Edited by: Tonny - Thanks!
Characters: Chris, Vin, The rest of the seven- Orrin Travis- OC’S
Rating FR-17, Profanity
Disclaimer: This is entirely a work of fiction for entertainment only, based on the characters from “The Magnificent Seven.” I don’t own them, but if I did I would run away with ‘m and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘m away. I only do this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is under the leadership of Commander Chris Larabee has just past the six-month mark. The unit that started out as an experiment is now firmly entrenched as an essential tool for aggressively fighting crime and terrorist threats, Chris Larabee is proud of his unit. In his personal life, he had found contentment with his extended family of brothers on their ranch, Larabee 7 and new love, Linda Dubois
This series of seven stories will establish relationships and provide background for the characters in this AU. Past Transgressions is fourth in a series of seven.
#4 Past Transgressions, this story deals with two pasts, one lost and one found.
A personal challenge for Chris - his past is racing to catch up with him and it is on a collision course with his newly found happiness. An old enemy blames Chris for a long-ago action that resulted in tragedy and the plans for revenge could destroy him and the people that he loves. The consequences of that reckoning send him spiraling into a raging river of guilt. He must sort things out before the price of his transgressions becomes too high to pay.
While Vin must find a way to help Kelli deal with her past. A trip to Texas answers the questions that have plagued her for a lifetime; their future together is in jeopardy after a confrontation with her birth family.
Acknowledgments: My thanks go to Wendy for her beta work and her great advice. Tonny, thanks for reading, listening to the ravings of my silly muse and giving me valuable feedback. My thanks also go to the gracious readers that took the time to send me feedback for “Transitions” and “Decisions”. A special thank you goes to Barb and Jan, your feedback and encouragement is greatly appreciated.
Notes: The basic premise for this story was inspired by a stray plot bunny thrown out as a challenge to any writer and my muse insisted that I pick it up and run with it. Tonny I appreciate your encouragement to listen to my muse and stay the course. Any mistakes are mine, as are the original characters I have created for this series. You are welcome and encouraged to play in this AU, but no slash parings please.
Background from Parts One, Two and Three: For those who would like to have some information about this new AU at hand, here is a brief description:
MCAT is set after the wonderful ATF AU that Mog created. Team seven is disbanded and Chris Larabee is asked to lead a whole new type of law enforcement unit, MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism), a totally independent unit that has the authority to act outside the existing boundaries within law enforcement and politics, their authority also overrules these other agencies. He accepts, and t members of team seven decide to become a part of this unit as well. Chris, as the unit commander, only has to answer to Orrin Travis; Vin is his squad captain and Buck is his number three man.
Characters from the first three parts of this series:
Pamela Walton, Native American, computer genius who worked for the Justice Department, 30 years old.
Kelli Coulter, Caucasian, from Texas, degree in criminology/criminal justice, worked New Orleans PD, State of Texas Criminal Task Force and the DEA, 27 years old.
Justin Michaels, Caucasian, former homicide detective with Denver PD and then worked with the State Police investigations in Colorado, 43 years old.
Mark Westin, Caucasian, excelled at the Police Academy, worked LAPD and California Highway Patrols, 26 years old.
Paul Roberts, African American, worked Atlanta Metro police departments with excellent records, 31 years old.
Ross Anderson, African American, Detroit Metro police departments, career until then focused on inner city crime, 34 years old.
Raphael Cordova, Mexican American, DEA fifteen years, military veteran, pilot, age 43.
Judy Mullins is not an agent, Data typist/computer assistant, 21 years old.
CASSIE is (Collaborative Analysis System for Sensitive Information Engineering). State of the art computer and is a valuable team member to the unit.
Dr. Robert (Bones) Metfield, Chief of Forensics, Caucasian, medical examiner, born Dumas, Texas ME Tarrant County twenty-five years, 10 year Chief Me six county area Amarillo 62 years old
Greg Ramsey, forensic investigator, Native of New York, 37 years old
Katrina Santos, Latin American, certified medic, forensics investigator, coming from the Taos Police Department and the DEA, 31 years old.
Family life has changed for the seven, as well. Josiah has married Mallory, 43 years old, former leader of ATF team six. When their old ATF teams disbanded and MCAT formed, she was pregnant with their second child and decided to quit working. They have a three year old, Joanne and at the end of Transitions, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Adam.
Buck and Inez are married and have two lovely daughters, Sarah (3) and Maria (1). Nathan and Rain are married as well, Rain finished medical school, works at the Jewell Ave Clinic (in Purgatory area of Denver) and is pregnant with their first child. JD and Casey are married, Casey is pregnant and they live with Nettie Wells on her ranch. The seven and their spouses have formed a real family now They have pooled their resources, and become partners in the horse ranch, Larabee 7, hoping that one day, when law enforcement becomes too much, this ranch will provide their income. Chris still lives in the ranch house, the gathering point of the whole family, while Vin lives there in a smaller house built nearby. Ezra passed the bar and his legal expertise is something the whole family gratefully uses. He still has his townhouse in the city and owns the Standish Tavern where Inez works part-time.
Chris is in love with new neighbor Linda Dubois who, along with her brothers, owns the Southern Breeze horse ranch, which borders Larabee 7 land. She comes from a family with old money, well known for the racehorses they breed. In Transitions Vin married colleague Kelli Coulter and the two Texans live in his house on Larabee 7. The Wilmingtons and The Jacksons have built homes there, also. Josiah and Mallory live in their home on adjoining property.
Size: Approx. 425 K
I see from my last entry that it has been another two weeks since I took the time to write here. So much has been going on it has been hard to stop for those quiet moments needed to reflect, but I will give it a go this morning. Where do I start? I suppose with the kids. Since Sarah has had her birthday, she thinks she is all grown up and Lord, she is a bossy bit of goods! Maria has her birthday coming up soon and I am glad that she is an assertive child that seems to be able to handle her big sister with no problem. Adam is growing like crazy. He has such a quiet nature and studies everyone that he encounters; he is so much like Josiah. Joanne on the other hand is her mother’s daughter, like Mallory she is self-assured and …well not always quiet. She has had difficulty adjusting to the fact that she is no longer an only child and as she approaches her fourth birthday, it is already clear she will be a leader, not a follower. Josiah has completely healed from the attack that landed him in the hospital a few months ago and he is getting a well-deserved reputation as one of the best profilers in the country
Nathan and JD are anxiously awaiting the births of their firstborns. As we approach the first part of November, both Rain and Casey are due to deliver within the next three to four weeks. Nathan is reading books about parenting and JD just worries about doing it right and adjusting to the idea of twins. Buck and Inez are still trying to decide if they want to add to the two they have. Since Inez is working part-time, she is enjoying her ‘grown-up’ time more and more. Admittedly, Sarah and Maria are more than a handful, but when you add Buck to the mix, it is like having three children at home most of the time. Buck is busy at work training our younger agents and I am proud to say doing a damn good job of it.
Ezra is still single, but I have been watching him. I see the look on his face when he thinks that no one is watching him. I believe our southerner is considering how having a family can enrich his life. All he needs to do now is find the right woman to share his future with and I feel it is only a matter of time before he finds her. I did pair him up at work with Kel and I tell you, the two of them working together is an experience. What one does not think of the other one will. They do make an effective pair, but their methods are exasperating, both tend to walk close to the edge of the rulebook. On the other hand, I guess that I should be used to that by now; after all, I have had enough damn experience dealing with that type of behavior from some other edge-walkers that I know and love.
Vin and Kelli are good together, just as I suspected they would be. Vin has recovered from the most recent attempt on his life and observing the way they handled it I believe they balance each other very well. He gives her stability and a safe haven to free her emotions, two things that were missing in her life. She sooths his restlessness and gives him that inner calm that he was always seeking and could never quite find without having to go off alone. Now they find those things in each other, along with a lot of love. Buck says they are one of the most physical couples he has ever known and coming from Buck that says it all.
I have found a new direction for my life, too. Linda is what I needed; I just did not know it until she came along. Loving her is sometimes like being inside a tornado, but I would not change what she has brought back into my life. When that crazy killer shot Josiah and abducted me, I was afraid that Linda and I would not get the chance to be happy. Thank God, I was wrong and that is all behind us now.
Larabee looked at his watch and closed his journal; it is time to go to work.
The Past Returns
Larabee was waiting patiently for Kelli to find her shoes. It was only six and they still had plenty of time to make it to work on schedule. He watched as she hurried out the door and smiled at the woman, who was the wife of his chosen brother and best friend, Vin Tanner. They married almost six months ago, but she had quickly established a place for herself with the ‘wild bunch’ Chris called family. He had promised his brother he would keep an eye on his young wife while he was gone. Tanner, Standish and Dunne had left a few days earlier on an out of town assignment that would take them several more days to finish. This separation was probably going to result in two hard to get along with Tanners.
“Slow down, we don’t have to hurry. The federal building is not going to disappear and besides I will square it with your boss if you are late.” Chris grinned at the barefooted redhead.
“Considering you are my boss, I would hope so.” She shot him a smile. When she had applied for the MCAT team, she had no idea her life would change so much. She had met Vin and they were married in less than six weeks. She also gained something she had never had, a family. Chris Larabee was the head of that family and treated her like a younger sister. In addition, he was often her partner on a case and her boss. They managed to have a good rapport, both personally and professionally
“It’s too cold to go barefooted.” Chris commented knowing how much she hated wearing shoes. “You gonna put on those shoes or carry them around all day?”
“You are beginning to sound like Tanner,” she laughed. “I’ll get them on, eventually.”
“Let’s go, I get to make the coffee instead of Vin and I plan to enjoy it.” Chris knew that statement would get a reaction from her and he was not disappointed.
“You call what you make coffee? I call it colored water.” This was an argument they now had on a regular basis.
“Lord, Tanner has finally corrupted you, that stuff you two pass off for coffee should be outlawed.”
“Just shut up and drive Larabee.”
When they reached the office it was empty, but soon it would fill with a dozen agents. Chris was satisfied that he had managed to keep Kelli’s mind off the fact that Tanner was gone and she had only mentioned his named a dozen times. *Actually more like twenty times, Larabee, but who’s counting.*
“Good Morning.” Josiah had a huge grin across his face. “Beautiful day,”
A smiling Nathan followed behind and said, “Let me guess, Adam got over his cold and you got to sleep all night.”
“You are right brother and I feel like a new man.” Sanchez was in an exceptional mood. “How’s Rain?”
“Tired of being pregnant, thankfully we only have a few weeks to go, but she is still overseeing the rebuilding of the clinic” Nathan added, “Before Thanksgiving there will be three of us.”
“She is going to continue working at the clinic in Purgatory after the baby comes, right? We need good doctors like her down there.” Until just now Josiah had not considered the possibility of her not working.
“Don’t worry, Josiah, wild horses couldn’t drag her away from there. She might have to cut back her hours a little, but she won’t even think about working somewhere else.” Nathan assured him.
Buck walked in with Mark Westin right behind him. Wilmington headed straight for Kelli with a smile on his face.” I have something that I believe belongs to you.”
“You gonna stand there all day or tell me what it is?”
“This was put in our mailbox instead of yours and I picked it up on my way in this morning.” Buck handed a letter to Kelli and waited to see if she would tell him what it was.
“Thanks, Buck, it’s probably junk mail.” She looked at it and gave no sign of recognizing the name on the return address. “Appreciate it anyway.”
Kelli sat at her desk and looked at the postmark on the letter. *Damn, of all the ones it could have been, why did Buck have to see this one?* Only Vin and Chris knew about her background and she did not want Buck or anyone else speculating about the reason she was receiving mail from Texas. She set it aside, until she had a chance to read it in private.
Her chance came sooner than she expected when Chris stepped out of his office and motioned to her. When she got up to see what he wanted, she stuck the letter in her pocket.
“If you want to talk to Tanner, he’s on the phone, use his office for some privacy,” Chris smiled and said, “Line 2”
“Thanks.” Kelli quickly made her way to Vin’s office and they talked for twenty minutes before he had to go. She loved to listen to his sexy drawl and missed the sound of his voice here and at home. Now she was not sure if she felt better or worse having talked to him *Lord, Kel, he has only been gone a few days. Your problem is that Vin has spoiled you and now you’re addicted to his presence. Do you think you are going to make it without him for a whole week or more?*
She decided to take the opportunity and read her letter while she had the privacy. Kelli had been corresponding with Walter for the last four months and felt as if she knew him. Walter Andrews was one of the officers who were there, when she was found in San Antonio so many years ago and had never given up on her case, even after retirement. Information that Chris received from him gave her some answers to questions that had haunted her for years. She wrote to thank the detective for not forgetting her and they soon were writing on a regular basis. Their letters went from a thank you, to how are you and then a strange sort of friendship developed. Vin knew about it, but never asked to read the letters because he recognized that Walter was a surrogate therapist for her, someone safe that she could talk freely to, about her past.
Three times, she read it and yet she could not believe the words. Could it be? No, it could not be this easy. After all this time, all the dead ends, all the questions, was it possible? *What do you do now, Kel? You are a grown woman, a federal agent and you can handle this, by yourself. Think!*
She picked up the phone and dialed, “Linda … Can you meet me for lunch?”
At the restaurant
Kelli watched her friend as she walked across the room, concerned about her appearance, but waited until she sat down to ask.
“Linda, you look like hell. Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing, a twenty-four hour thing, and I’m on the twenty-fifth hour of it.”
“Maybe this was not such a good idea, you should be home in bed, not here with me.”
“You said you needed my help, so let me help. What do you need?
“I…” Kelli hesitated. “Forget it this was not one of my better ideas.”
“I will not! You hardly ever ask me for anything, Lord knows I have tried to get you to time and again. Whatever it is it’s yours just tell me.” Linda may not be at her best, but she was not going to let Kelli back out of asking for her help.
“No, I just realized, if you do this for me you’d have to be untruthful to Chris and I won’t let you do that.”
“Kelli Coulter Tanner, you let me decide what I will or won’t do! Now tell me, you know I don’t need an explanation.”
“I need to get away for a few days, but with Vin gone, Chris is keepin’ a very close watch on me. I would have to give him details that I do not want to give. If he thought I was helpin’ you with somethin’, he might give me the time off and not question where I was going.”
“You need me to cover for you. This is a switch because usually you are the one covering for me.” Linda laughed. “You leave it to me, how long do you need?”
“Two maybe three days, I’m not sure,”
“Consider it done, now let’s have lunch, suddenly I’m hungry.”
Coulter had been back at the office for over two hours not really concentrating on her work. She sent an e-mail to Walter giving him her answer so he could start making plans and now she just needed to work out things from this end. It was three when Chris called her into his office.
“Kel, I will get straight to the point, I need a favor,” Chris was not comfortable with this, but he had made up his mind to try. “Linda has been down with some kind of bug and is just now starting to feel better. Her brother called and said he needs some help for a few days and I just do not think she is up to it. She told me you could go in her place, if I could spare you. You would have to use some personal days, but it’s up to you.”
“Of course I’ll do it for her, if you can do without me. To be honest sittin’ in there lookin’ at Vin’s empty office is very distractin’ for me.” Kelli forced a smile, feeling a twinge of guilt and said, “Besides I doubt Linda would agree for anyone else to stand in for her.”
“I can spare you, but not for long. Take my truck and you can leave now to get with Linda. She said she would make all the arrangements and fill you in. I’ll ride home with Buck.” Chris grinned and added, “Just be sure to keep your cell on so Tanner can find you or he might get a bit cranky.”
“You’re not afraid of a cranky Vin are you?” She teased. * I owe you Linda.*
“Hell, no, but just the same make sure you stay in touch.” Chris added, “Just watch your back and stay safe.”
An hour later Kelli was home packing, She called the airline and booked a flight out at six and then called Linda to make sure she knew where she was supposed to be, if anyone asked. One more call to Walter with her flight number and she was ready to leave. She looked around to make sure she had not forgotten anything and suddenly felt a chill down her spine. *Just nerves, Kel.* With the door locked she put her bag in her truck, finding an ‘I miss you’ note from Vin on the front seat. After reading it, she made a quick check on her horses and the left for the airport. If things went as they should she would be in Dallas by eight-thirty.
Walter met her at the airport and since they had exchanged pictures, it was easy for her to find him in the crowd. *For better or worse, Kel maybe this will finally be the time to put the past where it belongs, once and for all.* She put on her best smile and went to meet the man that waited for her.
“Kelli? I’m Walter and it is a pleasure to see you in person, I feel like I have known you for a lifetime.”
“Walter, it’s good to finally see you face to face, thanks for meetin’ me.” She shook his hand, “I suppose you have known me for a lifetime, for most of my mine, anyway.”
“Let’s get your bags and then I will treat you to a late supper, we have a lot to discuss.”
Walter took her to a country style restaurant that had great food. They ate and made small talk before discussing why she really came here.
“That was a great meal. Walter, I didn’t realize how much I missed good Texas cookin’.” Now that it was time to discuss this, Kelli was beginning to get nervous. *God, I wish Vin was here.*
“I guess the best place to start is to tell you the meetin’ is set for tomorrow noon. However, I did take the liberty of settin’ certain conditions for you. There is no easy way to say this so ‘m just gonna say it. I don’t want you to be blindsided by this woman. This will not be a cozy, comfortable reunion for you. This woman may look like you, but that is where the similarity ends, she is a cold calculatin’ bitch, excuse my language. She only came lookin’ for you because she wants somethin’, but I made sure she will have to pay up first.” Walter picked up his glass for some water.
“Walter, you told me that in your letter, I do appreciate the warnin’ and everythin’ else you did. The fact that you had the DNA tested and confirmed before you told me shows your heart is in the right place. So whatever else I need to know just tell me, I can handle it.” She placed her hand over his and squeezed.
“I told her you would hear what she had to say, but first she has to produce a birth certificate and family medical history…” He hesitated, “I also told her she had to prove who your father was and bring all that with her, along with a damned good explanation. She agreed to tell you everythin’ and all you have to do is listen to what she wants. I’ll be close by, but she wants your talk to be just you and her.” Walter was just glad to have it all out in the open.
“Okay, it sounds like a small price to pay for all that. If that’s it, I need to get to my hotel, my husband will be callin’ soon and I would prefer to be settled in before he does.”
Walter took her to her hotel and waited until she had a room key before he left her, they agreed he would pick her up at eleven. She had only been in her room for ten minutes when Vin called and they spent the next hour heating up the phone line, describing in detail to one another the loving they planned for his homecoming.
She failed to mention that she was in Texas instead of Louisiana because he had enough to concern him with the case they were working. He did not need to worry about her, too.
*Okay, Kel you can handle whatever happens and by this time tomorrow, you will have all your answers and be on your way home. All you have to do is meet this woman, it could not be that bad, after all… she is your mother.*
*Almost complete, that Marissa bitch will start the chain of events that will finally destroy Larabee. She will serve me well and is worth every dime that she coerced for her part in my plan. What a stroke of luck to come across this woman .Larabee’s best friend will pay along with his personal whore and both will suffer the torment of betrayal. Once Tanner leaves, I will start on the next one until Christopher is finally alone. He will watch helplessly as one by one his precious family members pay for his interference in my life. I will let Larabee wallow in his guilt first and then, I will destroy his future.
Christopher will not be so high and mighty when I finish with him.*
One thing alone not even God can do,
To make undone whatever hath been done.
She was ready by ten-thirty and pacing her room. Hell, she was ready before dawn because sleep was hard to come by last night. The only thing that made her morning good was a call from Vin, telling her they would be finished by Friday. That meant he would be home for the weekend and they talked about going to their cabin for a couple of days for some private time. The phone rang again and this time it was Walter, telling her he was in the lobby waiting for her, whenever she was ready.
An outdoor restaurant was chosen for the meet and when Kelli arrived she was fifteen minutes early. Walter gave her a chance to back out if she wanted.
“If you are sure you still wanna do this, I’ll wait down the block, but if you’re not we can leave and forget the whole damn thing.” He waited for her to consider his offer because he had a bad feeling about this and did not want to see her get hurt.
“I appreciate your concern, but I want to get this over with. I’ll see you when we finish.” Kelli waited for him to leave and then put her mind back to where she was. Pulling up her old defenses, the ones that Vin had not totally demolished, she hoped she was ready for whatever was about to happen. She did not have to wait long.
“Well, I am glad to see that you are prompt. I really am not hungry so why don’t we get down to business?” The woman that swept in and sat down was an attractive redhead in her early forties, she had blue eyes that held no warmth and manicured hands that had seen little work. “I do hope that wretched man explained to you this is strictly confidential, I do not want a relationship and my family is not to know about you. When we finish our dealings, we can both pretend this meeting never took place. Are we clear?
“Crystal. Did you bring me the information I requested?” Kelli forced herself to fall back on old patterns in order to stay seated. To anyone watching they would indeed believe this was a business meeting.*You have been here before, Kel.*
“Everything you wanted to know is in this folder along with the proof you asked for. I really see no need in telling you when you can read it for yourself.” The woman seemed to be hurried, cold and indifferent.
“I think you need to tell me, you owe me a least that much.” Kelli was not going to make it easy for this woman to dismiss her.
“Very well, to make a long story short, I screwed a guy that turned out to be a bastard. I got pregnant, left school and went home. My father made all the arrangements and once the baby… you were born, he found a way to get you out of the picture and I went back to my life. Of course, I had to go to another school but then I met my first husband and that worked out okay because he turned out to be loaded. It is all there, even the information about where he sent you. I did not look at it so you will have to read about that part yourself. Once you were gone, I never gave it second thought, until I got sick, then I hired detectives to look for you and they found Walter, I never asked how.”
“What happened when you told my father you were pregnant?”
“I never told that SOB anything and I never spoke to him again. Now if we could…”
“Not so fast, I think I would like to see what you have in the folder first.” Kelli took the file and opened it. It did appear she had everything, including an original birth certificate and then she saw a name she wished she had not. Taking a deep breath and calling on ever ounce of strength she had, she asked her next question. “You are positive this is all correct?” *God, please tell me she is a liar, too.*
“Of course I am positive, now if we could continue, I need a kidney transplant. My other children do not match as donors and if you do, I will make sure to compensate you, for your trouble. The test will only take…” She never had a chance to finish.
“You found me so you can buy one of my kidneys! That is the reason you finally acknowledged the fact you have an illegitimate daughter!’ Kelli’s temper took over her part of the conversation.
“Will you keep your voice down, please? Yes, why else would I look for you, I do not even know you. Name your price, after four husbands I can afford whatever amount you ask for and I did keep my end of this. I gave you what you wanted.”
Kelli was too angry to stay here and got up to leave. Not only did this person not have any interest in her, she just gave her information that was sure to destroy her marriage, her career and her own peace of mind. “No… no… you could never give me what I wanted…you would have to be human to do that … and you do not even come close to being that.”
Somehow, she managed to keep herself controlled and walked down the block to meet Walter. He took one look at her face and decided not to ask any questions, He had been a police detective for over twenty-five years and knew now was not the time for a discussion, instead he just drove around until Kelli was ready to say something. It was almost an hour before she said a word.
“Walter, you still have some connections. If I gave you two DNA files to have compared, how long would it take and how much would it cost to have no names involved?”
“I assume you want paternity results. Time- wise, if the files are complete, twenty-four hours or less. Money- wise would depend on how complicated it is to get the records and how secret you want the results.”
“I can get the information and I do not want any names attached. What would five thousand dollars buy me?”
“I have to go to the bank and then I could do with access to a computer.”
Once the DNA files were in Walter’s hands she had him take her back to the hotel. She made it to her room, locked the door, turned off her phone, stripped and got into the shower. Only then did she give into the gut wrenching pain and tears she had held back. In her heart, she already knew what the test results would confirm. Circumstances, she could not control had set her life on a path through hell, before she was born. She had overcome many difficult challenges to make her way to a place that she finally found love and thought she had a place to belong. Now all of that was shattered and she was alone with the possibility of no husband, family or home that she could go back to again.
* Kel, what about Vin? How do you protect him? You just got past the scare of almost losing him when that car struck him. What makes you think that you can you let him go and still survive?*
Larabee 7 evening
Linda was staying with Chris, at his insistence until she felt better. She knew Chris and Buck had business to discuss, so she curled up in a chair and read while they worked. About eight the phone rang and being the closest Buck answered.
“Larabee7 … Vin, how are things in Seattle? … No, I have not … I’m sure Chris knows... Hang on…Chris you need to talk to him.” Buck handed the phone to Larabee.
“Vin I … No...I…Dammit! ... I am sure there are good reasons…She’s here, hang on …Linda what is your brother’s phone number?”
“You mean Matthew? Why do you need his number?”*What now?*
“I don’t Vin does, something must be wrong with Kel’s phone and he wants to call her, so …” Chris waited still holding the phone.
“I … offhand I don’t remember. Tell him you’ll call him back and I’ll… get it.” Linda stumbled for an answer.*Damn! Damn! Damn!*
“Vin, let me call you back in a few minutes…I promise, just relax ...okay.” Chris hung up and turned to face Linda.
“You want to tell me what is going on?” Larabee was almost afraid to hear her answer.
Linda sighed, “I don’t know really. Kel just said she needed some time away without a lot of questions and I did not ask. I never thought that she would not tell Vin where she was going.” *Kelli, I do not know what you are doing, but it had better be worth this.*
“You just let her go, no questions asked? You made up the story about your brother?” Chris ran his fingers through his short hair and paced, “Christ …Vin! ...What in the hell do I say to him? Oh, by the way I lost your wife!”
“You tell him she is a grown woman and if she wants to talk to him she will do it. If she doesn’t there is nothing you or I can do about it.” Linda did not like where this was leading.
“That is assuming she is able to make those decisions or did you forget the work we do? We do make enemies! I am sure you remember our serial killer with the hunting knife, don’t you? Chris snapped at Buck. “Page Kel, now on the MCAT pager, she is supposed to have it with her!”
“Chris, I am certain that you are overreacting…” Linda started to speak.
“I have seen agents die because of inaction by their superiors, and I have seen enough homicides to know young, attractive females are prime targets. Agents families get killed because…” He stopped for a moment. “Kel is my agent and part of this family, dammit. You know as well as I do she would talk to Vin if she could.” Chris continued to pace and when the phone rang he prayed it was Kelli returning her page, but it was Tanner instead. He told him what he could and where she was not, but it was not enough. The Texan needed to know where she was.
“I don’t know Vin, but I will find out, maybe her phone battery crashed and she can’t get another one until morning.... Don’t worry … No, you stay put for now …If we don’t hear from her by morning … then… we’ll go from there….Vin …I know that! Hell, stop yelling and put Ez on the phone. Chris waited and heard the curses over the phone line. “Standish, you make sure that hard headed Texan doesn’t do something stupid…. I know I was supposed to keep an eye on her… Dammit Ez, one of you needs to stay calm …I will …Watch out for him, in the frame of mind he’s in now he could do anything” Larabee’s voice softened, “Yeah, I do know how he feels.”
Linda suddenly realized how this brought back old memories for Chris. He had lost his wife and child because of the job and here he was reliving those fears again.*God, Linda, what have you done?*
Kelli waited in the lobby for Walter; he said he would be here in thirty minutes when he called. She had already checked out of the hotel and was ready to leave. The cell phone in her hand had thirty-two unanswered calls and five pages. Some of the calls were from, Linda, and Chris, but the rest were from Vin.
*Not yet, Kel, get your head together first, Vin would know immediately something was wrong. What could you tell him? Sorry baby, you need to make a choice your family or me because they would never accept the truth. Right, like you would ask him to do that. Even if you did and he chose you, Kel, he would resent it and you before too long. Your anger or his would destroy both of you. So, you take the cowards ways out and say nothing, but you have come this far you might as well see it all the way through. Hell, you were probably the one meant to do this anyway. Then…maybe…hell! Maybe what? Maybe you don’t stay angry, maybe you lie and say it doesn’t matter maybe…*
“Kelli? ... Kelli! ...” Walter was trying to get her attention.
“Sorry. Do you have it?”
“Yeah I do, but are you gonna be okay? Why don’t you let me call Vin and…”
“No! Walter I appreciate what you have done and I am grateful that you never gave up. However, the rest of this is somethin’ I need to do on my own and right now, I cannot talk to Vin or anyone else about it. I didn’t try to hide my trail here to Dallas, so sometime within the next day or two, you will probably be hearin’ from my husband. Don’t lie to him, tell him the truth.” Kelli fought back tears and stopped to compose herself.
“Aren’t you even going to see the results before you make a decision? Please tell me where you are going so at least …”
“I will look at it, but I already know what it says and I will not tell you where I am going. You cannot give information about somethin’ you don’t know. I do promise though that I will contact you within a week, okay.” She gave him a hug, “Now go home, please.” She watched as Walter reluctantly left and then she headed for the sedan she had rented. Once safely inside the car she opened the envelope, Walter had given her. It only confirmed that this nightmare was real and that her mother may be many things but she…was not a liar, about her parentage.
*Another trip into hell, Kelli, but then you have been there before.*
Chris Larabee had Orrin Travis on the phone by six and his team in the office by seven, on standby status. Normally a missing persons report, for an adult could not go out until after twenty-four hours, but this was not just any person. Kelli Coulter was a federal agent that was not responding to her work pages and more importantly, as Kelli Coulter Tanner she was family. The part that Chris hated was that once they launched a team search, her life and Vin’s would be an open book. People that really had no business knowing those things would invade their bank records, credit cards, martial details and both of their pasts.
“Chris, maybe we should keep this in the family, at least until Vin gets here and we talk to him.” Buck was concerned about the same invasion of privacy that Chris was.
“Just what in the hell do you think we should do, Buck?” Chris snapped. “Wait until we get a call to identify a body? What would that do to Vin.”
“We don’t know that she is in trouble, maybe she and Vin had a argument, maybe she really did just want a few days away.” Buck tried to reason with Chris. He knew his old friend was taking this too personally. This was not the same as it was with Sarah and Adam, but right now, all Chris could see was a bad outcome. “Josiah, Nathan and I can check on some things quietly and then, if we need help we will ask for it.”
“Buck …I…Alright, but only until Tanner gets here and I‘d bet the ranch he will be here before noon.” Chris was still anxious because he did not want Vin to go through what he did when he lost Sarah. “Do what you can, I’m going to make some phone calls and see what I can come up with.”
Ten minutes until twelve Vin, Ezra and JD rushed in the door. The Texan strode angrily to Chris’ office expecting some answers. One look at Larabee told him there was nothing new. Tanner threw a folder on Chris’ desk. “The details of the Seattle case are in there, we did our job!” Before he could say more all of the brothers came in to join them.
“Vin, sit down and let us tell you what we know.” Chris explained why he gave her the days off. “We decided to wait until you were here to decide about making this a team case or keep it in the family.”
“We did some checking. Kelli made reservations for a flight to Dallas Monday night she traveled under the Tanner name so it was probably personal and not business related. She stayed two days at the Marriott and checked out late Wednesday night, but did not book a return flight. As of yet, we do not know what she did from there. We requested the phone records from your home to see who she might have talked to before she left and should have them within the hour.” Buck hoped Vin could tell them more. “I hate to even ask, but is there maybe an old boyfriend or…”
“Dammit Buck, there is no ex anything or anybody! What in the hell are you thinking?” Vin knew for fact that there were no ex’s hanging around, and resented the implication of the question. “Buck…”
“Sorry, Vin, but you know that’s a question I had to ask.” Wilmington felt bad and wanted to help, but did not know how to ease his brother’s worry.
“Brother, any problems between you two in the last few weeks? Did you maybe have a misunderstanding or any harsh words the last time you spoke to her? It has happened to all of us a one time or another. Maybe…” Josiah stopped.
“No! Even if we did Kelli wouldn’t run off because of it, she’d be here givin’ me hell about it! No, this is somethin’ else.” Vin jumped up and tried to pace the small room.
“Has she had any illness, we don’t know about? Is there a possibility she might be pregnant? Pregnant ladies do some strange things sometimes.” Nathan had learned firsthand about that.
“She hasn’t been sick and she’s not pregnant.” Vin saw Nathan’s raised brow. ”Yeah, Nate I know that for sure,” Vin sighed. “If she went to Dallas that gives me a place to start, Chris ‘m taking time off, I won’t be back until I find her.” The Texan started for the door.
“Vin! Wait. The last I heard Texas was a big state, it might take all of us to cover it.” Chris stopped him, “We can do it as a team or we can do it as family, your call.”
“Texas! Damn why didn’t I remember? She got a letter from there Monday from…hell I don’t know from who, but I know it was postmarked from somewhere in Texas.” Buck mentally kicked himself for not thinking of it earlier.
“The only person that would…” Vin and Chris thought of Walter at the same time. *Chris?*
*Yeah, I have it.*
Buck may not know what they were saying, but he knew enough to clear the room and give them some privacy. He herded everyone out and Chris found Walter’s number. Tanner called and got him on the second ring, surprised to find out he had been waiting for Vin’s call. Twenty minutes later had arrangements completed for Walter to meet the Texan at the Dallas airport.
“Well, I may not know where she is, but I at least know what she is doing,” Vin sighed. “Damn, this never ends for her! She met her mother, but accordin’ to Walter It didn’t go well … not well at all. I don’t understand how we could have missed this in our investigation, but we did. My best guess is now she is tryin’ to track down her father. Andrews did say she found out that much.”
“I hope that if she finds him, the sonofabitch has a damned good explanation for her. What did her mother tell her?” Chris was angry on Kelli’s behalf.
“I won’t know til I get to Dallas, and I still don’t know why she won’t talk to me.” Vin was tired and concerned about his wife. All of the boys came back into the office to see what they could do for their brother.
“I’ll go with you, Vin, you don’t have to do this alone.” Chris was prepared to go and keep watch on his best friend.
“Chris, the team needs you here, I’ll go. I may not know what’s going on, but I do know how to take care of a stubborn Tanner.” Buck grinned as one by one all of the brothers made their case to go with Tanner.
“Nonsense, you all have families to take care of I don’t, so I’ll go.” Ezra had already made up his mind to go with his friend and brother. Vin didn’t need Larabee or Wilmington hovering over him. Besides, whatever they had to do might not follow the rulebook and Standish was the best at breaking the rules. “Vin, let me help, my … special talents may be required.”
Vin looked at his brothers all so eager to help and he knew any one of them would do it. He also knew Chris would not hear of him going off alone. When he thought about what he might need to do, he considered Ezra to be the logical choice and Standish knew how to keep things confidential. “Chris, you do need to be here for the unit and while I appreciated y’all for offerin’, I think Ez and I can handle whatever needs to be done.”
“Vin …. I.” Chris sighed, “Watch your back and bring her home where she belongs.”
How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?
This is playing out better that I could have imagined, she is almost as good with suffering as Larabee. More pictures to add to my collection and soon Larabee I will have you here to see them all. I know Tanner is going crazy and that means Christopher that you will suffer even more. One by one, you will lose everyone you love until finally it will be just you and me.
The events to come will be interesting to watch unfold and I cannot wait for the next reports. Larabee you will suffer as I have suffered, I promise you! You hell is just beginning and you will not be going there alone.
It was after five before Standish and Tanner stepped off the plane in Dallas. Vin filled Ezra in on the details during the flight and as he expected Standish understood and respected the need for discretion. Finding Walter was easy, the man was waiting for them and recognized Vin from one of the pictures Kelli had sent him. The hard part, for the Texan was hearing the man recount all that had happened while she had been there. They sat in the coffee shop and discussed the details.
“I thought my mother was bad, Maude is an angel compared to this creature.” Ezra was looking forward to meeting this woman and challenging her.
“Did she give Kel, the information you told her to bring?” Vin was anxious to get hard facts to follow.
“As far as I know, Kelli wouldn’t say. The only thing I can tell you is she used my computer and got a DNA file for me to have run against hers. She gave me the report along with five thousand dollars to have it done quickly and with no name attached, unfortunately she erased her trail on the hard drive,” Walter explained.
“When can we see this woman?” Vin wanted to confront her immediately.
“That may be a problem. She was not happy with the way your wife dismissed her and refuses to meet with you.” Walter was sorry to say.
“All I need is a name or address. We will see her and see her tonight, one way or another.” Vin waited for Walter to retrieve his notes.
Tanner passed the notes to Ezra, who already was working on it with his laptop. “Appreciate what you have done and for watchin’ out for Kel. We’ll take it from here and one of us will let you know when we find her.” He shook Walter’s hand and said goodbye.
Ezra had an address and he and Vin were there in thirty minutes. The woman, Marissa Lyons, lived in an affluent suburb of Dallas and her house was definitively in the rich-r-us class. They agreed to use their MCAT status to get in the door and that they would not leave without the information they came for. Vin decided to let Standish do the talking and Ezra had them inside in no time at all, making sure that she did not see Vin’s last name.
“Mrs. Lyons, this is a delicate matter, we need to discuss the young woman you met yesterday.” Standish tried using his charm on the woman.
She looked over her shoulder to see where her family was. “In here, please.” She took them to a separate room and closed the door. “I don’t know anything about that girl or whatever she has done. You have no reason to come to my home and harass me.” *The feds were not part of our bargain, you bastard and you will pay extra for this!*
“May I ask what business you had with the young lady?” Ezra was still attempting to be polite while Vin stood silent.
“Lady? More like an insolent bitch. I made her a legitimate business proposition and she would not even consider it. I should have known she was some kind of criminal. Her kind usually is.”
“Her kind?” Tanner spoke, taking an intimidating step forward.
“You know, lower class trash, I suppose I should count myself fortunate she declined my proposal.” Marissa huffed.
Ezra stepped in front of Tanner to stop him from going after the woman. “We do know why you met Mrs. Tanner and that you gave her some information. I suggest you give us the same information or my partner might decide to question the rest of your family.”
“Tanner? Is that her name? It does not matter and I told you it was strictly a business deal. I…” She saw the arctic blue glare aimed in her direction and hesitated. “If I cooperate will you leave?”
“Most assuredly” Ezra stayed close to Vin while the woman went to a wall safe, opened it and removed some papers.
Marissa sighed and decided to tell them the truth, at least some of it. “Oh alright, It was a personal meeting; she threatened to blackmail me for this information and I cannot have my family know about this. She now has the originals, but these are copies of the documents that I gave her, if you catch her, you make sure she knows I never wish to lay eyes on her again. Now leave and do not come back.” She escorted them to the front door.
Once it was closed, Ezra turned to Vin. “Are you okay?”
“I cannot believe Kel, is actually blood related to a bitch like that …” Vin reined in his rage. “Let’s get out of here and go someplace we can look at this”
They drove a few blocks away and stopped at a park, Ezra turned on the dome light so Vin could see. The Texan read for a few minutes and suddenly stopped.
“SON OF A BITCH! … Vin opened the car door and jumped out of the enclosed space. The quiet Texan disappeared, replaced by a ferocious beast on the prowl for a target to receive his fury. He wanted to find someone …anyone, but settled for the wall of the recreation building, pounding the hard surface until his knuckles bled.
“VIN! Tanner! Stop it!” Ezra was alarmed, the sharpshooter rarely lost his composure and although he had seen him angry a number of time, he was always in control. Blind rage was just not something he expected from the Texan. He knew he might catch Tanner’s wrath, but could not allow him to hurt himself. “Brother, listen to me, we can’t help Kelli if you lose it!
Calm down and talk to me. Vin?” When those expressive blue eyes look up at him, he saw intense pain and anguish. “Vin?” Standish steered the Texan back to the car and checked out his hand, talking non-stop to break the tension. “We need to get this x-rayed, see if anything is broken. We should probably acquire some food and lodging for the night, too. Maybe…”
“Ez, stop!” The Texan heaved a sigh and pushed his hair back. “My hand will wait… I ... The sooner we get to Kel the better, for everybody.”
“You know where she is?” Ezra was not sure about the calm that had fallen over the Texan. It was like waiting for a volcano to erupt. He could see the turmoil in Tanner’s eyes.
“Yeah… I do … she’s trapped somewhere between the past and the present in a livin’ hell.”
Dallas, Friday 6:00 am.
Tanner had conceded and let Ezra talk him into staying at a motel for the night, but he was anxious to get moving. It was a little after six and he had managed to get Standish out of bed, but now he had to wait for him to shower. He flexed his hand and grimaced with the pain it caused, but he did not think it was broken, only swollen. A small pain compared to the one in his heart.
Tanner studied his ring as he thought about the woman who wore the matching band, sending her a silent message.*Hang in there, Kel. We can get through this, just call me, baby. Somehow, we will work this out and it’s time for you to come home.* Vin understood that her reluctance to contact him was because she mistakenly believed she was protecting him. While he did not like it one damn bit, he could not find it in his heart to blame her. He picked up the damning papers and read them again.
*It’s a fucking mess, Tanner. Dammit, Chris should have kept her in Colorado; if he had, she would not be going through this now! You cannot undo what has already been done, Vin. No, I can’t, but I will find a way for us to live with it. You had better deal with your own rage first. I know that, dammit!*
“Vin?” Ezra took a good look at his brother. He was not in good shape and he knew that they had better find Kelli fast or it was anyone’s guess what Tanner would do. “Did you call Chris yet?”
“No, you want to call him, you do it, I’m ready to leave!” Vin crossly replied, “I have a good idea where Kel is going and I plan to catch up with her before this day ends.” The Texan was already out the door.
They had been driving for two hours and Tanner had not said a word, he refused to talk to Chris when Ezra called to report in to him. Standish could not take any more of the silent treatment.
“Pull over, we need to talk now!” Ezra withstood the fierce look Tanner sent him and held his ground. “Now Vin!” He waited, while The Texan pulled off the road and threw the gearshift into park, “I think you need to tell me what is going on. You have a rage in you screaming to get out, you refuse to talk to Chris, and you have not even told me our destination. Start anywhere, I am listening.”
Instead of talking Vin pulled out the papers and shoved them in Ezra’s lap. Standish began to read and within two minutes stopped and sighed. This had the potential to change more than one life, certainly Kelli’s and Vin’s, hell all of the family would be affected by this. Ezra knew he needed to remain calm and help somehow, he just was not sure how, yet.
“I cannot image how you must feel. Whatever I can do, whatever you need, you have only to ask and it is yours. Neither you nor Kelli will face this alone, we are family and we will get through this together. Now where do you think my young sister is?”
Ezra’s words helped to push back some of the anger Vin felt. “San Antonio, if she’s not there now, she will be.”
“Very well, let us proceed. You drive and I will handle our communications.” Ezra knew running interference between Larabee and Tanner could have unpleasant repercussion for him. However, he also understood Vin’s need to gain some control over his anger. Once Tanner knew that Kelli was safe there was time to deal with everything else.
Larabee paced his office like a caged tiger. He had not talked to Vin all day, every time he called he got Ezra instead and then only for a minute or two. All his senses were telling him something was not right and if he could connect with Tanner, he would feel better. However, the stubborn Texan had shut him out and he needed to know why, dammit.
“You hear anything yet? Buck walked in.
“Dammit, don’t you know how to knock? Chris snapped.
“Whoa hoss, you’re wound up like an eight day alarm clock. What’s wrong?”
“Hell, I don’t know, it seems like people go to Texas and suddenly we don’t exist here. First, Kelli now Vin and Ezra.” Chris finally sat down.
“Still nothing huh?
“NO! All I get is Standish and all he will say is, we have yet to solicit the details you request. When I get my hands on that southerner I will shake some details out of his ass!” Chris jumped up and began pacing again.
“What does Tanner tell you?”
“Nothing! Not a damn thing. I know he is hurting, but that is no reason to avoid me. “Chris growled, “On top of that Linda is calling four times an hour and I have no information to give her.”
“Chris, he’s upset and worn-out, hell, he don’t talk that much when he’s feelin good, you know that.” Buck sighed, “Linda is concerned, too.”
“Maybe, I just… I need to know.”
“I’m sure we will hear something, soon” *You had better hope so Buck or Chris won’t be the only one snapping around here.*
Kelli was exhausted, but she had accomplished many things. In Abilene, Texas her confrontation with Marissa’s father, rancher William Slade may not have changed anything, but it did make her feel better. At least, she found her true birthplace and discovered what had happened next. Marissa left after she was born and Mr. Slade handed her over to the county children’s home. He told them that a couple that had worked for him a short while took off, leaving the infant behind.
For two years that was home, but that ended when she they placed her with a couple in Austin. The couple they put her with was new to the system, inexperienced and had only a brief background check. With a shortage of foster parents, too many children, too few caseworkers and no computerized records to check, little was revealed about them. Records showed the woman died under mysterious circumstances about six months after that and her supposed husband disappeared with the not yet three-year old baby they called Anne. The effort made to locate the child, produced no results and her foster care records ended up in an inactive file.
A little over eighteen months later at a church on Coulter Ave in San Antonio authorities found an unidentified child, abandoned, critically injured and badly abused. Efforts to locate family were unsuccessful and there was no connection established to the missing girl from Austin. From there, authorities gave her a name, an estimated birth date and a series of placements that finally ended several years later when Jake McKenzie became her permanent guardian.
One more stop to make and then she would call Vin and listen to his anger over her actions. Kel looked at the band on her finger and thought of the man that wore the matching one. She knew he had every reason to tell her to go to hell and refuse to speak to her, but she needed to hear his voice.*Hell, you need more than just to hear his voice, Kel, but after what you put him through you will be lucky if he even takes your call. Lord please let this be over soon.*
San Antonio, Texas
“Vin, are you certain about this?” Ezra knew Tanner had good instincts; the ex- bounty hunter had a sixth sense when it came to finding people. However, he was not sure why they were waiting, in a parked car, across the street from a church on Coulter Avenue.
“Yep, this is where it started and this is where she will come.” Vin was positive Kelli would need to come back to the beginning before she could move forward and contact him. He understood how she reacted when faced with a challenge; she had always found a pathway to move ahead and refused to let bad things drag her down for long. However, this time he was certain that she would need his help to reach solid ground. She was smart enough to know that and he was sure that when the initial shock of her discovery wore off she would turn to him.
“Have you thought about what happens after? She may not want to go home…”
“Ez, when I find her she will be home, she belongs with me. I hope in Denver, if not … wherever we are together will be our home.”
“What about the rest of the family?” *Will this revelation be the catalyst that finally breaks us apart?* Ezra could not imagine how hard it would be on Chris to lose Vin as a brother and a friend.*Hell, Ezra, all of you would suffer the loss not just Chris and Larabee would be hell to get along with.*
“I love my family and would give my life for any one of you, but without Kel I... If she can’t stay there…I can’t either.” Vin sighed. “As for the rest, I can’t think about that until I set things right between me and her.”
They waited as evening started to fall and after two more hours, their vigil paid off when a car pulled into the church parking lot. It was dark but the streetlight illuminated that area. Their three-day search was over when the car door opened. Vin had no problem recognizing the figure of the woman he loved, as she walked up to the church steps. He did not need the light to see her, he was familiar with the graceful moves her body made when she walked and he could feel her overwhelmed soul calling to him. Without a word, he slipped out of the vehicle in silence, leaving Ezra whispering something that sounded almost like a prayer.
Kelli felt compelled to be here, although she was not sure why. Maybe it was because this is where Kelli Coulter came into existence. It seemed fitting that when her life was falling apart around her, to be here where it began. Hot tears ran down her face when she thought about what she stood to lose. All because some people were irresponsible and others needed their damned secrets while seeking an elite social status. The sound of a softly whispered drawl penetrated the silence and caused a rush of warmth to cloak her aching soul.
“It’s time to let me back in, baby.” She responded to his open arms and felt them close around her. Vin held on to her, holding close to his heart what was important to him. The Texan immersed himself in the scent and feel of her, as he felt the worry and uncertainty ebb from his heart. “I love you Kel, you don’t ever need to hide anythin’ from me.”
Kelli’s overwrought emotion made it difficult to speak, but she managed a husky whisper,” Vin, ‘m sorry.” This Texan was the only one that had ever been able to reach past the shield she kept around her emotions and in his safe hands, all her protective barriers disappeared. Her tears now flowed freely as she wrapped her arms around her husband and felt his love pour over her.
Tanner held on tighter, wiping away her tears, “You don’t have to do this alone, Kel, never alone.” The sound of her heart beating so close to his assured him that this was real. She was here and he intended to make damn certain that she stayed.
Ezra watched from across the street, immensely relived that their search was over. If what he was witnessing, was any indication, at least this part of their ordeal was at an end. The other part could wait until Vin and Kelli were ready to deal with it. He pulled out his cell phone and made reservations for the night at a very nice hotel on the river walk. He then arranged for Hertz to pick up Kelli’s rental, she would not need it anymore. He sighed and headed across the street.
“Pardon the interruption, dear sister, but I have made arrangements concerning our accommodations for this evening and need to relocate your luggage to our vehicle.” Ezra offered her a warm smile.
“Ezra, ‘m sorry you got pulled into this I know…I owe you.” Kelli tried to apologize, but her tears and raw emotions made it difficult.
“Think nothing of it, I offered my services freely and seeing you two together is more than enough compensation for me.” Ezra saw clearly the price this lovely young woman had already paid for this debacle. An exchanged look with Vin told him he was not the only one concerned for her well -being. “Perhaps, we may defer any more discussion of this matter, until we arrived at our hotel and we are all well-rested.”
“Thanks Ez.” Vin anchored her snugly to his side and walked to the car, refusing to listen to her request for forgiveness. “No more, apologies, I understand why you had to do this, but whatever happens from here on out, happens to both of us.” He knew she needed food, rest and some TLC, which he intended to administer personally. Tomorrow they would deal with their future challenges. Tonight the Texan planned to start repairing her wounded spirit.
The family gathered at the ‘lions den’ for dinner, only the mood was dampened by the fact that three members of the family were not there. Even the children were quieter than normal, perceiving the mood of the concerned adults. It was after eight and still they were reluctant to go to their own homes. Chris had only said three words the entire evening. Buck counted each one and was worried about his old friend. For some unexplained reason Vin had shut him out and that fact was eating away at Larabee.*Tanner you had better have a damned good reason for putting Chris through this.*
Chris answered the phone on the second ring. “Larabee! … Where? ... How is she? …Put Vin on the phone … What do you mean you can’t? … Damn you, Standish, no tomorrow is not good enough, now! …Give me their room number and I will do it myself…I know that! ... Ezra, don’t you dare hang up! …Ezra?” Larabee threw the phone across the room and began a tirade of curses.
“Chris! You are scaring the kids, stop it!” Buck grabbed his arm to pull him outside, but Chris stopped him.
“I...I’m okay, sorry.” He took a deep breath before he spoke. “They found her in San Antonio and Ezra said that aside from being exhausted, she appeared to be all right.” Chris put up his hand to stop the barrage of questions. “That’s all I know, Standish would not even give me their room number so it will tomorrow before we know more.”
“You mean they stayed there? If they couldn’t get a flight out, I can call my brother and have him arrange for a private jet.” Linda offered. “I hope Vin gave her hell for the scare she put us through because I intend to give her a piece of my mind, too.”
“Evidently, they all could use a good rest and decided to stay, but tomorrow I want some answers.” Chris made a vow to find the underlying cause of this mess. *Tanner you will talk to me!*
The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.
San Antonio 1:00.am.
Vin knew she was having trouble sleeping and was not surprised when Kelli quietly slipped out of bed. She stood silhouetted in front of the window and he thought about all the reasons he loved her. *Tanner, the first time you laid eyes on her, she aroused something inside of you and you foolishly thought it just lust. It did not take you long to figure out how her presence soothes your restlessness and brings contentment to your soul like no other woman ever could. Lord, she pleases you! You love her wit, her feisty temperament and wild spirit along with her inner beauty and strength. Most of all she loves you, Vin and she stirs the fire inside you without even trying.* Watching her now, he was very aware of how much he wanted the woman that stood before him.
*She needs you, Tanner, her soul needs a safe place to heal. Hell, it took you a lifetime to find her and you need her just as much as she needs you, so what do you do now? Show her where home is, Vin. Hold on to her, let her know that she will always have a place to belong in your life.*
Last night she had tended to his hand, he made her eat, drew her bath and then held her while she fell into an uneasy sleep. They did not talk about the thing that was on both their minds and he wished that he had an easy answer for her. Now was not the time for talking though, this was the time to reaffirm their commitment to each other. He joined her by the window that overlooked the famed San Antonio River Walk and wrapped his arms around her, whispering softly, “I missed you baby.”
Kelli surrendered to his touch, turning she leaned into him and let her need for this man take control of her actions. “I missed you, too.”
The Texan looked deep into her dark blue eyes, losing himself in the love and desire, he saw there. Vin’s eyes never left hers and like so many times before she silently spoke to his soul. Emitting a low husky growl, he took the softness and hunger of her mouth, filling her with his presence, being filled by her in return, while his hands sought out the soft curves that he knew by heart. Kelli savored the touch of the man she thought she had lost. Soon they both were back in familiar territory. Passion directed them to the bed and the outside world disappeared, leaving the two lovers lost outside the realm of time. Together they made their own way home.
Vin held her possessively and was aware when she surrender to the sleep her body required.*What are you going to do now, Tanner? You know the next few weeks will be difficult and you cannot avoid Chris for long. She needs time to come to terms with her conflicted feeling. Hell, Vin so do you! Chris is your best friend Tanner; he is your brother by your own choice. I know that, but Chris will have to wait, dammit! He may not know what he did, but I cannot help feeling he is responsible for her hurting. You had better work this through, Vin, or it will destroy your life as you know it. Isn’t that the same torment Kel, has been going through? She wanted to protect you Tanner. Yeah, now I need to protect her and give both of us time to reconcile the past and the present.* Vin sighed, knowing there were no cut and dried answers and let the mantle of sleep replace his conflicted thoughts.
Larabee 7 Saturday morning
Chris was up early and could feel his anger building. He just could not imagine Vin being upset enough with him to avoid him completely. However, he had made several failed attempts to talk to the Texan and that seemed to be the case. Larabee felt guilty about his part in ‘losing’ Kelli in the first place, but he never felt his brother would carry it this far.
Linda could not sleep either and when Chris left their room, she followed him to the kitchen, pouring coffee for both of them. “You don’t suppose he was angry enough with Kelli to do something stupid, do you? He wouldn’t physically hurt her would he?” Linda’s concerned was growing. “Maybe that’s why he is avoiding you.”
“Vin? Never! He might verbally give her hell, but hit her? No way and he would take offense that you even suggested it.” Chris snapped. “No, he’s upset with me for letting her go off alone and not knowing where she was.”
“But you thought …” Linda realized too late that she had reminded him of her part in this mess.
“If you had not lied to me, I guarantee I would have known what she was doing. Until now, I trusted you and didn’t ask any questions Now because of your lies, Kelli and Vin are having problems, Vin is mad at me and I have to find a way to trust you again. If I have learned anything in my life it is that lies, as well as secrets have a way of coming out and people get hurt because of it.” The more he talked the angrier Chris became.
“So, you are saying this is my entire fault! Did it ever occur to you that there are some things you cannot control, Larabee.” Linda huffed, “Furthermore, the last time I checked Kelli was over twenty one and could make her own decisions without your permission!”
“Yeah and she has to answer for what she did, but so do you. You lied to me Linda and there is no excuse for that!” Chris shouted.
“Just what are you saying, Chris?”
“I… I think we need some time apart for now, at least until I can think more clearly about this. I love you, but I have to be able to trust you if we have any chance of staying together.”
“You mean you have to make sure Vin is okay with it, before you can forgive me.” Linda was fighting back tears.
“I mean I need to know you will always tell me the truth.” Chris was holding back his anger. “You’re feeling better now, I will take you home. I promise to let you know when Kelli gets back so you can talk to her.”
San Antonio Saturday Morning
Vin couldn’t stay asleep and finally gave up trying. He quietly left the bed and went to the other part of the suite so he would not wake Kelli.*Okay Tanner, you have always managed to put things in perspective before. Why is it so damned hard to do it now? You know why, Vin, because of the pain this mess has caused. You want to make someone pay for that, but who is really the one to blame? Do what you have to Tanner and then take the time to put your lives back together. That is the only way for everyone to find common ground to build on. Rein in you anger and focus on getting through this.*
Kelli stood at the door and watched the conflicting emotions cross Vin’s face.*Kel, how could you have ever believed you would be able to walk away from this man? All the paths your life has followed brought you to the place to find him. The cost of any hurt endured along the way was a small price to pay for his love. The rest does not matter, you love him, so find a way to work through this and make it okay for him, too.* Lost deep in his own thoughts, for once she thought he was unaware she was there. She wanted to find some way to give him peace again and then her own guilt began to surface. The middle was a hell of a place to be and he did not deserve this kind of torment.
“You know none of this is your fault,” Vin knew what she was thinking.” Hell, you’re the innocent one in this whole thing.”
“If ‘m so innocent, why do I feel so guilty?”
“Maybe it’s because you care so much.” He pulled her to him, “Baby, I don’t do things I don’t want to do. Now stop worryin’ ‘bout me, before I have to do somethin’ drastic to distract your thoughts.” Tanner grinned running his hand under his shirt that she was wearing and found bare skin.
“You still don’t play fair, Tanner.” Kelli managed to whisper, “But I love you for it.” She wrapped her arms around him, letting one hand slide down to caress his backside, the other trailing over his muscular back. Mischief danced in her eyes and she smiled. “Drastic distraction sounds like fun, especially from a gorgeous naked Texan.”
Vin took pleasure in seeing her smile again. “Sassy this mornin’ ain’t ya?” With both hands he pulled her shirt open, had it over her shoulders, and off within seconds, allowing him to take in the vision before him, he whispered close to her ear. “Let’s go back to bed, baby.”
A soft sexy voice came back with, ‘Uh uh Tanner, right here, right now.” Vin whispered an inaudible reply and took her mouth in rough possession, the Texan wasted no time and began fulfilling her demands.
Afterwards, Tanner held her close to his side. “Come on, Sassy, it still early, let’s go back to bed.”
Kelli woke up to the smell of coffee and saw that it was almost noon. When she realized she was alone in the king size bed she pulled on one of Vin’s shirts and went to search of her Texan. She entered the other room of the suite and realized too late that Vin was not alone. He and Ezra were deep in discussion about something. *Relax, Kel, This shirt covers most of you, and Ezra … is part of this wild bunch that you claim as family.* Refusing to be embarrassed she continued on her path to the pot of coffee that was calling to her.
Vin saw her first and smiled to himself, he knew she didn’t know Ezra was here or she would have been completely dressed. He decided to ease her discomfort using diversionary tactics. Wearing a mischievous grin, he whispered for her ears only, “Morning, Sassy.” With a long lingering kiss, he took her mind off her uneasiness and almost made both of them forget they were not alone.
In the meantime, Ezra retrieved a blanket from the other room and put it on the couch. While watching the couple it struck him that until just now he had not considered how young Kelli really was. *She may be young in years Ezra, but old in life experience. Do what you can to help them Standish.*
“Once more, I loathe interrupting, however there are delicate issues awaiting our consideration.” Ezra was sorry that it was necessary to bring it up when he saw the tension return to both of them. ”However, perhaps coffee and food can come first.” They all ate and then settled in for some decision-making. Vin had Kelli sitting on the couch with him, covered by the blanket and Ezra sat opposite them in a matching chair.
“Kel, Ez knows everythin’ and he was there when we talked to your mother …” Vin started.
“Don’t call her that! Please… she is a lot of things, but she will never be that.” Tanner tightened his hold on her and she immediately became calmer.
“I assure you Kel, all that I know is confidential and in fact, even more than as part of your family, as your attorney it is my duty to protect your interest.” Standish hoped to make this easier. “I have contacted Walter assuring him of your safety. However, I do find it strange that the information you found has not come to light before and assure you I will pursue on your behalf to eradicate any questionable records. Are there any other matters you wish to discuss about this issue?”
“No … That’s all, there is nothing else I need from those people, ever.” She shivered and Tanner pulled her closer to him.
“Very well, now the other side of this…” Ezra was unable to finish his words.
“I can’t go back to Larabee 7, not yet. I need to work some things out in my head first and I have decided to turn in my resignation from MCAT.” She was expecting Vin to react to her statement, but he surprised her.
“We can go wherever you want, but I thought we might move out to our cabin, for now. As for work, we can take some vacation time or a leave of absence until we decide what to do,” his voice was undemanding.
“We? Vin you don’t…This is exactly what I didn’t want, you caught in the middle.”
“Baby, it’s okay. I have some things to work through myself and I can’t think of a better place, unless you don’t want to.” Tanner continued, with her agreement, “Whatever we do we do it together. Neither you nor I chose this, but both of us have to see it through. I promise we will find a way to survive intact.” Vin knew she accepted his promise when he saw the moisture in her eyes and felt her shiver again.
“I hate to break up this Hallmark moment, but you both seem to be forgetting one thing. It does not matter where you go or what you want to happen. Do you honestly think any amount of miles will stop storm Larabee from trying to obtain some answers? Do you believe he will simply give you both a leave of absence without a damn good reason? The man practically crawled through my cell phone earlier when I told him you were not available.” Ezra wanted them to look at all options. “I understand how you both must feel and I will help any way possible, but someone needs to talk to Chris besides me. My position with him is not in good standing at the moment.”
“I’ll handle Chris.” Vin stated softly and knowing Kel was going to argue he stopped her. “I need to do this.”
She studied his eyes and saw determination and truthfully, she knew she could not talk to Chris or anyone else right now, but she understood that Vin needed to, if only to appease his own anger.
“Ezra, can you get us on a flight to Denver this afternoon?” Kelli asked, “And, I want you to know I appreciate what you have done.”
“Certainly and you are most welcome.” Standish sighed, “Vin are you sure this is the best course of action.”
“It’s the only one.”
Ezra had called Larabee and told him Vin would be there in the morning. Chris was not happy about it, but he had no choice in the matter It was late evening when The Tanners reached their cabin and tomorrow they would do some shopping to stock the pantry. Tonight though, Vin build a fire in the fireplace, laid down comforters, and stacked pillows, making a place they could relax with music and spend their time reinforcing their own bond, both sheltered in the other’s love.
Kelli lay with her head close to her Texan’s heart, feeling the vibrations in his chest, created by his soft drawl as he read poetry to her. Suddenly he stopped and she looked up to find a smile on his face, the kind of smile that always made her pulse race. “Vin, why did you stop?”
“I had to take time to store this picture in my memory.” With his fingers entangled in her hair, he cupped the back of her head, pulling her nearer, bringing her mouth closer to his. “You, with firelight dancing on your bare skin, are a beautiful sight.” His kiss was soft and light, with one finger, he stroked her cheek,” Your blue eyes glisten like pools of incandescent sapphires that wield the power to captivate my senses and set fire to my desires. When we make love and you call out my name, I fall in love with you all over again. Vin’s kiss took her breath away, his lyrical words melted her heart once more and they both shut out the rest of the world, entering one that was only for them and then, they made another memory.
Once they were back in the real world, they stayed in front of the roaring fire, sharing their intimate thoughts, amorously wrapped together in one blanket and their minds reluctantly turned to tomorrow.
“Are you positive you want to do this, maybe I should. I don’t want you to resent me later on if it works out badly.” Kelli was anxious about the morning and felt somewhat guilty because Vin had to do something she though should be her responsibility, but for now she did not know what was the right thing to do or to risk.
“Kel, I have given this a lot of thought. I can’t tell you why all of this has come about, but I feel it was set into motion long before you and I met. Just like it was destined for you to be the one to find the key to unlock your past. I am the one that fate intended to talk to Chris. Besides, I think I am the only one that he might listen to and give us the time we need to sort through this. Trust me, you and I will be okay.”
“But at what price?”
Hell is truth seen too late—duty neglected in its season
Chris was past ready to confront Tanner. They had been through too much to let something like this damage their friendship and Larabee was going to make Vin understand that one way or another. Yeah, he could see him being upset about Kelli running off, but this was an overreaction. *Hell, Chris you did not lose her on purpose and according to Ezra she is okay, so…. Why has Vin avoided you? He had better have a damned good reason or else!*
Vin made it a little before seven and sat in his truck for a few minutes to gather his thoughts before getting out. He could already feel the tension radiating from Larabee and with a heavy sigh decided to face the raging storm straight on. Chris was waiting for him.
“It about time you showed, Tanner! What in the hell is going on and why are you by yourself? Where is Kelli? You had better have a damned good explanation for your actions.” Chris made no effort to disguise his irritation and shot the younger man a scorching glare.
“Since you’re being so social, good mornin’ to you too. Which one of those questions would you like me to answer first?” Vin forced himself to remain in control.
“I’ve been waiting four days to hear this, take your pick!” Larabee snipped.
“Kelli is at home. We’re staying at the cabin, in fact we’re gonna be movin’ out there for a while. As to why and your damned explanations, I think you should sit down and listen.” The Texan’s control slipped a bit.
“Vin?’ Chris was beginning to calm down and did not like the feelings he was picking up from the Texan. Larabee then took a good look at the younger man, comprehending that his eyes carried a lot of pain and conflicting emotions.
“Chris, all I ask is that you hear me out and try to understand where ‘m coming from. I’ll make this as short as possible.” He saw the slight nod of Chris’ head and continued. “Kel’s meetin’ with her … with that woman did not go well and she found out more than she bargained for in the process. It’s been a shock to her and her emotions have taken quiet a beatin’ over the last week. I can’t blame her for actin’ the way she did, Hell I didn’t react much better when I found out.”
“That how you hurt your hand?” Larabee interrupted when he noticed Tanner’s injury.
“Yeah, my hand had a run in with a wall and the wall won.” Vin hesitated before he spoke. “Chris ‘m not proud of the way I’ve handled this, but I didn’t expect to have such strong feelin’ about it. Kel and I both need some time to deal with what we found out. I suspect you will, too. I have two sets of letters here, one of ‘em is our request for vacation time or leave of absence from the team, whichever works.” He saw Chris react. “Don’t say anything yet, please. If you can’t see a way to give us that, then you’ll have to take the others two, which are our resignations. Before you decide I think you need to read this.” Vin handed him the same papers Marissa had given Kelli, plus the report Walter obtained and then waited for Chris to read them.
“This is all true? Are you sure?” The information stunned Chris and left him feeling numb.
“Kelli paid five thousands dollars to make sure and even if she hadn’t it all fits. It one big fuckin’ mess and a lot of hurt has come out of it. The lies and secrets have taken a heavy toll and I haf’ta be honest I hold a lot of anger about it. My head tells me I shouldn’t but right now my head is not in control of how I feel. This whole mess has been hard on Kelli, tryin’ to deal with this, plus what that woman and her grandfather did to her. I need to be there to help her work through all of this, if any of us have a chance of makin’ somethin’ right out of it.”
“Christ! I never … I ...Dammit! Vin you know I would have ….” Chris was not sure what to say as realization started to sink in.
“What I know is there is no easy answer, for you, me or Kel. What I know is this was quite a shock and the feelin’s of hurt run deep, as well as the fear of more rejection. It’s gonna take some time to mend,” Vin sighed. “What I know is ‘m stuck in the middle and need to make a choice. The best thing I can do for everyone involved is to be there for Kel and I hope you can understand that.”
“I do, but I need to talk to her, dammit! She cannot avoid me forever. You said she is at the cabin. I…”
“Chris, ’m askin’ you as a friend … no. as your brother, to please give it some time and don’t push her. If you can’t do that for me, then do it … do it for daughter, you owe her that much.”
“Daughter…” Chris looked at the papers again. Vin felt the uncertainty in him and then a sharp stab of pain. When Chris looked up that pain was in his eyes. Why didn’t I see this before? Her familiar looks …the feeling that I knew her…Dammit! I should have known!”
“It seems like I can’t take care of any of my children. First Adam and now …Hell Vin what she went through, I am responsible for that. Fuck! One night, Vin. I was with that girl one night … I never …Why in the hell didn’t Marissa tell me, I would have … “
Chris closed his eyes and tried to gather himself. “No,” he whispered. That is no excuse. Nothing is an excuse for what this has done to Kelli. You were right, somebody was dammed irresponsible and that somebody was me. I just …I did not think that night. Hell, I never even thought about it again afterwards, except that night at your place…” Chris thought about his own wrath on Kelli’s behalf against the unknown person that caused her so much pain and anguish. Now he understood Vin’s anger and why he had been shut out, but he could not blame Tanner for that. He just hoped it would not case permanent damage to their relationship. *Hell, Larabee you would deserve it if it did.*
”What can I do?” Chris resolved himself to start paying for his actions.
“Give us some time. I will wait til tomorrow to start movin’ some things and I will come over every day to tend to the horses. But right now, I think time and space is what’s needed.” Vin saw his own anguish reflected in Larabee’s eyes and wished he could do something about it, but the knew right now he just couldn’t.
“Go to her Vin. I’ll approve the time off … take what you need. I … Hell...Let me know if or when … she’s ready to talk to me.” Then softly, “She’s my daughter, Vin. Whatever happens, that means a lot to me and I would never reject her. I will do anything that needs to be done, anything. Will you … will you at least tell her that?”
“Yeah… yeah Chris I will tell her.”
An emotionally drained Texan made his way back to the cabin. Chris was the best friend, hell the first good friend he ever had and right from the start, they had an easy way with each other. Chris was a part of him, a part he needed to be who he was and that was something that would never change. However, Larabee was hurting now and for the first time, Tanner could not help him get past it, not without forsaking Kelli’s needs and that was not an option, for him or Chris.*This is where you can do the most good Vin, helping to heal the woman that both of you need to see whole again. God willing you will not lose your brother because of it.*
He saw her sitting by the lake and took a deep cleansing breath. She had that affect on him and had since the first time he laid eyes on her.*Yeah Vin, she slipped into your heart and soul, soft as a whisper without even trying. Maybe it had something to do with her connection to Chris. Maybe this was one of those strange twists that fate is so fond of dishing out, whatever it is, you know she belongs with you Tanner.* The Texan made his way down to the lake to join his wife and find some comfort for his battered emotions.
Chris Larabee had faced many challenges in his life and survived them all, even the ones he did not want to. However, this one blindsided him and he had no idea what to do about it. * Why do you cause so much pain to the people you care about? Sarah and Adam died because of your job and your inability to protect them. Buck, your friend of twenty years you treated like shit, when all he did was to try to help. You are also responsible for the pain you saw in Vin’s eyes today and now that Tanner is not shutting you out you can feel the torment he is going through.*
Then there was Kelli, a young woman he had grown to love and care for, as a part of his family. Vin had shared with him the details of her life and dammit, he admired her strength and courage for overcoming the obstacles life threw her way. *Obstacles she would not have had to face if you were not so damned irresponsible, Larabee. She suffered because of you, she is still paying for your actions, and you can do nothing to stop it. Vin made the right choice, she needs him with her and truth be told Vin needs her. Hell, they sure don’t need your help, Chris, you have done enough damage to both of them already.* Chris took the glass he was holding and hurled it across the room and watched it shatter against the fireplace. *Just like everything you touch, Larabee, shattered.*
With a sigh, he picked up the phone and dialed, after three rings, Buck answered. “Buck, you need to have the family at your house today, I don’t feel up to having them all here. … I will see you at work tomorrow ...I just …I need some time to myself … No, I don’t need anything else …”
Chris stared at the phone and made a decision, he dialed one more number, and an answering machine picked up on the fourth ring. “Linda, I promised to call and let you know about … Kelli and Vin. They are back, but will be staying at their cabin for a few days. I … we …Hell, never mind, I just wanted you to know that they are safe.” He hung up the receiver and then pulled out a bottle of whiskey. For the rest of the day and tonight it would be just him and his old friend, Jack Daniels.
Linda heard the message, but was not ready to talk to Chris. *Damn that man! Why do you let him do this to you Linda? How can one person make you so happy and so miserable? Maybe some time alone will make him realizes how much he misses you. Okay, you should not have lied to him, but he did not need to get that upset over it, after all nobody got hurt because of it. Let him sit alone and see how he likes it, a little suffering might just do him some good.*
MCAT Office - Monday
Chris Larabee was already in his office before any of his team arrived, trying to rid himself of a raging headache. As soon as he heard Buck, he called him into his office.
“Hey stud, good morning.” Buck stopped when he got a good look at the man behind the desk. “You must have had one hell of a party last night. The last time I saw you with a hangover like the one you’ve got now was … a long time ago” Buck remembered the times Chris drank after Sarah died, but he was sure Chris was past that now. Wasn’t he?
“I need you to stand in for Tanner for a while. Do you think you can handle that Wilmington?” Chris’ voice was cold, void of any emotion.
“I guess Vin needs a couple days for make-up sex. You know when Inez and I have an argument…” Larabee’s growl interrupted Buck’s recollections.
“What Vin does with … his wife is not a topic for gossip. Starting today, you are acting squad Captain, until further notice. Send Standish in here when he finally decides to drag his ass into work and shut the door on your way out.” Chris dismissed him.
“Now, hold on a minute, first you ditch the family yesterday and then you show up with a hangover from hell. Next, you tell me I’m taking over for Vin until further notice. What in the hell is going on and just how long is until further notice?” Buck raised his voice, “What happened to Tanner?”
Chris stood and walked to the window looking out over downtown Denver. “Vin and Kelli are taking off work for an indefinite period.” Chris sighed, “Plus I suppose you will have to know sooner or later that he and Kelli are moving off the ranch and will be staying at their cabin.”
“They are coming back home and to the team right?”
“I ...I don’t know.” Chris spoke so softly that Buck could barely hear him.
“Not now Buck …Not now.”
Buck just stood there for a minute, before walking out the door and closing it quietly behind him.*Maybe Chris will not talk to me, but somebody damned sure will.* Ezra walked in about that time and Buck hustled him off to the break room.
“Ez, what in the hell happened in Texas?”” Buck demanded.
“Well, in 1836 they had a big battle at a place called The Alamo, near San Antonio I believe and…”
“Very funny, I meant with Vin, He and Kelli are leaving the ranch and now Chris says they both are off the team indefinitely. Chris is hung over and won’t tell me a damned thing and he wants you in his office immediately.” Buck ranted.
Standish sighed, “I recommend that you communicate with Mr. Tanner yourself, if you desire additional knowledge of his situation. Now, if you will excuse me.” Ezra left Buck standing alone and proceeded to Larabee’s office. Taking a deep breath, he knocked and entered.
Neither man said a word for an entire minute. Chris broke the silence, “I know what happened, what I want from you is Marissa’s address and phone number or even a last name will do.”
Ezra thought before he answered, “Chris, I watched two people I care for go through a living hell because of that woman, I do not want that to happen to a third. There is nothing to gain from her, trust me about this and I believe your attentions belong elsewhere. I understand your need to confront that bitch, but I know two people that your time and energy would be better spent on.”
Chris was surprised to hear Ezra refer to the woman as a bitch and to drop his formal speech. “Vin and Kelli don’t want help from me.”
“Perhaps, but I have found that sometimes help is needed, even if it is not always wanted. I have given this situation some serious thought. While I admit it is a delicate matter, I have faith in this family to find a way to set it right. However if you desire to waste your time on extracting some type of vengeance instead of trying to regain a lost child, I will supply you with that information.”
“Will you tell me how bad it was?” The agony Chris felt was evident in his eyes.
Ezra asked to use Chris’ phone and called Kelli. After gaining her permission, he related all the ugly details to Larabee and waited for the explosion. However none came, all Standish saw was a brother hurting, trying to hold on to his emotions. After a few minutes, Chris was able to speak.
“She confronted the old man herself?” Chris gave a half laugh. “That sounds like something I would do.”
“Those were my thoughts exactly. Kelli may be having a hard time reconciling her feeling right now, but she is more like you than you may think. Her strength to survive had to come from you because she certainly is nothing like her ...that woman. Given a little time and with some patience on your part, she will remember what she liked and respected about you before. That at least will give you something to build on.” Ezra watched for some reaction to his words and thought he saw a small flash of hope scurry across Chris’ face. *Not much Standish but it is a start.* Ezra stood up to leave, but before he made it to the door. Chris’ words gave him pause.
“Thank you, Ezra, for being there for both of them, I appreciate it.”
Chris did not come out for lunch and in fact, he did not come out of his office all day. Ezra had refused to discuss the situation with any one and Vin was not returning phone calls.
“Dammit.” Buck muttered to no one in particular and went to confront his old friend. Barging into Larabee’s office, he did not give the blonde a chance to speak first. “Chris, I don’t know what is going on, but you can’t shut yourself up in here all day. Whatever is bothering you we can talk about it, you have friends and family that care.”
“Maybe I don’t want friends and family to care!” Chris said angrily, “I think you should mind your damn own business Buck and stay out of mine!”
“Like it or not friend, you are my business. I thought things were better for you, the family, the ranch, the new team and Linda. Hell Chris, we all were happy to see you start a new relationship, but now you’re acting like you did after…”
“After what Buck? After, I killed my wife and our son?” Chris lashed out.
“Chris …we have been here before, you did not kill Sarah and Adam and you know it!
“Buck you don’t know half the things I have done and for that matter, Wilmington, what about you? What did you do all those years of catting around? Do you know? No, none of us knows how our actions can come back and bite us on the ass. Destroy lives…” Chris shut up.
“I don’t know where all this is coming from, but if you won’t tell me, I’ll just have to get it out of Tanner!”
“Buck, I’m warning you, leave Vin alone! You will not even try to talk to him!” Chris moved around the desk and was in Buck’s face. “You pass the word that nobody is to contact Tanner until he is ready to talk! Do I make myself clear enough for you?”
“Oh yeah, that’s real fucking clear!” Buck was furious. “Tanner ignores you, pisses you off and you defend him! I try to help and you give me warnings! Well you know what old friend you can go to hell!’ Buck slammed out of the office and missed Larabee’s soft reply.
“Already there, Buck and this time I took innocent people with me.”
Chris sat alone and looked at the destruction around him. Earlier he decided Jack Daniels was not his friend and could not shut out the pain, so he smashed every bottle in his bar. Then he tore up every closet in the house to find what he wanted, no what he needed to get him through the long night.
He pulled out another photo album and went back to a happier time in his life. *Sarah, I remember this day as if it was yesterday. You were so beautiful and I felt like the luckiest man in the world. Mrs. Christopher Larabee. I know you repeated it at least fifty times on our honeymoon, just because you liked the sound of it. You should have said no when I asked you to marry me, you should have run the opposite direction and if you had … maybe you would still be alive … maybe … No. If you had then we would not have had Adam and I would have missed having my son. Even if it was only six years, I would not trade that for anything, except to have you both back.
Remember this one? Adam was three and Buck …yeah Buck the same man that I pushed away today, the man that saved me from myself when you died. The same man that has been there for me for twenty years, even though, I have not always been there for him. Why does he keep trying? Why doesn’t he just let go? Yeah I know he stays because he has such a big heart and he considers our friendship important. He has not figured out that I am not worth it. Yeah, I hear you shaking your finger in my face, but dammit Sarah, I have made such a mess of things down here.
I told you about Vin and how you would have liked him, hell, you would have taken him in for family. He and Adam would have hit it off real well. Yes, Tanner has done a good job keeping me sane and in line, but now, he is hurting and I am to blame for that. This picture, this is the one taken right after I met that stubborn Texan. We played hooky from work and took off for the lake. That fish weighed ten pounds… okay maybe eight, but it was a beauty. He has been there for me, too and now because of my own irresponsibility I cannot be there for him when he needs me. You see, Sarah… and this is hard for me to tell you, but I hope you would have understood. You always forgave me when I screwed up, but this time I would not blame you if you did not.
This picture is when Vin got married and I was so happy for him, I was his best man at the wedding and it was great. I knew he and Kelli would be good together just as you and I were. She is a beautiful young woman and in many ways, she reminds me of you. She is redheaded and has the same temperament you did. I know she gives Tanner hell when he deserves it, just as you did me. But, honey she had a difficult life and she had no one to look out for her growing up. That is my fault. My first year of college I was a bit on the wild side and never thought much about the future. I damn well should have because … I found out way too late …Kelli is my daughter…I never knew, but I should have. Now she is hurting because of it and Vin needs someone to blame for what she went through. I’m not sure what I would have done back then, but I know whatever it was would have been better than what she got. Now I do not know how to fix it for either of them. If you were here, you would know, because you always knew the right thing to do.
If you can, maybe you could check in on her for me, help her get through the rough spot she is in now. I know I have no right to ask, but maybe you can help her find a way, at the very least to talk to me. It is more than I deserve, after letting you, her and Adam down, but she is here and I would like a chance to be a father to her.*
*Sarah, whether you forgive me or not, remember I love you.*
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Southern Breeze Ranch
Linda woke up sick again, she had finally given in and gone to the doctor yesterday afternoon, and all he did was take blood and run a test. She made her way to the bathroom and then, managed to get dressed for the day. Deciding she needed fresh air, she walked to the barn and checked on the new foals. Somehow, she had lost track of the time and it was almost eleven when her cell phone rang.
“Your call, your time, starting now.” She loved to throw people off when they called. “Yes, this is her…Oh Dr. Ryder…Are you positive? I mean it has to be a mistake I was…I know that! ...You did? …No, I can come in Friday.”
Linda was staggered by the news the Doctor gave her and in a panic over what she should do.*Oh my God, Linda! Why now? Better yet, what are you going to do about it? Well, calling Chris is out of the question, he is still too angry to listen to you. My brother … No, not yet …Kelli… she owes me and she will listen.*
A vehicle approaching the cabin stirred Kelli from her reading. Knowing that Vin had only planned to spend at a couple of hours with the horses, she thought it might be him. After a quick check, she realized it was Linda. *Dammit, Kel, another one who will want answers that you do not have.*
“I expected you to return my calls!” Linda said the moment she walked into the door. “Especially after all the trouble you caused!”
“The trouble, I caused?” That statement puzzled Kelli.
“Yes and I hope Vin gave you hell because now things here are in one big mess.” Linda was pacing and yelling. “Chris is angry with me because you ran off and now he won’t even talk to me. Of course, I suppose it doesn’t matter to you that my heart is broken and my life is ruined.” She took a breath and then continued, “I don’t know how you do it, because if I did what you did, Chris would still be giving me hell. But, not you, instead of making amends and checking on me, your friend, you get a vacation. While you are up here playing with Vin all day, I’m having a crisis in my life and have no one to talk to about it.” Linda finally stopped her tirade and sat down.
Neither of the women heard Tanner when he returned, but he stood on the porch and listened for a minute. When Linda went on and on, he started to interrupt, but thought better of it and decided to wait it out on the porch swing. He did not like hearing Linda put so much blame on Kelli and he would not hesitate to intercede if necessary, but for now it seemed not to be too serious, just Linda letting off a little steam.
Kelli listened and still had no clue as to what Linda was trying to say. “Linda, I should have called when we returned, but honestly I didn’t feel like talkin’ to anyone. What I don’t understand is why … Chris blames you for somethin’ I did.”
“Since I helped you sneak off he thinks the entire thing is my fault. At first, he didn’t say much, but when Vin got upset with him well, it was all down-hill after that. Anytime Vin is upset with Chris, somebody pays and this time it was me. I was going to give him a day or two to cool down, but for some reason he will not talk to anyone. Inez told me he even refused to have the family come over Sunday. Now I’m afraid it too late for me to tell him …hell, it doesn’t matter he probably wouldn’t care anyway.”
“Linda …” Damn, she hated it when Linda got like this, it could take hours before she knew what the problem really was. “Can we just cut through all the drama and get to the point. How did I ruin your life?”
“Haven’t you been listening? Chris will not talk to me or anyone else, all because you ran off and Tanner got mad. Now instead of waiting for the right time to tell him, there is no right time at all. I’ll just have to leave Denver and have my baby alone.”
Kelli was astounded. “Your what?”
“Baby, you know, little person, infant, I was on the pill and didn’t miss any, but … Chris didn’t want any more children in the first place and as angry as he is now, I can’t tell him.” Linda was close to tears again thinking about the phone call she received only an hour ago from he doctor. “The best thing I can do is get out of his life.”
“You damned sure will tell him! How could you even consider not to? Hell, I always have known you were spoiled, but I did not ever think you could be so damn selfish! All I have heard in the last fifteen minutes is how bad things are for you! What about the child or have you even considered that there is another life involve! I am warnin’ you Linda Catharina Dubois, you tell him or I will! I do not care how long we have been friends, you run away from this and I will never speak to you again!”
Linda stopped her pacing and huffed. “If you hadn’t decided to go off and play in Texas, maybe he would be in the right frame of mind to listen to me. All you had to do was answer the damn phone!”
“You want to know why I stayed in Texas. I’ll tell you, I confronted the woman that gave birth to me, who like you was so damned selfish she didn’t tell my father she was pregnant, but let me be shoved into an overloaded system that had no home to send me to. I found a woman that wants nothin’ to do with me, except use me for spare parts. I found the startin’ point of my road to hell and the missin’ pieces I needed to fit my incomplete childhood together.” Tears started to form in her eyes.
“You always wanted to know what I would not tell you, well let me tell you now! I was abused, Linda, physically and sexually. All those years you thought I was shy. I was terrified to get involved in a relationship. I almost ran away from Tanner when I met him and was afraid to tell him the truth, afraid to open up my emotions that I spent years trying to conceal. Vin’s love convinced me that my fears were unfounded. You also, never knew about the devastating nightmares that plagued me most of my life. The worst part now is, knowin’ that it did not have to be that way, if that bitch had only been truthful! Chris could have made a difference, but he never got that opportunity and now it’s too late!”
Kelli was no longer seeing Linda but her own mother and the price her decision extracted from everyone involved. She was in tears and still shouting angrily at Linda. The Texan had heard Linda’s confession and immediately thought about how this would affect Chris. The man who wanted no more children and now he had two to deal with, one reluctant to face him and another one on the way. He could not help him with the one coming, yet, but he could do something for Larabee’s daughter.
Tanner went inside to give Kelli the support she needed and without a word, he opened him arms to his wife, offering her shelter from her now raging sea of emotions. Then he just held onto her and let her cry. As painful as it was, this is what he had been waiting for. She was venting the anger she had been holding on to and her feelings were coming out in the open. This he could help her deal with, and then maybe she could start to heal from the new wounds Marissa had inflected.
“I didn’t know…I never thought ….” Linda struggled with her words and wanted to do something to ease her friend’s pain. She wanted to wrap her up and protect her, but Vin reached her first. It was then that Linda realized how foolish her jealousies of Tanner had been. He loved, protected and cared for the same people she loved and his connection to Chris did not take away from his love for Kelli *No more than Chris’ love for his brother will take away from you Linda. You wasted too much time resenting Vin. He did for your friend something you could never do and he would lay down his own life for the ones you love.*
“God, Kelli, “You know sometimes I speak before I think things through and I am sorry for laying into you when I came in.” She looked to Tanner, “I have been blind to a lot of things and I’m sorry.”
“We all are blind sometimes, that what makes us human.” Vin acknowledged her apology.
Then another thought struck her, “My father knew didn’t he? Of course, he knew.” Many things were beginning to fall in to place for her. “The only thing that I don’t understand is how Chris could have made a difference, unless, he knew your mother and… No … please tell me Chris isn’t …”
“Chris Larabee is Kelli’s biological father.” Vin supplied her answer. “He didn’t know until Sunday morning.”
Linda thought about Chris’ phone call and the pain she had heard in his voice. *God what he must be going through, Linda and you did not pick up the damn phone. Now your careless words have hurt Kelli, too. Want a mess all because… all because someone else did what you were thinking of doing. You know what you have to do now, don’t you Linda? Chris needs you, whether he knows it or not and you need him so what are you waiting for Dubois?*
“I promise I will tell him about the baby, but now might not be the best time. Chris needs me to be there for him as you are for Kel. Could we maybe keep this new development among the three us of until things settle down some?” Linda was already thinking about the cost of lying and now understood what Chris meant about secrets and lies.*There are no harmless lies are there, Linda?*
“I will have to tell Chris that you know about him and Kelli. But I won’t volunteer more information than that unless he specifically asks or you break your promise, then I will make sure he knows.” Vin answered for both of them. “And, Linda it is up to Kelli and Chris if they want to tell anyone else. Are we clear about that?”
“Yes.” Linda went to give Kelli a hug. “If there is anything I can do I would like to help.” She saw Kelli at least nod her head, “Vin, you take care of her.”
“Count on it.”
Chris had managed to get through this long day somehow. He knew the mess he made last night was waiting for him at home. At least cleaning it up would give him something to do this evening, besides thinking about his failures. Vin had called him and told him about Linda knowing the truth. *Just as well, Chris you were going to push her away, too. Now you do not have to worry about how to do it, she will do it for you.*
When he walked in the door, for a moment he thought he must be in the wrong house. Everything was back in order and he swore that he smelled food cooking in the kitchen. He went to investigate and found Linda.
“What in the hell are you doing here?”
“Making sure you have a decent meal.” Linda gave him her best smile. “I am disappointed that you did not invite me to the bash you had here. You know I love get-togethers and from the look of your living room, you must have had one hell of a party.”
“You need to go home! I can manage to eat without your help.”
“No? What do you mean no?
“I mean no. I am not going home, I came prepared to stay and if you want me out of here, you are going to have one hell of a fight on your hands.” Linda gave him a defiant look. “I will apologize for not being truthful with you and promise it will never happen again. I was wrong and I know it. However, that is the only apology you will get and I have already moved my things back into your bedroom. They are staying and so am I!’
“I don’t want you here and you need to be with Kelli not me!” Chris shouted.
“She has Vin and I will always be there if she needs me, but she doesn’t need me right now, you do.” Linda sighed, “Chris you are the most decent man I have ever known and Kelli knows that, too. Given time, she will come around, right now, she has a lot to deal with, but she has a good man to help her do it. When she gets to the point that she can see you, I will not be the one to tell her you destroyed yourself over this. She has enough misplaced guilt as it is and you will not add to it. I love you and I plan to stay. You want me out then this will have to get ugly because I will not go quietly!” Linda was now standing in front of Chris daring him to try to throw her out.
“Linda, everyone I care about gets hurt if they stay with me, I don’t want you to get hurt, too.”
“Good, then it settled because the only way I’ll get hurt is if you try to push me away. You are stuck with me Chris Larabee, get used to it.” She wrapped her arms around his neck giving him a kiss that carried all the love she had for him. Linda held on refusing to let him go.
Chris was a man that was drowning in guilt and Linda had thrown him a lifeline. He took it and would do his damnest to hold on to it.
Buck Wilmington was ready to hurt someone, and at this point, he did not care who it was. The entire week had been a ride through hell for all of them. They were shorthanded with Katrina at a forensic conference and both Tanners out. They had two cases to work on and just had a third one a third dropped in their lap. Larabee came in, worked in his office all day, left and went home, all without sayin' three words. The entire office felt the tension that radiated from behind Chris’ door.
“Buck, we have to do something, things can’t go on like this.” JD wanted answers the same as the rest of them did.
“I am worried about Chris, I bet he has lost five pounds this week and he obviously is not sleeping much.” Nathan was as puzzled by the turn of event as JD was. “Vin wouldn’t tell you anything?”
“Nope, that mule headed Texan would only say, talk to Chris.” Buck thought about the evening he confronted Tanner at the stables. “He just shrugged me off and shut up, but he did seem… I don’t know... distant.”
“Brothers whatever it is, maybe we should let Chris and Vin work it out between them.” Josiah knew they would not let it go, but felt he needed to try. “This is not the first time they have butted heads.”
“Not like this Josiah, there is something different about this.” Buck could not put his finger on what it was. “Inez told me Linda has moved to the ranch, but she won’t tell her what’s going on anymore than Chris or Vin will.”
“With another case coming up next week we need Vin and Kelli back on the job.” JD was concerned not only for his family but about the team, too.
“Why do you think they both took off?” Nathan asked. “You think she would leave just to support Vin over Chris, if this was no big deal?”
“I think our silent brother over there could tell us more, if he wanted to. Right Ez?” Buck snipped
Ezra sighed; everyday this week it was the same conversation only with a different brother each time. Now it seemed they decided a full company assault was necessary. “Gentlemen, I will only reiterate the words I have said all week. Leave it be and have some patience.”
“I for one can’t do that anymore. We need to find a way to confront both Chris and Vin. This has gone on long enough. Who’s with me?” Buck asked.
With the exception of Ezra, they all agreed and then went to work on a plan of action.
Vin had been at it all day, one project after another and Kelli was ready to scream. One more great idea and she might seriously have to consider throwing him in the lake. Oh she knew why he was doin' it, but that did not change the fact that he was driving her crazy. Finally, she had had enough and sought him out.
“Tanner, we need to talk!” She found him in the kitchen drafting a strategy to rework the cabinets.
Vin laid down the plans he had drawn and gave her his attention. She definitely did not have bedroom talk on her mind. “I’m listening.” He could not imagine what had her so worked up, but he enjoyed watching her, because an annoyed Kelli was always entertaining to him. *Besides Vin, she’s behaving more like her old self and that is a good sign.*
“I love you and I know you want to be here for me, but it has been almost two weeks and I don’t need a full time babysitter. Honestly, I don’t think I can take a full time Tanner, you have done so much this week alone that you are making me tired just watching you.” The grin on the Texan’s face irritated her even more. “I am trying to be serious here and I don’t know why you think this is amusing.”
“I was just thinking about all the little projects you had going when you were home before.” Vin brought her closer to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “It seemed like you always managed to find somethin’ more to do.”
“Vin you need to go back to MCAT. I will work this through and I promise that I will never shut you out again, but you cannot give up the other part of your life to be here with me.”
“Maybe ‘m not ready to go back. I kinda like being here with you.” Tanner kissed her neck and rubbed her back.
“I like that part too.” His overt actions quickened her pulse rate “But you need your work, your family, your brothers and … Chris they are all a part of the man I love. I know that ‘m not ready to go back yet, but you can and you should. You need them as much as I need you. It’s not fair for you to give up a part of who you are for me. Make things right between you and Chris because if I cause you to lose what you have with him then that will only make me feel worse.”
“I won’t lose what I have with Chris, it may be a little bent right now, but it won’t break.” Vin knew that as well as he knew his own name. *You have waited for her to come to this point, Tanner. Kel’s wounded spirit has healed, the rest is up to her now and you have to start mending fences somewhere, might as well be with Lar’bee.* “Tell you what, I’ll think about going back to work, if you help me finish another project before I go tend to the horses.” Mischief danced in his eyes as he unbuttoned her shirt.
“Really, and what project would that be?” A wild rush of desire shot through her body, responding to his touch and the warm look in his eyes.
“This one,” he was in of those moods that she loved so much. Teaching Kelli how to discover the freedom that came with doing things just for the helluva it or on the spur or the moment was one of the gifts that Vin had given her in the last six months. One that she treasured and she always looked forward to the next lesson.
Vin captured her mouth with a sizzling kiss that took her breath away. Teasing her with the promise of more, Tanner was in a playful mood and that was always a pleasurable experience. This one was no different, with the toe of his boot he opened, the refrigerator door and then he grabbed a can of whipped cream. Despite her protest, Vin covered her in whipping cream, but he did not escape payback. She managed to get a fair amount of the stuff back on the mischievous Texan.
In between their laughter, Tanner was able to issue instructions about how to finish this project. “Now we gotta clean up the mess we made.” Between the laughing and loving, it took over an hour before they finally made it to the shower, but it put a new perspective on Tanner’s projects for Kelli.
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst and provide for it.
Tanner was later then usual getting to the horses and Chris had just made it home. The Texan went straight to the barn and broke out the feed for the hungry animals. He started grooming each horse and by the time he reached Peso, he sensed he would be having company. He continued brushing his mount.
“You gonna just stand there or you plan on helpin’.” Vin knew Chris had been there for a while. “Grab a brush, still got two more needs groomin’.” The Texan hid his smile when Chris chose to work on Dancer, Kelli’s horse.
Chris was aware that Vin’s mood had improved and did not see the pain in his eyes that had been there only a week ago. *Go ahead Larabee ask him, you know you want to know.*
“Better, Chris she’s doing better.” Tanner sighed, “It’s gonna take a while, Marissa stirred up memories that were best left in the past and created some new hurts.” Vin looked up and met Chris’ eyes. “She has received all your messages from me and Linda and If it helps you to know, I will tell you this much. She finally lost it last week and let loose a lot of her anger and frustrations.”
“Knowing that is supposed to make me feel good, how?”
“It’s what I have been waitin’ for to happen. She let go of things she had been holdin’ inside and Kel is not angry with you Chris, she’s just hesitant to face you right now. The rejection her…that woman gave her was callous and cruel. Her old defenses took over involuntarily and she moved into self-protection mode.” Vin saw the look in Larabee’s eyes. “Kel’s old spirit is back and she’s gonna be all right, just give her a little more time.”
“I know she’ll be okay, but this patience thing is damned hard,” Chris admitted.
Tanner grinned. “Knowin’ you and Kel, I would say patience is not a strong Lar’bee trait.”
“There is something else I wanted to talk to you about, Vin … I’ve decided that I want to tell the family.” Chris hesitated. “If they know I think they will respect yours and Kelli’s privacy and it might stop them from trying to ‘fix ‘things. Besides Linda knows, they should, too.”
The Texan laughed. “I don’t know about it stoppin’ em, you know how stubborn they are. When do you plan to do it? I’d like to be there, if you don’t mind, you might need me at your back.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.” Chris felt their old relationship shift back in place. “I thought tomorrow I would get them all to come over and tell them, but I want to make sure Kelli is okay with it first. The last thing I would do is something to hurt her more. I want them to know… that while I am not proud of my past moment of transgression, I am proud of her. I am more than pleased to know and to acknowledge that she is my daughter, they need to accept that, too.”
Tanner was sure now that everything would work out somehow. “After I talk to her tonight I’ll let you know what she says. I think that she will probably be okay with it, but don’t count on her being here, not yet.” Vin swore he saw a flash of disappointment in Chris’ eyes, but it was gone just as fast.
“When she’s ready, I won’t push, “They finished up and walked outside.
Tanner smiled, “Just so you know, I’m plannin’ on comin’ back to work Monday.”
“Good, I think Buck will be more than happy to hand the reins back over to you.”
Chris walked back up to the house and Linda met him at the door. One look at his face and she knew that his talk with Vin had gone well.
“What did he say? Is he going to ask her? Does he think she’ll agree?” Linda peppered him with questions.
“Hey, where is all this patience you been preaching to me about?” Chris gave a small smile for Linda’s enthusiasm.”
“I… You’re right, we’ll eat first and then you can tell me everything.” Linda dragged him into the kitchen to eat.
After dinner, they put on a movie and tried to watch it. At least, Linda tried; Chris could not sit still long enough to watch the opening credits. Waiting for the phone to ring had him anxious and he was beginning to lose confidence in his decision.
“You are going to wear a hole in the rug, if you don’t stop walking back and forth on it.”
“Maybe, I should have waited to bring it up, hell this was not such a good idea.”
“It is a good idea and it hasn’t been that long since Vin left, relax Larabee.”
‘That’s easy for you to say. What if asking makes it worse?”
“I know Kelli and she is not naive, she’s knows there is no way to keep this from the rest of the family. The fact that you are giving her a choice about when to do it will make a big difference. Now sit down and be…”
“Patient, I know.” Chris sighed.
When the phone did ring, Chris answered before it rang twice. It was Tanner and though Kelli was uneasy about the family knowing, she agreed it was best to get it over and done. They set a time to meet, but Vin let him know he would be coming alone. Chris made one more phone call to Buck’s voice mail and left a short message. “Family meeting, my place, noon, Linda has already planned lunch for everyone. Let the rest of ‘em know.”
Linda took one look at Chris and knew he would not be sleeping much tonight. “Come on Cowboy, let’s go to bed, tomorrow will be here before you know it. If you can’t sleep I’m sure we can find something to do. She wrapped her arm around his waist and leaned into his embrace.
“I just bet we can at that.” Chris grinned, lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. Once there Linda went to work on keeping Larabee entertained for the evening.
A new cold front moved into Denver last night and it looked like it was going to snow. This was Kelli’s first winter in Colorado and she was not used to this type of biting cold. She did get up with Vin, but piled back under the blankets after only a few minutes.
“What are you gonna do when it really gets cold and the lake freezes over?” Vin laughed when he brought her some hot coffee and sat on the bed with her.” It stays about ten degree colder up here than it does, down on the ranch.”
“You laugh, but I noticed you’re wearing a few more layers of clothes this morning, too” She snuggled close to the Texan. “I know you must think ‘m acting childish, but I hope you aren’t too disappointed that ‘m not going today.”
“Childish? The Texan laughed,” Kel, you weren’t even childish when you were a child.” Vin waited until she looked up, “I would like for you to be with me, but that’s because ‘m greedy where you are concerned,” he grinned. “I do understand why you want to wait, but I think you are worried about nothin’. I know that bunch and not one of ‘em will see you differently than I do.”
“I don’t know, Tanner, some people have a hard time acceptin’ certain things. They sometime become indignant and tend to misplace their anger. She sighed, and said, “Something like this can change the way people view who you are, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve see it happen.”
“This is family, baby and that makes a difference.” Tanner gave her a reassuring smile. Inside Vin was infuriated with all the ‘decent folks’ that had judged or dismissed her for something, which she had no control over. “Beside, they won’t ask for details.”
“I hope you’re right Vin, but try not to blame them if you’re not. I think they will ask...No. they will demand to know the full truth so you need to be prepared to answer their questions. I know you don’t want to, but I have resigned myself to the idea that you’ll have no choice, tell them what you have to, I trust you to do it right. They will need facts to understand all that has happened and to convince themselves that their infallible Chris is really only human after all.”
Vin realized that she was right, he had seen it himself time after time, normally people had to know everything and were not satisfied with just a few bare facts, But their family was not what most people would call normal. “I hear you, Texas. Now is there anything special you want me to do while I’m there? Something you need from the house?”
“Just check on my horses for me and the foals. I bet they are growing like crazy and Midnight, too. I miss seein’ ‘em.”
“You’ll see them soon, if not there, I’ll work on a barn so we can get them all up here.” Vin promised. “Now if you’re still cold, we need to do somethin’ about it.” The Texan took her cup, put it on the nightstand, and then reached out for her. He brought her close enough to feel her heartbeat against his chest. “I wanna make sure you stay warm enough, while I’m gone,” he smiled. “It just might take a while to make sure.”
Kelli’s soft whisper of “Slow sounds good,” was all he needed to hear. Tanner blanked her body with his and turned up the heat, taking her to their special place.
Linda stayed busy all morning making sure lunch was just right. Chris tried to help, but he was restless and concerned about the upcoming family meeting. Finally, she told him to go do something with the horses just to keep him busy. Vin arrived early and found Linda in the kitchen.
“Morning Linda and before you ask, she’s okay.” Since the day Kelli had told Linda everything, she and Tanner were getting along much better. In fact, they had spoken several times in the last few days, each keeping the other updated on any progress toward reconciliation between father and daughter.
“Vin, I’m glad you are here, Chris is in the barn and in a very anxious mood. Would you see what you could do about it before the family arrives?”
“On my way.” Tanner grinned as he snatched two sandwiches off the tray Linda was preparing. She almost managed to slap his hand, but the sharpshooter was too quick.
In the barn, Vin found Larabee grooming Pony. “You gonna eat both of those or share?” Chris looked up and took one of the sandwiches from Tanner.” How did you manage to get away with them? I though Linda was standing guard over all the food.”
“Talent and practice, Cowboy,” Tanner felt the tension radiating from Chris. “You know we could just saddle up, ride out and forget the whole thing, if you want.”
“It shows that much? Hell Vin, I feel the same way I did the day I was waiting for Adam to be born.”
Vin laughed, “If it helps, you already know this one is female, redheaded, 5’ 5”, with her shoes on and 120 lbs, sleeps through most nights and doesn’t need formula. However, she does have one hell of a temper when pushed, hates cold weather, has a tendency to forget puttin’ on her shoes and does not have a problem speakin’ her mind. She also thrives on junk food, is fond of iced tea, likes my coffee and she has roped herself a Texan that loves her.”
Chris shook his head and then laughed. “Thanks, I guess I needed another perspective and in case I forget to tell you, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Now, grab a brush and help me finish.”
Ezra was the first to arrive at the house because he wanted to be there to support Chris and Vin. After yesterday’s conversation in the office, he thought the other brothers might still be a little aggravated. He did not have to wait long to see that he was right. The rest of the family arrived at he same time and it was obvious that Buck remained irritated, even more so, when Sarah and Maria ran to meet their two favorite uncles.
“I guess we know what this family talk will be about,” Buck huffed. “Obviously, Vin has been forgiven for whatever he did, Tanner is back in Larabee’s good graces and that is all that counts for Chris!” Now maybe he will stop making us pay for it!
“Buck, shut up!” Ezra grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. “I suggest you take your large foot out of your big mouth and listen for a change. You need to stop being so damned judgmental, until you hear the facts! “
Wilmington stared in disbelief at the southerner and his uncharacteristic outburst. ”All right, I’ll stay quiet, but they better have a damn good explanation!”
Vin lifted Maria onto his shoulders and watched his friend with little Sarah. Larabee was hesitant at first to take her, but did so at the child’s insistence for a hug from her Uncle Chris. A fresh wave of guilt passed across the blonde’s face and Vin knew he was thinking about Kelli at that age.
“Don’t go there Chris, don’t lose yourself seein’ a child that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve already tried that rocky road and it doesn’t help. Look at the woman she is today, be grateful she survived and that you still have a chance to be in her life.
Chris studied the Texan, for a moment and then saw the certainty of his statements etched in his blue eyes. With a tilt of his head, he acknowledged his understanding and then lifted Sarah onto his shoulders as well. Her squeal of delight brought a smile to the older man’s face. “Let’s go eat.”
With the exception of the children, lunch was a quiet affair. Everyone had questions that they wanted answers for, but by silent agreement, they would wait until the babies finished eating and went down for their naps. Soon it was time to explain and Chris called them together, thinking that this would not take long.
Larabee took a deep breath and began. "You've all been wondering what's wrong ever since Kelli disappeared on us. It wasn't her disappearing act, it was that she met with her birth mother and finally found out who her father was."
Chris faltered when the time for an explanation came and looked at Vin, who nodded. “Let me finish.’ He waited for everyone to quit talking. “Turns out that her mother was one of the many girls I dated at college. That first year, I... dated a lot. Didn't think about it, just had fun. Some fun!" he said bitterly. “Kelli paid the price for that fun and yes… she is my daughter. I am very proud of that and I want you all to know that! It is hard on Kel though because her mother never told me, she just... abandoned her.”
There was silence at first and then as they realized the meanings of Larabee’s words, the questions began.
“Why would you and Vin fight about it?” Buck wanted to know, while he mentally reviewed Chris’ words from the last two weeks.
“Kelli is twenty-seven and you are forty-four add nine months and... no it couldn’t be.” JD did the math. “Chris that has to be a mistake, for that to be true you would have had to go to college at…sixteen years of age and your records say you were eighteen.”
“Just where is Kelli?” Casey asked. “She should be here, shouldn’t she?”
“Does this have anything to do with her running off in Texas?” Buck again. “Does she think you are not good enough to be her father? Doesn’t she know you well enough by now to know how fortunate she is?”
“What kind price are you referring to, Chris?” Rain was confused about that. “She seems as if she did okay, and she has too much self-confidence to have had a really bad life.”
‘What about her age?” JD knew it had to be a mistake. “Even if it were true she couldn’t blame you for something you didn’t know. What kind of proof do you have?”
“ENOUGH!” Vin looked at Chris before he spoke. “You know Kelli told me this mornin’ y’all would react this way and I told her she was worried about nothin’. This was family and all that you needed to know was that she was more than my wife and that you would accept the rest without question. She also said I would have to give you more information, I told her she was wrong and I owe her an apology for that.” He turned to Larabee, “Chris she told me to tell ‘em if they asked, but it’s your call.”
Chris hesitated only a moment. “The only person to blame here is me! All this guilt, pain and anger started with my irresponsibility and I'm sorry you all got caught in this as well. But, honestly, all you need to know is that Kelli and I still have to work on this, that she needs time and space. That means I need to practice patience and so do all of you. Vin and I have come to terms about what is important and any more information is frankly none of your damn business! Oh, and JD, she is 25.”
“If I may,” Ezra stood, “I have faith that this family can get through most anything and I want Chris, Vin and Kelli to know that they have my full support and that I will respect their wishes. The hurtful things I witnessed in Texas I pray will only be left where they belong and that is in the past.”
“Brothers, if Mallory and I can help in any way we’re here.” Josiah spoke for the first time.
“It’s not that important about age anyway, whatever Casey and I can do just ask.” JD still was not sure he understood, but he would be there for his family.
“Rain and I are here, too, for all of you.” Nathan added their support, realizing it was a delicate position for them to be in and it would take time to work through the emotional side of this situation.
“You know Inez and I will do whatever we can and I’m sorry I pushed so hard. This must not be easy for any of you.” Buck took his foot out of his mouth.
“Vin, when will it be okay to see Kelli? She has a few sisters here that are willing to be there for her.” Inez spoke for all the women.
“Thanks Inez, I will tell her what you said, check with Linda, she will know when.” Vin answered. “Now if everythin’ is okay here, I want to go home and be with Kel.”
*You let her know, Vin. Let her know she has family waiting for her when she is ready.*
The two men looked at each other. Vin nodded and then they both smiled. The first genuine smile anyone had seen on Chris' face ever since this all started.
*Chris, it will work out, you'll see.*
After Tanner left, the rest of family stayed, once Chris made his announcement the previous tension vanished and they were ready to help any way they could.
“Old friend, you are just full of surprises, congratulations.” Buck slapped Chris on the back.
“Don’t congratulate me for messing up so many lives, or haven’t you noticed that being related to me is not exactly good for your health.” Chris shook his head and walked off.
All the brothers, who then decided they would have to interfere after all, heard Larabee’s comment.
*Christopher has accepted the bitch as his own, all the better for my plan. It will be so much sweeter for him to know he is responsible for the death of another one of his children. The more he cares, the more he suffers and that Larabee is the name of my game.
When the time comes, Christopher, I will make sure you do not miss a thing. Hell, I will even videotape it so you can watch it constantly. I promise it will be painful for you .Painful and never-ending*.
Most of the change we think we see in life is due to the truths being in and out of favor.
Larabee 7- Sunday morning
“Linda, I don’t mind helping and besides I thought we would have the day together.” Chris was exasperated because it was still early and his day was already off to a bad start.
“I could be tied up for hours on a conference call with my brothers and I really want to see for myself that my ranch is prepared for the expected snow.” Linda pulled him closer, “Just keep your motor running Cowboy, I’ll be back before you know it.” After a kiss full of promise, she was gone and Chris was alone for the day.
Thirty minutes later Buck was there with both daughters in tow, Sarah ran to her Uncle Chris and waited for him to lift her. He took one look at her and could not refuse. “Come on little one.” The baby giggled as Chris swung her in the air.
“Chris I need your help, Inez isn’t feeling too good and Mallory offered to take the girls for the day, but with the new baby these two might be too much for her. So I’m leaving Sarah here with you, dropping Maria off with Mal and then going home to take care of Inez. Here’s her stuff and I’ll be back later for her, thanks.” Buck set the little pink bag down and left before Chris could protest.
Little Sarah waved bye-bye to her Dad and then gave Chris a hug. “I wuv you.” she said, “This much.” She then extended her arms to show him and almost toppled over, but fortunately, Larabee’s reactions were quick, easily catching the child. “Want down, now.” The little Wilmington was ready to play and for the next hour kept Chris so busy, he did not have time to think about guilt.
JD arrived during the middle of ‘playtime’ and had to smile. Sitting there on the floor was badass Larabee, playing dolls with the little munchkin. Dunne joined them and swore he saw Chris blush at being caught in the act. “I guess I need to practice, maybe you can teach me a few things Chris.” JD just laughed at the glare sent his way.
“What do you want JD?” Chris growled.
“Well, you are one of the smartest men I know and I need some advice.” JD said, “With two girls coming, I’m starting to get scared.”
Chris saw a shadow of fear cross JD’s face. “Everything is okay with them and Casey right?”
“Yeah, they are all fine, it’s just… I’m worried Chris… What if I’m not a good enough Dad? How do I know all the things I need to? How do I know I can always be there for them? What if I can’t?” JD said anxiously.
“Relax, you’ll learn as you go and you’ll do fine. As for the other, you can waste a lot of time worrying about what if….” Chris suddenly stopped. *Listen to yourself Larabee. Isn’t that what you have been doing?*
“Are you okay, Chris?”
“Yeah, I just… You have to concentrate on the here and now JD, do what you can and know that it doesn’t matter how big they get, you still fret over them.” *You still have time, Chris to make a difference.* “Just love and guide them and you’ll do okay.”
“Thanks, Chris, I feel better,” JD smiled.
*Me too, Kid.* Chris thought as another Barbie doll landed in his lap. “Sarah, are you hungry?” The toddler shook her head yes. “JD, your on the job training starts now, watch her while I fix lunch.”
After lunch Sarah took a nap and JD went home, Chris was surprised when Nathan stopped by just to chat. “Hi Nate.”
“Chris,” Nathan was uncomfortable. “I don’t want to pry, but whatever is between you and Kel… Do you mind if Rain and I still keep in contact with her?”
“Why would I mind? I do not want any of you to have to take sides. This isn’t a war and I’d like her to know that the family cares.” Chris smiled, “I appreciate your support but I’m okay with it, really.”
“Good, you know you’re lucky not every one gets a chance like this. You get more family and she gets a father for the first time.” Nathan laughed, “I bet that is what’s so scary for her, she has Chris Larabee as a blood relative and now she doesn’t know what to do with you. It’s a whole new area for her, you just show her what having a dad means and she will come around.”
“Thanks Nate.” *Just show her what having a dad means.* “Tell Rain to hurry with that baby, he’s got a great father waiting for him.”
Josiah came by with Maria about two o’clock to pick up her sister and take them home. He found Chris and Sarah playing hide and seek, and little Sarah was winning.” Afternoon Brother,” he grinned and questioned, “Having fun?”
“As a matter of fact, yes I am.” Chris smiled “The young lady and I have had a very pleasant day and it was very enlightening.”
Sanchez smiled and hoped that their plan had worked. ‘Enlightening?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure until Nathan stopped by and then I realized what all of you were doing, but it worked. “Chris grinned, Ezra tried to tell me, but I wrapped myself up in guilt and did not listen. “I just need to be a father again and leave the past where it belongs. Isn’t that the message?
“Something like that. You know that given the circumstances that could be easy to overlook. Don’t feel bad that it took you a while.”
“Tell them all thanks and now I know what I need to do.”
A blanket of white covered Denver and Monday morning arrived quickly. Vin was in early to catch up on last week’s work and was surprised to see Buck standing in the doorway hesitant to enter.
“Come on in Buck, I‘ve had my coffee so I won’t bite.” Tanner waited for Wilmington to sit down. “What brings you in so early?”
“I thought it would be easier for you, if I helped you get caught up and…” Buck was uncomfortable. “I owe you an apology, dammit. I did what I usually do when family is concerned and jumped to a bunch of wrong conclusions about you and Chris. I’m sorry.”
“Forget it, Buck. Let’s just move on.” Vin smiled, “But if it makes you feel better you can finish all this paperwork you left for me.”
“Hell, I’m just glad you’re back to ride herd on this bunch.” Jointly they had most of it done before the other agents arrived and the Texan was up to date on all their current work. They walked out of Tanner’s office together and the workday began.
“Welcome back Tanner, hope you had a good vacation. I can’t wait to hear about it, but I haven’t seen Kelli yet to ask her.” Katrina smiled, “Is she on her way in?”
“Actually, Kat, she’s takin’ a little more time off, but she’ll be back soon.” *You hope Vin.*
“Oh, well tell her hello for me and to get her butt back in here, she’s played long enough.” Kat laughed and went back to her own paperwork.
“Hey Vin, where’s Chris this morning?” JD asked.
“Meetin’ with Travis.”
JD hesitated, “Then could I talk to you for a minute, in private?”
“Sure, let’s go in the office.” Once inside Vin realized JD was anxious about something. “Just spit it out JD.”
JD swallowed hard, “You can yell at me or not speak to me …I was curious about Chris’ remark concerning Kel’s age and I…uh I did some digging on my own and well, I know why her age is different on her records. I should have just left it alone, I know, but …I did kinda do something… I made you a copy first. … Aw hell, Vin, I blocked it all, that’s not the stuff people need to know anyway. “JD handed him a folder. “If you want me to put it back I can, but I was angry when I read it and didn’t want just anybody to be able to access something that should be private.”
Vin flipped through the folder, which contained copies of some of the old medical and police reports that he had already found. They were not the worst ones, but it was still more detailed proof of the abuse Kelli suffered as a child than he was comfortable knowing was on the Internet. The Texan studied JD for a minute, “How easy was this to get?”
“It wasn’t easy, but somebody that knows the correct program could get it if they wanted to and that isn’t right. If she wanted people to know I reckon she would tell them. I didn’t want to see you or her hurt more if somebody else … I didn’t break any laws I just made sure it was inaccessible.”
“Thanks JD, appreciate it.” Vin thought for a minute. “There is one more thing you can do, if you’re willin’.” The last piece of the puzzle was still out there and it needed to be finished.
“Just name it, if I can do it, I will.” JD was relieved that Vin forgave his snooping.
Tanner wrote something on a piece of paper and gave it to JD, “This is all I have on this guy, a name, he was in the Austin area twenty two years ago and is most likely a child predator, I haven’t had any luck on it but I want to locate him. Whatever you do find out come to me with it, okay.”
“You got it and Vin, tell Kel …well tell her Casey and I want her there when the babies comes regardless of how things work out with her and Chris.”
JD had been gone about ten minutes when Nathan stuck his head in the door and asked Vin for a minute.
“I wanted to make sure you and Kel, were taking extra care, stress can make you ill and you two have probably had too much of that lately.” He sighed, “Also Rain and I want to make sure you both will be there when the baby comes. What ever happens with Chris, you and Kelli are family and we want to share that time with you,”
Vin nodded, “Thank Nate. We are doing okay, I take care of her and she takes cares of me, but I appreciate the concern.” The Texan smiled and wondered who would be next, he did not have to wait long to find out.
“What can I do for you Ez?”
“I have a dilemma that perhaps you could assist me with. I find myself committed to entertaining a woman this evening, one that I do not know very well. Would you and Kelli consider joining us for dinner and dancing? I will of course make all the arrangements and you are welcomed to stay at my townhouse to avoid a late night drive home in this weather, if you wish.”
Tanner laughed at the obvious attempt to distract them for a while. “You have a blind date and want us to run interference for you.”
Ezra sighed, “In a word, yes.”
“I’ll check with Kel and let you know, but a night out might be just what we need.” Vin was fairly certain that the Southerner knew that and set this up for that reason. *Four down and one to go, Tanner.*
It was almost an hour later when there was another knock at Tanner’s door.
“Come on in, Josiah.”
Sanchez entered, “Just wanted to see how you are doing.” Josiah sat down before he spoke, “Being in the middle, between two people you care about can be complicated. Sometimes it helps to talk about it.”
Vin sighed. “Josiah, ‘m doing okay, I just… I just want things back to normal.”
“That’s not possible because the old normal doesn’t exist anymore. That does not mean that it will not work, it just means it will be different. Often that difference is the scary part, brother.”
Tanner sat up straighter as Josiah’s word sunk in. *Damn, Tanner that is it, you should have thought of that yourself. Kel’s not afraid to face the past she’s done that all her life, it’s the uncertainty of the future that has her concerned.* “Thanks Josiah, you may not know it but you gave me just what I needed, appreciate it.”
“Anytime,” Josiah walked out with a smile on his face and left Vin to his own thoughts.
Tanner was lost in thought, *Chris is not infallible…only human …resigned myself …seen it happen before…. Vin, she doesn’t blame Chris and she has dealt with what happened in Texas. She just does not want to see changes happen. She wants Chris to see her as she really is, as he did before, not changed by a piece of paper. But will it change? Will things be different? If it does, what can you do about it? Could she accept it? Could you? You had better make sure you are right first Tanner.*
Vin was so deep in thought Chris called his name three times before he responded. “What? Oh…How did the meetin’ go?”
“Back one day and you’re already gone again. You okay?” Larabee was not able to sense what Vin was thinking.
“Yeah, it was just something Josiah said. So what does Travis want now?”
Chris had hoped Vin would share whatever had him so distracted, but he didn’t. “He’s satisfied with most things, but he has decided we need an administrative assistant and in fact has already found us one, she starts next Monday.”
“Great, I swear this stack of paperwork grows by the hour. Most of it‘s done though, thanks to Buck’s help. I sent Justin and Paul over to the courthouse to pick up the offense reports you wanted. Everyone else is working on his or her assignments and Pam has CASSIE workin’ on background for that new case. The briefin’ is set for tomorrow at ten and all parties have been notified.”
“Damn, you have been busy.”
“That’s what you pay me for isn’t it?” Tanner grinned. “You got somethin’ else on you mind, you might as well say it.”
“I’ve been thinking about Kel coming back to work and I’m not convinced that it is a good idea,” Chris explained, “I’m going to give her a recommendation for another assignment.”
That statement sure got Vin’s attention. “She’s a good agent Chris. Why would you want to transfer her somewhere else?”
“I know that, but now… I just do not want her in a position where she could get hurt.” Chris held up his hand. “I know, we talked about this before and I am aware of how you feel about it, but you were right about one thing, she is like me Vin and that is why I want her off the street. Hell, you should be glad; this way you only have one stubborn Larabee to worry about.”
“She would never agree to it and would quit first.” Of that, Tanner had no doubt.
Chris walked to the window, “That might be better anyway. Hell, then she could stay home, work with the horses and have those babies you both want.
Vin could not believe what he was hearing. Larabee had gone into full protective mode and wanted her to fit into it somehow. “Chris, she is the same person now as she was before she went to Texas.”
”No she’s not Vin, she’s my daughter now and it’s my responsibly to look out for her interest. If getting her off the street will keep her safer, what is wrong with that?” Chris turned to face the younger man. “I couldn’t protect her before, but I can do something now.”
“You have a problem with her work, transfer her, but If you want to make this personal, just to appease your guilty feelin’s you need to find another way. Any decision about changing careers or starting a family will be discussed between us and you will have to accept that you have no say-so in it.” Vin was more than concerned about Larabee’s new attitude.
“As her father I have already decided that she needs to be in a safer place and as unit commander I have the right to ask for her resignation. Kelli’s place on this team is now open and we start looking for a replacement. End of discussion.” Chris walked out.
*Guess that answers your questions Tanner, you now have mother-in law-problems, only this mother is a green-eyed blond cowboy that evidently has run out of patience and good sense. Damn! You just figured out the problem with one Lar’bee and the other one goes off the deep end. Josiah was right; being in the middle of two Lar’bees is damned complicated. So now what Vin? Maybe It’s time to let them square off and battle it out between themselves.* Vin opened his desk drawer to look for some aspirin, he felt a headache coming on.
The insistent ringing of the telephone had Vin awake and a glance at the clock told him it was 5:00 am.
“Tanner,” He yawned, “Chris do you know what time it is? … No, I didn’t, we had a late night and … If you must know we went out to dinner and then dancin’ afterward. … Yeah, I know what the weather was last night we were in it! … Of course we did! …” Vin sighed and counted to ten. “We’re fine, what do you need? … I’ll take care of that. … Maybe we should hold off on those other interviews and discuss it some more. ..Dammit, I know you can...it’s just … Fine! … You do that! ... .No., I can handle it! …I know how to do my job and I can damn sure take care of my own!” He slammed down the receiver hard.
“Go back to sleep Kel, I need to go in early and change some things for a meetin’ we have today. *Then I need to find a big brick to knock some sense into a certain Cowboy. Damn Vin he’s actin’ like you’re both two years old.*
“Think I’ll get up and make coffee while you get dressed. I don’t want to miss seeing it snow some more.” Kelli saw very few snowfalls in South Texas and was fascinated with the white stuff that actually stayed on the ground. She stopped to kiss him good morning. She wanted to make sure that he knew she found him more interesting than a little bit of snow, so she turned on her own form of heat. When she whispered huskily in his ear, he forgot all about his irritation with Chris.” Stay home and I’ll make it worth your time.”
“Damn woman, you are becoming a sassy wench,” He kissed her one more time. “I gotta go in, but I’ll make it up to you when I get home.” It took all the strength he had to tear himself away from her because what he wanted was to drag her back to bed and make wild passionate love. Instead, he gently pushed her away, gave her a swat on the backside and enjoyed watching her sashay into the kitchen, wishing that he could stay home and play.
Smiling, Vin shook his head in wonder thinking about how far they had come, his reserved wife had turned into a playful imp, both inside the bedroom and out. Last Sunday they both had acted like kids playing in the snow. He yelled loud enough for her to hear him, “If the forecast is right, baby, you won’t miss seein’ it snow.”
The man and the hour have met.
So Tanner is back at work and that means it will not be long before Larabee starts to feel better about himself. Although it has been fun to hear about from my spies, the man has not suffered nearly enough. If his blond whore had left him alone, he would still be drowning in a sea of guilt and she will pay for that. Then Marissa demanded more money for her visit from the feds, but at least the greedy bitch asked no questions and she cannot tell what she does not know. Part one is almost over, but the pain is only beginning.
It is time for part two of my three-act play to begin. I think I will start with the kid and then the medic or Wilmington. I have something special planned for the women.
Enjoy yourself while you can Larabee, because you will eventually join me in my hell.
“What was all that about? Linda heard part of Chris’ ranting.
“Those kids actually were out in this weather last night, for dinner and dancing. Do you believe that? You would think Tanner would know better.”
“Kids? I hate to tell you, but they are not kids, Chris they are two adults. Beside they are old enough to take care of themselves. *Linda this does not sound good.*
“I’m concerned he might not be taking her safety seriously enough.”
Linda laughed and said, “You can’t mean that. Vin takes good care of her and would never put her in unnecessary danger. He would not stand by and let anyone hurt her either. You know that.”
“Yeah, then why is he so upset that I’m taking her off the team. He should be relieved.”
“You’re doing what? Chris you can’t do that! Kelli loves her work and she is good at it. What does she say about it?” *He is going a little overboard, don’t you think, Linda?*
“I have already done it and it doesn’t matter what she says when she finds out. My job as her father is to look out for her and dammit, that is what I am going to do. Vin doesn’t agree, but I’m not afraid of what Tanner thinks.” Chris stalked off to the kitchen for coffee.
*It is not Tanner I am worried about, Linda you know how Kel will react don’t you? Hell yes! Dubois, you need to make him see reason. Poor Vin is caught in the middle again, but then so are you Linda. Damn! Damn! Double Damn! Well, not anymore! You cannot stay in the middle! It is time to tell him why!*
Linda followed Chris into the kitchen. “Larabee we need to talk.”
“As soon as I get home this evening, okay.” Chris answered absently.
“No, we need to talk now, this has waited long enough. I had hoped you and Kel could resolve your differences first, but it appears that’s not happening yet and this is too important.”
Chris heard the serious tone in her voice and she now had his full attention. “I’m listening.”
“This is not something I planned, but I won’t make apologies either. I am glad to see your fatherly instincts kicking in because it has proven to me what I have known all along. You are a good dad and in about seven months, you will have a chance prove it, because that is when our baby is due.”
Larabee sat down and stared at the woman that he knew he was in love with. “Are …are you sure?”
Linda sighed. “Yes and believe me this came as a surprise to me, too. I never missed a pill and when I was sick, it still never occurred to me. I thought the doctor was crazy and told her so, too, but I have to be honest and tell you that I am not sorry. The only thing I regret is the timing. I want to be able to support you and Kel but I can’t stay in the middle any more, it’s too damn stressful.”
*How did you miss this, Chris? You let the past sneak back in again and blind you to the here and now. Larabee wake up! You love this woman and she has been here for you while you wrapped yourself up in guilt. You know you will love this child. Stop making everyone miserable and do what you are good at doing. Take charge and then set your family right again!*
Chris stood up and went to Linda, possessively pulling her to him. “Is everything okay? Are you feeling all right? When do you go back to the doctor?”
“I...we’re fine and I go back tomorrow.” This was an unexpected reaction. “You’re not angry?”
“No. …Maybe I had to see what I lost before I could move forward. I will always miss Adam and I never got a chance to be a father to Kelli, but now for whatever reason, I get an opportunity to do this again. I love you Linda and we will make this work out for us, I promise.” He saw the relief in her eyes and for the first time realized how hard this had been for her. *Hell, Chris you are not the only one that has had to deal with this. Linda has been trapped in the middle and so has Vin. Make it work for you and Kelli, too. Let go of your past and look to the future.*
“I won’t ask you for a commitment, but I am having this baby.” Linda looked up at him.
“You should not have to ask, I should have asked you a long time ago. We owe this child a good life and a home with two parents that love each other.” Chris wrapped his arms around her and tenderly held the woman that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, “Linda Dubois, I love you, will you marry me?”
She might have said yes, but her voice would not work. All she could do was cry and nod, but that was enough for Chris, he was going to have his own family again. He held onto her, whispering the words needed to assure her of his love and patiently waited for her tears to cease. Then he started to make plans, first on the list was to call Tanner and tell him to take charge of the meeting today. Larabee had other, more important things to do; he had a family to put together!
Kelli was in the kitchen when she heard someone drive up and she guessed it was probably Linda. Not many people came by this way besides family. When she reached the front of the cabin and saw who it was though she almost stopped breathing and was afraid to open the door. She could think of only one reason Chris would be here without calling first. Fear gripped her heart as she imagined Vin, hurt again or…*No! Kel, do not go there.* She forced herself to allow him inside the house.
Chris took one look at her pale face and realized what she must be thinking. “Vin is okay, I’m not here about him,” he quickly explained, “I should have called first and I never meant to scare you. I just … wanted to talk.” He saw the relief in her eyes and watched, as she regained control of her emotions.
“I was … making some hot cocoa. Would you like some?” Kelli had waited to see if Chris really wanted to work things out with her and she was encouraged to see him. The fact he was here was a good sign, but he had to realize just what it was that was acceptable, before they could move forward.
“Yes…yes I would.” Larabee followed her into the kitchen and watched while she made him a cup of hot chocolate. It was hard for him to believe it had been less than three weeks since he had seen her. It seemed like it had been much longer. *Larabee, what do you do now?*
“Just get to the point, Lar’bee, no sense in beatin’ around the bush.” Kelli waited for him to respond.
“You’re nothing like her, you know. I mean… looks yes, but Marissa was …is... a manipulative and superficial woman. Someone you could never be.” He took a deep breath and continued, “I can’t ask you to forgive me, but I hope we can at least be civil with each other. There is no excuse for what I did, for what it cost you. Maybe we can find a way to get past it with time.”
“To forgive you, I would have to blame you and I don’t. You can’t be held responsible for what you didn’t know and you are not to blame for what happened.” She watched his face and saw disbelief.
“How could you not blame me? Chris found it hard to believe that he was the only one that thought he was responsible for this mess.
“I never was good at playin’ the ‘what if’ game and I am not about to start now. I always reckoned the reason God did not make us with a rewind button was that if he did no one would ever move forward. And I have found that movin’ forward is the only way not to let the bad in this world win. That does not mean it is always easy, Lord knows, I have taken a few step backwards on that path more than once, but I did not give up tryin’” She sighed, “Although I can’t tell you why things happened the way they did, the road my life took led me to Vin. That’s somethin’ I would not want to change.”
“If that is true why are you still up here and not home where you belong?” Chris did not understand. *If she does not blame you, then what has kept her away?*
Kelli shook her head and explained. “That is how I see things and you don’t. Remember, we have worked together; I know you and know how you react to situations. Even if I didn’t, it shows in your eyes, you don’t see me as the same person I was three weeks ago. You see me as who you think I could have or should have been if things were different. We were family before and partners, I saw respect and caring for the person I was, not regret or sympathy for what happened to me. I want that back and anythin’ less is unacceptable. I will never allow myself to being seen as a victim, not from you or anyone else.”
“I don’t…” *Yes, you do Chris; you do not see the woman you saw then. Hell, you cannot even see the good agent she is. All you see is your failure to protect her and have a misplaced need to make it up somehow. What about what she needs?* He took a deep breath before he continued, “You may be right, but that does not mean I am unable to change. Whether you want to be or not, you are my daughter and that means a lot to me. I wish…that I could have been there for you and even though I wasn’t, I am here now. You are a part of me and I want us to have a chance to be real family. Can we at least try?”
She studied his eyes and saw the sincerity behind his words. “What do you suggest we do?”
“You and Vin come have dinner at the ranch tonight and then you can come back to work tomorrow, for a start.”
“Tonight, okay. I will let you know about work.”
“That’s fair enough.”
Linda was excited and she was delighted that Kelli was there when she and Chris announced that they were getting married. They finished the last part of cleaning up after dinner while Vin filled Chris in on the workday. The men stopped talking and began to listen to the women as they conversed.
“I am happy for you Linda and am glad everythin’ is workin’ out for you,” Kelli smiled. “However, I refuse to call you Mother because you’re too damn bossy as it is.”
“You say I’m bossy, I don’t think you have ever listened to a word I said.” Linda laughed, “Maybe that will change now that you go from best friend to future stepdaughter to my baby’s sibling all at the same time. That must give me some say-so over what you do.”
“In your dreams, woman, I won’t listen now any better than I did before.” Kelli laughed at the thought.
“You might as well give it up Linda because she has a mind of her own and can be a bit on the stubborn side.” Vin interjected and ducked to miss a flying dishtowel.
“Watch it Tanner or I’ll steal the entire blanket tonight.” Kelli tried to sound serious and failed when she saw the look of amusement in Vin’s eyes.
“Hell, you do that anyway,” Vin smiled. “I have to resort to other methods of keepin’ warm.” He walked up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. “But, you will never hear me complain about it.” Tanner felt her lean back against him and he held her tighter. He knew she was anxious about how this evening would turn out.
“By the way Lar’bee, if the offer is still open, I’d like to come back to work Thursday.” When she and Vin had talked about it earlier, he assured her it would be okay, now she watched Chris for his reaction.
Chris visibly relaxed. “That will be just fine.” Larabee was pleased to hear that and could not believe how he had almost let his feelings of guilt ruin it for both of them.
Tanner added, “We talked about it and decided to move back home, might take a few days to get settled in again.”
Chris answered with a grin, “If you need any help let me know, that what families are for.”
*You okay Cowboy?*
* Yeah, I am now.*
MCAT Office Thursday
Chris felt good, his team was back together, his family reunited, Linda agreed to marry him and today at two they would see their child for the first time. *You almost lost it all, Larabee, It is a good thing the people that love you did not give up.* Hell, he felt good enough to even take on Tanner’s coffee, well then again maybe not.
Vin passed him a cup, “Relax it’s not mine, Kel made it.” He had to smile when he saw Chris try to hide a grimace.
“Damn.… And don’t you tell her I said that!”
“You’re not afraid of a feisty little redhead are you?” Tanner’s eyes danced with mischief.
“Afraid no, but cautious, hell yeah!” Chris grinned.
The rest of the team began to file in slowly and soon the office was alive with activity.
“Coulter, it’s about time you got your butt back to work.” Katrina grinned, “I made sure you had plenty of paperwork to welcome you back and it’s all piled on your desk waiting for you.”
“Right, Santos and it better all damned well have my name on it and not yours.” Kelli smiled back and moved towards her desk.
Tanner watched the team welcome Kelli back and relaxed. *Knew we could get through this baby.* It felt good to know that the worst was over and together they had found their way back from the past.
“Come on in my office and I’ll tell you about our new assistant.” Chris nudged Vin and indicated that he follow him. Once there Tanner sprawled in the chair and Larabee pulled a file from his drawer. “Mrs. Drusilda Montgomery.”
“Yep and she is supposed to make our lives easier She has all the right security clearances and Travis personally has recommended her. The last five years she had worked for the Justice Department, before that she spent twenty five years as an elementary school secretary.” Chris passed the file to Tanner.
“She was born and raised in South Carolina, widowed with four grown sons and ten grandchildren. Has lived in Colorado for thirty years and hell, Chris she’s sixty years old. You think she’ll be able to keep up with all this damned paper they continue to shove at us?
“Travis thinks so and she’ll be here Monday so I guess we’ll find out then.” Chris smiled, “I’m leaving at noon to meet Linda for lunch and we go the doctor from there. You’ve got this zoo for the rest of the day.”
“No problem and ‘m happy for both of you.” Vin laughed, “Now maybe you’ll quit trying to mother me and Kel.”
“I did kinda, didn’t I?” Chris grinned, “I never thought there would be another chance for me and now I get two, one new and one…Hell, Vin I already thought of Kel as family and knowing that she is my daughter just makes it all that much better …Son.” Larabee had to move fast to miss being hit with the flying pen projectile that soared over his head. “Does that mean you don’t want to call me Dad? Larabee’s laughter threatened to erupt at any moment.
“Not likely, you’re just as damn bossy as Linda and a man’s gotta protect himself from interferin’ in-laws or in your case outlaw.” Tanner was muttering to himself about green-eyed mothers, as he left the office followed by Larabee’s laughter.
JD was engrossed with the information CASSIE was giving him on their next case. Dunne forgot about the time and his plans for lunch until Buck jogged his memory.
“I thought you were supposed to drop off your car during lunchtime so they could begin the new paint job. Isn’t that why you wanted to ride home with me today?” Buck reminded him.
“Damn, I forgot, its just that CASSIE has found a ton of information we have been looking for.” JD answered and was undecided about what to do.
Buck shook his head, “Tell you what you play with CASSIE and I’ll drop off your car. Give me your keys and I’ll get Tanner to follow me over and then he can buy my lunch.” He shot a smile to Vin who nodded in agreement.
“Thank Buck, I owe you.” JD went back to work. “Bring me something to eat okay?”
Tanner shooed the rest of the agents out of the office for lunch, all except, Kelli. “Lead on Wilmington we’ll follow.” Vin knew where Buck was going, but still kept him in sight as he drove. “How does it feel being back at work, baby?”
“It seems like I never left, Kat made sure to save me enough reports to read to keep me busy for a while. How she managed to do that and work with Bones, I’ll never know.” She smiled, “Where are we going for lunch, ‘m starved?”
“I thought we would try that new place over…Sonofabitch!” He yelled when Buck ran the red light in front of them and a large delivery truck broadsided Wilmington. “Call 911! “ Tanner was out of his own truck and running to the accident. Kelli was already on the phone with emergency services. She also reached Nathan, then grabbed the first aid kit from the back of the truck and ran to help.
Vin was trying to get to Buck, he had to go thought the passenger side of the car to reach him and was devastated to see so much blood, everywhere. Pulling himself together, he tried to find a pulse and was relieved to find a faint one. Tanner knew there was too much blood flowing and looked for the source. It seemed to be coming from everywhere but the worst was from pouring from his chest area. “Damn you Buck, you will not bleed to death on me, you hear me!”
“Vin use these and put pressure on the wound.” Kelli handed him some towels. “An ambulance and Nathan are on the way.”
Nathan, Josiah and Ezra had just sat down for their meal when Kelli called. They were only a few blocks away and got there in record time. Taking one look at Buck, Josiah called Mallory and told her to get to Inez and be prepared to take care of the kids. He would meet her there and then bring Inez to the hospital.
Vin and Nathan traded places and the medic knew immediately it was not good. Tanner’s effort to stop the blood flow was probably the only reason Buck was still with them. He intended to do everything he could to make sure he stayed that way. They heard the sound of a siren in the distance. Vin gave his statement to the police, but his eyes never left Wilmington, he felt Kelli close by and pulled her to him. He needed her presence right now to keep himself balanced as they waited for the EMT’S.
Ezra instructed the police to impound the car for the MCAT lab to go over it in detail. He was suspicious about the amount of brake fluid on the ground and wanted them to find the cause of this accident fast. It took thirty minutes for the fire department to cut Buck out, the EMT’s called for life Flight for Life and Nathan stayed with him in the helicopter. Ezra drove Vin’s truck and they headed to the hospital. Kelli phoned JD and told him to meet them there, turning to Vin she asked.
“What about Chris?”
At the doctor’s office
“Are you nervous?” Chris held Linda’s hand.
“Hell yes, I’ve never had an ultrasound before.” She had no idea what to expect. “I don’t even know why I have to have one.”
Chris smiled, “Relax they’re not painful and then we will have our baby’s first picture.” He watched her eyes as his words registered and he recognized the signs of an impending emotional flood. *Get used to it Chris, it will not be the last one that is for sure.*
Before she had a chance to cry, the nurse called her name. Chris squeezed her hand and led her inside. Her doctor, Dr. Susan Ryder, explained the procedure and then began. When the image appeared on the monitor, Larabee recalled seeing his first image of Adam. The same rush of emotion he had then came forward now and he knew that this child had already secured a place in his heart along with its mother.
“Chris, I can hear a heart beating!” Linda was in awe of the whole experience. The actuality of a new life was setting in, before she knew, but it just did not seem real.
“Boy or girl Doc?” Larabee was fascinated with the images.
“It may be a little early to be sure, but my best guess is one or the other.” Dr. Ryder smiled. “Everything looks good and I’ll make sure you get two pictures, otherwise I think Dad here might monopolize just one.”
Linda could not hold back her tears as she looked again at the monitor. *This is real, girl, and Chris is here with you. Linda, you had better marry this man soon before you wake up from this dream.*
Larabee did not have to be a mind reader to know her thought. “You, Lady, had better arrange a quick wedding because I don’t plan on you being very far away from me for quiet a while.”
At that exact moment, his pager sounded.
“Are you sure? That is good news, it never mattered to me which one, but Wilmington’s death will hit Larabee hard. However, it will not be hard enough. His real suffering is just beginning and now that I know that the blond bitch is pregnant, it will be even better than I could have planned. You have done well, but now it is time that he sees just how easy it is to get close anytime I chose too.”
*Tonight, I send Christopher a personal message.*
There is a destiny that makes us brothers
None goes his way alone.
Emergency room-Thursday Afternoon
Nathan heard them before he saw them. Tanner and Standish tore through the emergency room doors. Vin not letting go of Kelli and still covered with Wilmington’s blood. Ezra was on his cell phone talking to the MCAT lab.
”Nothing yet, Vin, they took him straight to surgery. It is… not good. All I know for sure is that you at least gave him a chance. By getting to him so quickly and holding those towels on his chest, you stopped him from bleeding out on the scene.” Nathan put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You know Buck, all he needs is a chance and…”
“I should have done more I…”Vin felt Kelli squeeze his hand.
“Stop it Vin, you did what you had to do and now you have to trust the doctor’s to do their part.” Kelli made him listen to her. “There is nothing else you could have done, so now we wait and we pray.”
Chris almost took the door off when he came in with Linda. “Where is he?” He demanded. “What in the hell happened?”
“He is in surgery and it was a car accident.” Nathan answered.
Before he could ask another question, JD and Mark came flying in. JD started to speak and then he saw the blood on Vin’s clothes.” Oh God, this is my fault.”
Nathan repeated what he knew about Buck’s condition and Ezra told them what happened on the scene.
“Inez?” Chris asked.
“Josiah went for her and Mallory is staying with the kids. They should be here soon.” Nathan explained.
“Ezra, there is a duffel bag in the truck, would you please go and get Vin a change of clothes?” Kelli asked and then turned to Tanner. “The last thing Inez needs to see is Buck’s blood all over you.” Kelli vividly remembered how if felt to see Nathan covered with Vin’s blood.
Chris realized how it must have been for Vin to see it happen and not be able to help his brother more. “Ezra while you are out there, call Justin and tell him he’s charge. Tell him… we won’t be back in today.”
All they could do now is to wait, for the doctor, for Inez and for some sign that their family would not suffer a major loss.
Chris stared out the hospital window and tried to remember how many times he had been here before. It seemed that in the last seven years he had spent too much damn time waiting to hear about one of his brothers. This time it was Buck Wilmington. A man that has been part of his life for over twenty years, the man was family; he loved him, and pushed him away repeatedly when he did no more than try to help.
Larabee looked around the room and saw his own pain written on the faces of his other five brothers. They each were a part of the whole, Chris may lead them, but Nathan healed them physically and Josiah spiritually. JD was their energy and Ezra kept them honest about their feelings. Vin was the soul that pulled them all together and Buck…He was the heart that kept them alive. Together they had beaten the odds more than once and come out winners in many life verses death struggles. Could they do it again?
JD jumped up. “Why don’t they tell us something, anything? Don’t they know we need to know?”
“Easy JD, you know this takes time. Buck is too overprotective to go anywhere without us for very long. He’s not through raising us yet.” Mark laid his hands on JD’s shoulder.
Josiah smiled at Mark’s action, “He’s right brother Dunne, we have been here before and it takes time, our Brother is strong in spirit.”
Inez sat with Rain on one side and Linda on the other. “My heart says he is still with us and my Buck is a stubborn man. He does not give up on the people he loves. We will not give up on him.”
“Damn straight.” Chris could feel the strength in the room.
“JD, why don’t you check on Casey, I bet them young ‘ns have her and Mal going in circles ‘bout now. ”Vin wanted to give the younger man something to do. He saw JD nod in agreement.
Tanner stood shoulder to shoulder with Larabee, each one showing support for the other. Ezra was outside on the phone again and Nathan went to see what he could find out. Kelli had gone to call George to let him know they would not be there to feed the horses. When she came back, she had coffee for everyone.
“Thanks Kel.” Chris took the cup and watched the young woman that now held a sheltered place in his heart. *Buck knew before all of us that you had found someone special. Hell, Wilmington always knew what was good for us.*
*Chris don’t go in that direction, he’s still here.*
*Yeah and dammit, he had better stay that way.*
Two hours later a doctor in green scrubs joined them and the tension rose in the room. “Mrs. Wilmington?”
“That’s me.” Inez stood, but she was not alone, six men surrounded her. When she saw him hesitate she said, “Whatever it is you can speak to all of us, this is our family.”
“I’m Dr. Landers, let’s sit. Your husband is in recovery now. I will not lie to you. He is still in critical condition, but the fact he has made it this far is good.” He waited for a moment to give everyone a chance to breathe again. “One of his broken ribs pushed into a lung causing it to collapse, but we were able to repair the damage and have him on a machine to help him breath while the lung heals. He lost a lot of blood, but we now have him stabilized. Buck is not out of the woods yet, the next twenty-four hours will be difficult, and in addition to his lung, he has a fractured left arm and leg. We did reduce the fractures and put pins into place to aid in the healing. I will arrange for you to see him as soon as we move him out of recovery and into ICU.”
“Doctor, are you saying he’s gonna be okay?” Chris voiced what they all wanted to know.
“I would say that with no complications he has a good chance for a full recovery. It won’t be fast, but it looks like he has enough family to support him during the process.” The doctor smiled and squeezed Inez’s hand. “Now, let me see about getting this young woman reunited with her husband.”
Within the hour, they had Buck settled in ICU and each brother had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with him. None of them though was willing to leave yet and they stayed to support Inez and each other.
Watching them, Kelli noticed how tired Linda was. “Chris, she looks exhausted, let me take her home so she can get some decent rest.” When he did not answer immediately, she offered him a deal. “You take care of Tanner for me and I’ll take care of Linda for you. All you have to do is convince her to leave.”
“I get the hard part because?” Chris knew how stubborn Linda could be.
“Because you are older and wiser?” Kelli laughed at the look on his face.
“Ah, but you have known her longer.” Larabee was being logical.
“Chicken, I’ll do it, but you owe me.” She sighed. “Watch and learn Lar’bee.”
“Inez, I’m going home and Linda is going with me. We will be up here early and bring what you need from your house. Linda, will you help her with a list so we’ll know what to get?”
“Of course, I’ll be glad to.” Linda pulled paper and pen from her purse and began to write. She was at her best when she was being useful.
“Damn, how did she do that with no argument?” Chris was impressed.
“I married a smart woman, who has had a lot of practice with Linda’s stubbornness.” Smiling, Vin said, “At least one Lar’bee knows how to handle her.” He ignored the grumble he heard from Chris.
Ezra approached Larabee and Tanner. “This may be nothing, but I think we should proceed with caution. Preliminary reports indicate that the brakes on the car had been tampered with.”
Larabee’s mood darkened quickly, “You think Buck was set up?”
Standish sighed, “It was JD’s car, but yes I think it was deliberate. I would also suggest that we check all of our vehicles before moving them. The brake line on the car was cut somehow.”
“For now, this stays between the three of us. Ezra, look over Vin’s truck before Linda and Kelli get down there. Once they leave, we cover everything, from the beginning. We’ll walk them down and keep them distracted until you finish.” Standish was gone the second Chris stopped talking. “Vin, you want to go with them?”
Tanner thought for a minute, the husband part of him said hell yes. However, the agent side said they would be okay and that his place was here. “No I don’t want to alarm them and I know Kel is observant. If she thinks anything is out of place she’ll say so.”
They walked the women downstairs and took their time, giving Standish an opportunity to go over Tanner’s truck, carefully. Distracting the women’s attention was easy and pleasurable.
Chris kissed Linda goodnight and with his hand on her stomach hugged her tightly. “You take care and get some rest. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“You too Larabee, that bed is lonely without you in it, though.” Linda sighed. Chris helped her into the truck and kissed her once more. Closing the door, he waited on Tanner who seems to find it difficult to say goodnight.
“Come on Vin, it’s after one now.” Chris grinned watching the younger couple. “Try to remember this is a public parking lot.”
“In a minute Lar’bee and don’t be such a nag.” Vin held her in his arms and hungrily kissed his redhead goodnight, leaving them both breathless. “Damn, you don’t make this easy baby.”
“And you do?” She smiled and ran her fingers through his hair, “Take care of the old man and let me know if anythin’ changes with Buck.” One more kiss and she said, “Goodnight Tanner.”
“Goodnight Texas.” he closed the door and both men stood there until they were out of sight. Standish joined them.
“Thanks Ez, we owe you another one. Now let’s see if we can find the bastard that cut that brake line.” Chris marched back inside the building.
Back in the hospital Chris arranged for Inez to have a place to rest and Rain agreed to stay with her. She would not be able to see Buck for a while and would be close enough if something changed. Once she was cared for, he called the brothers together.
”We may have a problem. According to reports that Standish has this might not have been an accident.” Chris let Standish explain.
“I had the vehicle impounded and then had our forensic team look it over. Their report indicated that the brake line shows signs of tampering. Since JD had no problems this morning we must assume it happened in the parking garage.” Ezra continued. “I took the liberty of having the security tapes pulled and they are on their way here as we speak.”
A shaken JD said, “If that’s true Buck is in there because someone wanted me. No one could have known he would be driving it…if…”
“JD, do not start blaming yourself. The bottom line is someone wants to hurt one of us and that means he has all of us to answer to all of us.” Chris felt a rage starting to build inside. “Mark, you and JD go over those tapes as soon as they arrive. Josiah no one sees Buck without one of us there. Until we know what is going on, we work in teams. Nathan you or Rain stay with Inez at all times.”
“What about Linda and Kel, shouldn’t one of us have gone with them?” Nathan asked.
“Ezra checked Vin’s truck before they left and I’m confident Kel will not take chances where Linda is concerned. Do not get in your own vehicle without a once over though. Josiah you had better alert Mallory to be extra cautious. Was Casey staying there tonight?” Chris wanted everyone accounted for.
“Yeah she will stay until… Inez is able to go home and we know more about Buck.” JD answered. “You probably should get Pam back in the office and see what CASSIE can do to help.” Chris nodded his agreement.
“I’ll put the rest of the team on a level one alert. That way they will be on stand by status if we need them” Vin left to make his calls.
Linda and Kelli talked all the way home, partly from their worry about Buck and partly from the excitement about the baby.
“I am so happy that things are working out with you and Chris, he deserves you, you know.” Linda smiled.
“Deserves me? You make me sound like some kind of punishment.” Kelli laughed.
Linda scowled at her friend. “I mean he deserves to know you are part of his own family. He has suffered enough over his losses and I for one want him to have some happiness in his life.”
“Damn we made good time, it’s only two in the morning and here we are already home.” Kelli stopped the truck and saw one of the colts loose. “What in the hell is Midnight doing out?”
“You want some help with him?” Linda offered.
“No, I’ll put the wayward brat up. You go in and get some rest. I don’t want Chris to blame me if you don’t.” Kelli went to retrieve the young horse, while Linda headed to the house.
Kelli grabbed a rope and was just reaching for Midnight when she heard Linda’s screams. Dropping the rope, she ran to find the source of those screams.
Hell…Abandon every hope, ye who enter here.
“Linda!” She found her friend retching near the stairs of the deck and a quick look up toward the deck, told her why. Thick goblets of blood dripped down the steps from above. “Linda, come on, let’s go to my place.” She helped Linda across the yard to her own home. Once inside she made sure it was safe and then called the Sheriff’s Department giving them instructions concerning their needs.
“I want you to lock the door behind me. I’ll meet the patrol unit outside.” Kelli ordered her friend.
“Oh no, I am going with you, I will not let you go alone.” Linda argued.
“One, ‘m not alone, I have my service weapon and two, it’s my job, and three, I don’t need the distraction of bein’ worried about you.”
“Kelli!” Linda stomped her foot in frustration.
“Fine you can go but your baby is stayin’ here!” Kelli saw her words sink in and was glad to see Linda realize her situation. “I will be careful, but you do not open that door for anyone, except me or Vin until Chris gets here. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, I just …Dammit be careful, you don’t know what’s out there!”
“I’ll be okay and I won’t be alone long. Promise me you will stay put.” She accepted Linda’s nod and heard her lock the door when she left.
Once outside Kelli used her cell to call the hospital and then reached Justin, giving him instructions to follow. She put the colt in the corral while she waited for the hospital to page Tanner or Larabee. Seeing the light on in the other stable, she went to investigate, using her flashlight to navigate. Before she got there, Vin answered the page, “Tanner.”
She decided his voice had never sounded so good. “Vin, we have a problem out here and you and Chris need to come as soon as possible.” She kept walking toward the barn as she talked. “The Sheriffs department is on its way, and Linda is fine, but there is a lot wrong here. I already called Justin and the forensic team is on its way, but … Vin call me back I hear the patrol unit coming.” Kelli closed the phone and pulled her weapon as she approached the open door of the stable.
Tanner hung up and resisted the urge to run to the waiting room. He did reach Larabee quickly though and relayed what Kelli had told him.
“Josiah, Nathan, nobody gets near Buck! Ezra you are with us. JD you and Mark stay here for backup. Let’s roll!” Chris took charge and as soon as they were outside, they ran for the Chris’ truck.
“Wait!” Ezra yelled, “Check first, we want to get there in one piece.” Rapidly the three of them checked for signs of tampering and within a few minutes were on their way.
“Vin, call Kel and put her on the speaker. I want to know what is happening!” Chris barked.
Kelli saw George, on the ground, bleeding and still watching her surroundings checked for a pulse. Relieved to find one, she began to assess his injuries. He needed immediate attention and she called Flight for life for emergency medical assistance. When she heard, the patrol units pull up, she stepped outside the stable and signaled for them with her light.
Both officers came in the stable with their weapons drawn. “Who are you?” Kelli had her ID ready and told them what she knew.
“This is an MCAT investigation and until Commander Larabee gets here I’m in charge.” She instructed, “I need one of you to stay with this man until medical help arrives. I have already requested Flight for Life.” She saw them pale as they took in the scene before them and knew that she had to ignore the rest of the carnage until they tended to the human life and had the crime scene secured. There would be time later to think about the rest.
One officer stayed with George and the other went with her to the house as other units pulled in.. “First we search and secure the premises. I want an officer in front of that door, the woman in there is pregnant and I need her protected. This area should be taped off until forensics gets here and send a patrol car to the Sanchez place down the road until one of my teammates can relieve them.” He stopped and looked as if he was going to argue. “You can check with your supervisor, but MCAT will control this one.” She saw him hesitate again. “Now would be good!”
The officer talked to his supervisor and soon was carrying out Coulter’s instructions. Her cell rang as Flight for Life arrived. “Coulter!” Kelli had to yell above the noise coming from the chopper. “Hang on Vin, I can’t hear you.”
Larabee and Tanner both cursed, they could hear over the speaker some of what was going on, but not enough. They were still twenty-five minutes away in spite of how Chris was driving.
“Kel! Answer me dammit!” All Tanner heard was the sound of a … what. *Helicopters?* “What in the hell is going on?”
“Vin, someone needs to meet the Flight for life at the hospital. George is on it and not in good shape, but if possible they need to get his statement.” Ezra was already on his cell trying to reach Nathan knowing that the medic could meet the chopper there.” Raphael just brought in the forensics’ crew and the rest of the team.”
“How bad and what happened to him?” Chris was losing his patience.
“He was stabbed and I don’t know how badly, but he has been bleeding a while…Get your ass away from there! Do you think that yellow tape is there just for decoration? Nobody crosses that line until our forensic team gets in there!”
Chris growled, “Coulter, what in the hell is happening?”
“Sorry, that was just some rookie with no damn common sense tryin’ to mess up things. Where was I? Yeah, George he must have… wait a minute. Kat get them started over there first, the stable needs more light … Ross, you and Paul relieve the sheriff’s unit at the Sanchez house. Nobody gets close to those kids, you hear me! Oh and remember Mallory has a gun, be sure she knows it’s you or she might shoot first and ask questions later…. Chris, are you still there?”
“Yes dammit! Just tell me…Vin quit laughing...Tell me!” Larabee was yelling.
“Hang on… Justin we need lights set up at that stable, that appears to be the main crime scene. We are still a few hours away from daylight and I want answers now! What? No, just keep those idiots from tramplin’ any evidence and don’t move anythin’ no matter how much you may want to.” Kelli took a deep breath and continued, “Chris how long before y’all get here?”
Larabee was counting to ten so Vin answered, “’Bout ten minutes, baby.” His voiced softened, ‘Are you okay?”
“Yeah …no… I have everythin’ under control for now, but hurry please.” The horrendous scenes were starting to catch up to her emotions. “I think I have done all that can be done for now ...just.” She took another deep breath. “I’m fine; I’ll see you in a few.” She closed the phone, knowing she had to hold herself together for now.
All three men recognized the sound of emotion in Coulter’s last sentence and had an apprehensive feeling about what they would find at the ranch. When they arrived, Larabee tried to use his ‘persuasive’ qualities to get through the deputies, he growled. “Get out of the damn way!”
The lead officer stood his ground, “Sorry sir, the agent in charge said no one was allowed beyond this point.”
“It’s alright deputy, let ‘em through, that’s my boss.” Kelli called over and the relieved officer stepped aside.
Tanner stopped long enough to thank the deputies for doing a good job. Chris went straight to Kelli and demanded some answers, “Tell me, from the beginning!”
“We drove in and Midnight was loose so I went to put him up while Linda went inside, I heard her scream and found her being sick. When I saw why I took her to our house and called the Sheriff’s Department. Once I had her promise to stay there, I went back out and paged y’all. I put the colt in the corral and then headed for the barn; in the meantime, I called Justin and set him, the team and forensics into motion, Raphael had them here in no time at all. When Vin called I was almost to the barn and after enterin’ I found… George, seein’ that he was alive I called for a Flight for Life and then the first unit arrived. I had one deputy stay with George and the other with me to secure the scene. Linda has a deputy watchin’ her at our place.’ She took a moment before she continued.
“The best I can figure it started at the stable probably around seven, George had already fed the horses up here and must have walked in on the … slaughter at the stables. He received multiple stab wounds. At least four horses are dead and three foals, all with their throats slashed.” She stopped and took another breath. “From there the assailant dragged one on the smaller foals to the deck and used the blood to leave you a message along with a wreath of flowers that says ‘Rest in Hell Wilmington’. Forensics is workin’ on it now and I have Ross and Paul at Josiah’s house. Ramsey and Kat are coordinatin’ the efforts between forensics and the deputies.”
“Which horses?” Vin asked in a quiet voice.
“Four mares are gone, two of ours and two that belong to Larabee 7.” She choked back her emotion.” The vet is also on his way to look over the rest of ‘em. I haven’t had an opportunity to check the other horses yet, but I think it’s all confined to the one stable. The uh… foals were… one of Sandy’s and two of Hunter’s.”
Chris swallowed hard. “Thank you Agent Coulter.” He softened his voice “Kel, you did a good job, but as of now you are off duty. You too Vin, take care of your wife and tell Linda I’ll be over soon. Ez, you are with me.” Larabee and Standish left to get status reports from the other agents.
Tanner knew Kel was ready to let go of her pent up emotions. Securing her close, he walked her home. Linda met them at the door with a multitude of questions. “Linda all I can tell you now is that Chris will be over as soon as he can. You should try to rest til he gets here, ‘m takin’ Kel in the other room, ‘cause she’s worn out.” Vin didn’t stop long enough for Linda to ask any more questions. As soon as they reached the bedroom, he closed the door and wrapped his arms around his redhead, ready for the tears he knew she had held back for so long.
Through the tears, she tried to talk, “Vin it was horrible! All that blood and George, the horses … Who could do somethin’ like that?”
He rubbed her back, “I don’t know baby, but we will find ‘em. I promise.” Vin led her to the bed, he helped her take off her boots and made her undress. He took her gun and ID and put it up as she changed into clothes that were more comfortable, while he did the same. It had been a long emotion filled day, first with Buck, then this, and in an hour or so, it would begin again. For now though, they held on and drew comfort from each other.
When the sun came up and shed light on the scene below it did not look any better. The vet was there, but he could do nothing to save another one of the mares. She had lost too much blood to survive. The good news was George was going to make it, but his statement did little to help identify the person responsible for the senseless acts.
Tanner left Kelli and Linda asleep at the house and joined Chris. “Any idea on who’s behind this?”
Chris sighed, “No, but it all ties together somehow. This is personal and whoever it is wanted me to know it. The message made that real clear.”
“What did it say, Chris?”
“Look for yourself, it’s still there.”
Vin went up on the deck and cringed when he saw the bloody mess, but his own blood ran cold when he saw the pictures on the wall. One was of himself, then Kelli and Buck. All had a red X across them. Written on the side of the house in blood were four words.
WHO IS NEXT CHRISTOPER?
“Can’t you do anything right? You and your damn thirst for blood! I said a message not a warning! I have waited too long for you to screw this up. Larabee has to suffer more before we meet face to face. Now you have put him on alert and that will make act three harder to pull off! You had better hope this works out the way I want or you will pay right along with that bastard!
You did do well with that bitch Marissa, but do not believe that gives you free reign to do what you please. Chris has to suffer the same way I have suffered, I will settle for nothing less. I told you I would make sure you have the woman, but that was not enough! Now after all this planning I have to clean up your mess! The only reason I do not kill you where you stand is that I know what he will do next.
Larabee will try to find me, but he will only go crazy trying, you had better be glad that I know everything about him. The years I have spent watching him and studying his cases will pay off exceedingly well. I know him; I know how he thinks and how he reacts. I know almost as much about the people that he calls family. Mark my words, he will not be able to save them any better than he was able to save his wife and son.
Now get out and do your next job! However, be forewarned, you had better follow my instructions and get it right this time or else!”
*Not yet, Larabee, but I will see you soon.*
Friday 6:30 am.
“Chris, I will supervise the clean up, you might want to see Ms. Dubois before she comes looking for you.” Ezra suggested.
“He’s right and unless you want her to see all of this, you best go to her.” Vin agreed. “I’ll come back and pick up Kel, but first ‘m gonna check on Hunter and set up some more safety measures for the other horses. Have you warned Ben to add extra security at Linda’s ranch?”
“Yeah, I called him and he said he would take care of it. Put Rodney in charge here until…George is able to come back.” Chris ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, “You want me to tell Kel about the bay?”
“No, I’ll do it, Midnight’s with his mama, ‘m gonna put Bri, Sandy and the foals in with them, while the others are taken out.” Vin hesitated, “I just can’t believe the others are…”
“Vin, let me take care of them for you. It is not necessary for you to oversee that, too.” Ezra knew how hard it would be on Tanner to see the slain horses taken away.
“Thanks Ez, I appreciate it.” Tanner went to see to Hunter and Chris went to see to Linda.
Chris was unmovable. “Linda, this is how it will be, you will stay with Mallory and Casey until this is over!”
“Look Larabee, you don’t have the right to tell me where I can and can’t go! I don’t see you ordering Kel to hide!” Linda was adamant.
“Fine, as of now you are in protective custody. You want me to handcuff you or do you go willingly?” Chris was not going to play games with her life.
Linda was stunned. “You would do that?”
“Damn straight I would I do not have time to argue with you, Linda, you either trust me or you don’t!”
“Is it that serious? “ She was now more scared than stunned, not for herself, but for Chris.
“Yes and I need to know you are safe.” His voice was just above a whisper.
“Okay, but I have a list of things Inez needs and …”
“Vin will take care of that.” Chris pulled her close for a hug. “Everything will be fine, just trust me.” Together they gathered her some clothes and he took her to stay with Mallory.
MCAT Office Noon-Friday
Larabee had a meeting with Travis at eleven, while The Tanners went to the hospital to take essentials for Buck and Inez. The U.S. Marshal’s office provided extra officers for the protection of the team members’ immediate families and at the hospital.
“Justin! My office now!” The Larabee bellow rang across the entire twelfth floor.
All eyes went to Michaels who only shrugged his shoulder and then went into Chris’ office. “Sir.”
“It’s Chris and you can sit down. The last six months have taught us a few things about the needs of this unit. The last twenty-four have shown the need for alternative leadership.” Chris looked Justin in the eye. “I would like to think that either Tanner or Wilmington would be available if I was… incapacitated or unavailable for any reason, however, last night proved how easily that can happen. Buck will be out for at least eight weeks. I want you to take the number three position on the teams until he returns.”
“Sir…Chris, I am more than willing to do what I can, but Coulter handled things well and there are other …”He stopped when Larabee raised his hand in a halting motion.
“I agree and Kelli did do well, but you have seniority over her. I need, JD on CASSIE, Sanchez as profiler and Jackson as our team medic. Standish…well let’s just say Ezra has special talents that are needed on other areas. You are the next senior agent, you want the position it’s yours.”
“Thank you for your confidence. What do you need first?” Justin was ready.
“Captain Tanner will walk you through what is needed. I will make the announcement at the team meeting in…ten minutes.” Chris dismissed him
They filed in the room quietly, no jokes, no banter and all tired. On each of their faces, Chris saw different emotions ranging from anger to fear.
“First off, the report on Agent Wilmington is encouraging and the Doctors are starting to wean him off of the breathing machines. He is facing a long recovery, but his prognosis is good. Second, until he returns Agent Michaels will take over his duties, if you need assistance and either Captain Tanner or I are unavailable go to Justin.
Now, concerning yesterday, we had a breakdown on certain levels that we need to address. We are replacing our pagers/phones with ones that have text communication features that we can use even in hospitals, added alert levels, and installed GPS tracking. JD will have those ready for us in a few days. Let me add that all of you did an excellent job last night. You moved as a unit and did what was necessary without waiting for direction. While I would never encourage cowboy tactics, I appreciate seeing this unit operate in such an efficient manner and thanks go to Agent Coulter for securing the scene for MCAT.”
“Chris, I know the Marshal’s are at the hospital, but shouldn’t one of us be there?” JD was worried about Buck.
“We do have someone there; Orrin Travis is in the room with Buck and is prepared to stay a while. He felt we should work on this as a unit and I am confident no one will get past him. Nathan, I want you there also, Inez is not to be alone and I am concerned about Rain.”
“We have already decided to stay close to the hospital with her due date only three days from now. I’ll make sure Travis doesn’t overdo either.” Nathan assured before he left.
“Paul, I want you there as backup and remember no one gets to Wilmington.” Chris moved to the next assignment. “Josiah I’d like your input as a profiler, but I will understand if you feel the need to be with Mallory and the kids”
“Mallory is a very capable woman and the Marshal’s are there too. I can be more help here,” Josiah answered. “I can already tell you from what I have seen that whoever this is has a dangerous mentality, is imbalanced and obsessed with blaming you for all the wrong in his or her life. It is personal, but I believe it stems from some case you have worked on, not something you personally have done outside of work.”
“Pam and I will start pulling old cases and running them thru CASSIE.” JD stated
“How many are we talking about?” Mark asked
“If you count those cases before MCAT, I would guess between the ATF and eleven years with the DPD, several hundred.” JD answered, not missing the look of awe on Mark’s face.
“What about the video from the parking garage and the stables?’ Chris hoped one or the other would produce something.
“Sorry, nothing yet, Chris.” Pam answered.
“Chris, we cannot ignore the pictures, we know what happened to Buck, but the ones of Vin and Kelli must mean something.” Josiah hesitated, “It might have some connection to the hell of the last few weeks.”
“I know, I have already thought about that I just did not want all the details public knowledge.” Chris looked to Kelli and knew she realized they had no choice, but to assume a connection. He just hoped they could keep information away from nosy reporters.
Justin looked up, “Is this something that has to do with this case?”
Kelli hesitated briefly and then answered. “I have not been on vacation the last few weeks. When I was in Texas, I met, for the first time, with my birth mother and received some unexpected information about my natural family. It was a disturbin’ experience and I took personal time off to deal with it. However, I was able to confirm that Commander Larabee and I are related. How that connects to this, I have no idea.”
“If we discover a connection then we will explain in more detail. For now, Kat you and Ramsey stay on top of forensics, Justin you take Mark and show him what to look for in the old case files. Ezra and JD stay, I want to talk to you both. The rest of you, go dig.” Chris put his hand on Kelli’s shoulder indicating she stay. A nod to Josiah said the same thing and after the rest of the team, left Tanner closed the door.
“Kel, I hate to drag this up. I know what was in the papers Marissa gave you and what she told Vin and Ezra, but I need to know what else she told you. What reason did she give for wanting to find you?’” Chris needed the whole story to decide if it had anything to do with the message.
“Do you really think that is necessary?” She looked around the room at the men that were now her family. Then she felt Vin’s hands on her shoulders. She did not want to reopen the scars that were now healing, but knew that she had no choice. “She basically repeated what was in the folder only with more colorful adjectives,” she sighed. “Said I was not to contact her family that this was a one time meetin’ and she had a business proposition for me. The only reason she had detectives look for me was to …Supposedly she is sick and needs a kidney transplant… She offered to pay me for one of my kidneys if I was a match… none of her other children were and she said I could name my price. All I had to do was take some damn test … Said this way we both would get somethin’ we wanted. I got angry and told her off and then left.” Kelli played with the pen in her hands and did not look up.
Josiah noted the reactions around the room. While JD was mad, Chris and Vin were angry. Ezra however wore a puzzled look. “Brother Standish, something on your mind?”
“You said kidney transplant, yet when we saw her she was drinking and did not look ill. I may not have maximum knowledge in the medical field, but I do not believe dialysis patients are permitted to partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, wouldn’t she be on some kind of waiting list?”
JD hit the computer terminal and began a search. “If Marissa Lyons is on a list we will know in a matter of…” everyone waited until he turned and answered. “Nope, she’s not, at least not anywhere in Texas or on the National database.”
“I don’t understand, if she was lyin’ what could she accomplish? The only other thing she did was give me proof about Chris and how would that serve her interest?” Kelli thought for a moment, “JD how did you know her name?”
JD was busy entering searches and took a few minute to answer. “It might be coincidence but Ms. Lyons made a bank deposit the morning that you met her, for $500,000 and another one two days later for another $200,000. As to how I know…I made a few inquiries and found it in some open files.”
“Can you find out who else dug through those other files before you blocked ‘em?” Vin instincts said those files were connected to this somehow.
”It may take a while, but yeah.” JD started another search.
Josiah spoke to Kelli, “Someone knows who you are and that you are married to Chris’ best friend. If that someone knows Chris, they would be able to predict his reaction. He does not hide his feelings about family as well as he might think. They wanted him to suffer and unfortunately you became a part of it.”
“You mean all of the last few weeks were set up just to make Chris feel guilty about somethin’ he never knew. She never wanted… It was all about money! She lied about the transplant and we went through all that pain, anger and torment just so some sick bastard…I almost walked away… I…” Kelli looked at Vin. “I could have lost everythin’ I care about…”
The Texan now had her facing him. “But you didn’t and we made it through all the rest, let it go, Kel. We’re okay and we are gonna stay that way.”
Chris spoke softly, but his voice carried throughout the room. “I want this bastard.”
There was a knock on the conference room door and Justin came in with a message. “Paul just called and Nathan is in the ER, someone shot at them in the hospital parking lot and Jackson was hit.”
Emergency Room Friday 1:30pm.
Chris grumbled, “As much time as we spend here they ought to give us our own room to wait in.” He walked the length of the room and back again. “Damn! We knew and this still happened!”
Josiah stood in front of Larabee. “We can’t cover every possibility, you know that.”
“I know, but maybe we should double the guard on Mal and the kids.” Chris thought about a pregnant Linda and Casey, too.
Vin tried to give him some comfort. “Chris, Mallory was an ATF team leader and Linda spent a year on the police force, with both of them armed I don’t think there is much to worry about there. Between them and the Marshals a man would be a fool to try anythin’.”
A slow smile began on Larabee’s face, “You’re probably right, they can be a might strong at times.”
Josiah smiled at the thought. “Yep, God help anyone that tries to get to those kids.”
Dr. Landers came down the hall with Orrin Travis. “Chris let’s go to a private area.” Travis instructed and led the way to a smaller room. “Close the door JD. First of all Nathan is fine, it was a flesh wound, however, we are listing him in critical condition. The doctor is moving Buck to another room and Jackson will be there with him. The less the outside world knows the better.”
“Mr. Wilmington is doing better and can be moved out of ICU, no status reports will be given on either patient.” The Doctor explained. “By tomorrow you will be able to talk to him, but tonight he needs rest. Of course, this keeps up and I will know your entire team personally.” Dr Landers smiled.
Chris nodded. “I was going to Dallas to question Marissa Lyons, since she is the only lead we have at the moment.”
“Let’s get her here instead. I will have a warrant issued for her arrest as a material witness. The Marshals can bring her to you.” Orrin offered
“Tell them to make it quick, I don’t want any more of my team in here, no offense doc.” Chris was ready to find some answers.
“‘M gonna go find Ezra and Kel, they went to see Inez.” Vin was out the door.
“JD, go with him, no one goes anywhere alone.” Larabee ordered.
Larabee, Travis and Sanchez walked back into the hall and ran into Justin, “I was looking for you, Chris, we found where the shooter waited and the lab is already working on the evidence we collected. I have Westin and Cordova here to stay with The Wilmington’s and Mrs. Jackson. Pam says she found something you might want to see that CASSIE came up with and I made a check on Mrs. Sanchez. Everything is fine out that way.”
“Thanks, Justin. We are heading back to the office, now. Make sure everyone moves in pairs, I do not want anyone solo until we find this bastard. Josiah go with him, I’ll see you at the office.”
Travis put his hand on Chris’ shoulder, “Hang in there, we have the best on this and we will find the sonofabitch. I will make the call on that warrant and then I am spending the rest of the day and night with a couple of friends upstairs.”
MCAT Office Friday 3:00p.m.
“Whatever you have Pam bring it to the war room.” Chris did not slow down as he marched through the office.
Once they were there Pam started.” I finished running the program JD started and found two hits on the information about Kel. One was from a man in Texas by the name of Jacobs.”
“I know who that is and he’s a friend of mine that was helpin’ me. Who else?” Vin accounted for that name and realized that whoever this was must have found out about Marissa after Jacobs did his search.
“The other one traces back to Deveraux Communications. I cross-referenced that name against your past cases and came up with this from over seven years ago. Clayton Deveraux and his two sons were involved with the sale of illegal weapons here in Denver. Chris, you and your team were the lead investigators on that case.” Pam waited for Larabee to think about it.
“Deveraux… He and his sons died in a warehouse explosion didn’t they?” Chris vaguely remembered the details.
“Yes, but he was survived by his wife and one brother, Rachel and Phillip” Pam read the names.
“Phillip was an imbecile, but also very sadistic.” Ezra recalled, “That man is not smart enough to orchestrate this.”
“What about his widow?” Josiah asked, “What do we know about her?”
“Not much, yet, but let me get CASSIE on it.” Pam hesitated. “I did make one mistake” She looked at Kelli. “I accidentally deleted the original files concerning Kel and there is no way to restore them. I guess I was in too much of a hurry.”
Kelli gave her friend a look of gratitude “Accidents happen to all of us, don’t worry about it, it wasn’t that important anyway.”
Chris scanned through the case file reacquainting himself with the details. The phone rang and Vin answered it, after listening for a moment he said, “That’s good, have them come straight through and we’ll be here waitin’.” Turning to the others he explained, “The Dallas Marshals have Marissa in custody and are on their way here as we speak, they should be here by seven.”
“I bet she’s thrilled about it.” Kelli remarked.
“She might not be, but I am looking forward to it.” Chris said in a low voice. “It’s past time for a class reunion.”
“You are sure Jackson is critical? Good work, now I think act three is ready. Bring me the women. Larabee will have a ringside seat to watch both his children die.”
*Christopher I have waited over seven years for this and now you will experience my hell.*
But man is not made for defeat.
“What do you mean they have Marissa in custody? You should have killed that bitch when you had the chance, Phillip. You never could do anything right! You told her too much and she knows what you look like. How long do you think it will take them to find out who you are? I have waited long too long to have this fucked up now! Larabee will try to protect his whores, but you will find out how. I do not care how much it costs or who you have to pay off or kill. Find them and bring them here tonight! Tomorrow they will both die and Larabee will serve out his life sentence in hell”.
Marissa Lyons was not a happy woman; in fact, she had not stopped complaining since they left Dallas. The two U.S. Marshals assigned to her were more than glad to turn her over to Commander Larabee. Chris refused to let Kelli confront her and Vin insisted he was going to be in the room during her questioning. A lively disagreement resulted.
“I should be the one to confront her.” Kelli pled her case. “I let her get by with lying to me once and as a result started a helluva lot of trouble. I won’t let it happen again.”
“Kel, you are not going near that woman.” Vin argued ardently, as far as he was concerned that woman had done enough damage.
“Agent Coulter you have your orders, you will stay out here and not interfere. Are we clear?” Chris snapped.
“Oh, Agent Coulter hears you, but I’ll warn you, Kelli Tanner will give you both hell if you let that woman attack either of you! Are we clear?” She snapped right back.
Josiah and Ezra suppressed smiles, but JD could not resist a comment. “Damn, I never realized before just how much you two are alike. It’s a good thing Vin is a patient man.” Larabee and Tanner both shot him a scorching glare.
Kelli ignored that remark, “You should let me try first, you owe me that much Chris, and Vin, I am not made of glass, I won’t break! I need to do this because facing her is the best way to prove that she has no power over me.”
Josiah had watched all the participants of this argument and decided to inject his opinion. “What would it hurt to let Kel try first to get some answers? Isn’t that what we all want?”
Tanner gave in to her argument, but made his position clear. “If she starts saying what she did before nobody will stop me this time.”
Ezra also saw a crack in Larabee’s armor and seized the opportunity. “Gentlemen, we will only need ten minutes, if we are not successful then we will relinquish the interrogation to you both.”
Chris gave in to Kelli’s argument. Maybe doing this would be the best way for her to get past what Marissa had done. “Ten minutes, but I will have my say to her before she leaves here, understood?”
Ezra grabbed the folder from Chris and pushed Kel in front of him to the interrogation room. In a low voice he whispered, “I hope you have a plan or else we both will be working in the file room for weeks.”
“Plan? I thought you had a plan.” She smiled. “Just improvise, okay?”
Once they entered the room, two professional agents emerged.
Standish started, “We meet again, Ms. Lyons.” Marissa whirled around ready with a verbally assault for the man who spoke. When she saw Kelli, her harsh words die before she spoke them.
“You! What are you doing here?” Marissa was surprised to see Kelli.
“I work here.” Kelli pulled her ID, “You on the other hand might be livin’ here for a while unless you decide to be truthful for a change.”
“This is absurd. I did nothin to be treated like a common criminal!” Marissa yelled.
“On the contrary, Ms. Lyons, conspiracy to commit fraud is a criminal act.” Ezra stated casually.
“I want a lawyer! I know my rights!”
Kelli slipped up close to the woman and whispered low enough that only Marissa could hear her. “A lawyer might get you out of jail in a week or two, but he won’t protect you from two men who would like to see you suffer. My husband and my father are both Federal agents and are anxious to come in here to have a talk with you. They would like nothin’ more than to see that you are stripped searched and thrown into the drunk tank for a few days. Of course, that would make for good conversation at your next bridge club meetin’.” She stepped back and waited.
Marissa squared her shoulders, gave Kelli a haughty look and sighed. “Forget the lawyer. What do you want to know?”
“You lied to me and now I want to hear the truth.” Coulter asked. “Why did you need to see me and who paid you to do it?”
“A man came to me and offered me some money to get you to Dallas. He already knew who you were…” Coulter cut her off.
“That is a load of bull! I said I want the truth. You wanna start over?”
Marissa hesitated briefly, weighing her options and decided to talk. “Fine! I was having an affair with a man and Larabee’s name came up. I said I knew him in college and foolishly told him about you. I thought from what he said he hated Larabee as much as I did. The next time we met, he told me what he wanted me to do and offered me money to do it. A lot of money and all I had to do was get you to come to Dallas and make sure you had proof about who your father was. He said it was important that the bastard knew he had a child still alive for now and I did not ask why. He gave me Walter’s number and said for me to contact him, he even told me what to say.”
Ezra spread some pictures on the table. “Recognized any of these men?”
Marissa looked at them and picked out one. “That’s him.”
“One more thing, “You said and I quote ‘he told me it was important for the bastard to know he still had a child alive for now’ is that correct?” Standish wanted to be positive.
“Yes! Can I go home now?
Kelli smiled saying, “Sorry you have to remain in custody as a material witness and Commander Larabee still wants to talk to you. Your interview is on tape and someone will be in soon for you to sign a written transcript of your statement.” With that, she and Ezra walked out leaving Marissa to worry about her confrontation with Chris.
Standish handed the picture to Chris. “Phillip Deveraux.”
Tanner exchanged a look with Larabee and then told her, “Kel consider yourself in protective custody as of now.”
Josiah saw a battle coming on and tried to quell it. “It appears that someone wanted Chris to know he still had a child so when you die he will experience the anguish of another loss.
“Now wait a minute, I don’t need protective anythin’!” She protested, “I certainly will not consent to protective custody!”
“Yes you will and that Agent Coulter- Larabee-Tanner is non-negotiable!” Chris gave the picture another look and softly whispered, “I will not bury another child.”
“You want me in custody fine, maybe Linda and I can have adjoining cells! Go! Extract your pound of flesh from that woman and then when you decide where to put me, let me know!” Kelli was past anger.
“Kel, I think you may be over reacting just a bit.” Vin was trying to soften the situation. “You just need to calm down.”
“Don’t think so Tanner and since ’m in custody, ‘m off work. That means you’re not my boss and I don’t need you to tell me what to do!” She snapped. “I told you before we were married that I don’t want to be ‘put’ somewhere safe. I meant it then and I mean it now!
“Somebody wants to see you dead and you are not going to give them a target!” Vin’s own anger met hers. “If puttin’ you somewhere safe keeps you alive, then get mad all you want to, but it won’t change anythin’!”
“What are you gonna do if I refuse to go, Vin? Send me to my room!" Kelli shot back.
Chris had heard enough. “You don’t have a choice, that decision has been made!” He gave her the look that sent most agents running for cover. It did not work on the furious redhead.
“There is always a choice Lar’bee! Just sometimes men make some damn stupid ones! One thing I learned early in my career is to be proactive not reactive. Evidentially you and Tanner skipped that lesson because both of you are reacting like old mother hens!
“I will not see you hurt because of me!” Chris growled.
“Then I guess you and I are back where we started from, Lar’bee, because I refuse to carry your guilt or take on your fears! Of course, you do a damn fine job of it all by yourself! Do you ever intend to let go of it or are you going to try to burden your next child with it too?”
“You and Linda are both going to a safe house and will have U.S. Marshal Protection until this is over!” Chris was firm. “Ezra make the arrangements!”
“Chris, I understand why you want Kelli there, but why Linda? She is safe enough at our house.” Josiah asked.
“I guess you will all know soon enough, Linda is pregnant.”
JD enthusiastically offered Chris congratulations, while Ezra and Josiah exchanged a look that said that they were not sure just what to say. Chris ignored them all and entered the interrogation room to confront Marissa Lyons.
The Texan left Kelli in his office to wait, while he grabbed their share of the food that Justin brought from the Deli. He knew she was mad, hell probably angrier than he had ever seen her. However, he was not willing to compromise on her safety. A team of Marshals was on their way in with Linda, and Tanner was thinking about his angry redhead.
*You really did it this time, Vin, she’ll barely even talk to you. She believes you don’t think she’s competent to handle herself. Dammit, how would you react, Tanner, if she tried to do this to you? I’ll tell you what you would do, you would be madder than hell and looking for a fight.*
“Brought you some food, you probably should eat somethin’.” Vin set the food on the desk when he saw she wasn’t going to take it. ”Look baby, I know you are angry with me, but this bastard wants to kill you and that is unacceptable.
She turned around and looked at him. “Vin, I have come to expect that Lar’bee thinks he can control everythin’, but I thought you knew better. We have always been stronger as one and respected each other. Just like you and me, this team works better together and I trust them to find Deveraux first.”
“All I can think about is what that sadistic bastard did to George and the horses. I can live with you being angry with me, but I couldn’t live with somethin’ like that happenin’ to you.” Vin reached out for her and she responded. “If you want to tell me ‘m actin’ like an overprotective sonofabitch go ahead, but I won’t apologize for it.”
She sighed, realizing that Vin was going to stay stubborn about this and with a great deal of reluctance gave in. “I’ll go to your damn safe house, I don’t agree with it, but I don’t want to argue with you anymore. Just for the record, you are actin’ like an overprotective sonofabitch, but nobody else better say that.” She looked up at him, “I love you Tanner, even when I’d like to throw somethin’ at you.”
“Throw away, baby, I can take it.” Vin then drew her closer and boldly claimed what was his. Giving no thought to where they were or who was there the Texan wanted only to reassure himself that they were okay. That quickly changed when Kelli began a sensual assault of her own. “Damn, it’s getting’ hot in here.” Vin grumbled and pulled back, unsure of just when he had stopped being the aggressor here.
“Heat hot or hot and bothered type hot?” Kelli smiled mischievously, ran her fingers through his hair and grabbed a handful of shirt to draw him closer. She nuzzled his neck and spoke softly in his ear, “Hot and bothered, I can take care of, Tanner.” When she saw the signs of surrender in his eyes, she knew their argument was history and that everything between them was okay. Sometimes losing an argument could be fun and rewarding.
“You don’t play fair, Kel.” His voice was a barely controlled whisper.
“I had a good teacher, Vin.”
The Texan’s growled response was impossible to hear, but his hands made his meaning clear as he began a sensual assault of his own. There was a knock on the door and it opened, Tanner immediately turned to shield his half-dressed wife from prying eyes.
“Sorry, Chris wanted you to know the Marshals are twenty minutes out.” Ezra started to back out the door and heard soft laughter.
“Ez lock the door behind you, Tanner and I have some unfinished business to discuss.”
“Take thou time, fair maiden, for Sir Standish will stand thy guard at yon portal.” Ezra bowed and shut the door.
“Now, where were we, woman?
Chris was thinking about his confrontation with Marissa. It was ugly and pointless; however, she was shocked to see Chris face to face. Ezra was right though, there was nothing to gain from it, and the woman had no remorse at all, for what she had done. She was only interested in herself, but at least he made clear that she was to stay away from Kelli.
In contrast, there was the conversation with Linda. She told him in very plain English and in two other languages, how she felt about a safe house. *Damn Larabee you seem to have a knack for setting off the women in your life. It does not matter Chris, their safety is more important. Then why do you feel so badly about it?*
No one had to tell Larabee when she arrived; he heard his blond long before her saw her. Evidently, Linda had not cooled off since they spoke on the phone, if anything she was madder now that she was then. The Marshals wished him well and explained that another team would be here shortly to pick up the two women. Chris took her into his office to wait.
“Well, Chris, it’s time to explain because if you think I’m willingly going through this again without a damned good reason, you are wrong.” Linda refused to sit down.
“Bluntly speaking, someone wants to kill you and our child.”
Linda decided to sit after all. “Why?”
“It’s a long story, but I’m sure you and Kel will have plenty of time to talk it over.” He sat with her on the couch. “She’s going, too.”
“How do I know you will be alright? Linda was thinking about the last time they had gone through this.
Chris gave her his best grin. “I am too ornery to get hurt again and you should know that. Besides, it will only be for a few days and all of this will be over. Then we can plan our wedding and live happily ever after.”
“Now you are really scaring me, when Chris Larabee starts quoting fairy tales it must be bad.”
“Just trust me to make this right, I promise it will be okay. I love you and we will have one of the most spoiled babies you have ever seen.” Chris pulled her close and tried to kiss away all her bad thoughts.
A knock on his office door told him their time was up. Josiah let him know the Marshals were on their way up from downstairs. Within five minutes, they were in his office.
“Sir, I’m Marshal Davis and this is Marshal Sorenson, we’re here to pick up two ladies and escort them to a safe house.” He passed his paperwork to Larabee as Vin and Kelli came in he room.
“Don’t you worry we’ll take good care of these little fillies for you.” Sorenson smiled at Linda and Kelli, “You two don’t worry your pretty heads about a thing, not with me and Davis on the Job.”
“Excuse me, Marshal Sorenson, but that would be Ms. Dubois and Mrs. Tanner to you. You can keep those other descriptive phrases to yourself, if you know what’s good for you.” Linda was not smiling.
Kelli felt a cold chill down her spine and suddenly wanted her gun that was now locked in Vin’s desk. Better yet just, forget the entire thing. She whispered to Vin, “I don’t trust them, I want my gun back.”
“I am sure the Marshals will extend the utmost courtesy to these ladies,” Chris glared at Sorenson until he turned away. “Your paperwork is in order and you had better make sure your attitude is, too”
“Of course, I assure you Commander Larabee their safety is our first priority. However, I must insist that procedures are followed and both women be searched for weapons. You know the policy, sir.”
“They have no weapons and you won’t be searchin’ either of them.” Vin stated in a flat cold voice.
“Well…I suppose we can trust the word of a fellow lawman. Are we ready to go?” Marshal Davis picked up the two bags the women had ready.
“Hang on, Kel needs her jacket, it’s in my office.” Vin went to retrieve her jacket and they all walked into the outer area.
*What are you up to Vin?*
*Trust me, Cowboy, just to make Kel feel better.*
While waiting on Vin, Chris said his own goodbye to Linda and Kelli. For a reason that he could not explain, he did not want these Marshalls to know how important the two women were to him. A simple nod and, “Take care,” was all they got. *Relax, Larabee, they will be fine.*
Vin came back and insisted on helping Kelli put on her jacket. What he did next surprised some because it was so out of character for their Captain’s office behavior, but all were pleased to see him send a clear message to the Marshals. In full view of the entire office, he wrapped his arms around his wife and zealously kissed her. She felt the piece of cold metal he slipped into the waistband of her jeans and wholeheartedly kissed him back.
“You take good care with my wife or you answer to me,” Vin made sure his message was received. Tanner watched them leave, but for some reason he did not feel as reassured about Kelli’s safety, as he had believed he would be.
After they left Larabee addressed the rest of the team. “It is eleven o’clock; any of you that want to go home or sleep in the lounge get to it. We meet here at seven in the morning, to work on this case. Josiah, Ezra, JD, the war room we have files to go over. Chris watched and not one agent made a move to leave.
Justine spoke for them all, “Chris we’re all staying and we’ll take turns resting in the lounge, but we want to get Agent Coulter and Ms. Dubois out of protective custody as quickly as possible and we think we can do that better from here.”
Chris nodded and went to work.
“The fact that children are involved leads me to believe that Rachael Deveraux is behind this. She lost her husband and two sons in that explosion.” Josiah commented. “If that is the case, she has lost touch with reality and is capable of just about anything. I also know she will want you their as a witness, Chris.
“We’re checking now to get a list of properties that the Deveraux family owns in and around Denver. An APB is out on Phillip Deveraux; his picture has gone out over the wire and faxed to every law enforcement office within two hundred miles. This is the information we have so far on Rachael Deveraux.” JD gave a folder to them all.
“Chris, Pam has helped me on something special that we have for you to consider.” JD waited for Larabee’s attention before continuing and laid a small device on the table. “This has been used for several years in many covert operations, but not widely known to be in use here until recently. It’s a miniature digital transceiver. It is implantable and can send and receive data while being continually tracked by GPS or Global Positioning Satellite technology. The transceiver's power supply and actuation system are unlike anything ever created. When implanted within a body, the device is powered electromechanically through the movement of muscles, and it can be activated either by the ‘wearer’ or by the monitoring facility.”
“Are you asking me to have that device put inside me, JD?” Chris was not sure if this was something he wanted to do. After what Cleaver did a few months ago, he did not like the idea of cutting any part of his skin.
“It’s not hard to do, Kat can do it here in the office, but it would make you easier to find if…”JD asked, “Would you at least think about it?”
“I will think on it, okay” Chris addressed the others, “It almost two and some of you need to get some sleep…” Tanner’s string of curses stopped him in mid-sentence.
Pulling a fax off the machine, Tanner read it and roared, “FUCKING BASTARDS! How could we be so DAMN Stupid! Those men were not Marshals they were fuckin’ cop killers! Now that sick sonofabitch has Kel and Linda! The Texan grabbed the fax machine and sent it flying across the room, before he gained control of his rage.
”Vin! Maybe there has been a misunderstanding. Calm down and let’s make sure of the facts!” Assured that Vin was okay, Ezra picked up the fax and read aloud.” The bodies of two U.S. Marshals, discovered early yesterday evening were identified as U.S. Marshal Don Davis and Marshal Michael Sorenson. Both were killed execution style, by a single gunshot to the head. Dear God in heaven! We handed them over to that bastard!”
MCAT Office- Saturday 2:00 am.
A primal scream of rage echoed through the room as a chair sailed through the air with the legs embedding into the wall. Josiah wrapped his arms around an out of control Larabee to prevent him from injuring himself.
“Chris! Listen to me! He will not kill them unless you are there to watch! Chris! We will find them before that can happen, but you need to get control.” Josiah softened his voice when he felt some of the fury drain from Chris. “We have work to do so we can bring them home. You need to be in command and we need a plan.” Sanchez watched the transformation in Larabee happen before his eyes, from primitive rage to a cold, lethal strength of mind.
Larabee shook off Sanchez and his potent green eyes met Tanner’s intense blues. He saw the same deadly blaze that he was sure matched his own. “Josiah, get Metfield on those bodies, I want to know how long they had those orders in hand before they died. JD, get on that damn machine and find me a trail in the Marshals office! I want the name of anyone who came within fifty feet of those transfer orders! Justin, replace the security for the kids and Buck now! Pam, get Kat in here to put in that damn implant. Raphael, you have that bird on standby. Ezra, tell Travis what is going on and tell him to wake up the AG to warn him. Deveraux just declared war and I am going to give him one!
“Are you okay? Dammit Kel, answer me!” Linda pulled on her restraints to try to reach Kelli. Deveraux had been rough with both of them, but for some reason preferred her friend as a target for his anger. She shivered when she recalled how that bastard laughed as he murdered the two phony Marshals and the evil she saw in his eyes when he repeatedly struck her oldest friend. “Kel!” She was relieved when she heard coughing and knew the redhead was still alive.
“Linda? Ouch! … Damn that hurts… Linda where are you?
“Over here, are you okay?”
Kelli tried to focus on Linda’s voice because it was too dark to see. “I’ve been better.” She moved. “Sonofabitch...I could use some of Tanner’s coffee about now, at least it would clear my head. What about you?”
“I’m pretty much alright, he apparently took an immediate dislike to you though,” Linda sighed. “I hate to mention this friend but I think we might be in some deep shit about now.”
“Okay, we are, but you don’t have to be a smart ass about it. We need to do something before that bastard gets Chris here though.” All Linda heard was silence. “Kel, are you still with me?”
“Yeah ‘m just thinkin’.” Every time that bastard hit her, he said it was for Marissa, but she was damned sure Marissa was not feeling the results. Kelli shifted and felt under her jacket; relieved to find the small pistol Vin had slipped to her. It was not her Glock, but it would have to do, counting the bullets, she knew it was not enough, but it would only take one to kill Deveraux. She said a silent prayer that she would get that opportunity. “Right now we listen and see what happens next.” They did not have to wait long.
The door opened and Rachael Deveraux swept into the room, flipping on the light, admonishing her brother-in-law. “Is this any way to treat our guests? Ladies, I apologize, Phillip has not learned the proper way to care for visitors.” She sighed, “Of course our callers are few and far between these days, but at one time…never mind. Let’s see about giving you a tour of my home, there are several rooms I think you will find of interest.”
“Chris, the kids and Buck are fine, I have Paul and Ross with Mrs. Sanchez and the children. Mrs. Wilmington now has a bed in Buck’s room. Nathan and Director Travis are with them and all the Marshals have been sent packing.” Justin reported.
“The transfer orders were issued at 8:00p.m and given to Marshal Davis at 8:20pm., his last check in by radio was at 8:50pm., after that…” Pam gave him a time line and JD wrote it on the board.
“I made the call at 7:40 pm. to Marshal Wade Cummings and then who typed the paperwork?” Ezra helped by pinpointing the time he initiated the request.
“His clerk Mark Amos, I’m running data on all of them now.” JD responded.
“Josiah, you’re sure that I have to be there before...” Chris stumbled over his own thoughts.
”I am sure Chris, too much time and effort has gone into this, the attention to details indicates planning. The set up for you to learn about Kelli was elaborate, but I would bet that it was found out by accident and then used to make it worse for you.” Josiah explained.
“Fuck! That bitch had better make her next move soon.” Chris barked.
“Where is Vin?” Ezra asked.
“He went with forensics to the scene of the murders. He hoped to find something that leads to a trail we could backtrack on.” Chris ran his fingers through his short hair. “He had to stay busy or go insane with worry. Damn, I hate waiting!”
“Chris, it almost daybreak, why don’t you rest for a couple of hours, I promise to let you know if we find anything.”
“No! I will rest when that bastard is dead and not before.” Larabee missed the silent exchange between Josiah and Ezra. They were just as worried for Chris and Vin as they were for the women. Both were praying for a good outcome for them all.
Rachael led both women into her favorite room. ‘The Larabee room’ she called it. On every wall from floor to ceiling were pictures and articles of Chris or a member of his family.
“You see I have done my research, starting with Christopher’s childhood until today. This side of the room represents his early life, home, elementary school, high school and college. Did you know Mrs. Tanner that he met your mother here at this football stadium?” She stopped and pointed out a picture. “I would guess you were conceived underneath those very bleachers.” Rachael laughed and said, “When Phillip accidentally found Marissa I knew God was helping me in my plans. That bitch hates Larabee as much as I do and she was more than willing to share details about him. I am just sorry Phillip did not kill her, too. Unfortunately, he let his sexual needs override good sense. I did promise him a chance to test you out, although he must wait until Christopher is here to watch. Don’t you think he will enjoy seeing you ravished by dear Phillip?”
Kelli only glared at the women and did not allow her the pleasure of seeing her disgust at the thought of what she planned.
“Ms. Dubois, this wall will interest you I am sure. Christopher was in the Navy and I must confess he was handsome in that uniform. Wouldn’t you agree?” Receiving no answer, she moved on. “These are some of my favorites, see that woman that is his bitch Sarah and their child, too bad they are already dead, it would have been nice for them to join our party, but then you would not be here and I do know you are carrying another whelp for the bastard.”
Linda took a good look at the beautiful woman that was Chris’ first wife and silently made her a promise to find a way to help Chris survive this woman’s schemes.
“Last, but not least is the family wall, all those so called brothers and their brats. Although I must admit, things did get interesting about six months ago. Both of you are very photogenic and these photos have given me hours of…pleasure. This one, I believe was taken at your ranch Ms. Dubois and though I still believe him to be an evil bastard; I will say that your Chris is a fine specimen of a man, especially here.” She pointed to a picture of Chris and Linda in the act of making love. Rachael was pleased to see a reaction from the blond bitch.
“You are a sick woman! How did you get theses?” Linda was angry about the invasion of their privacy.
Rachael laughed, “You of all people, Ms. Dubois, should know that enough money will buy anything. I got them the same way I got these. She stepped aside to reveal similar pictures of Kelli with Vin. “You do know Mrs. Tanner that a prize stallion like that will have no problem replacing you after your death. Maybe I will even be tempted to try him out myself. It does appear he is capable of delivering immense pleasure. You know the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words’, but then with a body like that words are not necessary. Are they?”
Kelli still said nothing, but she felt the cold metal against her skin and was tempted to kill the woman immediately. The only thing that stopped her was the knowledge that they still had no way out of here if she did. There was too much security and too many guns.
“No comment? Perhaps the next room will entice you to talk. There is someone I think you both should meet.” Rachael led them down the hall to a smaller room. “Ms. Dubois, Mrs. Tanner allow me to introduce you to my husband, Clayton Deveraux.” There in a hospital bed was the decaying corpse of a man hooked up to machines meant to keep someone alive. Clayton Deveraux did not fall into that category at all. In fact, he looked as if he had been dead for a very long time.
“Clayton, I brought some guests to meet you, darling. These women are Larabee’s whores that I told you about yesterday. I wanted them to see what a lovely room you had and where Christopher will be spending his life sentence in hell. You will not be alone much longer dear because he will be here soon to share with you.” She turned to the women and pointed across the room. “Ladies, I wanted you to see where Christopher will spend eternity.” Another bed was waiting with machines attached, waiting only for a body to fill it.
Linda blanched and Kelli felt sick, next to the bed was a picture of Chris covered in dried blood.
“You can see I have everything ready and by midnight Christopher will be here and with these monitors he will watch you both die slowly and then he will see it replayed over and over while the blood is drained from his body. Don’t worry he will not die, I want him to live just like Clayton with his last memory being that of seeing his children dying before his eyes..
“He won’t come.” Kelli finally spoke.
“Oh, but I think he will.” Rachael motioned for the two guards that had followed them on this tour. “Take them to the video room; we have a movie to make.”
MCAT- Saturday 11:00am.
Reports were coming in but nothing that would help locate Kelli and Linda. Chris was pacing. *You did it again Larabee, failed to protect your family. What are you going to do Chris? Blame yourself and flounder in guilt? Linda would have a fit hearing that and you would not hear the end of it. Can’t you just see her giving you a piece of her mind? Then there is Kelli and her temper; she would definitively give you hell, if she heard you. Stop feeling guilty and find them!
Tanner was back and stood just staring at the board.*I will find you Kel, ‘m not ready to live only with memories, we need time to make more. You’re not alone, baby, I’m there with you, use that strength I know you have and hang on, somehow I will find a way to get you home safe.*
“The most likely person to leak information is the clerk Mark Ramos; he is a civilian and has only worked there for six months. I ran a check on him and it seems Mr. Ramos has a gambling problem and is in debt up to his ears. Justin is on his way in with him now.” JD waited to see if Chris had any questions.
When Chris said nothing Katrina gave a rundown on the murder scene. “The officers appeared to have been killed just after their last radio check. Dr. Metfied put the time of death at approximately 9:30pm. Given time to dump the bodies where they were found and an hour travel time to here it fits.”
“Screw this! We know who has ‘em and it don’t matter who leaked what. We need to find where they are now!” Tanner exploded. “This is all useless shit that means nothin’!
“Brother Vin…” Josiah started.
“Don’t! I do not wanna hear any fuckin’ comfort words, Josiah. I want to find Kel and then I want to see that bastard dead, along with the bitch that planned this. If you cannot give me that then just shut the hell up!” Vin’s pent up rage was breaking loose.
The phone rang, “Larabee! … Hold that courier! “Chris threw the phone, “Let’s go Vin, a man downstairs has a package for us.”
Deveraux pushed the two women in the room and then closed and locked the door. Linda went immediately to Kelli to tend to her. Phillip had done some damage to her convincing Linda to deliver their message.
“Kel, I’m sorry I just could not let him keep on. Chris is smart man and he will work out a way to get us out of here.” She had given in and delivered the instructions only after seeing Kelli hurt more than Linda could stand. She started to remove her friend’s boot to check for injuries.
“No! If you take off my boot, it will only swell more. I’m sure the ankle is broken, but the boot at least keeps pressure on it.” She tried to move, “Damn, he had to hit the same shoulder I hurt before, bet he knew it, too. Linda look for a camera, see if they are watchin’” Kelli instructed, she knew that steel bar had broken more than her ankle, but tried not to let Linda know. She figured her hand took some damage and at least one or two ribs would take a while to heal, not to mention the intense pain in her back and leg.
Linda checked over the room, “I can’t find one, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening though.” She did find a washcloth and some water and took it back to her friend “I know you’re hurt worse than you are telling me, let me see.” She tried to find the source of the blood on Kelli’s shoulder, but she brushed her off.
‘No.” Kelli got Linda close enough to hear her whisper, “Linda, if you get the chance I want you to leave.” Linda protested, “Shut up Dubois, I can’t run with this ankle, use your head, not your heart, one of us has to get out and right now ‘m bettin’ on you.”
“Kel, I will not leave without you and you know that.” Linda protested again. “I never have left my sister in need and I won’t start now.”
“You have never been pregnant before either and you will put that baby first, you hear me.” Kelli gave her a ‘don’t argue with me look’ that Linda knew well.
“Fine, I get the chance, I’ll take it, but we leave together.”
Security-Main floor Federal building
Five determined men descended on one terrified courier. The angry blonde one reached him first and demanded to know where the package came from.
“A man came in our office and paid five hundred in cash to have it here before noon. I … have no idea who he was.” The courier was scared, “Call my office …they can vouch for me.”
“Commander, we checked his story and evidently he is telling the truth. We also x-rayed it and it contains a video, sir.” The security supervisor spoke up. “It is addressed specifically to C. Larabee and V. Tanner.”
“Let’s take this back to the office and have Ramsey from forensics met us there as well.” Josiah suggested, afraid to see what it contained.
Ezra grasped Vin’s arm and urged him to the elevator while Josiah did the same with Chris. JD followed with the package. Together they made the trip back to the twelfth floor and the war room. Greg Ramsey was waiting for them and he insisted they all pull on gloves before opening the parcel and placing the contenst on a sterilized surface.
The first things to slide out were pictures of both women with the inflicted bruises and that got an immediate reaction from all the men in the room, two more ferociously.
“Fuck!” Larabee bellowed and Josiah stayed close.
“Bastard!” Tanner roared as Ezra and JD flanked the Texan.
A single video lay on the table with the pictures. Ramsey picked it up and waited for permission to play it.
“You two listen to me, I know this is not easy, but we need to get through this, if you can’t control yourselves leave the room and we’ll do it for you.” Josiah said sternly. “Neither of you have to do this alone, we are all here for you.”
“’Not a chance in hell, you’ll get rid on me, ‘m staying.” Tanner did not budge.
“Me too.” Chris was not moving either.
The video began with a striking Rachel Deveraux, welcoming them into her home, apologizing for not showing the exterior, but was sure they would understand why she was reluctant to give away her location. Then she moved to ‘The Larabee room’. At that point, the video changed and they saw her giving Linda and Kelli the tour she had taken them on earlier. Every remark, every taunt, every description, they heard word for word.
Chris flinched when they got to the pictures of Sarah and Adam, while Vin hurt for the awful bruises shown on Kelli’s face and the slow way she moved told him there were more he couldn’t see. Both were heartened to see that Rachel was having a hard time getting a reaction from the women. They both tried to do the same thing and succeeded until they got to the part that showed the family wall. The blatant invasion of their privacy was more than they could tolerate and two new holes in the already damaged wall was the result.
The last part of the video had Linda on screen and she was supposed to read a message to Chris. Her reluctance showed and she kept watching something that was happening off-camera. “Chris I am supposed to give you instructions to follow, but… I ...” Linda started to cry and the tears slipped down her cheeks. “I… You are …Stop! Dammit, that is enough! I will do it just…stop, no more, please. God, I have to do it, I am so sorry.” Linda cried harder and delivered the prepared message. “Christopher, you are to have someone take you out highway 70 to Ward Road Pond west of Denver and leave you there on the north side of the service road, wait there and once we are sure you are alone someone will contact you. If there are, any signs of you not being alone or any other law enforcement … one of the women will die immediately. Be there at 4:00pm. and do not be late. Chris, I love you and Vin I’ll take care of Kel I…” That was the end of the video.
No one in the room was willing to break the shroud of silence that had descended with the end of the message.
Finally Vin did, “That bastard is mine.” The lethal tone in his voice had his bothers concerned.
*The bitch is mine Tanner.*
“JD, how long will it take to find me with this thing?” Chris needed to know how long he had to stall once he got there.
“We can track you immediately, but to be unseen we might be ten to fifteen minutes behind you depending on where they take you.” JD explained.
“You’re positive that nothin’ will block the signal and the implant won’t be detected?” Tanner asked.
“I am sure, and the only unknown is how close we can get without being spotted.” JD assured,” Raphael will be there with the chopper, too.”
The war room door opened and Nathan walked in.
“What are you doing here?” Chris asked, “You are supposed to be in the hospital and close to your wife remember?”
“I’m fine and I’ve kept in touch enough to know you might need me on this one, Rain and I talked about it. She is in the right place if she goes into labor and she will whether I am there or not have our boy. Linda or Kelli might need medical attention or you and I plan to be the one to do it til more help gets there. No arguments.” Nathan dared them to refuse. “Buck would be here, too if he could figure out how to get past Inez. He said to tell you and Vin, to hang tight.”
“Thanks Nate.” Vin said in a low whisper.
“Alright, let’s go over this on more time.” Chris walked them through the plan.
“Will you quit pacin’ and try to relax. I reckon we are okay til at least four or five. They don’t want to kill us til Lar’bee gets here.” Kelli was tired of watching Linda wind herself up more.
“Relax she says. How in the hell am I supposed to relax when Dr. Death is running around with the wicked witch of the west?” Linda snipped, “Besides, you don’t have room to talk, you pull one more thread out of that jacket and it will fall apart.”
“Well it sure as hell beats wearing a hole in the floor. You ought to save your energy, you might need it later.” Kelli groaned when she tried to move.
“See, if you were not so damn stubborn, I could be helping you instead of pacing.” Linda huffed, “But no, you have to hurt all by yourself.
“Just what would you do nurse Dubois, snap your fingers and produced a pain pill and some bandages with tape?” Kelli shot back at her. “Maybe you could put it on one of your fifty or so charge cards. You think they take Visa or MasterCard around this place?”
“You do not have to resort to sarcasm, I get your point.” Linda conceded and sat down.
“Thank God, you were makin’ me tired just watchin’ you.” Kelli shifted her position and tried to get comfortable.
“Kel, you think we are going to get out of here alive? “Linda was starting to get scared.
Kelli hesitated before she answered. “Tanner and Lar’bee will move heaven and earth to get us out, the only way they won’t is if they are dead and in that case…if Vin is gone, I guess it wouldn’t matter, I’d just as soon die, too.”
“I haven’t been here for a while, but I want you to know that it is almost time for that bastard to pay the ultimate price. Of course, that idiot brother of yours is not making this easy. You were always the one that made everything work right and nothing has been the same since…
Christopher will know how much you suffered and will feel the pain of loss the way I have. I am making him pay for our boys’ death and he will see his children die the way we did in a blazing hell. Then he will feel his own flesh begin to wither away while trapped in a myriad of machines as you have. I promised you he would pay and I am keeping my promise, love. Soon, he will be in that empty bed, across the room and you will never be alone again.”
Tanner insisted that he would be the one to drive Larabee to the drop off point. After a last minute check on details, they left the Federal building at 3:15p.m. They rode in silence each thinking about what lay before them and how imperative it was to be successful.
Chris knew his future depended on this working.*Larabee you just found a future again, you need time to build a bond with Kel and a life with Linda. A new little being depends on you. Endure whatever you have to, but give them a chance to live!*
Vin thought about yesterday in the office.*Tanner, even angry she keeps the fire inside you burning, she doesn’t see what she brings to your life. God, baby, I just want you somewhere safe and warm until I can find you.*
They reached the designated spot at 3:50pm.
*Watch your back, Cowboy.*
*Shoot straight and aim to kill.*
A grasp of forearms and then Larabee stepped out of the truck and watched Tanner drive off. That left Chris waiting for his ride into hell. It was 4:30 before it arrived and it was a large gray box van. Deveraux himself invited Chris inside.
“Before we begin, I want you to remove your watch and your boots.” While Chris did that, Deveraux checked for any type of tracking or monitoring device.
Chris directed a cold, lethal glare at Deveraux. “My boots might be a bit big for you, but you can try to fill ‘em.” Larabee’s intense scrutiny made Phillip look away.
Once Phillip was satisfied there were no devices, he told the driver to just drive and pay no attention to whatever he heard from the back. “We have almost an hour before I deliver you to Rachael and I plan to extract my pound of flesh before she does.”
“I thought you only got brave with women, Deveraux.” Chris saw the evil, in this man and knew what was next, but no way in hell he would he show fear to this bastard. He prepared himself to take the beating that he knew was coming. “You think you’re man enough, bring it on.”
Phillip pulled out a steel pipe and then made Larabee pay for the seven years he had spent under Rachel’s evil thumb. Every blow to Chris was one to her for taking the legacy that should have been his. A legacy she could take because of this man, the man that killed his brother and destroyed the life they were all leading together, a life he had cherished. Soon he was past the point of reason, Rachel's plans forgotten. Again and again he let the steel pipe land on the lean body now curled up before him, trying to protect itself. Phillip heard bones breaking and saw the blood splatter, but his only regret was seeing his hated enemy pass out before he vented all his rage.
“Welcome to your first stop in hell, Larabee”
“Linda, when that door opens I want you to be ready for whatever happens.” Kelli had made a decision, if Linda would not leave alone, then she would have to put up with some pain and go with her.
“What in the hell do you have planned?” Linda knew Kelli sometimes walked on the outer edges of caution, but thought she had stopped that after she met Vin.
“Rachael wants Lar’bee alive to see us die. If we aren’t here when Chris comes, maybe it will buy him some time. We have to try and find a way out.” Kelli smiled and explained, “Think of it as a 50% off sale at Bloomingdale’s because it will be chaotic and rushed to find an exit.”
“You know I love sales, I remember last year this little designer boutique…”
“Oh, sorry, but it was a great sale.” Linda mumbled.
Fifteen minutes later, they heard someone outside the door. Kelli pulled a pillow in front of her and waited, hopeful that it was Phillip, but prepared for whoever came through the door. It was not Deveraux, but one of the other sadistic guards, the one that had hit Linda.
“On your feet bitches, Lady Deveraux wants you in the death chamber and I’m the lucky bastard who gets to take you there.” He flashed a leering grin. “Maybe we can have some fun on the way.”
Linda stood and attempted to help Kelli to her feet.
“You Blondie stand over there. I’ll make sure this one gets up.” The guard reached to pull Kelli by her injured arm and when he did, she fired two shots through the pillow. The first one entered his heart, killing him and the second one was just because.
“Damn! Where did you…” Linda was surprised that Kelli had a gun.
“Just help me up and let’s get the hell out of here. We will not have much time ‘til someone comes to look for him.” Kelli painfully rose to her feet and Linda helped her make it out of the room. Locking the door behind them, they picked a direction to follow, praying it was the right one.
“JD! What the hell is happenin’?” Tanner was on edge and getting more irritable by the minute. “Don’t tell me you can’t find him!
“Dammit Vin, I have him! They’re just driving around in circles and not going anywhere”! JD was exasperated. “As soon as they stop somewhere we can go straight to them.”
“What if Kel and Linda are in that van, too? They could all be…”Vin could not finish that thought.
Josiah placed his hand on Tanner’s shoulder. “Son, that is not very likely, Rachael would want something more dramatic and on a larger scale to finish her plans.”
Tanner took a deep breath, “I know that Josiah, but somethin’ is not right. Chris is hurtin’ and not just mentally. I can feel his pain and it’s bad.”
Sanchez knew there was a connection between Chris and the Texan, he did not understand it, but he accepted it as fact. “Do you want us to go in now and take Chris?”
Vin wrestled with his emotions because they might lose the opportunity to find the women. However, he felt that Larabee was in serious trouble and it was getting worse by the minute, the Texan could feel Chris’ injuries as if they were his own. He made a decision and Tanner knew that if he was wrong, he might have reason to regret it the rest of his life. “We pull him out.”
The team went in to action, Ezra in one car and Vin in another ran parallel to the van. JD was in the helicopter with Raphael, monitoring Larabee and waiting for Tanner’s signal. Suddenly the Texan swerved in front of the van causing a collision, forcing the vehicle to stop. Ezra came up the other side blocking the driver’s escape. Tanner was ready when the side door of the van was thrown open and a furious Phillip Deveraux appeared, gun in hand preparing to fire. One shot from the sharpshooter and it was over. Tanner stepped over the dead man and made a frantic search for Chris. * Please don’t let me be too late!*
Josiah and Nathan had been following the truck, Nathan jumped out to locate Chris and assess his condition. Tanner was already inside with Larabee and was sickened at his friend’s condition. He had seen men beaten before, but this was far worse than anything he had ever encountered. Not one place on Chris’ body had missed Deveraux’s wrath. *God, Chris, I should have known sooner.*
“Chris can you hear me?” The Texan’s fears rose are he tried to find a pulse under the blood that covered his brother’s body. When he found one a feeling of relief flooded through him. “Lar’bee you better damn stay alive!” Vin cradled his brother in his arms, mentally willing him the strength to hold on.
Nathan arrived and moved Vin aside, “Let me see to him.” Tanner sat back on his heels and let Jackson work.*Damn Chris you just got past what Cleaver did to you and now this.* Then his eyes drifted to the dead body of Phillip Deveraux, thinking about their lost opportunity, to get more information. “He’s alive, but he won’t be long if we don’t get him to a hospital.” Jackson’s voice pulled the younger man back to their present situation.
Josiah heard the diagnosis and called for the chopper to land. When they had added the chopper to MCAT, Nathan insisted that medical gear be standard equipment. This was the first time they had used it for that and Sanchez was thankful for the medic’s foresight. Larabee was onboard and on his way to the hospital within ten minutes. Jackson and Tanner rode with Chris, leaving the driver of the van to face the rest of the team.
Three minutes out from the hospital, Larabee stopped breathing on his own. Nathan and Vin performed CPR, keeping him alive as they landed on the helipad. An emergency team was standing by to take over and quickly had their patient on his way to the ER. Tanner and Jackson followed, forced to wait in the now familiar room they had all come to hate.
“What the fuck does all that doctor talk mean Nate?” Tanner was ready for some kind explanation that made sense.
“It means that bastard beat him with a steel rod and caused severe chest trauma!” Nathan took a deep breath and in a calmer voice explained. “Chris was drowning in his own blood and could not breathe any air into his injured lungs. The only way to stop the internal blood loss and repair the damage is with surgical intervention. You made the right call Vin, if we had not gotten to him when we did, Chris would be dead. We won’t know for a while the long-term effect, but he is in a place that can help him.”
Vin, still wearing Chris’ blood on his clothes, stood and stared out the window. Days with no sleep, emotional turmoil and worry were eating away at Tanner’s ability to think straight. The rage he tried to keep at bay was boiling to the surface and all he could think about was lashing out against the pain and torment that Deveraux has caused. Chris was facing surgery and the same bastard that had beaten Larabee hurt Kelli. Linda and the unborn baby were at risk for the same treatment by other hands and now they were no closer to finding them than they were to begin with. The entire team was operating on sheer willpower and adrenaline. He felt hands on his back and turned to find four of his brothers, all willing to offer their strength and to share the heavy load that rested on the young Texan’s shoulders.
“Brother, you are not alone and never will be.” Josiah held out his hand that was quickly covered by Nathan’s, JD’s, Ezra’s and finally Vin’s. Strength flowed through their bond of allegiance and hope took wings to soar over the rage.
A doctor entered the waiting room to update them on Chris. “Mr. Larabee has been stabilized and is now on his way to surgery. We have a good team of doctors working on him, but it could be several hours before he is in recovery.”
“Thanks doc, we will be here or in room 302, if there is any change.” JD spoke for them all. The Doctor nodded and went on to his next patient.
“Gentlemen, should we traverse to Brother Buck’s room as one?” Ezra queried, handing Tanner a clean shirt.
“Lead on Brother Standish.” Josiah answered, knowing that they needed to be together to get through this.
Once there they were surprised to find Buck awake and talking. They updated him and Travis to what was going on and settled in to wait on news from Chris’ Doctors, while they discussed the next step in locating the women.
“The driver was a dead end. Phillip only directed him to another drop off point and by the time Justin got there, he found no sign of anyone waiting. I suppose that the Deveraux woman now knows something went wrong.” Josiah delivered the bad news.
“I did a search for any property in that area owned by Deveraux or any of the companies they own and found none.” JD accounted his efforts.
“What about Larabee?” Buck joined in and asked. “If this woman is nuts and obsessed she might have use Chris’ name.”
All eyes fell on JD. “I’m on it now.” He pulled out his laptop and went to work.
“I waited until six-thirty, Mrs. Deveraux and Phillip never showed up at the rendezvous. I moved to a place I could watch for him and about an hour later, the police came.” A very nervous man informed Rachael why Larabee was not there.
Rachael Deveraux was more than just angry she was livid and striking out at everyone who worked for her. She began screaming as she brandished a knife in her hands. “I should never have counted on that stupid bastard! What in the hell is wrong with you people? I want to know what happened to Larabee NOW! Then find that sonofabitch Phillip and bring him to me! This time he will pay for his screw up with his life! Seven years I have waited for this and now Phillip has ruined it! The rest of you spread out and find those two bitches! Do whatever you have to, I do not care how much you hurt them, damaged and broken is fine, just bring them to me alive! I want the pleasure of killing them myself!”
While they all set off to follow her instructions, she took the knife and implemented her fury on the Larabee walls. Slashing at each picture until they were all destroyed. Rachel Deveraux’s chilling screams rang through the empty halls as she lost her last shred of sanity.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Tanner waited for some news, while he watched a light snowfall through the window. His thoughts drifted to Kelli, he knew how much she hated the cold and prayed she was somewhere warm. *She is waiting for you Vin, she won’t give up on you. I know that, Tanner but…Do not even think it, you will find her.* Not finding her in time was an intolerable thought for the Texan. He felt a hand on his shoulder
“Vin, I know it’s hard to be positive, but remember Rachael needs Chris to make her plans work. We will find them before Deveraux is desperate enough to change that.” Josiah tried to console his troubled brother. “I know words do not help, but try to be patient because when we find them Kelli will look to you for calm and assurance. She has come a long way, but you are still the only one she will open up to with her emotions.”
A nod was the only answer Sanchez received. The Texan started to pace the room and stopped in front of Dunne. “JD, anything?”
“Almost there, Vin, one last area to search and… Damn! Buck you are a genius! Here it is, thirty acres close to Mount Evans Wilderness off 285. Legal owner is Christopher A. Larabee.”
“Josiah, call Raphael, have him meet us on the roof with the chopper fully loaded for assault Ezra, you alert the rest of the team, JD, you bring that laptop and Nathan check your supplies.” Tanner immediately began to issue orders.
“Vin, I’ll have a SWAT team meet you there.” Travis was already on the phone.
“We’ll have our phones, you’ll call if…” Vin hesitated for a moment.
“Go Vin, between me and Travis we’ll take care of Chris,” Buck issued his own orders. “Bring them home, son.”
“Godspeed, Vin.” Travis added.
“Linda, wait. I can’t go any further on this ankle.” Kelli sat down on the nearest rock. Since they had slipped out of the house, they had only found wilderness. It seemed that rugged terrain surrounded this place and right now, the pain was almost more than she thought she could handle.
“Kel, we can’t stay here, if they turn loose those dogs we saw, it won’t take them long to find us.” Linda saw the pain etched on her friends face. “I’d carry you if I could, but you’re too big of a baby for that.” She tried to coax a smile from the redhead.
“Yeah, as if I’d let you. Dubois.” Kelli had to try once more to get her friend to leave her. “Linda you could get far enough to find help and then come back.” She winced at the pain when she moved. “You and I both know it’s only a matter of time before they do turn those dogs loose and catch up to us.”
“No, we stay together, besides you shoot better than I do and you still have a few shells left.” Linda put her arm around her friend’s waist. “Come on we can do this.”
“Did I ever tell you that you are a stubborn woman?” Kelli tried to smile, but failed to be convincing.
“Only a few dozens times, now shut up and lean on me, let’s go.” Linda took some of Kel’s weight off her ankle and they moved on. Both of them felt a chill when they heard the sound of dogs. Someone had turned them loose and they knew that their time was running out.
Cordova waited on the roof of the hospital, ready to lift off as soon as Vin gave the go ahead. They were in the air as soon as Tanner slid the door shut. “We can be there in fifteen minutes. How close do you want me to go in?”
Vin looked at the maps JD had printed out. “Come in from the west side of the property, there is a ridge there and if you can land behind it they shouldn’t be able to see us coming. The SWAT team is heading in from the other side.”
“You got it, Captain.”
“Stay with the chopper and be ready to get us the hell out of there when we find ‘em.”
Raphael nodded affirmatively and looked over at Tanner. “You tell Blaze, I’ll have the heat set on high for her.”
Night had fallen and the only light they had to navigate by was the illumination from a half moon. The temperature had dropped and it was damn cold. They found a small stream that ran through the property and that is where Linda was dragging Kelli.
“It not that much farther, once we get there maybe we can lose those damn dogs.” Linda tried to be encouraging.
“You ought to know that stream is coming from those mountains and will be ice…” Kelli did not finish her warning before Linda shrieked.
“Kel, you could have warned me! God that water is cold and don’t you dare laugh.” Linda was already shaking from the chilly surprise.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, friend, just help me down the side and I’ll join you.” Kelli was hopeful that the cold water would numb the fiery pain shooting through her back and up her leg.*Vin told me I would get tired of this damn snow, but did I believe him? NO! Tanner I know you are out there and that you’re coming, but could you please hurry!*
They were in the water less than fifteen minutes and both women were shivering from the cold. However, the sounds of their pursuers were getting closer.
“Linda?” Kelli wanted her to leave.
“No! Linda would not consider it.
“Fine, but you’re gonna have to slow down, I can’t feel where ‘m steppin’ anymore.” She almost fell, but Linda caught her. “My entire leg is numb and I know it’s not gonna get any better.”
“Then we find somewhere to wait and shoot the bastards when they come.” Linda forced her on.
The MCAT team prepared their assault and waited only for the go ahead from Tanner. Everyone knew what to do and their priority was to locate the women. Since the property owner on record was Chris Larabee, they did not have to wait for warrants. Vin carried Chris’ power of attorney and no other permission was needed. Travis had provided extra manpower for the raid.
A last minute radio check and they were ready, Tanner led from the front and Justin led from the back. “GO!” Vin gave the command and they entered to find a nearly empty house. Once inside they instigated a room-by-room search and came across the one with a dead body. Tanner was sure that the man had been killed by the thirty-eight he gave Kelli, *Okay, baby I know where you were, but where are you now?*
Further searching brought them to Clayton Deveraux’s room, Josiah, Ezra and Vin watched as the woman carried on her fantasy conversation with her ‘husband.’
Rachael was ‘talking’ to her husband, rambling on and on with no purpose. “It’s ruined Clayton…the women… lost Larabee…the boys will be here soon, it’s time for their dinner and they have school tomorrow…you’ll tell them they have to come home.” Suddenly she turned, started screaming obscenities and ran at the agents with her knife poised for attack. Three gunshots sounded simultaneously and Rachael Deveraux joined her husband and two sons in death.
“My God, that man has been dead for years! What in the hell did she have planned?” The scene in front of him astounded Ezra.
“If I had to guess I believe she planned for Chris to join him.” Josiah stood next to the empty bed and held the bloody picture of Larabee.
“This isn’t findin’ Kel and Linda, leave ‘em and keep searchin’” Vin was already out the door to continue his search.
This destructive sight in the ‘Larabee room’ did nothing to give any of them comfort. The death chamber’ room turned their stomachs when thy realized what that woman had planned for Linda and Kelli. The only good part was that it appeared that the women had not been in here. The video room was empty, too, but Vin found a steel rod on the floor that had blood on it and his heart sank.
“Captain Tanner, we found someone and I think you will want to talk to him.” Justin called him into the other room.
Nathan was pressing the man for information. “Where are they? What condition were they in the last time you saw them?”
The man refused to say anything until Tanner slammed him against the wall. “WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?” Vin grabbed the man by the throat.
“The bitches killed Sully and escaped, four of the men are out with the dogs, hunting for them now.” The man saw the possibility of his own death in Tanner’s cold eyes. “The blond was okay only bruised up, but Phillip was rougher with the redhead and she was in worse shape. Maybe she had a few broken bones.” Vin tightened his hold on the man’s throat. “That all I know, I swear.” The man managed to croak out.
Ezra laid his hand on Tanner’s arm and said softly, “Let’s go find them Vin.” Tanner released his hold and the man dropped to the floor. Standish nodded to Ross, who the cuffed the criminal and then Paul took him away.
Tanner picked up a trail at the back of the house. Nathan carried medical supplies and Ezra brought blankets, the night was cold and no one knew how the women were dressed. JD brought a link to stay in touch with Pam and Josiah carried a continuous prayer. Justin and Mark went along for backup.
The rest of the assault team secured the crime scene and Katrina called Dr. Metfield in take responsibly for the dead bodies.
Vin knelt on the ground and read the signs. “They were ahead of the dogs by about and hour, but one of ‘em is bleeding and Kel is hurt. These are her boot prints and it looks like her left leg can’t hold her weight, they are havin’ to move slower. It won’t take the others long to catch up to them.” Tanner moved on at a faster pace, he could hear the dogs in the distance and knew they had not found them, yet.
They all moved on in silence and did not complain about the speed Tanner set. Each man was as anxious as Vin was to find both women alive. Any other outcome was unthinkable. Suddenly Tanner stopped and listened to the change in the sound of the barking dogs. “Damn!” He took off running in the direction of the hounds that were not too far away.
Linda and Kelli were holed up behind some rocks, the dogs had picked up their scent and within a few minutes, they would be right on top of them. “How many shells do you have left?” Linda whispered.
“Not enough.” Kelli positioned herself as best she could, but knew their chance of any reprieve was not good.
A male voice sounded through the darkness. “You two bitches might as well give up because you’re not going anywhere. You got one minute to decide before we send the dogs in. When they get through with you we get to take what’s left.”
“You can have the blonde, I get the other one.”
“Hey, I don’t mind sharing.”
Laughter erupted. “You’ll have to wait your turn, I’m going first.”
“NOT LIKELY!” The sound of a shell jacked into a chamber drew their attention. “FEDERAL AGENTS, LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS SHOWIN’ EMPTY.” Tanner ordered in a lethal tone of voice. “DO IT OR DIE!”
“I would listen to the man if I were you.” Nathan advised from one direction.
It would be prudent on your part to pay attention,” Ezra noted from another.
“He is not a patient man, I wouldn’t think on it too long.” JD offered his advice, his voice carried from behind them.
“What kind of service do you prefer at your funeral?” Josiah asked them, his booming baritone close by.
It did not take long to have all four men in custody, Justin with Mark’s assistance took over and the rest ran the last sixty feet to the women. Hearing those familiar voices was all it took for Linda and Kelli to give in to the emotional exhaustion that had been threatening to overtake them all day. Then Linda realized she had not heard Chris’ voice and panicked, turning she ran out to meet their rescuers.
“I’m okay, but Kel’s over there behind those rocks and needs medical help! Where’s Chris?” Linda was yelling. Josiah caught her and Vin went on ahead to find Kelli. Nathan was only one-step behind him, and that left Sanchez to explain about Chris. He did not have to, when she saw his face she knew, “GOD No! Please tell me he’s alive”
“He is Linda, he is! Chris is in surgery at Denver Memorial and we will be back there probably before he gets out.” Josiah took a blanket and wrapped it around her, then led her to the others.
During the last twenty-four hours, the Texan had thought of several dozens things he wanted to say to Kelli when he found her. Now that he had her in sight, words failed him and emotions silenced his voice. With gentle hands, he reached out and drew her close to him.
Kelli dug in and refused to move from his embrace. Her head lay on his chest and her pain weakened with the strength she absorbed from the sound of his heartbeat. “Love you, Tanner,” were the only words that she could manage.
“Love you Texas,” Vin found his voice and some control of his intense emotions. “Baby, how bad are you hurt?”
“I’m okay, just don’t let go of me.” She tightened her grip on his shoulder, holding him as though she were afraid something would take him from her once more.
“I won’t, not in this lifetime, I promise, but I need to know how okay you are.” Tanner leaned back and looked at her face. “Aww Hell, you can’t tell me that don’t hurt” He lightly traced his fingers across the bruises, brushing away a few escaped tears. “Nathan is chompin’ at the bit to examine you and I’m not leavin’ so you are out of excuses.” He helped her sit on the ground, still holding her and Jackson came closer to look at her injuries.
“Okay, I hear you might have a broken bone or two let’s see. Vin I need some more light.” As soon as he said it, two more flashlights illuminated the area. Ezra and JD stood by, ready to assist. “Kel, does this hurt?” Nathan prodded her shoulder and she jerked back, “Guess that’s a yes. I can’t give you anything for the pain until the doctor sees you at the ER, but I can clean and cover that cut. Where else are you hurt?”
“Ribs are sore and my hand hurts.” Checking her ribs, she again yelped in pain. Nathan checked out her black-and-blue side then her hand. He removed her ring and gave it to Vin to hold onto and wrapped her hand until it could be x-rayed at the hospital. “What else?’
Linda, now cocooned securely in a blanket, spoke up. “She will not tell you that the bastard hit her with a pipe and broke her ankle, her left leg is in bad shape, too. That’s all I know about, she wouldn’t tell me more.” Her eyes focused on Kelli’s expression of pain and the blond’s voice was breaking with emotion. “Don’t give me that look, he needs to know.”
Vin moved the light to her leg, took out his knife and ripped open her jeans to reveal her entire left leg. “Damn, Kel did you think you could hide this?” From her hip to the top of her boot, the skin showed discoloration from the bruising. “That sonofabitch died too quick!”
“We need to get that wet boot off.” Nathan looked up. “I’m sorry but this is gonna hurt.” Nathan tried to pull the boot off, but it would not budge. “We need to cut it off.” A gasp from Linda made him hastily correct his statement. “Cut the boot, Linda, not the foot. Vin?”
“It might better to do that the hospital. Nathan can the rest wait as well?” Vin questioned, his eyes never leaving Kelli.
“She’s made it this far and if we don’t have to put it off long, yeah.” Jackson reluctantly acknowledged. “We do need to get her warm, though.”
“JD, when?” Tanner asked.
“Raphael will be here in ten minutes and there is a place he can land not far from here.” JD confirmed.
Tanner nodded, “Justin, take Mark and get those men back to the house, you’re in charge of the cleanup at the scene. You get the live ones and Kat, Ramsey and Bones get the dead ones while they process the scene for evidence. We’re going to the ER as soon as that chopper gets here. JD, get an update from the hospital and then ask Pam to pass on to Mal and Casey what happenin’. Josiah, go to the landin’ site and get some lights going for Raphael. Ez, give me those other blankets. Kel, ‘m gonna help you get out of those wet clothes, let me know if it hurts too much.”
“Vin, wait.” Nathan stopped him, thinking about evidence. “Before you do that I have to ask. Were either of you…sexually assaulted?” Nathan as well as the others held their breath waiting for an answer.
“No, no we weren’t.” Linda answered. “I think that was planned but …No”
“Okay Kel, I’ll try to make this as easy for you as possible, hold onto to me and let me do all the work.” The others stepped back while Vin began undressing Kelli. When he saw just how much damage Phillip’s sadistic streak inflicted, he swore softly. “Damn.” He used his knife to cut off her jeans and then wrapped her in the blankets. All the while wishing he could kill Deveraux more than one time.
Kelli felt Vin’s anger and placed one hand on the side of his face. Whispering softly, “It’s over and you’re here, that’s all that matters to me.” Tanner let his anger dissolve and concentrated on the woman he was holding.
“Chopper will be at the site in five minutes, Chris is still in surgery.” JD gave an update.
“Then let’s get out of this hell, maybe Chris will be in recovery by the time we get there.” Vin carried Kelli to the chopper, offering her his warmth and love for comfort.
“Time?” The doctor asked.
“He’s been under five hours and sixteen minutes.”
“Damn! I have another bleeder here. Clamp!” Machines began to beep and alarms sounded.
“Pressure’s dropping 80/60 … 70/50 … 60…we’re losing him….. Flat line!
“Larabee, I have worked to damn hard for you to die on me now! Paddles!
Hospital Emergency Room - Sunday 1:45am.
JD had called ahead to the hospital, and had Inez waiting to accompany Linda during the examination that she vehemently insisted she did not need. All she wanted was to see Larabee. Nathan went to find out about Chris’ surgery and check on Rain, while Josiah filled in Buck and Travis about the rescue operation. Ezra filled out the hospital paperwork and Tanner carried Kelli in to the exam room.
Dr. Landers started her on pain medication as he examined her injuries. Besides the contusions, her shoulder had an ugly gash that required stitches and her older injury had been aggravated. The doctor was positive she had bruised ribs, some broken bones in her hand and was not willing to rule out internal bleeding until he was able to see all her test results. The next revelation came when they finally cut off her boot. Kelli’s ankle was in bad shape and he ordered x-rays to determine if surgical repair was necessary.
While waiting to go to x-ray, Kelli decided she wanted to go home. “Vin please, enough of this, I can heal better in our bed than here.”
“Not this time, baby, you’re stayin’ put.” The Texan stroked the top of her head. “That’s the pain meds talkin’, you have too many injuries to see home for a few days.” He stopped her protest. “Besides with you, Chris and Buck all as patients this place will be home for a while. Plus, George is in here and a couple of babies are waiting to be born into this family in a few days.”
“Mine, being one of them, hi guys.” Rain said, coming into the room. As Vin stood up, she gasped when saw Kelli, “Good Lord Kel, you look like hell! “She put her hand over her mouth. ‘Sorry, it just surprised me.”
“No problem, Rain. I know I’ve felt better and I hope, that I’ve looked better too.” Kelli tried to smile, “How are you and baby Jackson doing?”
“We’re fine, but the reason I’m here is to spell Vin. Chris’ doctor wants to meet with the family in fifteen minutes. Nathan set it up in Buck’s room.” Rain saw the conflict in Tanner’s eyes. “Nathan will tell me and you need to be there.”
Kelli knew Vin’s thoughts and wanted to ease his concern, at least about her. “Tanner, you listen to me. I hurt, but I will heal, I’m not going anywhere without you.” She traced down the side of his face with her fingers. “Chris is not going anywhere either. You have done everythin’ you can and now it is time to let faith take care of the rest. Just as sure as I was that you would not stop until you found me, I know Chris will not give up. It takes more than one Phillip Deveraux to do in a Lar’bee.”
Vin nodded, realizing just how much he needed to hear those words from her. It still amazed him that Kelli did not know how much she could affect his state of mind. She helped to preserve his sense of balance and reinforced his faith. *Hell, Vin she affects everything about you.* He was positive he needed her more than she did him but had little hope he would ever convince her of that. “Those meds must be working because you sure are being bossy, woman.”
“Go, Tanner, I’ll be here when you get back. I might be asleep, but I will be here. Love you.” She was sure she saw some of the tension Vin was carrying drain off and she was determined not to add to it.” Use that connection you have and tell the old man I said thanks because if he had not done what he did you might not have got to us in time.”
The Texan nodded and kissed her, “Love you, too.” As he left her, he caught Rain. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. They took Linda to have an ultrasound, when she gets back tell her I’ll make sure she knows what is happenin’.”
The group of six brothers that assembled in Wilmington’s room was a tense one. With little sleep and the emotional roller coaster of the last several days on their minds, they needed to hear some good news. By the time Dr. Gilford entered the room they were ready for some answers.
“Gentlemen, Mr. Jackson has assured me that it was necessary that you all be present, but before I say anything I must be sure. Mr. Tanner you have POA for Mr. Larabee, are you agreeable that all these men be in attendance?”
“Absolutely, and in plain English, please.” Vin answered.
“When he was brought in, Mr. Larabee had severe chest trauma, bruised tissue around his heart, three broken ribs, and enough blood in his chest to drown him. Add to that, compound fractures in one leg, a clean break on the other, several ruptured blood vessels and you have more shock than one body can take. Mr. Larabee arrested twice during surgery before we could finish putting him back together. However, that said he is still alive. We repaired the damage and his lungs are working with only a little help. I consider his surgery very successful in spite of a couple of bad moments.”
“Now what happens?” Tanner questioned.
“Now we wait, his body needs rest. For that reason, I have ordered that he stay heavily sedated to give him a chance to recover with minimal stress to his system. My ideas about trauma recovery are a little different from some. I believe in letting the body do what it can with less invasive methods. I have him in CCU, for now. Before you ask, I cannot tell you how long it will take. Could be one day or one week, it all depends strictly on his will to survive and how fast his body recoups some strength. I wish I could tell you more, but I just do not know. The fact that he is still among the living is a good sign, frankly, when I first saw him I did not think he would make it this far. You may see him two at a time and only for a few minutes. Talk to him and let him know you are there, family support is important during a long recovery period.”
“So you think he’ll make it Doc?” Buck ventured to ask what they all wanted to know.
“He damn well better, I put some of my best work into him and I do not intend to see it wasted” Dr. Gilford smiled. “Plain English enough Mr. Tanner?”
“Yeah, thanks Doc, appreciate what you did for him.” Vin shook his hand and then the Doctor was out the door. Turing to Jackson he asked, “Nate, you agree with him?”
Nathan thought about what the doctor said, “It make sense, given his injuries and I think this doctor is the one Chris needs.”
“I believe you’re right.” Vin’s instincts told him that this doctor would do everything he could to see Chris through this. Y’all don’t mind I‘m gonna see Chris first and then go downstairs to be with Kel. Linda should be back there by now and I guess I need to talk to her too.”
“Brother Vin, would you mind some company? “ Josiah offered. “We would like to be there with you when you tell Linda.”
“I’d like that, thanks.” Kelli’s words about letting faith take over rang in his head and he knew somehow that Chris would make it.
It was difficult to recognize the man they knew beneath the layers of swelling and the dark bruises that covered most of his body. Chris looked as if he was sleeping, but the monitors, tubes and the noise from the ventilator said differently. Josiah and Vin went in together and after Sanchez said a prayer Vin moved closer to deliver his own message.
*You did good Cowboy, Linda and Kel are both safe and have you to thank for it. Josiah, Ezra and I took care of that Deveraux bitch for you and Phillip is history. We will take care of Linda, too, until you’re back with us, but don’t make it too long. One female is enough for me to handle without some backup and I sure as hell don’t have experience with one that’s pregnant. Doc says your will to survive is important so get your ass busy recuperating so we can all blow this place. Oh and Kel said to tell the old man thanks. I think I’ll let you deal with the old part of that message when you see her. I will be back soon.* Vin did not expect an answer, but his soul felt that Chris heard him.
After his turn with Chris, Travis left them to make some arrangements of his own. Once each of the brothers had a chance to see Larabee, they worked out a schedule, making sure someone would be with him or nearby twenty-four hours a day.
They gathered in the waiting room while Vin went in to get Linda and Rain to join them. The Doctor released Linda saying that she and the baby were fine. Kelli was back from x-ray and fell asleep waiting for whatever came next. Tanner asked a nurse to stay with her and promised to be back as quickly as possible.
“Linda that is everything that Dr. Gilford told us. All we can do now is to wait.” Vin finished repeating the Doctor’s words.
“Maybe we need a specialist, if it’s a matter of money I can afford whoever we need.” Linda felt a sense of desperation falling over her.
“Chris has made it this far. We need to have faith that he will make it the rest of the way.” Josiah wanted to offer some comfort.
“I assure you Linda, if Chris needed another doctor, we would have one here.” Nathan gave his opinion. “Dr. Gilford is doing what he believes is best for now and I agree.”
“I just…God I almost lost him before and now…” Linda began to cry.
Inez and Rain closed ranks around their soon to be sister. “We will all be here for as long as it takes, you do not have to go through this alone. We’re family, and so are you.”
Travis joined them and explained what was going to happen. “I have made arrangements with the hotel across the street. We have a suite of rooms available for use and a professional Nanny to supervise the children. Sanchez, you and Dunne need to see your wives, bring them into town to join the rest of the family. The rest of you need some sleep so work out who goes first. Linda, I will escort you to see Chris if you will wait for me a few minutes. Tanner, I need to speak to you for a moment please.”
Orrin pulled Vin aside. “Son, you have done an outstanding job of taking care of everything, but now you need to see to your wife. I have arranged for her to have a private room with an extra bed so you can stay with her. That will give you privacy from the press, which I will handle and it will be your temporary office. With Buck and Chris out, I cannot give you leave, too. However, I can make it easier for you. You have a good team, delegate what you can and let your family help you when you cannot be here. Mrs. Montgomery will be in tomorrow; she is an excellent organizer and will be an asset for the unit. I will get her started with proper procedure and apprise her of the current situation. Let her help. Whatever else you need, call me day or night. Now, I will take over here while you take care of Kelli and then you are to get some sleep yourself. That is an order, because I am counting on you to lead this bunch until Chris is back.”
“Thanks, Orrin appreciate your support.” Vin took the help Travis was willing to give and went to find Dr. Landers. He did not have to go far because the doctor was waiting for him.
“Vin, sit down and let’s talk. The x-rays confirm that your wife does have broken bones, three in her left hand, a hairline fracture of the tibia in her left leg and an ankle that will need surgery to put back together. However, I am concerned about trauma to the lower back area and some congestion in the lungs, most likely from exposure to the cold and for that reason want to wait a few days before I send her to surgery. I am starting her on antibiotics as a safe guard and anti-inflammatory medication for her shoulder, which I have already immobilized. I have also taken care of her hand and leg. Considering what could have happened with that choice of weapon, I would say she is a very lucky young woman. She should be fine, but it will take some time for a full recovery. Her room is ready and we will be moving her there in a few minutes. I will be by later this afternoon to check on her.”
“Thanks doc,” Vin took a deep breath and went back to the exam room to be with Kelli. *Lord Kel, for a woman that hates hospitals, you have had more than your share. Doc says you will be okay though and that is the only thing that matters to me. We will do this together, just like everything else.*
Kelli slept through the room transfer and Vin waited to make sure she was resting comfortably. Finally, at six o’clock on Sunday morning, he lay down on the extra bed and gave in to the exhaustion of the last three days.
Standish brought clothes and essentials for both Vin and Kelli when he came back to the hospital for his turn to stay with Chris. Tanner felt like a new man, after eight hours of sleep, a shower and clean clothes. Dr. Landers came by, said so far, so good on Kelli’s condition, and set her surgery for Wednesday. He informed Tanner that a coworker, Dr. Brass would stand in for him until then, since he would be out of town until Tuesday night.
Now Vin had an hour before he could see Chris’ doctor and was determined to find some decent food in the meantime.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Vin, asked and felt guilty knowing Kelli could not have anything different than what Dr. Landers had ordered for her.
“Just because I have to try and eat this stuff doesn’t mean you have to suffer too. When I get out of here you can fix me a steak and we’ll call it even.” She tried to smile. “Beside ‘m not really hungry, just sleepy, it must be all that damn medicine. I bet Chris hates it as much as I do.”
“Yeah he does.” Vin just could not bring himself to tell her that Chris wasn’t talking yet. “As long as that damn medicine gets you well and makes you hurt less I guess it’s okay, if it makes you sleep.” The Texan sat next to her on the bed. “You do hurt less don’t you?” Before she could answer, the door opened and Justin walked in.
“Sorry to disturb you Captain, I can come back if you want.” Justin waited.
“It’s alright, come on in.” Vin acknowledged the man. “What can I do for you, Michaels?
“Actually, I’m just finishing up on some details and wanted to ask Kel a couple of question, if she’s up to it.” He was hesitant.
“Ms. Dubois gave her statement and I just wanted to see if Kel had anything to add to it.”
“We were together all the time, so I doubt it, unless you want to know about the gun.” Kelli read his face. “I had it since I left the office, she didn’t know about it. The man I killed was the one that hit Linda and he made his next intentions of rape very clear. You will see from forensics there were two bullets, the first one probably killed him and the second was to insure our escape. That is what you wanted to know right?”
“Yes, I think that will clear up the last details for the report. Just so you know, we found the bodies of the bogus Marshals and the statements from the other guards concur with your assessment of what was planned for you. We filed capital murder charges against the clerk, Mark Amos, for leaking the information that led to the death of two law enforcement officers. The only question I have Captain is about what to do with Ms. Lyons.” Justin looked to Tanner for an answer.
“See that she gets back to Dallas. With Deveraux dead, we don’t need her as a material witness and Chris was finished with her after their discussion.” Vin looked over at Kelli, “Justin, make sure she knows that she is not welcome in Denver.”
“That will be my pleasure. Kel get better soon and expect to see the rest of the team up here as soon as your doc gives the okay. Don’t worry about the office Vin, we’ll hold things down for you.” Justin started to leave.
“Michaels,” Vin stopped him. “Tell all of them thank you, for a job well done” The agent nodded and left.
“Now, Tanner, go find you some food, ‘m gonna sleep,” Kelli ordered.
“I will, ‘m also gonna check on George, visit Buck and the catch the doctor before I see Chris.” Vin kissed her and pulled the covers up. “You rest baby, I’ll be back in a while.”
“Ez, what’s going on?
“Dr Gilford just went in, said he would talk to you when he gets through.”
“Damn I wanted to see him before he went in, but Buck would not stop complainin’. His doc said he had at least another week here and Wilmington is not happy about it either.” Vin smiled when he thought about the choice words Buck had to say about it.
“At least he is still with us to complain.” Ezra smiled, too. “Things are so getting back to normal if Buck is grumpy.”
Tanner grinned, “Yeah, it did sound pretty good.”
“Mallory was here for a while and then she walked Linda over to the hotel insisting that she rest.”
“When Mal insists, not even Josiah argues with her.” Vin had seen her in action too many times.
The door opened and Dr Gilford came out giving orders as he walked. ”Mr. Tanner, just the man I want to see.”
“Vin will do, sir.”
“In that case it just Doc.” Gilford smiled. “I have good news for you. It seems that Chris is a helluva lot stronger than I gave him credit. The test results are good and I am going to reduce his medication. If his body agrees, by tomorrow morning, I might be able to rid him of some extra equipment. Do not get too excited; he is better, but he has a long recovery ahead. Although I hear through the grapevine around here, he has a roommate waiting for him when I spring him from CCU.”
“That he does. How soon do you think it could be?” Vin matched the doctor’s smile, with one of his own.
“If all goes well it could possibly be tomorrow afternoon or early Tuesday. I have ordered evaluations every two hours while we take him off some of the heavier drugs. The man has a strong will and he is fighting to come back, I could not ask for more than that.” A pleased Dr. Gilford reported. “Meet me here at eight in the morning and I will know more. Give the nurses a few minutes and then you can go in to see him.”
“Vin, since you are here, I am going to contact several concerned family members and pass on the excellent reports.” Ezra hurried downstairs to make the calls, while Tanner waited impatiently to see Chris.
The nurses finished and Tanner went inside the room. *Cowboy, hear you’re puttin’ up a good fight. Keep it up and you’ll be in a room with Bucklin before you know it. Of course, you will be hopping around on crutches for a while just like him, but maybe you and Buck could have some kind of race. Ez would be happy to lay bets on that. Linda will be glad, she is already plannin’ on about one hundred ways to spoil you until you can come back to work. Hell, the entire family plans on a blowout for you homecomin’. I saw George and he is doing a lot better, might get out of here in a few days.*
Vin watched the machines and he could feel a frustrated Larabee sending his own communications. One of the messages he read loud and clear.
*You are right, I have not mentioned Kel, well she’s gonna be on crutches right along with you. I just did not want you to worry about her. That’s why she hasn’t been here. She is havin’ surgery in a day or so to repair a busted ankle, but doc says she will be okay. She is as bossy as you are and I swear twice as stubborn. I’ll take care of her though, you just get back so we can all be close enough to yell at each other instead of three floors apart.*
“Come on in Ez, finish readin’ that story to him, he wants to know what happens.”
Ezra had stood at the door and watched the ‘conversation’ between Larabee and Tanner. Even though he knew it was fact, it still amazed him to see it in action. “I will be honored to do so. See you in the morning Vin.”
CCU -Monday 8:00am.
Tanner was later than he had intended. Kelli had experienced a rough night and he was reluctant to leave her even for a little while. He waited until she practically threw him out to go and once he was here, he found most of the family already anxiously waiting for Dr. Gilford to exit the room.
“Vin, I will say this, your brother is one stubborn man. I wish all my patients fought as hard as he is, it would make my job easier. He will not be able to talk for a few hours, due to the tube we had down his throat, but he is writing and wants to see you. I will be moving him to his friend’s room tomorrow and be back to see him later. You take care of yourself, too.” The doctor patted Tanner on the shoulder and then left.
Tanner entered Larabee’s room and the first thing he saw was a set of very intense green eyes boring into him. Chris was awake and from the looks of him not too happy about something.
*Damn, you wake up cranky! Dial down that glare and tell me what has you so riled.*
*From the beginning and do not sugar coat it!*
*Deveraux beat the hell out of you and I killed him.*
*If it makes you feel better to know, you did not take that beating for nothing. Because you did Chris, we caught the driver, which led us to an area to search. You now own thirty acres in the Evans Wilderness area and while you were lazing around in surgery, we went out there and found Linda and Kel. We could not have done that if you had not met Deveraux. Linda is right outside your door and Kel is two floors down.*
*Linda has some bruises, but she and the baby are okay and Kel has a few more bruises plus a busted ankle. Still, you should be proud of both on ‘em. They used their heads and stayed alive til we could get there, made one hell of an escape, too*
*Neither of them would have been hurt, if it were not for me.*
*Neither of them would be here if it were not for you, Cowboy. They were not gonna leave there alive, if Rachael had her way. I know you hurt like hell but that is what saved them from a lot worse.*
*I need to see them both.*
*I will send Linda in now, but Kel has to wait til they fix her ankle to come see you.*
Once outside Tanner met with Linda. “He’s ready to see you, but remember don’t go into detail about Kel’s injuries. I told him she had a busted ankle and some bruises. That is all he needs to know til he’s better.”
“He is really better right?” Linda could not get the image from Sunday morning out of her mind. When Travis took her to see Chris, she could not believe someone could look that bad and still be alive. “God, Vin, how can I do this?”
“You’ll do fine. He still looks like hell, but he is gonna make it.” The Texan steered her to the door of Chris’ room and he was aware of her anxiety about seeing Larabee. ”Linda, just talk to him, your voice is what he needs to hear. Talk about the horses, the ranch or the kids, it doesn’t matter, he just needs to know you’re okay.” Tanner squeezed her hand and encouraged her; he knew the moment her wild spirit returned.
“Thank you, Vin, I’m okay now. “ Linda pulled herself together and entered Chris’ room. “It’s about time you woke up, Larabee, we have wedding plans to make.”
Tanner stood outside the door with a smile on his face. Linda knew just what buttons to push with Chris and he knew his brother was with the woman he needed to see.
Kelli was sleeping when the Texan returned to her room, so he went to work on the computer JD had set up for him and began his own report. After an hour, a doctor entered the room.
“Who are you?” Vin questioned, wanting to make sure this was the man Dr. Landers said to expect.
“Dr. Brass.” The doctor them dismissed Tanner from his thoughts and picked up Kelli’s chart. “Everything looks good, I will be back tomorrow.”
“Wait a minute, she is worse than yesterday, had a bad night and sleeps almost all the time, don’t you think…”
“Mr. Tanner, you leave the doctor stuff to me and you do whatever it is you do. I assure you I can read a report and this one says she is fine.” The doctor left without even examining Kelli leaving a very irritated Texan behind.
The nurse came in earlier and upped Kelli’s pain medication per the Doctor’s orders. It did seem to help, at least now she was not as restless in her sleep as she had been. Vin was still concerned though and kept a close eye on her. All the agents had sent him their reports on the computer and he was almost through reading them. He knew he would have to make a trip to the office to sign them, but was putting it off as long as possible.
Suddenly the door burst open and in walked a woman, Tanner did not know. She was an older woman, heavyset and had an armful of folders. “Captain Vin, I am Drusilda Montgomery, and I am here to make your life easier.” Vin stood up to relieve her of the load she was carrying, but she brushed him off. “Sit down Son, these are your reports, ready for your signature and this is some good food I want you to eat now while I go over the work I brought you. Travis warned me about your eating habits.”
“Mrs. Montgomery, although I appreciate it, you did not have to do this.” To say Vin was surprised was an understatement.
“Nonsense, the sooner you sign these, the sooner those scumbags get what they deserve. I am sure you have not been taking care of yourself the way you should because the good Lord and I both know most men do not. That is a meal, not some fast food junk to eat and run. I also brought you some extra for later and none of that Mrs. Montgomery stuff, you can call me Gunny, that’s what my family calls me.”
“Gunny? I didn’t realize you had been in the service.” The thought of this sweet old lady as a ‘Gunny’ amused the Texan.
“Land’s sake no, but I did spend twenty-five years with the school system and I run a tight ship. My children always said our home was like boot camp and that is when they began calling me Gunny, it stuck. Now, eat! This stack needs your signature and this one is for you to review when you have time. If you will let me know by e-mail what you need I can bring it each day when I come. I thought noon would be best, but if you prefer later just let me know.”
“Mrs.… Gunny, noon is fine, but ‘m hoping’ we won’t be here long.” Vin decided he liked this woman and could already see that vein in Chris’ forehead throbbing when he clashed with her. He signed the reports, promised her he would eat and sent this morning’s paperwork back with her as she left. *Life around the office just got more interestin’, Tanner.*
The rest of the day, he spent doing MCAT paperwork and watching a restless Kelli sleep, leaving only long enough to check on Chris. He was trying to convince himself that by tomorrow there would be good news all around.
Moving from one room to another was relatively easy, unless your patient was awake and glaring at you the entire time. By the time they reached Wilmington’s room Chris was more than ready to strangle someone, if he only had the strength to do it. Something was nagging at him and he was not sure what it was, but he was sure that it was important. He found doing anything was taxing and that made him even more irritated.
“Hey stud, welcome aboard. Looks like you and I will be hobbling around together for a while.” Buck was genuinely glad to see his oldest friend.
“Now Buck, you know Chris can barely talk, give him a chance to settle in.” Nathan scolded.
“You remember now, Linda, he’s still weak, don’t over stress his libido.” Buck laughed and Inez swatted his good arm.
Linda gave a mischievous smile. “Buck you have heard the term ‘sexual healing’ haven’t you.”
Nathan just rolled his eyes.” Wilmington, you won’t embarrass this one as much as Kelli.”
“Right and why do you think Travis got her a private room? I’d bet Vin and her are doing some healing of their own, otherwise Tanner would be here now.” Wilmington felt better than he had in a long time. His family was here to tease.
A soft voice cracked. “Private room?” Chris was wary; he knew there had to be more to it.
“Yeah, Chris, I guess Orrin knew Vin would want to be here for Kel, so he had a private room set up with a space for Tanner to work.” Nathan explained.
“How long…broken… ankle?” Chris could only manage a word or two at a time, but his senses were screaming at him that something was wrong.
“Hell, Chris from what Inez told me it’s more than a broke ankle…ouch…What was that for?” Buck still felt the sting from Inez’s slap on his arm.
Green lasers landed on Nathan. ”Nate?”
“She will be okay Chris it’s just…” Jackson was uncomfortable under Larabee’s heated scrutiny. ”Dammit…“I told Vin he should tell you all of it. Kel came out a little worse than Linda did, it will take a while longer for her to heal.”
“Dammit,” Chris groaned, “How…bad?”
Linda stepped forward. “Chris she will be fine. Kel’s shoulder is a little sore, she has a bad ankle injury, a few tender ribs and some bruises. Nothing severe enough that will not heal with a little time. Don’t worry.”
Chris clammed up to the people in the room, but sent Vin a blazing message *Tanner, get your ass here now!*
It had been over an hour and Larabee was becoming more agitated by the minute, Tanner was ignoring him and his gut was telling him something was not right. His words were not cooperating, but his thoughts were running wild right alone with his blood pressure.
“You need to calm down Chris, or you will be back in CCU in a heartbeat” A concerned Nathan did his best to settle his brother.
“My …fault.” Larabee was convinced that this nightmare was not over yet.
“It was not your fault that Deveraux was a sadistic nutcase and don’t you take that on!” Linda was surprised that Chris was accepting guilt for this. “Nathan, please go to Kel’s room and get Vin, maybe Chris will believe him that Kelli is okay.”
“What in the hell is going on in here!” Dr Gilford stood at the door with a nurse.” Larabee, you mess up my work and I will personally see that you have orders for daily enemas. Anybody care to tell me why in the space of two hours my patient has gone from getting better to trying for another cardiac arrest!”
“Chris thinks we are hiding something about Kel’s condition and is overreacting a bit,” Linda tried to explain.
“Kel ?” Dr. Gilford thought he had met all of the Larabee clan.
“Kelli Tanner, Vin’s wife is a patient here, too. The same man that put Chris in here hurt her, but not as badly, except Larabee won’t believe that.” Nathan told the doctor.
The doctor went to his patient. “Chris, do you trust me?” He waited for Larabee to decide. When he saw Chris answer with an affirmative nod, he continued. “I will personally go check on this woman for you, but you have to promise me to relax or I will move you back to CCU so fast you will not know you’re moving until it is done. This nurse will baby-sit you for me while I am gone. Deal?”
Before the doctor could move away, he felt Chris touch his arm lightly. “Daughter.” He locked eyes with Larabee and saw how important it was to him to know.
“I understand. The rest of you clear this room and let this patient rest. Nurse, there will be absolutely no visitors until you hear different from me.” He pushed a protesting group out the door.
Vin received Larabee’s messages, but ignored him. He was having his own problems with Kelli’s doctor. The man refused to come back, saying Dr Landers would take over in the morning, and the Texan knew something was not right, Kelli was nauseous and could not eat. She was sweating, but her skin was cold and she had trouble making a coherent sentence, and according to the nurse, a low-grade fever had developed, along with a fluctuating blood pressure reading.
Tanner was shouting into the phone. “I DON’T CARE WHO IN THE HELL YOU HAVE TO DISTURB, I WANT ANOTHER DOCTOR HERE NOW! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” The noise from the slammed down receiver did not get any reaction from Kelli. The hospital administrator on the other end of that call, however, still heard ringing in her ears. She then made a grievous error by sending a first year resident to ‘deal’ with Mr. Tanner.
The young doctor was there in ten minutes and was positive he could handle an overprotective family member. People that were not doctors just did not understand and were naturally worried about a loved one. All he had to do was be professional, offer reassurance and say the right words. He took a deep breath and entered the room.
“Mr. Tanner, I am Dr Gray and I understand you have a few questions.”
“NO! I DO NOT have any fuckin’ questions, what I have is a wife whose condition is getting worse by the minute and a doctor that doesn’t give a DAMN! I demand a competent doctor and they send me a kid! I NEED SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT IN THE HELL THEY ARE DOIN’!’ Vin was ready to do some serious damage to the young man.
“Will I do?” Dr. Gilford came in the room and quickly took control of the situation. “Dr Gray, your assessment of the patient?”
“I …they sent me here to calm a family member….”
“Move out of the way!” Dr. Gilford picked up the chart, but he only read for a minute and began to issue orders. “Vin, push that call button for a nurse. Gray, get me an ultrasound machine in here. Stat! Tanner, tell me everything while I examine your wife.”
The Texan outlined everything since last night and could not hide his anger about Dr. Brass. ”Doc, what’s wrong with her?”
“Dr. Landers left specific instructions that apparently were not followed and I promise you as Chief of Surgery, I will find out why. Right now, though my first priority is helping this young woman. Landers had reason to be concerned about late trauma because sometime damage will not show up immediately. In Kelli’s case, I suspect slow bleeding vessels around the kidney area are to blame for her deteriorating condition. Normally augmented pain would be the first indicator, of trouble; however, the increased medication masked the pain. The decreased alertness, faster heart rate, cold skin and nausea are all symptoms of internal blood loss.”
Vin paled and felt like he had just been kicked in the gut, but still managed to ask. “How serious is that?”
“I will not lie to you it is damn serious, but as soon as I do an ultra sound I am having her sent straight to surgery and I will be performing it myself, as of now she is my patient.” Dr. Gilford did the ultrasound and confirmed what he suspected. He gave the orders necessary to prepare for the procedure and walked with Vin to the door. He gripped the Texan’s shoulder. “I have it on good authority that Larabee’s are tough customers. I know the one that sent me here damn sure is. There will be some consent forms for you to sign and family for you to wait with in Chris’ room during the surgery. I will make sure you stay informed and see you after I finish. I have one stop to make on the way. With your permission, I will update the rest of your family on what is happening, but I will be waiting for Kelli when she gets there. You can stay with her until they reach the operating room doors.”
Dr. Gilford went back to Chris’ room and found several more family members present outside his door. He motioned for them to follow him into the room. He only had time to say this once. “Chris, you were right to be concerned and thank God you persisted. Kelli has some internal bleeding and the nurses are preparing her for emergency surgery, but I will be the one doing it. You have to trust me because I do not have time to give you all the details. Now, I have to be sure you can handle this or I will have you back on the monitors.”
“I’m okay. ...Just make it right.” The knot that had formed in his gut disappeared. A relieved Chris knew he had somehow managed to make a difference, for the ones he cared about, in spite of his injuries.
“I am leaving a nurse with you and she has clear instructions. Any distress and you are back on the machines, no arguments. The rest of you can stay but there will be no yelling, screaming or arguments or this nurse will throw you all out. There is also a very distraught young man down stairs that needs some support from family about now. I will be back here as soon as I am finished.”
Vin gave Kelli one more kiss and watched her disappear behind the operating room doors. Although he knew, he had family here, watching those doors close, the Texan suddenly felt alone. Strong arms encircled him and he gave in to the comfort Josiah was there to offer. Ezra, JD and Nathan stood beside him and without a word passed strength to the younger man.
“Dr. Gilford will take care of her Vin and you have family here. Come on, one Cowboy in particular is waiting for you.”
Denver Memorial Hospital- 6:30pm.
Considering the room was full of people, it was relatively quiet, especially for a family that was usually boisterous. Neither Chris nor Vin had said one word for the last two hours, at least not out loud. Tanner stood staring out the window while Larabee watched every movement he made, mentally willing the Texan to stay calm.
Linda sat next to Chris, but could stand the silence no longer. “I have been sitting here thinking about the next few weeks. You, Kelli and Buck will not be fully mobile for a while and will need some assistance getting around. The ranch will need some temporary additions to make that easier. Inez and I can be there full time and if we need to, we can hire a nurse to help or set up a schedule for the family. What do you think, Chris?”
Larabee did not answer her, but he saw the muscles in Tanner’s back tense up. *Easy, Vin, she’ll be okay.*
*What makes you so damn sure about that? You got a connection I don’t know about?*
*No, but I know she will not give up without one helluva a fight. For some reason she has decided to love an ornery, stubborn, longhaired, smart ass Texan and I just do not see her giving up on him.*
*I sure as hell have not given up on her! Dammit Chris, it’s this waitin’ that I can’t handle.*
*What happen to all that Tanner patience? You and Kel had a lot of practice waiting, if I recall. Are you going to tell me it was not worth the wait?*
*No, it was more than worth it… but this is different, hell, at least then I knew what I was waitin’ for*.
*You did, she didn’t, but it did not stop her from having faith about what the unknown had to offer.*
*Have faith, which is exactly what Kel said about … Okay, I get your point.*
*Good, maybe I won’t have to kick your ass after all.*
“Chris? Are you even listening to me?” Linda tried again to get his attention. “Inez thinks my idea is a good one and Josiah said it would not take much work to make a few adjustments on the ranch house to allow for a wheelchair or crutches.”
“If you plan for all three of us to recuperate, in the same house that could be hazardous to someone’s health.” Buck knew how Chris was when he was injured.
“Buck, you worry too much, I think it would be the perfect solution. It could even be fun.” Linda had no idea.
Nathan intervened. “Linda, Chris and Buck have a unique disposition when they’re hurt. They are not exactly the best patients to nurse back to health. And from what I have observed Kelli might not be such an agreeable patient either.”
“You must be exaggerating, I can handle Chris, and Inez can take care of Buck. That just leave Kel, while Vin is at work and I am sure she will behave once she know she has no choice.” Linda was confident with her plan.
“Linda, you tell Kel that she has no choice and she will do everythin’ in her power to prove you wrong.” Vin could not stay quiet hearing Linda’s statement and he could not help but smile, thinking about her plan. “You would do better takin’ on five two years olds than a stubborn Tanner, an ornery Larabee and a mule headed Wilmington.”
“Amen to that brother.” Josiah and Nathan were both shaking their heads in agreement.
“I believe what Vin is trying to say is, you would have a better chance of hell freezing over than your plan working.” Ezra interpreted.
Always an optimist, JD disagreed. “It could work.” Six brothers glared at him. “Well, It could,” he protested.
Any response to that was lost when the door opened and a young man in green scrubs stepped in the room. “I am looking for Mr. Tanner.”
Vin stepped forward. “That’s me.”
“My name is Dr. Brian Allen, Dr. Gilford’s assistant. He asked me to tell you that your wife has, and I quote ‘proven that stubbornness is hereditary’. She is doing fine, and in fact, did well enough that he decided to have the orthopedic surgeons go ahead and repair her ankle while she is in there. He is staying with her until they finish and then he will be out to talk to you. That will be in about an hour. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime?”
The Texan let out the breath he did not realize he was holding. “No, you just told me all I needed to know. Thank you.”
“My pleasure sir. Now Mr. Larabee, I have instructions to examine you, check your vitals and report back to Dr. Gilford.”
“I’m fine.” Chris tried to dissuade the man from poking and prodding.
“He said you would say that, but if it’s all the same to you I prefer to follow his orders. My backside says intact that way.” With the nurses’ assistance, he gave Chris a quick examination and then told her she could leave. “You may have your family stay until Dr. Gilford comes, but then they will have to go so you can rest.” Dr. Allen closed the door quietly on his way out.
The noise level in the room grew with several conversations going on. Blue eyes met green ones and both knew the worst was behind them; now the family could start to heal from the devastation that the Deverauxs inflicted. They had again beaten the odds; they would all survive and somehow be stronger for it.
*Thanks Cowboy for sending the Doc.*
*That’s what Dad’s do, Vin, look out for their kids.*
“Then it’s settled.” Linda said.
“What’s settled?” Chris managed to croak out.
“Larabee, you have not heard a word I have said. We have it all worked out, trust me I will organize the whole thing. This will be the easiest recuperation you have ever had.” Linda was positive she could handle three infirmed patients. How hard could it be? She had at least a week to prepare before any one of them would make it home.
Dr. Gilford arrived just after seven. “Vin, the bleeding came from leaking blood vessels around the kidney and I was able to repair the injury. We got to it in time to prevent any long-term damage. The ankle will take the longest to mend; she absolutely cannot put any weight on it for four weeks. By that time her other injuries will be healed and she can use crutches or a walking boot for another six weeks. I will give you full instructions to follow when she goes home, which will not be for at least another seven days. If you will give me a minute with Chris I will take you to recovery so you can see her.”
“Thanks Doc, I owe you.” Vin said softly.
Dr. Gilford laughed,” I hope you remember that when Kelli feels better and starts to complain about my list of instructions.”
“She can complain all she wants, but she will follow every one of ‘em.” The Texan knew her complaining would be loud and long, but it would be the best sound he ever heard.
“Chris it’s your turn. You did well during all this, but now I am ordering you to rest. You behave and you might see home within a week or so yourself. You have a long recovery ahead of you and I do not want you to rush it. I take pride in my work and will not have any of my patients mess it up because they will not listen. I will see you in the morning and the rest of you can go home. This room is closed for the night.”
“Thanks Doc, for everything.” Chris promised that he would behave if it killed him. He owed this doctor that much and more.
“I have cleared it for you to stay with your wife, and she should be waking up soon. You need me you call me. Take care, son, I will see you both in the morning.” Dr. Gilford left Vin at Kelli’s beside. Tanner sat down and just watched her breath, only now admitting to himself just how afraid he had been. He knew they would argue over the next few weeks about her limitations, but he would be grateful for every heated word.
“Mr. Tanner, we are ready to move her now.” The nurse interrupted his thoughts. “She is beginning to come around and it will be more comfortable for her to wake up after we get her settled back in her room.”
It did not take long and before nine, they were back were they started from, only now Kelli was awake and able to comprehend her surroundings. “Vin?’
“Right here, baby.”
“I want you to promise me somethin’.”
Long lean fingers brushed her hair back. “Name it and if I can do it it’s yours.”
“Promise me, no more protective custody. The only person that I want to have custody of me is you.”
“That, Texas is a promise you can bank on.” Vin reached in his pocket and pulled out her ring that he had been holding for her. “I have somethin’ that belongs to you.” For the second time in six months, he slipped it on her finger and kissed her.
“Consider yourself in permanent custody.”
Dr. Gilford found Chris Larabee is higher spirits than yesterday. Test results showed a strong recovery from the surgery that saved his life.
“Well Doc, have I been good enough?” Chris grinned. “Are you ready to send me home?”
“Don’t push it, Larabee, I said you are better but you still have a long way to go. There is also the little matter of both of your legs in cast. You work on going to the bathroom without assistance and then we will go from there.” Gilford laughed when an intense glare replaced the grin. “Nice try, though, I will see you later.”
“Face it Chris, that is one tough old doc and I think he has your number” Buck laughed. “Want to work on your bathroom skills?”
“Shut up, Buck.”
“Howdy boys.” Linda came in with an armload of assorted items. “I brought a few things to brighten up your room.” The door opened again and two young men brought in more items. “Thanks for you help, I appreciate the assistance.” The young men smiled at the beautiful blond and then left.
“Linda, what is all this and who were those men?” Chris was more than curious.
“Oh, I met them in the parking lot and they offered to help me so I accepted. Now, I have new pillows for both of you and this is a throw for that chair. These comforters serve a dual purpose, one the colors are great and two it will help keep you warm. They keep it too damn cold in here for my taste. I also bought new robes for each of you, so you can cover your assets anytime you leave this room. Can’t have two lawmen flashing other patients in the halls of Denver Memorial, can we?” Linda replaced their pillows and threw the comforters on their beds.
“You can’t go around making new acquaintances in the hospital parking lot, it isn’t safe and we won’t be here long enough to redecorate.” Linda’s thought process still amazed and mystified Chris.
“Larabee, you worry too much, there was a security guard in the parking lot and any time spent in here is enough time to be comfortable.” Linda stopped long enough to kiss Chris and he was reluctant to let her go. “I will be back in a bit. I have a couple of things to take to Kelli’s room.”
After she left, Buck started to laugh and could not help himself. “Stud, you life with her will never be dull. I for one say it’s about time you had someone like Linda to keep you on your toes and make you smile.”
Chris did smile, “I may not understand everything thing she does, but I do love her and I will figure out her thinking process. It just might take me a little longer than I thought.”
Thanksgiving was six days away and there was snow on the ground outside, but things had definitely heated up inside Denver Memorial, at least for Larabee’s wild bunch. Chris and Buck were acting like two caged lions roaring at visitors and growling at each other. Linda and Inez were past the point of comfort and understanding and had moved on to the more evasive measures of ducking and dodging the verbal barbs and demands of their respective partners.
Nathan and JD were anxious about their impending roles as fathers. Rain was three days overdue with baby Jackson and Casey’s doctor said he doubted she would hold off another week before delivery. Neither of the women was cool or calm, in fact snapping and snipping was a better description of their moods, and they considered any target fair game. Josiah and Mallory were the designated intermediaries and it was becoming a full time job to keep the peace.
Gunny and Justin kept the team on track at the office and Tanner managed to get a lot of work done at his temporary workplace in the hospital, in spite of the fact that Kelli was climbing the walls. Ezra did what he could to help Vin and it was it was becoming increasingly difficult for the redhead to accept her necessary confinement.
“Good Afternoon.” Ezra wore a grin as he walked in the door. “I am here to impart superior information.”
“Baby coming, we all can go home, or you won the lottery?” Kelli asked.
“None of the aforementioned, I am sorry to say. However, I did receive a communication from the Hospital Review Board and Dr. Brass no longer has privileges to administer his duties at this establishment of healing. In addition, as per your request they have agreed that in exchange for your waiver of rights to sue for malpractice they will gladly donate ten thousand dollars to the Denver Children’s Home on behalf of the Wilmington and Sanchez children.” Ezra reported. “The good Dr. Gilford is a very persuasive man that apparently carries some major clout around here.”
“That is good news.” Vin was relieved to know it was settled amicably and that Dr. Brass was gone, which was what he wanted in the first place. “Since you are here, Ez, maybe you have time to go over a few questionable items on your last expense report. Gunny brought it over on her noon run. Just take note of the highlighted portions and either mark it off or cough up some receipts.”
“You do realize that it is not always possible to obtain…” Ezra sighed, “Oh hell it’s not as much fun to argue with you as it is with Chris.” Standish took a black marker and sliced through the questionable items. “Happy now?”
“Don’t worry, with a bit of luck, next month you can go back to arguin’ with Lar’bee.” Vin laughed. “If I got stuck with all this permanently, I think I would have to quit. Until now, I didn’t know how inventive y’all were when it came to expense report. It almost makes me feel sorry for Chris.”
“Almost?” Both men laughed at Ezra’s observation. “He enjoys our monthly battle of wills as much as I do and don’t let him tell you differently.”
“Are you through now? “Kelli interrupted, “You promised that when you finished we would go visit Chris, remember?” She was ready to escape her imprisonment. “If you think your paperwork can do without you.”
The Texan laughed, “That I did, baby and ‘m finished for now.” He locked away the paperwork and came over to her bedside, while Ezra went to get a wheelchair. “Today is the last day of it, Travis told us to close shop until the Monday after Thanksgiving. And for the record, the only thing I am interested in is you, and you have no reason to feel left out, you should know that.” He helped her sit up.
Kelli leaned against him.” You are not neglecting me, but it does bother me that you have extra stuff to do because of me.” Tanner strengthened his hold on her, well aware that the stressful events of the last week were catching up to her, hell to both of them. Dr. Gilford wanted to keep her under observation to make sure her kidney was functioning properly and she had not left this room since surgery.” Plus, I have looked in the mirror and Rain was right, I look like hell.”
“You do remember when I asked you to marry me?” He felt her head nod against his chest. “We sat in our rockin’ chair ‘bout the same as this, you were bruised all over and had the same shoulder injury. Your hair was all over the place ‘cause you couldn’t brush it and I know you hurt like hell.” He tilted her head so she could see his face. “You were then, and you are now, the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Forget what you see in the mirror, just look in my eyes and you will see what I do when I look at you. I love you, Kel, then and now, a few bruises or anythin’ else won’t change that.”
She looked into his eyes and wondered if he knew how much she needed him. Emotions threatened to steal her voice, but she managed a hoarse whisper, “I love you, too. I just want to go home and put all of this behind us.”
“We will soon, but for now we do what we have done since the beginnin’ baby, we love each other, talk things out, hold on and support one another” He grinned, “A smart woman told me not long ago that we were always stronger as one and you know what, she was right.” He repeated her words back to remind her.
“And I thought you weren’t listenin’ to me,” Kelli sighed. “Okay let’s go see the old man, but don’t get too used to this wheelchair thing because I don’t plan for it to be around long.”
This time Ezra did not interrupt, but waited to give Tanner a chance to say those necessary words. Maybe someday, he would find someone for himself, to share that kind of love, but for now he would settle for seeing his brother and sister of choice strengthen their bond. Standish laughed to himself. *They all think you know women, Ezra, but maybe Vin could teach you a thing or two about building a solid foundation for a loving relationship. If he can learn to trust that much, surely Ezra, you can too. Then you might find someone, less fleeting and more permanent in your life.*
“Your ride, dear lady, the green-eyed dragon awaits the pleasure of your company.” Ezra bowed ceremoniously.
“Green-eyed dragon, Ez? Better not let him hear you say that.” The Texan smiled, and was happy to see Kelli smile too. “I think Sir Standish best be wary of payback. That particular dragon can be dangerous, even when he’s injured.”
Chris was having a bad day, he felt better, but could not move around, as he wanted to. Buck was having a great day and his jovial mood was starting to get on Larabee’s nerves. Linda and Inez took off together for somewhere, making plans for Thanksgiving dinner and he was stuck with nothing to do but watch reruns on the television.
“Good Lord! What have you done to this room?” Kelli was surprised to see all the additions. Glad that Linda had only brought her a couple of pillows and a comforter thanks to Vin. Linda might get along with him better but she was not sure yet how to interpret his glares. She settled for just a few ‘improvements’ to Kelli’s room.
“Linda and Inez did some decorating. It’s about time you came to visit us, I thought you had disappeared.” Buck was glad to see them.
“Blame the Doc, he is a stickler for followin’ orders and Vin made sure I heard every one of ‘em,” Kelli smiled. “I did think it was time to come see you and the old man, though.”
“Who are you calling old?” Chris had not seen her since she left with the phony Marshals and even though everyone told him she was better, it was good to see for himself. He hated to see the evidence of her injuries still so black and blue, but she sounded good.
“Well, you are older than I am, so, I guess ‘m talkin’ about you. Lord Lar’bee, you are a real trouble magnet.” She wheeled closer to his bedside. “Looks like somebody painted you up pretty good. Linda tells me you are doing better though and might get to go home next week.”
“You’re one to talk; it looks like they used the same paint on you.” Larabee made his own observation. “And I am beginning to think this is home, seems like I’ve been here forever.” Chris grumbled. “Doc thinks I may have to be here for a while.”
“Hell, Chris it hasn’t been a full seven days yet, you sound as impatient as Kel. Give it some time.” Vin shook his head, this was the same speech he heard from her only this morning.
“These words are comin’ from the man that loves hospitals. Right, Tanner?” Kelli waited for him to try to deny it.
“She’s got you there, son, you are not the best patient either,” Buck smirked, “Between you and Standish, I’m not sure who is worse.”
“He is.” Vin and Ezra pointed to one another and answered simultaneously.
Larabee grinned at their antics and he felt his attitude immediately improve. “Since you two have nothing better to do than harass sick people, you can do a couple of things for me. Ezra, I seem to have acquired some property in the Evans Wilderness area. You think you could arrange to have it donated to the wildlife preserve up there?”
“Most assuredly, I will make that arrangement without delay.” Standish would be glad to see some good come from that evil place.
Chris nodded, “Do it, and Vin since you have been busy working and babysitting the brat here, I talked to the others and we came up with an idea for the ranch.” He almost laughed at Kelli’s reaction to him calling her a brat. “We need to diversify a bit to keep a cash flow coming in. In addition to the thoroughbreds, how do you feel about expanding our quarter horse program?
“Sounds like a great idea, where do you want to start.” Vin had thought from the beginning they should work more with the quarter horses, since Chris was so passionate about them.
“I have been giving that some thought, if it’s agreeable, Linda has some two year olds that came from Kel’s mares and we could make her an offer on them.” Chris wanted to see if Kelli would go along with the idea or if it was too soon to talk about her mares.
“If you’re serious, that would be great and I know where we could find a few more quarter horses at a reasonable price,” Kelli offered. “And if you really want to diversity you might think about some rodeo stock. The market is steady and in comparison to those racehorses, it’s not as expensive or as time comsumin’ to maintain a good size herd. Plus there are always people lookin’ for good ropin’ and cuttin’ horses.”
“Since we decided to breed Lady to Hunter we don’t need to invest more right now in the thoroughbreds and we could put our capital into expansion.” Tanner saw the possibilities and more importantly, he saw an opening to get Kelli more involved with their breeding program and her mind off the lost horses.
“As soon as we all get out of here, we can work up some proposals and then take a family vote. I’m sure Ezra will tell us what we need to do.” Chris decided that maybe it was not such a bad day after all; in fact, the future looked damn good from his viewpoint.
Inez and Linda returned full of plans for Thanksgiving and thankfully no new purchases.
Linda whispered to Chris. “Maybe now you will relax, I told you Kel would be okay. Now we can concentrate on the future, I have to work out some way to get you down the aisle and crutches or not you are not getting out of a real wedding, Larabee. I loved the ceremony Vin and Kel had, but for me I want a little more formal. Think you can handle that?”
“I think I can handle most anything you can dish out Ms. Dubois. You want formal, you got it.” Chris grinned. “As long as you don’t make me wait for the honeymoon part, I am agreeable.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, I like that part myself,” Linda smiled. It was great to see Chris in a teasing mood again and she gave him a passionate kiss, full of promise.
“There they go again; it seems Linda forgets he’s a sick man.” Buck laughed.
“Shut up, Buck” Chris grinned, “A man in here has to take what he can get.”
Keeping track of time in a hospital is different from out in the real world. Caregivers waking you up to see if you need something to sleep, interrupt your slumber, days start and end with the changing of shifts. The only break during the day is mealtime, bringing you food that is unappealing and often unidentifiable.
Sunday morning found the Tanners snapping at each other over Kelli’s insistence to leave the room and find some ‘decent food’.
“You want to go and see Chris we can do that, but you are going to follow Doc’s list of instructions if it kills both of us!”
“Vin, it’s been over a week since I’ve had one cup of coffee or any junk food. How much damage can one cup do?”
“Doc said no coffee til he says okay and that means no coffee, no tea, lots of water and no junk food.”
A knock on the door interrupted their discussion. “Hey, how are you doing?” JD walked in the room.
“I’m okay, how about Casey?” Kelli asked.
“Anytime now and I think we are both ready. I know I am.” JD smiled and said, “I stopped by to give this to Vin and to let you guys know Rain finally went into labor. All of us are going to wait in Chris and Buck’s room for the baby to come. We thought you would like to be there as well.”
“Thanks JD, we’ll be there.” Vin told him as he took a folder from the younger man. “See you in a little while.”
Tanner waited until JD left before he looked in the folder. He suspected it was the information he had requested Dunne look for and it was. The information was on the man that abused Kelli when she was a child.
“Are you gonna share or keep it to yourself?” Kelli waited for him to finished reading, knowing in her heart that he would not hold it secret. The concerned expression on his face said it was not pleasant, but he would tell her.
“Last piece of the puzzle baby, that bastard died while awaiting execution for the rape and murder of a seven year old girl in Florida. The reason we had trouble finding him is that he had used about four different names. Authorities also suspect that he killed his girlfriend in Texas and was allegedly responsible for two more rape-murders in the south and only God knows how many kids he molested, but they did not have enough proof to take any of them to trial. “How in the hell did he and his girlfriend get to be foster parents?”
“That was a long time ago and I doubt that now with computerized background checks someone like him would slip by the authorities. I suppose with the need to place too many abused and abandoned children, it was one of those cases that fell through the cracks in an over burdened system. Unfortunately the need is even greater now, especially for emergency foster care.”
“Dammit, there is no excuse, you paid…” Vin stopped in mid sentence, when Kelli laid her hand on his arm.
“Vin, it’s over, let it be, I found the missin’ pieces and for better or worse, now I know. The past is just that…the past and we have the future to look forward too.” She saw the concern in his eyes, “Really, ‘m okay about it, I have you, plus I got a crazy family in the bargain. Chris, Linda and their baby will only add to that and neither of us can change what has already happened. If we want to make a difference maybe we should consider becomin’ foster parents. That’s somethin’ we could look into isn’t it?”
The Texan sat next to her and drew her close, reading the truth in her eyes. It was over, the scars might always be there but the pain was gone and the memory of what happened would only serve as a reminder that together they could make it through anything. Vin kissed the top of her head, “Yeah we can look into it. I love you Kel, don’t ever doubt that.”
She laughed and her eyes danced with mischief. “Does that mean you’ll get me some junk food and coffee, now?”
“Hell no!” He picked her up to move her to the wheelchair. “Behave and maybe I’ll get Ezra to go find you one of those healthy salad things Linda is always eatin’.”
“You’re all heart Tanner.”
Chris and Buck’s Room
Linda was watching the clock.” It’s been hours, how much longer do you think it will be?”
Inez and Mallory laughed and then Mallory explained, “Babies, especially first babies take as long as they want. There is no set time and it could still take several more hours.”
Casey and Linda exchanged an anxious look. Maybe for the first time Linda was starting to think about what was still ahead for her. Up until now, it was enough just knowing she was pregnant, now she felt it. “I’m hungry, anyone else?”
“Food does sound good, make a list of what everyone wants and I’ll go get it.” Josiah offered.
Inez took out some paper and started making a list, when she got to Linda everyone one was surprised to hear her order. “Chocolate malt, double order of fries and the biggest cheeseburger you can find.” Seeing the look on Chris’ face she added, “What? I said I was hungry and I am eating for two now.”
“Vin, what about you and Kel, what do you two want?” Inez did not comment on Linda’s order.
“Two salads, with lots of vegetables and two bottles of lime flavored water will be fine.” He answered.
Chris could not stand it. “Hold it! Linda orders fast food and you want healthy food. I haven’t been in here long enough for the world to end have I?”
Kelli explained, “Doc has left specific orders for me and Vin is makin’ sure I follow ‘em. He’s even eatin’ the same stuff to make sure I don’t get tempted to break the rules,” she sighed. “He’s watchin’ so close I haven’t had a chance to cheat even once.”
“That hasn’t stopped her from tryin’ though.” Vin laughed. “She tried to bribe one of the nurses to bring her some junk food from the machine down the hall.” Tanner ignored the look Kelli sent his way.
Larabee shook his head, “Never thought I would live to see the day Tanner actually asked for vegetables.”
“Well enjoy your fun while you can because come Thanksgivin’ Day I plan to break ranks and splurge,” Kelli huffed. “I don’t care what Doc says about it.”
“Did I hear my name mentioned?” Dr. Gilford came in the room. “You do know young lady I can just keep you here a while longer.” He gave her a stern look. “Here is your medication, the nurse on your floor told me where to find you and I graciously volunteered to bring it to you. I read your chart and your latest test say you are doing fine, but you will be here another few days so do not bother asking about when you may go home.”
“Thanks Doc and she is behavin’, just complains about it a lot.” Tanner supplied that bit of information, which earned him another indignant look from his redhead.
Chris laughed, “Don’t worry Kel, I’ll make up for it and eat your part.”
Dr. Gilford addressed Larabee, “I don’t recall saying you would be out of here by then and I certainly don’t recall giving you the go-ahead to eat whatever you please.”
“I thought you said I could go home next week,” Chris was not laughing now.
“That, I did, but the week does not end on Thursday, in fact the last time I checked it was not over until Saturday midnight. We will take this one day at a time and see how you do.” He had the others step back and pulled the curtain so he could examine Chris.”
Josiah took that opportunity to make an exit and a food run while he checked on Rain. Casey apologized, saying that she was suddenly tired and had JD take her to their room at the hotel. Ezra promised to let them know as soon as the Jackson baby arrived. Dr. Gilford took his leave after giving first Chris and then Kelli a reminder of his instructions that they were to follow.
“Not one word, Tanner.” Kelli saw the amused look in his eyes and did not want to hear what he was thinking.
Buck decided that now was a good time to tell them his piece of news and with a twinkle in his blue eyes announced. “Hey it’s not all bad news. Dr. Landers said I could go home tomorrow.”
“I’m happy for you Buck, congratulations.” Chris sighed, “Maybe you can call and tell me what home looks like, I’ve been here so long I don’t remember.”
“Me, too” Kelli said somberly.
Linda was a little more excited, “Just wait until you see what Inez and I did at the ranch, you will love it.”
The sparkle in her eyes concerned Chris. “What did you two do?”
“Relax, Chris, we just made things a little more comfortable for you all to recuperate.” Linda patted his arm to reassure him. “”You will love it, too.”
*Cowboy, you might as well give it up, she’s got you right where she wants you.*
*Shut up, Tanner.*
Vin only laughed at the glare Chris shot him, whatever happened in the next few weeks it was certainly going to be fun to watch. If Kelli could leave the past behind then dammit, Chris could, too. With Linda there to keep him on his toes, he was positive that his brother’s life was going to change dramatically. Tanner’s hope was that Larabee enjoyed his new life with Linda as much as he took pleasure from the changes that Kelli had brought about in his own.
Josiah returned with their food and everyone dug in. Linda finished off her fast food before either Chris or Kelli had a shot a stealing any fries. An hour later, an excited Nathan raced into the room.
“I have a son! Rain is fine and our boy weighed in at seven pounds.” Nathan was ecstatic. “I was there for the whole thing and even got to hold him before his mother did.”
‘Congratulations and does young Master Jackson have a name, yet?” Ezra inquired.
“Didn’t I tell you? No, I guess I didn’t, his name is Terrell Nathaniel Jackson.” His Dad said proudly. “It means tender, gracious and good.”
“Terrell, that’s a great name and he is a lucky boy to have you for his Dad.” Josiah patted him on the back.
“Chris, tomorrow or the next day I can bring him up so you can see him.” Nathan said, “Oh, I almost forgot, just as Rain was being moved to her room, JD brought Casey in. She is having a few contractions and the Doctor wanted to examine her.”
“That is good news all the way around, Nate and I am looking forward to meeting Terrell.” Chris smiled, pleased that Nathan did not have to miss being there with Rain.
“Buck and I will come by before he goes home tomorrow.” Inez added.
Before Josiah and Mallory left with Nathan, the phone rang, Buck answered. “That’s great, I’ll pass it along and you let us know.” he turned to the others. “That was JD; the Doctor is admitting Casey, looks like baby Terrell will be having a family sleepover in the nursery before he is one day old. The Dunne babies are on their way.
Casey had never done things in a traditional way. Her labor stopped after two hours but the doctor kept her in the hospital. If nature did not cooperate in twenty-four hours, he would help it along. Therefore, everyone waited for any news about the Dunnes. Dr. Landers released Buck by noon, with clear instructions that the cast on his leg would stay on at least four more weeks and the one on his arm for three. He set up six weeks of physical therapy to follow that to regain strength in both limbs and his lungs. In spite of that, he and Inez stuck around to be close by for JD. At two, Tanner went to check on Larabee while Kelli slept.
Vin entered the room. “I thought you might be lonesome.”
“It’s quiet, that’s for sure.”
“It’s not likely to stay that way long, the family will be back up here soon.” Vin laughed and said, “Hell Chris, you draw ‘em like a magnet.”
Larabee chuckled, “Yep, it seems so don’t it.” Chris cut his eyes to Tanner, “How is she?”
“Sleepin now, but she’s been complain’ loud and long. She just wants to go home and truthfully ‘m ready to take her there.” Vin sighed, “Maybe once I get her away from here I can make myself believe this nightmare is really over and Kel is back where she belongs.”
Chris agreed, “It is over Vin. We may have gone through hell, but I believed we all gained something from the trip. Kelli found her past and I…lost some of the demons that have plagued mine.”
“I brought you this to look at; JD dug it up for me.” Vin sat by the bed while Chris read.
“Damn, you gonna tell her about this?”
“Already did and she…Hell, Chris she is doin’ better with it than I am. When I think about how she could have been one of the statistics … Suppose I should just be glad that she’s a survivor.”
“We both should be and I am anxious to get a chance to tell her that. You think this will stay with her?” Although he was relieved this bastard was dead, he still felt he should have been able to stop it from happening in the first place. What can I do to help?”
“You can find a way to let go of the past completely, Kel has and she only wants to look forward. I think it is finally over for her, there are no more questions to find answers for and enough family around to let her know where she belongs. You do realize this is the first Thanksgivin’ she will have with her own family, don’t you?” Tanner recalled, “I remember how that feels and y’all never gave up, just dragged me into the circle.”
Chris smiled as he remembered how it was. “Yeah, you were gonna spend it alone, but I couldn’t let you do that.’ He frowned, “Damn, I need to get out of here by Thursday and be there. Doc will just have to understand, this is my first holiday with all of my family. Linda, Kel and ...hell I have to be there. Vin, bring her here I need to talk to her and let her know I want to move forward, too.”
“Just as soon as Doc makes his rounds, I’ll bring her. I promised to take her to see Terrell. Maybe by then Casey will have her girls there to see, too.”
Tanner stopped long enough to see about Casey and found out nature had indeed decided to continue her labor. When he returned to Kelli’s room Dr. Gilford was at the door ready to leave.
“Vin, I explained to Kelli what she has to do once she gets home, but I also have it written out so you can make sure she does it. I am going to release her tomorrow and I trust you will be able to handle her.” Dr. Gilford smiled.
“Count on it, Doc and I appreciate what you have done. If it weren’t for you I…”
“Save it son, just take care of her. Call me if you need assistance, I have a feeling her recovery will be harder on you than it will be for her.” He laughed, “I hope you are a patient man, between her and Larabee, you need to be. Chris is my next stop and I am looking forward to hearing his argument of the day.”
“About Chris, could we step out in the hall for a minute, I have a question?” Vin had more of a request than a question but the Doctor did listen and promised to do what he could.
It was late in the afternoon before Tanner managed to get Kelli to Larabee’s room. Her excitement about going home though was something to see, however her plans for when she got there, he knew they would clash over. When they reached Chris’ room Linda was the only visitor, the rest were downstairs waiting for the Dunne baby to arrive.
Once inside it appeared Linda and Chris were taking advantage of having the room to themselves, locked in a passionate kiss. “Enough of that you two, this is a hospital you know.” Kelli tried to sound serious, but laughed when Linda glared at her as she straightened her clothes.
“I’ll remember that when you want time to make out with Tanner at home. I will be in charge of you or didn’t anyone tell you?” Linda laughed at Kelli’s surprised look. “I guess not.”
“Only, when ‘m at work, otherwise we’ll be at our house and ‘m off all the next week.” Vin corrected and saw that Linda was ready to argue. “We’ll manage just fine.”
“After all that Josiah, Inez and I did to make the ranch more comfortable, you might reconsider. It will be easier on all of us if all my patients are together.”
“When did you graduate from medical school?” Kelli questioned. “Besides I already told you I don’t need you to nursemaid me.”
“This is the time for family to be together and it will be best for everyone’s healing process to share the experience.” Linda was sure she would win this argument. “I have already started moving some things from here to the ranch and it will all work out perfectly.”
“Best for you maybe, but I don’t see how you figure it will be good for the rest of us.” Kelli snapped. “Let me tell you a few truths, misery does not love company and too much family togetherness will have someone spendin’ some time in jail!”
Tanner exchanged an amused look with Larabee while Chris tried to hide his smile, “Linda, would you mind going down and getting the latest report on Casey for me?” Chris took her hand, “I’ll be here when you get back and then we can finish our discussion.” He kissed her and watched her leave.
“Kelli, you and I have something to talk about.” Chris got her attention. “About that last Friday in the office… I am referring to the statement you made about burdening my children with guilt and fears from the past. Vin showed me the report JD dug up and he said you were okay about it.” He searched her eyes intently looking for any sign of distress. “I just wanted to see for myself and ask if we could put the past behind us and work to build some kind of guilt-free relationship for the future.”
“I am happy with my life, ‘m married to a man I love more than I thought was possible. His best friend is going to marry my best friend and I have more family than I sometimes know what to do with. The past, yours or mine, has no place here. It’s time for both or us to let go and move on.”
“I agree.” Looking at this beautiful young woman, he readily embraced the surge of paternal pride and love that encased his heart. Chris relaxed and felt the last of his guilty feelings slip away. His voice overflowed with emotion, “Now what did Doc say?”
Vin read the emotion on both their faces and understood that they had turned the corner in their relationship. Somehow, he knew that Chris was finally free of his past and the future looked promising. “I get to take her home tomorrow. Might have to tie her down for a while, but when you get home maybe you can help me keep her in line.” Tanner grinned, “Of course that means you have to set a good example to follow.”
Larabee started to protest, but thought better of it. “I might surprise all of you and do just that.”
Linda rushed back into the room and announced that the Dunnes had two new additions. “The rest of the family will be up in a minute and then JD said he would come tell us about the girls.”
The rest of the family did find their way to Larabee’s room, including Buck and Inez. They were all anxious to hear from JD and he did not make them wait long. He brought pictures and passed them around. “I am surrounded by three of the most beautiful girls in the world. Casey is doing great and both girls are perfect. The oldest one is Daisy Jonetta and she weighed five pounds. Jonetta is a combination of John and Nettie, but we will call her Daisy. Younger by only five minutes is her sister; Lilah Rose and she weighed four pounds and fourteen ounces. They are doing fine and will be home by Thursday.” He said proudly.
“Lilah Rose was my mamma’s name.” Buck said softly.
“I know Buck, that’s the lady we named her for.” JD accepted the hug from his big brother.
Congratulations came from everywhere before he left again to be with his girls. Inez took Buck home and told Linda she would see her there. Ezra, Josiah and Mallory went out for dinner and Nathan used his time to be with Rain and Terrell. Vin took Kelli down to see the babies giving Chris some time with Linda before she had to leave.
“Chris, they are so small, but beautiful. I can hardly wait for our baby to get here. You never said if you wanted a boy or a girl.” Linda was now fully engaged in planning for their baby.
“Either one, as long as he or she is healthy, I will be happy.” Chris smiled thinking about the months to come. “I do have one rule for you, no baby shopping until we can both go.”
With Ezra’s help Vin had most everything cleared from the room and all they were waiting on was Dr. Gilford to come and sign release papers for Kelli to go home. They had made the rounds to see the babies again and arranged for Nathan, Rain and Terrell to stay with them until after the holiday. Nathan wanted to be close to his ‘family patients’, but not crowded at the ranch house with Buck, Inez and the kids staying there. Ezra filled her prescriptions while Kelli and Vin checked in on Chris, but that was not enough to fill in all their time.
“Dammit, he is usually here by now, today of all days he has to be late.” Kelli grumbled.
“Relax baby, he’ll be here,” Vin smiled impishly. “He’s probably writin’ more instructions for you to follow and it’s takin’ him longer.”
“Perhaps he had an emergency.” Ezra offered, but after a withering look from Kelli decided to retract his statement. “Or not.”
They had decided earlier that Ezra would drive them home in Vin’s truck. That way Tanner could sit with her and be near if she needed anything. Truthfully, the Texan just wanted to stay close enough to assure himself that they really were going to make it home. It had only been twelve days since they had been there but it seemed much longer. Finally, Dr Gilford made his appearance.
One last examination and he decided to remove the binding from her shoulder. “It will be sore for a few more days but it is healing nicely. Your last test showed your blood count to be normal and no abnormality on the kidney function. The stitches from the incision will dissolve by the end of the week. Your biggest challenge will be to stay off the leg and ankle. You’re sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” One look at her face gave him his answer. “Okay, you are free from here, but you will follow my orders and I will see you in one week. Vin has a list in case you forget what I told you.” Dr Gilford grinned as he signed the release and handed the papers to Vin. “Well, Tanner she’s all yours again.”
Vin lifted her and carried her to the wheelchair. “Let go home, Texas.
It was noon before they reached the ranch and Kelli slept most of the way home. Once there, however, she was anxious to be inside and reacquainted with her home. Josiah and Mallory had gone shopping and stocked the pantry, a few minor adjustments made it easier to get around in the house and Tanner made a specific request for their bedroom. Vin carried her inside and set her on the couch.
“Welcome home, Kel.” Josiah and Mallory were there to greet her. “Your bed is ready and the guest room is all set for the Jacksons. Lunch is warming in the kitchen and if you need us we’ll be at the main house.”
“Thanks y’all we appreciate it and tell Buck we’ll come see him a little later.” Vin said their good-byes.
“Everything is unloaded and the prescriptions are on the cabinet. I think I will stroll over and harass Buck.” Ezra said with a grin.
“Thanks Ez and ‘m sorry for snappin’ at you earlier.” Kelli apologized.
“Did you? I hadn’t noticed.” Standish left with a smile on his face.
Vin stood and lifted her in his arms. “You are going to bed, no arguments.” He carried her in their room, helped her change and then made her get into bed. He was pleased to see that she liked the surprise waiting for her.
“Lord, this feels good.” The bed was warm and toasty. Vin had an electric blanket placed under the bottom sheet to keep it that way. “What made you think of this?”
The Texan grinned and explained, “Actually Doc gave me the idea when I ask him why they kept heated blankets on your leg. When he told me, it helped with the circulation and the healin’ plus reduced the pain I was convinced. Considerin’ how much you hate the cold it made sense to do the same thing here.”
“Not to mention, you benefit from it too.” She smiled and burrowed under the covers. “Wanna join me?”
“Love to, baby, but first you eat, then take your medicine and rest.” He laughed at the look on her face. “Don’t worry ‘m not going anywhere til tomorrow morning, then only long enough to see Chris and except for checkin’ on him, ‘m all yours til Monday.” He kissed her, put some music on and went into the kitchen for their lunch.
When lunch was finished, the Texan planned for her to rest and started to leave the room. She took hold of his hand. ”Vin wait, I need to talk to you about somethin’.” He stopped and sat down on the bed. “So much has come about in the last few weeks that we really have not had a chance to talk about it all. Marissa, Chris, Deveraux and the end to the search for answers is a lot to happen in such a short time. Are you okay with the way things turned out?”
“Marissa and Deveraux are out of our lives as well as that bastard that hurt you. As for finding your connection to Chris, it explains a lot. He may be stubborn and ornery at times, but he is the most decent man I have ever met. I have to believe that the traits you got from him are a big part of the reason you survived to be who you are. Besides, Chris has given me plenty of opportunities to practice how to handle a headstrong Lar’bee and I have a feelin’ that might come in handy in the years to come.” Vin laughed at the mock glare his redhead attempted to give him.
Kelli sighed, “I know the last few weeks have not been easy for you and the next ones are gonna be hard on, too, but promise I will to try to behave and anythin’ I can do to make it easier, just tell me.” Her eyes met his and she saw that warm glint that she loved so much.
Vin moved her into the circle of his arms and she rested her head on his chest. “I can handle a sassy, misbehavin’ Texan and we’ll work out the rest, just be you, that’s all I need.” He rubbed her back as he spoke, “The part that was the hardest for me was thinkin’ I might not find you in time. Now that you’re safe and Chris is gettin’ better the rest of it is the easy stuff.” One kiss was what he intended to give her, but she responded with intentions of her own. Soon he was dangerously close to losing control. He pulled back, “Enough Kel, I don’t want to hurt you,” but when he looked into her eyes, he did not see pain, only love and desire.
“You could never hurt me, Vin.” She brought him back to her, her soft voice drawing him closer. “We’ve been to hell and back and it’s time to reward ourselves, remember together we can do anythin’. Now is the time we stop denyin’ what we both need and want.” He felt his reservations drain away replaced by the reassurance from the woman that had captured his heart.
Tanner quit protesting.
He gathered her in his arms and repeating her words of only a few weeks ago, whispered in her ear, “Okay, but this time it’s my turn, my rules, let me show you how much I love you, tomorrow it can be your turn.” Tenderly he began to made love to the beautiful woman that shared his life. With gentle kisses, Vin took her to a place where he lovingly protected her from pain and gave her pleasure instead. Filled with intense emotion they melted together, finding their own rhythm, creating a slow and steady rush that carried them to ultimate bliss.
Later he held onto her and watched her sleep, after all these months, he still did not understand why she loved him, but he was damn glad she did. It had been a rough few weeks, but regardless of what the future held, they would face it together.
Despite the Texan’s plans, it was eleven before he made it to the hospital. Mallory stayed with Kelli and Joanne was keeping them entertained until he could make it back. Tanner did get to see Dr Gilford and they discussed Chris, but the doctor would not okay his release today. When he reached Chris’ room and heard raised voices, he knew someone did not take the news well.
“Dammit Linda, it’s not as if I planned this!” Chris shouted. “Doc knows what he is doing and we’ll just have to trust him.”
“Maybe I should talk to him and let him know you have to be home for tomorrow.” Linda refused to believe they could not be together for the holiday.
Vin walked in, “Won’t do any good Linda, I just spent twenty minutes with him and he is rock solid on his decision.”
“Okay, but if you can’t come home, I will just have to bring Thanksgiving to you.”
“That is not practical, Buck and Kelli can’t come back up here and the weather forecast says more snow. You would not ask JD and Nathan to bring those newborns up here would you?” Chris wanted to be reasonable.
“No but… Maybe we will just put it off until you can be there.” Linda was determined to share the day with Chris.
Chris shook his head, “No buts, I want this holiday to happen just as it is supposed to. It is important to the kids and too much planning has gone into it. I’ll be fine.”
“No you won’t, but we’ll do it your way, for now.” Linda brushed his hair back with her fingers. “I love you, Larabee.”
Another knock on the door and JD and Casey came in carrying two pink bundles. “We got special permission to bring the girls to see you.” JD handed one bundle to Chris.” This is Daisy and Daisy this is your Uncle Chris.” Casey handed him the other one. “This is Lilah Rose, Lilah this is your Uncle Chris.”
Both babies seem to study the man that held them and give their approval. When the door opened again, Nathan and Rain had another surprise for Larabee.
“Terrell didn’t want to be left out, he insisted on joining the girls for an introduction.” Nathan then placed the baby with Chris, along with the girls. “Terrell this is your Uncle Chris.”
JD came prepared and before Chris knew it, JD took several pictures. Not to be out done Nathan had his Polaroid and took several more. Larabee was speechless; three new lives rested in his arms and the feel of family filled the room.
*Hard-ass Larabee, if the bad guys could only see you now*
Chris looked around the room and at the babies, he held. * Hell Vin, they can think what they want, because it don’t get better than this.*
Chris suffered through a miserable night thinking about home. He wanted everyone to believe he was okay with staying here so at least the kids could have a good holiday. Though he was sure Tanner did not buy it, maybe Linda did and he wanted her to be convinced.
*Face it, Larabee you are feeling sorry for yourself. You should count your blessings that you are still alive. Only five in the morning, damn it was going to be a long day.*
The Tanner household was up early courtesy of Terrell Jackson, but no one was complaining and five-thirty was not very early anyway. Nathan and Vin were making breakfast while Rain, Terrell and Kelli watched.
“What do you want to bet that Josiah got Ezra up to help him cook?” Nathan laughed at the thought. “I’m still not sure how it was decided that the men were providing for this holiday.”
“Well, you wouldn’t expect me, Casey or Kelli to be in the kitchen all day, since we were all just released from the hospital. Besides, Mallory and Nettie will supervise and it will be fine.” Rain was enjoying this turn of events.
“Trust me. I love Linda, but you do not want her cooking a holiday meal. Simple things she can handle, but usually she has someone hired to do it or has it catered.” Kelli said. “Besides she is too upset about Chris havin’ to stay in the hospital to even think about dinner.”
“What about you Kel? Rain questioned. “This would be your first holiday celebrated with blood relatives wouldn’t it?”
Kelli thought for a moment before she spoke. “Truthfully, I never had much opportunity to celebrate the holidays and I always volunteered to work in place of the agents that had children at home. So it doesn’t bother me like it does Linda, her family made a big deal about Thanksgivin’ and Christmas, but I never joined them.”
“Those days are over Texas, you are in for a crash course on holidays, courtesy of the wild bunch.” Tanner said, “I’ll warn you now it takes some gettin’ used to.”
Nathan disagreed, “Come on Vin, we weren’t that bad, were we?” Tanner shook his head in response since his mouth was full of bacon. “Yeah, I guess we were kinda overwhelming at that.” Jackson laughed recalling earlier celebrations.
“Hey Tanner, you had better save some of that bacon for the rest of us.” Kelli teased as she reached for the ringing telephone. She listened for a moment and then passed the phone to Vin. “Dr. Gilford,” she whispered.
Tanner walked into the other room to talk to the doctor, while everyone waited anxiously to hear the reason for his early morning call. After a few minutes, Vin came back in the room with a big smile on his face. “Chris doesn’t know it but he’s gonna make it home today after all. Doc said his last tests were good for the physical part of him and he believed that the mental part of the healin’ process would work faster here. With a snowstorm comin’ he said to come on and get him.”
Kelli realized that although this was good news Vin was concerned about leaving her. “Eat first and then go get him, I’ll ask Josiah or Ezra to help me over to the house and I’m sure I can dress myself, I’ll be fine.”
“Nathan, you go with him, Kel and I will manage. Take a pair of your sweatpants to go over the casts and there is an extra large T-shirt I packed in our bag that will work, it just happens to be black, you need to grab some socks, too.” Rain ordered. “Don’t just stand there both of you, eat and dress warm.”
“Okay, but this is to be a surprise, you two just hold down the fort til we get back.” Vin looked at Kelli, “You make sure Josiah or Ezra helps you, no weight on that leg.”
“Got it, Tanner, now go get Lar’bee before that storm hits. Rain and I will try to keep Linda busy.” Kelli was already thinking of what she needed to do.
Once the men left, Rain breastfed the baby, put Terrell to sleep and then talked Kelli into trying a slight makeover. Vin had washed her hair the night before, but Rain had an idea. With scissors in hand she went to work on a new style and a new look with make-up. Then she picked out a long skirt and blouse for her to wear. Most of all they had fun doing it and by the time, she finished Kelli felt like a new woman.
“Wow, Rain I like it and it feels good to look halfway decent again.” Kelli laid down the hand mirror. “Thanks.”
“No thanks necessary, it was fun and you look more than halfway decent girl, downright sexy I’d say. Your hair already had a natural bounce and now even more so. That wild, free look fits you and I am sure Vin will like the results.” Rain smiled, she missed doing girl stuff with her own sisters so far away and was happy to share the experience with Kelli. “Of course you were beautiful to start with, but it never hurts to keep our guys on their toes.”
“You know I was thinkin’ that I’ll have plenty of time on my hands in the next couple of months. Once I can get around on my own, can you use a volunteer at the clinic?” Kelli asked.
“Always and I’d love having family more involved at the health center.” Rain thought it was a great idea. “I can keep you so busy that you’ll be counting the days until you can go back to the office.”
Kelli smiled, “Looking forward to it, Dr. Jackson.”
They called and Josiah offered to come over and help get Kelli get over to the main house. They still had to keep Linda busy for a while and wait for the rest of the family to arrive.
Chris did not touch his breakfast and that dumb little paper turkey they put on his tray he threw in the garbage. He was in no mood for anybody to poke and prod for examinations or draw more blood. *They had better leave me the hell alone today, if they know what is good for them.* Unexpectedly, his room door opened and Tanner and Jackson were there.
“You two should be home with your families. What the hell are you doing here?”
“We came to bust you out and this is how you greet us. Not very sociable is he Nate?” Tanner grinned.
“Nope, he’s not sociable at all.” Nathan was busy packing Chris’ personal items.
“Wait a minute, you can’t really mean to bust me out. What makes you think you can get away with it?”
A new voice entered the conversation. “Larabee, do not look a gift horse in the mouth. Your Texas friend here convinced me that you would be better off at home and in a moment of weakness, I agreed. Keep talking and I might come back to my senses and make you stay after all.”
Chris was too happy to come back with a smart-ass remark. “Thanks Doc.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You will hear me out before you leave. Your test results are improved but the healing on the inside will take weeks. Do not lift anything over ten pounds and no strenuous activity. Let me spell this out for you, no pulling or pushing of chest muscles, no sexual activity for at least two weeks and you will rest, with at least ten hours of sleep per day. The bruising of heart tissues is serious and takes time to mend. You will eat what is on the list I am leaving with you, take your medicine with no arguments and you will be in my office Tuesday morning at nine. The right leg cast will be off in another two weeks, but the left one will stay for at least six and then you will still need crutches. Plan to be off work until after the first of the year. Are we clear?”
Chris swallowed and sighed. “Clear.”
‘You will note on the list of instruction that I made one exception. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner with your family, but do not overdo it. Don’t make me regret this Larabee or next time I will handcuff you to the bed and carry the key with me.” He signed the release form, handed the prescriptions over to Nathan and made one last comment. “Remember this when you get frustrated. The only thing keeping you alive when you came into this hospital were your friends administering CPR because you were not breathing. Your family may have to wheel you out of here, but you are still among the living with the promise of a full recovery. Do not lose sight of that. Now go home and spend time with you fiancée and daughter.”
The doctor turned to leave and Chris stopped him. “Doc, I appreciate what you did for me and for Kelli and I won’t forget.”
“Your welcome, Larabee, now go home.” Dr. Gifford was smiling when he left the room.
“Cowboy, you ready to blow this place?” Vin asked.
Kelli knew Linda was more than upset. The way she way pushing to get things done told her that her old friend was trying to hide her true feeling. The way she was snipping at everyone said she was not being successful. Linda already had words to say about Tanner and Jackson running off. Every time Kelli tried to talk to her she snapped at her.*Tanner you had best hurry things along because at the rate Linda’s going she will explode soon.*
By ten, the entire family was present. Rain, Inez Casey and Mallory corralled the kids. Linda was busy with the table arrangements and place settings, while the men handled the cooking under Nettie’s supervision. Kelli was in one of the recliners and Buck was on the couch playing with the remote control for the television. She could not stand it anymore.
“Good Lord, Buck, pick a channel and stop somewhere. You have been through all of them at least four times!”
“It not fun just to watch one channel when there are over two hundred to choose from. I might miss something good.” Buck loved the satellite programming for Chris’ television.
Maria saved her from the annoying channel surfing when she brought her a book and asked Kelli to read a story for her. Inez started to say no until saw how careful the toddler was climbing on the redhead’s lap. “She just fine, Inez, don’t worry.” Kelli reassured her and began to read. It did not take long for Sarah to join her sister.
When Rain heard Vin’s truck she slipped into the kitchen and asked Josiah to go help Vin and Nathan unload a few things. She ran into Linda on the way back.
“Isn’t it bad enough that Vin and Nathan ran off. Where is Josiah going?” Linda’s irritation showed. The only reason she was even here is that she promised Chris she would take care of things for him. What she really wanted to do was close herself up in the bedroom and have a good cry.
“He’ll be right back, I just asked him to do me a favor, relax Linda.” Rain steered her close to the empty recliner. “You are doing a wonderful job with everything and the table looks great.”
Before Linda could answer, the front door opened and the men were back inside with one addition. While the rest of the family was surprised, she was so happy to see Chris she cried.
“Welcome home, stud, the infirmed section is over here.” Buck yelled loudest and pointed out the empty chair. “Come join us.”
“I think I’ll do just that, Buck.” With his brothers’ help, he was in the chair quickly and grabbed Linda’s hands, feeling her warmth soak into his soul. The ride home was tiring, but seeing all his family together was worth it. “It feels good to be here.” Brothers and sisters gathered round to welcome Larabee home.
“Chris how did…when did…Oh hell, it doesn’t matter you’re here and that’s all that counts.” Linda kissed him and he immediately became her only concern. “Are you okay? Do you need something to drink? Are you warm enough?”
“I’m okay and right now all I need is to see everyone and rest a bit.” Chris still had hold of her hand and scanned the room to account for everyone.
“Welcome home and ‘m glad you’re here. Maybe now Buck will have to give up that d…darn remote.” Kelli smiled and was glad she remembered that Maria, along with her sister was still in her lap. It took all the strength she had to stop little Sarah from going to Chris.
“Nice to be here.” Chris laughed, seeing her struggle with Sarah. “I’ll see what I can do about that remote.”
Josiah had his arm around Mallory, “Welcome home Chris, but if you will excuse us, Ezra and I have some cooking to do. Coming Ezra?”
“Most assuredly and welcome home Chris.” Ezra followed Josiah into the kitchen.
Nettie gave Larabee a kiss, “Good to have you home son. Now, I best go supervise our dinner, I wasn’t sure you would be here, but I made your favorites anyway.”
“Thanks Nettie, I appreciated it.”
“Remember, Chris, I have your list of instructions from the Doc. Rain and I will be keeping a close eye on you.” Nathan warned. “We plan for one of us to be close at all times to keep all three of you in line.”
“It wouldn’t be home, Nate, if you didn’t.” Chris answered. “Don’t worry, I’ll behave and help keep these other two in line. I have a new nephew and a couple of nieces waiting on me to heal.”
JD and Casey each held one of the twins. “Adam and Terrell will need you on their side since the girls now outnumber the boys in this family.” JD smiled at Chris before he spoke, “That is unless you and Linda have a boy or two to help even things out.”
“I’ll see what I can do JD.” Chris caught Linda’s eye and gave her a roguish grin.
Vin came back in the house with the last of Larabee’s things and carried them to the bedroom. When he returned to the room the picture of Kelli sitting there with Maria and Sarah in her lap made him smile. Buck noticed and naturally, he had to comment on it.
“You know, Chris and Linda aren’t the only ones that could add another baby boy to the family. The Tanner’s know how it’s done and we all know that they practice every chance they get.” Buck had a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. They were all aware that Vin and Kelli were a very sensual couple. “So when can we expect an announcement from you two?
Kelli blushed and was not sure what to say, she and Vin both wanted children, but it was just not happening for them. This was not something that she wanted to share with the family though. The Texan came over, sat on the edge of her chair and after taking a firm hold on Sarah answered for both of them.
“Nothin’ wrong with lovin’ and if it’s all the same to you Buck, I like havin’ Kel all to myself and ‘m not ready to share yet. When that changes, we’ll let you know.” Tanner winked a Kelli. “Besides at our age we’ can afford to wait a while, not like some old men we know.”
“Old? Are you saying I am old Tanner? Buck scoffed at that idea.
“The only ones here younger than Kel are the kids and I’m not that much older than Casey and JD so you figure it out.” The Texan grinned.
“He’s right, Buck, as much as I hate to admit it.” Chris intervened, “They have no reason to rush having a family.”
“Just because he’s right don’t mean I have to like his answer.’ Buck grumbled, “”I’m not that old, yet.”
Chris laughed. “Cheer up. Buck you’re still a year younger than me.”
Linda was ready to move the conversation back to the holiday. “Enough of that, dinner will be at one, so I suggest you all rest up for it.” She whispered to Chris “I have plans for you later.”
Any response Chris had in mind was lost when an excited Joanne ran in the room. “It’s snowing!” Maria scrambled off to see the snow, with an insistent Sarah, right behind her. Joanne beat them both to the window and soon the white flakes floating to the ground mesmerized the three of them.
Vin knew Kelli wanted to watch the snowfall too, so he decided to accommodate her. He grabbed a throw and then picked her up and carried her to the window seat. He stretched out and set her in front on him covering her with the quilt, Kelli leaned back against his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, the Texan lifted the red tresses off her shoulder so he could nuzzle her bare neck and whisper softly in her ear. “Suppose we’ll be givin’ ‘em somethin’ else to talk about, cause you just look too damn sexy for me to behave.”
“I think I can handle one misbehaving Texan,” she answered softly and snuggled closer, suddenly she felt very bold. “Can you?”
“Count on it, baby,” Vin’s hands concentrated on keeping her warm, under the quilt, “As soon as dinner is over, we go home for some major misbehavin’ and it’s my turn to make the rules.” He smiled when he heard her gentle laughter, felt her head nod in agreement and he whispered for her ears only, “You had better plan on a long night.”
While nature turned the ranch into a winter wonderland, Chris observed them from across the room and smiled, they both deserved the love and happiness they had found. It took over twenty-five years for Kelli to find a way home, but he was grateful that she did. He looked at his beautiful Linda and thought of the new life that was coming and the future they had waiting. Surrounded by his family and watching the kids gather at the window, was the best medicine in the world for Chris. He gave a contented sigh and just before his eyes closed for a nap whispered, “Damn, it’s good to be home.”
The Larabee household was stirring and Chris knew that soon it would be a beehive of activity. Before they all descended to finish off the leftovers from yesterday Chris decided it was time to reflect on a few things. He picked up his journal and began to write.
When Sarah and Adam died, I thought my life was over. However, the God that I felt had deserted me had other plans and would not allow me to quit. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had more than my share to be thankful for this year. My family has grown and so has the love.
First, I suppose I should record the new births. November twentieth Nathan and Rain welcomed Terrell Nathaniel to their family. I am thankful that Nathan could be there for the birth, for a while it looked like he might not be able to. The next day, November twenty- first, JD and Casey welcomed twin girls, Daisy Jonetta and Lilah Rose. Lilah they named for Buck’s mama and he was thrilled about it.
We almost lost Buck, but he is tougher than most and survived the attempt on his life. He will be home for a while, recuperating and with Inez and the girls to look out for him, I know he will be fine. Hell, according to my doctor, I will be healing, right here with him, at least until the first of the year. Vin tells me I am responsible for saving Linda and Kelli’s life. I may be hurting, but I would do it again to have the same results. My future depends on them being safe.
Linda had agreed to marry me and we will welcome our baby sometime before June. At times, it is hard to believe that I found another woman to love, but I did. She brings a zest for living and happiness back to my life and I am looking forward to our child arriving. However to get to this point, I had to take a painful trip to the land of guilt and the past. I am grateful my family did not give up on me and made sure I came through it. My reward was in finding a child I did not know I had, when she found her past I had to let go of mine and by doing so I gained the emotional freedom to move forward.
It took Kelli over twenty-five years to find home, but she is here now and knowing that she is my daughter only increases my love for her. She was already family, as Vin’s wife and now we can work on a new relationship. She has some healing to do, too. During this time, I hope to make a good start on building a bond with her and I am thankful I will have that opportunity.
Vin is in charge of MCAT until I return and he will have his hands full until I am back on my feet. In the meantime, we will be making some changes around the ranch. More quarter horses are coming in and we are looking to do some diversification. The next year will bring some big changes and I find that for the first time in a long time I can view the future clearly without having to looking through my past to see it.
To be continued in MCAT SERIES #5: Illusions