Chapter 1 - 3 |
Chapter 4 - 6 |
Chapter 7 - 9 |
Chapter 10 - 12 |
Chapter 13 - 15
Chapter 16 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22 | Chapter 23 - 25 | Chapter 26 - 28 | Chapter 29 - Epilogue
While Gunny prepared the conference room for the upcoming meeting Larabee stood at his office door and watched the morning routine unfold. Vin joined him and handed Chris a cup of coffee.
“Don’t look so worried, Gunny made it and it’s just how you like it.”
A security agent from downstairs entered holding a large arrangement of flowers and headed straight to Larabee. “Commander, these arrived for one of your agents.” Chris looked surprised when the man said, “Agent Tanner.”
The Texan took the flowers from the man, while Chris pulled the small envelope off the bouquet and laughed. “Don’t get too excited Vin, they’re not for you, they’re for Kel.”
“Really? Then I reckon I should take ‘em over to her.”
“You might need this.” Chris grinned and handed the envelope to the Texan. He knew Vin would handle it and went into his own office to check his messages.
Vin waited until she looked up before he spoke. “These came for you.” He set the arrangement on her desk, pulled up a chair and sat next to her, aware of the attention they were getting from the rest of the team members.
Kelli knew they were not from Vin because he would have given her roses. She was looking for a card in the arrangement, when Tanner handed it to her instead. “Thanks.” Kelli opened the envelope, read the card, started laughing and then decided to appease Vin’s interest by handing it back to him.
All it said was ‘Thanks for the introduction’, but he knew immediately who wrote it. “I reckon Ez had an enjoyable evenin’.” Vin spoke low and had a definite twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Must have been damned good coffee.”
“You behave yourself Tanner and I hope you make sure that no one will give him a hard time about this.”
“Bucklin might if he finds out.” Vin saw the warning look in her eyes, “But he won’t hear it from me.” He slipped the card in his pocket insuring that nosy team members could not read it and smiled. “Enjoy ‘em Texas and let’s keep the rest of this bunch guessin’ where they came from.”
“You Mr. Tanner have a mean streak, but I do like the way you think.” Kelli laughed, but her laughter turned to amazement when she saw Ezra exit the elevator. ”Damn seven-thirty and Ez is already here, I guess miracles do happen.”
Standish immediately sought out the Tanners. “Could I see you both in private?”
“Sure Ez, how about my office?”
The three of them went into Vin’s office and shut the door.
“Ez thanks, the flowers are beautiful, but why are you in so early?”
“You are welcome and deserving of the flowers, as to early, I have not been to bed yet.” He hastened to add, “Barbara and I talked well into the night, emphasis on talked. Conversing with her was a refreshing experience, one I look forward to repeating very soon. However, I regress; this is why I am here at this ungodly hour.” He handed Vin the morning edition of today’s newspaper. “Read the column that I circled.”
Tanner began to read and when he finished began pacing. “Sonofabitch! Ez how in the hell did they get this so quick?” He passed the paper to Kelli.
“I have already contacted my source at the newspaper and all that he would tell me is that they received the information from an anonymous phone call. Once they verified the details then…”
“Then they decided it was news. Hell, they implied a cover-up, but conveniently left out a few important facts. If Larabee didn’t hate the press before, he will now. To have his problems laid out in print and to speculate on his reasons for marryin’ a rich woman is just wrong. You think Chris has seen this yet?” Kelli asked.
“Nope, the walls are still standin’,” Vin sighed. “I suppose ‘m elected to tell him.”
“We will of course, wish you well in your quest and await your return. Although should you require assistance please do not hesitate to ask, I am positive that Kelli will volunteer to support you.”
“Thanks, Ez.” Vin took the paper that Kelli handed him and headed out the door sending Chris a warning. *Incoming, you’d better duck for this one Cowboy.*
Larabee received the warning and was waiting for whatever news Vin had to deliver. Without a word, the Texan handed him the paper and then waited for the explosion that he knew was coming.
“Fucking bastards! Who in the hell do they think they are?” Chris raked everything off his desk. “I don’t need this shit! Jesus Christ Vin, wake me up when this nightmare ends!”
Vin gave him time to get his anger out and then suggested. “Ez and I will see what we can find out about the source of this mess. You might wanna call Linda before she sees this or hears about it from one of her brothers.”
Chris nodded his response and reached for the phone.
Larabee watched as his team filled the room. Thirty minutes on the phone with Linda had restored his mood to at least something that passed for human. She had her own sources to check out and Chris agreed to meet her for lunch. In the meantime, he had assignments to hand out.
“Okay this is what we have and it is not much, some ambiguous video, a post office box with no prints and a paper trail one hundred miles long. Justin, you and Raphael keep working on your case. Ross and Paul will assist you, while we start on this one. Buck, you and Mark get with Ezra, start hitting the streets along with any of your sources. Josiah, you and Nathan go over that video frame-by-frame, see if our labs can help identify something. Bones, you and your forensics crew stay on top of those murders. Move it! The rest of you go back to work.” Chris waited until the agents left and turned to JD.
“JD, tell me what you and Pam have come up with.”
“We have covered a few miles of that paper trail, the bank may be able to help, but we cannot recover the money you lost, we can however, prevent it from happening again. We have also made the notifications necessary to make it a little easier on you. Unfortunately, we are not any closer to finding the source of your problems, but we are not giving up.”
“Since you sent Buck with Ez, I s’pose that you have somethin’ special in mind for me to do.” Vin was sure that whatever it was would tie him up all day.
“Yeah, it’s a real tough assignment, but I think you can handle it. Vin, you have had to put in too many extra hours over the last three months.” Chris held up his hands to stop the argument he knew was coming. “Kel goes back to the doctor today, if he doesn’t release her she might need some support. If he does she’ll head straight for the firing range to be qualified again, either way you should be with her.”
“I ’ppreciate it Chris, but what about you and this mess?”
Chris laughed. “I think I can manage, Linda has her personal attorney coming to talk to me about what I should do and I am having lunch with them at one.”
“Good, maybe he can make some of this go away for you.”
“Say hello to Doc for me and don’t hurry back. Take a long lunch and enjoy the time for yourself because you have earned it, in fact take the day, I’ll ride home with Buck.” Chris smiled,” You did a helluva a job as CO while I was out Vin. I know how much you hate all this administrative stuff, but Orrin and I are proud of how you handle the job.”
“Thanks, but I am more than happy to give it all back to you.” Vin stood up. “Maybe we will take the extra time, Mallory’s gift is ready and we can pick it up. We wouldn’t want to show up at her surprise birthday dinner without it. That is tonight right?”
“Damn, with everything going on, I almost forgot. I am glad you reminded me, Linda has it all planned and Josiah will have her at the ranch at seven so we need to get out of here on time. Now, let’s go tell Kel that you are going with her.”
Vin waited for Chris to get his crutches and followed him so he would not have to hurry. “Why don’t you tell her while I grab my jacket and close up my office?”
Chris made his way over to Kelli’s desk. “Hey Red, I know you hate to think about giving up desk duty, but hopefully today is the day.”
She sighed, “It would be nice to be able to do some real work and not just shuffle papers.”
“Yeah, well shuffle into your jacket because Vin’s taking you to your appointment and then you both have the rest of the day free.”
Tanner joined them. “If you need me call, we’ll see you later, Chris.”
“Just make sure you get to the ranch early enough for Mallory’s surprise.”
“Yes Dad.” They both answered.
“Vin, I’ll be honest, there were times in the last few weeks that I thought I would never see this release.”
“You are not only released, but after those scores at the firin’ range there is no question about being cleared back to full duty. We made it all the way back baby.” As they walked to the truck, Vin smiled thinking about their first introduction, here at the this range.*If I had been smart, I would have surrendered then and there.* “The rest of the day is ours, what now?”
“Well, first we need to pick up Mallory’s gift, I hope she likes it.”
“It’s her favorite picture of her, Josiah and the kids together, captured on canvas, she’ll like it.” They reached the truck and Vin opened her door, waited for her to get in and then closed it. Once he was in the other side and had turned the heat on Kelli had already move close enough for him to steal a kiss. “Okay we’ll pick up the portrait first and then ‘m taking you for a late lunch at that Mexican place you like.”
“That sounds good to me, Tanner.” Kelli was enjoying the day; she and Vin had made a practice of setting aside one day a week for a date. Sometimes it was only lunch, other times a night out, the places they went didn’t matter, it was just being together that was important. The events of last couple of months had robbed them of these special times.
They picked up the gift, the portrait came out better than they had expected. The artist that Ezra recommended was really good and he had painted a beautiful portrayal of the family snapshot they had given him to work with. “Oh, Mal will love this, Joanne and Adam look so precious, I know why this is her favorite picture.”
“Come on, we’ll leave it at the framework shop while we eat, by the time we’re finished it should be ready and wrapped.” Vin wanted to get Kelli’s mind off the babies and back on today. He took the painting and they walked across the street to leave it while they ate.
Vin’s schedule, with Chris on sick leave had been hectic, additional doctor appointments and therapy sessions were also time-consuming. Now that things were becoming normal again, the stress of the last few months seemed to fade away. They took their time at the restaurant and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. The meal was delicious and they had plenty to talk about, now that the doctor had released her.
Kelli had a list of things she wanted to do. “After all this time it’s hard to decide what to do first. A night out dancin’ is a definite, but what I think I have missed the most is ridin’ Dancer.”
Vin shook his head no, but smiled. “As soon as it warms up a little we’ll ride up to the cabin, but it’s too damned cold today and conditions will only worsen from here on out. Hell, it close to freezin’ out there now and it will be down in the teens by sundown.”
“I reckon we can find a way to play and keep warm.” Mischief danced in her eyes. “We’ll just have to concentrate on indoor sports and then spend some time in the hot tub.”
Tanner reached for the check and grinned. “That sounds like a plan to me, let’s go home, baby.”
One last stop to pick up Mallory’s wrapped gift and they set out for the ranch. A light snow had started to fall and there were already patches of ice on the roads, which meant that it would take a little longer than normal to get there. What they did not know was that due to the weather, Chris sent everyone home early and he was already enjoying some private time with Linda at the ranch.
“Jack, why in the hell are we sitting out here in the cold when Larabee doesn’t even get off work for another two hours?”
“I told you twice already, with the weather he might leave early and I do not want to take a chance on missing him. The plan to ruin him financially evidently failed and from what you have told me the story in the paper did not get him in deeper with his boss or break up his engagement so now I’ll just have to get the bastard another way.”
“You really have it in for him don’t you?”
“Lester, you have no idea how long I have wanted to bring him down. Now, one more time do you know what to do when they pass through here?”
“Yeah, we wait until we see the Durango and then we force them to stop, grab Larabee and run like hell.”
“I glad to know you have been paying attention. This stretch of road leads to the ranch and the only people that travel it live down this way, so we should have plenty of time to make this work without interference. Just keep your eyes open and be ready to act.”
The freeway was already backed up, but Vin and Kelli did not mind. They kept up a teasing dialogue that just was not possible when Chris rode with them and the closer they came to home the more intimate it was. Finally, they hit their exit; another twenty minutes and they would be at the ranch.
“It’s been a long time since we were able to just spend an afternoon like this. I have to admit I missed our date time, maybe with Chris back we can find a little more time for us.”
“With Chris back, we might even be able to take some time off. I’d like to get you on the slopes and teach you how to ski.” That was something Vin had wanted to do since the first snowfall of the year.
“Right, I just get over all my broken bones healin’ and you want to show me a way to break some more. I have somethin’ else in mind, when I think about a ski lodge; I see flames in the fireplace and us in front of it makin’ our own firestorm.”
“We don’t need to wait for a ski lodge for that, we can work on that blaze as soon as we get home with our own fireplace.”
“I thought we had been workin’ on that scenario since we left the restaurant.” Kelli teased playfully.
“We have baby and in less than ten minutes, you’ll see how good we’ve been at it.”
Vin looked in the mirror and saw a car coming up behind them fast. “Whoever that idiot is had better slow down or he might not make that curve up ahead.”
Kelli turned around to look and felt the jolt just as Vin shouted a warning, but it was too late, the car had hit the Durango and sent it into a spin on the ice. The Texan tried to regain control of the truck, but the force of the impact sent them off the road and rolling over the mountainside. A tree was the only thing that stopped the downhill momentum of the heavy truck. Suddenly all movement stopped and it became deathly quiet.
Vin hurt all over, but as much as he could tell he was in fair condition and was aware of his surrounding. “Kel? Kelli! Answer me!” All he could see was an inflated airbag, with great effort he found the knife in his pocket and managed to puncture the one on his side. As it deflated, he saw Kelli covered by the other airbag and a lot of blood, “Kel!” He cut his seatbelt and tried to reach over to her, first having to puncture the airbag, pushing it out of the way. Finally, he was able to feel for a pulse and was relieved to find one, but she was unconscious and bleeding. Afraid to try and move her he covered her with his jacket on top of hers and reached for his cell phone…that wasn’t there.”
“Cell phone, where’s the damn cell phone…hang on baby.” Vin cursed, “Dammit, okay screw my phone, look for Kel’s”.
While Vin attempted to locate either phone, two men were on their way down to them. Jack was not happy with Lester because he was only supposed to stop them, not force them off the road. “Larabee had damn well be alive when we get down there Lester or you will pay and pay dearly for your stupidly.”
“How was I to know the ice would make him lose control?”
“Shut up Lester and put that damn ski mask on.”
Tanner found his cell, but it was ruined, he threw it and looked for Kelli’s, he did not want to leave her alone to go for help, but her phone was nowhere to be found, evidently lost when the truck rolled. He heard voices and thanked God that someone knew where they were. “Hang on Kel, help’s comin’.”
The voices kept coming closer until they were at the truck, since it was laying at an angle Lester had to climb in order to open the driver side door. When it opened all Vin could see was a man wearing a ski mask, holding a gun.
“Who in the hell are you and what do you want?”
“Where is Larabee?”
“Don’t try to play dumb. Larabee, Chris Larabee …Where is he?”
“He’s not here…”
Jack began ranting. ”Sonofabitch! All this and the bastard isn’t even here. How in the hell does he stay so damn lucky? Let’s get the fuck out of here before real help comes along.”
“No! We can’t leave them to warn him!”
Vin knew this could mean worse trouble. “Look, I don’t know who you are or what you look like so just leave us and make your getaway.” He positioned his body between Kelli and the man with the gun, resisting the urge to pull his own weapon. The last thing he wanted was a shootout in a space this small; he just needed them to leave so he could help his wife.
“Yeah, so you can run to Larabee and tell him, I don’t think so!”
Jack pulled on Lester’s sleeve. “Fuck this, I’ll get him, it just might take longer, let’s go.”
“We can’t leave them alive!”
“Yes we can, come on.”
Tanner saw his chance and shoved his booted foot into the man’s chest, when he did the man’s gun discharged twice. Vin felt the impact of the bullets, but then everything happened in what seemed like slow motion. Pain shot through him as he fell backward against Kelli and a wave of darkness engulfed him.
”Now you’ve done it Lester, let’s get the hell out of here!”
Chris came out of the bedroom a bit disheveled, but wearing a huge grin, he and Linda had experience one hell of an afternoon of hot steamy sex. A loud knock at the door announced that the first guest had arrived for the birthday dinner. He yelled, “Come in,” expecting Vin, but it was Buck, Inez and the kids. He suddenly realized that he did not even feel Vin and his senses told him something was wrong.
Indicating to the plate of food Inez had brought he told Inez, “Linda will be out in a minute, you can take that into the kitchen.”
As soon as she was out of the room, Buck cornered him.” You look like Pony just kicked you in the gut. Chris, what in the hell is wrong with you?”
“Buck, it’s almost seven and there has been no word from Vin and Kel. Something is wrong or they would be here.” Chris tried to concentrate, “I can’t connect with Tanner at all.”
“Well, his truck is not here.” Buck pulled out his phone and tried to call both Tanners. “No answer on either phone, so tell me where they were going, maybe we can track them down.”
“I…I’m not sure, Vin called just before they left the firing range to tell me Kel was back on active duty. I told them to take the rest of the day off and the only thing I know is they planned on picking up Mallory’s gift. Hell, I don’t even know what they got or where it was.”
“Maybe they just lost track of time and if Vin is tuning you out, he may be focused on things he just as soon not share. Give ‘em a little more time, if we don’t hear from them in another hour, we’ll go out and look for them, but I’d bet they’re lost in each other.”
Chris looked out the window and the snow was getting heavier. *Tanner I do not care what you are doing, but you damn well better let me know something soon.*
Just eight miles down the road, the snow had partially covered Vin’s truck.
Cold…Vin groaned when he tried to move, *Damn it’s cold, Tanner what in the hell did you do? ...Kel? …Kel! Slowly Vin, think! …Accident? Damn!* His head felt as if a two ton weigh fell on it and his shoulder burned like hell, but he knew he had to move. Vin felt the side of his head and cringed when he saw the blood on his hand, he had no idea how long they had been there but it was now dark outside.*Stay awake Tanner, focus on what you need to do.*
The Texan ignored his pain, he was now aware that he was laying against Kelli. “Kel can you hear me?” When he touched her, she was cold, he searched for a pulse and found a weak one, but it was there. *Vin, first things first, you both need to get warm.*
Forcing himself to move he managed to reach the light control, as long as the battery held up the headlights would stay on, maybe someone would see them. He hurt like hell, but he could not quit now. He freed Kelli from her seatbelt and ease closer to her. Gently as possible, he drew her to him and let her head rest against his chest; wrapping one arm around her, he pulled both jackets over them. He knew moving her was risky, but the alternative was freezing to death and it was going to take the heat from both their bodies to keep them warm. *Tanner, you have to stay awake or both of you could die out here…do not close your eyes.*
The Larabee home was full of family, all of the wild bunch, except Vin and Kelli. Chris was standing by the fireplace and suddenly felt very cold, a sharp pain raced through his head, and his left shoulder felt like a hot poker had plunged into it. He almost fell, dropping one of his crutches in the process and would have if Buck had not been standing next to him.
“Whoa stud.” Buck caught him and when he saw his face, knew that trouble was brewing. “Chris?”
“It’s Vin and it’s not good. We have to find them Buck, NOW!”
Larabee’s raised voice had everyone’s attention. They all knew he was concerned and if he said Vin was in trouble they accepted that as fact, without question.
“We start from here and work toward the freeway; we’ll need lights and blankets. Wherever they are, it is cold. Nathan, bring what you need, we will divide into two groups, Josiah and Nathan will take the left side. JD, bring my laptop and see if you can pick up a GPS signal from one of their phones.”
“On it, Chris.” JD hugged Casey and kissed the babies. “Love you Case.”
“Buck, Ezra, and I will cover the right; if we don’t find them in the first fifteen miles we’ll meet at the frontage road and decide where to go from there.” Chris was ready to leave thirty minutes ago, but he knew they needed to organize. “Linda, stay by the phone in case they check in and also call search and rescue. Ask them to be on stand-by status for us.”
Rain brought out more blankets and Nathan reminded them. “Make sure you dress warm and take extra blankets. If you find them and they have been exposed to this temperature, getting them warm is critical.” He stopped long enough to hug Rain and check on his sleeping son.
Inez brought two thermoses of hot coffee from the kitchen and handed them to Buck, who passed one to Josiah. “Find them and be careful,” she kissed him, “Love you.” He hugged his girls and was ready to go
Mallory helped Josiah with his coat and gave him a good-bye kiss. “Bring them home, big guy.” He gave a hug to Joanne and a kiss to Adam as he turned to leave.
“Let’s move out.” Chris was the first one out the door informing Ezra and Buck that he was driving. “I can’t get out and walk over those rough edges, but I can damned sure, steer this truck with my eyes closed.”
Buck mumbled, “It’s not the steering I’m worried about.”
“I heard that Buck! Get in! “
When they reached the road, Josiah, Ezra and Buck got out and walked in front of the vehicles. Forced to move slowly due to fresh snow on the ground, they knew any sign of trouble would be hard to find. Nathan and Chris drove while JD attempted to find a signal.
*VIN! talk to me brother, Where in the hell are you?*
*Vin, don’t give up, we are coming for both of you. Help me here pard, stay awake.*
*Stay a… wake…lights…on…Chr…is…c..old.*
Chris sounded the horn for the other’s attention. “Forget signs! Watch for lights, headlights probably off the road. We are close, but I don’t think we have much time.” With something specific to look for they were able to move faster and cover more ground.
*Hang on Vin … What… what about Kel?*
*VIN TANNER! DAMMIT STAY WITH ME!*
Chris called the house. “Linda tell rescue to get their asses out here now and have Flight for Life ready, I’m afraid we’re gonna need them. Somewhere past the seven mile marker, I’ll let you know exactly where, when we find them.”
“Call rescue, Flight for life, seven mile maker, I got it and I’m making the call now.” Linda hung up and immediately dialed for help.
“There! See it!” Buck took off down the side of the embankment, followed closely by Josiah and Ezra.
“Chris, DO NOT even think about it, I don’t need you as a patient too. JD, stay here with him and relay what we need to the rescue squad.” Nathan grabbed his bag and some blankets as he went down after the others.
Larabee cursed his leg and threw one of his crutches in anger. “Dammit, I need to be down there!”
JD recovered the thrown crutch and then went back to stand next to Chris. “It will take both of us to relay. Do you want Nathan or Rescue?”
Chris thought about it, he wanted to know ASAP, but rescue needed to hear the voice of authority.” Rescue, you get Nathan and the radio.” He took the crutch JD offered him and dialed the emergency dispatch.
Buck reached them first and when he saw the condition of the truck, he began to pray. “Vin! Can you here me? It’s Bucklin, VIN!” He climbed onto the vehicle to try the door.
“Anything? “Ezra was next, Josiah and Nathan only a few seconds behind him.
“Oh God, it looks bad. VIN!” Receiving no answer, he started to go inside.
“Wait Buck, let me in there first.” Nathan was already climbing through the door and as a brother, he was terrified by what he found. Kelli was unconscious and her skin was blue; Vin didn’t look much better and both were covered with blood. However, the healer part of him overrode his fears and he checked both of them for a pulse. Vin’s was the easiest to find, Kelli’s was slow and barely palpable. He said a prayer and began issuing orders.
“Ezra, get your ass in here, ‘m gonna need some help. Buck, get on that radio with JD.” As soon as he made contact, Nathan began his assessment. “Victim number one is female, blood type B positive, mid twenties, show symptoms of severe hypothermia, unconscious, skin cold and blue, barely audible pulse, possible head trauma, other injuries unknown, but probable blood loss.”
Ezra joined him. “Hold on to Kelli while I check Vin and Ezra be very gentle, hypothermia patients are subject to cardiac arrest, no sudden movements.” He helped Ezra and then started on Vin.
“Victim number two is male early thirties, blood type AB positive, shows symptoms of mild hypothermia, semi-conscious, skin cold, still showing some color, possible head trauma and …My God! This is from a gunshot! What in the hell happened here?” Nathan took a deep breath. “Gunshot wound, left shoulder through and through, blood loss, other injuries unknown. Flight for life requested and make sure to tell them we have hypothermia victims, they’ll need to bring some special equipment.”
“Josiah, pass me two blankets, I can’t warm them up too fast or it could kill them. Judging from the time Vin’s watch stopped they have been out here since three ten this afternoon. With the temperature near freezing then, and what it is now, their body temperatures could have dropped at least ten degrees. I don’t dare try to move them to look for further injuries until more medical help arrives.” Nathan covered Vin and held him, while Ezra took care of Kelli.
“Tell Chris to get forensics out here because this is now a crime scene and then pray, Josiah, pray.”
Chris received every message and was furious, this was not an accident, but deliberate. He also knew they would lose a lot of evidence by the time they got Vin and Kelli out of there, but he would find the bastard responsible for this, one way or another.
The area was starting to look like a convention for emergency personal. Rescue arrived, the paramedics were already on their way down to the accident site loaded with extra equipment and the sheriff’s department blocked the road for Flight for life to land. Raphael would have their forensics team here soon and in the middle of all this, Linda arrived.
“Chris, I couldn’t stay and wait, Mallory drove me out, with the promise that I call her as soon as we knew more. How are they?”
Larabee swallowed hard, “No good, babe, but Flight for life will be here in a few minutes and rescue is trying to get them out now.” He was glad Linda was here, they needed to be together through this and he did not mind admitting to her just how scared he was. Chris grabbed her hand and held on.
Flight for life landed first, a doctor had come with them and he did not hesitate to go down the hill to his patients. Raphael landed a little further down the road. Justin and Mark rode with the forensics team.
Justin found Larabee. “We came to relieve you guys so you can go to the hospital. As soon as Flight for life lifts off, Raphael will fly the rest of you in. We will carry on here to secure the scene and we will stay until we find all the evidence that is there to find. There will be enough of us here to take care of your truck and Nathan’s car too.”
Chris just nodded in the affirmative.
JD was listening to the radio. “They got them out and are on their way up with both of them.”
“Tell Buck that our team is here to relieve them and Raphael is taking us to the hospital.”
Chris held on to Linda’s hand and prepared himself to see Vin and Kelli, at least he thought he did. Nothing prepared him to see the condition they were in and neither Nathan nor Ezra would look him in the eye. The medical crew did not slow down but practically ran to the helicopter and lifted off immediately.
Buck and Josiah did not do any better and Chris had a bad feeling about what they were not saying.
“Chris, Nathan, give me your keys, I’ll take care of getting your vehicles to the hospital, and Raphael is waiting for all of you.” Justin prodded them on. “We have everything covered here, go.” The MCAT forensic team was already working.
Jackson shook his head, “I don’t know. Vin has lost a lot of blood and both he and Kelli are hypothermic. Kel is… she is in bad shape Chris, I just don’t know if they can get her back. Her core temperature is dangerously low and…”
“We are not going to stand here and talk about this; we are going to the hospital, Now Chris!” Linda squeezed his hand and urged him to move.
A silent group boarded the helicopter and no one spoke during the trip to Denver Memorial.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Chris wanted to pace, but between Nathan and Linda he did not stand a chance. If one was not telling him to get off his leg and sit, then the other one did. He really hated this place, the waiting was hell and as a patient here, he was always miserable.
“Dammit, it has been almost two hours. What the hell are they doing and why won’t they tell us?” Larabee knew all about patience, but he was fresh out and wanted some answers.
“With hypothermia, it will take time; if they work too fast it can be fatal and we are not even sure about what other injuries…”
“Nathan, I’m not asking about what they don’t know. I just want to be informed of what they do know.”
Finally, Chris saw a familiar face. “Doc?”
“Chris, sit down and get off that leg before I chain you to that chair.” Dr Gilford waited until Larabee sat down before he continued. “I have spent the last two hours with Vin and he is stable enough and warm enough now to go to surgery. He received two gunshot wounds, one grazed his temple and that one caused him to lose consciousness. The one to his shoulder went through and exited just above the left shoulder blade. I am taking him into surgery to clean the wound and repair some minor blood vessel damage. That should take about an hour.”
“So he will be okay?”
“If he listens to me he will be fine, but he has lost a lot of blood and I will be keeping him for a few days. If it matters, he faired well in the accident and aside from some contusions and stiffness would have been home by now. It was the cold and loss of blood from being shot that impaired him.”
“What can you tell me about Kelli?”
“Not much, I did look in on her and Dr Landers is treating the hypothermia aggressively. From what little Vin and Nathan have told me about what happened, Vin is responsible for her still being with us. Evidently, she was unconscious from the accident and he covered her before he was shot, otherwise she might not have survived until he was cognizant enough to get to her and share his own body heat to keep her alive. It will take a while before Landers can tell you much more, but I know she is not a quitter.”
“Thanks Doc. Any chance I can see Vin before you take him into surgery?”
“You can see him for a few minutes, but I doubt he will be awake enough to talk. Come with me and afterward I want your promise to stay off that leg.”
“You have my word.” Chris followed Dr. Gilford to the room Tanner was in and was pleased to see that he looked much better than he did only a few short hours ago. *Vin?*
The Texan turned toward the sound of Larabee’s voice. *Kel?*
*Dr. Landers is taking care of her.*
*Look after her... for me.*
*I will, just let Doc do his thing and fix you up, we will all be here waiting for you.*
Chris knew the shot they gave the Texan had taken over, but they would have time later to talk. Maybe by then, he would know more about Kelli. He watched as they took Vin out for surgery and as an alternative of going straight back to the waiting room, he took a small detour. Instead of finding Kelli though, he ran into her doctor.
“What can you tell me Dr. Landers?”
“I’m sorry; I really need to talk to Vin.”
”I hold a medical POA for her and she is my daughter.”
Dr. Landers nodded, “When Kelli was brought in her core body temperature was 85.5 degrees, as you know 98.6 is normal for most people. That put her at level of severe hypothermia, she had no pulse and was very near death; in fact, if this was a few years ago she would have been pronounced at the scene. Fortunately, we have come a long way in how we treat these cases and most patients make a full recovery. We are warming her slowly from the inside out at about 2 degrees an hour and as long as we can keep her heart going without a cardiac arrest she has a good chance.”
“What else?” Chris knew from his SEAL training all about hypothermia and the complications it could cause.
“The hypothermia is the strongest threat for her at this time, but she also has some injuries from the accident. Right now, it is impossible to tell if she is unconscious from the cold or the head trauma she received first. We can only wait and see.”
“Kelli is a survivor and I know she will be okay. She has been through too much in her life not to.” Chris was not sure how he knew but he had no doubt about her recovery. “What is her temperature now?”
“Somewhere around ninety degrees.” Dr. Landers made a decision. “If you want to see her, I’ll give you two minutes.”
“Lead on, Doctor.” It was only two minutes, but Chris took it and he stood just watching her for a full minute of it. ”Kel, your family is waiting for you and Vin is gonna be fine, so warm up Red and come back home.”
Three hours later Vin was in a room and Dr Gilford assured Chris that Tanner would be fine in a few days. Everyone had moved from the waiting room to Tanner’s room and in another couple of hours, Kelli would be close to normal temperature again. Larabee hoped that by morning he would have her settled in a room, too.
“Man he looks a helluva lot better than he did when we first saw him.” Buck was relieved because he had thought earlier they would lose Vin.
“Brother Buck, never underestimate the power of prayer.” Josiah placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Amen to that,” Nathan was pleased that he was wrong and Vin would be okay.
“Need I remind you gentlemen that we only have half of a miracle here, one that will not be complete until Kelli has rejoined us.” Ezra cautioned them.
Linda knew how strong Kelli could be, “Kel is the most stubborn woman that I have ever known I am positive that she will come thought this just fine.”
“She’s stubborn, that’s for sure.” It was an effort to speak and Vin groaned when he attempted to move.
“Vin, you’re awake, welcome back.”
“I talked to Landers and he said Kel is doing better than he expected at this point.” Chris knew that there was only one thing Vin was interested in knowing. “You kept her alive Vin until we could find you both and now there are some good doctors making sure that she stays that way.”
“I need to see her.” Vin made an effort to sit up.
“Hold it! You are connected to an IV and a few other tubes. You are not going anywhere, yet.” Nathan reprimanded the young Texan.
“Vin, Dr. Lauders is aware of where we are and as soon as he knows more he promised to come tell us.” Chris was relieved to see the acceptance in Tanner’s eyes. “We will keep checking for you.” Vin’s nod of resignation was the only acknowledgement he received.
“What time is it?”
“Almost two in the morning, Vin.” JD answered.
“Damn, don’t y’all sleep sometime?”
“We plan to, but there are a few things we need to know first.” Buck was now all cop. “Tell us what happened and who shot you Vin.”
At first, they were not sure Vin would tell them, finally he answered. “Two of ‘m wearin’ ski mask, I think they only planned to force us to stop, but the ice on the road had a different idea. I don’t know who in the hell they were, but they argued about shootin ’me. One of ‘em wanted to shut me up and they other one said he would just bide his time to get what he wanted.”
Chris cut his eyes to Tanner. What were they looking for Vin?”
“Vin, are you positive?” Buck felt a chill down his spine. “You know that head of yours has been kinda knocked around here lately.”
“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my hearin’, Buck! They were expectin’ Chris to be in the truck and the second man was damned upset that he wasn’t.” Vin groaned when he tried to move. “He said somethin’ about Chris stayin’ lucky.”
Chris had been silent. If they wanted him, then that meant Vin was shot and Kelli was hurt because he had another enemy out there. He felt Linda squeeze his hand. “It’s not your fault,” she whispered.
Larabee looked over at Vin. *I’m lucky and you’re…*
*Don’t! You did not do this!*
“What do you remember about them?” Buck was determined to find this bastard.
Tanner gave a half laugh. “Not much, Buck, I had just rolled off the side of a mountain, was still inside the truck and worried as hell about Kelli. They wore ski mask and had a gun pointed at me, sorry if I can’t give you details.” He thought for a minute. “Kel might have seen them. She turned around to look just before we were hit…I only saw them in the rear view mirror.”
“We have time for this later, right now you need rest, hell all of you do.” Chris cut his eyes to Buck. “We’ll take precautions and see how Kel is doing.” He knew Vin was close to coming out of that bed and trying to find out himself.
Nathan stood up. “I’ll go check.”
“Ezra, track down Justin, see what they found out there and then get some rest, I have a feeling it may be your only chance for a while. JD, you too, when you get to the office in the morning, hook up to CASSIE and coordinate with forensics. Josiah, will you take Linda home?” Josiah read what Chris did not say; get her away from the investigation.
“Chris I need to stay.” Linda protested.
“You need proper sleep and I will let you know if anything changes here.” Reluctantly Linda gathered her things to go with Josiah. Chris kissed her good-bye and watched them all leave.
“I’m staying right here and you are not getting out of my sight, so deal with it!”
“A ring…the bastard wore a ring. Looked like…hell, looked familiar, but…I don’t know.” Vin’s head hurt.
“You need something for pain, I can call the nurse.” Chris reached for the call button.
“No! Nothin’ ‘til I find out ‘bout Kel.”
Nathan came back in the room.” Vin, Dr. Landers will be in to talk to you, in a few minutes. I’ve convinced him that since you both were victims of an attempted murder that he should put Kel in this room. I told him that it would be easier to keep you both guarded that way.”
“Thanks Nate, but Chris is the one that needs protectin’.”
“Chris has protection and so do you. I’m not going anywhere.” Buck propped his feet up and settled in to stay.
Dr. Landers entered the room before Chris could comment. “Vin, we need to talk.”
“You can talk in front of them, they’re family.”
“Kelli started out at 85.5-degree core temperature and we had to use internal warming methods, but we now have her temperature up to 96 degrees. It was a close call, but she is conscious now, although somewhat disoriented from a concussion. We have stabilized her irregular heartbeat and tests show no internal injuries. I would like to monitor her for the next forty-eight hours. She will probably experience some sore and stiff muscles not only from the hypothermia, but also from the accident. “Do you have any questions?”
“Just tell me she will be okay.”
“With proper rest, she should be on her feet in a few days, although it may be a couple of weeks, before she regains all her strength. You did all the right things out there for us to have a good outcome.” He patted Vin on the leg. “She is on her way up here now and we will continue measures to raise her temperature externally.”
“Thanks Dr. Landers.”
In the next few minutes, there was a flurry of activity as they brought Kelli in and settled her in the room. The nurses were to keep heated blankest on her bed as well as a warm IV going and keep her wrapped with thermal coverings. They also provided a rollaway bed for whoever was officially staying as police protection, along with a few extra pillows and blankets for those unofficially there.
“Okay Mr. Tanner, your turn. Your wife will sleep for a while and you are due for some pain meds, so no arguments. I will be in every thirty minutes to check on her and change out her blankets.” The nurse held out the pills.
Vin was satisfied with Kelli in his sight and took the medication that would help him rest. Nathan took advantage of the lounge down the hall and grabbed some sleep while he could. Buck settled in the chair for the rest of the night and insisted that Larabee stretch out on the rollaway. Sleep never came for Chris, every time he closed his eyes he saw Vin or Kelli covered in blood and fighting for each breath.
*Whoever you are, I will find you and you will pay.*
“Lester you are a fucking idiot! If that man dies you murdered a federal agent and they will never stop looking for you!”
“I didn’t shoot him; the damn gun went off when he kicked me!”
“You really think that matters?”
“Yeah, well you were there! You think they care that you weren’t holding a gun, you’ll get the needle, too.”
“Lester, we need a new plan.”
Chris hobbled in with Buck right on his heels; he was ready for some kind of answers or at least a direction to look for them. Watching Vin and Kelli struggle in the hospital for the last thirty-six hours and knowing that they were there because of him had taken a toll on his vow of living guilt-free. The only thing he wanted now was to find the bastard responsible for the current attack on his family.
Larabee motioned to the team on his way in, for them to follow him to the war room for an update.
“Tell me.” Chris wanted some answers.
Justin braved the first response. “We covered every inch of the area and came up with very little. The shell casings are in forensics and were 9mm, no prints except the ones you would expect to find, except for one on the doorframe. We are trying to match it now on the national database. We did retrieve paint scrapings off the back of the Durango and we are trying to determine the make and model of the other vehicle now.”
With Chris’ nod he continued, “Mark and Ross are at the ranch keeping an eye on things, Linda in particular, just in case this guy decides to try to get to you through her. We have a schedule worked out so at least someone will be there at all times. Paul is with Nathan at the hospital and they will stay until another team replaces them.”
“Chris, whoever this is has a personal grudge against you. He tried to ruin you financially and then embarrass you by leaking the news to the press. I believe the situation with Vin and Kelli somehow got out of hand, all he wanted was a way to take you and mother nature interfered.” Sanchez stood and looked at the board that held what little information they had.
Josiah explained his reasons. “A true con artist would definitely fit for the identity theft and credit card scheme. However, murder would be a big stretch and not something he would normally do. His modus operandi...MO would consist of mind games showing superior intelligence and usually non-violent assaults. His partner on the other hand may be capable of behavior that is more brutal.”
“Pam and I have narrowed our search to known con artists that are in the Denver area and have a list of names with twenty-six possible suspects.” JD passed the sheet of paper to Chris. “We are doing background searches on all of them, but it will take a little time for results. Some of these guys have ten or more aliases.”
“I have all my contacts operational on this to ascertain any available information about this miscreant and if he is still in Denver we will find him.” Ezra vowed. “I will be relieving Nathan and Paul tonight, may I suggest Chris that you go home and try to rest. I know you did not sleep last night and we will need your mind alert to see this through.”
Larabee shook his head, “No, I will be back at the hospital as soon as I finish here.” He knew the others were about to protest. “At least for a while and if everything is okay, then I might go home for the night.”
“Just so you understand that wherever you go, I go, then we’ll have no problem.” Buck let Chris know that it was not negotiable.
“Fine Buck, the rest of you keep digging until we have something.”
Ezra grabbed a folder he had been working on. “Chris, I’m going to exchange my car for Kel’s truck and then go over to the hospital now, see you there.”
Chris started for his office, but Gunny stopped him. “Commander, you have a therapy session scheduled exactly forty-five minutes from now. Judging from how much pain you are apparently in, I would suggest that you do not miss it.”
“Ms. Montgomery, I do not have time now, reschedule it!”
“It is Gunny sir, and you need to heal that leg! Either you go today or I will be forced to call your doctor and report to him how much trouble you are having with it.” She did not budge.
Larabee tried to stare her down and swore the woman must be made of granite. Truthfully his leg was killing him, but he was not about to admit that to her. “Reschedule the session, I will see Dr. Gilford at the hospital and discuss it with him.”
Gunny nodded. “Very well, I will let him know where you will be, just to make sure you don’t miss each other.” With that said, she turned and went back to her desk.
“I told you Chris, she don’t mess around.”
“Shut up, Buck.”
Denver Memorial Hospital
Vin was feeling much better and Doc was pleased with his progress, in fact he planned to release the Texan in the morning. His head wound was minimal, but he would have his shoulder bound in a sling for two weeks. He would make a full recovery, but had strict instructions to rest and take care of himself so he could heal faster. Tanner’s only worry now was Kelli, finally she was getting some much-needed sleep, but she had been restless most of the day. What he really wanted was a few minutes alone with her. However, all day there had been people in their room and it had been as busy as the local bus station, granted most of them were family, but enough was enough.
“Nathan, we’ll be fine, you and Paul don’t have to hang around here.”
“Vin, someone tried to kill you and no way are we leaving you two alone for him to get another chance.” Nathan could be just as stubborn as the Texan.
Ezra came in on the tail end of Nathan’s comment. “Your relief is here gentlemen, so you are both free to leave. I assure you that I came prepared to stay the night.” Standish set down the bags he was holding.
“You both do as the doctor says, and I will see you tomorrow.” Nathan took Vin’s nod as a sign of agreement and then he and Paul left.
“I brought you both some clothes and a few things I thought you might need.” He handed Vin some sweatpants and pulled out a shirt for him. “I thought you might want to cover your assets so you could move around.” While he assisted Vin with his shirt and sling, he gave him a rundown of the activities made on his behalf. “I secured your personal possessions, removed them from the vehicle and used your keys to safely store them at your home. Mallory’s gift came through it all in good condition, only needing a minor touch up. I took the liberty of having my artist friend repair it for you. I also contacted your insurance company and an adjuster will be out by Monday to assess the damage to your truck.”
‘Thanks Ez, appreciate it.”
“I also brought a change of apparel for Kelli; however, I will let you assist her.”
Chris and Buck came in arguing with one another. “Buck, I do not need a babysitter!” He was still peeved that Dr. Gilford had tracked him down and lectured him about his leg.
“Well, you have one so get used to it.” Wilmington found the nearest chair and sat.
“What did Doc say?” Chris hated that he missed seeing the doctor, but was anxious about what he had to say.
“Dr. Gilford said he was releasin’ me in the mornin’ and Landers said he would decide on Kel once he saw her next test results. We should both be back at work probably in a week or so and you do need a babysitter until we catch this bastard. Ez is stayin’ so you can go home now and get off that damned leg.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Tanner?”
“Chris, your leg is not getting any better, you have a future brother-in-law coming to stay for a week and you have barely slept in two days. So yeah, go home and rest, dammit!”
“If Dr. Landers releases Kel then I will have them both home before noon tomorrow.” Ezra gave Chris time to consider his words.
Chris went to Kelli’s side of the room and watched as she slept. It irritated him that someone was out to ruin him financially, but as long as he knew that his family was okay he could live with it. *Funny how your life now is so different from the one you grew up with Chris. Your dad never got it did he? He was the one that missed out the most and did not even realize it.*
“Okay, I’m leaving, but if anything changes…”
“I know the number, Cowboy.”
“Buck, go home, at least say hello to your family and if I need you I will call. Hell, you’re only a few minutes away and there has been enough activity around here to scare off anyone that may be watching.” Chris knew he would argue, but stood firm. “Now Buck, we’ll be fine.” Reluctantly Wilmington left and for the first time two days, he was alone with Linda.
“Chris, are you sure this is a good time for Matthew to come?”
“It’s as good a time as any, besides it past time for me to meet some of your family.”
“You’ll like him, he is the one closest to my age and Matthew is a fair man. He won’t prejudge you based on some dumb investigative report and he is not a big fan of nosy reporters.”
“I’m sure we will get along just fine, babe.” He sat on the couch with her and pulled her closer to him.
“The fact that the others elected him to come is kind of a peace offering to me. I let them know what I thought about their judgmental attitudes and told them what they could do with their stupid investigator. I think they got the message loud and clear.”
Chris laughed, “I just bet they did.”
Linda hesitated for a moment. “There is something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
Sensing her reluctance, Chris encouraged her to continue. “Whatever it is, just say it.”
“I know this identity theft business has made a mess of your finances and I wanted you to know I have the resources to help out if needed.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not destitute yet and between our lawyer, Ezra and JD working on it, I feel confident it will all be straightened out soon enough. I do appreciate the offer though.” Chris nibbled on her earlobe and whispered. “We have the rest of tonight alone. What do you want to do with it?”
Linda grinned and wrapped her arms around Chris’ neck. “I though you would never ask.” One passionate kiss and they were both lost for the night.
Linda was busy in the kitchen preparing for the family get-together later this afternoon. They were going to try again to celebrate Mallory’s birthday and the phone began ringing early this Saturday morning. First, it was Matthew letting Linda know he would be there about noon and then Ezra called to let Chris know that the doctor was releasing Kelli this morning, too.
Chris poured himself a cup of coffee. “What can I do to help?’
“You can keep everyone on task for me. I made a list of who is supposed to do what.” She handed it to Chris; he looked it over and nodded.
“This I can do, keeping this bunch in line is my specialty.” Larabee grinned.
Within the hour, Chris had most of the family in attendance and working on their assignments for the day. Of course, he saved the best job for himself, propping his leg up and watching the kids play. Before he knew what was happening three little girls were sitting with him wanting a story.
“Pleese uncl Chris.” Sarah persisted, until he gave in and began to read Cinderella. He ignored the smiles from the rest of the family and concentrated on Sarah, Maria and Joanne.
Ezra pulled into the drive, stopping in front of the Tanner home. “Lord it feels good to be here. “Kelli kept her eye on Vin, making sure he was as okay as he said he was. They decided to go into their own house first and then head over to Chris’ after changing clothes and taking a few minutes to regroup. Someone was thoughtful enough to turn the heat on earlier and it was nice and warm.
“I’ll take Mal’s gift over for you and let everyone know y’all will be over in a little while.” Ezra was sure they would appreciate some quiet moments, before spending the day with the wild bunch. He knew they were safe here and they were overdue for some alone time.
“Thanks Ez, for everythin’, tell ‘em to give us at least thirty minutes before Chris sends out a search party.” Vin took Kelli’s hand and led her to the couch where they could sit and enjoy each other’s company for a few minutes. “Okay baby, tell me.”
She knew what he wanted to know. “Somethin’ has been naggin’ at me, but so far I keep comin’ up blank as to what it is. I feel that I should know who I saw in that car, but…”
“Give it some time and it will come back to you.” Vin used his good arm to hold her closer, something that he missed doing with so many people in and out of their room at the hospital.” Is that all that has been botherin’ you?”
“You mean, aside from the fact we that almost died, my head still hurts, I can’t seem to stay warm and we have had half the city of Denver in our room for the last two days, yeah.”
Vin laughed, “Yeah, aside from all of that.” He kissed the top of her head and truthfully he knew neither of them were 100% well yet. “I missed us.”
“Me too, you have spoiled me Tanner. I can’t get a restful sleep alone anymore and ‘m used to having at least some time each day to sit with you like this and just...be you and me.”
“Tonight we’ll sleep together in our own bed and by tomorrow we should both be in better shape to spend a quiet day of lovin’ together. For now though, we’ll go see the family, let ‘m fuss over us a bit and just enjoy being together.” He slid his hand over to caress her breast and he took advantage of their few minutes alone to claim a kiss or two.
Kelli turned her head and took pleasure in his loving attention, both of them knowing they had to move soon. At last, she sighed and knew that they had to leave. “I almost lost you and I don’t intend to let you out of my reach for the rest of the day.”
“Countin’ on it, Texas.”
Matthew arrived early and walked in to the family mix, fitting in immediately as if he had known them for years. This type of get-together reminded him of earlier days when the Dubois family did this on a regular basis. He and Linda spend some time talking and then she made the rounds to introduce him to everyone.
Linda introduced him to Chris first and then the rest of the family, making sure he met all the kids. “Matt I think you will agree this is one wild bunch, reminds me of home when we were younger.”
“Yeah, we don’t see everyone near enough anymore, but maybe since the others are showing some interest in your marriage that will change,” He missed his sister and other brothers more than he would admit. “Didn’t you say Kel would be here, too?”
“Yes Matt, in fact…” Linda looked around and targeted Standish. “Ezra shouldn’t Vin and Kelli be here by now?”
Ezra sighed and pulled out his phone, but before he dialed, the Tanners walked in the door.
“Welcome home and about time you two decided to join us.” Buck grinned. “Been busy, Tanner?”
Vin shook his head and smiled. “Yeah, but not that kind of busy, Bucklin.” Maria spied her favorite Uncle and made a beeline for him fortunately, Inez interceded and slowed her down before she threw herself at him. “Hey girl, let us find a place to sit and then you can come tell us what’s been goin’ on while we were gone.” Maria nodded and waited for them to sit somewhere.
Before they found a place to sit, Matt joined them. “Hello Kelli.” He hugged her and then stood back to take a good look at her. “What has it been? Two years?”
“More like three, Matt this is my husband Vin Tanner. Vin, Matt Dubois.” The men shook hands.
“Linda has told me all about you, it good to meet the man that finally found a way to Kelli’s heart.” He spoke to Vin, but watched Kelli.
Vin had the feeling that there were more to Matt’s words than he was saying, but for now he would play nice. “It‘s a heart that was worth lookin’ for, that’s for sure.”
Chris called them over to sit by the fireplace next to him. “Excuse us, Matt but family is callin’.” Kelli took Vin’s hand and headed to the spot waiting for them. Maria snuggled between them as soon as they hit the couch.
Linda asked for everyone’s attention and then made a short speech about Mallory’ delayed birthday dinner that was now a lunch. “We will eat first and then have cake with ice cream.” She made sure that Chris, Kelli and Vin stayed put while she fixed them a plate of food.
Kelli shivered at the mention of ice cream and Chris threw her a blanket. “Thanks.” Maria had her visit with Vin and then decided she wanted to eat more than talk, taking off to sit with the other girls. The Tanners got cozy under the blanket mostly for warmth, but it also allowed for some enjoyable moments.
While they ate, Chris wanted to hear everything the doctors had to say. “Are you sure you a week in long enough to recover before you come back to work?
“Should be, if not you’ll be the first to know, quit worryin’, Cowboy.”
The family did exactly what Vin had expected, each checking on them continuously throughout the afternoon. Finally, it was time for Mallory to open her gifts.
“Okay, here we go, “Joanne helped her unwrap each one until only two were left. Josiah knew what the Tanners had for her and he insisted she open it last. He gave her a mother’s ring with all their birthstones inlayed into a gold setting. With tears in her eyes, she hugged him and then laughed when she saw Adam who was now sticking bows on the top of his head.
“Mal, Josiah helped us on this one and it is really for both of you.” Tanner grinned, “After joinin’ us on a tumble down the mountain, your gift has proven to be just as durable and strong as you are.” He explained while Standish handed her the package. “We could not have done it without Ezra’s help either.”
Josiah helped her take the paper off and heard her suck in her breath when she saw the painting. “How did…when did? It’s beautiful.” More tears joined the ones from earlier. “Thank you.” Josiah held it up for everyone to see and he was amazed at how well the artist had captured each one of them, especially the kids.
Vin noticed that Mallory was not the only one with a few tears and knowing what she was thinking, he squeezed Kelli’s hand. “We made it baby, only needin’ a few minor touch ups, just like that picture”
Chris took in the whole room, not missing anything. If felt right having the family together today and he trusted Vin to take care of Kelli’s concerns. Linda came and sat down beside him; he smiled and pulled her close. Low enough for only her to hear he did have one question. “Why didn’t you tell me that your brother was in love with Kel?”
“That was a long time ago and she never encouraged him so I’m sure he is well over it.”
Observing Matthew over the last few hours had Chris convinced otherwise. “I don’t think so, but we’ll see.”
Linda considered Chris’ words and looked over to Matthew. *Maybe you need a sister to brother talk.*
The party broke up and as if it were pre-planned, the women took the kids home, while the men stayed. Linda took Matthew out to show off the Larabee horses and have a heart-to- heart talk. That left Vin and Kelli to face the other brothers.
Chris started. “Now that you both have had time to think about what happened, let’s go over it.”
“I really don’t remember much except Vin shoutin’ and then…cold.”
“Hell Chris, I can’t add more to what I already told you. I still can’t place that ring and…”
“Ring? What ring?” Kelli had missed hearing about it.
“A ring one of the men wore, it looked familiar but hell if I know why.”
“It was silver, red stone and some kind of blue on the edge not jeweled but etched.”
She sat up straighter, trying to piece something together. Suddenly she looked at Chris and then threw back the blanket surprising them all.
“Kel, where in the hell are you going?” Chris looked over to Vin who just shrugged his shoulder.
Kelli did not answer, but went to the hall closet and started pulling out boxes. Chris chose to let her go at it, paying close attention to her actions. JD, Nathan and Josiah thought that maybe she had overmedicated. Ezra just observed and Buck was not sure just what to think, but his own curiosity got the best of him.
Buck got up and offered to assist. “Can I help you find something darlin’?” he watched her try to reach a box on the top shelf. “Whoa, I’ll get it for you.” He pulled the box down and set it on the floor.
She pulled out a photo album and took it back to the couch with her, leaving the rest of the boxes out on the floor, for Wilmington to put up. When she found what she was looking for she showed it to Vin. “Is that the ring?”
Vin studied it and the looked up. “Yeah, but how did you know?”
“I told you I felt I should have recognized that man in the car and now I know why. Age this picture twenty-five years and ‘m positive it will be the man I saw.” She cut her eyes over to Chris and said softly, “This is the man and it wasn’t my imagination after all.”
“Are you sure, Kel?” One look at her face and Vin knew she was positive.
Chris cleared his throat. “You two wanna share with the rest of us?”