Chris sat on the small bench, resting his forearms on his legs. He looked up at the gravestone
Lincoln Jefferson Larabee
Beside it sat the grave marker for Chris's mother.
Colleen F. Larabee
Two months-it was only two months since his father's death. Chris remembered it as if it happened yesterday. Linc was talking about plans for the upper pastures, when he had gone pale and clutched his arm. Chris had reached for his father as he pitched forward. His brother, Buck, was sitting on the far side of the table. He ran around and helped lower the older man to the floor, yelling 'Nathan' at the same time.
The third brother, Nathan, appeared in seconds. Though CPR was started immediately, though Linc was in the hospital within one hour, he never regained consciousness. His three sons listened to the doctors and agreed, after the third day, to take their father off life support. The EEG had shown no brain activity, but Linc was a tough old man and his body clung to life for three days. All three sons were there as he drew his last breath. Chris was thirty-six years old, but it struck a chord in his mind that they were orphans now. It had seemed a strange thought to him at the time. Can you be an orphan when you're thirty-six?
Chris blinked away the tears and looked again at the graves of his parents.
"Why didn't you tell us, Dad?" He sat up straight, running his calloused hands through his short blond hair. Tears were replaced with a flash of anger within his green eyes. 'Angry with a dead man,' Chris thought. Now there was a waste of energy. But, illogical as it was, he could not let go of that anger.
"You knew all these years, but never said a thing. The will was dated eighteen months ago." Chris stood and glared at his father's grave. "Damnit, Daddy, you should have told us."
Chris walked away from the gravesite and approached two others.
He straightened the flowers he had placed there earlier that afternoon. He had planned only to visit Sarah and Adam's graves, as he had done every month since the fire had taken them from him. He had thanked the Lord for his father and his two brothers then. He wouldn't have survived the tragedy but for them. Now, he felt betrayed by the very man he had thanked God for.
The day Linc passed was very hard on the three men who claimed him as father. Chris's mother was Linc's only wife. But she had died in an automobile accident when Chris was only two years old. Buck, three years younger than Chris, was born to Rosie Wilmington, a local bar owner. She and Linc had been an item for a few months about the time Chris turned three. The love affair cooled, but not before Bucklin was conceived. Rosie chose to raise Buck without Linc, though they both publicly admitted he was Linc Larabee's son. Buck grew up in both homes and was treated as a brother by Chris. Buck had gotten a lot of static from other boys in town about his 'bastard' status. He and Chris ended up in more than one fight defending Rosie's honor. After Rosie died in eighty-four, Buck moved out to the Double L Ranch. Linc included him in all ranch dealings and decisions.
Linc meet Clara Jackson after Chris took a bad tumble from a horse. Clara, a beautiful black nurse, tended the young boy. Linc was instantly taken by with her gentleness with his son. They fell in love and Clara moved into the Larabee home within weeks. But four months later, Clara disappeared. The strain of a mixed race union was too much for the soft-spoken woman. Clara came back into Chris and Linc's lives one year later and she brought baby Nathan with her. Linc swore his love for both her and the baby and they planned a wedding for one month later, but, while doing volunteer work at a downtown shelter, Clara was killed along with two others in a drive- by shooting. Linc was devastated. He had taken Chris and Nathan to Rosie and left them for two weeks after the funeral. Chris barely remembered the details of that time; only that his daddy had left and then came back; and he had a new brother.
Life had gone on uneventfully from there. Nathan, Chris and Buck had always been close, even when Nathan had left for college and medical school. Chris had married Sarah and one year later Adam was born. Chris led a blissful life for five years and then his world was torn apart. They had both died in an apartment fire that also claimed Sarah's brother and sister-in-law while visiting in Georgia. Chris wondered sometimes if he would have survived if not for Buck. Linc and Nathan had tried to help, but only Buck could get through to Chris. Buck's persistence had dragged Chris back from the abyss he stood poised on for several weeks after their funerals. That was four years ago and Chris had just begun to think life was worth living. Then Linc had died. All three boys had been stunned and grieved at the suddenness on his death and the loss of his energy and guidance.
But Lincoln Larabee was a strong man and a good father. He had raised his boys with a strong sense of honor and integrity and loyalty. These were traits they would need in the next few months. For all his preparations and forethought to their futures, he had not prepared his sons for the revelations contained in his will. And for that, Chris was not ready to forgive this man he called father.
SIX WEEKS PRIOR
When the three arrived at the lawyer's office, they were ushered into a conference room. Mr. Samuels asked them to please sit, but offered no explanation for the three strangers seated on the other side of the large table. The six men eyed each other, trying to size each other up. Chris noted one man was older with a large barrel chest and thick neck with a chain holding a large cross hanging from it. Sitting next to him was a wiry young man with long hair and a guarded expression. He watched everyone in the room, like a hawk scanning for his next meal. The third man was sharply dressed. Chris noticed the suit was tailored to fit the man's physique snugly. He was the only one that smiled as the three brothers entered, but it was a humorless smile that did not sat Chris at ease.
"Sorry, gentlemen. We were expecting one more, but he seems to be running late," Mr. Samuels offered. "Perhaps, we should wait a few minutes longer. If he isn't here in ten minutes, we'll.."
Mr. Samuels looked up as the door opened and a young man walked in. He was wearing casual clothes and carrying a motorcycle helmet in one hand as the other went up to push the long black hair out of his eyes. Chris noticed worn spots on both the knee of his jeans and the elbow of his shirt. Dried blood was on both tears.
"I'm sorry I'm late," he said as he bounded across the room. He looked around the room to see the expressions of the seven men, and then looked down at his appearance. "Gosh, oh, I'm sorry. I got a new bike. I forgot to put the kickstand up." He blushed and ducked his head with this last statement.
"Make left turns a real pleasure, don't it?" a soft voice drawled at him.
The boy looked up and laughed, shaking his head. "No. Not really. But it'll sure get your attention." He smiled and gestured at a chair.
"Anywhere you would like, Mr. Dunne."
Nathan had stood and walked around the table. He stopped the youth by gripping his arm. "Well, you ain't hurt bad, but these scrapes need to be cleaned up good," Nathan stated after examining the elbow and knee of the unfortunate rider.
"Thanks." And he extended his hand to the black doctor.
"Nathan Jackson. I'm a doctor at the hospital here," Nathan explained.
"JD Dunne. I'll get some stuff before I go back to the hotel."
Mr. Samuels cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, please."
JD sat down near Nathan as he took his seat by Chris again.
"Let me start with introductions," Mr. Samuels started with Buck on his right and went around the table. "Buck Wilmington, Chris Larabee, Nathan Jackson, John Dunne..."
"JD, if you don't mind," the boy interrupted.
"Of course. JD Dunne. Josiah Sanchez, Vincent Tanner, Ezra Standish." The men nodded as their names were called.
"There is a letter to each of you gentlemen. Lincoln Larabee wished you have them after his death." Mr. Samuels handed letters to the four strangers. Holding a fifth letter, he said, "This letter is for all of you. I'll read it aloud, so please, refrain from asking questions until I'm finished."
"This letter is dated July 22, 1999. 'Well, boys, I guess that I'm gone now. I hope it was quick. I pray this letter finds you all in good health and here. I am not sure where to start, so I will just say this first. I never thought of myself as wild young man, but as I count my blessings, and I mean my sons, I might have to reconsider that thought. I am father to all you men gathered at this table," Samuels paused and looked around the room. No one moved a muscle. "Josiah, you are my oldest. Chris, you would be next. Your mother was the only woman I married. Doesn't mean I didn't love them all. I did. Buck, you were next, followed by Nathan. Ezra was born the year after Nathan. Vincent, you came next. Wish I could have been there for you. It's all in the letter, son. Lastly, JD. You're the youngest I've never seen you or Ezra or Vincent. I'll go to my grave regretting that."
Nathan glanced at JD when he saw he tremble slightly. The boy was pale and his skin had a decidedly unhealthy sheen to it. Nathan turned and helped him to his feet. Mr. Samuels looked up to see Nathan escort the boy out. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence. The six men studied each other, trying to judge the reaction of each man to the announcement. Several minutes later, Nathan returned with JD. The boy was still pale and the easy smile from earlier was gone. He had a cloth in his hand. He never looked up as Nathan lead him back to the table and he slouched into the chair.
"Sorry, Mr. Samuels. Please finish," Nathan said. He kept a hand on the boy's arm. Buck shifted in his chair and glanced at Nathan and the young man, his brother. Nathan shook his head slightly and looked back at Mr. Samuels.
Mr. Samuels continued. "There are different reasons why we were never a family, but that's in your letters. The reason I've brought you all together now is to propose that you attempt to be a family. I have sat up accounts for each of you in excess of one million dollars. It's your money to do with whatever you wish. There's only one stipulation. I ask that you remain here and live together, as family, at the ranch, for one year. If after a year, you feel that this is not the place for you, you are free to take the money and leave. But, please, try to make a go of it. Get to know each other as brothers or, at least, as friends.
Chris, Buck, Nathan, I'm so sorry to just drop this on you, but I know what kind of boys I raised. I know you will step up and accept these men. I ask that you love them as you love each other. Please forgive me for not having the courage to tell you sooner. Signed, Lincoln Jefferson Larabee.'" Mr. Samuels placed the letter in a folder in front of him and withdrew another piece of paper. "Gentlemen, I have a paper that states you have been apprised of Mr. Larabee's wishes and understand them. This is not agreeing to the proposition, only as acknowledgement that you have been informed of it. If you will please sign by your name." He passed the paper to Buck, along with a pen, and then continued as the paper was signed and passed on.
"Chris, your father wanted all seven of you at the house. I've informed Miss. Wells and she asked that you call with a head count so that she may prepare a meal." Chris's expression had not changed. He sat relaxed in his chair and studied each man in turn. Vin Tanner was the only one who met and held his glare. He inclined his head to acknowledge the strength revealed in those eyes.
Mr. Samuels stood. "There are other papers to go over, but Linc wanted to wait a few days to give all of you a chance to decide your course of action. I'll bring the papers out to the ranch in three days, if that's all right?"
Chris stood and shook the lawyer's hand. "We'll be there."
The others stood, stretched, and moved restlessly around the room. Buck and Nathan looked at each other and then at Chris. He was the oldest and their unnamed leader.
"Well, boys, I don't know about you, but I could use a drink. Would you boys care to join us at Rosie's Saloon? I'm buying the first round." Chris looked at the four men that he now knew to be brothers. One by one they consented. "Okay. If you'll follow us, we can show you the way." Chris headed out the door.
Buck joined Nathan beside JD. "You okay to drive that bike? We can put it in the back of my truck and you can ride with me." Buck bent down to see the eyes under the long hair.
"Nah, I'm okay. I can ride." JD gave the taller man a halfhearted smile.
Buck and Nathan walked out to the parking lot with JD. Buck turned to Nathan. "You riding with Chris?"
"Yeah. We'll meet ya at the saloon." With that, Nathan turned and walked to Chris's black 4x4 Dodge. Chris tossed a nod at Buck and drove off.
Buck watched as a Suburban pulled out and followed the Dodge. Josiah was driving. Behind him, Ezra followed in a late model Jaguar. Buck thought to himself, 'Flashy as the clothes.' He turned back to the young man standing by the motorcycle.
JD stood by a new Yamaha-yellow with black striping. He was looking at the envelope the lawyer had handed him, turning it over in his hands. He slowly folded the letter and slipped it into his back pocket. He climbed onto the bike and strapped on his helmet. He started the bike, but then stepped back off and removed the letter. Folding it once again, he put the envelope in the front pocket of his jeans. He straddled the bike again. Buck walked over.
"Kid, you want to follow me? Do you know where the saloon is?" JD lifted his visor as Buck walked up and had started to speak.
"I'll follow you."
Just then, Vin rode up on an Indian motorcycle. "Mind if I ride alongside? We can make sure we've got our kickstands up," Vin said as he leaned over the gas tank. JD chuckled.
"Good idea. Buck you lead. White Chevy?"
"Yeah, that's me." Buck clasped Vin on the arm and smiled. He could see the concern in Tanner's eyes and was thankful he wanted to watch over the kid.
They arrived at he saloon without incident within ten minutes. The others were seated at a back table. A beautiful, dark haired woman was taking their orders. Buck walked up and hugged the woman. She pushed him away even as she smiled.
"Mr. Buck, I will have to file sexual harassment charges against you if you do not stop doing that." But her smile belied her statement.
"Oh, don't hurt me, darlin. You're the first decent manager I've found. I'd hate to have to fire ya," Buck said as he flipped a chair around and straddled it. "Have ya met the boys?"
"Yes. Chris introduced me to these two gentlemen. Who have you brought?" Inez turned to Vin and JD.
"Miss Inez, please meet JD and Vincent," Buck stated.
" A pleasure ma'am," JD stammered as he blushed. He quickly walked away and found a chair.
"Vin," the longhaired man said. "Just call me Vin. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Inez."
"Nice to meet you, Vin. Please, call me Inez. Buck only uses the 'Miss' because of owner/employee relations. I insist on it so that we can keep it professional."
"Anytime you want to change that, darlin', you just go right ahead." Buck's eyes sparkled as he spoke.
"You own this establishment, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, sir. Inherited it from my mother."
Inez interrupted. "What can I get you, gentlemen?"
"Beer," Buck and Vin said in unison.
"Same," JD spoke up.
Inez smiled and approached the dark haired youth. "I'll have to see some ID please, JD."
He never hesitated; just reached into his pocket and flipped open his wallet. Inez looked at the license, glanced at JD and looked again.
"All right. Six beers and one white wine coming up, gentlemen." She walked away from the table.
Six heads were turned to JD as he returned his wallet to his pocket. He jumped when his attention came back to the table.
"Damn, son, you're old enough to drink?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah, I'm twenty-three."
Josiah laughed softly. "Hell, I feel old. I'd have sworn he wasn't a day over seventeen."
Everyone's head nodded in agreement. JD just smiled and blushed. "I get that a lot."
The seven brothers sat in silence. Inez brought the drinks and left. The silence hung heavy over the table.
Finally, Josiah looked over at Chris. "I met him once." Everyone's eyes were on him. "When I was ten, Ma brought me to meet Linc. He was nice-smiling and friendly. Talked to me and we played a while. I remember he kept smoothing my hair down." Josiah looked thoughtful. Remembering the only time he had met his father. "Ma and he talked a while and then we left. Never came back until today."
"Why?" Chris asked quietly. He looked angry.
"As Ma explained later, when I was old enough to understand, he and her had a week long fling while she and Pappy were in town for a revival. Pappy was a preacher and Ma's daddy. They left town and didn't tell Linc about me 'til we came back to this area ten years later. Pappy didn't even know Linc's name for five years. He was a little put out by the whole affair and Ma was afraid he might come back and take issue with Linc. I believe he wasn't but fifteen or sixteen years old at the time. By the time we came back, he had married your mother Chris and you had just been born. Linc offered Ma money..." Josiah saw the flash in Chris's eyes. "No. It weren't like that. He wanted to help support me. Ma told me he was scared of losing his family, but he felt he had to step up and help. It wasn't like they had been in love. They were both young and eager. In lust, not in love, as Ma told me. He sent us money, child support, for years." He looked at Chris, Buck, and Nathan. "Struck me as an honest, standup kind of man. I regret that I never came back as an adult and introduced myself. I believe we would have got on well together."
"Chris has always complained about being the oldest while we was growing up," Nathan said. "Guess, now he can't complain anymore."
Buck laughed and clapped Chris on the arm. "Hell, he's only complaining cause Linc made him take us with him whenever he went anywhere. Poor Chris didn't get to go a date by his self 'til he was twenty-two. I remember even going on a couple of dates with him and Sarah. Surprised she went ahead and married you."
JD piped up "Chris, you're married?"
Chris glared at Buck, then looked down at his glass. "Was. She died. Her and my son."
JD looked stricken. "Geez...I'm sorry." His voice was shaky and barely above a whisper. He sank back into his chair, appearing to be smaller than before.
Buck watched the boy. He poked Chris with his elbow. He glanced at JD when Chris turned toward him. Buck heard a soft 'shit' from the blond man.
"Hey, JD," and when the boy looked up "that happened four years ago. I miss 'em both-a lot. But, I'm glad I had the time I did. I got some good memories." JD smiled weakly, still embarrassed that he had brought the subject up. "I wish you could have met Adam. You'd like 'em."
"Yeah, he'd love to see that motorcycle you're riding. Chris, can you imagine what Sarah would've done if Adam got on that bike?"
Chris smiled and nodded. Nathan slapped both hands on the table. "Lord, she would have tongue-lashed Chris, JD, and Adam. Lord, that woman had a vocabulary."
Once again, the table went grew silent.
"Well, boys, Nettie is expecting us all for supper. I hope that you will all join us." Chris looked around the table.
Josiah nodded his head.
JD smiled. "Sounds good. Thanks."
"Are we excepted for the evening or longer, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked.
"It's Chris. And the invite is for as long as you care to stay."
"Yes, well, Mr. Larabee, as my mother raised me to not be familiar with strangers, although I understand that we are siblings on the paternal side, that is how I perceive it at this time. Thus, I will refrain from clutching this new found family to my bosom until such time as I feel it would be beneficial to both parties."
The six just stared at Ezra. Finally, Buck lay his arm on the table casually pointing at Ezra. "What'd he just say?"
"I think he said he doesn't want to call us be our given names just yet," JD flatly stated.
"Hell, Ezra. Why didn't you just say that?" Buck came back.
Vin, who sat quietly listening throughout the afternoon, finally spoke. "Good thing we got different last names."
That broke the tense silence and all seven men laughed loudly. Chris looked at Ezra. "Are you always that long winded?"
Ezra opened his mouth, but Josiah held up a hand. "A nod or a shake will do."
Ezra responded with a shrug as if to say, "I don't know."
JD giggled. "Okay if we call you Ezra, Mr. Standish?"
Ezra flashed a smile at the youngest brother. "Feel free to address me in any form you wish, Mr. Dunne."
"So, Ez, back to the original question-supper?" Chris asked again.
"I would not miss it, Mr. Larabee. What time do you require an appearance?"
Buck just shook his head. "Supper's at six. Formal attire not required."
"Excellent. That will allow me time to pack and check out of the establishment in which I now reside. If I could get directions to the aforementioned abode, then I will be there promptly at the appointed hour for evening respite."
Chris turned to the last man. "Vin, would you like to make that unanimous?"
Tanner sat his chair down on all four legs. "Ain't had a better offer today. I'll be there."
The four men were given directions to the Double L Ranch and the group began to drift out. Ezra left first as he was across town. He wanted plenty of time to get back to the ranch on time.
Chris and Nathan left next. Buck had informed them he was staying to do some work in the office at the saloon, but that he would leave in time for supper. Josiah asked Chris if he could follow them to the ranch. He left with Chris and Nathan.
JD moved around the table to sit closer to Vin. They sat quietly for a few minutes as the younger man studied the man slouched next to him. JD shifted, leaning forward as he did.
Vin finally turned in his chair, stretched his legs and crossed his ankles. "Just ask, kid."
The color rose in JD's cheeks and he turned away from the other man. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to stare." JD looked around the saloon. The walls were rough-hewn logs. Indian blankets and mounted animal heads adorned the walls. The bar was open to three sides. A small dance floor was surrounded by tables on three sides and a small stage was against the far wall, a jukebox sitting alongside the stage. Two pool tables sat behind the table where they sat. A large fireplace took up most of the wall behind the pool tables.
JD watched as Inez polished and stacked glasses behind the bar. Buck came out of the back room with a ledger in his hands and a frown on his face. The frown disappeared as the dark haired woman apparently explained an entry. JD heard Buck say, 'thanks, darlin' as he pecked her on the cheek and went to the back again. Inez shook her head and laughed softly. She caught JD's eye as she turned and flashed her a warm smile. He blushed again and looked away only to find Vin watching him. The flush went all the way past his collar and disappeared.
Vin rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he spoke. "Look like you been in the sun too long, JD. What'd you want to ask me."
JD cleared his throat. "I just wondered what you thought about all this. My mom never talked about my dad that much. I'm not sure what to do." JD stopped talking when he saw Vin's jaw clench and anger shine in his eyes.
Vin didn't raise his voice, but spoke flatly through his clenched jaw. "Kid, you don't know me from a hole in the wall. Why would you ask my opinion about something this important? You make your own way in life. You can't count on others to help ya. You're on your own, boy." Vin stood up quickly, shoving the chair away noisily. He turned and left.
JD sat quietly. He tried to contain the tears, but couldn't. He swiped at them angrily. He hated that his emotions lay so close to the surface. He had plenty of fights in school because of some emotional display; whether blushing or crying like some girl. He had been glad to graduate early. He took a job at a company designing software programs. Things had gone well for two years before his mom became ill. He had saved some money after paying off all their bills. Most of that money went to pay for his mom's care and then her funeral. He had sold what little there was and bought the motorcycle. The letter from the lawyer, Mr. Samuels, had come the day before he planned to take off. He had planned to ride off and find himself a place in the world. Since he had no set destination in mind, he decided Nevada was a good place to start. JD jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Overhearing Tanner's comments to the younger man, Inez had gone to the back to tell Buck. After filling him in on the conversation, Buck had sworn softly.
"Mr. Buck, who are these men?" She had queried.
"Inez, turns out me and Nathan weren't Linc's only bastards. Apparently, there are now seven Larabee brothers. 'Cuse me, darlin." Inez stepped back and watched the handsome man leave. She thought back to the group, then turning her eyes downward, she commented to the ground, 'Lincoln Larabee, you old scoundrel.' She left the office, pulling the door closed behind her. She walked out of the back room as Buck approached the sad young man sitting alone at the table. Fingering the small cross at her throat, she prayed. "God, please protect and guide this family." She went back to readying the bar for the evening business.
"Sorry, kid. I didn't mean to scare ya," Buck said softly.
JD wiped the tears from his eyes. "No. That's okay. I just...I... ah. Well, I better be going." JD stood and moved away from Buck toward the door.
Buck stepped in front of him. "Hold up a minute there, partner. You going on out to the ranch?" He tried to look into those huge eyes, but the boy kept dropping his head, the long black hair shadowing his face.
"I don't know. I don't think so." He tried to move around the larger man again. Once again, he found the way blocked.
"Why not? Ain't because of Tanner is it?" JD flinched at Vin's name. He turned from Buck and went over to a pool table. He distractedly rolled a ball across the table.
Buck followed, leaning on the edge of the table. "Listen, son.."
"I am not your son." JD turned toward Buck, anger flashed in his eyes. At least, I can finally see them, Buck thought. He could see the pain in the boy's eyes. It made him angry at Tanner. What gave him the right to talk to the kid like he had? Buck threw up his hands in resignation. "Okay. Okay. I know that. How about brother? Because we are. And I really want to get to know you. Linc made family of all seven of us. I always figured that the more people, the merrier the party. Please, don't leave JD. Chris and Nathan and me, we want to know all of ya. Just give us a chance to make this work. Hell, we all got Linc's blood in our veins and if that old man was one thing, it was tenacious. He never gave up on what he wanted. Don't think we don't want you." Buck stopped talking. Then he laughed and added. "At least, give us a chance to piss ya off before ya leave. You never know, you might like it at the ranch."
Buck looked at this half brother and found that he really did want to know him. Something about the young man screamed at Buck for protection, awakening paternal instincts that Buck hadn't realized he had. The emotion hit the older man hard and sudden, leaving him slightly dizzy. He knew he could not let this little brother disappear from his life. He had to convince him to stay and become a part of their family.
JD watched Buck as he spoke. The man had small intense eyes that sparkled with life. His mustache twitched when he talked as if tickling his mouth into a smile. JD noticed Buck trying to keep eye contact with him, moving left or right or bending down to accomplish that. All in all, Buck seemed to be an open and sincere man. A 'what you see is what you get type of person' and JD liked that.
"Might like the ranch, huh? Well, I'll never know if I don't give it and you all a try, right?" JD watched Buck's face light up with pleasure. "I'll really like to give this a try, Buck, if you're sure it's okay with Chris and Nathan."
"Nathan will be grateful. He ain't the baby brother no more. Plus, he works too hard at the hospital and clinic to help at the ranch. And, Chris, well, he's not one for smiling much, but that's just him." Buck grinned at the smaller man and then spread his arms wide. "Welcome to the family, kid," and scooped JD up in a big bear hug. Buck sat the startled youth down on his feet again as JD pushed away from the large man.
"Damn, Buck. You do that to Chris?" JD stammered.
"Oh, hell, no. He'd more than likely kick me and ruin my love life for a week. No, I only do that when I meet new brothers. Though, I probably wouldn't try it on Josiah," Buck reflected. Then he smiled. "Give me half a minute to close the office and we'll head home."
Buck turned toward the bar and saw Inez watching. He flashed her a big thank you smile and a wink. Her musical laughter made Buck's heart beat faster. He turned off the lights and closed the door to the office he kept in the back of the saloon. He joined JD at the bar where he was talking to Inez.
"I'll be back later, darlin."
"No, Mr. Buck, you should stay home and get to know your new family. I will call Jerry to come in tonight. He will not mind. He likes to work with Jill."
"Are you sure? I can come back." Buck looked hard at Inez.
"I am sure. If he cannot come, I promise to call you. Maybe JD can come back with you. We'll show him how to serve drinks."
Buck nodded in agreement, placing a hand across JD's shoulder and they started to the door. Before they reached the door, it swung open to admit Vin Tanner. Buck heard Inez mutter something in Spanish under her breath. Tanner turned his head toward her. Nodding his head slightly, he stated. "Yes, ma'am, I thought the same thing myself." Inez met his gaze, not looking away.
Vin turned to face a glaring Buck and uncomfortable JD. "JD, you asked for my opinion and I jumped ya. Wasn't right. I need to apologize. I can be a real jerk some time. Got a short fuse when I'm tense. I never had no body; ma died when I was little. I guess I wasn't prepared to become one of seven when I walked in there today." Vin looked at JD and saw him relax. The gesture brought a lopsided grin to his face. "How about I make it up to you by helping fix your bike?"
JD jerked up straight. "What's wrong with my bike?" He headed for the door with Buck and Vin on his heels.
The three gathered around the motorcycle, looking at the small dark patch of oil that was pooled under it. JD moaned. Buck and Vin grinned. JD turned and the look on his face had both men scrambling to hide their laugher.
"It ain't funny," JD whined. "I only had it a week."
Vin gathered himself together. Patting the younger man's back, he told him. "It ain't that bad. I guess when you laid her over, you banged the engine cover on the ground and cracked it. It's not that hard to fix."
JD watched a drop of oil extend and then detach itself to fall into the puddle under the bike. "Easy for you to say. Ask me about computers, I can tell you. But internal combustion engines, may as well be the surface of the moon.-it's totally alien."
"Looks like we can do some bartering. I always wanted to know something about computers, so why don't we trade off? I learn about computers and you learn mechanics? Deal?" Vin stuck his hand out.
JD brightened as he accepted the extended hand and the offer.
Buck put a hand on each man's shoulder. "Well, that worked out good. Vin, I take it you will be coming to the ranch for a while?"
Vin looked from JD to Buck. He dropped his gaze to the ground, then, finally, after a deep breath, looked Buck square in the eyes. "Yeah, I reckon to give this 'family' thing a try. No promises I'll stick. I'll just see how it goes."
Buck clasped him on both shoulders. "Well, then, welcome to the family, Vin."
"Watch it!" JD squeaked. "He about broke my ribs when he said that to me."
"Nope, no hugs for Vin. He's got that wary look, kind of like Chris. I'd end up on the ground," Buck laughed. Vin just smiled, unsure of how to take the comment. "I don't figure Vin's the hugging type. Not yet, at least. We'll have to work on loosen him up, little brother," Buck directed at JD. "Now, how about we load this monster in the truck and head home?"
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