Chapter 1 - 2 |
Chapter 3 - 5 |
Chapter 6 - 8 |
Chapter 9 - 11
Chapter 12 - 14 | Chapter 15 - 18 | Chapter 19 - Epilogue
Denver Memorial Hospital- 6:30pm.
Considering the room was full of people, it was relatively quiet, especially for a family that was usually boisterous. Neither Chris nor Vin had said one word for the last two hours, at least not out loud. Tanner stood staring out the window while Larabee watched every movement he made, mentally willing the Texan to stay calm.
Linda sat next to Chris, but could stand the silence no longer. “I have been sitting here thinking about the next few weeks. You, Kelli and Buck will not be fully mobile for a while and will need some assistance getting around. The ranch will need some temporary additions to make that easier. Inez and I can be there full time and if we need to, we can hire a nurse to help or set up a schedule for the family. What do you think, Chris?”
Larabee did not answer her, but he saw the muscles in Tanner’s back tense up. *Easy, Vin, she’ll be okay.*
*What makes you so damn sure about that? You got a connection I don’t know about?*
*No, but I know she will not give up without one helluva a fight. For some reason she has decided to love an ornery, stubborn, longhaired, smart ass Texan and I just do not see her giving up on him.*
*I sure as hell have not given up on her! Dammit Chris, it’s this waitin’ that I can’t handle.*
*What happen to all that Tanner patience? You and Kel had a lot of practice waiting, if I recall. Are you going to tell me it was not worth the wait?*
*No, it was more than worth it… but this is different, hell, at least then I knew what I was waitin’ for*.
*You did, she didn’t, but it did not stop her from having faith about what the unknown had to offer.*
*Have faith, which is exactly what Kel said about … Okay, I get your point.*
*Good, maybe I won’t have to kick your ass after all.*
“Chris? Are you even listening to me?” Linda tried again to get his attention. “Inez thinks my idea is a good one and Josiah said it would not take much work to make a few adjustments on the ranch house to allow for a wheelchair or crutches.”
“If you plan for all three of us to recuperate, in the same house that could be hazardous to someone’s health.” Buck knew how Chris was when he was injured.
“Buck, you worry too much, I think it would be the perfect solution. It could even be fun.” Linda had no idea.
Nathan intervened. “Linda, Chris and Buck have a unique disposition when they’re hurt. They are not exactly the best patients to nurse back to health. And from what I have observed Kelli might not be such an agreeable patient either.”
“You must be exaggerating, I can handle Chris, and Inez can take care of Buck. That just leave Kel, while Vin is at work and I am sure she will behave once she know she has no choice.” Linda was confident with her plan.
“Linda, you tell Kel that she has no choice and she will do everythin’ in her power to prove you wrong.” Vin could not stay quiet hearing Linda’s statement and he could not help but smile, thinking about her plan. “You would do better takin’ on five two years olds than a stubborn Tanner, an ornery Larabee and a mule headed Wilmington.”
“Amen to that brother.” Josiah and Nathan were both shaking their heads in agreement.
“I believe what Vin is trying to say is, you would have a better chance of hell freezing over than your plan working.” Ezra interpreted.
Always an optimist, JD disagreed. “It could work.” Six brothers glared at him. “Well, It could,” he protested.
Any response to that was lost when the door opened and a young man in green scrubs stepped in the room. “I am looking for Mr. Tanner.”
Vin stepped forward. “That’s me.”
“My name is Dr. Brian Allen, Dr. Gilford’s assistant. He asked me to tell you that your wife has, and I quote ‘proven that stubbornness is hereditary’. She is doing fine, and in fact, did well enough that he decided to have the orthopedic surgeons go ahead and repair her ankle while she is in there. He is staying with her until they finish and then he will be out to talk to you. That will be in about an hour. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime?”
The Texan let out the breath he did not realize he was holding. “No, you just told me all I needed to know. Thank you.”
“My pleasure sir. Now Mr. Larabee, I have instructions to examine you, check your vitals and report back to Dr. Gilford.”
“I’m fine.” Chris tried to dissuade the man from poking and prodding.
“He said you would say that, but if it’s all the same to you I prefer to follow his orders. My backside says intact that way.” With the nurses’ assistance, he gave Chris a quick examination and then told her she could leave. “You may have your family stay until Dr. Gilford comes, but then they will have to go so you can rest.” Dr. Allen closed the door quietly on his way out.
The noise level in the room grew with several conversations going on. Blue eyes met green ones and both knew the worst was behind them; now the family could start to heal from the devastation that the Deverauxs inflicted. They had again beaten the odds; they would all survive and somehow be stronger for it.
*Thanks Cowboy for sending the Doc.*
*That’s what Dad’s do, Vin, look out for their kids.*
“Then it’s settled.” Linda said.
“What’s settled?” Chris managed to croak out.
“Larabee, you have not heard a word I have said. We have it all worked out, trust me I will organize the whole thing. This will be the easiest recuperation you have ever had.” Linda was positive she could handle three infirmed patients. How hard could it be? She had at least a week to prepare before any one of them would make it home.
Dr. Gilford arrived just after seven. “Vin, the bleeding came from leaking blood vessels around the kidney and I was able to repair the injury. We got to it in time to prevent any long-term damage. The ankle will take the longest to mend; she absolutely cannot put any weight on it for four weeks. By that time her other injuries will be healed and she can use crutches or a walking boot for another six weeks. I will give you full instructions to follow when she goes home, which will not be for at least another seven days. If you will give me a minute with Chris I will take you to recovery so you can see her.”
“Thanks Doc, I owe you.” Vin said softly.
Dr. Gilford laughed,” I hope you remember that when Kelli feels better and starts to complain about my list of instructions.”
“She can complain all she wants, but she will follow every one of ‘em.” The Texan knew her complaining would be loud and long, but it would be the best sound he ever heard.
“Chris it’s your turn. You did well during all this, but now I am ordering you to rest. You behave and you might see home within a week or so yourself. You have a long recovery ahead of you and I do not want you to rush it. I take pride in my work and will not have any of my patients mess it up because they will not listen. I will see you in the morning and the rest of you can go home. This room is closed for the night.”
“Thanks Doc, for everything.” Chris promised that he would behave if it killed him. He owed this doctor that much and more.
“I have cleared it for you to stay with your wife, and she should be waking up soon. You need me you call me. Take care, son, I will see you both in the morning.” Dr. Gilford left Vin at Kelli’s beside. Tanner sat down and just watched her breath, only now admitting to himself just how afraid he had been. He knew they would argue over the next few weeks about her limitations, but he would be grateful for every heated word.
“Mr. Tanner, we are ready to move her now.” The nurse interrupted his thoughts. “She is beginning to come around and it will be more comfortable for her to wake up after we get her settled back in her room.”
It did not take long and before nine, they were back were they started from, only now Kelli was awake and able to comprehend her surroundings. “Vin?’
“Right here, baby.”
“I want you to promise me somethin’.”
Long lean fingers brushed her hair back. “Name it and if I can do it it’s yours.”
“Promise me, no more protective custody. The only person that I want to have custody of me is you.”
“That, Texas is a promise you can bank on.” Vin reached in his pocket and pulled out her ring that he had been holding for her. “I have somethin’ that belongs to you.” For the second time in six months, he slipped it on her finger and kissed her.
“Consider yourself in permanent custody.”
Dr. Gilford found Chris Larabee is higher spirits than yesterday. Test results showed a strong recovery from the surgery that saved his life.
“Well Doc, have I been good enough?” Chris grinned. “Are you ready to send me home?”
“Don’t push it, Larabee, I said you are better but you still have a long way to go. There is also the little matter of both of your legs in cast. You work on going to the bathroom without assistance and then we will go from there.” Gilford laughed when an intense glare replaced the grin. “Nice try, though, I will see you later.”
“Face it Chris, that is one tough old doc and I think he has your number” Buck laughed. “Want to work on your bathroom skills?”
“Shut up, Buck.”
“Howdy boys.” Linda came in with an armload of assorted items. “I brought a few things to brighten up your room.” The door opened again and two young men brought in more items. “Thanks for you help, I appreciate the assistance.” The young men smiled at the beautiful blond and then left.
“Linda, what is all this and who were those men?” Chris was more than curious.
“Oh, I met them in the parking lot and they offered to help me so I accepted. Now, I have new pillows for both of you and this is a throw for that chair. These comforters serve a dual purpose, one the colors are great and two it will help keep you warm. They keep it too damn cold in here for my taste. I also bought new robes for each of you, so you can cover your assets anytime you leave this room. Can’t have two lawmen flashing other patients in the halls of Denver Memorial, can we?” Linda replaced their pillows and threw the comforters on their beds.
“You can’t go around making new acquaintances in the hospital parking lot, it isn’t safe and we won’t be here long enough to redecorate.” Linda’s thought process still amazed and mystified Chris.
“Larabee, you worry too much, there was a security guard in the parking lot and any time spent in here is enough time to be comfortable.” Linda stopped long enough to kiss Chris and he was reluctant to let her go. “I will be back in a bit. I have a couple of things to take to Kelli’s room.”
After she left, Buck started to laugh and could not help himself. “Stud, you life with her will never be dull. I for one say it’s about time you had someone like Linda to keep you on your toes and make you smile.”
Chris did smile, “I may not understand everything thing she does, but I do love her and I will figure out her thinking process. It just might take me a little longer than I thought.”
Thanksgiving was six days away and there was snow on the ground outside, but things had definitely heated up inside Denver Memorial, at least for Larabee’s wild bunch. Chris and Buck were acting like two caged lions roaring at visitors and growling at each other. Linda and Inez were past the point of comfort and understanding and had moved on to the more evasive measures of ducking and dodging the verbal barbs and demands of their respective partners.
Nathan and JD were anxious about their impending roles as fathers. Rain was three days overdue with baby Jackson and Casey’s doctor said he doubted she would hold off another week before delivery. Neither of the women was cool or calm, in fact snapping and snipping was a better description of their moods, and they considered any target fair game. Josiah and Mallory were the designated intermediaries and it was becoming a full time job to keep the peace.
Gunny and Justin kept the team on track at the office and Tanner managed to get a lot of work done at his temporary workplace in the hospital, in spite of the fact that Kelli was climbing the walls. Ezra did what he could to help Vin and it was it was becoming increasingly difficult for the redhead to accept her necessary confinement.
“Good Afternoon.” Ezra wore a grin as he walked in the door. “I am here to impart superior information.”
“Baby coming, we all can go home, or you won the lottery?” Kelli asked.
“None of the aforementioned, I am sorry to say. However, I did receive a communication from the Hospital Review Board and Dr. Brass no longer has privileges to administer his duties at this establishment of healing. In addition, as per your request they have agreed that in exchange for your waiver of rights to sue for malpractice they will gladly donate ten thousand dollars to the Denver Children’s Home on behalf of the Wilmington and Sanchez children.” Ezra reported. “The good Dr. Gilford is a very persuasive man that apparently carries some major clout around here.”
“That is good news.” Vin was relieved to know it was settled amicably and that Dr. Brass was gone, which was what he wanted in the first place. “Since you are here, Ez, maybe you have time to go over a few questionable items on your last expense report. Gunny brought it over on her noon run. Just take note of the highlighted portions and either mark it off or cough up some receipts.”
“You do realize that it is not always possible to obtain…” Ezra sighed, “Oh hell it’s not as much fun to argue with you as it is with Chris.” Standish took a black marker and sliced through the questionable items. “Happy now?”
“Don’t worry, with a bit of luck, next month you can go back to arguin’ with Lar’bee.” Vin laughed. “If I got stuck with all this permanently, I think I would have to quit. Until now, I didn’t know how inventive y’all were when it came to expense report. It almost makes me feel sorry for Chris.”
“Almost?” Both men laughed at Ezra’s observation. “He enjoys our monthly battle of wills as much as I do and don’t let him tell you differently.”
“Are you through now? “Kelli interrupted, “You promised that when you finished we would go visit Chris, remember?” She was ready to escape her imprisonment. “If you think your paperwork can do without you.”
The Texan laughed, “That I did, baby and ‘m finished for now.” He locked away the paperwork and came over to her bedside, while Ezra went to get a wheelchair. “Today is the last day of it, Travis told us to close shop until the Monday after Thanksgiving. And for the record, the only thing I am interested in is you, and you have no reason to feel left out, you should know that.” He helped her sit up.
Kelli leaned against him.” You are not neglecting me, but it does bother me that you have extra stuff to do because of me.” Tanner strengthened his hold on her, well aware that the stressful events of the last week were catching up to her, hell to both of them. Dr. Gilford wanted to keep her under observation to make sure her kidney was functioning properly and she had not left this room since surgery.” Plus, I have looked in the mirror and Rain was right, I look like hell.”
“You do remember when I asked you to marry me?” He felt her head nod against his chest. “We sat in our rockin’ chair ‘bout the same as this, you were bruised all over and had the same shoulder injury. Your hair was all over the place ‘cause you couldn’t brush it and I know you hurt like hell.” He tilted her head so she could see his face. “You were then, and you are now, the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Forget what you see in the mirror, just look in my eyes and you will see what I do when I look at you. I love you, Kel, then and now, a few bruises or anythin’ else won’t change that.”
She looked into his eyes and wondered if he knew how much she needed him. Emotions threatened to steal her voice, but she managed a hoarse whisper, “I love you, too. I just want to go home and put all of this behind us.”
“We will soon, but for now we do what we have done since the beginnin’ baby, we love each other, talk things out, hold on and support one another” He grinned, “A smart woman told me not long ago that we were always stronger as one and you know what, she was right.” He repeated her words back to remind her.
“And I thought you weren’t listenin’ to me,” Kelli sighed. “Okay let’s go see the old man, but don’t get too used to this wheelchair thing because I don’t plan for it to be around long.”
This time Ezra did not interrupt, but waited to give Tanner a chance to say those necessary words. Maybe someday, he would find someone for himself, to share that kind of love, but for now he would settle for seeing his brother and sister of choice strengthen their bond. Standish laughed to himself. *They all think you know women, Ezra, but maybe Vin could teach you a thing or two about building a solid foundation for a loving relationship. If he can learn to trust that much, surely Ezra, you can too. Then you might find someone, less fleeting and more permanent in your life.*
“Your ride, dear lady, the green-eyed dragon awaits the pleasure of your company.” Ezra bowed ceremoniously.
“Green-eyed dragon, Ez? Better not let him hear you say that.” The Texan smiled, and was happy to see Kelli smile too. “I think Sir Standish best be wary of payback. That particular dragon can be dangerous, even when he’s injured.”
Chris was having a bad day, he felt better, but could not move around, as he wanted to. Buck was having a great day and his jovial mood was starting to get on Larabee’s nerves. Linda and Inez took off together for somewhere, making plans for Thanksgiving dinner and he was stuck with nothing to do but watch reruns on the television.
“Good Lord! What have you done to this room?” Kelli was surprised to see all the additions. Glad that Linda had only brought her a couple of pillows and a comforter thanks to Vin. Linda might get along with him better but she was not sure yet how to interpret his glares. She settled for just a few ‘improvements’ to Kelli’s room.
“Linda and Inez did some decorating. It’s about time you came to visit us, I thought you had disappeared.” Buck was glad to see them.
“Blame the Doc, he is a stickler for followin’ orders and Vin made sure I heard every one of ‘em,” Kelli smiled. “I did think it was time to come see you and the old man, though.”
“Who are you calling old?” Chris had not seen her since she left with the phony Marshals and even though everyone told him she was better, it was good to see for himself. He hated to see the evidence of her injuries still so black and blue, but she sounded good.
“Well, you are older than I am, so, I guess ‘m talkin’ about you. Lord Lar’bee, you are a real trouble magnet.” She wheeled closer to his bedside. “Looks like somebody painted you up pretty good. Linda tells me you are doing better though and might get to go home next week.”
“You’re one to talk; it looks like they used the same paint on you.” Larabee made his own observation. “And I am beginning to think this is home, seems like I’ve been here forever.” Chris grumbled. “Doc thinks I may have to be here for a while.”
“Hell, Chris it hasn’t been a full seven days yet, you sound as impatient as Kel. Give it some time.” Vin shook his head, this was the same speech he heard from her only this morning.
“These words are comin’ from the man that loves hospitals. Right, Tanner?” Kelli waited for him to try to deny it.
“She’s got you there, son, you are not the best patient either,” Buck smirked, “Between you and Standish, I’m not sure who is worse.”
“He is.” Vin and Ezra pointed to one another and answered simultaneously.
Larabee grinned at their antics and he felt his attitude immediately improve. “Since you two have nothing better to do than harass sick people, you can do a couple of things for me. Ezra, I seem to have acquired some property in the Evans Wilderness area. You think you could arrange to have it donated to the wildlife preserve up there?”
“Most assuredly, I will make that arrangement without delay.” Standish would be glad to see some good come from that evil place.
Chris nodded, “Do it, and Vin since you have been busy working and babysitting the brat here, I talked to the others and we came up with an idea for the ranch.” He almost laughed at Kelli’s reaction to him calling her a brat. “We need to diversify a bit to keep a cash flow coming in. In addition to the thoroughbreds, how do you feel about expanding our quarter horse program?
“Sounds like a great idea, where do you want to start.” Vin had thought from the beginning they should work more with the quarter horses, since Chris was so passionate about them.
“I have been giving that some thought, if it’s agreeable, Linda has some two year olds that came from Kel’s mares and we could make her an offer on them.” Chris wanted to see if Kelli would go along with the idea or if it was too soon to talk about her mares.
“If you’re serious, that would be great and I know where we could find a few more quarter horses at a reasonable price,” Kelli offered. “And if you really want to diversity you might think about some rodeo stock. The market is steady and in comparison to those racehorses, it’s not as expensive or as time comsumin’ to maintain a good size herd. Plus there are always people lookin’ for good ropin’ and cuttin’ horses.”
“Since we decided to breed Lady to Hunter we don’t need to invest more right now in the thoroughbreds and we could put our capital into expansion.” Tanner saw the possibilities and more importantly, he saw an opening to get Kelli more involved with their breeding program and her mind off the lost horses.
“As soon as we all get out of here, we can work up some proposals and then take a family vote. I’m sure Ezra will tell us what we need to do.” Chris decided that maybe it was not such a bad day after all; in fact, the future looked damn good from his viewpoint.
Inez and Linda returned full of plans for Thanksgiving and thankfully no new purchases.
Linda whispered to Chris. “Maybe now you will relax, I told you Kel would be okay. Now we can concentrate on the future, I have to work out some way to get you down the aisle and crutches or not you are not getting out of a real wedding, Larabee. I loved the ceremony Vin and Kel had, but for me I want a little more formal. Think you can handle that?”
“I think I can handle most anything you can dish out Ms. Dubois. You want formal, you got it.” Chris grinned. “As long as you don’t make me wait for the honeymoon part, I am agreeable.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, I like that part myself,” Linda smiled. It was great to see Chris in a teasing mood again and she gave him a passionate kiss, full of promise.
“There they go again; it seems Linda forgets he’s a sick man.” Buck laughed.
“Shut up, Buck” Chris grinned, “A man in here has to take what he can get.”
Keeping track of time in a hospital is different from out in the real world. Caregivers waking you up to see if you need something to sleep, interrupt your slumber, days start and end with the changing of shifts. The only break during the day is mealtime, bringing you food that is unappealing and often unidentifiable.
Sunday morning found the Tanners snapping at each other over Kelli’s insistence to leave the room and find some ‘decent food’.
“You want to go and see Chris we can do that, but you are going to follow Doc’s list of instructions if it kills both of us!”
“Vin, it’s been over a week since I’ve had one cup of coffee or any junk food. How much damage can one cup do?”
“Doc said no coffee til he says okay and that means no coffee, no tea, lots of water and no junk food.”
A knock on the door interrupted their discussion. “Hey, how are you doing?” JD walked in the room.
“I’m okay, how about Casey?” Kelli asked.
“Anytime now and I think we are both ready. I know I am.” JD smiled and said, “I stopped by to give this to Vin and to let you guys know Rain finally went into labor. All of us are going to wait in Chris and Buck’s room for the baby to come. We thought you would like to be there as well.”
“Thanks JD, we’ll be there.” Vin told him as he took a folder from the younger man. “See you in a little while.”
Tanner waited until JD left before he looked in the folder. He suspected it was the information he had requested Dunne look for and it was. The information was on the man that abused Kelli when she was a child.
“Are you gonna share or keep it to yourself?” Kelli waited for him to finished reading, knowing in her heart that he would not hold it secret. The concerned expression on his face said it was not pleasant, but he would tell her.
“Last piece of the puzzle baby, that bastard died while awaiting execution for the rape and murder of a seven year old girl in Florida. The reason we had trouble finding him is that he had used about four different names. Authorities also suspect that he killed his girlfriend in Texas and was allegedly responsible for two more rape-murders in the south and only God knows how many kids he molested, but they did not have enough proof to take any of them to trial. “How in the hell did he and his girlfriend get to be foster parents?”
“That was a long time ago and I doubt that now with computerized background checks someone like him would slip by the authorities. I suppose with the need to place too many abused and abandoned children, it was one of those cases that fell through the cracks in an over burdened system. Unfortunately the need is even greater now, especially for emergency foster care.”
“Dammit, there is no excuse, you paid…” Vin stopped in mid sentence, when Kelli laid her hand on his arm.
“Vin, it’s over, let it be, I found the missin’ pieces and for better or worse, now I know. The past is just that…the past and we have the future to look forward too.” She saw the concern in his eyes, “Really, ‘m okay about it, I have you, plus I got a crazy family in the bargain. Chris, Linda and their baby will only add to that and neither of us can change what has already happened. If we want to make a difference maybe we should consider becomin’ foster parents. That’s somethin’ we could look into isn’t it?”
The Texan sat next to her and drew her close, reading the truth in her eyes. It was over, the scars might always be there but the pain was gone and the memory of what happened would only serve as a reminder that together they could make it through anything. Vin kissed the top of her head, “Yeah we can look into it. I love you Kel, don’t ever doubt that.”
She laughed and her eyes danced with mischief. “Does that mean you’ll get me some junk food and coffee, now?”
“Hell no!” He picked her up to move her to the wheelchair. “Behave and maybe I’ll get Ezra to go find you one of those healthy salad things Linda is always eatin’.”
“You’re all heart Tanner.”
Chris and Buck’s Room
Linda was watching the clock.” It’s been hours, how much longer do you think it will be?”
Inez and Mallory laughed and then Mallory explained, “Babies, especially first babies take as long as they want. There is no set time and it could still take several more hours.”
Casey and Linda exchanged an anxious look. Maybe for the first time Linda was starting to think about what was still ahead for her. Up until now, it was enough just knowing she was pregnant, now she felt it. “I’m hungry, anyone else?”
“Food does sound good, make a list of what everyone wants and I’ll go get it.” Josiah offered.
Inez took out some paper and started making a list, when she got to Linda everyone one was surprised to hear her order. “Chocolate malt, double order of fries and the biggest cheeseburger you can find.” Seeing the look on Chris’ face she added, “What? I said I was hungry and I am eating for two now.”
“Vin, what about you and Kel, what do you two want?” Inez did not comment on Linda’s order.
“Two salads, with lots of vegetables and two bottles of lime flavored water will be fine.” He answered.
Chris could not stand it. “Hold it! Linda orders fast food and you want healthy food. I haven’t been in here long enough for the world to end have I?”
Kelli explained, “Doc has left specific orders for me and Vin is makin’ sure I follow ‘em. He’s even eatin’ the same stuff to make sure I don’t get tempted to break the rules,” she sighed. “He’s watchin’ so close I haven’t had a chance to cheat even once.”
“That hasn’t stopped her from tryin’ though.” Vin laughed. “She tried to bribe one of the nurses to bring her some junk food from the machine down the hall.” Tanner ignored the look Kelli sent his way.
Larabee shook his head, “Never thought I would live to see the day Tanner actually asked for vegetables.”
“Well enjoy your fun while you can because come Thanksgivin’ Day I plan to break ranks and splurge,” Kelli huffed. “I don’t care what Doc says about it.”
“Did I hear my name mentioned?” Dr. Gilford came in the room. “You do know young lady I can just keep you here a while longer.” He gave her a stern look. “Here is your medication, the nurse on your floor told me where to find you and I graciously volunteered to bring it to you. I read your chart and your latest test say you are doing fine, but you will be here another few days so do not bother asking about when you may go home.”
“Thanks Doc and she is behavin’, just complains about it a lot.” Tanner supplied that bit of information, which earned him another indignant look from his redhead.
Chris laughed, “Don’t worry Kel, I’ll make up for it and eat your part.”
Dr. Gilford addressed Larabee, “I don’t recall saying you would be out of here by then and I certainly don’t recall giving you the go-ahead to eat whatever you please.”
“I thought you said I could go home next week,” Chris was not laughing now.
“That, I did, but the week does not end on Thursday, in fact the last time I checked it was not over until Saturday midnight. We will take this one day at a time and see how you do.” He had the others step back and pulled the curtain so he could examine Chris.”
Josiah took that opportunity to make an exit and a food run while he checked on Rain. Casey apologized, saying that she was suddenly tired and had JD take her to their room at the hotel. Ezra promised to let them know as soon as the Jackson baby arrived. Dr. Gilford took his leave after giving first Chris and then Kelli a reminder of his instructions that they were to follow.
“Not one word, Tanner.” Kelli saw the amused look in his eyes and did not want to hear what he was thinking.
Buck decided that now was a good time to tell them his piece of news and with a twinkle in his blue eyes announced. “Hey it’s not all bad news. Dr. Landers said I could go home tomorrow.”
“I’m happy for you Buck, congratulations.” Chris sighed, “Maybe you can call and tell me what home looks like, I’ve been here so long I don’t remember.”
“Me, too” Kelli said somberly.
Linda was a little more excited, “Just wait until you see what Inez and I did at the ranch, you will love it.”
The sparkle in her eyes concerned Chris. “What did you two do?”
“Relax, Chris, we just made things a little more comfortable for you all to recuperate.” Linda patted his arm to reassure him. “”You will love it, too.”
*Cowboy, you might as well give it up, she’s got you right where she wants you.*
*Shut up, Tanner.*
Vin only laughed at the glare Chris shot him, whatever happened in the next few weeks it was certainly going to be fun to watch. If Kelli could leave the past behind then dammit, Chris could, too. With Linda there to keep him on his toes, he was positive that his brother’s life was going to change dramatically. Tanner’s hope was that Larabee enjoyed his new life with Linda as much as he took pleasure from the changes that Kelli had brought about in his own.
Josiah returned with their food and everyone dug in. Linda finished off her fast food before either Chris or Kelli had a shot a stealing any fries. An hour later, an excited Nathan raced into the room.
“I have a son! Rain is fine and our boy weighed in at seven pounds.” Nathan was ecstatic. “I was there for the whole thing and even got to hold him before his mother did.”
‘Congratulations and does young Master Jackson have a name, yet?” Ezra inquired.
“Didn’t I tell you? No, I guess I didn’t, his name is Terrell Nathaniel Jackson.” His Dad said proudly. “It means tender, gracious and good.”
“Terrell, that’s a great name and he is a lucky boy to have you for his Dad.” Josiah patted him on the back.
“Chris, tomorrow or the next day I can bring him up so you can see him.” Nathan said, “Oh, I almost forgot, just as Rain was being moved to her room, JD brought Casey in. She is having a few contractions and the Doctor wanted to examine her.”
“That is good news all the way around, Nate and I am looking forward to meeting Terrell.” Chris smiled, pleased that Nathan did not have to miss being there with Rain.
“Buck and I will come by before he goes home tomorrow.” Inez added.
Before Josiah and Mallory left with Nathan, the phone rang, Buck answered. “That’s great, I’ll pass it along and you let us know.” he turned to the others. “That was JD; the Doctor is admitting Casey, looks like baby Terrell will be having a family sleepover in the nursery before he is one day old. The Dunne babies are on their way.
Casey had never done things in a traditional way. Her labor stopped after two hours but the doctor kept her in the hospital. If nature did not cooperate in twenty-four hours, he would help it along. Therefore, everyone waited for any news about the Dunnes. Dr. Landers released Buck by noon, with clear instructions that the cast on his leg would stay on at least four more weeks and the one on his arm for three. He set up six weeks of physical therapy to follow that to regain strength in both limbs and his lungs. In spite of that, he and Inez stuck around to be close by for JD. At two, Tanner went to check on Larabee while Kelli slept.
Vin entered the room. “I thought you might be lonesome.”
“It’s quiet, that’s for sure.”
“It’s not likely to stay that way long, the family will be back up here soon.” Vin laughed and said, “Hell Chris, you draw ‘em like a magnet.”
Larabee chuckled, “Yep, it seems so don’t it.” Chris cut his eyes to Tanner, “How is she?”
“Sleepin now, but she’s been complain’ loud and long. She just wants to go home and truthfully ‘m ready to take her there.” Vin sighed, “Maybe once I get her away from here I can make myself believe this nightmare is really over and Kel is back where she belongs.”
Chris agreed, “It is over Vin. We may have gone through hell, but I believed we all gained something from the trip. Kelli found her past and I…lost some of the demons that have plagued mine.”
“I brought you this to look at; JD dug it up for me.” Vin sat by the bed while Chris read.
“Damn, you gonna tell her about this?”
“Already did and she…Hell, Chris she is doin’ better with it than I am. When I think about how she could have been one of the statistics … Suppose I should just be glad that she’s a survivor.”
“We both should be and I am anxious to get a chance to tell her that. You think this will stay with her?” Although he was relieved this bastard was dead, he still felt he should have been able to stop it from happening in the first place. What can I do to help?”
“You can find a way to let go of the past completely, Kel has and she only wants to look forward. I think it is finally over for her, there are no more questions to find answers for and enough family around to let her know where she belongs. You do realize this is the first Thanksgivin’ she will have with her own family, don’t you?” Tanner recalled, “I remember how that feels and y’all never gave up, just dragged me into the circle.”
Chris smiled as he remembered how it was. “Yeah, you were gonna spend it alone, but I couldn’t let you do that.’ He frowned, “Damn, I need to get out of here by Thursday and be there. Doc will just have to understand, this is my first holiday with all of my family. Linda, Kel and ...hell I have to be there. Vin, bring her here I need to talk to her and let her know I want to move forward, too.”
“Just as soon as Doc makes his rounds, I’ll bring her. I promised to take her to see Terrell. Maybe by then Casey will have her girls there to see, too.”
Tanner stopped long enough to see about Casey and found out nature had indeed decided to continue her labor. When he returned to Kelli’s room Dr. Gilford was at the door ready to leave.
“Vin, I explained to Kelli what she has to do once she gets home, but I also have it written out so you can make sure she does it. I am going to release her tomorrow and I trust you will be able to handle her.” Dr. Gilford smiled.
“Count on it, Doc and I appreciate what you have done. If it weren’t for you I…”
“Save it son, just take care of her. Call me if you need assistance, I have a feeling her recovery will be harder on you than it will be for her.” He laughed, “I hope you are a patient man, between her and Larabee, you need to be. Chris is my next stop and I am looking forward to hearing his argument of the day.”
“About Chris, could we step out in the hall for a minute, I have a question?” Vin had more of a request than a question but the Doctor did listen and promised to do what he could.
It was late in the afternoon before Tanner managed to get Kelli to Larabee’s room. Her excitement about going home though was something to see, however her plans for when she got there, he knew they would clash over. When they reached Chris’ room Linda was the only visitor, the rest were downstairs waiting for the Dunne baby to arrive.
Once inside it appeared Linda and Chris were taking advantage of having the room to themselves, locked in a passionate kiss. “Enough of that you two, this is a hospital you know.” Kelli tried to sound serious, but laughed when Linda glared at her as she straightened her clothes.
“I’ll remember that when you want time to make out with Tanner at home. I will be in charge of you or didn’t anyone tell you?” Linda laughed at Kelli’s surprised look. “I guess not.”
“Only, when ‘m at work, otherwise we’ll be at our house and ‘m off all the next week.” Vin corrected and saw that Linda was ready to argue. “We’ll manage just fine.”
“After all that Josiah, Inez and I did to make the ranch more comfortable, you might reconsider. It will be easier on all of us if all my patients are together.”
“When did you graduate from medical school?” Kelli questioned. “Besides I already told you I don’t need you to nursemaid me.”
“This is the time for family to be together and it will be best for everyone’s healing process to share the experience.” Linda was sure she would win this argument. “I have already started moving some things from here to the ranch and it will all work out perfectly.”
“Best for you maybe, but I don’t see how you figure it will be good for the rest of us.” Kelli snapped. “Let me tell you a few truths, misery does not love company and too much family togetherness will have someone spendin’ some time in jail!”
Tanner exchanged an amused look with Larabee while Chris tried to hide his smile, “Linda, would you mind going down and getting the latest report on Casey for me?” Chris took her hand, “I’ll be here when you get back and then we can finish our discussion.” He kissed her and watched her leave.
“Kelli, you and I have something to talk about.” Chris got her attention. “About that last Friday in the office… I am referring to the statement you made about burdening my children with guilt and fears from the past. Vin showed me the report JD dug up and he said you were okay about it.” He searched her eyes intently looking for any sign of distress. “I just wanted to see for myself and ask if we could put the past behind us and work to build some kind of guilt-free relationship for the future.”
“I am happy with my life, ‘m married to a man I love more than I thought was possible. His best friend is going to marry my best friend and I have more family than I sometimes know what to do with. The past, yours or mine, has no place here. It’s time for both or us to let go and move on.”
“I agree.” Looking at this beautiful young woman, he readily embraced the surge of paternal pride and love that encased his heart. Chris relaxed and felt the last of his guilty feelings slip away. His voice overflowed with emotion, “Now what did Doc say?”
Vin read the emotion on both their faces and understood that they had turned the corner in their relationship. Somehow, he knew that Chris was finally free of his past and the future looked promising. “I get to take her home tomorrow. Might have to tie her down for a while, but when you get home maybe you can help me keep her in line.” Tanner grinned, “Of course that means you have to set a good example to follow.”
Larabee started to protest, but thought better of it. “I might surprise all of you and do just that.”
Linda rushed back into the room and announced that the Dunnes had two new additions. “The rest of the family will be up in a minute and then JD said he would come tell us about the girls.”
The rest of the family did find their way to Larabee’s room, including Buck and Inez. They were all anxious to hear from JD and he did not make them wait long. He brought pictures and passed them around. “I am surrounded by three of the most beautiful girls in the world. Casey is doing great and both girls are perfect. The oldest one is Daisy Jonetta and she weighed five pounds. Jonetta is a combination of John and Nettie, but we will call her Daisy. Younger by only five minutes is her sister; Lilah Rose and she weighed four pounds and fourteen ounces. They are doing fine and will be home by Thursday.” He said proudly.
“Lilah Rose was my mamma’s name.” Buck said softly.
“I know Buck, that’s the lady we named her for.” JD accepted the hug from his big brother.
Congratulations came from everywhere before he left again to be with his girls. Inez took Buck home and told Linda she would see her there. Ezra, Josiah and Mallory went out for dinner and Nathan used his time to be with Rain and Terrell. Vin took Kelli down to see the babies giving Chris some time with Linda before she had to leave.
“Chris, they are so small, but beautiful. I can hardly wait for our baby to get here. You never said if you wanted a boy or a girl.” Linda was now fully engaged in planning for their baby.
“Either one, as long as he or she is healthy, I will be happy.” Chris smiled thinking about the months to come. “I do have one rule for you, no baby shopping until we can both go.”
With Ezra’s help Vin had most everything cleared from the room and all they were waiting on was Dr. Gilford to come and sign release papers for Kelli to go home. They had made the rounds to see the babies again and arranged for Nathan, Rain and Terrell to stay with them until after the holiday. Nathan wanted to be close to his ‘family patients’, but not crowded at the ranch house with Buck, Inez and the kids staying there. Ezra filled her prescriptions while Kelli and Vin checked in on Chris, but that was not enough to fill in all their time.
“Dammit, he is usually here by now, today of all days he has to be late.” Kelli grumbled.
“Relax baby, he’ll be here,” Vin smiled impishly. “He’s probably writin’ more instructions for you to follow and it’s takin’ him longer.”
“Perhaps he had an emergency.” Ezra offered, but after a withering look from Kelli decided to retract his statement. “Or not.”
They had decided earlier that Ezra would drive them home in Vin’s truck. That way Tanner could sit with her and be near if she needed anything. Truthfully, the Texan just wanted to stay close enough to assure himself that they really were going to make it home. It had only been twelve days since they had been there but it seemed much longer. Finally, Dr Gilford made his appearance.
One last examination and he decided to remove the binding from her shoulder. “It will be sore for a few more days but it is healing nicely. Your last test showed your blood count to be normal and no abnormality on the kidney function. The stitches from the incision will dissolve by the end of the week. Your biggest challenge will be to stay off the leg and ankle. You’re sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” One look at her face gave him his answer. “Okay, you are free from here, but you will follow my orders and I will see you in one week. Vin has a list in case you forget what I told you.” Dr Gilford grinned as he signed the release and handed the papers to Vin. “Well, Tanner she’s all yours again.”
Vin lifted her and carried her to the wheelchair. “Let go home, Texas.
It was noon before they reached the ranch and Kelli slept most of the way home. Once there, however, she was anxious to be inside and reacquainted with her home. Josiah and Mallory had gone shopping and stocked the pantry, a few minor adjustments made it easier to get around in the house and Tanner made a specific request for their bedroom. Vin carried her inside and set her on the couch.
“Welcome home, Kel.” Josiah and Mallory were there to greet her. “Your bed is ready and the guest room is all set for the Jacksons. Lunch is warming in the kitchen and if you need us we’ll be at the main house.”
“Thanks y’all we appreciate it and tell Buck we’ll come see him a little later.” Vin said their good-byes.
“Everything is unloaded and the prescriptions are on the cabinet. I think I will stroll over and harass Buck.” Ezra said with a grin.
“Thanks Ez and ‘m sorry for snappin’ at you earlier.” Kelli apologized.
“Did you? I hadn’t noticed.” Standish left with a smile on his face.
Vin stood and lifted her in his arms. “You are going to bed, no arguments.” He carried her in their room, helped her change and then made her get into bed. He was pleased to see that she liked the surprise waiting for her.
“Lord, this feels good.” The bed was warm and toasty. Vin had an electric blanket placed under the bottom sheet to keep it that way. “What made you think of this?”
The Texan grinned and explained, “Actually Doc gave me the idea when I ask him why they kept heated blankets on your leg. When he told me, it helped with the circulation and the healin’ plus reduced the pain I was convinced. Considerin’ how much you hate the cold it made sense to do the same thing here.”
“Not to mention, you benefit from it too.” She smiled and burrowed under the covers. “Wanna join me?”
“Love to, baby, but first you eat, then take your medicine and rest.” He laughed at the look on her face. “Don’t worry ‘m not going anywhere til tomorrow morning, then only long enough to see Chris and except for checkin’ on him, ‘m all yours til Monday.” He kissed her, put some music on and went into the kitchen for their lunch.
When lunch was finished, the Texan planned for her to rest and started to leave the room. She took hold of his hand. ”Vin wait, I need to talk to you about somethin’.” He stopped and sat down on the bed. “So much has come about in the last few weeks that we really have not had a chance to talk about it all. Marissa, Chris, Deveraux and the end to the search for answers is a lot to happen in such a short time. Are you okay with the way things turned out?”
“Marissa and Deveraux are out of our lives as well as that bastard that hurt you. As for finding your connection to Chris, it explains a lot. He may be stubborn and ornery at times, but he is the most decent man I have ever met. I have to believe that the traits you got from him are a big part of the reason you survived to be who you are. Besides, Chris has given me plenty of opportunities to practice how to handle a headstrong Lar’bee and I have a feelin’ that might come in handy in the years to come.” Vin laughed at the mock glare his redhead attempted to give him.
Kelli sighed, “I know the last few weeks have not been easy for you and the next ones are gonna be hard on, too, but promise I will to try to behave and anythin’ I can do to make it easier, just tell me.” Her eyes met his and she saw that warm glint that she loved so much.
Vin moved her into the circle of his arms and she rested her head on his chest. “I can handle a sassy, misbehavin’ Texan and we’ll work out the rest, just be you, that’s all I need.” He rubbed her back as he spoke, “The part that was the hardest for me was thinkin’ I might not find you in time. Now that you’re safe and Chris is gettin’ better the rest of it is the easy stuff.” One kiss was what he intended to give her, but she responded with intentions of her own. Soon he was dangerously close to losing control. He pulled back, “Enough Kel, I don’t want to hurt you,” but when he looked into her eyes, he did not see pain, only love and desire.
“You could never hurt me, Vin.” She brought him back to her, her soft voice drawing him closer. “We’ve been to hell and back and it’s time to reward ourselves, remember together we can do anythin’. Now is the time we stop denyin’ what we both need and want.” He felt his reservations drain away replaced by the reassurance from the woman that had captured his heart.
Tanner quit protesting.
He gathered her in his arms and repeating her words of only a few weeks ago, whispered in her ear, “Okay, but this time it’s my turn, my rules, let me show you how much I love you, tomorrow it can be your turn.” Tenderly he began to made love to the beautiful woman that shared his life. With gentle kisses, Vin took her to a place where he lovingly protected her from pain and gave her pleasure instead. Filled with intense emotion they melted together, finding their own rhythm, creating a slow and steady rush that carried them to ultimate bliss.
Later he held onto her and watched her sleep, after all these months, he still did not understand why she loved him, but he was damn glad she did. It had been a rough few weeks, but regardless of what the future held, they would face it together.
Despite the Texan’s plans, it was eleven before he made it to the hospital. Mallory stayed with Kelli and Joanne was keeping them entertained until he could make it back. Tanner did get to see Dr Gilford and they discussed Chris, but the doctor would not okay his release today. When he reached Chris’ room and heard raised voices, he knew someone did not take the news well.
“Dammit Linda, it’s not as if I planned this!” Chris shouted. “Doc knows what he is doing and we’ll just have to trust him.”
“Maybe I should talk to him and let him know you have to be home for tomorrow.” Linda refused to believe they could not be together for the holiday.
Vin walked in, “Won’t do any good Linda, I just spent twenty minutes with him and he is rock solid on his decision.”
“Okay, but if you can’t come home, I will just have to bring Thanksgiving to you.”
“That is not practical, Buck and Kelli can’t come back up here and the weather forecast says more snow. You would not ask JD and Nathan to bring those newborns up here would you?” Chris wanted to be reasonable.
“No but… Maybe we will just put it off until you can be there.” Linda was determined to share the day with Chris.
Chris shook his head, “No buts, I want this holiday to happen just as it is supposed to. It is important to the kids and too much planning has gone into it. I’ll be fine.”
“No you won’t, but we’ll do it your way, for now.” Linda brushed his hair back with her fingers. “I love you, Larabee.”
Another knock on the door and JD and Casey came in carrying two pink bundles. “We got special permission to bring the girls to see you.” JD handed one bundle to Chris.” This is Daisy and Daisy this is your Uncle Chris.” Casey handed him the other one. “This is Lilah Rose, Lilah this is your Uncle Chris.”
Both babies seem to study the man that held them and give their approval. When the door opened again, Nathan and Rain had another surprise for Larabee.
“Terrell didn’t want to be left out, he insisted on joining the girls for an introduction.” Nathan then placed the baby with Chris, along with the girls. “Terrell this is your Uncle Chris.”
JD came prepared and before Chris knew it, JD took several pictures. Not to be out done Nathan had his Polaroid and took several more. Larabee was speechless; three new lives rested in his arms and the feel of family filled the room.
*Hard-ass Larabee, if the bad guys could only see you now*
Chris looked around the room and at the babies, he held. * Hell Vin, they can think what they want, because it don’t get better than this.*
Chris suffered through a miserable night thinking about home. He wanted everyone to believe he was okay with staying here so at least the kids could have a good holiday. Though he was sure Tanner did not buy it, maybe Linda did and he wanted her to be convinced.
*Face it, Larabee you are feeling sorry for yourself. You should count your blessings that you are still alive. Only five in the morning, damn it was going to be a long day.*
The Tanner household was up early courtesy of Terrell Jackson, but no one was complaining and five-thirty was not very early anyway. Nathan and Vin were making breakfast while Rain, Terrell and Kelli watched.
“What do you want to bet that Josiah got Ezra up to help him cook?” Nathan laughed at the thought. “I’m still not sure how it was decided that the men were providing for this holiday.”
“Well, you wouldn’t expect me, Casey or Kelli to be in the kitchen all day, since we were all just released from the hospital. Besides, Mallory and Nettie will supervise and it will be fine.” Rain was enjoying this turn of events.
“Trust me. I love Linda, but you do not want her cooking a holiday meal. Simple things she can handle, but usually she has someone hired to do it or has it catered.” Kelli said. “Besides she is too upset about Chris havin’ to stay in the hospital to even think about dinner.”
“What about you Kel? Rain questioned. “This would be your first holiday celebrated with blood relatives wouldn’t it?”
Kelli thought for a moment before she spoke. “Truthfully, I never had much opportunity to celebrate the holidays and I always volunteered to work in place of the agents that had children at home. So it doesn’t bother me like it does Linda, her family made a big deal about Thanksgivin’ and Christmas, but I never joined them.”
“Those days are over Texas, you are in for a crash course on holidays, courtesy of the wild bunch.” Tanner said, “I’ll warn you now it takes some gettin’ used to.”
Nathan disagreed, “Come on Vin, we weren’t that bad, were we?” Tanner shook his head in response since his mouth was full of bacon. “Yeah, I guess we were kinda overwhelming at that.” Jackson laughed recalling earlier celebrations.
“Hey Tanner, you had better save some of that bacon for the rest of us.” Kelli teased as she reached for the ringing telephone. She listened for a moment and then passed the phone to Vin. “Dr. Gilford,” she whispered.
Tanner walked into the other room to talk to the doctor, while everyone waited anxiously to hear the reason for his early morning call. After a few minutes, Vin came back in the room with a big smile on his face. “Chris doesn’t know it but he’s gonna make it home today after all. Doc said his last tests were good for the physical part of him and he believed that the mental part of the healin’ process would work faster here. With a snowstorm comin’ he said to come on and get him.”
Kelli realized that although this was good news Vin was concerned about leaving her. “Eat first and then go get him, I’ll ask Josiah or Ezra to help me over to the house and I’m sure I can dress myself, I’ll be fine.”
“Nathan, you go with him, Kel and I will manage. Take a pair of your sweatpants to go over the casts and there is an extra large T-shirt I packed in our bag that will work, it just happens to be black, you need to grab some socks, too.” Rain ordered. “Don’t just stand there both of you, eat and dress warm.”
“Okay, but this is to be a surprise, you two just hold down the fort til we get back.” Vin looked at Kelli, “You make sure Josiah or Ezra helps you, no weight on that leg.”
“Got it, Tanner, now go get Lar’bee before that storm hits. Rain and I will try to keep Linda busy.” Kelli was already thinking of what she needed to do.
Once the men left, Rain breastfed the baby, put Terrell to sleep and then talked Kelli into trying a slight makeover. Vin had washed her hair the night before, but Rain had an idea. With scissors in hand she went to work on a new style and a new look with make-up. Then she picked out a long skirt and blouse for her to wear. Most of all they had fun doing it and by the time, she finished Kelli felt like a new woman.
“Wow, Rain I like it and it feels good to look halfway decent again.” Kelli laid down the hand mirror. “Thanks.”
“No thanks necessary, it was fun and you look more than halfway decent girl, downright sexy I’d say. Your hair already had a natural bounce and now even more so. That wild, free look fits you and I am sure Vin will like the results.” Rain smiled, she missed doing girl stuff with her own sisters so far away and was happy to share the experience with Kelli. “Of course you were beautiful to start with, but it never hurts to keep our guys on their toes.”
“You know I was thinkin’ that I’ll have plenty of time on my hands in the next couple of months. Once I can get around on my own, can you use a volunteer at the clinic?” Kelli asked.
“Always and I’d love having family more involved at the health center.” Rain thought it was a great idea. “I can keep you so busy that you’ll be counting the days until you can go back to the office.”
Kelli smiled, “Looking forward to it, Dr. Jackson.”
They called and Josiah offered to come over and help get Kelli get over to the main house. They still had to keep Linda busy for a while and wait for the rest of the family to arrive.
Chris did not touch his breakfast and that dumb little paper turkey they put on his tray he threw in the garbage. He was in no mood for anybody to poke and prod for examinations or draw more blood. *They had better leave me the hell alone today, if they know what is good for them.* Unexpectedly, his room door opened and Tanner and Jackson were there.
“You two should be home with your families. What the hell are you doing here?”
“We came to bust you out and this is how you greet us. Not very sociable is he Nate?” Tanner grinned.
“Nope, he’s not sociable at all.” Nathan was busy packing Chris’ personal items.
“Wait a minute, you can’t really mean to bust me out. What makes you think you can get away with it?”
A new voice entered the conversation. “Larabee, do not look a gift horse in the mouth. Your Texas friend here convinced me that you would be better off at home and in a moment of weakness, I agreed. Keep talking and I might come back to my senses and make you stay after all.”
Chris was too happy to come back with a smart-ass remark. “Thanks Doc.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You will hear me out before you leave. Your test results are improved but the healing on the inside will take weeks. Do not lift anything over ten pounds and no strenuous activity. Let me spell this out for you, no pulling or pushing of chest muscles, no sexual activity for at least two weeks and you will rest, with at least ten hours of sleep per day. The bruising of heart tissues is serious and takes time to mend. You will eat what is on the list I am leaving with you, take your medicine with no arguments and you will be in my office Tuesday morning at nine. The right leg cast will be off in another two weeks, but the left one will stay for at least six and then you will still need crutches. Plan to be off work until after the first of the year. Are we clear?”
Chris swallowed and sighed. “Clear.”
‘You will note on the list of instruction that I made one exception. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner with your family, but do not overdo it. Don’t make me regret this Larabee or next time I will handcuff you to the bed and carry the key with me.” He signed the release form, handed the prescriptions over to Nathan and made one last comment. “Remember this when you get frustrated. The only thing keeping you alive when you came into this hospital were your friends administering CPR because you were not breathing. Your family may have to wheel you out of here, but you are still among the living with the promise of a full recovery. Do not lose sight of that. Now go home and spend time with you fiancée and daughter.”
The doctor turned to leave and Chris stopped him. “Doc, I appreciate what you did for me and for Kelli and I won’t forget.”
“Your welcome, Larabee, now go home.” Dr. Gifford was smiling when he left the room.
“Cowboy, you ready to blow this place?” Vin asked.
Kelli knew Linda was more than upset. The way she way pushing to get things done told her that her old friend was trying to hide her true feeling. The way she was snipping at everyone said she was not being successful. Linda already had words to say about Tanner and Jackson running off. Every time Kelli tried to talk to her she snapped at her.*Tanner you had best hurry things along because at the rate Linda’s going she will explode soon.*
By ten, the entire family was present. Rain, Inez Casey and Mallory corralled the kids. Linda was busy with the table arrangements and place settings, while the men handled the cooking under Nettie’s supervision. Kelli was in one of the recliners and Buck was on the couch playing with the remote control for the television. She could not stand it anymore.
“Good Lord, Buck, pick a channel and stop somewhere. You have been through all of them at least four times!”
“It not fun just to watch one channel when there are over two hundred to choose from. I might miss something good.” Buck loved the satellite programming for Chris’ television.
Maria saved her from the annoying channel surfing when she brought her a book and asked Kelli to ready a story for her. Inez started to say no until saw how careful the toddler was climbing on the redhead’s lap. “She just fine, Inez, don’t worry.” Kelli reassured her and began to read. It did not take long for Sarah to join her sister.
When Rain heard Vin’s truck she slipped into the kitchen and asked Josiah to go help Vin and Nathan unload a few things. She ran into Linda on the way back.
“Isn’t it bad enough that Vin and Nathan ran off. Where is Josiah going?” Linda’s irritation showed. The only reason she was even here is that she promised Chris she would take care of things for him. What she really wanted to do was close herself up in the bedroom and have a good cry.
“He’ll be right back, I just asked him to do me a favor, relax Linda.” Rain steered her close to the empty recliner. “You are doing a wonderful job with everything and the table looks great.”
Before Linda could answer, the front door opened and the men were back inside with one addition. While the rest of the family was surprised, she was so happy to see Chris she cried.
“Welcome home, stud, the infirmed section is over here.” Buck yelled loudest and pointed out the empty chair. “Come join us.”
“I think I’ll do just that, Buck.” With his brothers’ help, he was in the chair quickly and grabbed Linda’s hands, feeling her warmth soak into his soul. The ride home was tiring, but seeing all his family together was worth it. “It feels good to be here.” Brothers and sisters gathered round to welcome Larabee home.
“Chris how did…when did…Oh hell, it doesn’t matter you’re here and that’s all that counts.” Linda kissed him and he immediately became her only concern. “Are you okay? Do you need something to drink? Are you warm enough?”
“I’m okay and right now all I need is to see everyone and rest a bit.” Chris still had hold of her hand and scanned the room to account for everyone.
“Welcome home and ‘m glad you’re here. Maybe now Buck will have to give up that d…darn remote.” Kelli smiled and was glad she remembered that Maria, along with her sister was still in her lap. It took all the strength she had to stop little Sarah from going to Chris.
“Nice to be here.” Chris laughed, seeing her struggle with Sarah. “I’ll see what I can do about that remote.”
Josiah had his arm around Mallory, “Welcome home Chris, but if you will excuse us, Ezra and I have some cooking to do. Coming Ezra?”
“Most assuredly and welcome home Chris.” Ezra followed Josiah into the kitchen.
Nettie gave Larabee a kiss, “Good to have you home son. Now, I best go supervise our dinner, I wasn’t sure you would be here, but I made your favorites anyway.”
“Thanks Nettie, I appreciated it.”
“Remember, Chris, I have your list of instructions from the Doc. Rain and I will be keeping a close eye on you.” Nathan warned. “We plan for one of us to be close at all times to keep all three of you in line.”
“It wouldn’t be home, Nate, if you didn’t.” Chris answered. “Don’t worry, I’ll behave and help keep these other two in line. I have a new nephew and a couple of nieces waiting on me to heal.”
JD and Casey each held one of the twins. “Adam and Terrell will need you on their side since the girls now outnumber the boys in this family.” JD smiled at Chris before he spoke, “That is unless you and Linda have a boy or two to help even things out.”
“I’ll see what I can do JD.” Chris caught Linda’s eye and gave her a roguish grin.
Vin came back in the house with the last of Larabee’s things and carried them to the bedroom. When he returned to the room the picture of Kelli sitting there with Maria and Sarah in her lap made him smile. Buck noticed and naturally, he had to comment on it.
“You know, Chris and Linda aren’t the only ones that could add another baby boy to the family. The Tanner’s know how it’s done and we all know that they practice every chance they get.” Buck had a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. They were all aware that Vin and Kelli were a very sensual couple. “So when can we expect an announcement from you two?
Kelli blushed and was not sure what to say, she and Vin both wanted children, but it was just not happening for them. This was not something that she wanted to share with the family though. The Texan came over, sat on the edge of her chair and after taking a firm hold on Sarah answered for both of them.
“Nothin’ wrong with lovin’ and if it’s all the same to you Buck, I like havin’ Kel all to myself and ‘m not ready to share yet. When that changes, we’ll let you know.” Tanner winked a Kelli. “Besides at our age we’ can afford to wait a while, not like some old men we know.”
“Old? Are you saying I am old Tanner? Buck scoffed at that idea.
“The only ones here younger than Kel are the kids and I’m not that much older than Casey and JD so you figure it out.” The Texan grinned.
“He’s right, Buck, as much as I hate to admit it.” Chris intervened, “They have no reason to rush having a family.”
“Just because he’s right don’t mean I have to like his answer.’ Buck grumbled, “”I’m not that old, yet.”
Chris laughed. “Cheer up. Buck you’re still a year younger than me.”
Linda was ready to move the conversation back to the holiday. “Enough of that, dinner will be at one, so I suggest you all rest up for it.” She whispered to Chris “I have plans for you later.”
Any response Chris had in mind was lost when an excited Joanne ran in the room. “It’s snowing!” Maria scrambled off to see the snow, with an insistent Sarah, right behind her. Joanne beat them both to the window and soon the white flakes floating to the ground mesmerized the three of them.
Vin knew Kelli wanted to watch the snowfall too, so he decided to accommodate her. He grabbed a throw and then picked her up and carried her to the window seat. He stretched out and set her in front on him covering her with the quilt, Kelli leaned back against his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, the Texan lifted the red tresses off her shoulder so he could nuzzle her bare neck and whisper softly in her ear. “Suppose we’ll be givin’ ‘em somethin’ else to talk about, cause you just look too damn sexy for me to behave.”
“I think I can handle one misbehaving Texan,” she answered softly and snuggled closer, suddenly she felt very bold. “Can you?”
“Count on it, baby,” Vin’s hands concentrated on keeping her warm, under the quilt, “As soon as dinner is over, we go home for some major misbehavin’ and it’s my turn to make the rules.” He smiled when he heard her gentle laughter, felt her head nod in agreement and he whispered for her ears only, “You had better plan on a long night.”
While nature turned the ranch into a winter wonderland, Chris observed them from across the room and smiled, they both deserved the love and happiness they had found. It took over twenty-five years for Kelli to find a way home, but he was grateful that she did. He looked at his beautiful Linda and thought of the new life that was coming and the future they had waiting. Surrounded by his family and watching the kids gather at the window, was the best medicine in the world for Chris. He gave a contented sigh and just before his eyes closed for a nap whispered, “Damn, it’s good to be home.”
The Larabee household was stirring and Chris knew that soon it would be a beehive of activity. Before they all descended to finish off the leftovers from yesterday Chris decided it was time to reflect on a few things. He picked up his journal and began to write.
When Sarah and Adam died, I thought my life was over. However, the God that I felt had deserted me had other plans and would not allow me to quit. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had more than my share to be thankful for this year. My family has grown and so has the love.
First, I suppose I should record the new births. November twentieth Nathan and Rain welcomed Terrell Nathaniel to their family. I am thankful that Nathan could be there for the birth, for a while it looked like he might not be able to. The next day, November twenty- first, JD and Casey welcomed twin girls, Daisy Jonetta and Lilah Rose. Lilah they named for Buck’s mama and he was thrilled about it.
We almost lost Buck, but he is tougher than most and survived the attempt on his life. He will be home for a while, recuperating and with Inez and the girls to look out for him, I know he will be fine. Hell, according to my doctor, I will be healing, right here with him, at least until the first of the year. Vin tells me I am responsible for saving Linda and Kelli’s life. I may be hurting, but I would do it again to have the same results. My future depends on them being safe.
Linda had agreed to marry me and we will welcome our baby sometime before June. At times, it is hard to believe that I found another woman to love, but I did. She brings a zest for living and happiness back to my life and I am looking forward to our child arriving. However to get to this point, I had to take a painful trip to the land of guilt and the past. I am grateful my family did not give up on me and made sure I came through it. My reward was in finding a child I did not know I had, when she found her past I had to let go of mine and by doing so I gained the emotional freedom to move forward.
It took Kelli over twenty-five years to find home, but she is here now and knowing that she is my daughter only increases my love for her. She was already family, as Vin’s wife and now we can work on a new relationship. She has some healing to do, too. During this time, I hope to make a good start on building a bond with her and I am thankful I will have that opportunity.
Vin is in charge of MCAT until I return and he will have his hands full until I am back on my feet. In the meantime, we will be making some changes around the ranch. More quarter horses are coming in and we are looking to do some diversification. The next year will bring some big changes and I find that for the first time in a long time I can view the future clearly without having to looking through my past to see it.
To be continued in MCAT 5: Illusions