Chapter 1 - 2 |
Chapter 3 - 5 |
Chapter 6 - 8 |
Chapter 9 - 11
Chapter 12 - 14 | Chapter 15 - 18 | Chapter 19 - Epilogue
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 he 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 he 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.*