too late for you.”
"Better watch it JD, I think she means it." Ezra said as he and Barbara followed the Dunnes in. “Maybe we should all step into the other room so Vin and Kelli can have some privacy for awhile?"
Vin stepped back from the bed a little, but not so much to make Kelli think he was going anywhere, or so he thought. "Don't leave me, Vin. I can't do this without you." Kelli cried as another contraction hit her
"I'm not goin' anywhere.” He assured her.
"We'll be in the other room." Ezra took the lead and headed everyone into the waiting room.
Tanner nodded his head, his attention focused on helping Kelli through the pain she was experiencing as best he could.
“Vin, ‘m sorry,” Kelli started to cry. “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s just go home.” She squeezed his hand again.
“I think we’re past that point Kel.” He pushed her hair back. “Want me to braid you’re hair so it’ll be out of your face?” Tanner figured the best he could do is roll with the flow of her emotions.
Vin did braid her hair, Nathan and Rain arrived along with Josiah and Mallory, and time moved slowly. At least Kelli thought so. When Dr. Weeks came back thirty minutes later she gave her the third degree, trying to pin her down to a definite timeframe.
Dr. Weeks examined Kelli, read the chart, and rechecked her vitals. “I wish I could tell you specifically Kelli, but I can’t. You’re more than halfway there though, and things look good. I’ll be back in another hour to see you again.”
"Make it stop, Vin." Kelli pleaded with her husband as she was consumed by pain.
"I would if I could Kel,” Vin told her, biting down on his bottom lip so hard that he tasted blood. The past three hours had been increasingly hard for Kelli and Vin both. Kelli was dilated up to seven centimeters now, and her contractions were coming hard and fast, making it almost impossible for her to get any rest between them. Tanner's anguished blue eyes sought out Chris's green ones, as Larabee sat in a chair a few feet from the bed.
*What do I do?*
*You're doing it Vin.*
Larabee's voice was calm and reassuring in Tanner's head. *Keep talking and encouraging her.*
"You're doin' great, Kel.” Vin said soothingly, resting his forehead against hers and whispering words of love and encouragement to her.
The kids had been in and out of the room, but at this point Inez and Casey were keeping them distracted, while Barbara and Mallory took turns checking on Kelli’s progress.
Dr. Weeks returned and after examining Kelli she pulled off her gloves, and then explained why she was in so much pain. “Kelli you are experiencing what we call back labor. Simply put, the baby has his face turned toward your spine and we need him to face the other way.” She showed them on the ultrasound where the babies were positioned.
"Can you do that?” Vin asked.
“We can try. The nurse will keep repositioning you and well see if our young man is inclined to cooperate.” The doctor moved closer to the head of the bed. “If he doesn’t it’ is going to be harder on you. Do you want some medication to ease the pain?”
“No! No drugs.” Kelli closed her eyes. “Our babies will be born drug free, no matter how much pain ‘m in.”
"Vin, there are some methods that you can do or help Kelli do to ease some of the pain and discomfort she is feeling." Dr. Weeks said. "I've noticed that you've already been massaging her back, wetting her face with cool cloths, feeding her ice chips, and helping her to walk around." Dr. Weeks said, " Continue to do all of those...but add in applying pressure to her lower back, and try helping her into different positions.”
"Alright," Vin replied.
It was a team effort but sometime in the next two hours Baby A turned into the right position and was almost ready to lead the way for his brother to come into the world. Kelli was tired but determined, and Dr. Weeks was pleased with her progress.
“Vin what time is it?’ Kelli asked.
“Almost seven baby.” Vin realized that Kelli had been at this since early this morning. He had tried to help make it as easy on her as possible, but he knew she was close to exhaustion, and was not sure how much longer she could go. His mind rapidly replayed all the trials they had been through to get to this point, but Vin's turmoil of emotions suddenly became tranquil as he felt the presence of his mother and grandfather's spirits close by. Vin knew his sons were under the protection of two special angels.
“Vin, I hope you are ready to welcome your sons, it’s time.” Dr. Weeks smiled. “Kelli, I need you to work just a little bit longer. When I tell you to push, don’t stop until I say so.”
"We're ready. Right Vin?"
"Yes Ma'am." Tanner smiled. He was ready and he was confident now that Kelli and the boys would be fine.
Chris had taken over the camera hours ago, leaving Vin free to help his wife. He knew Kelli was close, and in a matter of a few minutes Vin would be holding his firstborn son, but that was only half the job. He was aware of the problems that could still manifest, and prayed for everything to go smoothly. Tanner followed the instructions that the nurse told him, and was ready to help Kelli in anyway he could to safely deliver the babies that they had been wanting for so long.
"Push Kelli!" Dr. Weeks ordered and began to count to ten. Vin supported her back as Kelli did as the doctor ordered. Perspiration dripped into her eyes, and her face turned red, as she pushed as hard as she could. They watched as Bren Jamison Tanner made his entrance into the world. Dr. Weeks worked quickly to clear the baby's nose and mouth of mucous. A loud wail of protest filled the room.
"Dad, are you ready to cut the cord?" Dr. Weeks asked, holding Bren, and nodding toward the surgical scissors that the nurse was handing out to him.
Vin worked to clear the lump in his throat as he took in the miraculous form of his baby son before him. "Yes." His voice was raspy as he took the scissors from the nurse and followed the doctor's instructions. He and Kelli watched with tear filled eyes as the nurse gave then a brief glimpse of their son, and then took Bren to clean him up.
"We did it." Kelli whispered to Vin.
"Your work is not over yet, Kelli. You've got another son waiting to join his brother." Dr. Weeks reminded her with a smile. “I don’t think he’s going to wait very long either.”
Another contraction seized Kelli reminding her that Trey was very anxious to arrive. “Vin,” was all she was able to say as she tried to breathe through it.
He reached behind her to support her back again as two more contractions hit hard. ”I’ve got you Kel, we can do this.”
“Okay Kelli, Bren paved the way for him, and this little one is ready.” Dr. Weeks prepared for Tanner baby B. “I need you to push, now.”
Using what strength she had left, Kelli did as she was told, and within moments she heard Helen Week’s voice, “Happy birthday baby.” The loud lusty cry of Trey Mackenzie Tanner filled the room.
Vin was ready this time to cut the cord, and couldn’t take his eyes off his son as the nurse repeated the same process she had with Bren. He kissed Kelli and whispered. “I love you Kel.”
The nurses brought the babies to their parents, showing Vin the baby books that held each twin's footprint. They were both healthy, and would be staying in the room with Mom and Dad, instead of going to the nursery. Kelli could barely keep her eyes open, but she lasted long enough to take in the sight of her sons in their father’s arms. Tears trailed down her cheeks as she whispered to him. “It’s your turn to carry them Vin, I need to sleep now.” She fell asleep confident that Vin was on watch, and their babies were safe.
Tanner leaned down and kissed her forehead before taking the babies to meet their brother and sister, along with the rest of the Wild Bunch. He knelt down in front of his children with the boys in his arms, and made the introductions. “This is Bren Jamison, seven pounds six ounces, and this is Trey Mackenzie, seven pounds five ounces.” He looked into Jason and Andi’s beaming faces when the babies appeared to respond to their voices, and he knew their incredible journey was not over, it was only just beginning.
Moisture clouded Chris's eyes as he gazed down at the wiggling bundles in his brother’s arms and found he couldn't speak past the lump in his throat. These miracle babies were just as much a part of his blood as they were Vin's and the reality of that further cemented Tanner to him as his brother.
*I'm fine.* Larabee worked to clear his throat, reminded that they had an audience. “Brother, this is the best birthday gift anyone could have ever given me."
"Now you went and done it Vin. How are the rest of us supposed to compete with you and Kelli giving Chris babies for a birthday present?" Buck commented, from the doorway of the adjoining room.
His words eased the intensity of the moment and Chris felt a sense of peace flood through him. "You have plenty of time to think of something by the next time my birthday rolls around." Larabee told him.
"Want to hold ‘em?" Vin asked Chris.
"You bet." Chris replied and took both of the babies into his arms. "How can you tell one from the other?”
"The baby wrapped in the blue blanket is Bren, and the one in green is Trey.” Vin explained to him and grinned.” Besides, their names are on their hospital bracelets.”
Viewing the babies went on for a few more minutes, when Chris felt his cell phone begin to vibrate on his belt. He handed the twins back to their father and withdrew his cell phone to turn it on. He stepped outside into the hallway so that he could hear over the voices of the Wild Bunch. It was Raphael on the other end of the line.
"Karl Chambers and Bubba Jones are dead." Cordova told Chris. “Someone iced them in their cells early this evening, and of course nobody is talking. We just got word from the jail a few moments ago and I thought I should call to let you know. "
"Thanks." Larabee said and disconnected the call, eager to return to the suite with the good news. He would get the specifics later about Chambers and Jones's deaths, for now all he cared about was that they were dead and the horrible nightmare with the RMR was finally over.
"Its over." he announced to the group as he entered the room.
"What's over?" JD asked with a puzzled look on his face.
"Vin and Nathan, you are free men again. Our nightmare with the RMR is finally over." Larabee said exuberantly. “Karl Chambers and Bubba Jones are both dead. Someone murdered them in their cells a couple of hours ago and with them gone their followers will scatter and that bounty on your head Vin, is null and void." It took a moment for the full impact of Chris’s words to sink in, and when they did a feeling of liberation flooded the room. All the worry and stress of the last ten months vanished. With Karl and Bubba gone, the RMR would fall apart and the threat to the Wild Bunch was gone.
“Damn, do they know who did it?” Josiah asked.
“Not a clue, nobody saw a thing, or so they say.” Chris answered.
Bren and Trey had fallen asleep. Vin took them to the other room and laid the boys into their bassinettes, moving them close to Kelli’s bedside. He was still trying to take in Chris's words, and what they meant for his family.
“Mr. Tanner, these were delivered a short while ago, but you were sort of busy at the time.” The nurse handed him a vase of beautiful multicolored roses.
Vin set the vase on the table where Kelli could see them when she woke up, but when he saw his name on the card, he opened it. The enclosed note was short, but Tanner unquestionably understood the mysterious message.
Hawk, you and your family are safe now, and my debt to you is paid in full. R
Journal entry ~ Saturday~ August ~11th ~6:00am
The Wild Bunch has grown by more than a couple of members over the past two years. Some of them were born into the family, while others were brought in by other means. Amid all the chaos that our cases have caused in our lives, the family celebrated four weddings, including Kelli and Vin's, Ezra and Barbara's, Max and Walter's, and of course ,mine and Linda's. Andi, Jason, Caleb, and now Ronesha have been adopted into the family. We had nine babies born into this Wild Bunch of ours, starting with Adam, Lilah, Daisy, and Terrell, and then Grace, Tannis, Cody, Bren, and Trey. These births were joyous occasions that helped us all continue to strive, and to hold tight what we all held so dear. They also saw us through the times when we each wondered if what we were going through was worth it at all.
Personally the last two years have been both hardest and yet the best for me since Sarah and Adam died. On the plus side I married again, found a daughter I never knew I had, and saw the birth of two more of my children. MCAT was formed and I was given command of one of the finest group of agents ever assembled.
On the minus side, I was injured more than once, forced into a drug addiction by a brother I had not seen in almost twenty five years, became addicted to prescription drugs, and turned on my team and family. I saw our offices blown all to hell, and thought I had lost my brothers forever. My marriage ended in divorce, and Linda is now out of my life.
I did however gain full custody of our children, went into the NA program, and found my way home. September first will mark one year of sobriety for me, and there will be a small recognition ceremony where I will receive my one year coin. Colonel Mike will be there, but I don't plan to make any announcement to the family. To me it is a personal triumph of achievement that has given me back control of my life.
It has been almost a year since our first MCAT office was attacked, and it has been a stressful twelve months. I have decided its time for the seven of us to regroup. I cannot remember the last time my brothers and I have had an opportunity to spend time away from the ranch, without our families or outside of work. All of us need to be together to reinforce the bonds we formed so many years ago. Buck, Nathan, JD, and Ezra agree. Josiah feels we need not only to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood, but also take time to evaluate the changes in our lives brought on by MCAT and the cases that have challenged us over the last two years. We need to talk about where we are and more importantly where we are going from here.
I have made arrangements for us to spend next weekend at a mountain retreat not far from here. The only problem is that Vin will not commit to being there. I know something is weighing on Vin’s mind, and I had been waiting for him to talk to me about it. Whatever it is, Tanner is not sharing his thoughts on it, and my patience is coming to an end. Today I hope to find out why Vin has been avoiding his brothers, and more specifically me, not so much by his physical presence, but mentally.
The last month had been an enlightening experience for Vin and Kelli as well as the other members of the Tanner household. Reading all the books in the world could not have prepared any of them for life with twins. Bren and Trey were identical, they had Vin's chestnut hair with red highlights, and their eyes were a beautiful blue, but they had very distinct personalities and their parents had no problem knowing which was which. Bren had the same Larabee traits as his mother, with a temper to match, while Trey had his father’s more laidback approach to gaining what he wanted, firm, but patient. Both babies definitely marched to the tune of their own drummers as far as time was concerned.
The first couple of weeks after the babies came home from the hospital were full of challenges. Jason had hovered close to Kelli, afraid to believe she was really okay, but Vin finally convinced him that she was not going to disappear from his life. Andi had a few nights of ending up in their bedroom to sleep, not from feeling insecure, but to be closer to her little brothers. She decided, however, they made too much noise during the night, and returned to sleeping in her own room.
The nights were long, and at times hectic, but Vin loved every minute of it. He quickly worked out a routine that allowed him to spend time bonding with both boys. Since Bren always wanted to eat immediately after waking, Kelli would breast feed him first. Trey was content to wait, and snuggled in his father’s arms listening to Vin’s soft drawl. When Bren’s appetite was appeased, Kelli and Vin traded babies, giving dad an opportunity to rock Bren back to sleep. More than once as he rocked his son, Vin would watch his redhead feed the other one, and think about how close they had come to not having these two blessings in their lives. Doctor after doctor had told Kelli she would never be able to have a successful pregnancy, and urged her to end the possibility with surgery. Fortunately she had stubbornly refused to give up trying, and when Chris agreed with her, Vin was persuaded to wait before they closed that door forever.
Tanner had also put in for paternity leave, and planned to take every day available to him before he even considered going back to work. He had managed to stay busy enough with his family to avoid any serious discussions about his future plans with his brothers, but Chris was not going to let him avoid it much longer. Vin had been wrestling with his conscience for weeks, and at this point he was not certain he could go back to work. The Texan knew that sooner, rather than later, Larabee would force him to talk about his reluctance to return to MCAT, but he wanted to avoid a confrontation until he was able to work things out in his own mind.
Chris's Home ~9:00am
"Quit squirming imp." Chris smiled at his younger daughter. Getting her dressed at times was harder than trying to hold onto a greased pig. "One more arm baby, and then we're done." He slipped her little hand through the shirtsleeve and pulled it down.
"Da," Grace giggled when her father swung her high in the air before setting her down on the floor.
"Daddy," Chris corrected her, but she was not paying attention to him. Instead, she was showing her father something new she had learned. Grace had discovered how to open drawers, and then empty the contents onto the floor.
"I forgot to warn you Mr. Larabee." Dottie stood in the doorway with Cody in her arms. "She made this marvelous discovery yesterday, and has been opening every drawer she can find."
Chris laughed. "At her age it's bound to be something new every day." He reached out to take his son. "By the way, I believe we can drop the Mr. Larabee. It's Chris."
"Yes sir, Mr.…Chris." Dottie handed over the bundled up baby. "Old habits die hard, I suppose, but I will make an effort to remember."
"We're headed over to Vin's house, and should be back after lunchtime." Larabee grabbed the diaper bag, and then Grace's hand. "Say bye-bye to Miss Dottie."
"Bye-bye," Grace laughed when she tried to wave, and her Daddy's hand moved with hers.
Kelli was on her way out the door with Andi when they arrived. “Hey Dad, Vin is in the family room with the boys. Andi and I are going to run over to Buck’s house for a bit. Jason forgot his lucky baseball glove, and swears he needs it to play ball with Caleb. Go on in, and if it’s alright with you, Grace can go with us.”
“If you want to tackle keeping up with her, it’s fine with me.” Chris grinned. “Even since Grace started walking, she seems to be operating on high-speed.”
Kelli laughed as she picked up her sister. “I think Andi and I can handle her.” She kissed Chris on the cheek, and lovingly stroked a finger down the side of Cody’s face noting the distinctive blue-green color of his eyes. “Hey baby brother," she whispered softly. "We’ll be back soon.”
Chris closed the door behind Kelli and the girls, and carried Cody into the family room to join Vin. The closer they got to the twins the more excited Cody became. It seemed that when all three boys were together they responded to one another’s presence enthusiastically. Maybe it was simply what babies do, or maybe it was because they share blood ties. Neither Chris nor Vin believed that. They had their own idea of why the boys had bonded so well, but for now they were not ready to say. They would leave the speculation to others.
“Coffee’s hot Chris, you can lay Cody in the playpen, and then help yourself.” Tanner grinned. “I kinda have my hands full at the moment.” Vin was holding both boys, rocking from side to side, and he had been hoping to get them to sleep. When Chris walked in with Cody though, two sets of little blue eyes popped open.
Larabee deposited Cody in the playpen and then went into the kitchen where he helped himself to a mug of coffee, returned, and settled himself into a chair across from Vin. "You are getting to be an old pro at that." Chris commented with a smile as he took in the rocking motion that Tanner was doing in order to keep the twins pacified.
"Practice makes perfect." Vin replied with a grin. “Kelli and I are learnin' real fast, what it is they like for us to do, and what they don't."
Larabee nodded understandingly. "No two babies are exactly alike in how they respond to certain things that you do, not even twins. Grace goes right to sleep when she is rocked, but Cody doesn’t until you actually place him in his crib."
"I've come to realize that." Tanner laughed. "Bren and Trey are perfect examples. Trey's more patient when it comes to bein' fed, where as Bren is quite demandin' of it. I think he's already showin' a bit of the infamous Lar'bee temper that runs in the family."
Chris chuckled, "Cody, too."
Vin laid Trey down next to Cody and continued to rock Bren. “I reckon Trey will spend a lot of time caught between Lar'bee tempers. It’s a good thing he has such a peaceful temperament.”
“You have the same temperament, but not for one second would I underestimate the veiled inner strength behind it.” Chris smiled. “I know several men that have made that mistake, and some have not lived to regret it.”
"True." Tanner said quietly. What else could he do but agree that the statement Larabee had made was true. He had killed more than one man in his lifetime in the service, and out of it. What made him any different than Raven?
"Have you given some more thought to going with us next weekend?"
"Chris, it's just not a good time for me to be away." He walked and rocked Bren as he answered.
“Vin, I wish you would reconsider going with us.” Chris picked up his coffee cup. “It just wouldn’t be right if you didn't. Surely, Kel can manage for a couple of days with you gone."
Tanner was already shaking his head no. “Chris, it’s been a rough month of adjustments around here. Even with Max, Mila, and Walter helpin’ with the boys, Kelli and I are worn out tryin' to keep up with the twins and workin' out schedules. Makin’ certain Jason and Andi are gettin’ enough attention and makin' sure they are ready to go to school in two weeks is important to us, too.” He shifted a sleeping Bren in his arms before continuing. “I can’t just take off for a weekend and leave Kel to handle it all by herself.”
Chris studied his brother, looking for some clue to indicate his actual motive for not joining them. “Are you certain that’s the only reason?”
Vin was saved from answering that question when Andi ran into the room with Grace toddling along at her side. Kelli was not far behind them, and her eyes immediately sought out the twins. She approached Vin, and deliberately keeping her voice low asked, “Any problems?”
Bren however heard his mother’s voice, and deciding he was hungry let of a hearty wail. Cody and Trey joined him within seconds, and the three adults found themselves juggling babies attempting to calm them. With a practiced ease Chris quickly prepared his son a bottle, checking it to make sure the formula wasn't too hot, before he stuck the nipple into Cody's mouth and he settled back into his chair to feed his son.
Grace drew close to her father, staring up at the baby in his arms and said, "Baby."
"Cody,” he corrected her softly.
"Baby Cody," Grace stated proudly.
Chris chuckled. "That's right, sweetheart.”
Max had quietly entered the room and taken Andi and Grace into the kitchen for lunch. Kelli sat down and after arranging a baby blanket over her shoulder reached beneath it to unbutton her shirt. Vin lifted the blanket laying Bren into her arms, and the baby wasted no time eagerly latching onto his mother’s breast for lunch. Arranging the cover to shield her breast from view, he picked Trey up from the playpen and began to rock him.
Vin smiled as he watched his son's intense expression. "Bren takes his feedin' time seriously."
"I think he takes after you Tanner." Kelli grinned "You're just as enthusiastic and eager as our son."
"Kel! The Texan's face reddened. He was surprised that she would make such a brazen remark in from of her father.
Laughing, she clarified her remark. "About your eatin' habits, I mean." Kelli knew Vin thought she meant something else and she enjoyed teasing him.
Chris smiled at the exchange between two of his favorite people. "You are right Kel; Tanner does take the subject of food very seriously." He ignored the glare Vin shot his way. When Bren was full, Chris watched with interest as Vin and Kelli traded babies, but he did not see the difficulties Vin had described earlier.
Yes, having twins could be challenging, but it appeared to be smooth transition for the Tanners, they worked together well, and Larabee saw no signs of extra stress. In fact, Kelli was well on her way to getting into good physical shape again, thanks to Vin taking on the position as her personal trainer. She exhibited an aura of confidence regarding motherhood that she did not have before. Any doubts she had about being a good parent to four children were gone. Jason and Andi were healthy, happy, and well adjusted, and they knew they were loved. They had welcomed their new brothers with open arms, and Chris credited Vin and Kelli for that. Tanner was great with children, he listened when they talked, and encouraged them to be their best. Vin's contentment with family life was obvious, so whatever was bothering him had nothing to do with the children.
Within twenty minutes all three babies were sleeping soundly. Vin had Bren asleep just as Trey had sated his appetite, and Cody had fallen asleep in his father’s arms. Chris settled him into his carrier, while Vin took the twins to their cradles.
"Stay for lunch Dad, there's more than enough, and it will give us a chance to visit." Kelli hoped Chris could get Vin to talk about what had been troubling him. She had been unsuccessful in convincing her husband that he was being too critical of his actions.
"Sounds great," he took her arm and walked with her into the kitchen. While the kept up a lively conversation during lunch, Vin managed to avoid any serious discussions. By the time Chris left with Cody and Grace, Larabee was no closer to finding out what was wrong with Vin than when he arrived.
Kelli made certain Andi was asleep before she went in search of Vin. She found him in the front room sitting in the oversized chair next to the fireplace, staring out the window. “Andi is down for a nap, and the boys are still asleep.”
Vin stretched out his arm, inviting her to join him. “Get your butt over here woman.” He waited for her to get close enough and then pulled her down across his lap. "Have I told you today that I love you?"
She gently trailed her fingers through his hair. "You say it to me all the time Tanner, everythin' you do tells me. I don't need words to know it. You had the boys' birthstones added to my family ring for my birthday, you stay up with me at night until both Bren and Trey are asleep, you make me breakfast even when it's not a special occasion, you send me that look that says you want me when I least expect it. You put up with my temper and my complaints when I'm in a bad mood, and make me laugh instead, your beautiful poems tell me…"
He drew her closer and interrupted her with a kiss that took her breath. Vin took pleasure in the intimacy between them, the familiarity that was there even before they had made love, and still was. They had another week to go before they could resume having sexual relations, but there was no reason they could find other ways to keep them satisfied in the meantime. With one hand splayed across her hip, he lowered his head, and nuzzled the crook of her neck to nibble on soft skin. "You are good for me Kel." The Texan whispered between nibbles.
"I love you Vin." Kelli leaned back to see his eyes. "That's why I want you to go with Chris and your brothers next weekend. I know this whole thing with Bubba and Karl is eatin' away at you, and you need someone other than me to talk to about it." She recognized the signs of denial showing on his face, but continued speaking. "I will support any decision you make, and you know it, but Vin, you are bein' too hard on yourself. You are the most honorable man I have ever met, and there is no reason on god's green earth for you to doubt your moral principles."
It was not often that Kelli asked anything of him, and Vin found it difficult to deny her request. "Okay, I'll go, but 'm not promisin' that I'll change my mind about goin' back to MCAT." He would go to the mountains with his brothers, and he would tell them the truth. After that, he had no idea in hell what he would do.
August 18th ~ Retreat ~8:00am
Chris and Josiah had been here since early yesterday afternoon. Larabee wanted to air out the cabin, bring in supplies, and discuss the reason he had called this weekend retreat with Sanchez before the other brothers arrived. He had decided to let the profiler take the lead on their schedule, leaving Chris the freedom to do what he did best with his family, which was to read what they were not saying.
JD and Buck came in about five, Nathan at six, and the five of them had a light supper. Ezra arrived just before nine last night after having dinner with Barbara. Tanner told Chris he would drive up sometime today; after he was satisfied everything was okay at home. Nathan and Josiah were in charge of breakfast this morning and they were getting plenty of unsolicited advice from their brothers.
"You need to double that recipe Nate." Buck urged. "I'm hungry enough to eat a dozen biscuits all by myself."
"Must be the air up here, but I'm starving too." JD added. "Maybe you should put in another dozen eggs Josiah."
Chris grinned. "JD, you and Buck are always hungry."
"Yeah, well if Vin were here he'd be complaining too." JD realized from the expression on his face he had hit a nerve with Chris.
Ezra cleared his throat. "Vin said he would be here and he is a man of his word, so might I suggest you make enough food to appease the voracious appetites of JD, Buck, and Vin."
Tanner sat in his truck outside and looked up at the cabin. He had left his house shortly after the boys' morning feeding, making good time on the drive. Now it was time to face his brothers. He was apprehensive about being here, but he had promised Kelli, and he was not about to go back on that promise. He climbed out of his Silverado, took a deep breath and headed inside. "Food smells great." Vin said when he entered the cabin a few minutes later as the rest of the brothers were getting ready to eat. His growling stomach emphasized his words, making the others laugh. He had been too nervous to eat at the house before he left to join them.
"You're just in time to join us, brother." Josiah said, patting him on the shoulder as he passed.
"Pull up a chair Vin, and take a load off." Buck nodded to the empty chair next to him.
Chris acknowledged Vin's presence with a nod, the simple fact that Tanner was here gave him hope that Vin might be ready to share whatever was troubling him. He seemed to be fine about putting Dusty Slater behind him, and the bounty on his head was no longer a threat. Chris was totally in the dark this time about what else could be bad enough for Vin to shut him out of his thoughts. Larabee had no intention of pushing him though, and would let the day unfold to see what happened. He poured himself another cup of coffee while his brothers continued to harass the cooks.
"Unless you want to take over and finish cooking, I suggest the lot of you shut your traps." Nathan told JD and Buck threateningly with a spatula.
"Ooh...we're so scared." JD remarked with a broad grin.
"You should be." Nathan retorted.
Vin stood back and watched his brother's antics, and as he took a long drink of his coffee, he could feel Larabee's eyes on him. "What?"
"Nothing, I'm just glad that you decided to join us up here." Chris replied.
Tanner shrugged his shoulder. "It's been a while since we've been together like this, it's time I reckon." That was all he was willing to concede to for now, Vin moved over to the table and joined his brothers.
After breakfast they all settled in the huge front room, each finding a comfortable spot. As much as they enjoyed being here, they were anxious to find out why Chris had insisted it be this weekend. Josiah however, was the one who started talking.
"I know it's been a while since we were together away from the ranch, and our families. It is one year to the day since our MCAT office was destroyed, and all of our lives took a major detour. It seemed that this was an appropriate time to assess where we are, and take a look at where we have been."
There were nods of agreement from some of his brothers in response to his words
"I believe we will all agree that each one of us has been tested in ways that we never were before, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. When Chris suggested this gathering to me, I thought that it would be the perfect time for us to get some perspective on the things that we have all been through, individually, and as a family. Whatever is said here, stays here, so feel free to say what's on your mind." Josiah watched their faces and sensed that Buck had something on his mind.
"Buck, is there anything that you'd like to say?" Sanchez had felt for a long time that Buck was holding on to some heavy emotions concerning the child trafficking case. It was time to find out why.
"Hell, Josiah. Why did you have to pick me first?" Wilmington commented with a groan.
"You have had several life altering events, this last year. You headed up a major task force on the child trafficking case, you adopted a son, Inez gave birth to Tannis, and you earned a promotion to Captain. Surely you have something to share with us about how you feel about so many changes."
The changes were easy to handle, but Buck knew he was not good at keeping secrets from his brothers and he had held one particular one for a long time. He lowered his head and took a deep breath. "I'm thinking that this weekend together was a long time in coming. There's something that I've been keeping to myself for a while now, and it's been eating away at me a little by little." He sighed deeply ". Remember that little boy Danny?"
"Danny, the little boy that was taken the same time Caleb was." Chris remembered all too well.
"Yeah, well I couldn't let it go and did some investigative work on my own time. I found out that he was sold, sexually abused, and brutally murdered. I keep looking at my boy, and I think, it could have easily been him. I keep asking myself, did I do enough to find Danny?"
"Damn Buck, you should have said something." Chris answered. "There was nothing any of us could have done for Danny. We did save Caleb though, and he has been a blessing in all our lives. You know that."
"It is unfortunate that such an innocent child was mistreated so cruelly, Buck, and I think we are all in accord that tougher laws need to be formulated to prevent such things from happening. However, blaming yourself is not going to do anyone a bit of good. The guilt lies solely on the miscreants who harmed Danny. They will get their just reward in hell." Ezra spoke up, hoping to aid his brother in letting go of the guilty feeling he had just confessed to having.
"Thanks Ezra. Chris, I couldn't tell Inez 'cause it would break her heart, and I haven’t decided if I ever will tell her, or Caleb." Buck took a deep breath, "It sure feels good to be able to say something about it though."
"That case took a toll on all of us, and we should have discussed it sooner." Josiah felt he should have been the one to insist on it.
Nathan stood up. "I don't suppose I gave any of you a chance to talk much about anything. I took what happened, made an ass out of myself, and damn near destroyed all of us before we even had an opportunity to regroup."
Chris shook his head. "You weren't the only one. I didn't help matters much by getting myself suspended, and dividing us at a time we needed to be pulling together."
Josiah put up his hand wanting to stop a guilt session before it took over. "We're not here to assign blame. Nathan you have talked to each of us and we understand what you were going through. Chris, you took a wrong turn and then had a choice to make about what to do about it. You made a commitment to make things right again in your life and that brought you all the way back to the Chris Larabee we know and love. We all realize it was not easy for you, especially with your personal challenges, but you did it."
Nathan and Chris both relaxed back in their chairs again.
"We have all been affected not just by the office bombing, and the cases, or the loss of Anderson and Roberts to our unit, but by change. We came into MCAT two years ago, and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, not just for one or two of us, but for each one of us." Josiah sighed. "Change is not always a bad thing, but good or bad it does affect us."
Ezra grinned. "My life has certainly been irrevocably altered this year. Not that I am complaining, Barbara is the best thing that has happened for me since I moved to Denver and found all of you. I am however, concerned about how the new direction MCAT is taking may affect our lives."
"Good point Ezra." Josiah agreed. He was pleased that the discussion had moved the direction he wanted it to. "I suggest we take a break, and meet again this afternoon to discuss just that."
Chris made another suggestion. "I say we grab some poles and head down to the lake for a while. If we want fish for dinner we need to catch them first."
After their fishing expedition, they had all returned to the cabin, cleaned the fish, and made sandwiches for a late lunch. Josiah waited a while and then had them gather again to continue the discussion from this morning. He had observed his brothers during the break, and was disturbed that Vin was not joining in as he usually did. Sanchez hoped that he could bring Tanner into their discussion at some point to find out why.
"I've listened to bits of conversation since this morning, and believe it would be fair to say that most of you still have issues about our last case and how it hit so close to home." Josiah stated.
"We're used to taking personal risks, but when our families are targeted it's a whole different story." JD started off. "Are these the types of cases we're going to be involved with in the future? Will we have to force our families to stay on lockdown at the ranch and keep our kids out of school?"
Chris decided to answer that concern."JD, this case took on a life of its own when the RMR directed a personal vendetta against us. Chambers and later Bubba were factors we had no control over, and yes, it put our families at risk. Will it happen again? I wish I could say no, but the truth is I don’t know. All we can do is stay prepared for any possible scenario. As long as we take on special cases, the ones Travis calls shadow ops; there is always the potential for another one to develop unexpected consequences."
"About those special cases Chris." JD asked hesitantly. "Has Travis given you any specifics about how we're supposed to handle them?"
"No, but I have given him a detailed outline that we are going to use. The idea is to keep the government's involvement or more specifically MCAT's roles in these cases unspecified." Chris explained.
"You mean unofficial and unsanctioned." Buck sighed. "Sounds more like special ops to me."
"In some ways Buck, except we will be sanctioned and we will have guidelines to work from. I've recommended to Travis that the entire team not be involved. Only agents qualified to conduct these assignments will work them as a special task force, and it will not be mandatory. I also believe that we should use Camp Larabee as a contact point when we are running these cases. We only need to add a taskforce operation board there, and then we keep our MCAT office for our usual assignments. I may not like the reasons, but I do know we are dealing with a different type of criminal when we take on terrorist, domestic or foreign, and we need to be prepared for any possible situation. "
Vin had sat by silently until now, but Larabee's words hit a nerve. He slammed his glass down on the table. "Just what in the hell are we Chris, law enforcement officers or special ops? Hell, I've trained for both, and can kill anyone you want, anyway you want. That's how I earned the codename, Hawk. I was the hunter that always came back with blood on my wings. I've even kept a record of every kill I've ever made, and I'm damn good at it. You just gotta tell me which Tanner you expect!"
Josiah spoke softly. "Vin, we know how stressful it's been on you and Kelli. You had to damn many threats to you and your family with the bombs, the personal attacks, and the bounty on your life. All the while you were trying to get through a high risk pregnancy. Nevertheless you made it through all that, and have two healthy babies at home, but it's understandable that you might question what we do."
"Bull Josiah! It's not understandable or acceptable!" Vin rose to his feet. "We might not have always played by the book, but we did what was right, and took our ass chewin' for bendin' the rules." He began to pace. "Now those same people that chastised us for not seein' things in black and white, tell us to throw out the damn rulebook and do whatever it takes to get the job done. We'll I've been down that road before. I've taken orders to get the job done no matter what, and justified what I did because that's what special ops were intended for, but that never made it right!" I
"You weren’t the only one that was asked to cross the lines we had been taught to observe." "Buck said."Hell, we were at war, and sometimes we were ordered to do the wrong things for the right reasons, and we did."
Chris was not sure where Vin was headed, but he felt he was getting close to discovering the truth, and wanted to get it all out in the open. "Travis has not asked us to cross any lines or act as a special ops team Vin. He has only asked us to take on some covert operations that aren't made public record."
Tanner stopped in front of Chris. "Are you satisfied with how this case ended? Do we not pursue the investigation of two murders that took place in a Federal jail? Does the end justify the means, no matter what? We swore to uphold the law, even the ones we didn't agree with, and to protect and serve. Since when do we get to decide who gets protected or how? Do we condone Karl and Bubba's murders because they were bastards? If so, what does that make us? Where the hell is the line Chris?"
Larabee recognized the anger behind Tanner's words, and subtly signaled to Josiah to let him respond. He took a deep breath. "We might have more shades of gray in our business since 9-11, but we do not condone murder. MCAT is still a law enforcement unit, and while we might bend the rules as you so aptly described; we are not an assassin squad, or vigilantes. We're still the good guys Vin, and if we take a case that never becomes public knowledge, it doesn't make us bad. It means we have to find a way to uphold justice, and protect the citizens of this country without throwing the rule book out."
Chris paused to consider his next words. "To answer one of your questions, no, the end does not justify the means. We cannot and will not compromise who we are for any case. As far as Bubba and Karl are concerned, I can't honestly say I'm sorry they're dead, but if we had any leads we would pursue their murderers. No one is talking about what happened in that jail cell however, and we have no idea who is responsible for their deaths."
"I know who killed 'em." Vin 's voice was barely audible.
Buck laughed uneasily. "No way could you know. It happened the day the twins were born, and if memory serves me, you were kinda busy."
"Josiah and I interviewed every inmate in that cellblock, and they all swore they saw nothing." Nathan said.
"I ran all their names through CASSIE, and not a one of them had any ties to white supremacy groups or the militia." JD added.
"None of my sources had even a hint of an idea about who could be responsible." Ezra stated.
"Who do you think killed them, Vin?" Josiah asked.
Chris watched the play of mixed emotions that crossed Vin's face. He realized that this was the root of the reason the Texan had shut him out for the last five weeks. Why he had avoided talking about coming back to work, and why he had blown up when the case was discussed. Larabee repeated Josiah's question, but he suspected he already knew the answer. "Who do you believe is responsible for their deaths Vin?"
"I am." Tanner answered.
"Vin you…" Chris began to deny Tanner's statement.
"Don't Chris!" Vin extracted from his pocket, the note Raven had sent him, and gave it to Larabee. Chris read the words, but showed no surprise at the disclosure, in fact it was as if he expected it.
*I had my suspicions.* Chris placed a hand on Vin 's shoulder. "This doesn't prove a damn thing, and would never hold up in court."
"It's not about court, Chris. I brought Raven into this, knowin' what he is, and what he is capable of doing. I knew he could find a way to eliminate Karl, Bubba, and the RMR as a threat and did nothin' to stop him." Tanner stepped back. "Hell, I wanted Karl and Bubba dead, and when I found out Raven was responsible for havin' 'em killed, I was fuckin' relieved that they were dead, the law, and what was right or wrong never crossed my mind. Assignment over, target terminated, end of story. It was just so damn easy for me to accept their murders. What kind of federal agent does that make me? How in the hell can I go back to upholdin' the law, and standin' up for justice, when I can't even find it in myself?"
Nathan had heard enough. "Vin, you're just a man. You have emotions and feelings because you're human, like the rest of us. I had to wrestle with my conscience, too, after I strayed off that same line. Me going to those 'Without Prejudice' meetings after you ordered me to stay away, cost Paul Roberts his career, and almost his life. I have to live with that every day, but the only way I can make some kind of right out of it is to keep working. I can't ever erase what happened to Paul, but maybe I can keep someone else from suffering the way he has."
"Vin, I had to let all those innocent kids stay in that hell house, in order to make a case for taking down the entire trafficking network. Everything I am and everything I believe in said I should have helped them first, but I didn't, and Danny died because I didn't push to find him. I still have nightmares sometimes, and I can hear the scream of those kids while they were being abused. You think I haven't questioned the rightness of what we did?" Buck ran his hand through his hair. "I do every day Vin, every day."
Chris knew Vin was listening to his brothers, but was not totally convinced that any of what they had to say applied to him. "One year ago today, I watched the news and saw those horrifying pictures of the blast that took out the twelfth floor of the Federal building. I thought I had lost all of my brothers, my daughter, and my team. I blamed you, the team, and Donner. I blamed everything and everyone and blatantly ignored my obsession with that damn case. An obsession that pushed me back into the hell I thought I had climbed out of after Jack. An obsession that made me forget my unit, and turned me against the men I trust most in this world. I crossed that line you're talking about, and then had to fight my way back. I did it, and here I am today, surrounded by my family, and back on the job. Do I regret my actions? Hell yes! Will I let them control the rest of my life? NO I won't, and I damn well won't let your misplaced feeling of guilt control yours!"
Vin wanted to believe Chris's words, and as he looked at the faces of his brothers he realized he was not in this alone. "So what do we do? How do we hold on to the right side of that line without bein' dragged into the shadows that have no rules, no right or wrong, a place that only acknowledges morality by the results It produces?"
Larabee took the note Vin had given him and tore it into pieces letting the bits of paper fall to the floor. "We do the best we can, and we don't let the wrong that happens override the good we know we can do. Raven lives in a different world than you and the rest of us live in Vin, in his view he was repaying a debt of honor. Let it go, you don't belong to that world, you belong with your imperfect, human brothers that occasionally stumble on the pathway to justice. Together we will pick up any brother that may falter on that fine line between right and wrong, and move on. Hopefully we'll make a small difference in the future we leave for our children."
Chris knew it was time to move forward and ask the question Vin had avoided answering for too long. "You said to ask you when this was over what you were going to do. I'm asking you now. Are you with us?" Chris held out his hand palm up. Nathan and Buck stood and moved forward to add their hands, then JD, Ezra and Josiah. Vin knew the strength that could be found when the seven of them stood together. This was what he wanted…no, what he needed… the balance he always found with his brothers when they stood as one. He took a deep breath, and stepped forward, placing his hand on top of the others. A band of brotherhood, infused with strength, and a solid bond that crossed all lines. They had survived the turbulent transition of the last two years and the future was theirs for the taking.
Journal Entry ~ September 1st ~ 10:00am
Having our retreat on the one year anniversary of the attack on MCAT was good timing. It turned out so well we all stayed an extra day. We were able to put the bad dealings of the last year behind us and strengthen our bonds of brotherhood. Did we solve all the problems we are facing? No, but I believe we left that cabin better men, husbands, and fathers. I know we left there firm in the certainty that none of us will ever walk this path alone. I am not convinced, however, that we have heard the last of the RMR, but it will take them a while to reorganize, and for new leadership to surface. Until then we move on with our lives and stay vigilant
Things seem to be getting back to normal around Larabee 7, or as normal as it gets. Barbara and Ezra have worked hard to help Caitlyn get Reins of Change into operation and her first kids are due out here in two weeks. Everyone is looking forward to helping and being a part of something that such can make a difference in a child's future. The first week of October, Ezra and Barbara Standish are leaving for Italy to visit with Maude and meet her new husband. I think that visiting Ezra's mother is only an excuse that Standish cooked up in order for him to spend some quality time alone with his bride. What better way than to do that, than taking a real long honeymoon in Rome. I cannot think of two people who deserve it more, and I was glad that I could approve four weeks of vacation time for Ezra.
Nettie's birthday was last week. JD and Casey were able to fulfill a lifelong dream of hers by giving that fine lady the gift of a trip to Paris. Casey and the girls accompanied her, and JD put them on a plane to France yesterday morning. He used work as an excuse for not going, but I believe he wanted Casey to be able to spend time with the woman that had put her life on hold to raise her after her parents were killed. Casey will be going to work soon with Caitlyn, and JD knew that time was getting shorter for his wife to enjoy the special moments in Nettle's life. He figured he and Casey would have plenty of opportunities in the years to come to make a trip like that for just the two of them. This was the time for Casey to make some treasured memories with her beloved aunt.
Mallory has found her place on JD's team and she has proven to be an asset for the unit. As much as she loves her children, she loves being able to contribute to our ongoing fight for justice. She and Josiah have found the right balance between work and family. While Joanne is in school, Adam plays with Terrell and Ronesha under Rain's watchful eye. Nathan and Rain will be in court next week to finalize Ronesha's adoption and with Dr. Jackson working so close to home, they will have plenty of time to enjoy their babies.
Inez likes working at home instead of leaving two days a week to work at the Standish Tavern. Ezra arranged for her to take care of the Tavern's paperwork while she does the accounting for Caitlyn's Reins of Change. Even with Caleb and Sarah in school, Maria and Tannis keep her and Buck busy as beavers. Buck enjoys his family life as much as I do and our working schedules make the times we get to spend with them even more special
Mila is now working Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Tanner's, Monday and Wednesday at the Sanchez home and Fridays belong to the Jackson's. Max is anxious for Kelli to return to work so she can keep the twins fulltime, but my daughter plans to take every day of her leave to spend with her children, and she won't be back to work until October 5th.Vin has reluctantly agreed to return next week .He has spent every available minute with Bren, Trey, Jason, Andi, and Kelli over the last few weeks and has turned into quite the family man himself. It was difficult for him when Andi joined her brother for the first day of school. He said they just grow up too damn fast. Considering how Vin and Kelli feel about kids though, and the importance of good foster care, I expect there will be children in the Tanner home for years to come.
I still have not heard one word from Linda, and our divorce will be final on the 15th of September. It really does not surprise me that she has not contacted me, but I thought she would at least check in on the children. I was wrong. It's okay though; Grace and Cody fill my life with joy. I treasure every day with them. Like Vin said, they grow up too damn fast.
Today marks one year of sobriety for me, and there will be a small recognition ceremony later this afternoon where I will receive my one year coin. Colonel Tai will be there, but I don't plan to make any announcement to the family. To me it is a personal triumph of achievement that has given me back control of my life.
Tanner Home ~ 11:00am
Vin gazed down into Bren's wide blue eyes and felt a whirlpool of emotions brewing within him. He couldn't get enough of holding either of his twin boys, knowing that they were the direct result of the abiding love that he and Kelli shared with one another. Yes, they had had help in ensuring Kelli getting pregnant, by the fertility treatments that Dr. Weeks had supervised, but the boys were nevertheless made up of equal parts of him and Kelli and they were truly miracles. His cell phone rang as he was holding his son, and Vin hesitated to reach for it, not wanting to break the special moment that was occurring between him and Bren, but then he thought that maybe the call was from one of the Wild Bunch, and grudgingly picked it up from the table beside his chair in the living room
He flipped it open and pressed the talk button. "Hello?"
"Is this Vin Tanner?" a cultured man's voice asked with an accent that Tanner identified as Asian.
"Yes, it is. Who is this?"
"You don't know me, but I feel as if I know you and the rest of Chris's brothers. My name is Col. Michael Tai."
It took a moment for Vin to recognize the name as belonging to the man that Chris had told his brothers was his sponsor in the NA program. "Chris has mentioned you. Is something wrong?"
"Not at all, Vin. It is alright that I call you by your first name, is it not?"
"Sure," Vin was listening intently to every word Colonel Tai said.
"Nothing is wrong. In fact everything is right. This afternoon there will be a small ceremony at which time Chris will be receiving his one-year coin. I thought his family should be there, even though he didn't."
"What time?" Vin asked, silently thanking the older man for calling him.
"The ceremony begins at 4 o'clock. Come early if you wish to surprise him."
"We'll be there." Tanner promised before hanging up the phone.
The Meeting 5:00pm
Chris Larabee was becoming edgy. He had never been one for having too much patience when there was something that he was looking forward to, and today it showed. He was proud of the accomplishment he had made, and was anxious to hold his one-year coin in his hand. The recognition ceremony had been going on for about an hour now, and his name hadn't been called yet. There were several other members in front of him who had more years sober than he did, and he acknowledged their accomplishments along with the other NA members in attendance. Finally, his name was called and he made his way toward the platform where the NA emcee and Col. Tai awaited him.
Finally, his name was called and he made his way toward the platform where the NA emcee and Col. Tai awaited him.
"Chris, this coin is awarded to you in recognition of you successfully completing one year of sobriety in Narcotics Anonymous." The NA member, acting as the emcee announced, once Larabee had taken his place onto the stage beside him.
Larabee smiled his thanks as the room thundered with applause. At the NA member's signal, Col. Tai stepped forward to accept the coin from the emcee. Col. Tai turned to Chris. "I know that you personally asked me to give this honored coin to you, Chris, but I thought that it should be given to you by someone who is even closer to you."
Chris watched in puzzlement as Col. Tai turned toward the audience and gave a piercing whistle. A moment later, the crowd began to part on one side of the packed room, as his six brothers moved toward the stage, with Vin leading the way.
Emotion flooded through Larabee as he took in the broad smiles that each of his brothers' wore as they came to the stage together and stood in a half-circle around Larabee, Col. Tai, and the Emcee. "What are you guys doing here?" Chris asked, fighting back the lump in his throat.
"Forgive me, Chris." Col. Tai told the stunned man. "I took it upon myself to notify Vin and fill him in about the ceremony today. With everything that you have shared with me about these gentlemen in the past twelve months, and how much they have always supported you, I felt that they needed to be here with you to share in this special moment with you."
"There is nothing to forgive, Col. Tai." Larabee told his mentor. "Thank you for everything that you have done for me."
"You are most welcome."
"Gentlemen, if we can get on with the ceremony?" the Emcee interrupted softly.
Col. Tai handed the wooden box that held Chris's coin in it to Vin, and then stepped back to reclaim his seat on the stage.
"We're all real proud of you, Cowboy." Tanner said, opening the box and removing the coin from within it. He handed the coin to Chris as their other brothers and the audience cheered.
After his participation in the recognition ceremony was over, Chris found himself herded out of the building toward the parking lot. Amid protests on his part as to where they were taking him, Larabee was sandwiched into Vin's truck with Tanner driving, and Josiah sitting beside him.
The Texan waited until the other brothers had loaded themselves into Buck's vehicle and Chris's truck, before leading the procession toward their destination
"Where the hell are you taking me?" Larabee demanded, once the vehicle was in motion.
Josiah and Vin shared a look across Chris and with wide smiles on their faces, the two men exclaimed together, "Saloon."
Their arrival at Standish Tavern brought more surprises for Larabee. Inside were the rest of the adult members of the Wild Bunch, minus Walter, Max, Dottie, and Mila, who were supervising all of the children. A rowdy rendition of 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow' broke out as Chris and the other brothers entered the saloon. Larabee was fighting his emotions by the time that the song had finished.
"Damn." he said, trying to find the words to say just how much their actions and their presences in his life meant to him. "A man considers himself lucky just to have one good friend his entire life. I must be the luckiest man in the entire world because I have all of you".
As a whole the family had much to celebrate that night. Foremost they were celebrating Chris's accomplishment in earning his one-year chip, but they were also celebrating surviving the dastardly deeds of the RMR. It had been a year full of chaos, pain, and emotional upheaval, as well as professional and personal struggles.
Sitting next to each other at one end of the table that the family had designated as theirs, Chris and Vin watched the antics of their brothers and their wives together.
*You okay?* Vin tentatively asked Chris.
*I'm better than okay, Vin. I'm great.*
*It's been one helluva a year hasn't it?*
*That it has.*
Being here with his family and sitting with the man he felt he had known throughout the ages felt right. Life was good for Chris Larabee and looking back now, he realized that he would not change a thing. His past made him who he was today, and brought him here to this moment.
*It's been one helluva ride Tanner.*
*Wouldn't take it with anyone else, Cowboy*
They reached out and clasped forearms as they had many times before to reinforce their commitment as friends and as brothers. Memories of moments such as this that they had shared throughout the fathomless years their spirits had known one another, sliced through their minds like quicksilver lighting. Without a doubt Chris and Vin knew that their ride together was never ending…
Next MCAT Series ~ "Strength in Solidarity": #1 Shades of Gray
You are also invited to check out my New Website: Magnificent Seventh Heaven M7 Gallery of collages, and information on the MCAT AU.
*Chapter 48~ Journal Entry from MCAT 1~ Transitions