Burning Angel

by Cattraine

Disclaimer: Not mine, I just let them rampage.

Archive: Sure. Just let me know where.

Warnings: Dark Angels AU. Again, these guys are not your white knights. Better you halt now at the warning, then have a conniption later!

M/M slash (Chris / Vin) (Buck / Raphael)

Notes: Second story set in the Dark Angels AU. This universe remains closed. Feedback appreciated.

Size: Approx 255K

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Little Sisters of Mercy Convent, Four Corners, New Mexico
Saturday Morning

The metallic clang of the door of the Livetrap slamming shut had Josiah popping out of the spirea hedge like a demented, overlarge jack-in-the-box. Dropping his clippers, he rubbed his palms together with glee. 'Finally caught that little black devil!' The Sisters had sternly forbidden him to shoot the big, black crow he had been feuding with, so he had been forced to resort to the use of a humane varmint trap. The fact that he planned on wringing the blasted bird's neck afterwards, was better not mentioned to the soft hearted nuns. He trotted happily towards the big oak tree under which he had set the trap.

"Shit! Parnell!" The large cream colored cat sitting placidly inside the trap, blinked Siamese blue eyes up at Josiah and purred loudly. "Sister Serafina will skin me alive!" Parnell, the convent cat, was much beloved by all the Sisters of Mercy, but he was Sister Serafina's spoiled darling. The big man knelt, and carefully released the madly purring feline. "Bad kitty!" Parnell purred louder. He and Josiah had a fairly amiable relationship. Parnell was diligent at hunting rats and mice around the greenhouses, but he also clawed open the bags of bark mulch, planted turds in the flower beds, and delighted in napping in trays of seedlings, often squashing them flat.

Josiah scowled down at the plump cat. "Since when do cats eat corn?" Exasperated, the big man stared down as Parnell blinked innocently up. He stretched and stropped his claws lazily on the toes of Josiah's battered boots. Hands on hips, Josiah glared down at the unrepentant feline. "I'd think, as a cat, you'd would want to help catch that little feathered bastard!"

"Brother Sanchez! Such language!" Sister Serafina chirped from directly behind him, causing him to give a guilty jump. Craggy face aflame, he hung his head meekly. "Sorry Sister Serafina. Thought I'd caught that dam...darned crow; but Parnell here sprang the trap."

"Parnell! Such a bad kitty! You must not play with Brother Sanchez's trap!"

The plump little Hispanic nun bent and scooped Parnell up. Still scolding, she carried him off towards the kitchen, where he would no doubt be stuffed full of treats. He smirked back at Josiah over her shoulder. Josiah scowled. Damned uppity critters. Then he brightened. Today was barbeque day at Chris' ranch. Rain Jackson had specifically asked that he help her cook the cuts of meat she was bringing. Beaming at the thought, he hurried to reset his trap and put his tools away. Josiah loved to cook. He stoutly ignored the crow that flapped lazily by overhead and cawed mockingly.

Chris Larabee's Ranch, Outside of Four Corners

Vin Tanner chuckled softly at the antics of the little black, blaze-faced studcolt frisking around the corral as Vin groomed his mother. Lena's Black Beauty was a full blooded champion quarter horse, and Chris' favorite broodmare.The big mare was sweet tempered and a natural cutting horse. Chris had been irate when he discovered that a neighbor's rawboned, ornery mustang stud had literally jumped the fence during Beauty's last heat. The result was now bucking in happy circles around Vin, stopping ever so often to sidle in and slyly nibble at his pockets. The colt was as spirited and stubborn as he was handsome. Chris threatened at least once a week to shoot him for dog food.

Vin on the other hand, championed the little misfit. He admired the colt's spirit and intelligence, and worked patiently with the lively foal to try and teach him manners. In return, the colt adored Vin, obeyed him for the most part, and ignored everyone else. Vin finished brushing Beauty, and unhooked her lead. "There ya go. Purty as a picture." He ran a loving hand down the mare's glossy neck. She responded with a gentle nudge and a soft whicker. He gave her withers one last pat, and headed for the gate, coiling the lead rope as he went, his little equine shadow trotting happily behind.

"You best behave son, or Chris is gonna have yer hide for a rug!"

The colt tossed his head and squealed, almost as though he were agreeing, then he snaked his head out and stole the bandanna out of Vin's back pocket. Whirling, he kicked up his heels with glee and took off across the corral at a gallop. Vin grinned and shook his head. He looped the lead over the gate post and headed up to the house. Chris was due back from town at any minute. He had gone in to stock up on groceries and beer for the barbeque.

Vin snickered at the thought of all the antics the guys were going through to distract Josiah from actually bringing some of his dubious cuts of meat to the cookout. Rain had cannily sweet-talked the big man into "assisting" her in preparing the steaks she had bought on "sale". Buck and Ezra had gone on a frantic spending spree at the supermarket, purchasing a cart load of various spices, seasonings and condiments to keep him busy. The long term plan for the summer cookouts was to distract Josiah with different meats and marinades each weekend until barbeque season was over.

As he walked across the yard towards the house he saw an unfamiliar red sports car turn into the drive. Frowning, he moved to insure his jeep sat between himself and the stranger. He had a couple of his guns stashed in the jeep, and better to be safe than sorry. As the flashy Miata pulled up to the house he saw the driver was a petite brunette. She wore a gash of scarlet lipstick and was flashing a lot of tan skin in a skimpy sundress. She gave him a slow, deliberate once over, eyes running down his lean body appreciatively, and flashed a wide barracuda smile.

"Hi. I'm looking for Chris Larabee."

"He ain't home." Vin answered shortly, flushing and fighting the urge to button up his denim shirt. The woman's predatory gaze made him uneasy.

She frowned. "When do you expect him back?"

"Don't know."

She frowned again, dark eyes narrowed, taken aback by the curt answers this handsome man gave. She decided he must be one of Larabee's hired hands and to put him in his place a bit.

"And you are?" she asked coldly.

"I live here,' he answered evenly. This woman raised his hackles, and he wasn't about to give her his name without good reason.

"Well, tell your boss that Ella Gaines stopped by to see him, and that I look forward to renewing old aquaintances."

"Tell him yerself."

Vin nodded towards the road, where Chris' big black Ram was nosing into the long driveway. He was glad to see his lover, and to let him deal with this woman.

Chris Larabee frowned at the unfamiliar car, taking in Vin's defensive posture in a single glance. What the hell? He rolled up behind Vin's jeep slowly, automatically feeling for the .45 automatic tucked between the seats of the Ram. The woman looked vaguely familiar. Recognition struck. 'Ah, hell, Ella 'Alligator' Gaines.'

The only woman with the dubious honor to ever wear out Buck Wilmington. She had pursued Chris relentlessly in college, and he had finally resorted to fucking her in the vain hope that she would then leave him alone. As he recalled, it had only made her worse. He had dumped her ass flat when she started warbling about marriage.'Wonder what the hell she wants?''

Resigned to dealing with her again, he reluctantly descended from the truck.


Emerging from her own vehicle, she hurried over to fling her arms around him. She stood on her toes to kiss him.

"Ella. Been a long time. What brings you here?"

He turned his head to avoid her lips, and the kiss landed on his cheek instead of his mouth. Vin smirked at him over her shoulder. He winked back as he peeled her off, and took a step back out of reach. She clung, following him.

" Why, Chris, is that anyway to talk to an old flame? I was just telling your hired man here that I was looking forward to renewing old aquaintances," she purred up at him, lashes fluttering .

Chris gave her a tiny smile. "Vin's my partner, not my hired man," he answered evenly, voice cool.

"Oh, I do apologize, he seems a bit shy." She smiled up into his eyes, one red-taloned hand gripping his arm. She completely ignored Vin.

Chris stepped around her and flung his arm over Vin's shoulders.

"Vin, this is Ella. Knew her in college. I might have mentioned her a time or two."

"Ma'am," Vin drawled quietly. He nodded politely to her. "Reckon Bucklin has mentioned her too." He turned to Chris; "Got chores." Slipping from under Chris' hand, he turned and walked away.

"My...he IS shy." Ella laughed lightly up at Chris. Then, a seductive smile curving her wide mouth, she again stepped forward to try and claim his arm.

"I was hopeing to renew our...aquaintance, Chris."

He gave her a bright, false smile. "Sorry, Ella. I'm afraid I'm already spoken for."

She blinked, taken by surprise. "Oh, I wasn't aware you had married again..."

"I'm not." He stepped away, again putting distance between them.

"What can I do for you, Ella?" he asked, patience wearing thin, eyes on the barn,a frown growing between his brows.

She scowled, confused. Things were not going as she had planned. Time to fall back and regroup a bit. "I heard you were raising horses. I've got a stallion with impeccable bloodlines, but he's impossible to work with. I was hoping you could train him for me. I thought we might work out a deal for stud service in exchange." She smiled brightly again. "I bought the Rivera ranch over by Red Rock Butte, I hope to continue the stables there."

Chris frowned again, rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I know old man Rivera. His folks settled that land. I wouldn't have thought he would sell."

Ella shrugged lightly and tossed her head. "Well, he was happy to accept the offer I made. Are you interested in working with my horse?"

Chris shrugged indifferently. "I don't work the horses like I used to, Ella. It's more of a hobby now. You can have one of your hands drop him off, and I'll take a look at him though."

An emotion he couldn't recognize flickered briefly across her face, before that wide smile emerged again.

"Excellent. I'm sure we can work something out! It sure has been good seeing you again, Bareback Larabee!" She laughed lightly at Chris' grimace of distaste.

"I'll see you later, then."

She waved prettily, and reluctantly turned away to her car. Chris frowned after her for a moment, then went in pursuit of his lover. It wasn't like Vin to retreat like that. Something had unsettled him. Knowing Ella's tastes, he had a good idea of the cause. Well, he could take care of that.

Ella Gaines pulled out on the highway with an angry screech of tires, and spurting gravel. She was furious. 'Involved? With whom? Well, it doesn't matter.' Chris was hers. She had worked her way through three wealthy husbands in her quest for money and power, and any woman fool enough to get in her way in her pursuit of the man she loved was easily dealt with. It just required a slight alteration to her plans. She smiled, and began to hum softly. Soon she and Larabee would be together forever.

Blossom's Gentleman's Club, Upper Suites

Buck whistled softly to himself as he strolled down the corridor, buttoning his colorful batik shirt as he went. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the birds were singing , and he had just had a spectacular 'training' session with one of the new girls. Life was good. Muted laughter, soft music, and the soft sounds of sex filtered through the closed doors of the rooms lining the hall. He grinned. Business was good, too!

Just as he reached the stairs, past the last door, he heard the sharp WHACK of leather striking flesh, followed by a muffled yelp and thump. He winced and paused, head cocked, to listen at the color coded black door. Best be sure old Judge Newcomer wasn't getting more than he paid for. Wouldn't do for the old fart to croak on the premises. After a tense moment, he heard another WHACK, followed by the throaty, commanding purr of a woman's voice, and the Judge babbling in happy agreement.

Buck shook his head. 'Damn. That visiting Austrian dominatrix is good.' Chuckling, he headed down the stairs, another exuberant WHACK, followed by an ecstatic yelp, echoing behind. He made a mental note to have Lydia give the woman a raise, and a contract offer. Maybe later he would see for himself if she was as skilled with a velvet flogger as a she was with the cat 'o nine tails...

Buck wasn't into pain. Pain was ugly, and Buck hated ugly. Glancing at his watch, he grinned. It was almost time to head out to Chris' for the weekly barbeque. Reaching the club's ground level, he was pleased to see JD seated at a back table with his laptop. The boy had been surly and withdrawn since the night of Chris' welcome home party.

JD had been furious to learn that Buck had put Casey on a bus out of town, not to mention humiliated by the fact that Buck had turned him over his knee and belted his ass for using drugs. Since then, he had avoided everyone, and barely spoken a word to Buck.

The fact that an ass whipping was infinitely better than a bullet in the head had not yet dawned on the kid. If Chris had found out about JD's drug use, that would have been all she wrote. Larabee's tolerance for the hyperactive Dunne was minute on good days. Buck loved the kid enough to discipline him, something his doting mother had never done before her death.

Caroline Dunne had asked that Buck look after her son, after she discovered she had terminal cancer. She had been a maid who had worked in Buck's mother's brothel, after no one would hire a pregnant, unwed teen. Buck had grown to love JD like a younger brother.

JD glanced up, saw the big man approaching, and hastily signed off his email account. He had no desire for Buck to learn that he was still in touch with Casey Wells. He and Casey had big plans for the future, and that future didn't include Buck Wilmington dogging his every move and ordering him around. He smirked to himself. He had plans to score big, then meet Casey in Mexico.

He had watched Lydia for days now, and knew the club payroll and deposit schedules by heart. He also knew that Chris ran a lot of money from the chop shop through Blossom's. All he needed now was the combination to the office safe. Then he would be home free, and Buck could go fuck himself.

Buck beamed fondly down at the boy. "Ready for some fine barbeque, kid?"

JD stood hastily and tucked his laptop in his backpack. Buck wrapped a big arm around him and gave him a companiable squeeze.

"Yeah, Buck. Are you sure Rain is bringing the ribs and steaks? You know I like Josiah, but his cooking scares me!"

Buck threw back his head and laughed out loud."Hell, kid," he boomed, "Siah's cooking scares everybody! But we got a long term plan to keep him occupied this summer..." He drew JD towards the doors, waving to Lydia as they passed, as he happily elaborated on the gang's solution to the "Sanchez Culinary Catastrophe", as Ezra termed it.

"See you and Inez there, Lydia!"

Looking up from the books, at her habitual seat at the end of the bar, she nodded absently in agreement. Eyes thoughtful, she watched the two men leave, Buck goosing the kid to hustle him out the door. Tucking an unruly strand of red hair behind her ear, she chewed lightly on the end of her pencil. JD was up to something. She was sure of it. Buck couldn't see it yet, he was too close, but it was there.

Lydia was a keen observer of human nature. That ability, coupled with high intelligence, had made her a highly successful businesswoman.

"That boy is headed for trouble." A quiet tenor voice spoke behind her.

Raphael Cordova de Martinez' lean form slid behind the bar. He pulled two shot glasses from a rack, and poured them both a shot of Kentucky sipping whisky.

Surprised at this verbal echo of her own thoughts, she arched a brow at him. He shrugged dismissively."You are not the only one who watches, Lydia." She frowned questioningly.

"Buck does not see. He is going to be hurt..." he continued. His cognac eyes dark with worry.

Lydia raised her glass to him."Not if we both watch his back."

Raphael gave her a ghost of a smile. "It is easy to cover a man's back; but how do you shield his heart?"He clinked glasses with her, tossed back his shot, nodded, then turned and followed Buck and JD.

Lydia watched him go. She bit her lip thoughtfully. So, while she had been watching JD, Rafe had been watching Buck. Was he talking about Buck, or himself? Well, this was certainly something new to contemplate. She felt a secret smile curve her full lips. Good. Buck finally had a champion. A macho, hot-blooded Latin champion at that. She had watched Buck moon after Chris and Vin for the past few weeks, knowing he felt left out, and was helpless to offer solace.

Chris Larabee could be an arrogant, obsessive son of a bitch when he chose to be, and right now Vin Tanner was his focus. Their relationship had deepened over the past weeks, their love obvious to anyone with functional eyes. Chris took deep pleasure in flaunting his affection for Vin. He delighted in public displays of affection that left Tanner flushed and tongue-tied with embarrassment. The alpha of the Dark Angels didn't give a rat's ass about public opinion. Vin was his, and if he wanted to touch him, or kiss his mouth in public, he would, and God help any asshole who objected.

Lydia sighed softly. While Buck and Chris had history together, she knew that deep down Buck refused to accept the fact that Chris had moved on with the young sharpshooter. She just hoped that Raphael would make his move before Buck did something stupid that could possibly irreparably damage his friendship with Chris. Buck had a mulish tendency to push too hard, and leap before he looked. That trait had landed his ass in trouble before. She loved the big, soft-hearted rogue, and didn't want see him hurt.

Huffing out a soft breath, she turned to the back offices. There were some changes to be made and safeguards to be put in place. She had watched JD watch her over the past couple of weeks, and she thought she knew what he had planned. She shook her head in exasperation. The boy was a young fool. She just hoped she and Buck would be able to keep him from doing something that might get him killed. In the meantime, she would watch, and be ready to move.

Kensington Townhomes, Four Corners.

Ezra Standish stood meekly in the middle of his stylish living room, cell phone clutched to one ear. His green eyes were wide with horror. "Yes, mothah. No, mothah. Whatever you think is best mothah. Yes, mothah. Ah love you too, mothah. Goodbye, mothah."

He dropped the phone onto the antique settee, and sank down heavily, head in hands. He groaned piteously. He could feel one of his sick headaches coming on. Dear Lord in heaven, Maude was coming for a visit. He fought down wistful thoughts of fleeing the country, and stumbled into the bathroom. Perhaps a hot shower would help. Then he would go to the wretched barbeque and imbibe alcoholic beverages until he passed out. Better yet, perhaps one of Mr. Sanchez' gastronomic disasters would put him forever out of his misery.

Jackson Mortuary, Apartment above

Rain Jackson watched with amusement as Nathan checked the cooler for the fourteenth time to insure that she had indeed, packed the ribs and steaks. He was leaving nothing to chance. She snickered unkindly."It's all there, Sugar. Just like the last time you checked."

He sniffed, and rolled his eyes at her."I know, I know...I was just-"

"-making sure."

He glared at his pretty wife, and huffed."Well, fine. But you know how much Josiah loves to cook. If he shows up with some of his special cut, what are we gonna do?"

She beamed at him."Feed it to Vin's cat?"

He brightened for a moment, then frowned doubtfully.

" I dunno, Miss Lily is an awful little kitty cat...."

He chuckled, and grinned broadly down at her,"Maybe we can buy Chris a dog for his birthday next month!"

"A BIG dog!"

"A big HUNGRY dog!"

They snickered together happily, both imagining Larabee's reaction upon receiving a big, slobbering, goofy dog as a present. Laughing together, they picked up their cookout supplies and headed out the door.

Larabee's Ranch

Chris warily entered the gloom of the barn. "Alligator's gone, pard. You can come out now." He called jokingly.

Vin emerged from a stall, a bate of hay in hand. He arched a questioning brow.

"Ella 'Alligator' Gaines is what we used to call her." Chris clarified with grin. "Chomped her way through half the football team one night."

"That the one that fucked the daylights out of Buck, an' left him passed out stark nekkid on the football field?"

Chris snickered unkindly."That would be the one."

"That the one that you was gonna marry?"

Vin slanted a sideways look at Chris as he stuffed the fresh hay in a feed net in the empty stall. Chris gave an irritated snort.

"Hell, no! That's the one that thought I was stupid enough to marry a nymphomaniac! Had to join the damned Navy and move halfway across the country to get away from the bitch."

He shook his head in remembrance of Ella's blind persistance. She had tried everything to persuade Chris to marry her, up to pretending to be pregnant with his child. That scheme had fallen apart when he calmly pointed out he had used protection the few times that they had sex, and that she had also fucked almost every man he knew. He shuddered. 'Sooner marry a gator.'

He made a mental note to have Ezra run a check on her. Red Rock Butte was too damned close for comfort, and that business of the Rivera's selling their beloved ranch set off alarm bells. Besides, it struck Larabee as strange that the woman would show up living so close, after all these years.

Vin slanted him the crooked grin he loved so much.

"Reckon Buck was right."

Puzzled, he arched a scarred brow."Right about what?"

"Reckon 'Bareass' Larabee WOULD fuck an alligator in the old days!"

Vin snickered, and dodged as Chris lunged at him with a pretend snarl. He sidestepped the blonde, and would have made it out the barn door if Larabee hadn't snaked a long arm out and snagged his belt. He was laughing too hard to put up a good fight as Chris dragged him into the clean stall and pinned him smugly down in the straw. Bright green eyes glared down into laughing blue. Chris settled his weight more securely on his chuckling lover and gave him an evil smirk.

"I reckon my tastes have changed," he purred. He enjoyed watching those dark blue eyes dilate with anticipation. He leaned down and licked a lazy path from collarbone to earlobe, which he nibbled leisurely. Vin shuddered with pleasure beneath him.

"Reckon I prefer the taste of Texas Wildcat." he continued teasingly as he bit one tiny brown nipple sharply enough to make Vin yelp, then began to suckle strongly. Vin arched beneath him and cried out at the exquisite sensations that sent instant heat pooling into his groin. Keeping Vin's wrists pinned above his head with one hand, Chris began to peel open their clothes with the other.

They were unaware of the two interested sets of eyes observing. One bright, slanted set belonged to a small, gray cat perched up in the hayloft. She peered sleepily at the two writhing lovers for a few seconds, then curled back up to resume her interrupted nap. Those two were at it again! Worse than tomcats.

The second, big and brown, watched wide-eyed from the door of the barn. Beauty's colt had managed to nose open the paddock gate and gone in search of Vin. He snorted in amazement. He was just in time! The tall, black clad man who yelled at him all the time was fighting with HIS Vin, making him struggle and cry out! He gave a little squeal of outrage; flipped his stubby tail up, flattened his ears, snaked his head out with big equine teeth bared, and charged to the rescue.


"Goddamned, sonuvabitchin' little black bastard! I'm gonna skin his ass alive!" An outraged Larabee howled in pain, eyes watering, as he clamped a hand to his wounded ass, and rolled off Vin. "He bit me! That little fucker bit me!"

He glared murderously up at the colt, who pawed the ground, tossed his head, curled his lip, and whinnied defiantly right back at him. Vin took one wide-eyed look at the unlikely standoff and howled with laughter, rolling helplessly in the straw. Chris shot a deadly glare at his lover, then peered over his own shoulder attempting to access the damage to his painfully throbbing buttock. The little devil would wait until he had his pants down!

He snarled, "Horse, I'm gonna sell you to the first man who offers me a plug nickle for your ornery hide!"

Vin managed to push himself upright and fumbled in his jeans pocket. Still gasping for breath and snickering helplessly at the sight of stubborn man versus ornery colt, he pulled out his lucky coin."Ain't got no nickle, will ya take a peso?"

He offered the coin to the outraged Larabee, before keeling over in the straw for another round of laughter, helplessly clutching his ribs.

"Hell, he ain't worth a damned peso! You want the little bastard, he's yours! Next time he bites me though, he's gonna be dog food!"

Chris scowled down at his lover, as he gingerly rubbed his ass, trying to keep a wary eye on his small, equine nemesis at the same time. Vin sat up suddenly, eyes wide and bright.

"Ya mean it? Fer real, I kin have him?"

Surprised, Chris turned back to look at Vin. The younger man's face was glowing, his blue eyes searching Chris' face anxiously. Larabee realized suddenly that the casual gift of this ornery, ass-biting horse meant a great deal to his young lover. Vin had very few possessions, and each one was cherished. Unaware of the soft smile on his own face, Larabee answered softly,

"Yeah, Vin. If you want him he's yours."

The sudden glint in Vin's eyes surprised him as much as the fierce, desperate hug Vin gave him. Startled, Chris held him close, and gently patted his back and smoothed his tangled hair. He kissed Vin's hot cheek, smiling as Tanner hid his flushed face against his shoulder. Emotions were unfamiliar, embarrassing territory for Vin, best hidden. Unable to resist that handsome, scarlet face he coaxed Vin's head up and nuzzled along the strong jaw seeking a deeper, more satisfying kiss. A warning snort jolted them apart, and made Larabee freeze, then glare green fire.

"Better do something about YOUR damned horse Tanner, before I shoot him!"

Vin snorted, and hastily wiped his face on his sleeve.

"Ain't afraid of no itty bitty one peso colt are ya, Larabee?" He struggled upright and bent to give Chris a hand up. He whistled in awe at the neat set of black and purple teeth marks set squarely in the center of Chris' left ass cheek.

"Damn! He got ya good, Chris! I can count every toothmark!"

"Well, I can FEEL every goddamned toothmark!" Chris groused sourly, suddenly realizing that now that he had gifted the black devil to Vin, he was probably stuck with the wretched horse for life. He gave a resigned sigh. He really had to think these things through more often. Damn. He leered down at Vin."You gonna kiss it and make it better, Tanner?"

Vin snorted and looped Chris' arm over his shoulder, and helped him limp towards the house, Chris holding his pants up with one hand and still glaring daggers back at the colt.

"Reckon I kiss yer ass often enough as is, Lar'bee!" He retorted, blue eyes twinkling at Chris' expression as he continued to glare holes in the colt's glossy hide.

"Least you can do is help me unload the truck!"

Larabee grumbled. He slid a sly look across at Vin."I stopped at Sweet Sue's and got some of those gawdawful fluorescent cupcakes you like so much," he coaxed.

Vin brightened. Sweet Sue's Emporium sold only the most sinful confections in Four Corners. Sue refused to stock anything fat free, and her tiny shop held only the richest handmade chocolates, delicious fresh pies and cakes, and homemade ice cream. Vin adored her.

"Them with the purty purple, green, yellow and red swirls?"

"Yep." Chris grinned at the anticipation on Tanner's face.

"And ice cream?"

"A half gallon of fudge ripple, and one of peach." Larabee confirmed.

"Well, I reckon I could give ya a hand," Vin conceded graciously.

Larabee scowled back over his shoulder at their frisky equine shadow."And put that little shit back in the corral." he ordered."Padlock the damned gate if you have to!"

Oblivious to the imminent threat to his life, little Peso whinnied, and trotted along happily behind, stubby tail switching busily.

"He sure is a smart 'un, ain't he Chris?" Vin said proudly.

Larabee just snarled in reply.

Rivera Ranchero, Red Rock Butte

Ella Gaines stormed up the paved walk and into the luxurious, hacienda style home. Her high heels clicked angrily as she stalked through the marble floored entryway towards the den. She flung her scarf and shoulder bag into the startled maid's face as she passed. Once there, she snatched up the phone and dialed quickly. Long, scarlet nails tapped impatiently on the mahogany desk as she waited for a response.

"Harper!" she snarled. "You fucked up. Your information was wrong. Larabee IS involved with someone!" She listened for a few minutes.

'I don't care. I want to know who, and I want a team out here to take care of her."

An evil smile curved her wide mouth.

"I want it slow and painful before the slut dies."

She shook her head impatiently at the low response.

"I don't care how much it costs. Just get a team out here. You take care of it personally".

She slammed the phone down. Her face was tight with rage as she went to the sideboard, and poured herself a brandy. Calming as she sipped the drink, she headed down the hall, and up the stairs to her bedroom. Kicking off her heels she padded across the plush burgundy carpet to stare up at the enlarged photograph that hung on the wall directly across from her large, canopied bed. Dreamily, she smiled up at the image.

"Soon, my darling. Soon."

Slowly she began to undress, imagining as she did that Chris's big hands were sliding the straps of her dress off her shoulders and down her narrow hips. She began to hum softly to herself, caught up in her own world, as she slowly began to touch herself.

The photo depicted a stark white room, where a younger Chris Larabee sprawled nude, belly down, across a wide white-sheeted bed. Handsome face relaxed and vulnerable in sleep, eyes closed, thick lashes shadowed his cheek, full lips opened to reveal a hint of teeth. His hands were lax, long golden furred legs sprawled akimbo in afternoon sunlight. His creamy buttocks were a pale contrast to his deeply tanned torso and legs. The barred pattern of sunlight and shadow from a Venetian blinds stippled across his skin, and picked up a thousand grace notes of gold in his blond hair. Frozen forever innocent in sleep, he slumbered on, oblivious to Ella and her machinations.

Larabee's Ranch, Early afternoon

Chris leaned gingerly back in his deck chair, beer in hand. Despite his bruised ass, he was enjoying the afternoon. The cookout was a big success, especially since the plan to distract Josiah was working. Larabee hid a smile behind a hand at the sight of Sanchez, stationed solemnly at the grill. He had a tall chef's hat perched on his gray head and wore a "Kiss the Cook" apron, his long face intent as he diligently flipped steaks. Vin's cat sat alertly at his feet, small, rapt, bewhiskered face just as intent on Josiah. The big man scored high in Miss Lily's book, he always carried kitty treats. Besides, he might just drop a steak.

Nathan and Rain were curled up, cuddling in the big hammock under the twin oaks, while they chatted with Inez and Lydia. Ezra sat glumly at the picnic table, drowning his sorrows at an impending Maude visit in an enormous margarita. JD was seated across from him, trying valiantly to cheer him up with awful jokes. Tiny and Yosemite were arguing pro wrestling with Tito and Juanito under the big willow tree, while their wives and girlfriends unpacked various foodstuffs. Buck was in the kitchen, in search of more beer. Raphael lounged against the deck rail, eyes on the distant mountains.

Larabee's smile widened in welcome when he saw Vin finally wander up from the barn. The younger man had succeeded in corraling baby Peso, as he was now called, and had been spending some quality time with 'his' horse. Vin tended to shy away from people at the best of times, even those he knew.

Vin's eyes crinkled as he smiled down at Chris.

"Hey, Cowboy. Ya save me any beer?"

Chris leered up at him, eyes bright. He took a long pull from the bottle he held, then arched a blond brow. His voice was a rumbling purr,

" I saved you a taste..." He licked his lips lazily, enjoying the rosy flush that flowed over Tanner's face in response to his blatant flirtation. He flashed white teeth in a hungry grin.

"Why don't you come here and get it?"

Vin snorted, knowing better than to get within arm's length. Chris would think nothing of pulling him down in his lap and groping him in front of God and everybody."Yer a slut, Larabee!"

"And that's a problem, how--exactly?"

Laughing softly, Vin started past him into the house to fetch his own beer, only to have Chris snake a long leg out and hook a bare foot around his calf. He raised a questioning brow and smirked when Chris waved his empty as he lazily caressed Vin's leg with his foot.

"I might fetch ya another...if ya ask real nice."

"Oh, I'll be real nice..." Larabee purred.

Shaking his head, Vin continued on into the house. Crossing the den, he headed down the hall to the kitchen. Reaching a hand out, he gently touched the locked door of Adam's room as he passed.

Chris kept the room an untouched shrine to his dead son. Under a thin layer of dust lay the beloved relics of the short life of a little boy. The bunk beds, the toy box, the cluttered bookshelf, the herd of Breyer horses on the dresser. All remained frozen in time, as though waiting for Adam's return. Nothing of Sarah Connelly Larabee remained in the house.

Upon her death, Chris had stripped the house of her possessions and anything that bore her touch. Her remaining clothes and jewelry, and any photos were sacrificed in a drunken, backyard bonfire. Anything in the house that she had chosen or bought was gone, from the contents of her former home office to the lace edged curtains that had adorned the kitchen windows. Chris had exorcised her presence ruthlessly from his life. He would never forgive her for her betrayal of his love and trust.

Vin sighed sadly. Anything that hurt Chris, in turn hurt him. Reaching the big, sunny kitchen, he opened the fridge and bent to pull out a couple of chilled longnecks. As he straightened, two big hands lightly clasped his hips, then slid around his waist. Vin froze instantly, recognizing the rich scent of Aramis and the big body crowding behind him.

He wasn't really surprised. Buck had been subtly pushing into his space for a couple of weeks now. The big man had always been touchy-feely, but lately he was blatantly flirtatious, using any opportunity to compliment Vin, or brush up against him. At first Vin had thought Buck was just trying to make up for when Vin had caught him with his head in Chris' crotch; but he had gradually come to recognize it for what it was. Buck wanted Chris, had always wanted Chris; so if that meant cosying up to Vin in order to have a chance with him, then so be it.

Vin could not, and would not share Chris with anyone. Larabee was the one living soul he allowed close to him, and that was that. Buck might fuck anything that was willing, but that wasn't Vin's nature. Vin had been abused too much in his past to allow it.

Buck spoke huskily into his ear,

"Looking mighty good, Vin."

"Take yer hands off me, Bucklin."Vin's voice was cold, but calm.

"Now, Vin, no reason to get hostile...we got a lot in common. We should get to know each other better..."

"You been drinking too much, Buck. Let go 'ah me!"

Tanner twisted and rammed a hard elbow back into Buck's ribs. When Buck oofed and stepped back, Vin slipped around him and out the kitchen door, the screen door slamming angrily behind him. Better to retreat than lose his temper and slam Buck's fool head into the wall.

Buck grimaced and leaned against the counter, rubbing his side, ruefully. 'Damn. That went well. Not one of my better ideas. Too much beer on an empty stomach. '

"Buck." Larabee's voice was a soft, feral hiss.

Buck looked up to see the lean blond standing in the kitchen doorway, fists clenched, his handsome face tight with rage. Buck swallowed hard as the man stalked towards him, moving as silently as a big cat in his bare feet. Shit. Wilmington straightened and braced himself for the blow he knew was coming. Larabee stopped inches from his face.

Buck saw his fist raise, and closed his eyes. The loud crack of Chris slamming his palm against the cabinet beside his head made him jump, and jolted his eyes open.

Chris glared into his oldest friend's surprised eyes, fighting hard to keep his temper. When he spoke his voice was low and intense. Buck could feel his hot breath on his face.

"You're pushing it Buck. You're pushing my patience. I'm only gonna give you this one warning. You want to stay my friend, you keep your goddamned hands off of Vin. You touch him again without his consent, and I'll kick your ass."

Larabee clamped one big hand around Buck's throat and squeezed for emphasis. Leaning even closer, his cold green eyes bore into Buck's sober blue ones, willing him to understand just how serious he was.

"He's my one true thing, Buck. Mine. You keep your fucking hands off him. You got an entire whorehouse to keep you entertained." He paused. "We got history, Buck, but the past is the past. Don't make me regret it."

Chris released him and stepped back. His fists clenched again as he fought his black rage for control, and took a deep, hard breath.


"Save it, Buck. You might want to be thinking about either apologizing, or leaving. Choice is yours."

Larbee's tone was the cold, distant one he used for strangers, or people he didn't like. Buck swallowed hard, and nodded slowly. Turning away, Chris slammed out the kitchen door after Vin.

Buck stood quietly in the kitchen, looking blindly at the floor. One big hand lifted to absently smooth his moustache. A movement in the hall made him look up. Raphael leaned against the doorjamb.

"You're a very lucky man." The handsome Hispanic man spoke quietly, dark eyes intent on Buck's face. Buck looked at him mutely.

"You pissed off both Tanner and Larabee, and lived to tell the tale."

Buck sank heavily into a kitchen chair, stared bleakly up at him, huffed out a deep breath, then replied slowly." I don't think I care for the cost, pard."

Raphael walked over and stood gazing down at him. He suddenly reached out and lightly cupped Buck's face, calloused thumb ghosting over the dimple in his chin. Buck blinked up at him in surprise. Raphael gave him a tiny smile."You are a smart man, Buck, but sometimes you fail to see what is in front of your face."

He continued to caress the handsome face for a long moment, rich brown eyes holding dark blue. Then, abruptly releasing him, he turned to rejoin the others. He stopped and looked back.

"When you are finished mooning over a man you never had, who does not want or appreciate you, let me know."

He walked away, boot heels clicking down the hall, leaving a stunned, open mouthed Buck Wilmington with something new to contemplate.

+ + + + + + +

Chris found Vin in the barn. He stood staring blindly into Pony's stall, one hand absently stroking the horse's velvet nose, the other still clutching the forgotten bottles of Corona.

"That my beer?"

Chris approached him quietly, knowing how easily Vin spooked. Vin turned slowly towards him, his face a blank mask. Chris reached a slow hand out, relaxing a bit when Vin blinked, and handed him a bottle. Vin's eyes slid away from Larabee's, dropped to his battered boots.

"It's okay, Cowboy. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just Buck being Buck. Thinking with his dick instead of his head. I set him straight." Larabee spoke gently to that downcast face, and gently reached out and pushed Vin's hair back so he could see his eyes. Those troubled eyes flicked briefly up to his, before dropping again.

"He still alive?"

Vin's voice was raspy, his Texas accent more evident, an indication of how upset he was.

Larabee felt a smile curl his lips."Yep. I didn't even punch him."

Vin raised a brow. Chris sighed."Okay, I might have hit the cabinet."

The brow climbed higher."Okay, I DID hit the cabinet."

Larabee huffed. He WAS working on managing his bad temper. Buck WAS still alive. The corner of Vin's mouth twitched minutely. Chris took that as a good sign and sidled close enough to reach out and toy with a strand of Vin's hair. He smiled into those dark blue eyes, willing the younger man to see the humor in the situation.

That lopsided grin blossomed, and relieved, Chris leaned in to kiss it. He slid both arms around his partner and wrapped him in a warm embrace as their kiss grew deep and wet.

Vin's hand reached up to cup Larabee's neck and card through his blond hair. Chris had let it grow out of the spiky cut he had sported in jail, and Vin loved to run his fingers through it.

Their intimate moment was rudely interrupted by the stentorian bellow of Josiah's deep bass from across the barnyard. The food was ready, and everyone was to get their asses in gear and come eat, before he fed it all to the cat. They broke apart sniggering. Chris kept one possessive arm around Vin's shoulders as he steered him towards the house. "You think Miss Lily could eat all that?" he joked with Vin.

Vin gave an exasperated snort. "Reckon she would try. Already looks like a fluffy bowling ball with legs and itty bitty feet."

He gave Chris a sharp look."Reckon you feed her too much as it is."

Outraged, Larabee's jaw dropped at the accusation.

"I FEED her too much? Who rode all the way into town the other night just because we were out of tuna fish?"

Tanner flushed and defended himself hotly. "Reckon I might have wanted a tuna sandwich."

"You HATE tuna fish!"

Still bickering they ambled up the drive to the house. Larabee smirked across at Vin.

"You spoil that cat Tanner, not to mention that damned man-eating horse!"

Vin smirked right back at him.

"How's yer ass, Lar'bee?" He asked sweetly.

Chris gave him a silent snarl, then a cunning smile spread across his face, he leaned in close.

"Reckon I'm gonna need you to take a look at that later, Pard. Might need you to doctor it some more."

A broad, evil grin spread across the younger man's face."Reckon we should have Rain take a look at it, her bein' a doctor and all. Might be ya need a tetanus shot."

He quickened his pace towards the house.

Larabee blanched at the thought of everyone else learning about his embarrassing injury. He hurried after Vin, only to yelp as he stepped on a sharp rock. Cursing, he hopped painfully in pursuit of the sniggering Texan. Damn, it was difficult to limp well, when you were lame in both legs!

"Now, Pard, let's not be hasty..."

Vin kept walking. Chris gave a resigned snort, stopped, and crossed his arms.

"Alright, what's it gonna cost me for you to keep quiet?"

Vin turned back, and gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence.

"Cost? Was only thinking about yer INJURY, Cowboy..."This last was pitched loudly enough to carry across the yard.

A sharp pair of brown eyes narrowed and focused on Larabee."Injury? Who's hurt?" Rain Jackson demanded, hands on hips. Beside her, Nathan flashed a wide, predatory grin. JD's head swiveled around, and Chris could almost see his ears perk up. Like jackals, they could sense wounded prey. Chris hung his head in defeat.

"Ah, shit."

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee gazed blearily up at the shadowed ceiling of his bedroom. He was sprawled out, flat on his back, long limbs akimbo on the cobalt blue sheets. He was breathing hard. Goddamned Texan was going to kill him. He knew damned well they had put a new set of dents in the wall behind the headboard. It was a wonder the box springs hadn't collapsed!

Vin lifted his head from where it was pillowed on a long, lean thigh and lazily licked the taste of Chris from his swollen lips. He grinned at the glazed, well laid look on his lover's face. The grin grew broader as Larabee weakly flailed a hand in his direction, probably trying to pull him up into an embrace. Too damned bad. Vin wasn't finished yet. The man had some serious meat on him, and Vin wanted another taste.

Chris moaned softly as he felt Tanner lightly blow across his soft, well sucked cock. Vin wasn't done with him yet! Damn. He wondered vaguely if he would be able to walk tomorrow. Damned Texan was gonna milk him dry. He licked his own lips, still tasting the bittersweet flavor of Vin. He moaned again as Vin delicately lapped at the fat mushroom head of his cock.

Clasping the organ by its thick root with one hand, he gently, relentlessly kneaded Chris' fat ball sac with the other. All the while, he continued to paint Chris' cock head with slow, dainty, cat like licks of his tongue, lapping up the droplets that oozed from the tiny slit.

Larabee groaned thickly at the unbearably sweet sensation pooling in his loins. His thighs quivered with tension. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He gave a feeble croak, and tried again."V-v-vin! T-o-o, too...sen-sen..."

He gasped for breath, eyes rolling up in his head, back arching helplessly. Vin took pity on him and raised his head, watching Chris' face with hungry anticipation. Patiently, he gave Larabee a few seconds to catch his breath and waited until the blond's hazy eyes focused on his face before deliberately lifting a hand to his mouth and sucking the index finger. Larabee's eyes widened. Vin's hot gaze held him mesmerized, as he realized what was about to happen.

Vin removed the wet digit from his mouth with a deliberate slurp. He slipped it easily under Chris' balls, and into his ass. Eyes on his lover's flushed face, he began to finger fuck him lazily, opening his tight hole. Chris cried out and clenched tight, as his soft cock began to flush rosily and lengthen again. Vin gave him a slow, feral smile. Larabee had teased him all damned day. It was payback time.

"I'm gonna fuck you now, Cowboy."He growled throatily. He removed his hand, and slapped Chris' uninjured ass cheek, hard. "Roll over, get on yer hands and knees, and show me that sweet ass."

Chris swallowed hard at the cool note of command in Tanner's raspy voice. Vin didn't take the reins often, but when he did, Larabee could count on being rode hard and put up wet. Silently, he rolled over, braced his hands on the long suffering headboard, and presented his backside to his lover. He was already breathing hard in anticipation. Chris felt the mattress shift as Vin moved lazily into position behind him, one hand braced on Chris' hip, the other slowly slicking his erect cock up with lube.

Vin deliberately nudged his cock head up between Larabee's thighs, giving him a taste of the hard length he was about to take. He kneaded the tight ass cheeks, and lightly humped between his legs, ignoring Larabee's yelp as he squeezed the area bruised by Peso's bite. Finally, he mounted Chris, spreading him wide, and pushing his long, slick, hard length steadily inside, until he was buried to the root. Larabee cried out and bucked helplessly beneath him.

Strong fingers biting into the tender skin of Chris' hips, Vin pushed a knee between Larabee's muscular thighs,forcing them apart, widening his stance, so he could deepen the angle of his thrust. Shifting, he sank his weight on his man's broad back, leaning over to dig his teeth into Larabee's shoulder, one hand darting up to knot into his hair and hold him still. Chris yelped at the stinging pain. Tanner held him there a moment, tongue lazily lapping at his mark, then he slapped Chris' ass to get him moving, and began to thrust.

Vin fucked him with easy, steady strokes, setting an almost hypnotic pace. Chris panted, groaned, and pushed back against Tanner's crotch, relishing the feel of the coarse silk of Vin's pubic hair against his ass, the hot slap of heavy balls against his own. He clenched hard on every downstoke to keep Vin deep.

They began to move in sync, rutting noisily, then Vin abruptly growled and quickened the pace, thrusting hard and deep as he sought his pleasure, balls smacking wetly against Chris' ass cheeks, strong hands holding the lean hips hard enough to bruise. Chris was nearly berserk with sensation beneath him,white-knuckled hands gripping the headboard as he bucked back hard, seeking continuous stimulation to that tiny hot spot of perfect ecstasy deep inside.

The bed springs creaked, and the headboard pounded out a steady accompanying beat. Vin cracked a calloused palm hard against Larabee's pale ass, and that was all it took to bring them both over the edge. Larabee clenched tight. Vin spurted deep inside of Chris, who in turn anointed the sheets. They yelped and howled into their climax like a pair of horny coyotes, and collapsed into a sweaty, sticky, groaning heap; Vin still buried root deep.

They fell asleep like that, Chris sprawled face down in the pillows, Vin plastered on top of him, arms around his waist, their long legs entangled, tousled, curly head heavy on Larabee's shoulder. Dual sated, purring snores filled the cool night air.

A little gray cat hopped up and on the end of the bed, tiny pink nose wrinkling fastidiously at the pungent odor of male musk. They were finally still! Damned tomcats. She curled up to join them in sleep, her steady purring blending with their snoring.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee was awakened by a hoarse, equine scream of rage, and the clang of metal being battered by angry hooves. Startled, he sat up, aware that the morning sun was streaming through the window. He had slept late, Vin was already up and gone. Rolling out of bed, he shuffled over to peer out the window.

A glossy red horse van was parked down by the corral, and he recognized a familiar tousled head bent in conference with a stout Hispanic stockman. The latter was talking and gesturing wildly in expansive, dramatic gestures as he explained something to an absently nodding Vin. Two other men stood diffidently to one side, wary eyes on the angry stallion in the trailer.

"Shit. Ella's damned horse."

Larabee hobbled over to the closet and yanked out an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt. After a pit stop in the bathroom he ambled down to the corral to see what was going on. Vin's eyes twinkled at him over the shorter man's shoulder, amused at Larabee's lame gait.

"Morning Cowboy! Senor Aguilar here has a delivery for ya."

Larabee squinted sourly at his young partner. Tanner was entirely too perky this morning. Especially after last night. One of these mornings he was just gonna shoot him and be done with it. That would teach him.

"Buenos dias, Senor Larabee. I am pleased to meet you."

The short, stocky Hispanic beamed up at Chris. He offered a broad, calloused palm. Chris took it and shook. He turned to the trailer and eyed the wild-eyed horse within. "I take it this is Ella's problem horse?"

"Si, Senor. This one is a devil. Last week he nearly stomp Luis all the way to Hell. No one has been able to work him. Senora Gaines say to bring him to you."

Senor Aguilar indicated one of the nearby stockmen with a gesture.

Luis nodded glumly in agreement, never taking his eyes off the snorting stallion.

"Well, let's unload him, and take a look."

Larabee indicated the nearby corral with the tall, heavy-duty reinforced fencing that he used to gentle the horses in. Vin stepped forward, lariat in hand, bright,interested eyes on the big horse."Let me have him, Cowboy."

Chris quirked a blond brow, questioningly. Vin smiled and nodded back."Okay, Pard, he's all yours." Larabee turned to the nearby men. "Open it up."

The moment the gate clanged down, the handsome blood bay surged out. A broken lead rope trailed from his battered halter. Vin had him lassoed before he stepped off the ramp. Squealing with rage, the stallion reared, hooves lashing out. Vin spoke gently, his husky Texas drawl a soothing murmur. He never raised his voice, or made a sudden move. He stood patiently, waiting out the stud's temper tantrum.

Curious the horse, dropped down to all fours, pawing nervously. He danced uneasily at the end of the rope for a few minutes, then his ears pricked at that gentle drawl. He snorted and took a tentative step towards Vin. Tanner continued to speak gently to the bay, crooning a soft soothing litany . The big horse extended his handsome head, nostrils flared, snuffling suspiciously. Vin waited. Nervously the bay paced forward, ears still pricked, bright, intelligent eyes alert for any sudden movement from this man.

Vin stood like a stone. As the animal tentatively approached, he lowered his already soft voice, almost to a whisper. Small ears pricked forward to catch every word. The stud stopped a few feet away from Tanner. He slowly extended a velvety black nose to whuff cautiously at Vin's extended hand. Chris saw that Vin held a small piece of soft molasses candy. The stud nosed his palm, velvet lips removing the candy delicately.

Chris glanced sideways at the soft gasp from Senor Aguilar. The man's dark eyes were wide with astonishment. Chris smirked proudly. Tanner had an intuitive way with all wild things. Shit, he was feral himself. It wasn't surprising that he already had this animal literally eating out of his hand. Give him a week and the damned horse would probably be following him around like a puppy. Chris grimaced, and rubbed his bruised ass ruefully. Hell, Vin already had one pet devil!

They watched silently as Tanner turned slowly and led the stallion into the open corral. The horse followed calmly. Once inside, Vin carefully slid the lasso from the arched, glossy neck, coiling it over his shoulder. Still speaking softly, he slowly brought a hand up and rubbed the horse's jaw. The horse sniffed deeply at this man with the sweet voice and the gentle hands, breathing in the comforting scents of sun, hay, and cedar. To the watching men's surprise, Tanner reached up and slipped off the old halter as well.

Startled, the bay snorted and jerked back. He was surprised further when Vin made no attempt to restrain him. He stopped, snorting with astonishment. Where was the yelling, the curses, the harsh, stinging blows? Vin made no movement towards him, just continued to speak gently. Curious, the horse stepped cautiously forward again. He sniffed cautiously at Tanner's face, deadly teeth inches away, snorting softly when Vin huffed gently back into his nostrils in a polite equine greeting.

The bay whinnied softly,sighed deeply, and dropped his big head to boldly nudge Vin in the chest in a blatant request for attention. Vin spoke tenderly to the animal as he carefully stroked the handsome chiseled head, scratched behind his pricked ears, and smoothed a palm down the powerful neck. He frowned at the welts he felt on the glossy withers. This beautiful creature had been whipped recently.

The Mexicans leaning against the corral shook their heads and murmured in astonishment. This gringo must be a brujo, a male witch. He tamed with his voice alone. Senor Aguilar removed his straw stetson, and scratched his graying head in amazement. Luis muttered excitedly to his companion.

"Madre de Dios! Tiene una lengua de miel!"

Turning to Larabee, the older man translated."He has a tongue made of honey!"

Chris turned and gave the man a broad, shit-eating grin."You have no idea, amigo!"

Larabee waved goodbye as Senor Aguilar and his boys headed off up the drive. He turned and put one boot on the bottom rail and leaned against the corral. Vin was still gentling the stallion. The big animal was calm now, nosing gently against Tanner's shirt, making no attempt to move out of his reach.

He was a beautiful creature. A tall blood bay, with a flowing black mane and tail, he stood almost sixteen hands high. The stud was powerfully muscled, with long, clean limbs, and a smooth, easy gait. He stood quietly under Vin's hands, head up, looking around his new surroundings with interest, nostrils flaring. Vin gave him one last pat and turned back to Chris. His mouth was set in a grim line, as he walked over to join Larabee.

"What's up Pard?"Chris asked softly, recognising the signs of anger held under a tight leash.

Vin huffed out a breath and slapped the top rail as he climbed over. "He's been whipped, Chris. Recent too. Got fresh welts over old scars on both his withers and his flanks. Looks like someone used a quirt on him. He ain't a bad horse, he's just scared."

Larabee snarled. Nothing pissed him off more than to see an animal abused. He frowned, thinking back to what Senor Aguilar had told him about the horse. Supposedly, Ella had only purchased him recently. An ugly idea struck him. "Fuck."

Vin looked at him questioningly.

"Ella."Chris spat to one side and explained further."She probably used him as an excuse to see me. She practically stalked me through my senior year of college. Once she gets an idea in that dim brain of hers it tends to stick."

Vin frowned. He knew about stalkers, and what usually happened to their victims. Better to kill the woman now, than give her the opportunity to harm Chris. He looked doubtfully at Chris.

"She dangerous, Chris?"

Chris sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing his bangs back."Hell, she was harmless when I knew her before. I told Ez to run a check on her. He said her name was familiar; thought maybe Maude knew her. Let's wait and see what turns up."

Vin nodded slowly. He would reserve judgment for now. However, if the woman proved to be a threat to Larabee, then Vin would have no qualms about shooting her.

As usual, Chris read his mind. He gave his young lover an amused grin."Can always blow her head off later, pard."Larabee leaned confidingly close, green eyes sparkling with wicked glee. "Senor Aguilar says you got a tongue made of honey. I just had to agree."

Vin blushed scarlet and scowled at Larabee.

Unperturbed, Chris flung an arm over the smaller man's shoulders, guiding him back to the house. They would leave the stallion to his trough of cool, fresh water, and bates of sweet hay. There would be time to work with him later, when the big horse felt settled and calm in his new surroundings.

"How about we head into town? The boys went through that ice cream so fast yesterday, I never even got a taste. We can meet Ez for lunch, and stop at Sweet Sue's for dessert...Honey."

Vin spun, whacked Larabee smartly on his sore ass with the coiled lariat he carried, then sprinted for the house. Larabee cussed, glared, and hobbled gamely in hot pursuit. 'Should have shot that boy years ago.' He grinned suddenly in remembrance of their heated coupling the night before. On the other hand, maybe he would wait until he could walk straight again...


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