Dark SecretsMCAT
Dark Secrets

MCAT: Hell of a Ride #2: Family Trilogy Part 3
by - Tannertexaslady & Wendymypooh

Characters: Vin, Chris, Ezra, Buck, Josiah, JD, Nathan, other original characters, the Wild Bunch, and MCAT Team members. OW Seven and special reference to MCAT Charlie Team in Texas.

*MCAT San Antonio est. Turn the Page * OW Seven first appeared in Shades of Gray/Vision Quest as did the introduction of Anne and the Forsyth family. *Marissa Lyons and William Slade identified in Past Transgression.

Rating: GEN some profanity and usual MCAT violence.

The MCAT AU: Series #1, Turbulent Transitions, forms the foundation for this AU. Series # 2, Strength & Solidarity, are stories, which center on the Seven's intrinsic bonds of friendship, and brotherhood, forces that have no boundaries. Series #3 brings MCAT to its fated conclusion. Further background and information about the characters of MCAT, and the Larabee 7 families, is available @ Magnificent Seven Heaven MCAT terms reflect actual police jargon. If you need clarification check out: http://www.tannertexaslady.com/Whatdidtheysay.html

The MCAT & Legend Chronicles AUs were created by Tannertexaslady. * Also, the original characters of MCAT, the Wild Bunch, and the Larabee 7 Ranch. Both are open AUs with one restriction / HET Only / NO slash

Dark Secrets: Brings the Family Trilogy to conclusion, exposing secrets, mysteries, and betrayals .Dark Secrets also opens new doors for the next installment of Series 3. 'Highway to Hell~ part 1~Bloodlines'

Tannertexaslady: Any mistakes are mine. Series 3 will conclude the MCAT adventure. It has already been one hell of a ride for me and muse. Muse is in complete control, and I hope y'all like where she takes us.

Wendymypooh: I am honored to be once again writing with Sherry. MCAT has, and will always, hold a very special place in my heart.

Acknowledgments: Wendy, you have been there from the start, thanks for agreeing to finish the journey. Mary Ann thanks for signing on as collage maker for series 3. Thanks for the once-overs and all your arduous work for the series. Sue, your poems for Vin are awesome, your catches are great, and your support is appreciated. Nancy, the home you give the boys @ Blackraptor is greatly appreciated.

Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction for entertainment purposes, based on the characters from ‘The Magnificent Seven.' I don't own 'em. No infringement of any copyrights intended. Any references to locations or people are for story use, and do not depict any real place or person.

Excerpt from the end of Ties That Bind

Kelli held on to Vin's hand. "Just think, five more weeks and Rebel will be in one of those bassinettes."

"I don't know which one of you is more excited. You or Andi."

Walking through the emergency room exit, hand in hand, Kelli leaned into Vin. "I don't know, but I am gettin' a bit impatient. I can't wait to hold her."

"Soon, Baby. Soon." Vin instinctively scanned the area around them as they approached his Silverado, looking for potential trouble. Almost to his truck, Vin moved from Kelli's side to open the door for his wife.



And now, Dark Secrets, concluding Family Trilogy

Chapter 1

Chris aimlessly flipped through another boring magazine, finally tossing it onto a pile of others he could find no interest in. Cait was sleeping, which is what she needed, but the gnawing in his gut hadn't let up. Trouble being, he didn't know if it was her or someone else he should be worrying about. He stood up to stretch and suddenly felt the fires of hell lance through his body. The shock of the jolt almost taking him to his knees. Righting himself, he looked at Cait and saw her peacefully sleeping. His next thought had him desperately attempting to connect to Vin and the rest of his brothers. The blaring of the hospital PA system repeating ‘Code Silver' sent a chill deep into his soul. Silver meant active shooter. Hurrying out the door, he saw the hall lights flashing, a warning to lock down the hospital.

*Vin talk to me, now! Damnit, where are you?*

Tai's men were in front of him. He pushed one to Cait's door and told the other, "No one goes in without security clearance."

Trusting them to protect his wife, he ran to the elevator, stabbing at the down button repeatedly until the doors opened. Waiting to hit the ground floor, he tried again to reach Vin. Met by silence, he knew whatever was wrong concerned his brother. The doors were barely opened when he rushed out of the elevator towards the front entrance of the hospital, only to be stopped by security.

"Sorry, Sir, lockdown protocol, main doors are automatically locked. You can try the ER; those doors might still be open."

Without a word, Chris changed directions and raced toward the emergency room.

+ + + + + + +

Almost to his truck, Vin moved from Kelli's side to open the door for his wife. The low hum of an engine approaching penetrated Vin's conscience at the same time he heard "Gun," followed by the rapid report of two shots piercing the air around him.

Alarmed screams of fellow visitors to the hospital as they sought protective shelter behind parked vehicles filled the air. Immediately Tanner's trained responses kicked in, pushing Kelli behind him he yelled, "Down!" She screamed his name, as he simultaneously shifted, drew his weapon, and faced the unknown threat. His eyes scanned the area, allowing him to catch a brief glimpse of a dark sedan speeding out of the parking lot.

It was close…too damn close for comfort. With more calm than he believed he possessed, he whispered, "Kel, it's over, Baby."

Holstering his gun, he reached down to assist her to her feet and his hand connected to wetness. "Kel?" Looking, he saw a crimson stain spreading across the back of her coat. Dropping beside her, he gently rolled his wife's unconscious form toward him. The sight of blood pooling beneath her inert body scared the hell out of him. "No! No! God No!"

Frantically, he checked her pulse, it was weak, but she was alive. An immense feeling of relief rushed through him as he searched for the source of the bleeding. Finding a flow of blood gushing from a wound on her left side, he placed his hands on it and applied pressure. "Stay with me, Kel."

Vin began yelling to anyone within earshot, "Need a doctor here NOW!" No one responded to his call for help. He felt a blanket of warm air surrounding the two of them, but he found no comfort in it. Realizing, he couldn't leave her to bleed out until someone was brave enough to come out to help, he did the only thing he could.

*Help me, Chris! Need a doctor now!*

+ + + + + + +

The crowd in the ER had moved further back, away from the threat. Chris, however, stood toe to toe with the security guard standing in front of the double glass doors. "Open that damn door and let me through!"

The guard stood firm. "Only law enforcement personnel allowed in or out."

Cursing the fact, he didn't have his badge, Larabee tried intimidating the man. "I'm a Federal agent and have an agent down out there. Get the hell out of my way!"

Nathan, with Rain behind him, suddenly appeared beside him. "Rain and I were in the cafeteria when we heard the code. What's going on?"

The guard started to explain. "Sir, we have a…."

Chris cut him off. "This bastard won't let me through! Vin's out there and needs a doctor. Show him your badge, Nate."

Meanwhile, Rain ran to get a medical kit, issuing orders to the floor nurse. "Page Doctor Gilford and get a trauma team ready, stat."

Sticking his MCAT badge in the guard's face, Nathan ordered, "Open it!"

Unlocking the access panel, the guard pushed the red button. The second he could fit through the opening, Chris ran outside. Rain shouted at Nathan, "Grab that gurney," as the Jacksons followed.

+ + + + + + +

With no way of knowing how bad Kelli's injuries were, Vin did everything in his power to stem the blood loss. He couldn't allow himself to even think about what could be happening to Rebel. His only thought was keeping his wife with him as they waited for help to arrive. "I'm here Baby, don't leave me."

Chris rounded the bed of Vin's truck and his heart plummeted when he saw two Tanners amid all that blood. "Oh my God!"

Rain pushed past him and dropped to her knees next to Vin. One look at Kelli and the doctor in her knew her sister needed more help than she could give. Pulling out large gauze pads, from her bag, she told Vin, "On the count of three, move your hands and let me pack the wound. One, two, three." Blood gushed when he removed his hands, but Rain quickly put the gauze in place. "Now, put yours back when I remove mine. Keep the pressure on." She turned to Nathan and Chris. "We're going to have to get her on the gurney without Vin releasing pressure on her wound."

Following Rain's instructions, the three men coordinated their efforts and once Kelli was on the gurney they hurried towards the ER door. Doctor Gilford met them halfway, took over, and didn't stop until they had his patients in a trauma room. Rain attempted to stop Vin before he followed the doctor inside the treatment area.

"Let him work, Vin. She's in good hands."

After sending Nathan outside to secure the scene, Chris grabbed Tanner by the arm. "Come on, Doctor G will take care of her."

Vin turned to look at his brother, his eyes full of anguish. "It should be me in there, Chris, not her…not her or Rebel. God..."

"We're not going there, Vin. Kel is alive and Rebel is a fighter. Hang on to that." Chris led him into a small waiting area, but Tanner wouldn't sit. He paced instead.

Chris tried to keep his own emotions under control, but it was hard. The sight of his eldest daughter lying there in a pool of her own blood was difficult to erase from his thoughts. Vin's anguish cut into his soul. Then there was Cait. What in the hell could he tell her and keep her blood pressure down?

"I let the son of a bitch drive right up behind us. Never saw ‘em comin'." Vin paced from one end of the small room to the other. "A damn hospital parkin' lot! Cars comin' and goin' all the time. I let my guard down…should've seen it…expected it…protected her and our baby. Kel hates hospitals, yet since she met me it seems like she spends too much damn time in ‘em." He looked towards the trauma room fighting back threatening tears. "I can't lose them, Chris…I can't."

Closing his eyes, Chris willed himself to stay calm. Whether he sought the role of leader or not, he'd accepted it. He set the tone for others to follow. The knowledge that their brothers would be here soon to lend their energy gave him strength. For Vin, Cait, his daughter, and granddaughter's sake, he needed to keep a clear head.

Both men looked when Doctor Gilford walked towards them. Laying his hand on Vin's shoulder, he said, "I won't lie to you, it's not pretty. She's still unconscious and lost a lot of blood. We have an entry point, right, back just below the shoulder blade, and an exit point on her left side adjacent to the spleen. The bullet skirted her heart but caused pulmonary damage. Until I get a look inside, I can't tell you more about the extent of her internal injuries. It's been touch and go, but for now, I have the bleeding under control and Kelli's vitals stabilized enough for surgery."

"Our baby?"

"I have a second surgical team coming in for her…as a precaution. Her heartbeat is good, and it appears the bullet did not penetrate the womb. Per her request, I am allowing Doctor Jackson in the surgical theater to observe only. Doctor Weeks will also be in surgery with me, monitoring your baby. However, Kelli's body is in shock and under a tremendous amount of stress. Surgery will only add to that. The baby's stats could change fast. If necessary, I won't hesitate to order an emergency c-section. "

"Rebel...her name is Rebel." Vin took a deep breath. "I wanna see Kel before you take her in."

Doctor Gilford knew this man well and he'd seen the loving bond between Vin and his wife. He credited their bond as part of the reason for Vin's unanticipated survival last year, after his life-threatening encounter with a tree. He hoped it worked a second time.

"You both can stay with Kelli to the operating room doors."

+ + + + + + +

Tanner and Larabee stood in front of the doors leading to the operating theater, long after the orderlies wheeled Kelli inside. Less than two hours earlier they were sharing a pleasant visit and lunch, now they shared hurt and anxiety about a woman and child they both loved. On the long walk from the surgical entrance to the waiting area, neither Vin nor Chris said a word. Each was lost in their intense personal pain and a myriad of thoughts. As they neared the surgical waiting room, a rush of energy infused with theirs, alerting both to their brothers' presence.

Brodie, leaning against the windowsill, observed Vin as he and Chris pushed through the doors. Aside from the visual of Vin's blood-soaked clothes, he felt fear, agony, and an underlying fury radiating from his son. Father and son made eye contact before Vin moved to stand beside him.

Leaning back, with his arms crossed in front of him, Vin answered his father's unasked question. "I don't know."

Josiah waited until Chris sat down to fill him in. "Lockdown's been lifted. Ezra is escorting Mallory and Barbara to Cait's room. The ladies will stay with her until you can replace them. All they're going to say is you were needed for a hospital security issue and you'll be back as soon as you can."

Nodding, Chris took a deep breath. "I'll probably need to talk to her doctor before I decide when to tell her." He looked toward the door. "Right now, Doctor Weeks is in surgery…monitoring Rebel."

Buck glanced from Chris to Vin. "Vin, Walter and Max have your older kids covered. Inez and Tia Isabella are with the Sanchez and Jackson broods. Nathan is still at the…." Uncomfortable calling it a crime scene with Vin in the room, he backtracked. "Well, he's still downstairs with Brodie's team. I haven't called JD yet."

"Don't!" Vin shook his head. "JD's place is with his wife. This damn job sucks enough out of all of us already. Leave ‘em in peace."

Chris knew as well as Josiah and Buck that Vin was wound way too tight. Making eye contact with Brodie, Larabee nodded.

Brodie placed his hand on Vin's shoulder. "Brought you some clothes. Best you get out of those before Kel sees you."

Vin turned his head towards his dad. "You mean IF."

"I always say what I mean, Son. Cut that negative shit right now." Brodie picked up an overnight bag, grabbed Vin's arm and didn't give him a chance to argue. "Come on, let's find a place for you to change."

Reluctantly allowing Brodie to lead him down the hallway to the men's room, Vin stood at the sink, staring into the mirror. Seeing Kelli's blood on his clothes was almost more than he could bear. With his hands gripping the porcelain edge of the sink he lowered his head and closed his eyes for a moment, then looked up. "Damnit, we should be home gettin' ready for your birthday celebration, not here! My wife and child are in there fightin' for their lives because of me! The bastard wanted me dead and missed! It didn't hav'ta go down like this! Not to Kel…not our baby…I was there damnit!" Vin punched the mirror shattering his reflection. "I was there…"

Pulling a handful of paper towels from the dispenser, Brodie grabbed Vin's hand, "Your knuckles are bloody, use these."

For a moment Vin did nothing. Drained from his outburst, along with the strain of the long afternoon, all he wanted was to rewind the clock by three hours. Realizing the fresh blood covering his hand was his, he took a deep breath and turned on the cold water. After a few minutes, the blood disappeared, and Vin dabbed the towels over the small cuts. "Probably won't even need a band-aid." He mumbled, "Lucky me."

Seeing Vin dejected and in so much pain, damn near made Brodie forget one cardinal rule. Anger begets mistakes and emotions cloud your vision. Somehow, he needed to break through his son's negativity.

"Vin, sniper rules. If you hear the shot, it's not meant for you." He waited for that reminder to sink in.

Frowning, Vin thought about the way things happened out there. Reviewing events in his head, everything became clearer. It wasn't a miss or unfortunate timing. "Son of a bitch! Kel was the target."

Brodie saw an immediate change in Vin's demeanor. "I know you're hurting, Vin. I am too. Kel's in good hands with Doctor G and our Rebel has already proven to be a tough baby girl. I have the best men available to assist. You have your brothers and y'all's Legacy. While the doctors do what they do best, we all need to do what we do best. We find the SOB responsible and end this."

Focused on using their collective skills to find the person accountable for shooting his wife, Vin quickly finished washing up and changed clothes. He wouldn't leave the hospital, but he sure as hell could take part in the investigation from here.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Nathan returned to find Chris, Josiah and Buck waiting for Vin to return with his father. They pulled the chairs into a circle and huddled, discussing the day's events.

"Vin hasn't said much, except he believes he was the target." Chris watched the entryway as he updated Ezra and Nathan. "Kel's been in surgery for more than an hour." He looked at Ezra. "Cait?"

"Barbara and Mallory have your lady in good spirits." Ezra smiled. "She said she knew you were bored and it didn't surprise her you are assisting hospital security."

Buck was curious. "When I left the house, I didn't see Pearl with the rest of the children. What did you do with her?"

Ezra grinned. "Bianca is babysitting her baby sister for us."

"That's what families do right?" Josiah saw Vin standing in the doorway with Brodie the same time Chris did. "Welcome back, Brother."

Vin didn't separate himself this time, instead, he pulled up another chair and joined in. "Tell me what y'all found."

Nathan as well as the rest, noticed Vin's cut knuckles but didn't comment. He waited for Brodie to sit down. "We canvassed the area for witnesses, and Brodie's forensic team worked the scene. Best we got was dark car speeding away. Covered your truck from bumper to bumper and found two slugs, one embedded in the rear quarter panel, the other…on the ground."

"You mean the one that passed through Kel." He glanced from one to another. "It's okay. I'm not good about what happened, but I am good with helpin' to find the SOB responsible. What caliber?"

".38 but the odd thing was they were both FMJ. Not the normal round a professional would use." Nathan added. "We also did not find any signature card."

Brodie furrowed his brow. "Full metal jacket? Even a rookie cop would know not to use those if they intended to kill."

"Maybe they weren't professional. Just a random hire that bungled things." Chris cut his eyes to Vin, "You ready to tell us how you saw it?"

"Not much to tell, I heard your voice yell, ‘gun', heard two shots as I pushed Kel back, drew and turned. All I saw was a dark sedan with two occupants speed away. I didn't realize…" Vin swallowed hard, "I didn't know ‘til then Kel was down."

"It wasn't me yelling." Chris pondered that information for a moment and like a bolt of lightning, realization hit him. The Old West seven were involved, which meant there was more going on than any of them were aware of, yet. "You might have heard my voice but think older."

Vin looked at Chris and tilted his head, reading his thoughts. "Makes sense, I reckon. I only know If I hadn't had that warnin' and pushed her back, Kel would be dead. She was the target, not me."

Ezra wondered about that remark. "Are you certain?"

Chris, Brodie, and Vin answered simultaneously. "Sniper rules 101."

Chris explained to Ezra. "If you hear the shot, it's not meant for you." Addressing the rest of them he said, "We will find that bastard and he will answer for all he's done. Until then, we need to double security personnel."

Buck appeared uncomfortable asking but wanted to be certain. "About JD, shouldn't one of us call him?"

Everyone looked to Vin, who answered. "JD is always with us in here," he patted his heart with his hand, " but there is nothin' he can do about this situation. I can't be with my wife right now. Let him spend personal time with his while he can. If things change we can always call him then."

Brodie stood to stretch, walking around the chairs to the doorway. Staring down the hallway, he suddenly broke into a big grin, and said, "Son, think you need to get over here. Something you should see."

Vin stood and went to find out what his Dad was looking at. Walking towards them was Rain Jackson and in her arms was a bundle, wrapped in pink.

Rain approached Vin. "Rebel wants to see her Dad and I have the honor to bring her to you."

Biting at his lower lip, and with trembling hands, Vin took his daughter from Rain. Looking down into her eyes he felt a rush of intense emotions spread through his body. He was holding one half of his miracle in his arms.

Giving Vin a few moments to collect his thoughts, Rain told him, "She's small at five pounds, but healthy. Of course, coming five weeks early, she'll be monitored, but Doctor Weeks doesn't anticipate any problems."


"It was tough going for a while, but Doctor Gilford proved to be tougher. Once he decided to separate Rebel and her mother, Kelli's stats improved. Considering how bad it could have been, she's doing good, Vin. Doctor G expects to have her in recovery within the hour. Said to tell you he'd see you then."

"Thank you, Rain, for bein' there. Means a lot to me and Kel." Vin took a relieved breath and looked down at Rebel. "Sweetheart, you've got a few people to meet."

Chris pushed back his emotions, knowing he'd have time later to untangle them. He did, however, grin at Brodie. "Rebel might have come on your birthday, but I got twins for mine."

"You know what they say, Chris. One female can do the job of two males." He peered down at his new granddaughter. "I'd say this one already proved she's inherited both Tanner and Larabee stubbornness. Hell of a combination, if you ask me."

Chapter 2

Rebel's presence displaced the arduous tension in the waiting area. The lighthearted exchange between Chris and Brodie even elicited a few smiles. However, the appearance of an older woman in scrubs, with a stern look on her face, reminded them the moment was only temporary.

Walking up to Vin, she glared at Rain. "I'm Nurse Rhodes and I hate to interrupt a beautiful moment. Since Doctor Jackson failed to do it, Miss Rebel needs to go to the nursery." She reached to take the baby.

Vin had no issue with the nurse, he did however have issue with Rebel not being with him. "Sorry, Ma'am, I can't allow you to take her."

Dropping her hands, the woman sighed. "Mister Tanner, I'm aware of your circumstances, and I understand your reluctance to being separated. Still, as Charge Nurse of our maternity ward, I must insist on taking her to the hospital natal unit for observation."

"With all due respect, I must insist she stay. Less than four hours ago, someone tried to murder my wife and our baby. I'm not leavin' her anywhere out of my sight." Vin tightened his hold on his sleeping child.

Nurse Rhodes and Vin appeared to be in the middle of a standoff. Neither ready to back down.

Chris glanced at Brodie, who shook his head and held up his hands as if to say, 'not me'. Turning to Ezra standing next to him, he whispered, "You're the team negotiator…negotiate."

Ezra whispered back, "Negotiate with whom? I agree with our brother."

While this was going on, Rain stepped forward. "Vin, I'll stay with Rebel in the nursery."

Tanner was already shaking his head. "Rain, you know I love and trust you, but you're not an armed agent. Not gonna happen."

Nathan intervened. "I'll stay with her 'til we get a security schedule figured out."

Nurse Rhodes looked horrified. "I will not allow an armed anybody in the nursery with the newborns!"

"Then Rebel stays with me." Vin growled, about ready to cloud up and rain all over the woman.

Entering the room while the men were watching Vin and the nurse, Orrin Travis cleared his throat. "Am I interrupting something?"

Chris turned around to see the Director in formal attire, flanked by his two bodyguards. "Director, I thought you had a dinner to attend."

"I do, but after we spoke on the phone, I decided I needed to come here first. Evie is out of town on an extended… uh… vacation, but she sends her thoughts and prayers." Orrin gave Tanner his attention and moved closer to see the baby. "How is Agent Coulter and who do we have here?"

"I'm waitin' on word about Kelli. She's still in surgery, but this is our baby daughter, Rebel, who arrived a bit early." Vin moved the blanket, so Travis could see her wisps of red hair and angelic face. "Bullet didn't touch her."

Placing his hand on Vin's shoulder, he looked at the older woman. "I am MCAT Director Orrin Travis. Is there a problem?"

"Indeed, there is. I am Maternity Charge Nurse Roslyn Rhodes, and that baby is my patient. Mister Tanner refuses to hand her over unless I allow armed guards in my nursery. That is NOT an option."

"I see." Travis pulled his cell from his jacket pocket. "Excuse me for a moment." Stepping back, Orrin made his call.

After a few minutes of conversation, he ended it and moved to stand beside Tanner again. "I just spoke to the Hospital Administrator and this is what's going to happen. You, Nurse Rhodes, will gather necessary supplies and equipment to monitor this child in a private room. You will also arrange for a nurse to be with her at all times. If you have any questions, call your boss, Art Chamberlain. I trust you will notify Commander Tanner when you have completed your orders."

Nurse Rhodes face turned red as she tried to hide her anger. "I'll get right on it." She made a hasty exit.

Pivoting around to Vin, he told him, "At least one agent will be with your daughter 24/7 and additional men at the door. You decide on who you want on that detail. Hopefully, she will be in a room with her mother very soon."

"Thank you, Sir. I hope so, too."

Travis looked at Chris, "Cait is doing well, too I hope."

Chris stood with his arms crossed in front of him. "I haven't told her about today's events yet, but other than that she's doing okay."

"Good." Scanning the room Travis's next statement was directed to Buck, Brodie, Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah. "I don't need to tell any of you the priority I place on catching the SOB responsible for this. Do your jobs and support your family. Furthermore, Lord knows they'll try, but don't let Chris or Vin go anywhere without security no matter how much they argue with you. That is a direct order. Tomorrow, we'll meet, look at our security options and work out a detailed plan of action."

Several "Yes, Sirs," echoed around the room.

"I have a pre-scheduled charity event to attend or I would stay." Looking at Vin, he finished with, "No matter when you find out, I expect a call about Kelli's condition. Take care of your baby and if you need anything, let me know."

"Yes, Sir." Vin smiled down at Rebel as Travis left. "You, Little One, are gettin' a private room."

Ezra stepped forward. " I volunteer to take first watch."

"I was going to take first watch, Ez." Buck frowned.

"Rain and I could do it." Nathan offered. "She still has a few hours before she can leave."

Josiah stopped them with his words. "I suggest we work out a schedule. Not only for Rebel, but for Chris, Vin, and escorting our ladies home and back here again for the next sister watch."

"See Rebel, your uncles are already vyin' for your attention." Vin glanced at the clock, the hands were moving too damn slow. Looking at Chris he saw that he too, was checking the time.

+ + + + + + +

Thirty minutes later, Doctors Gilford and Weeks appeared at the door. Both looked tired, but neither showed any trepidation. Gilford approached Vin, who closed his eyes and took a deep breath in anticipation. The rest of the present family members gathered around to hear what the doctor had to say.

"Kelli is currently on her way to recovery. It was touch and go for a while, due to her blood loss and the body's natural process to protect the unborn fetus. Once mother and child separated, Kelli's stats improved dramatically and allowed me to finish without incident. The bullet traveled a lateral route from the entry point, under her heart, through one lung and exited two centimeters below the spleen. Fortunately, the damage, while extensive, did not cause any permanent damage to any major organs. I repaired torn vessels and the injury to her lung. Given time to heal, she should make a full recovery. However, with her injuries, an emergency c-section, and the stress of surgery, her body needs time to rest. Don't expect her to regain full consciousness for several hours. I'm ordering her to Surgical ICU as a precautionary measure, but I expect to have her in a private room sometime tomorrow. Do what you need to for your baby, then I'll walk with you to the recovery room."

Doctor Weeks smiled at the newborn in Tanner's arms. "As you can see, your daughter continues to prove she is a survivor. Her delivery was quick and without problems. By the time Kelli is up and around the c-section won't be an issue for her." She looked over to Chris. "Now, it's your turn. You and I will see Cait together. I want to monitor her stats when you explain all that's happened."

Chris nodded to Doctor Weeks," All right. Whenever you're ready Doc." Relieved his daughter would live he glanced at Vin. "You tell Kel, I'll come see her in a while." The two left, with Buck right behind them.

"I will." Making his decision, Vin walked over to his father. "I'm countin' on you to get Rebel settled when they have her room ready. I'm stayin' with Kel. If you would make the calls to home and Travis, I'd appreciate it." He passed his precious bundle to Brodie.

Holding his newest granddaughter, Brodie smiled and glanced at the other men in the room. "You got it, Son, and just so y'all know…I'm taking first watch."

Vin returned to Gilford's side." Lead on, Doctor G, 'm way past ready to see my wife."

Ezra followed Vin and the doctor as they exited the waiting area. Even if Travis hadn't ordered security, he and Buck had already decided neither Chris nor Vin would go nowhere without a brother nearby.

+ + + + + + +

Doctor Gilford left Vin at the recovery room door, promising to see him once Kelli was moved to ICU. Ezra positioned himself in front of the door as his charge went inside. Vin stood beside his wife's bed for a few minutes, permitting himself time to regroup his emotions. According to what the doctor told him, he would have lost both his wife and baby if his reflexes had been a few seconds slower. He also had no doubt that without Cowboy's warning, he would not have had those few seconds to react.

Sitting down beside the bed, Vin gently took her hand, lifting their entwined fingers to rest on his bowed forehead. Unashamedly, he allowed the tears he'd held back for the past few hours to fall. Fate had dished out a dose of hell today, tempered with humility and gratitude.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Doctor Weeks entered Cait's room and waited for Mallory and Barbara to say their goodbyes. Once the ladies made their exit, he went over to sit by Cait's bedside.

Before Chris had an opportunity to say anything, Cait sighed as she glanced between the doctor and her husband. "I'm still me even though I'm stuck in this bed. I won't jeopardize our child, but I also won't be treated like I'm made of spun glass. So, whatever is going on, tell me."

Doctor Weeks walked over to the monitors and watched Cait's BP and the baby's heartbeat. Then, she looked at Chris. "Go ahead."

Chris told Cait all that happened since the Tanner's left after lunch and waited for her reaction.

"You're sure Kelli and Rebel are all right?"

Chris laughed. "Rebel has already got her father wrapped around her little finger, charmed her uncles, and conquered two grandpas. Doctor Gilford said Kel should make a full recovery." He watched the doctor smile and knew Cait's stats were good.

Nodding, Cait relaxed. "I want to see her as soon as possible. And Chris, I know you are bored to tears stuck in here. I promise not to flip out if I'm alone occasionally. Do what you need to do, Tempest and I are patient females. My job is to stay calm for our baby. Your job is to be Chris, the macho, take charge, bossy man that I love. Also, tell my sisters, I enjoy their company, but they don't need to keep me entertained either. We're going to have a healthy baby and I will be fine. Remember that."

Taking her hand, he grinned, "Yes, Ma'am."

Doctor Weeks placed her hand on Cait's shoulder. "You hold on to that attitude, Lady, and we'll all be fine. I'll see you both later." She left the two Larabees alone.

"Buck's right outside the door. Thinks he's going to be my shadow."

"Good. One less thing for me to worry about." She crooked her finger for him to come closer for a kiss. "Now, go check on Kelli. I'm not going anywhere."

+ + + + + + +

Orrin Travis was no stranger to the elite social activities of Denver. Partly from Evie's involvement with charity events and to some extent due to his Director position with MCAT. It was not unusual to dine with Governors, Senators and other high-ranking government officials. Tonight, however, his tablemates included the Denver Police Commissioner, Jock Armstrong, and former judge, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Alexander Covington. Orrin had known both men for more than twenty years.

"Orrin, I've been hearing a lot of complaints from my Captains about your MCAT boys." Jock leaned forward, "Why the hell are you investigating my officers?"

"Jock, my 'boys' are exceptional men and women who are Federal Agents. Furthermore, I do not discuss MCAT business at social functions. Have some more wine and enjoy your meal."

Alexander laughed. "Orrin, you haven't changed in twenty years. Always direct and to the point."

"I seem to recall you being direct yourself, Alex. I know a few lawyers who've felt the Covington sting from the bench."

"Too many years ago to count. I'm enjoying my freedom away from the courtroom." Alex turned toward Travis and lowered his voice. "Rumor has it, your Agency has lost several agents over the past few weeks. If you need temporary manpower, I do own a security firm that could be of assistance."

Travis leaned back in his chair. "I appreciate the offer, Alex, but your information may be dated. MCAT is fully staffed."

Alex nodded. "Good to know, but my offer is open-ended. You need anything, you know my number." He picked up a bottle from an ice bucket on the table. "More wine, Orrin?"

Orrin covered his glass. "Not tonight. Busy day tomorrow."

+ + + + + + +

JD idly played with a strand of Tess' hair as she slept curled beside him, her head resting on his bare chest. She wore a contented smile on her upturned face and he grinned. He loved knowing he was responsible for putting such a satisfied smile on her beautiful face. He wanted her to always be happy and satiated.

This first week of their honeymoon had flown by in a whirlwind of activity. By day they traipsed all over Boston visiting tourist spots like Paul Revere's House and Bunker Hill Monument, shopping for souvenirs, visiting museums, and taking in a Red Sox game.

Their evenings were spent dining and dancing at fancy restaurants, taking carriage rides under moonlit skies, cuddling before the fireplace in their suite, and making sweet love. He grinned at how inventive their lovemaking became once they'd gotten past their initial awkwardness with one another. He'd especially liked the way they'd made use of Buck's gift of the flavored cans of whip cream. Tess was a demonstrative and eager lover who sought to give him as much pleasure as he gave her, and together their passion had reached heights he'd never known existed.

He sighed. He hoped their life together would have as many happy and carefree moments in it as they were enjoying now. He would do his best to make sure Tess and their children were happy and safe, but he could not live in an unrealistic world. There would be days ahead when even doing his best wouldn't be good enough.

Certain when those days came, he would have his brothers to lean on as well. They were always there when he needed them, just as he was for them. Maybe that's what was troubling him now. They were neck deep in the middle of a case and he wasn't there to help them solve it.

He remembered then the words Vin had spoken to him the day he had put in his request for time off, *Keep your priorities straight, JD. You deserve to be happy, regardless of what's happenin' with a case. Family will be with you long after MCAT work is a distant memory.*

His Heart Warrior brother was right. There would always be important cases to solve and MCAT work to do. His brothers would handle whatever needed handling in his absence. His place was here with Tess. Taking this special time together would lay the foundation for their marriage. It was important to him that he and Tess start off on the right path.

"John Daniel why are you awake? Is something wrong?"

JD's hand stilled on her head at her words. He'd been so caught up in his musings he hadn't realized Tess was awake and watching him.

"What could possibly be wrong? I'm on my honeymoon with my gorgeous wife beside me."

Tess flashed him a grin. "Nice response. Want to try again?"

"I was just thinking is all."

"About what?" Tess rose up on her elbow, so she could see his face.

JD bit his lip. He didn't want to her to think he wasn't enjoying their honeymoon. Far from it. These past few days were some of the best ones he'd experienced his whole life. "Well, I was pondering about how fortunate I am to have a woman like you as my wife…"


He smiled. She wasn't fooled by his attempt to evade her question. "And wondering how everything is going at MCAT and L7."

"I'm sure if there's something we need to know one of our brothers or sisters would call to tell us." She pointed out.

"You're right. I'm just over thinking things."

"Maybe you need some distracting."

"I was thinking the same thing." JD leered at her.

Tess laughed huskily as her hand slid beneath the covers. JD drew in a breath as her fingers stroked over him. All thoughts of his brothers and MCAT slipped away as passion ignited between them. .

+ + + + + + +

Vin glanced at his watch. Nine o'clock.

Eight hours ago, he and Kelli were walking out of the hospital, and in seconds their whole world upended. From being shot, bleeding out, hours of surgery, giving birth, and an hour in recovery, she now lay resting comfortably in ICU. She was still out of it, but hopefully she'd wake soon. Unable to convince him to go home, Ezra sat right outside the doors on 'Tanner watch.'

Stretching his legs out Vin, got comfortable in the chair beside Kelli's bed. He had no plans on leaving anytime soon. Reaching over to hold her hand, he began talking to her. "Rebel is doin' fine. She's in a private room with Grandpa Brodie watchin' over her. She's beautiful Kel and has the finest wisps of red hair like her mama. I talked to Andi and Jason earlier, they send their love and are excited about their new baby sister. The twins jabbered, some made sense, some not, but I did get an I love you out of it. Cait is doin' good and Chris is hangin' in there. He came by, said to tell you he loves you and will see you tomorrow. I don't mind tellin' you I was scared today…afraid I was gonna lose you and Rebel. I know we always say we'd never leave one another, but this time I thought maybe you'd have no choice. Thank God for Doctor G. He is one hell of a surgeon. When he walked out and said you were in recovery…well, I could breathe right again…"

Vin felt her fingers move and sat up straight to see her face. Her eyelids fluttered, and her grip became stronger. Kel?"

Finally, he heard, a soft whisper, "Vin?"

"Right here, Baby. Don't try to talk, 'til they take out that tube." Smiling when he saw those beautiful sapphire eyes open, he lifted her hand, kissed it, looked into her eyes, and said in an emotion laced voice, "Welcome back, Sassy."

Chapter 3

Papers, pens, pencils, and a multitude of office paraphernalia scattered across the room as an angry hand swiped the top of the desk, the other clutched a telephone. "You are a fucking idiot! I told you I need her dead! Why is that woman still breathing?"

Winston Barlow listened as his caller unleashed a fury filled rant. "Another three inches higher and she would be. Dumb luck her husband pushed her when I shot." He failed at his job and deserved the dressing down. "We've tracked her for weeks. Couldn't get her alone."

"You and that bastard brother of yours have had ample opportunities already. Time is running out! I warned you that unless she's dead, you wouldn't see one more penny of the money I'm paying you."

"For two hundred and fifty grand, we'll get it done."

"You had your chance!"

Stabbing at the disconnect icon, the call ended. Moments later another call connected.

"You were right. I'm going to need your help after all. But first I need you to dispose of the trashy Barlow brothers, then the woman."

+ + + + + + +

Over a breakfast of fresh fruit and Missus Mason's buttery chocolate croissants, JD and Tess chatted about their last phone call with their kids Their parental anxiety over being so far from them eased each day. Tess' parents seemed to be fitting right into the chaos of the Wild Bunch. Her mom loved everything concerning Reins of Change, while her dad and Walter acted like they were old pals.

Later, while Tess applied her makeup and JD tidied up after their breakfast, his cell phone rang. He crossed to the dresser, picked it up, and grinned when he saw that the caller was Buck.

"Hey, Buck. You calling to give me some more advice?"

His grin faded as he listened to his brother's sober words on the other end of the phone. "What? Who did it? Is Kelli okay? How about the baby?"

"John Daniel?" Tess came out of the bathroom, "Are you ready…?"

Her words faded as she caught sight of his pale face and the phone clasped to his ear. Trepidation filled her as she listened to his next words.

"Tess and I can be on the next plane home. No, Buck…yes, we're having a good time…but we should be home with you all." JD sighed heavily, pushed fingers through his dark hair and nodded. "All right, all right…we'll stay put for now…but I swear Buck, if anything else happens…you better call me instantly."

He ended the conversation and stood with his fist curled around his phone. Now he understood the feelings gnawing at him since yesterday. A gambit of emotions flooded over him. Anger. Worry. Relief.

"Tell me."

He turned to see his beautiful wife standing a few feet away, her hazel eyes filled with a mixture of worry and fear. He moved to her side and placed his hands on her arms. "Kelli's been shot."

"Oh my God!" Tess gasped. "Is she okay?"

"Buck said she's going to recover. They did have to take the baby, though. Despite coming five weeks early, Rebel is okay."

"Why, John Daniel? Why would anyone shoot a pregnant woman?"

He wanted to tell her there were criminals so callous they weren't above hurting women or children. That evil existed and could touch their lives without warning. Tell her it could be any agent anytime, a risk of the job, but he didn't. Instead he said, "Pregnant yeah, but still a Federal Agent. We'll find whoever is responsible."

She nodded. "We should go home."

JD took his wife's hand and looked into her eyes. "Buck told us to stay put per Vin's request. So that's what we're going to do, for now."

+ + + + + + +

Vin's morning was busy. He'd spent Daddy time with Rebel, promising her she'd see her mama soon. Talked to Jason, Andi, and the twins. Discussed MCAT security business and the progress on the shooting investigation with his dad. Asked Max to take on a special task for him. Visited Cait, talked to Chris about their next move to stop their enemy. Set up a meeting for Travis, per his instructions, talked with Buck about calling JD, and Ezra about sleep schedules.

Doctor Weeks stopped by to check Kelli's c-section and made an appointment for three weeks. Doctor Gilford came in early, examined the chest incision and drain tube, cautioned about lifting, explained how her lung needed one to three weeks to heal. He removed excess apparatus and said she would be transferred shortly. Once they moved Kelli out of ICU and into a room, the baby would join them.

Tanner saw Wilmington motion to him through the glass window. Rising from the chair, Vin stood beside her bed. "Baby, I need to talk to Buck. I'll be right outside the door."

Kelli voiced her impatience. "While you're out there, find Doctor Gilford and tell him his 'shortly' is takin' too long. I want to see our daughter."

"Back to bein' bossy huh?" He grinned and leaned down for a kiss. "Behave 'til I get back. I love you."

Grabbing his hand, she softened her voice. "I love you, too. Sorry I snapped at you, 'm just anxious to hold Rebel. Hurry back."

+ + + + + + +

Stepping out the door, Vin moved to the right, so he could see Kelli through the glass as he and Buck talked.

"How's she doing?" Buck glanced into the room through the window.

Vin smiled. "Good. Gonna get her moved to a private room within the hour. Did you talk to JD?"

"Yep. He wanted to come straight home, but I told him you asked him to stay in Boston with Tess. For now, he's staying."

"Not much he can do here anyway. Glad he's spendin' his time with his wife." Vin shifted his position a few steps away from Kelli's room. He nodded toward two men in chairs by the door. "Those two are Brodie's men, they relieved Ezra a couple hours ago. They'll be on security for us and two others will be on Cait's room."

"They're already there, which is why I can be here."

"Did you get any sleep?"

"After they showed up I got a few hours. Travis talk to you yet?"

"Yeah. There's a conference room on the first floor, he wants us there by two-thirty for a meetin'. Think he figures we need to revise our plans. I should have Kel and Rebel settled by then and Brodie already knows. Need you to inform Josiah, Nathan, Chris, and Ezra about the time." He reached for the encrypted cell clipped on his belt. "I'm arrangin' to have Kel and the baby covered durin' the day, so I can be involved at least part-time in our investigation. Nights, I'll probably be here. I'll be back to work full-time as soon as possible. Until then, you need this phone on you 'cause you're the man in charge".

"Gee Vin, you give the best presents." Buck frowned. "Though, this one, and the ton of paperwork that goes with it, I could live without." Resigned to having the weight of command thrust on his shoulders, he sighed, "I'll do what needs doing, but the second you get Kel on her feet and Rebel home where she belongs, it's yours again."


+ + + + + + +

Chris had something important to do before he went to Travis' meeting. He stepped out into the hospital courtyard. The last twenty-four hellish hours were ones he hoped never to repeat again. Now that he was certain Kelli would survive and Rebel was healthy despite her early arrival, there were some answers he needed for the questions swirling around in his head.

Some of those answers he and his brothers would have to find out for themselves. There were others he knew could be answered by one particular 'Old West' brother.

"Cowboy, get your ass down here!" He demanded. "You and I need to talk!"

*Sounds like your bein' summoned, Pard.* Tracker grinned at his black clad friend.

Cowboy scowled at him. *Nobody orders me anywhere!*

*Whether or not you agree, Larabee is beckoning you,* Preacher stepped forward, *you must go talk to him.*

Cowboy turned a heated look on him. *I don't have to do anything.*

*Yes, you do.* Sheriff insisted. *Both you and Tracker went against the Code.*

*I know what I did.* Cowboy crossed his arms. *It was necessary.*

Preacher ignored the stubborn stance his younger brother displayed. It was a familiar tactic, but it wouldn't work today. *You interfere with Fate, you pay the consequences, Fix it.*

*I wasn't the only one.* Cowboy murmured under his breath.

Rogue glared at Tracker. *Our Heart Warrior will have to answer for breaking the rules too. However, he's not the one Chris is currently demanding to see. You are.*

Nearby Gambler whispered to Healer. *Since our illustrious leader and his compadre disobeyed our mandated rules of engagement, it could result in fisticuffs. Are you prepared?*

With a resigned look on his face Healer responded. *I always am.*

"Come on, I know you're here! Show yourself!" Chris demanded.

Six brothers took a determined stance with feet spread and arms crossed, daring Cowboy to continue arguing.

Cowboy glanced from one brother to the other and realized he was gaining no quarter from any of them. Resolvedly, he threw up his hands. *Fine, I have a bone to pick with him anyway!* With those words he vanished.

"Damn it, I know you're here!"

*You bellowed?*

"I need some answers."

*I don't talk to outlaws.*

Chris is taken back. "What?"

*Portraying Johnny Ringo? Really? I knew the man and he rode the wrong side of the law. You brought disgrace to the Larabee name!*

"I'm not here to discuss my choice of wedding attire! I know you warned Vin about the gun. Trust me, I'm extremely grateful for your assistance with saving the lives of my daughter and grandchild. Yet, you've told us more than once, you can only guide us, not change the course of events and how they play out. So, did you interfere? Or did you do Fate's bidding?"

*A little of both, but Tracker and I will face the consequences for our actions when necessary.*

"Tracker? He was there too?"

* I can't explain, because we've interfered too much already. I can, though, tell you to heed my words. All is not what it seems. Rely on your senses to unmask the truth. Most importantly, remember the events, which led us to Rose Field.*

Larabee's mouth was set to demand more, but in an instant, Cowboy disappeared before his eyes.


+ + + + + + +

In a private room on the maternity floor, Kelli anxiously watched the door. She'd already walked the painful steps around the room required by the doctor for day one exercise. Settled in the bed, she now awaited Vin's return with their baby. It seemed strange to meet Rebel this way, but the fact she was here to see her at all was a blessing. When Vin and Doctor Gilford explained what happened and the medical repercussions, she couldn't remember any of it. The only constant she did recall was Vin's voice repeatedly telling her to hang on, which according to him was impossible because he wasn't in surgery with her.

The Tanners' figured it had to be Tracker's voice she heard. Cowboy and Tracker had crossed the boundaries of time and come to their defense. Perhaps, it was deemed by Fate or the mystical Tanner/Larabee connection, or the loving ties of family across generations. It also could have been just plain stubborn interference on their part. Whatever their reasons, they gave Vin warning and stayed to cloak them in a protective shield of healing warmth until help arrived. Combined, those actions made the difference between life and death for her and Rebel.

Kelli's pulse quickened when the door opened. The sight of the man she loved holding their child as he approached the bed, conjured tears and stirred a myriad of emotions within her. Vin laid Rebel onto Kelli's unbandaged arm, and supported the baby with his hand, while he fought back his own emotional storm. With help from the past, they'd come full circle in the present. Reunited as they should be, thankful parents looked down into the eyes of the future.

+ + + + + + +

Travis spent most of his past night soul-searching. He wasn't sure what made him uneasy about his choices. Age, years of fighting injustice, or the realization that with his inert need to organize, he'd made MCAT a bureaucracy nightmare for his agents. All contributed to his doubts. Additionally, the events of the past twenty-four hours disturbed him more than he'd like to admit. Ultimately, he'd concluded he had himself to blame for at least a part of what happened.

Failing to heed Larabee's request to keep the agency small and mobile, instead going bigger and more notable, created an environment, which painted a target on everyone's back. Experienced men with elite skills were buried under massive amounts of paperwork, instead of doing the work in which they excelled. The prestige and honors bestowed on his agency were well deserved, but only necessary for his own wall of tributes. Men and women, who sacrificed their personal lives and risked the safety of their families, answered MCAT's call every time it came without considering accolades. They cared only about doing what they were trained to do to the best of their abilities.

It was past time to put things right.

Standing to address the men around the table Travis began. "When we conclude our current case, we have much to discuss about the future of MCAT." He looked directly at Chris. "Suffice to say, I should have heeded advice given to me by a man I admire and trust." Glancing around the table, he sighed, "In the interim, I assure all of you ...whatever resources are needed to end this will be available. Chris, your leave is extended until after the birth of your baby and Cait is on her feet. Vin, where do you stand?"

"Max found a nurse she trusts to stay with Kel durin' the day, so I'm workin' part-time 'til I get her and the baby home. Hopefully within a week to ten days. I'll officially be Commander in name, but Captain Wilmington will oversee MCAT duties 'til then."

Travis nodded. "Brodie, I'm putting the plans for our Phoenix team on indefinite hold. Your group will be our Delta Team. Where do we stand on the investigation?"

"My men are at Kel and Cait's hospital room doors, while Tai's men will stay on you and Russo. We found the car used in the shooting and identified the fingerprints we discovered." He pulled out copies of his report and passed them around. "Winston and Willis Barlow. Both have long rap sheets, which include assault, auto theft, B&E, and basically anything someone will pay them to do. Winston spent a nickel in prison for attempted rape, and his brother just got out of another Texas prison after an eight-year stint for assault with intent. We don't have a twenty on either…yet."

Vin frowned. "Texas? What the hell are they doin' workin' for the Southerner in Colorado?"

Chris laid down his copy of the report. "Maybe, the bastard's reach is further than we thought."

"Whatever the reason, we'll find them." Buck looked towards Nathan and Josiah. "You, two review the security at the ranch with Walter. Check and double-check everything." Turning to Ezra, he continued, "Ezra, you and I are gonna hit the streets for info, while Brodie and his crew work on finding Winston and Willis from Camp Larabee."

Pleased with what he was hearing, Travis told them, "I trust each one of you to work this out without interference from me. Whatever you need, I'll get. Call me anytime, 24/7 if you run into any closed doors I can open for you. Before I leave, I'll be seeing both Kelli and Cait. So, if you gentlemen will excuse me, my bodyguards and I will leave you to it."

As Travis departed the men looked from one to another. Chris finally spoke, "I believe Travis just gave us carte blanche to get the job done without interference."

Vin glanced at Chris. "You reckon hell just froze over?"

"Well, I for one will take what we can get." Buck stood. "We have work to do, we…"

A shrill alert stopped his words.

"What the hell?" Buck pulled the encrypted phone from his belt and stared at it, waiting for a message.

Vin and Chris in unison said, "Punch in the code, Bucklin."

"Oh yeah... right…" Not used to this part of command, he awkwardly managed to enter the code Vin gave him and read what it said.

"Aw, hell. When shift changed, the replacements found the security guards at the MCAT facility dead." Buck looked at Chris and Vin as he set the alert for Bravo Team and Forensics. "You two stay here. Might be a ruse to divide us and make another attempt on Kel or one on Cait. Brodie, you and your team stay back, too. No need to let whoever's watching know you're involved until we have to. I'll let you all know what's going on when I know."

"Watch your backs." Chris said as Buck, Nathan, Ezra, and Josiah were leaving.

+ + + + + + +

Bravo Team, with Hickok and Cody, as well as Forensics were already on the scene when Buck arrived with Ezra. He turned off the ignition to his truck and exited. Standish fell into step beside him as he walked toward the guard tower which had become a popular spot suddenly. The sound of a second engine turning off, followed by two doors slamming, announced Josiah and Nathan's arrival.

Captain Michaels turned to face them as they approached. "Howard and Cal found them. I took their statements and sent them home. Both were visibly upset and in no condition to work. Our victims are Jim Stinson and Rex Stuart. They took double taps to their heads and chests, execution style."

"Sweet Jesus." Buck swore. "Jim's got a wife and three kids, with another one on the way. Rex is three months from retirement."

"I sent two teams to do a perimeter search of our facilities. Hickok and Cody are checking the outlying structures, evidence storage unit, and Jet hangar. Cordova and Sandoval are doing the same to Russo and Travis' offices, TUV and equipment storage unit, and the helicopter hangar." Justin handed over an evidence bag. "Found this stuck on the door."

Buck took the bag, recognized the signature card and passed it to Ezra. "The bastard decided to hit our home turf." Directing his attention back to Justin he ordered, "Once the outside is cleared, we need a team to sweep the inside of the main building."

"On it." Justin walked away, leaving Buck and the remainder of Alpha Team with Forensics.

Josiah voiced his conclusion, "Our Southerner is getting bolder. It appears there are no limits to who he will kill to gain our attention."

Ezra took slight offense to that comment. "May we please cease referring to that miscreant as 'ours'. Furthermore, as a true Southerner, I resent the connotation of that bastard representing the South."

Nathan hid his smile. "So, noted, Brother."

Buck told Nathan, "You and Josiah stay with Forensics. Ezra, with me." He began walking toward HQ, meeting Justin in the center of the parking lot.

Justin reported. "No buildings show any indication of a break-in. The fence is secure as are the jets and helicopters. No sign of our shooter, either. Awaiting your order to breach the office."

Buck nodded. "Mark, before we enter, have Bandit check the main door." He waited for the K-9 to sniff around the entrance.

Mark signaled clear, and Buck turned to Justin. "We'll split into three units. I'll take Ezra, Hickok, and Cody up the middle to the stairs and check out the Commander's office. You, Alex, and Raphael go left toward com/sat. Have Guy lead Brad, Mark, and a leashed Bandit toward the Captains' offices on the right. Since we don't know if our shooter is still here, everyone wears a vest."

Justin gave his team their orders and the men prepared their equipment to enter. Once they were all vested and in their respective places to breach, Buck unlocked the door and pushed inside. Justin lead his group left, Guy took his to the right.

About twenty feet in, Bandit suddenly began straining at his leash and barking wildly. Mark pulled him back, patting the dog in an attempt to calm his frenzy.

Trusting Bandit's K-9 training, Buck yelled, "Get the hell out, now!! "

Making a mad dash toward the exit, Buck knew they were in trouble when he heard an ominous click, moments before the gates of hell swung open. The force of a massive explosion rocked the interior of the office, throwing them off their feet. Intense heat erupted from the site of the blast, which sent razor sharp projectiles of metal, shrapnel, and nails flying in all directions. Seconds later, the upstairs floor caved in, collapsing into the flames below.

Evil was primed to seek out and claim whichever souls were most vulnerable this day.

Chapter 4

Nathan grabbed Josiah's arm to remain upright when the repercussion of the blast shook the guard tower. Both watched in horror as flames shot thirty feet into the air and the building crumbled before their eyes. Momentarily stunned, Josiah was the first to react, shouting to Bones as he and Nathan ran toward what used to be the MCAT office.

"Get Fire, Rescue and EMS here a.s.a.p.!"

They felt the intense heat, long before they reached dazed, bloody agents staggering away from the shattered entrance. Injuries varied from burns and contusions to bloody wounds and broken bones. Most suffered some form of concussion from the blast and all were in a state of shock. Bones and Kat threw together a makeshift triage, while Greg assisted getting the injured to safety.

Josiah pulled an injured Buck back from the building, preventing his attempt to re-enter the structure.

"Whoa, Brother. You need to sit down."

Buck shook his head. "More inside…freaking nail bombs…need to go."

Josiah assured him, "We'll get them. You stay put." Handing Buck over to Bones, he went back to direct more of the injured to triage.

Nathan found Ezra with a deep gash on his neck. With his dazed, bleeding brother leaning against him he found a spot near Buck for him to sit. "Ezra, do not move."

Josiah discovered an unconscious Mark with Bandit standing over him, licking his face. "Easy boy. I'm gonna move your master to a safer place."

By the time the fire and rescue trucks arrived, seven of the ten agents who went inside were accounted for and although injured, were safe. Rescue began their search for the three missing men.

Cordova insisted he could fly the MCAT Chopper. Pushing Bones away he mumbled, "I'm good. Need to get the others to the hospital."

Bones pushed back. Examining Raphael, he found a knot the size of a plum on the back of his head and deemed him unfit for flying. "They'll get there, but not with you as a pilot."

After helping their teammates, Nathan and Josiah took in the gravity of their situation. Obviously, the executions of Jim and Rex were meant to draw the team into a well-planned trap, with intent to maim or kill. Unfortunately, it worked. Three men were still inside the smoldering mass of rubble and presumed dead. The deliberate use of nail bombs causing devastating injuries to their fellow agents, plus, the colossal destruction around them, sent a clear message. The target was never one person. The Bastard orchestrated every move he made with the sole purpose of destroying MCAT by any means possible.

Too many had died in the attempt, all collateral damage to the man's end game.

Clenching his hands into fists, Josiah fumed. "The son of a bitch's days are numbered."

Nathan cringed as he scanned the vests Bones removed from the injured, they were embedded with pieces of shrapnel. While they waited on EMS, his anger grew to match his brother's. "Agreed. We may be down, but we're not out."

Bones approached Josiah. "Cordova is grounded. You're gonna hav'ta pilot our medical chopper to transport Standish, Westin, Wilmington, and Michaels. Cody, Hickok, and Cordova can travel by ambulance."

Josiah nodded, and faced Nathan before he left to prepare the chopper. "Appears, you're in charge, Brother. Better call Vin and Chris with an update. Tell them to expect incoming."

+ + + + + + +

Less than forty-five minutes after Buck left for the murder scene, Kelli's door opened. Vin rose from his chair beside her bed and moved protectively to the foot of her bed. One of Brodie's men stood there with a matronly woman, who had a huge cargo bag slung over her shoulder and was pulling a rolling suitcase behind her. She had spiky, pink tipped, silver hair, brown eyes behind rhinestone rimmed glasses, and wore a matching set of scrubs with unicorns and rainbows all over them.

Setting her suitcase in the corner she turned to the young couple. "Mister and Missus Tanner. I'm Charlene Leighton, Max's friend, but everyone calls me Charlie." She crossed over to where he stood and offered him her hand.

Vin shook it. "Max speaks highly of you."

"She should. If it wasn't for me, she'd never have gotten through boot camp." Charlie chuckled as she flashed Kelli a wide smile. "Thought she'd never make it over that blasted wall!"

Charlie dug into the large tote bag she had slung over one shoulder and pulled out a handful of slightly crumpled pieces of paper and handed them to Vin. "My resume and references. You'll find I've dotted all my i's and crossed all my t's. I expect you'll want to give my specs a thorough read over, but for now I'll lay out the highpoints. I've been a nurse for 35 years. Twenty of those years, I served our great country. After my discharge, honorably of course, I transferred my skills to a career in the private sector. I've worked with clients aged 2 months to 99 years and I dedicate myself to my charges 100%. I'm a soft touch when it comes to children though. Each is a miracle from the Almighty!"

She paused to catch her breath. Kelli hid a smile behind her hand, while Vin wondered what he'd gotten himself into. Charlie was nothing like he'd expected. With her pink tipped hair and flamboyant personality, she was the total opposite of conservative, organized Max. Though, how she fixed her hair, dressed or talked didn't matter, as long as she was capable of giving Kelli and Rebel the care they needed.

Holding the crumpled pages, Vin glanced down and saw a few cookie crumbs and Cola stains on the paperwork. Looking at Charlie he asked, "Did Max explain what we needed?"

"Yes, indeedy, she did, and the unusual circumstances, which brought about the unfortunate incident, which put you in this position. I came prepared. Should you agree to engage my services, I will be staying right here for the duration. As you can see, I have my suitcase." Rooting around in her tote, she told him, "I also am versatile when protecting my charges." Whipping out a .38 revolver, she smiled when Vin jumped to his feet, while reaching for his holster. "Easy there, Son, the safety is on. I only wanted to show you why you need not worry about your wife and daughter when Charlie is on the job." She replaced the weapon in a hidden compartment in her bag.

Vin mumbled something about another female trying to give him a heart attack.

Kelli openly laughed and told Charlie, "You're hired."

Vin gave Kelli a dubious look. "Kel, shouldn't we discuss this?"

While the Tanners were distracted, Charlie leaned over the bassinet, lifted Rebel into her arms and conversed softy with their daughter. The tender, caring expression on the older woman's face said all they needed to know.

Kelli prodded Vin to observe the exchange. Shaking his head, he told his wife. "I reckon our discussion is over." Addressing Charlie, he said, "You're hired."

"Wonderful. I'll let the hospital staff know we need a roll-away brought in. Don't worry Mister Tanner, I may be a bit eccentric, but no one will give better care to your family than me." After offering her assurances, Charlie continued to speak softly to the baby.

Before he could respond to Charlie's statement, an overwhelming urgency filled his senses. He was certain his brothers were in trouble. As he reached for his cell, it rang.

Recognizing Nathan's number, Vin answered and told him to hold a minute. "Kel, I need to take this."

She knew Vin had been waiting for a call. Worried about the unease she saw in his eyes, Kelli said, "Do what you need to, Tanner. Charlie, Rebel, and I will do fine together."

He leaned down, kissed his wife, then with a curt nod to Charlie. "I might be gone a while, but I'll be back as soon as I can."

"No hurry, Sir. Your missus and I will spend the time getting acquainted."

+ + + + + + +

Semi-assured that Kelli and Rebel were in good hands, Vin stepped into the hallway and continued his call from Nathan, "Tell me." As he listened, the muscles in his neck tightened, while a surge of anger threatened his control. "I'll prepare things on this end and get you some help on the scene. Hang in there, Brother."

Mentally, Tanner listed all he needed to do as he hurried down the hallway. Before he reached Cait's room to see Larabee, he saw Chris coming his way. Their perpetual familial connection warning them their brothers were in trouble.


Vin repeated all that Nathan had told him. "You alert Gilford and meet Josiah when he lands. I'm gonna call Brodie to help Nate and arrange an escort for Inez and Barbara to come here. Then, I'll call Travis to tell him, and arrange to borrow the jet. It's time for JD to come home."

Chris nodded. "Meet you in the ER."

+ + + + + + +

Their day passed quickly as JD gave Tess a tour of his old neighborhood. He showed her the house he grew up in and pointed out the schools he'd attended. They even spent some time browsing the old comic book store that used to be his favorite place to hang out after school on the afternoons his mom worked late. Before leaving the area, they visited his mom's grave in Forrest Hill Cemetery.

"The girls are going to look so pretty in the dresses we picked out for them." Tess commented to JD as they exited one section of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

"Yes, they will." JD agreed. "JJ will be adorable in the Red Sox jersey we got him. I can't wait until he's a little older to start teaching him how to play baseball."

"You should teach the girls how to play as well. I loved playing baseball when I was younger."

"If the girls want to learn, I'll teach them too. Are you hungry yet?"

"Yes. You want to eat in one of the restaurants here or go somewhere else?"

"Here is fine. We can go to Bistro du Midi or Back Deck."

"Back Deck sounds like a comfy place to eat. Let's go there."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

They strolled along the walkway, holding hands, pausing momentarily to take pictures in front of Brewer Fountain. It was a 22-foot-tall, 15,000-pound bronze fountain, two tiered and around its base were chiseled sea nymphs and Parisian god statues.

"Jonathan! Hey Jonathan!"

Neither paid attention to the name being called as they continued walking toward Back Deck. It was only when they both caught the distinct sound of rapid footsteps approaching them, that JD switched instinctively from doting husband to MCAT Agent.

He whirled around to face the possible threat, pushing Tess behind him with his left arm, while reaching for his weapon with his right hand. Instead of finding the reassuring butt of his gun, he found only his waistband. Cursing under his breath, he watched warily as a man with crew cut blond hair, roguishly handsome face, and a lithe body jogged up to them at a rapid pace.

"Wow man, what has it been…sixteen or seventeen years since we graduated St. Sebastian's?" He exclaimed coming to an abrupt halt in front of them.

"I'm sorry…" JD started, but the man cut him off.

"Come on man, don't try to pull the 'I don't know you' routine on me." He chuckled, trying to step around JD to get a better look at Tess.

"Hi. I'm Douglas Jenkins. What's your name?"

"You don't need to know her name." JD growled. "I don't know who you think I am, but I can assure you that I am not this ‘Jonathon' fellow you are talking about."

The man frowned as he locked gazes with JD. "Jonathan, I don't know what game you're playing at but…"

"I'm not playing any games." JD said firmly. "I've never seen you before in my life. I would appreciate it if you would step away now and leave us in peace."

Douglas, catching the lethal tone in his voice, obligingly nodded and after a brief nod in Tess' direction, left the Dunnes alone.

"Wow, that was weird."

"Yeah, it was."

JD stared for a long moment after the man, before turning his attention onto his wife. "You okay? He didn't scare you, did he?"

"I'm fine." She was quick to assure him. "Are you?"

"Yeah." He grinned reassuringly at her. "Come on, let's go eat. I'm starving."

After taking a mere ten steps, JD experienced an overwhelming spectrum of images rushing through his head. He almost stumbled from the intense whirlwind of mental activity.

"John Daniel?"

Shaking his head, he reached for his phone, but before he cleared it from his belt, it rang., identifying Tanner as the caller. Swiping answer, he started, "How bad?"

"Bad enough. Need you home, Brother. The MCAT jet is on its way to you. Tom will land at Logan International, seven o'clock, your time. Call me when you're in the air and I'll update you on everythin' then."

"Will do." JD didn't want to know details right now. The only important thing …His brothers needed him.

Turning to Tess, he told her, "Sorry Sweetheart, our honeymoon's over. We're headed home."

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Josiah stood side by side as Buck, Ezra, Justin and Mark were rushed into trauma rooms. Standing in the same ER waiting room that Vin paced only twenty-four hours earlier gave Chris an eerie feeling. *Cowboy said we'd be tested, but when the hell is it over?*

Vin answered Larabee's thoughts as he walked into the room. *If we're bein' tested, we damn well better be passin'. I'm getting' really tired of this shit.* To Josiah he asked, "Any medical updates?"

Shaking his head, Josiah answered, "No. Four in Trauma and three on the way in by ambulance."

"Three still missing on scene." Chris added as he watched the double doors. "You get things lined out?"

"Yeah. Brodie and six men are with Nathan and Bandit. Max corralled Gunny to organize babysittin' at the ranch. Tia Isabella, Cait's folks, Tess' parents, Mallory, Jesse, Bianca, and Rain all volunteered to help. Two of Tai's men are escortin' Barbara and Inez here. Another two went out to meet Beth Michaels. I told them to bring overnight bags."

Chris glanced at him. "And JD?"

"JD and Tess are comin' home. I asked dad to picked up JD's MCAT phone and creds on his way to the scene to give to our pilot. Tom will give 'em to JD when he and Tess board in Boston. He'll have 'em on the ground at the MCAT field by eight-thirty our time. Josiah, would you meet them with the chopper and bring 'em here?"

Glancing at his watch, Josiah saw it was only five-thirty. "No problem, I'll meet the jet on the field. That way neither of them will see the damage or the bodies on scene."

Chris looked at Vin. "You tell him everything?"

"Not yet, but he feels as much as we do. I'll fill him in on details, once he's in the air."

Chris, in a calm even tone, betrayed by the tension radiating from every pore of his body, said, "I can't get too far from this place until Cait delivers. But as soon as we know what's needed to get Buck and Ezra on their feet, the seven of us are finishing this. That bastard is going down, whatever it takes."

+ + + + + + +.

Two ambulances arrived with Cody, Hickok, and Cordova. Chris spoke briefly with each before they were taken to trauma rooms.

Nathan, who rode in with Cordova, gave Vin, Josiah, and Chris a full report. "It appears there was more than one bomb, apparently set off remotely. Our lab, ME office, morgue, jet and chopper hangers were untouched. The main offices, storage, equipment room, and com/sat was destroyed. The worst news, it's doubtful anyone else survived. Rescue is now in recovery mode. Fire Captain Roberts says it could be morning before they can get in there and remove the bodies or determine the origins of the bombs.

"Dear Lord." Josiah uttered a short prayer and asked for a moment of silence.

Once passed, Nathan continued, "Brodie set up a team to stay on the property overnight with the fire department. He should be in here soon, with Bandit. Dog hasn't left his side since he arrived on scene."

Chris could only nod until the lump in his throat cleared. "Five good men lost their lives today This, ends now! I want that son of a bitch's neck in a noose hanging from the highest tree we can find!"

"Channelin' Cowboy again, Pard?" Vin questioned his words, but truth be told he felt the same way.

"Sounds right to me." Travis walked in just as Chris finished. "Whatever has to be done. Do it. You let me worry about any fallout."

Chris cut his gaze to Travis. "He's going down, and it won't be pretty when he does."

Travis met Chris' eyes. "Understood."

"I'm going to return the med chopper to the field and change over to the transport helicopter. When our jet comes in, I'll bring Tess and JD straight here." Josiah moved to leave.

"Sanchez, you tell JD I have a suite reserved for him and his wife at the hotel across the street." Travis saw Josiah's nod of acknowledgment as he left. Turning to Vin, he said, "I also have suites ready for the ladies and have made all the notifications necessary."

"Speaking of ladies, I believe they have arrived." Chris watched as three women entered the ER.

Barbara rushed into the waiting area. "Vin, any word on Ezra?"

"Not yet." He guided Barbara to a row of chairs.

Inez's face was pale, and she took a deep breath. "Buck?"

Chris shook his head. "I'm, sure the doctor will come out and update us, soon." Concerned about Inez's pregnant state and the shocked look on Beth's face, Chris ushered them to sit next to Barbara. The women clasped hands and comforted one another.

Vin looked at his watch. "JD should be airborne. I need to fill him in on details about Delta Team, Tai's men and …" he hesitated to discuss their mole or the agents' deaths in front of the women. "Plus update him about today's events." Tanner stepped outside to make that call.

+ + + + + + +

Time passed slowly as it always did when waiting. This go round it was well over two hours before Doctor Gilford walked out. The men stood and urged the ladies to remain seated.

Gilford found an empty seat between Inez and Beth and sat down. "Open report same as before?"

Chris saw no objections from, Inez, Barbara, or Beth. "We're family. Go ahead."

"Fortunately, we're not dealing with life-threatening injuries. I understand they were all wearing vests, which in my opinion saved them from more serious wounds. The reason it's taken so long to get with you is simple. Varying types and sizes of metal from the bomb made several penetrating entrances into each agent. It has been a slow process to remove all of it without surgery. All seven agents suffered concussions, ranging from mild to grade two. Also, burns, deep bruising and abrasions."

Doctor Gilford then addressed specific agents, "Missus Michaels, your husband has two compound fractures, arm and leg, both on the right side. We reduced each and I believe we can by-pass surgery. Missus Wilmington, Buck has a lot of stitches. His left forearm took forty-two, a gash on his forehead, twelve, and one on his leg took another fifteen. Missus Standish, Ezra has a deep gash on his neck and an assortment of smaller penetrating injuries. All three will recover given a few days' rest. Westin has a grade four concussion. He did rouse once asking for someone named Brandi or Ban, Banta, not sure."

"Bandit, his dog." Nathan supplied the correct name. "Specifically, his partner, an explosives detection dog, also a Federal Agent."

Gilford nodded. "The dog survived?"


"Good. As for your other agents. Hickok and Cody, multiple lacerations, and Cordova the same. All concussed, which means I'll have seven of your agents admitted for a minimum of overnight and then we'll assess their conditions tomorrow." Gilford looked at Travis. "Before I escort these ladies to see their loved ones, I have a question. Given our history, and the fact that two of your agents are already here with their wives, I'm certain you require your agents to room together and with security. Short of designating an entire hospital floor for MCAT, do you have a plan?"

Travis nodded. "Actually, I do. Let's get these ladies to their men and I'll tell you about it as we walk." To Vin and Chris, he said, "Once these ladies are settled, I'm going home. I'll be back tomorrow morning. Whatever we have to do to end this war, we do. Goodnight."

+ + + + + + +

During the next hour, several things took place. Seven agents were moved into two adjoining rooms. Buck, Ezra, and Justin shared one, while Westin, Hickok, Cordova, and Cody shared another. None of the agents were very alert. Ringing ears, concussions, and pain combined with meds left them more asleep than awake. After short visits, Nathan and Travis, plus bodyguards, escorted the ladies across the street to their hotel rooms. Brodie arrived with Bandit and conferred with Chris and Vin about security for the night and plans for the next day. The elder Tanner returned to Camp Larabee with the promise of coming back early in the morning. After he shared breakfast with his grandchildren and drove the older two to school.

Chris checked on Cait, while Vin checked on Kelli and Rebel, each updating their wives. Satisfied all were okay, they headed to the landing pad to meet the chopper. Josiah called and said they were six minutes out.

Standing there waiting for the helicopter, Chris sighed, "Are you certain it's only been thirty-two hours since we had Chinese for lunch?"

Vin was quiet for a few moments as he mentally counted. "More like thirty-three… and a half but feels like years."

Now Chris was the quiet one before he mused. "It's never over. Any break we get is just a lull before the next bad thing happens. You ever wondered if the job is worth going through all this hell?"

"Yeah, I've thought about it a lot. Especially the past thirty-three and a half hours ".

Chris nodded. "Me, too."

"Incomin'." Vin watched as Josiah circled the landing zone.

As the chopper landed, a surge of energy swept though both men. Their connection was completed, all seven were together again. Chris and Vin stepped forward to grab the couple's bags, while JD assisted Tess to the ground.

With his arm around his wife, JD looked at Chris. "Hell of a mess, isn't it?"

"More like pure hell." Chris sighed, "The guys are out of it and it's late. Travis has a suite ready for you two. Get some sleep. See your kids in the morning. We'll all meet and decide then on our next move."

Josiah took the bags from Chris and Vin. "Nathan is still at the hotel with the ladies. I'll take these bags over, get everyone settled, and then he and I will take the chopper to back to the field. From there, we're going home. What time you want us here?"

Vin answered. "Nine o'clock is fine."

JD turned before he, Tess, and Josiah walked across the street. Imparting wisdom garnished over the ages, he felt his brothers' needed reminding. "Sometimes we do all the right things and end up with bad results. Tomorrow we'll start over, seven strong, and change those results. See you guys in the morning."

Chapter 5

Vin ran a hand through his unruly hair and yawned. He felt like he'd barely slept at all. After checking on his wife and child last night, and then meeting JD and Tess at the chopper, he was wiped. Kelli, Rebel, and Charlie were asleep when he returned to his wife's room for the second time around midnight. As tired as he was, he figured he'd been hallucinating when he'd been by earlier to update Kelli and saw the makeover her room went through in his absence. It baffled him how quickly a room could change so drastically in a short amount of time. This morning, it was all still here.

His bed for the duration of Kelli and Rebel's stay in the hospital, was moved over to make room for a rocking chair. Rebel's bassinet stood beside it, then Kelli's bed. He wondered where the hell a mini refrigerator came from. Sterile hospital blankets disappeared under bright quilts. The pillows were covered in in the same colors of hot pink, fuchsia, purple, and blue. Sporadically, across the floor, were matching cheery oval rugs. Charlie's tote bag and suitcase were stashed under the roll-away in the corner. On top of the mini fridge stood a large container of peanuts, a box of moon pies, and a bag of cheesy popcorn. Inside, cans of Pepsi, tapioca pudding, and assorted coffee creamers filled the shelves.

Seeing his wife was still sleeping, Vin decided to take a quick shower while Charlie was out of the room. First though, he stopped to visit with Rebel. Standing quietly over her bassinet his heart melted when he saw her in the same sleeping position Kelli favored.

Taking a shower revived him but couldn't get rid of his thoughts about the devastating events of yesterday. When he turned off the water, he heard voices in the outer room. Dressing quickly, he exited and found Kelli awake, and talking to a petite young woman taking her vitals.

"Mornin' Baby, " Vin said, tossing his dirty clothes on the other bed. The nurse left as he sidled up to Kelli's side.

Taking his hand, she studied his eyes, looking for the apprehension she'd seen last night. "Mornin' yourself. You okay?"

"Okay about you, the rest, not so much. But let me worry about what needs doin' out there." He leaned down anticipating a kiss, which was interrupted by the arrival of Charlie.

"A little help here, Vin. I kinda got carried away in the cafeteria."

He walked over to relieve Charlie of some of the items she carried. "Kelli said it was okay to call you Vin, but I won't call you Vin if you don't want me to. If you prefer Vin, I can stay with it. If you don't, I'll either call you Mister T or Mister Tanner."

Vin put his hand up to stave off her chatter. "Vin's fine."

"Good, then." Charlie took a plate loaded with bacon, eggs, a side of biscuits and gravy, and set it on the bed tray in front of Kelli. "A good hearty meal is always in order when one's healing."

Frowning, Vin objected. "I'm not sure that's on her diet." His comment earned him a Larabee glare from his wife as the door opened.

Doctor Gilford entered and quickly assessed the situation. "Dear Lady, what are you doing to my patient?"

"Feeding her breakfast, of course." Charlie smiled sweetly at him.

Doctor Gilford moved over to the bed. "We'll see about that."

He glared at Charlie who wisely stepped away from the bed. After examining Kelli's incisions and reviewing her chart, he smiled at her.

"Does that smile mean I get to keep the food?"

"Today," he handed the biscuits and gravy to Charlie, "half this breakfast. Tomorrow regular diet. The other amenities let's hold off on." He glanced from Kelli to Vin. "Doing better. Another few days and we'll discuss our options."

As he moved to exit, he placed his hand on Vin's shoulder and whispered, "Where did you find her?"


Doctor Gilford chuckled as he cast a backhanded wave and left the room.

Vin moved around Charlie, who was hovering over his wife and reducing her portion sizes, to claim his kiss and tell Kelli. "I will probably be out most of the day. No Quidditch games while I'm gone."

Kelli smiled, "No promises." Her demeanor turned serious. "Watch your back Tanner and come back to me in one piece, please."

+ + + + + + +

"I talked to Mom and Dad. Our kids are fine." Tess turned to JD as she hung up the hotel phone. "They don't expect to see us until later in the week anyway. So, I'm going to stay with Inez, Barbara, and Beth, and help in any way I can."

JD pulled her into his arm and said, "None of you are going anywhere without security. As soon as you ladies are ready, we'll all go to the hospital together."

+ + + + + + +

In the Larabee hospital room, things were much more serious. After discussing the recent situations, Cait and Chris agreed that as events unfolded the risks of stress increased. When Doctor Weeks finished her morning rounds, Chris asked her to stay for a few moments.

"Here's the deal. In light of what's happened in the last forty-eight hours, I cannot guarantee things will remain calm until Cait's due date. In fact, I expect more surprises in the next few days. My question is, what options do we have to prevent further stress from threatening a safe delivery?"

Doctor Weeks glanced at Cait's chart and stats on the monitors. "Ideally, we go to the due date. Realistically, and with my experience with the history of MCAT's work, the risks will increase if additional negative actions occur. I would like to see Cait make it to the end of the week without medical complications. If she does that, I'll have no reservations scheduling a c-section."

Chris and Cait exchanged a look, with her answering for both. "Let's do it."

"I'll schedule it for next Monday, unless your stats change, or your daughter decides to make an early appearance." Doctor Weeks patted Cait on the leg. "Your job is to remain calm until then."

+ + + + + + +

Answering his cell as he stepped out of the room, Vin saw Chris coming down the hall. "Okay, that's doable. See you then."

Larabee reached him as the call ended and Vin asked, "How's Cait?"

"Considering everything that's happened, she's doing okay. Kel?"

"Better." They walked to the elevator and Vin pushed the down button. "Dad called. Wants to move our meetin' to eleven. Said he may have somethin' solid to share by then."

"That gives us time to convince the ladies to go home. Security for everyone is turning into a nightmare." The two entered the elevator car for the ride down one floor.

Vin sighed, "It's gonna take more than you and me to convince 'em."

"Who said we had to do it alone?" Chris moved in front of Vin as they exited. "You take the first room, I'll go to the second and call Travis, Josiah, and Nathan about our meeting."

+ + + + + + +

When Vin entered, Cody and Hickok were in a discussion with Cordova speculating about the type of bomb used yesterday.

"Had to be more than one." Cody argued before he noticed Commander Tanner.

"Why don't we ask the boss man?" Hickok nodded towards the door. "Sir, do we know the specs on the bomb?"

"Still waitin' on that report." Vin noticed Mark had his back to the others, concerned this blast may have brought back bad memories. He was also injured by the RPG that destroyed their last MCAT office. "Y'all look a helluva lot better than you did last night."

"Doc's holding me and Cody a few more days for observation and to heal." Hickok shrugged. "Personally, I'm ready to leave now."

Raphael joined in, "Doctor said except for a headache for a few days and the ringing in my ears, I should be good by the end of the week. Alicia was all set to come down from Boulder, but I told her to hold off a few days."

"Good thinkin'. Until we know what we're up against, the fewer civilians here the better." Vin thought for a moment before saying, "I don't know what all y'all remember, but later today I'm gonna need statements from all of you. So, if you want to write it down before then that's fine."

Cody frowned. "I don't remember much."

"It's okay, just write what you know." Vin gripped Mark's covered foot and gently shook it. "You okay?"

Mark was quiet for so long, Vin thought he wasn't going to answer. Finally, he saw Westin's shoulder move and received a one word reply. "No."

Moving around the bed to see Mark's face he said, "Tell me what you need."

Sighing deeply Mark's voice broke as he recalled, "The last thing I remember was watching Bandit fly through the air. I know he's dead."

"Bandit is fine, Mark. He took up with my dad at the scene and he's out at the ranch being spoiled as we speak."

Mark tried to sit up. "Really? He's okay?"

"Yep." Vin assisted the younger agent to a better position. "Josiah told me Bandit was right there beside you when he found you."

Nodding, Mark attempted to clear the wetness from his eyes. "So, everyone's okay?"

It was then that Vin realized they didn't know about their teammates. "Captains Wilmington and Michaels are in the room next door with Standish." He hesitated for a moment. "I'm sorry to be the one tellin' y'all, but Garrison, Sandoval, and Saunders…didn't make it out."



"Oh God."

"Son of a bitch."

Tanner saw the questions coming and halted them before they were voiced. "There's not much I can fill in for y'all until I see the reports from the fire department and forensics'." He hated seeing the pain in their eyes. "Soon as I know more, I'll let y'all know. In the meantime, heal. It's gonna take all of us to finish the job of findin' the man responsible."

Tanner left a group of somber agents to work through their feelings.

+ + + + + + +

Chris' task was much less heart-wrenching. Buck, Ezra, and Justin were already working on their wives to go home, a much safer place. Plus, JD filled in the missing blanks in their memories. The three senior agents kept up a good front while the women were there, making it easier to convince them to leave.

"Inez, Honey, I'm gonna be fine. You need to be home, off your feet, taking care of our babies."

JD reiterated Buck's message. "Inez, I'll keep an eye on Buck for you."


"Shh, no buts. I'm good, I promise." Buck waited, relieved when she finally nodded.

Ezra held Barbara's hand. "Sweetheart, I'll be on my feet and working before you know it. I'm certain Pearl misses you and Bianca is worried. They need you right now more than I do."

She may not agree, but Barbara yielded to her husband's wishes. "I'll go, but you'd better be as good as you say you are."

Chris looked over at Justin, who was engaged in a similar conversation with his wife.

"Beth will be leaving with you ladies." Justin kissed his wife's hand and whispered his goodbye.

It pleased Chris that he didn't have to order them to leave. "Ladies, give me a few minutes to arrange your escorts." He stepped out the door and spoke with the guards, who radioed another team on the ground floor. Re-entering the room, he announced, "Five minutes. Your details will stop by the hotel for your personal items before taking you home. Tess, will you join them?"

"She will." JD pulled his wife aside. "Honey, I need to work. Please go home, so I won't have to worry about your safety."

Tess frowned. "I could stay with Cait or Kelli or something."

Chris intruded. "While I'm certain Cait and Kelli would welcome your company, it would only add to our concerns about security if you stay."

She exhaled and turned to JD. "I'll go, but you better call me if it's late before you can come home." Instead of answering, JD gave her a long, slow, kiss goodbye.

The women spent the extra precious minutes with their spouses and were ready when the security detail arrived. Once the door closed behind them, Buck, Ezra, and Justin unleased their anger and openly showed their physical pains.

"What the hell went wrong out there?" Buck grimaced when he moved.

JD laid his hand Buck's uninjured shoulder. "We don't have answers, yet, but we will."

Chris' gaze scanned the room, reading the same questions on each agent's face. "Quite honestly, I have no idea, yet, why or how yesterday happened. I do know five good men died. I also know that at this moment we have eight agents as patients in this hospital. Additionally, I know the bastard responsible for it all is still out there. I understand you all need time to recover, but heal fast, we have work to do."

+ + + + + + +

Using the same conference room as before, part of Alpha Team, Brodie, and Travis planned a meeting to discuss their options. Josiah and Nathan arrived early, both still dealing with the shock of yesterday's explosion. Travis entered next, leaving his personal bodyguards outside the door. After their visits with the injured, Chris, Vin, and JD walked in and found a place to sit. The only one missing was Brodie.

Travis, who looked as if he'd aged twenty years, began, "After conferring with the doctors this morning, I understand our agents will be out of commission for a while. I notified Pam and Spencer and told them to stand down a few days. Both were understandably upset but offered to help us in any way possible. Gunny and Judy, also devastated, but are available when we need them and have a place for them work." He stopped when Brodie hurried in with an armload of folders and found a chair. "I'm not sure what we need first. We can call in Charlie Team for manpower or my friend Alexander Covington offered to loan us some men from his security agency."

Chris cleared his throat and responded. "I agree we're shorthanded, and security is becoming a nightmare with eight agents in the hospital. Still, Alpha has four men standing. We have Delta Team at Camp Larabee and Tai's men available where we need them. Bringing in extra personnel only gives the bastard more targets."

Nodding, Travis said, "Agreed." Gazing from one man to the next, he then sighed. "Do we know more about what happened?"

"Take one, pass it on." Brodie gave a handful of reports to Vin. "These reports cover everything we know about the executions, the blast, and preliminary forensics. Bones has the deceased and said he needed at least forty-eight hours to complete the autopsies. You can read all of it, but in a nutshell, there were two bombs, both loaded with shrapnel. They were set off manually by remote control."

Nathan furrowed his brows. "You mean the son of a bitch who detonated it watched our agents go in?"

"Appears so." Brodie directed his next comments to Travis. "Sir, I'm aware of how MCAT operates and I respect that. However, my experience is derived from a much darker side of justice. If you want, we will adhere to strictly by the book methods on handling the additional information I have. But, if you'd rather it be settled another way, I suggest you leave this meeting."

"Plausible deniability." Travis mumbled and lowered his head. He understood the choices in front of him. Before today, he would never consider anything but straight line, by the book tactics. Yet those tactics had failed thus far to apprehend the man responsible for too many deaths. Making his decision, he looked up, "I trust you gentlemen to produce results and know you all well enough not to worry about how you obtain them. Should you require my assistance, all you have to do is ask." Travis gathered his notes and departed with one statement. "I will be looking over our rebuilding options."

Once Travis left, Vin asked his father. "What else?"

"Two things actually. We found the Barlow brothers in the county morgue. A hiker discovered their bodies in the foothills yesterday."

"That's good right?" JD glanced from brother to brother. "I mean if they were the ones who attempted to murder Kelli and they're dead. No more problem."

Josiah shook his head. "It means, they failed and died for it. Whoever killed them is supposed to finish the job."

"Whoever it is better be damned good to get past the men I have at Kel's door." Brodie laid a hand on Vin's forearm. "Any idea how soon she can be released?"

"Doc said we'd discuss options in a few days." Vin's mind raced as he tried to think of an alternative. "Ideally, I'd rather her and Rebel be on the ranch, but I'm at a loss to figure out how."

"Did they find a card near the bodies?" Chris had one of his gut feeling about the news.

"No, which makes me believe the attempt on Kel's life is not connected to the Southerner." Brodie pulled out another sheet of paper and gave it to Vin. "We're delving into past cases she worked on before MCAT. Even looking into Mackenzie's death for any thread of a connection. So far, nada."

"Or someone who wants to hurt me or Vin." Chris thought about previous attempts to get to him through his children. "Ice and Devereaux tried it."

Brodie nodded. "Which is why we're not dismissing that possibility."

"Shoot, if you're having to go that route, it's like looking for a needle in a stack of needles." JD considered how to help. " I could run an algorithm program on CASSIE," he stopped for a moment when he remembered CASSIE's fate, "reckon not. At least not until I do some work to get her back into shape. Her sister at Camp Larabee is good but needs updating."

"JD, when you're ready come check out what we're running at Camp Larabee." Brodie told him before dropping his next bombshell. "I said I have two things. We also discovered, this," he gave them another report, "we found your mole."

Four surprised men sat in stunned disbelief. Finally, Chris spoke, "Are you certain?"


"Then we arrest him." Nathan wanted him behind bars.

JD couldn't believe it. "I had issues thinking it was one of ours, but never in a million years would I have guessed this."

Josiah looked to Chris. "So, what's our plan?"

"We don't have one." Vin stated firmly. "Y'all won't be involved, period."

Chris agreed. "JD, you head out to Camp Larabee and catch up on the new system out there. I'm sure you'll have ideas to implement. Josiah, Nathan, you two, stay with our injured brothers and agents. I'll feel better knowing we don't just rely on Tai's men for protection. He turned to Brodie. "You have a place?"

"I do." Brodie waited for Larabee's next words.

"Do it." Chris was already making mental plans about asking Donald to stay with Cait.

Brodie stood to leave. "Give me until tomorrow morning. By then our traitor will be ready to talk." He patted his son on the back as he left.

Josiah frowned when Larabee got that look in his eyes. "Chris, you should think about this. Nailing that bastard is not worth risking your future."

"I have thought about this." Chris leveled his gaze on Josiah. "Being on leave and watching events unfold has given me a new perspective. My conclusions, however, may not match yours."

Nathan's anger rose. "You can't expect us to sit back and watch you two take this on alone! It's not how we do things!"

"Not how we have done things in this incarnation." Cowboy's warning about remembering the events, which led us to Rose Field filled his thoughts. "We've come a long way with our Legacy. We connect effortlessly and can combine our energy at will. Those things are the mechanics we needed to master. Our Legacy is timeless, and never have we been restricted in our efforts to root out evil. Not all us will reach the same levels at the same time. Vin and I are ready to unlock the next phase. We don't expect you to blindly follow our decisions. You must freely embrace and accept that our mission from the past cannot be dictated by the rules today."

"What are you saying?" JD shook his head ."We're either all in together or nothing."

"Not this time." Vin glanced to Chris and saw the same resolve he felt. "Our Legacy is to fight for justice, unencumbered by the rules of men. Chris and I are prepared to step across the lines of time and do what is needed. As your Heart Warrior, I know y'all are not there yet and it's okay. Our strength as brothers is unchanged, we are, we were, and we will be. Let your memories guide you to the paths you have taken before. Let us take on this battle for us all."

Chapter 6

A disheveled figure, head covered with a black canvas bag, wearing rumpled night clothes, was half- dragged, half-carried into a 12x12 windowless room.

"Who are you? Why are you doing this to me?"

Big hands shoved the conspirator onto a metal chair, before roughly jerking the prisoner's arms and legs behind it and securing them into place with rope.

"You dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night. Why?"

A shuffling of feet, followed by the slamming of a door, was the only response.

Eerie silence settled around the captive like a heavy weight.

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

Jerking on the taut rope, which secured hands and feet in place proved futile. The ropes were tied too tight.

"Help! Can anyone hear me? Let me out of here!"

Muffled, angry screams echoed off soundproof walls.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah glanced at the clock, deciding he had time for one more cup of coffee. Taking his filled mug to the den, he pulled his Legacy book from the shelf and carried it to his desk. He hoped to find answers for the questions. which kept him awake half the night. He'd only been reading about ten minutes before he heard a knock at the front door. Expecting Nathan, he rose from his chair to answer it. There stood not one brother, but two.

"We need to talk before we go to the hospital." Nathan pushed past him, with JD close on his heels.

Josiah directed them, "In the den. "He barely had time to sit down before being bombarded with questions.

JD paced. "What are we gonna do about Chris and Vin?"

"We can't let them do this." Nathan sat opposite Josiah." Buck and Ezra should know. How do we tell them?"

Josiah let both men rant before he addressed their concerns. "Brothers, relax. Initially, I had the same reaction you two are having. Sometime during the long night, I began to realize a few things. After thinking about it, reading our Legacy book, and digging into my memories, I now understand."

Nathan frowned, "Understand what?"

JD finally sat down. "You gonna share?"

"Let me ask a question first. What exactly do you think Chris and Vin are going to do?"

"Take the law into their own hands, of course. No warrants, no rules, just old fashioned frontier justice." Nathan heard his own words and scowled more.

"Josiah, you know the tactics Brodie used in the CIA were unconventional." JD ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek. "Sometimes in a very gray area of the law."

"Yes, but whether it's frontier justice or CIA tactics, it's on the right side of dealing with injustices." Josiah leaned forward in his chair. "Our Legacy is, and always has been about fighting the same injustices. Over the ages, we've done that in our own way, answering only to our Code. Nothing Chris or Vin said, indicates they will not honor it."

Total silence prevailed as Nathan and JD absorbed their brother's words.

Josiah continued, "It's not the incarnation that defines us. It's our perspective. A thousand years ago or yesterday makes no difference in what we do. Our fate is to do the job using whatever is required to right the wrongs and push back evil, no matter where it takes us. We chose to use MCAT as that method, the rules failed us, and now we continue with what we learned over the ages to get the job done, regardless. Think, Brothers, and remember."

Finally, Nathan nodded, saying the words, but still not certain. "Faith in one another, our code, and our Legacy."

"Learning as we go, allowing our Heart Warrior to lead us in the right direction." JD sighed. "I don't think Buck and Ezra are up for this lesson at the moment."

"Agreed?" Josiah accepted the nods from his brothers as answers, hoping he'd given them enough to consider.

Perpetual presence means never-ending lessons and adjustments in perspective. Today, three more of the seven passed into the next phase of their Legacy.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin met at the front entrance of the hospital by eight. Each apprehensive about leaving their spouses but anticipating a confrontation with their traitor.


"Had a rough night, but Doctor G said it's to be expected." Vin pushed open the door. "I hate leavin' her with some kind of hitman still out there. But Brodie's men are good, and I left her a gun. Cait?"

"Excited to know our daughter's scheduled birthday. Donald is staying with her until I get back."

Having decided to take Chris' Ram, they climbed inside, and set out to the location Brodie gave them.

+ + + + + + +

The Maternity Ward bustled with activity. Nurses manned telephones, updated patient charts, stocked med carts, and fielded the various requests from their charges. Doctors made their rounds from room to room, checking on their patients. New fathers gazed in awed fascination at their offspring through the nursery windows or assisted their wives as they traveled from the nursery back to their rooms.

A lone janitor in a solid blue jumpsuit placed a yellow 'wet floor' placard outside the men's bathroom near the emergency exit. Straightening up, the man's cool grey eyes took in the positions of the two men outside of Room 405, calculating.

The dark-haired one sat in a chair next to the door of Room 405. He was leafing idly through a magazine but wasn't reading it. His brown eyes scanned the area around him. The fair-haired man sat in a chair opposite his companion. His arms were folded across his chest, his massive body utterly still, except for his pale eyes. They were in constant movement, scanning over everyone who came near the room he was guarding.

He'd mistakenly assumed this assignment would be an easy one. He'd expected hospital security or possibly a local DPD officer to be providing security for his target, not professional bodyguards.

After all, he was here to clean up the mess the bungling Barlow brothers made. How hard could it be to kill an injured woman? Why hire amateurs to do a job when you had a professional hit man on your rolodex? He shook his head. Some people had to learn from their mistakes before they believed.

Though they blended in with the others on the floor in their western attire, he'd pegged them for what they were the moment he saw them. He'd been in the business far too long not to recognize others with the same penchant for violence as him.

Their presence outside his target's room, forced him to adjust his strategy. He'd planned to cause a scene of some sort to lure whoever was guarding Kelli Tanner's room, away from their post. He knew that plan would not work with these men. They would not be persuaded to leave her unguarded for any reason.

They would have to be eliminated. No one would keep him from carrying out his assignment. Now he needed to wait until the perfect opportunity arose. That opportunity came sooner than he'd expected.

As he watched, Blondie rose from his chair, spoke quietly with Darkie, before walking down the corridor toward his location. He averted his head as the man passed by him and entered the restroom. He propped the mop he'd been holding in the pail of dirty water and slipped his hand into the pocket holding his weapon.

He walked with purpose down the hallway toward Room 405. He was less than two feet away from Darkie when he slipped his gun out of his pocket, but kept it pressed against his leg so no one saw it until he wanted them to.

He saw Darkie's eyes narrow, then scan over him as he advanced toward him. The hitman smiled as he lifted his weapon and pulled the trigger. Darkie simultaneously drew his own gun and threw himself onto the floor. The bullet lodged in the wall right where his head had been. Chaos erupted around them as medical personnel and patrons alike ran for cover.


He yelled, firing his weapon, and heard another gunshot echo his. The hitman's smile froze momentarily, before he slumped to the floor, dead.

As his partner scrambled to his feet, Blondie moved in on the unmoving suspect. He kicked the weapon out of the downed man's hand and checked the assassin's pulse to confirm what he already knew. No one could live through being shot in the head and through the heart. No one.

"Y'all good?"

Both men, turned to acknowledge their colleagues down the hall, in front of the Larabee room.

"We're good. Call the Commander and fill him in on the situation. We've got to check on Missus Tanner."

The other guard nodded as Blondie and Darkie turned toward Room 405.

"Let's get this over with."

Darkie nodded and pushed on the door, stepping inside with Blondie behind him. Instead of a frightened, crying, injured woman, they found a pissed off Kelli Tanner pointing a Sig Sauer at them.

"What the hell is goin' on out there? This is a hospital for Christ's sake, not a damn shootin' gallery!"

Both men burst out laughing. "You are definitely related to Brodie!"

A slow grin creased Kelli's lips as Charlie made her presence known from behind the two men, her .38 now pointing at the floor instead of at them. "You two want to fill us in on all the commotion outside or are you going to keep laughing like hyenas?"

At her words the two men sobered. "The situation is under control. Our Commander is being notified as we speak."

+ + + + + + +

Tanner and Larabee stood in front of an out of the way cabin, close to L7.

"This place looks damn familiar." Chris grumbled as they nodded to two of Brodie's men and entered.

Brodie greeted them. "Your package is in there." He indicated a closed door in the back. "Arrived at two a.m. and been yelling ever since."

"Then I reckon we need to shut him up." Vin reached for the door knob.

"Wait." Brodie gained his son's attention. "I've done this type of interrogation too many times to count and I have nothing to lose if I go in. You, on the other hand, could lose a helluva lot if this goes sideways. Are you certain?"

"Appreciate you lookin' out for me, Dad, but destiny dictates my actions." Vin glanced at Chris. "Same goes for you Larabee. I can do this alone."

"Like hell. Travis made it clear, I'm on leave. So, that makes me a civilian doing my civic duty." Chris grinned. "Besides. It's our destiny, not only yours."

Brodie held out his hands, palms up. "Hand them over." He shook his head when both men begrudgingly gave him their weapons. "Go, I'll set the camera and recorder. If you need another bad cop, I'll be right here."

+ + + + + + +

Vin opened the door and Chris moved around behind the prisoner.

"Who's there? Look, you have the wrong person. I'm an MCAT agent and people are looking for me."

Chris pulled the bag off and their captive squinted, as his eyes adjusted to the light. "Commander Tanner? Thank God! I knew someone would rescue me." He pulled at his bindings. "Would you untie me?"

Larabee moved into his sight line. "You've been a bad boy."

"S... sir?"

Tanner circled closer, a lethal glint in his eyes. "You're bein' generous, Chris." Vin grabbed the man's collar and twisted the material, choking him. "This is a detestable piece of shit, who doesn't deserve to breathe."

As the man sputtered and coughed, Chis moved to stand beside Vin. "Pard, we should hear what he has to say before you kill him."

Holding the twisted material, Vin waited a few moments before he let go, and shoved off the man. "Five minutes and then he's mine!"

Gasping for air, the soon to be former agent, attempted to speak. "I know my rights. I want a lawyer."

"You don't have any fuckin' rights!" Vin lunged at the man, stopped only when Chris blocked him.

"Not yet, Vin." Palms against Tanner's chest, Chris moved him back, then turned. "He's a bit upset that you are responsible for the death of four MCAT agents and two of our guards."

"No…no…no. .I didn't know anyone would die. I swear!"

"He's lyin' Chris. Let me kill him now." Tanner took a step toward Franklin and the man cringed.

"Keep him away from me." By now Franklin was sweating. "Please, believe me."

Chris crossed his arms. "You see, that's kinda hard because we know you took money to leak information about MCAT. The question is why?"

Pursing his lips, Franklin shook his head. "If I say anything he'll kill me."

"You think I fuckin' won't?" Vin shouted in the man's face, before heaving the chair over. "You son of a bitch! Good men died because of you. Why the hell should you live?"

Blood trickled from a cut on Spencer's head. He was crying and pleading ."No more, please. Just arrest me…no lawyer…I'll go peacefully."

"Like hell you will." Vin righted the chair and was going for Spencer's throat again. "No arrest! No freakin' lawyer! No mercy!"

"Wait! Wait!" Spencer's panicked breathing echoed the room. "What do you want?"

Chris spoke up. "Who did you tell and why?"

"Evans…Tom Evans. I worked with him years ago at the FBI…he's in Denver now…works for, for a security firm." Swallowing hard he asked, "Can I have water?"

"No!" Chris and Vin both shouted.

Angered, Spencer showed his true feelings. "I worked my ass off to show you how good I am! I went to MIT at sixteen! All I've heard is how good JD is, well I could work rings around him. Did you notice? NO! You stuck me in a damn corner in Com/Sat and forgot about me! JD got the cool toys! JD got all the recognition! JD! JD! JD! I'm better than he could ever be, and I got squat! Why should I be loyal to MCAT? What did you all ever do for me! Tom knows how I feel and when he talked to his boss, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse! So, yeah, I took him up on it! I wanted to shake up MCAT, then prove how much you needed me to fix it! I never expected anyone to die!"

Chris stared at Spencer for a good long time. "You have no idea, do you? You signed your own death warrant when you took that offer. The man in charge never leaves loose ends and you, Spencer Franklin are a loose end."

"Too bad you never got to spend your blood money. Even if we send you to prison, the Southerner's reach will find you." Vin had more to say, but a rap on the door interrupted him. "Sit tight. We'll be back."

Tanner and Larabee turned to exit, but Spencer had one more thing to say. "That money was hidden too damn well for you to find, and JD 's not here to trace it. How did you know it was me?"

Chris stopped, turned, and smiled. "You're no JD. Reckon our techs are smarter and better than you."

Both men exited, leaving Spencer to wallow in his self-pity.

+ + + + + + +

Brodie laid his cell on the table and cursed. Another damn complication was not what they needed right now, but it is what it is. He knocked on the door to alert Larabee and Tanner to take a break. A few minutes later the two stepped out of the interrogation room.

"Dad, we're makin' progress. What's so damn important for you to pull us out now?" Vin wasn't done with Franklin.

"We're already working on the info you got, but," He laid his hand on his son's shoulder, "you're needed at the hospital. We have a situation."

Chris closed his eyes, and whispered, "Cait."

"Cait's fine and Kel is, according to my men pissed as hell, but okay. The dead assassin outside her door, however, not so good."

"Son of a bitch! How did the brazen bastard get so close?" Vin quelled his feelings of panic, replacing it with anger.

"Doesn't matter. He failed. However, it's a hell of a mess on the maternity floor. Police, forensics, upset hospital personnel, and my men won't allow any LEO in to question Kelli."

"Damnit! Chris pulled his keys from his pocket, while Brodie returned their weapons.

"You two take care of the hospital. We'll take care of Franklin." Brodie watched as Chris and Vin hurried to the Ram, both on their cells, already working on what was needed.

+ + + + + + +

While JD stayed with their brothers' and fellow agents, Josiah and Nathan rushed up to Kelli's room when Vin called them. They had to get through the crowd in the hallway to reach the police officers who were on scene. Instructing them that their ME was on the way and senior MCAT Agents were taking over the scene. The Federal Agent's words did not go over too well, but the locals reluctantly recognized the fact they were outranked.

Inside the room, Kelli stood beside her bed with Rebel's bassinette safely behind her. She was clearing the nightstand and began issuing orders. "Charlie, pack up all this stuff. We're not stayin."

"Kelli, you need to chill. You're not ready to go home yet. Wearing a sling and with your injuries you can't even lift your baby." Charlie had no idea she'd just thrown gasoline onto a raging fire.

"Chill? Don't tell me to chill! Tell that to the bastards who are tryin' to kill me. My baby is not safe here, neither am I. I AM goin' home with or without your damn help!" She slammed the drawer shut. "You either follow orders or leave and I'll do it myself!"

"Kelli…Missus Tanner…You can't really consider leaving ." Charlie tried reasoning with the angry redhead. "Think about your health, Rebel needs her mama."

An angry glare was Kelli's first response, her second. "You're fired!"

Vin and Chris rushed down the hallway toward Kelli's room. They stopped long enough to confirm Josiah and Nathan had taken charge of the scene.

Nathan waved them on. "We've got this."

Pushing into the room, it took one look at his wife's face for Vin to read the situation. Reining in his own anger, he walked over to stand in front of her, his eyes never leaving hers. "Baby, get off your feet, please."

"I'm goin' home, Vin."

"All right." He guided her back onto the bed. "We'll work it out, but you are gonna rest and let me handle it." He scooted the bassinette closer to the bed before looking at Charlie. "Seemed kinda loud in here from out in the hall. You wanna explain?"

Charlie crossed her arm, "Can't. She fired me."

Chris, who had waited for Vin to calm Kelli before saying anything, turned his attention to Charlie." You can't talk, or you can't explain?"

She shrugged. "Missus said she was leaving, I told her to chill. She fired me."

Chris cringed, knowing how his daughter would react to that remark. He cleared his throat. "Probably not the best thing to say to an angry female."

That comment rekindled Kelli's ire. "I'm not an angry female damnit. We're not safe here and I won't have anyone else in maternity hurt because someone wants to kill me!"

Doctor Gilford entered, and overhearing Kelli's statement went directly over to her. "Young Lady, less than seventy-two hours ago, I watched you die, twice, on my operating table. I meticulously sutured numerous vessels, veins, and torn tissues to put you back together. Not to mention repairing the hole in your lung or the c-section you had. You couldn't honestly believe I'd sign off on you going home."

"Doc, I appreciate your work and am immensely grateful you're as skilled as you are. You kept me and our daughter alive. However, someone wants me dead. I will not stay here and make all the other mothers and babies on this floor additional targets. Whatever you say to do, I'll do at home. Max and Charlie are registered nurses, and Doctor Jackson is nearby if I need her. You don't honestly want to put more patients in jeopardy on my account, now do you?"

Vin mumbled, "Checkmate." Earning him a glare from Doctor Gilford.

Chris listened to his daughter's heated words and an idea formed in his head. "Before you answer, Doc, hear me out. Cait can't leave until after our baby is born. But Kelli and my other seven agents could. If I can arrange care and space for all my agents to heal, wouldn't it be best to rid the hospital of most of the security on the premises?"

Gilford gave Larabee an incredulous look. "You aren't serious?" He sighed when he saw the determined look on Larabee's face and realized the man was indeed serious. "It would take ..." he shook his head, "I can't believe I am even considering such a ludicrous request. Doable yes, but I'm going on record advising against it."

"So, noted." Chris turned to Charlie. "Start a list of equipment, supplies, medications, bedding, etc. needed to turn our empty bunkhouse into an infirmary."

"I'm fired remember." Charlie huffed toward Kelli.

Chris growled. "I'm rehiring you."

Doctor Gilford patted Kelli's leg. "I will write out your instructions and confer with Doctor Jackson. No variations from my orders or next time I might not be close enough to fight for you."

"She'll follow 'em, Doc. Trust me, it's better this way. Kel and the others will be safer on our ranch." Vin assured him.

Turning toward Charlie, Gilford said. "You think you can co-ordinate moving eight patients and providing care?"

"Sir, I was military for twenty years. I can organize operations of any size." Charlie looked over at Kelli. "That is, if the boss lady approves."

Kelli rolled her eyes. "Yes."

"Larabee, you and... uh...Charlie make arrangements for a place to care for my patients. Once you secure it, I'll take care of the medical side of orders and meds." Doctor Gilford exited the room.

With Larabee's determination and Travis' access to funds, several phone calls later, it was a done deal. Travis agreed to have the beds and supplies delivered to L7 by midafternoon. Brodie vetted another nurse to support Charlie and arranged for Beth Michaels to lodge at L7, too. He also enlisted the ranch hands to assist in transforming the empty bunkhouse into a mini hospital ward. By six that evening a caravan of ambulances were headed to L7, relocating seven MCAT agents.

Chris sent Donald home and now sat by Cait's beside. Satisfied his daughter and agents were safe, he and Cait had a few more days before they could join them at the ranch.

By seven, Vin Tanner had his wife and baby home. As their older children gathered round to meet their baby sister, Max's mother hen mode kicked in. She shooed Kelli off to bed and hovered over her to make certain Doctor Gilford's instructions were carried out to the letter.

Brodie stood next to his son, while they watched the children interact with Rebel. "Relax, Son. No one will touch Kel, now that she's home."

"I know, but I hope the hell they'll try. I have a personal message to send to the SOB who ordered the hit on her."

"Patience. You'll get your chance."

Outside of Denver

A panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains stretched out as far as the naked eye could see. Inside the opulent office with its mahogany and leather furniture, a phone rang, and paperwork was set aside to answer it.

"We have a problem."

"I'm listening."

"Franklin's gone and someone is snooping around Tom Evans' digital records."

"Damn it!"

A fist slammed down onto the top of a rich mahogany desk, ruffling papers, and sending pens and other office supplies flying into the air.

"See to it that Evans is eliminated. Find Franklin before MCAT does."


He seethed inwardly. No way would a drunken ex-FBI agent and a narcissistic techie bring down an empire it had taken thirty years to build.

Chapter 7

Charlie double checked the medical supplies, while Norma Burns retrieved the last of the breakfast trays. Doctor Gilford made sure all seven agents were heavily sedated for their move from the hospital to the L7. Director Travis had also been very generous with a budget for her to operate with, and she planned to make this a comfortable stay for her charges.

Her patients were now alert enough to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings and finish breakfast. Charlie closed the door of the cabinet and turned around to introduce herself. "Morning boys. You probably don't remember most of yesterday evening, but now we have a chance to get to know each other. I am Charlene Leighton, but you can call me Charlie."

As she spoke, Charlie paced from one side of the room to the other, in front of the seven beds. "I'll give you a short version of my credentials. I proudly served twenty years in our great Navy as a registered nurse. Once I was honorably discharged, I moved into the private sector. I am more than qualified to handle any medical needs you require."

"Your qualifications are admirable however, I prefer the comforts of my own abode." Ezra voiced his concerns.

"Not going to happen, Slick."

Buck chuckled. "She's got your number Ez."

Raphael laughed at the two and immediately regretted it when pain engulfed his head.

Ezra glared at Wilmington and Cordova while Charlie continued her introduction.

" As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted. This is not my first rodeo. Over the years, I've dealt with numerous male patients. I have listened to them whine, cry, complain, bitch, moan, and groan. I'm like Teflon, it all slides right off. It doesn't faze me in the least. You will all adhere to my three simple rules. Charlie is in charge. Charlie is always right. You will not argue with Charlie."

She came to an abrupt halt in the center of the room and faced them. "If you forget rules number one, two, and three, there will be dire consequences."

"Have we been drafted, and nobody told us?" Justin, glancing at his teammates, wanted to know.

"Keep interrupting me and I'll show you what drafted is." Charlie glared at him. Then she continued, "We have been fully stocked with your dietary and medical needs. Doctor Jackson will make her rounds shortly. Nurse and Dietician Norma Burns will prepare all meals which you will eat without complaint. Once I finish humanizing your quarters, I will allow visitors. Are there any questions?"

"What do you mean by humanizing?" Hickok inquired, not sure he'd heard that term before.

Smiling sweetly, she replied, "I am expecting a few deliveries. But I promise you by noontime, we'll all be comfy cozy."

Her seven patients exchanged uneasy glances, wondering what in the hell to expect next.

+ + + + + + +

Kelli slept through the morning Tanner chaos. It was a noisy beginning to the day, breakfast dishes clattering, chattering children, and several phone calls. All which transpired before Grandpa took on the school run.

Alone with his new daughter, Vin cradled Rebel close with one hand, while he poured a cup of coffee with the other. His head leaned against his cell phone, which rested between his ear and shoulder.

Ending his call with Travis he spoke softly to his daughter, "Okay, Reb, time for Daddy's coffee break." Vin moved towards the kitchen table to sit and enjoy a minute of quiet.

He barely sat down before the back door opened and Josiah and Nathan entered.

Vin waved his free arm in the direction of the coffeemaker. "Coffee's hot, grab a cup and take a load off."

Josiah carrying his cup sat next to Vin. "How's Kelli?"

"She slept good. Had breakfast, visited with the kids before they left for school, fed Rebel, took her meds, and went back to sleep."

"Being home is probably the best medicine for her." Nathan joined them at the table. "Now that we know she's okay, Rain and I were talking. Maybe we can reschedule Carmen's visit out here to handle the paperwork for Leia?"

Vin nodded. "Don't see why not. I understand y'all are anxious to take her home."

Nathan grinned, "Yeah, we are. I'll call her today."

"Changing the subject. Where do we stand on our investigation?" Josiah stirred more creamer into his coffee.

"Which one?" Vin laughed. "Our inbox is damned full at the moment. As soon as Brodie and JD get here we'll cover it all."

Max entered the kitchen and directed her comments to Vin. "Your wife is still asleep, Leia is down for her morning nap, and Miss Rebel is due for her bath." She reached out to take the baby from her daddy's arms.

Reluctantly Vin passed her to Max. "I should be around close, most of the day. Find me when Kel is awake, please."

"I will, but I hope she sleeps most of the day. It's just what Missy needs to heal." Max acknowledged the two other men, then left with the baby.

JD tapped on the door and entered. Brodie, behind JD carried an armload of paperwork, which he set on the table, right behind him.

"I went over to see Buck and Ezra early, but that Charlie woman said I'd have to come back when she was finished humanizing the bunkhouse." JD sat down beside Josiah. "What does that mean?"

"Don't ask." Vin hoped it didn't mean the eccentric decorations she filled Kelli's room with but feared that's exactly what Charlie had in mind.

"Bet you're happy to be home with the kids, JD." Josiah nudged him in the ribs. "Getting used to married life again?"

JD smiled. "Married life is great and being with the kids again makes us complete. Only problem I see, her parents decided to stay an extra two weeks to help us settle in they say."

"Staying with you and Tess?" Nathan felt for JD.

"Actually, they're gonna stay at her old house. Close, but not too close. They figure with our injured extras, we might need their help."

Brodie sat on the other side of Vin. "Lot of extra bodies on the ranch and I don't see that changing for a while." Turning towards his son, "You talk to Travis and Chris?"

"Yep. Chris is stayin' close to Cait until she delivers." Vin got up, went to the counter and picked up a sheet of paper. Returning to the table, he sat down and gave it to JD. "Travis is already obtainin' this list of goodies for you. He wants you to detail whatever other gadgets you need at Camp Larabee and fax it to him. We'll be usin' it to base out of until he decides about our offices."

JD scanned the paper Vin handed him. "Wow. Nice list. I'll check out what else we'll need and get it to him."

"Travis also told me Tai's men are escortin' Alex's body to his family in Florida and Guy's to his family in New York. Brad's home is here in Denver. His parents are havin' him cremated and requested a private service. The arrangements for Jim Stinson and Rex Stuart are pendin'. Our Director is handlin' it and sendin' flowers from all of us."

A somber quiet filled the air, each man reflecting on the loss of their friends and teammates.

Breaking the silence, Brodie picked up the stack of reports he came in with and passed them around. "First one is on the explosion. Forensics is finished, but we're still trying to trace the origin of the bombs. Next, is on the bastard who went after Kel yesterday. As expected, he was a pro, fingerprints came back to Oliver Wentworth AKA Miguel Flores. Interpol credits him with twenty-eight known kills, but the strange part…reportedly he retired ten years ago. His digital print just stopped. He hasn't surfaced anywhere until yesterday. No idea, why he took on another hit."

"Money." Nathan answered. "It always comes down to dollars."

"Which we are tracing. Our techs are tearing up cyberspace as we speak. We also scooped up Thomas Evans last night. Former FBI, fired for his drinking problem, hired by a security firm here in Denver." Brodie leaned forward. "We believe the man he works for is your Southerner. You'll find his dossier in the report. Problem is, we have a ton of circumstantial evidence, but nothing yet, which directly ties The Trinity, Ghost of the Confederacy, or any corrupt LEO to him. A disgraced former FBI agent and a traitorous tech may not be enough to nail him. Of course, all we need to do to take him down is prove to Interpol, he's their elusive assassin."

"So, all we have is Spencer Franklin and this Thomas Evans to connect him to the crimes here?" Josiah was already thinking of ways to use their broken personalities for their benefit.

"Yep, but it's a place to start." Vin stacked the papers in front of him. "We have a name. Now we work to take down the bastard and all of his associates in Colorado."

"Let's get busy figuring out a way to make that happen." Brodie suggested.

Which is exactly what they did for the next two hours.

+ + + + + + +

After their planning session, four brothers, Brodie, and Bandit descended on the new infirmary.

Charlie met them at the door. "You, Gentlemen, may come in, but the dog has to stay out."

Vin set her straight. "This dog is a Federal Agent. His partner is one of your patients. He will be allowed inside."

"Watch it Commander, you just broke rule number three." Cody called out.

Charlie shot the blond MCAT agent a glare. "That's two. Don't push your luck. You will not like what happens when you get to infringement number three."

Vin and Brodie, with the K-9, brushed past her. Bandit made a beeline for Mark and jumped nimbly onto the bed. He gave Mark a sloppy kiss before calmly laying his head on his master's chest and settling beside him.

"Right now, he's only here for a visit. But once you're on your feet again, he's all yours." Brodie told him.

Mark nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat as he hugged his partner.

Behind them, JD got his first good look at the room. "Is this a bunkhouse or a Barbie dollhouse?" He asked as he took in vibrant quilts, pillows, and rugs placed sporadically around the room.

"Correction it's not Barbie's dollhouse, it's Charlie's dollhouse. She's in charge here." Buck quipped.

"Good answer Wilmington. But don't be a suck up." Charlie patted him on the foot.

"Has my wife, Doctor Jackson, been by yet?" Nathan inquired of Charlie.

"She called and said she would be here in about thirty minutes."

Josiah wisely kept his mouth shut and his opinions to himself as he visited with each of his fellow agents.

While the men talked, a truck pulled up outside. Charlie went to investigate. Returning a couple of minutes later, she scanned the men, then tapped Nathan and Josiah on their shoulders. "Would you gentlemen assist me for a moment?"

Both agreed and followed the nurse out the door. A few minutes later they returned carrying a 60-inch flat screen tv that widened the eyes of all seven patients, and the other men in the room.

"Would you be so kind as to set it down right there." Charlie pointed to a spot along the wall. "Which one of you is going to volunteer to hook it up for me?"

Nathan and Josiah glanced at each other.

JD spoke up from behind them. "I guess that's going to be me." he sighed, "I know where I'll be for the next couple of hours."

Josiah and Nathan headed for the exit, calling back, "See you guys later."

Vin turned to Charlie. "Have Doctor Jackson call me as soon as she's finished her evaluations."

"Yes sir."

Before he moved to follow his son out the door, Brodie informed the unconventional nurse. "I will be back in a couple of hours to pick up Bandit. I'm sure you'll see he's comfortable, too."

Charlie acknowledged him with a nod.

As the two Tanners left they ran into Barbara, Beth, and Inez.

"Enter at your own risk." Vin said cryptically.

All three women gave him puzzled looks before walking inside.

+ + + + + + +

At Camp Larabee, computers hummed, while agents sorted through the massive amounts of paperwork the printers spewed out. On the whiteboard there was the name 'Southerner' at the top and the beginnings of a timeline forming below it. Going back twenty years, they worked painstakingly to account for every trip their suspect made: dates, destinations, and any events or murders correlating to that timeline. There was also a list of known acquaintances, business partners, and employees of the man started on the other side. It was a slow process.

Working steadily, Vin stopped long enough to answer his cell. The call was from Rain, with an update on the seven agents in Charlie's care.

Ending the call, he relayed the information to his brothers. "Buck another five days, Ezra is mobile, but she wants to keep an eye on him a couple more days. Raphael, good to go in three. Hickok and Cody, we're gonna bring up here tomorrow. They can bunk in the third buildin'. Justin needs the longest care, maybe another week. Beth's already stayin' at the Standish home so, Barbara and Ezra offered for him to join her when Rain releases him. At least 'til he's fully mobile. Nathan, she also said to tell you Carmen will meet y'all at our house at five."

Nathan smiled and nodded. "Good."

The door opened, and JD walked in with a disgruntled look on his face. "That woman had me moving stuff for an hour after I finished hooking up the television. She's nice but a little strange. Vin where did you find her?"

"Didn't, Max did. I believe she's a distant eccentric cousin to Mary Poppins." Vin grinned. "Don't ask her to show you the contents of her bag."

JD popped the top on a can of soda and sat down. "I think you're right. I almost feel sorry for the guys over there."

"Almost?" Josiah chuckled. "JD, I do believe you enjoy seeing her spar with our teammates."

"Yeah, I do." JD laughed. "She'll make Buck and Ezra crazy... in a good way, of course."

Smiling at his younger brother's remarks, Vin answered his cell when it rang again. He listened for a moment and responded. "Hold him Walter. I'm on my way."

Vin rose to his feet and told his dad, "Another mystery man is at the front gate to see Kel. Wanna ride shotgun?"

Brodie moved his stack of papers to the empty space in front of JD. "Take over for me. Josiah will explain what we're doing." He stood and joined his son, both making a quick exit.

+ + + + + + +

Edward Lofton the third, senior partner of the law firm Lofton and Associates, stood toe to toe with Walter. The man, short in stature, greying at the temples, wearing wire-rimmed glassed, impeccably dressed, and on the hefty side, argued his position.

"My dear sir, I refuse to leave these premises without fulfilling my duty as an officer of the court."

Walter looked the man up and down, before telling him, "You're not gettin' on the property without Mister Tanner's permission."

"Then, I must insist you call the man. I have business of a timely nature, which needs immediate attention."

"Already did."

Vin's Silverado came to an abrupt stop, two feet from the gate. Two Tanners exited and marched to the gate, neither attempting to exhibit a friendly welcome.

"Who the hell are you and why do you wanna see my wife?"

Lofton turned to the long haired younger man of the two. "Mister Tanner, I presume." He extended his hand, which Vin ignored.

"I'm not here to exchange pleasantries. You've been here before and refused to even leave a card. Again, who the hell are you?"

" I, Sir, have never been in Colorado before today." He produced a card and handed it to Vin." Edward Lofton the third, at your service I have important business to discuss with Missus Tanner, which requires her signature."

Vin shook his head. "You'll deal with me."

"Sir, I insist."

"Insist away, it's me or jail for trespassin', your choice."

Standing there, knowing he was outnumbered, Edward sighed. "Very well." He turned around to reach through the open window of his car. Retrieving his attaché case, he was shocked to find three guns pointed in his direction when he turned back. Dropping the case, he nervously exclaimed. "Good Lord! I'll talk with you, no need to get hostile about it."

Lowering his gun, Vin told Walter, "Search the case and the car. Then escort Mister Lofton to my house, please."

"You got it, Son." Walter began his search, while Lofton could do no more than watch.

Reentering his truck, Vin started the engine and made a U-turn back toward his home. "Dad, I have a feelin' we're gonna need our own lawyer. Think you can prop Ezra up enough to get him to my house?"

"Hell, I'll carry him if I have to." Brodie moved over to drive when Vin stopped at his house and exited the truck. "Besides, I need to retrieve Bandit anyway."

Vin hurried inside to check on Kelli before the attorney arrived. One way or another he planned to find out what this business was about and keep his wife out of it.

+ + + + + + +

Deciding the sun room as the most accessible for Ezra, that's where Vin guided Mister Lofton. While they waited for Standish and Brodie, Vin tried to get the man to talk.

"Our attorney will be here shortly. What I need to know is why you chose just showin' up to be the best way to see my wife."

Lofton smiled at Max when she brought in a tray of iced tea. "Thank you." He waited for her to leave before answering. "I did send several letters, requesting an audience with Missus Tanner. After receiving no reply, I felt a one-on-one approach would be best."

Vin recalled the mailbox break-ins. "Do you have any idea why someone would try and stop those letters?"

"Other than my staff, I don't know who would even know they were sent. Why do you ask?'

"Our mailboxes were compromised several times durin' the past month." Vin decided to tell him the rest to observe his reactions. "Which brings me to the reason you're not seein' my wife. She's recoverin' from someone attemptin' to murder her twice in the last seventy-two hours. I'm certain both were professional hits."

Lofton almost dropped his glass. "On my God! I had no idea, but who would do such a thing?"

Vin decided either the man didn't know, or he was one hell of an actor. "I was hopin' you might answer that question."

"I... oh dear… you don't think…" His eyes moved to his attaché case and whispered to himself, "Surely to God, not."

Before Vin could ask more, Brodie and Ezra, who was wearing pajamas covered by a red silk robe, arrived.

Moving slowly, Ezra sat opposite Lofton. " I am Ezra P. Standish, Missus Tanner's personal attorney."

Raising a brow, Lofton stared at the pajama-clad man. "Sir, I…"

Max interrupted by bringing in a folder and handing it to Ezra. "Barbara asked me to give you this. She and I will be in the kitchen with Bandit, should you need anything."

Thanking Max, Ezra turned his attention to the other attorney. "Please excuse my attire, Mister Lofton. I was injured in an explosion a few days ago and I'm still recovering." Ezra pull a document from the folder and passed it to the other attorney. "This is a POA from Missus Tanner designating me to act in her stead when necessary. I believe you will find it in order."

After reading over the document, Lofton lifted his head and studied Ezra. "Very well. I have specific instructions from my client to verify delivery of certain papers." Opening his briefcase, he pulled out his own folder of documents. "The first is a personal letter for your client. The second are legal documents which require her signature, or a designated agent to sign for her."

Ezra took the letter, setting it aside, and the documents to read. He patted his chest, searching for the pen he usually kept in his suit pocket, only to remember he wasn't in his usual attire, but pajamas. "May I request the use of your pen?"

Lofton nodded and handed him his pen.

Signing the receipt of the legal documents, he handed it over. "Sir, I believe you just filled in a few puzzle pieces. I would also advise you to review your staff. Someone other than you, your client, and now me, knows the contents of these documents That someone is willing to kill to make certain your client's plans do not come to fruition."

Edward Lofton was visibly uncomfortable with that thought but felt it may be true. "I assure you, Mister Standish, I will investigate that possibility and keep you informed. If you have no questions, I have a plane to catch." He began to gather his copies and place them in his case.

"It's Ezra." He took a card from his folder and gave it to Lofton. "I sense we will be communicating more in the near future."

"Call me Edward, and yes we will." Standing, he addressed Vin. "I sincerely hope your wife has a speedy recovery."

Vin nodded as Brodie walked the attorney out.

"Okay, Ez. What the hell is this all about?"

"Sit down Vincent. It hurts my neck to look up."

Plopping down into a chair, Vin scowled. "You called me Vincent. Not good."

Ezra stalled until Brodie returned. "These documents not only tell us why Kelli has been targeted, but in all probability, by whom." He gave Vin the papers to read.

It didn't take long for the explosion Ezra expected to erupt. "Son of a bitch!" Vin jumped up and began to rant and pace the small room. "This one I did not see comin'! Of all the blasted reasons I could think of, never in a million years would I believe this."

Brodie picked up the pages Vin had slammed on the table and read them. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten before he spoke. "Vin, I understand you'd like to rip someone's head off about now. Stop and think before you go off half-cocked."

Vin stopped pacing and glared at his father. "You saw the same evidence I did. It don't take a genius to put two and two together."

"No, but it takes a smart man to prove what he knows."

Vin sat down again. He felt betrayed, deflated, and angry. Worse, he knew his father was right, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear.

Ezra ventured a question. "Are you going to tell Kelli?"

"Hell no!" Vin sighed, "At least not now. She'd be out of that bed in a heartbeat, ready to kick ass. Physically, she's not well enough to do that. Besides, she's still a target with a big ass price on her head."

"Does that mean you're staying put until we get proof and I don't have to kick your ass for being a hothead." Brodie leveled his gaze on his son.

"For now." Vin leveled a determined gaze on his dad. "One more strike at my family though, and all bets are off. Even you won't be able to stop me."

"Hell, Son. One more strike at our family, and I will be right beside you."

"So, will your brothers." Ezra vowed.

Chapter 8

Travis' office was one of the buildings not damaged by the explosion, three days earlier. Today, he requested Tanner to meet him there at nine o'clock. Orrin had questions and thus far, he hadn't found many answers. He recognized things must change in order for MCAT to be effective in the future, and before they moved forward. Problem was, he wasn't certain what those changes should be.

Suzanne smiled at Tanner when he entered. "He's expecting you."

When Vin walked in, Travis was standing at the window with his back turned, staring at the view. He sat down and waited for Orrin to acknowledge his presence.

"In less than a month, MCAT will celebrate its seventh anniversary." Travis sighed as he moved away from the window and sat down opposite Tanner. "I find myself at a crossroad, Vin. Rebuild, continuing business as usual or rethink my options and make changes. Before we discuss the future though, tell me where we are in the present."

"Our injured agents are healin'. Michaels, Westin, and Wilmington will be out the longest. Once released they'll need time at home. I expect Standish and Cordova to be active within a week to ten days. Hickok and Cody will be released today. For now, I'm havin' 'em stay at the ranch. Truthfully, we can send 'em back home to Texas. Kelli is doing much better since she's been home. Langley still needs two more weeks and Hunter will be on the active list within a few days."

Travis scribbled notes on the pad in front of him. "If you're sure about Hickok and Cody, I'll arrange it. Also, when I talked to Teaspoon, he told me Ramon might be persuaded to transfer to Charlie Team. Are you certain you don't need those agents here though?"

"Sir, I have what we need to get the job done. Right now, havin' extra personnel is only more for me to worry about. If Ramon wants the transfer, I say give it to him. He's a damn good agent, but Texas probably needs him more than we do."

"Noted." Orrin looked up at Vin. "The Southerner investigation?"

"Everythin' we have." Vin handed the Director a folder. "We know who he is and could arrest him now and turn him over to Interpol. But, his record in Colorado appears spotless…too damn spotless. I think he needs to answer for his crimes here first. To do that, we need more time."

Travis opened the folder and read. Wearily he laid it down when he finished. "You'd think after all I've seen the past seven years with MCAT, I'd be shockproof. Yet, this man. Are you certain?"

"Yes, Sir. We have our traitorous agent and his contact in custody, both confirm the man's identity. With their statements, and after some deep diggin' in cyberspace, we should acquire enough proof to not only arrest the Southerner, but a list of his corrupt associates too."

"I don't want to know where you're holding them or how you get your information. Just be certain we identify everyone involved. His reign of crime will end on my watch." Leaning back in his chair, Travis nodded. "Stay on this investigation. We'll talk again about where we go after he's taken down. Whatever you need, Vin, just ask and I'll make it happen. I assume you'll keep Larabee in the loop even though he's on leave."

Vin stood, gathered his folders, and smiled. "Already planned to do that, Sir."

"Take care. I do not want to lose any more agents. Stay in touch."

Tanner nodded, then exited the office.

+ + + + + + +

"Mmph." Cait let out a hiss as a sharp pain lanced through her right hip and lower back, as she tried to find a comfortable position for her cumbersome form.


Chris set aside the latest issue of Tactical World, that Donald brought to the hospital with him when he was last there. He rose from his chair and stepped over to the bed, concern etched in his green eyes as he gazed down at his wife.

"I'm fine. " She was quick to assure him. She didn't want him worrying about her every time she made a slight groan or hiss from the overall pain she felt had become more prevalent over the past twenty-four hours.

Chris didn't look convinced. "You went from sleeping soundly to waking in pain. I don't call that 'fine'."

"Honey, I am a woman in the advanced stages of a late in life pregnancy. A large portion of my body has gone through an intricate reshaping that most women my age don't experience outside of undergoing extensive plastic surgery. I've got aches and pains in places I never thought existed. Or rather never staged revolts until now. I'm bound to let out a hiss or moan from time to time. It doesn't mean anything is seriously wrong."

"Point taken." He leaned over and kissed her. "I don't like seeing you in pain and not being able to do anything to ease it."

"I understand." She smiled at him. "This particular pain, however, you might be able to ease if you're willing."

"Anything you need."

Cait reached for the bar of her bed and started to turn that way. Chris helped ease her onto her left side. Then followed her instructions so he was soon massaging a path of skin along the lower right side of her back and hip.

She made appreciative sounds that made him smile. If only it was so easily to eliminate all the pain and stress she was feeling in regard to her safely delivering Tempest.

"Better?" He asked once he'd helped her into a semi-comfortable position on her back.

'Much better." She assured him. "Did anyone call while I was asleep?"

Chris shook his head. "Were you expecting a call?"

"No. I thought maybe Vin would update us on Kelli. I'm worried…"

"Kel is under the watchful care of Vin, Max, and Brodie. They'll see to it she follows Doctor G's and Doctor Weeks' instructions." He took her hand in his. "Your job is to relax and stay as calm as possible until Tempest is safely delivered."

"I know, but…"

"No, buts." He kissed her. Then he changed the topic to a safer subject, "What did you and your dad talk about when he was here?"

"Dad said the carpenters were putting the finishing touches on Tempest's nursery. I can't wait to see it!"

"I can't wait to see what it looks like myself."

"Jesse's really stepped up to help out with Grace and Cody while we're away."

Chris smiled, obviously proud of their son. "Jesse's a Larabee. I wouldn't expect anything less from him."

"Oh, and Dad also mentioned Paul telling him that he and Louisa are considering moving to Denver when he retires next month. They really love helping out at Reins, have taken a fancy to Colorado, and are wanting to be closer to Tess, JD and their grandkids."

Before Chris could respond, a light tap on the door, preceded Vin's entrance into the room.

He nodded at Chris and then turned his smile onto Cait, "How are you feelin'?"

"I'm hanging in there. How's Kelli?"

"Kel's restin' up and definitely glad to be home. Rebel's the star attraction with her older siblings."

"That's good to hear."

"Can I borrow Chris for a bit?"

"Of course."

"I won't go far." Chris promised giving her a kiss before following Vin out of the room.

+ + + + + + +

Once outside Cait's room, Chris' smile faded. The two walked down the hall a way and found two empty chairs.

"You met with Travis yet?"

"Just came from there. He expects me to tell you about our investigation on the Southerner."

Chris laughed. "You didn't tell him you already gave me an update, did you?"

"Nope. Just said I planned to." Vin sat back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of it. "Think he's considerin' some changes."

"I expected that." Chris cut his eyes to Vin. "So, what is it you didn't want to tell me this morning?"

"Easier to show you, I reckon." Vin handed him the portfolio he carried. He waited while Chris read and knew when he figured it out.

"Son of a bitch!"

"Yeah, my first reaction, too. Seems cut and dried, but…in this case I'm not so sure two plus two equals four. Brodie's checkin' out a few things for me. We should know more sometime today."

Still visibly angered by what he read Chris shook his head. "You told Kel?"

"Not yet. I'm gonna talk to her when I get home." Vin sat up straight and sighed. "It never ends, Chris. I'm gettin' damn sick and tired of bein' a magnet for evil. Our legacy says we fight injustice, but if you ask me, all we're doin' is puttin' out one fire after another." Cutting his gaze to Larabee he asked, "What the hell are we accomplishin'?"

Chris took his time answering and finally spoke. "Been giving that some thought myself. I know Cowboy told us to remember the events which led to the battle at Rose Field. You even tried to tell us the evil attacking our families the past few years meant more than it appeared." Running his hand down his face, he leaned forward. "We're missing a big piece of the cryptic messages we've received. Once we get Kel's problem solved and the Southerner out of the picture, I think we need a Legacy meeting to figure out what it is."

"Agreed." Vin stood, retrieving his binder. "Reckon I best get to work."

"End this, Vin. I don't like having a price on my daughter's head." Chris stood as well. "Give Kel my love."

"I'll do both."

Vin headed for the hospital exit, while Chris went back to Cait's room.

+ + + + + + +

Tanner first stopped at the infirmary. The first thing he noticed was Bandit had been dropped off for his daily visit with Mark. He made a point to stop and talk a minute with each man.

"How are you feelin' Mark?"

"Better now with Bandit around." Westin replied as he petted the K-9

"Good to hear."

Cordova was asleep, and Justin was visiting with his wife, so he moved onto Buck and Ezra.

"Vin you're blocking my view!" Buck waved his hand for him to move.

"There's five feet of live action color along the wall. How can you miss anything?" Ezra snapped. "You've had the electronic monster blasting since six a.m.!"

Vin hid a grin behind his hand. Standish wasn't known for being functional that early in the morning. If they were snapping at each other, they were well on their way to recovery. "I'll let y'all work out your viewin' issues and check in on y'all later."

"Travis is makin' arrangements for the two of you to go home to Texas." He told Hickok and Cody. "Appreciate y'all comin' to help. "

He shook both men's hands.

"I'm glad to be going home, but any time you need help…" Cody started.

Vin interrupted him. " I know where to find y'all. Have a safe trip."

He turned his attention to Charlie. "I'd like to have a word with you outside."

Allowing her to precede him out the door, Charlie turned to him, hands on her hips, "What did I do now?"

"Relax, you haven't done anythin' wrong." Vin assured her. "I'm aware within a few days most of your patients are goin' to be shipped home to finish their recovery or released. Do you have any firm plans after that?"

Charlie relaxed her stance and pondered his question. "Not at the moment."

"Kelli is doin' fine, and Max has things covered at our house. I'd like to, with your permission, recommend your services to the Larabees. Sometime within the next week, Cait will deliver and they will have their hands full."

Tanner waited for her response.

"Well, that's certainly a possibility. You know I love babies."

"I do know that. I also know you're a capable, responsible, experienced woman. Ninety percent of your blowin' and goin' is for show. I have to warn you, if you work for Chris Larabee, we need a little less Mary Poppins, and a lot more Navy regs. Chris is a former SEAL and understands that .He's also related to my wife and you've already experienced the Larabee temperament."

Charlie grinned. "I can do that."

"Now that we understand one another, I'm headed home."

+ + + + + + +

On the phone as he walked into his house, Vin thanked his dad for the information. It wasn't what he expected, but it was enough to initiate a conversation with his wife. He found Max in the kitchen.

"Afternoon, Vin. Kids aren't home from school and Rebel is asleep. If you're wanting to see Missy, she's in the sun room." Max playfully slapped at his hand when he reached for a taste of the frosting she made for an after dinner cake.

Licking his finger, he nodded, then told her, "Thanks. Need some time with Kel. See we're not disturbed please."

Knowing Max would guard their privacy, he headed for the sun room.

Standing at the door, Vin observed his wife. He couldn't imagine his life without her. They were more than just husband and wife. They were partners, lovers, and soulmates and he'd come too damn close to losing her and Rebel last Saturday. Not something he wanted to ever repeat. The upcoming conversation was something else he wished didn't have to take place. But they had never kept secrets from one another for long. This one she deserved to know. He only hoped he could keep her calm during their discussion. Not likely, but a man had to try.

"You gonna stand there all day or come in and see me?"

Vin moved into the room, laid his folder on the table, sat beside Kelli and leaned over for a kiss. "Was just thinkin' how beautiful you look sittin there with the sun's rays shinin' around you."

She laughed. "You do have a way with words, but that's not why you're here in the middle of a work day."

Winding a strand of her hair through his fingers, Vin wasn't sure where to start. "Beautiful and sassy, too. And right, as usual." He moved his chair to face her.

"Yesterday a lawyer showed up, demandin' to see you. Considerin' all that's happened the past week, I refused to get you involved until I knew why. Ezra used your POA and talked to the man. He had to sign some papers, acknowledgin' receipt of these. " He reached over for the folder, drawing out the papers Lofton left. "What he signed was all legal stuff. This letter is for you. I have a good idea about what's in it and why someone is willin' to kill over it, but I haven't read it. I figure it's time you did."

Kelli took the unopened letter from him. "You think this is why someone wants me dead?"

"Probably." Vin reached for her free hand. "If you're not up for this, we can wait. You're safe here on L7 and a few more days won't make a difference."

She nervously fingered the envelope. After thinking it over Kelli ripped it open, withdrew two sheets of paper and passed them to Vin. "We should both know."

Nodding, Vin began to read aloud,



I know it is presumptuous of me to call you by your first name, but I'm an old man with a lot to ask forgiveness for. One more thing won't matter. I'm sure you remember our last meeting. It was then that I started to realize that just maybe, what I did to you was the biggest mistake of my life. You deserved better.

As I've aged and seen the disastrous results of my decisions, I've come to reevaluate more than a few of them. Losing my beloved wife, a year ago, brought home to me the cost of those decisions. We had one child, Marissa, your mother, who we tried to do right by. Probably indulged too much, and never held her responsible for her mistakes. When Jillian died, I thought our daughter would finally mature into the woman we hoped she'd become and take an interest in her heritage. Didn't happen. She was only interested in what was in it for her.

Worse, her other two children turned out to be greedy, arrogant, self-centered brats, in and out of trouble their whole lives. Money and status rule their world, and God help anyone who gets in their way.

Perhaps, I did you a favor denying you your birthright.

Since our last meeting, I made a point to learn everything I could about you. I'm sorry it was not always easy for you, but I admire the woman you've become. Your career choice, your work with children, and your family have shown me your character and your heart. Yes, I watched from a distance, mainly because I felt I had no right to intrude.

I apologize for the wrongs I committed against you. There is no excuse, so I won't offer any. I'm sick and dying now, the doctors say a few more weeks at best. I would like to see you once more but understand if you can't come to terms with doing that.

I've decided to at least try and do better with my final decision. For that reason, you are the sole beneficiary of my life's work. My ranch, money, oil leases, and all Texas holdings. Yes, I expect you to reject this, but I've had my attorney lock it up in a trust. Do something good with it, please. I'm certain you will make better decisions than I did.

I also enclosed a letter from my beloved Jillian. She wrote it when we found out she was dying. She wanted you to know your Forsyth heritage as well as the Slades and listed links to your ancestry.

Hopefully, you will pass the information on to your children. Whatever you decide, I wish you a good life, full of love and laughter.


Your grandfather, William Slade


Vin folded the letter and gave it back to Kelli. "It's a helluva lot of money, Kel and accordin' to the legal papers, it's all yours. Provided you outlive Slade. If you die first, it reverts to Marissa."

Kelli's anger spilled out. "Marissa tried to kill me! We could have lost Rebel! After all she's done this tops the cake! First, she never told Chris she was pregnant, denying me a childhood with my father, instead she discarded me like piece of trash. Then she used me to make money from Devereaux! She never cared about anyone but herself! That woman has a lot to answer for damnit!"

Taking her hand, Vin attempted to calm the Larabee temper before it hit its stride. "Kel, hang on before your temper blasts off the rails. When I first read the will and trust papers, I thought the same thing. But then dad did some diggin'. Turns out the hitman who tried to kill you at the hospital, Miguel Flores, is also known as Oliver Wentworth. Marissa's first husband. His daughter, Olivia, is your half-sister."

"Good God! Marissa married a hitman?"

"Apparently." Vin shook his head. "That whole damn family is full of dark secrets. We can prove Olivia hired the Barlow brothers, who bungled the first hit. When they failed, she called her dad. Who then, came out of retirement to help her."

Calming a bit, Kelli thought about it. "But, how did they know the old man changed his will?"

"Ezra suspected someone in the Lofton Law Firm in Dallas leaked the information. After runnin' all the employees' backgrounds, turns out one, Sandra Pickens, is datin' your half-brother Geoffrey Lyons. She knew enough about his family to recognize the Slade name, read the file, then told him. He told his sister and…"

Kelli finished, "They conspired to get rid of me, so Marissa would inherit."

"Yep. I suspect if they were successful dear Mama was next on their hit list." Vin squeezed her hand. "Warrants are goin' out as we speak. Sam Cain is gonna call me once they're served and the arrests are made."

"Vin, the old man might feel guilty, but I don't want the money." Kelli frowned. "What in the hell does he expect me to do with it?"

"Kel, think about it. It's not a big stretch to see Fate's hand in this. The Slade/Forsyth heritage is yours as much as the Tanner heritage is mine. They both bring things full circle back to Anne and Tracker. What would she want you to do with it?"

She sighed, "Fate huh? Not sure Marissa would see it that way. But, I'll read Jillian's letter, read over the papers, and then we will decide together." She laid the letters aside. "I have a feelin' we haven't heard the last of this."

"Which is why, you're stayin' on the L7 where it's safe. Sam's gonna call me once the warrants are served."

"Reckon, I need to think about talkin' to Slade, too."

Vin moved around to sit next to her, drawing her close to his side. "Only if you want to, Baby. In the meantime, let's enjoy the quiet, before the kids come home."

She snuggled closer, his touch dispelling her anger. "Sounds good to me."

+ + + + + + +

Theo Rogers stood in front of his boss's office door, hesitant to knock. He knew the information he was about to give would not be well received. Taking a deep breath, he rapped three times.


Opening the door, he faced his boss.

"You better have good news for me!"

Theo gulped. "Sir, we've tried everything, and looked everywhere. Thomas Evans and Spencer Franklin have simply vanished into thin air."

"What do you think I do to employees who can't complete simple assignments?"

Theo gulped a second time. "I, uh, don't know Sir."

"Unless you intend to find out, I suggest you get your ass back out there and find the bastards! Now!"

"Yes sir." Rogers made a quick exit, wondering what his changes were for surviving the next twenty-four hours."

Back in the office, his employer was making the first of several phone calls. "I want Spencer Franklin and Thomas Evans eliminated. See to it. There's $500,000 in it when you do."

He hung up and made his next call to Orrin Travis.

Chapter 9

Vin's personal journal:

It's one of those nights when sleep eludes me. Five a.m., too late to go back to bed, too early to start the day. Haven't written here for a while, so here I am. Should be keeping up more, but to be fair, it's been a helluva a week. My whole world got upended when Kelli was shot last Saturday. I have no problem admitting just how scared I was of losing her and our daughter. Thankfully, with a little help from our Old West Seven, and Doctor G, she and Rebel survived. She probably should still be resting in the hospital. But a second attempt on her life ended that. But being home, sleeping in our bed, seems to be good medicine for her. I know it's good for me.

The items we ordered for the nursery that fateful day arrived, and with a few more touches, our youngest daughter's quarters will be ready for her. For now, she's staying in our room and I can't say that's a bad thing. Rebel is a joy and being close to us at night gives all of us peace of mind.

The mystery of why and who wanted Kelli dead has been solved. Her half-brother and half-sister discovered their grandfather, after regretting decisions he made in his life, changed his will. In order to keep the family fortune for their mother and themselves, Kelli had to die. Bloodlines and money is what it boiled down to. A bitter pill for Kel to swallow, but she took it better than I'd hoped.

I'm just relieved both half-siblings are now in jail, charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder. My wife is safe, and my family is back together.

Kel still has some decisions to make concerning her maternal grandfather and his will, but fate has a way of working things out for us. I'm certain all will be as it should.

Our Legacy has incurred some growing pains, too. Just when we think we have it figured out, another chapter appears, revealing new paths. Not sure what to make of it all yet. My brothers and I are not all on the same page with it, but I have no doubt we will be soon.

An explosion at our MCAT office cost us the lives of five friends and fellow agents. Hickok and Cody headed back to Texas last night. Raphael will leave today to spend time with his daughter in Boulder. A few more days, Buck and Ezra will be home recuperating. Justin and Beth will stay over with the Standishes until he's released from doctor's care and mobile. That leaves Mark and Bandit. Dad invited them to stay at his cabin once he's out of the infirmary and on the mend.

Donald and Lillian are working to finish Tempest's nursery before her arrival. Tess' parents, Paul and Louise, are sticking around a while to help out, too. Inez is doing better with her pregnancy and is overseeing the construction at the Wilmington house, until Buck can take it over. Nathan and Rain signed the papers and Leia resides now in the Jackson home. Josiah and Mallory are running between families trying to help where they can. Tess and JD jumped right in when they returned and with their presence, our Wild Bunch is almost whole again.

Once Tempest arrives, Chris and Cait will bring her home. Then, we'll have everyone safely back on the ranch and can have a family celebration. Gotta catch up on birthdays and anniversaries.

On the work front, all our activities are centered out of Camp Larabee. The noose is tightening on the Southerner. Soon, his reign of terror will end. Once he's history, Travis will be making decisions about the future of MCAT. This time he plans to ask for our input and promises to listen.

Rebel's awake…gotta go.

+ + + + + + +

After breakfast and school runs, Vin joined Kelli in the nursery before heading to Camp Larabee.

When he saw her with her sling off and about to lift a box, he snapped, "Don't you dare." Taking it from her he set it on the dresser. "Baby, I know you feel better but don't push it. You need time to heal completely."

Kelli sat down in the chair he directed her to. "Really, Vin? I'm not helpless. Even Doctor Gilford said I should move around and do what I feel I can do in moderation."

"Key word, Kel. Moderation." He worried more than he should maybe, but he knew his wife. It was dead still or full speed ahead as far as she was concerned. No in-between. "Indulge me. Tell me where you want this stuff and I'll do the liftin' and stretchin'."

"Fine." She pointed to the dresser. "There's some artwork in the box. The framed charcoals of colts go on the wall behind you."

Vin dug in the box and found the pictures. Ready to hold them up on the wall for her approval, his cell rang.

"Hey Chris, what…are you sure?... right. .'m open."

Kelli heard her dad's name and waited for Vin to finish. "Well, what did he say?"

"Cait's havin' issues this mornin'. Doctor Weeks is watchin' her stats, if they don't improve…Tempest may come today."

Standing, she wrestled to put her sling back in place. "We should go."

Helping her rewrap her arm and shoulder, Vin shook his head. "Chris wants everyone to stay on L7 for safety. He'll let me know about Cait and the baby."

"Nope, we're goin'. He needs someone there with him."

"Kel, you're in no condition to traipse back to the hospital."

"I'm alive, Vin, and healin' just fine. You'll keep me safe and I'm not gonna let what happened make me miss the birth of my sister." She was already out the door to inform Max they'd be away.

Vin muttered a few words about a stubborn redhead and followed her.

+ + + + + + +

About six-thirty, Chris woke to nurses bustling around Cait's bed. Concerned and wide awake, he jumped up from the rollaway to find out what was happening.

"What's going on?"

One glance at Cait's eyes filled with alarm and fear, sent his pulse racing. He grabbed one of the nurses by the arm, "Call Doctor Weeks a.s.a.p.!"

She jerked her arm free. "We've already called the doctor. She's on her way."

Within ten minutes, Doctor Weeks was in the room examining her patient. She solemnly informed the Larabees Cait was in labor and dilated to two. She, however, thought they could stave off Tempest making an early appearance with the help of Terbutaline. It was an effective medication used to stop contractions. Both Larabees hoped the medicine would work and their daughter stayed put for a few more days.

"We're going to wait and see what happens." Doctor Weeks informed the Larabees. She turned to Chris. "Stay close and keep her calm. We'll continue to monitor both mother and baby."

Once he was able to sit with her, Cait tearfully confessed to him that she'd been feeling odd throughout the night. The overall aches and pains she'd mentioned to him yesterday, gradually increased until they'd become considerably more intense. It was only when the nurse arrived and began asking specific questions that she realized the pain, which arced through her lower back and abdomen, was actually labor.

When the nurse came in to check on Cait, Chris took the opportunity to call Vin.

"Cait's having issues this morning and I figured you'd mentally pick up something's wrong. I'm not calling anyone else because they're all safer at home. Stay put, I'll let you know."

For the next forty minutes, Chris continuously massaged the palm of his wife's hand, speaking softly to keep her calm. When the door opened, he expected to see a nurse or the doctor. He was genuinely surprised to see the Tanners instead.

"What the hell are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay home."

As Kelli walked over to the other side of Cait's bed, she commented, "Nice to see you too, Dad."

Chris glared at her.

Smiling sweetly at him, Kelli said, " I came to check on Cait and my baby sister. You have a problem with it?"

Torn between his need to keep Cait calm and wanting to strangle his eldest daughter, he grudgingly smiled, "No, of course not, Sweetheart."

While Cait relayed the morning events to Kelli, Chris interrupted, "You two talk. Vin and I are going to step outside for a minute. I'll be right outside if you need anything, Honey."

Once in the corridor out of earshot of the guards, Larabee turned on Tanner. "What the hell are you doing dragging Kel up here? This is the last place she needs to be."

Vin calmly looked at him. "She inherited Larabee stubbornness. You want to tell her that, fine. I just spent the last thirty minutes on the losin' side of that argument."

"Point taken." Chris sighed. "Fighting criminals and terrorists is easier than having babies. I just want Cait and Tempest healthy and home."

"Much easier on the heart, for sure." Vin thought about the call he'd received on the way over. "Speaking of terrorists and criminals, our suspect had the nerve to call Travis and invite him to lunch at the country club."

"What?" Chris gave Vin an incredulous look.

"Yep. I'm sure we've hit a nerve and the man is keen on gainin' some insight from Travis on what MCAT is doin'. Brodie, whose paranoia is in full alert mode, is gonna talk with Orrin before then. Our Director plans on playin' it out."


A moment passed and then Chris said, "Since, Kel is being sassy, and not on a plane to Texas to kick butt, I take you haven't told her about Marissa's other family yet."

"In fact, I have. She took it a lot better than I thought she would." Vin took Chris by the arm to steer him towards Cait's room. "There's a lot to tell, but we can talk about it later. Right now, you need to stay focused on your wife."

The men returned. For the next thirty minutes a pleasant conversation enveloped the two couples. They discussed nurseries, newborns, and Charlie. Cait said she'd talk to the woman about helping out once Tempest was born.

With each passing minute, the contractions lessened, Cait and Tempest's heartbeats slowed to near normal, and the blood pressure monitor indicated there had been a decrease there as well. Chris was beginning to think the crisis had passed. Suddenly, Cait's eyes rolled up into her head and she'd began to twitch and shake uncontrollably. Alarms on both monitors began to shriek loudly.

Vin was already on his feet and at the door to find a nurse, when one pushed passed him to Cait's side.

"Excuse me, Mister Larabee. I need you to step back please."

Kelli and Vin moved to flank Chris as Doctor Weeks and another nurse rushed into the room. Shocked how fast events turned from good to worse, Chris watched in disbelief as they worked on his wife and administered medication. Vin's hand rested on his brother's arm, while Kelli held her dad's hand.

Within a few minutes, the seizure past, Cait's eyes opened, and Chris breathed a sigh of relief.

As the nurses prepared her, Doctor Weeks took a few moments to talk to Chris. "Our efforts to delay your daughter's arrival failed. I have an O.R. on standby and we're prepping Cait for surgery. Put on your greens if you plan to be there."

Kelli picked up the greens off a nearby chair and handed them to her Dad. "Better change quick." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "We'll be in the waitin' room. Don't worry, we know where it's at."

"Are you sure you don't want us to call Donald and Lillian?" Vin asked him.

Chris shook his head. "No."

Cait yelled from the bed, "Yes!"

"You heard the boss." Chris told them as they turned to leave. "Have Brodie's men stay with you two."

+ + + + + + +

Vin closed his cell and turned to Kelli. "Donald and Lillian are on their way. Between Jesse, Bianca, and Mallory, your younger siblings are covered. Now, we wait."

He sat down beside her and took her hand in his. "I have to say I was disappointed when I couldn't be in the operatin' room when Rebel was born."

Kelli squeezed his hand. "As much as I would have loved her Daddy to be the first person to hold her, I'm glad you weren't."


"With everythin' Dr. G was doin', plus the emergency c-section, I probably wasn't a pretty sight. It'd be one ugly memory."

"I would much rather see you that way than under a sheet in the morgue."

"That's an awful thing to say!" Kelli raised a hand to smack at his shoulder.

Vin laughed and caught her wrist before she connected. "Still not as fast as I am, Baby." Gently caressing her hand, he grew somber. Reflecting on the events which caused her surgery, he shook off the chill that unexpectedly ran down his spine. "I can say that now, but It was too damn close to bein' a reality, Kel. I don't ever want to go there again."

"Not your most poetic moment Tanner, but I understand the sentiment."

While they waited, Kelli watched Brodie's men looking for something to do. She leaned over to them. "You two look bored. Y'all don't have to stay with us, you know. Take a well-earned break."

The two men looked from her to Vin for permission.

"I can protect my wife." He reached for his wallet and pulled out two twenties. "Go have lunch on me. I'll stay with Larabee 'til y'all return."

Preparing for surgery, moving the patient, administering anesthetic, and beginning the c-section, took longer than the word 'emergency' would imply. Consequently, thirty minutes passed and still no word. Donald and Lillian arrived, hoping for news.

Lillian sat down next to Kelli, visibly anxious, and asked, "Do we know anything yet?"

"Not yet, but I don't expect it to be much longer." Kelli smiled, hoping to ease the older woman's anxiety.

Vin felt for Donald, who looked a bit pale. "Can I get you anythin', Sir."

"A good report on my daughter and grandchild." His tone was brisk as he began to walk the floor.

For the next ten minutes, Donald paced while Lillian fidgeted.

Just as Vin got up to look for a nurse and ask about the Larabee surgery, the double doors pushed open. Chris entered with a bundle of pink in his arms. Lillian jumped up, Donald stopped pacing, and they all gathered around the new father..

With a big smile on his face, Chris introduced 'Tempest Kerr Larabee' to her grandparents, sister, and brother-in-law. "Cait's doing fine."

Lillian held out her arms for her newest grandchild. " May I?"

Chris placed his sweet baby girl in her arms.

Donald peered over his wife's shoulder. "Welcome to the world, Tempest."

Vin gave Chris a congratulatory slap on the back, while Kelli kissed him on the cheek.

One more crisis successfully ended. Soon Denver Memorial would no longer have armed guards roaming the hallway.

+ + + + + + +

Orrin Travis arrived early. Until recently he had no reason to believe Alexander was anything more than the image he'd projected all his life. He sat and waited on his luncheon companion thinking back on what he knew about the man he'd known for over twenty years.

Alexander Covington was fourth generation old money. His family pioneered in Colorado almost one hundred and seventy-five years ago. They were into cattle ranching, banking, and owned more than one fancy ski resort. Alexander served in special forces, came home, went to law school, and was one hell of a prosecutor for many years. With his family connections, it was not difficult for him to become a judge at a relatively young age. At the age of thirty-five, he quit law and moved on as an entrepreneur, owning several businesses in the city. Covington's philanthropy was well-known, and he chaired many events in Denver Society circles. Alexander's personality was outgoing, but also intense. He did travel frequently, and five years ago he married for the first time. Last year, at the age of forty-eight, he became a father and built a multi-million-dollar home outside the city.

Lost in thought, Travis didn't see Covington enter the private club and strode over to their table.

"Orrin, so sorry I'm late. My last business meeting ran over." He shook Travis' hand when Orrin stood and then both men sat as a waiter appeared. "The food here is wonderful. May I suggest the Honey & Pecan glazed Pork tenderloin?"

"Sounds good, but I'll be ordering the smoked bistro steak." Orrin waited while the waiter took their orders before continuing. "I was a bit surprised when you called, Alex. Is there something specific you wanted to discuss?"

Covington laughed. "Right to the point as always, Orrin." He leaned forward and spoke in low tones. "I am concerned about you. Word around Denver is that MCAT has taken some serious hits lately. I know you well enough not to expect you to broadcast it, but I really would like to help an old friend. If you need manpower, I have it with my security firm. All vetted of course, and most qualified for high security clearance details. I also have several 'safe' houses available, should you require keeping suspects or targets off the radar for a while. Any or all could be arranged in a discreet manner."

Orrin measured his words. "I appreciate your offer, however, it's not necessary. You see, I have Charlie Team in Texas available, as well as Delta team, which I activated for Denver. We are well staffed and at this time we have no targets or suspects to sequester."

"Ahh, then I suppose my information is either dated or incorrect." Their salads arrived, and conversation ceased with the wait staff around.

The remainder of the lunch conversation ranged from the next charity event to old stories about life as a judge. The two men parted company by one o'clock. Orrin to his office and Alexander to his limo where he made a phone call, then had his driver take him home.

+ + + + + + +

Travis had much to do that afternoon. He arranged for the razing of the destroyed MCAT office. Discussed with contractors about what he wanted to rebuild and which specification he would approve. A call to Tanner gave him an update on the activities at Camp Larabee. Also, he informed Vin of a few actions he'd taken on MCAT's behalf, and his plans for a weekend trip, bodyguards in tow. After a call to Chris congratulating him on the new baby, he then spoke to Evie, who was still at her sister's in Vermont. Before he realized it, time had slipped away, and it was after six.

Hearing a soft rap on his door he said, "Enter."

Suzanne Mills, his assistant, walked into his office. "Sir, will there be anything else you need tonight?"

"We're done. In fact, take a three day weekend, I plan to take the extra day myself. We'll regroup on Monday." Orrin stood to gather the files he wished to take with him for review. "Have a good weekend."

"Goodnight, Sir." Suzanne left, picked up her bag and said goodnight to Travis' bodyguards on the way out of the building.

Long resigned to the fact, he couldn't go anywhere without his watchdogs, Travis walked out of his office a few minutes later to tell them he was ready to leave.

"Okay, boys, let's go." He knew the routine with Tai's men. One, usually the driver, walked out the door first, the other followed to protect his back.

Tonight, things were far from routine. When the driver opened the outer door, three men rushed in. The first bodyguard went down from the silent shot he took through the heart. The second one died immediately after his partner, from a shot between the eyes. The intruders grabbed Orrin, slipped a black bag over his head, and bound his hands. They then dragged him out the door to his car where a fourth man sat behind the wheel.

Within two minutes the dead bodyguards were left behind in the closed office. The lone security guard waved the vehicle he recognized as the Director's car through the gate.

To Orrin, it seemed like they drove for hours. In reality it was closer to forty minutes. Once arrived at their destination, hands roughly pulled Travis from the backseat, while he fought against them.

"It is futile to struggle, Director."

Travis recognized the voice. In that instant, he knew he would not leave this place alive. "If my presence here is so damn important, you could have extended the invitation at lunch."

A soft chuckle ensued. "It's much more satisfying this way. Don't worry, Orrin. I have no plans for you dying too soon. However, you will tell me what I want to know."

"Might as well kill me now. I have nothing to tell you."

"We'll see." He nodded to his men. "Take our friend inside. Make sure, he's not comfortable."

As the men began to follow orders, their boss halted them for a moment. "I must apologize for forgetting my manners. Welcome to hell, Orrin. Your new home."

Chapter 10

Saturday at Camp Larabee meant more work. They were close to providing the evidence against Alexander Covington, but not close enough to arrest the man. Even with all the new high tech 'toys' Travis delivered at JD's request, they couldn't connect the dots to nail the SOB.

Vin threw a file, which skidded across the table. "Tell me again why we can't just grab the bastard."

Nathan stopped the papers before they slid off, "We're the good guys, remember?"

"Right." Vin ran his hand down his face and sighed. "With all the injuries, death, hitmen, and destruction that's rained down on us the past week of hell, it's hard to remember why we do this."

Josiah understood Vin's frustration. "We are still seven, Vin. A bit bruised and slowed down, but we've survived before and we will now. JD is over there working his heart out to replace CASSIE. Buck and Ezra will be going home today. Chris will be here after tomorrow. Kelli is alive and with you. Think about Rebel, Tempest, and Leia, three beautiful babies who joined our Wild Bunch this week. You want to know why we do this? We do it because it's who we are. We do it for family. We do it because justice calls us. We do it because we know without us…evil wins."

"Perspective." Vin nodded. "Thanks Josiah."

"You are welcome, Brother. Hopefully the worst is over and once we nail Covington we get a breather before our next challenge."

+ + + + + + +

Things were moving along at the Larabee 7 Infirmary. Only three patients, out of seven, remained in residence. Hickok and Cody were the first to leave them when they went back to Texas. Raphael Cordova bid them goodbye on Thursday when he left with his daughter to stay at her house in Boulder for a few days. An hour earlier, Charlie escorted Mark Westin over to the Tanner's house where he would wait until Brodie finished work for the day. Both he and his K-9 partner Bandit, would be staying at the older man's residence while Westin finished recovering.

"Are you ready to abscond this establishment, Justin?" Ezra asked the other man as they waited for their wives to arrive.

"Oh yeah," Justin grinned at him. "I am ready for a permanent furlough from Charlie's unit."

"My sentiments exactly." Ezra chuckled. "Looks like our discharge is confirmed and our beautiful escorts have arrived."

Justin's grin widened as he caught sight of his wife as she entered the infirmary, followed by Barbara Standish. As Beth reached his side, he slipped his uninjured arm around her waist and tugged her closer to his bed, so he could greet her with a proper kiss. Beth happily complied.

"Now that's the kind of medicine I need to get me back on my feet again." He exclaimed when they came up for air a few moments later.

Beth blushed, but laughingly agreed with her husband.

The moment Barbara was close enough, Ezra pulled her into his arms. Their lips met in a searing kiss, which clearly indicated how much they had missed each other during their involuntary physical separation while he recovered from his injuries.

"Wow, you are definitely feeling better." Barbara's green eyes sparkled when she and Ezra came up for air.

"Be my pleasure to show you just how better, later." Ezra answered huskily.

A throat cleared near them.

Ezra glanced past Barbara to see Charlie standing a few feet away with her hands on her hips and a disapproving look on her face.

"An infirmary is no place for such open displays of affection." Charlie informed the Standishes. "We need to get things moving. The truck will be here soon to pick up all the hospital rental equipment."

"Ooh, Ez, you're in trouble." Buck called out from his bed.

He'd silently witnessed the passionate embraces of the two couples and approved. They all deserved some time alone with their wives after the hellish week they'd been through.

Ezra shot Wilmington a glare and turned his charm onto Charlie. "Understood. May I assume that my compatriot and I are free to leave?"

"You may and are." Charlie replied. "As you are ambulatory, I assume you won't need my assistance walking to your vehicle."

"That is correct." Standish told her. "I wish to express my appreciation for the fine care you've given to my teammates and myself."

"No gratitude necessary. Only thanks I need is for my patients to be whole and well again." Charlie said briskly, pulling a wheelchair over to Justin's bed. "Ready whenever you are Captain Michaels."

"I'm ready." Justin grimaced as he gingerly slid off the bed and into an upright position momentarily, before easing down onto the seat of the wheelchair.

Charlie made an adjustment to the footplate before easing Justin's casted leg onto it. She pushed the wheelchair toward the exit. Beth fell into step beside her.

"I'll be along in a moment." Ezra told Barbara. "I want to have a word with Buck before we leave."

Barbara nodded. She bid Buck goodbye and hurriedly caught up with the Michaels and Charlie before they reached her Lexus.

"What did you want to talk about?" Buck asked Standish when the others left the building.

"Are you going to be safe alone with Charlie?"

Buck chuckled. "I'm sure I can handle the Drill Sergeant until Inez arrives to take me home."

"When will that be?"

"Not long. After we've spent time with our families, we need to help our brothers " Buck glanced at the time. "Say two hours?"

Ezra nodded and made his departure.

Inez arrived a few minutes later to take Buck home. Charlie hustled to finish dismantling the makeshift infirmary. She signed off to the driver who picked up the equipment, while she had the next driver wait for instructions. Then she made her interview call to Caitlyn Larabee. Ten minutes later, she had a new assignment. The second driver took the televisions and other essential decorative items to deliver to her new room at the Larabees. Once the makeshift infirmary transformed back to a bunkhouse she was ready to leave.

Gathering her personal effects, Charlie scanned the room. She was proud her latest patients were all on the road to recovery. Exiting the building, she closed the door behind her and took a deep breath. One door closed, the next one was opening at the Larabee home. They needed her. Tempest, along with her siblings, would be her new charges.

She whispered a prayer as she entered her vehicle, " Praise the Lord for the gift of children."

+ + + + + + +

"Welcome home." Bianca beamed, and Pearl excitedly waved her hands as their parents entered the house with the Michaels.

"Thanks, Sweetheart." Ezra moved to wrap his arms around both his daughters.

He felt Bianca momentarily stiffen, then relax in his embrace. Expressing affection through touch was still a new thing for the teenager. He was sure as time went on, his eldest daughter would become more comfortable with it.

"Justin, let's get you and Beth settled into the room that will be yours for the remainder of your recovery." Barbara waved her hand indicating a short hallway.

"Lead the way, Darling." Ezra released his hold on Bianca and Pearl and moved to his teammate's side. "Beth and I will assist Justin."

Barbara nodded and led the way to the guest room. She turned on the overhead light and moved over to the bed, pulling down the maroon comforter, and plumping up the pillows.

Justin leaned heavily on Ezra more than his wife as the threesome made their way slowly down the hallway. By the time they had him situated on the bed, his leg propped up in the Leg Elevator Cushion, he was breathing heavily, and his head was dotted with perspiration.

"Beth you already know where things are." Barbara turned to Justin. "We hope you have a comfortable stay."

Justin smiled, "Appreciate that, and thank you for giving Beth a place to stay close by while I was in Charlie's care."

"Our pleasure," Barbara nodded to Beth, "I'm going to work on lunch. If you want, you can prepare Justin a tray." She headed towards the kitchen.

Beth followed to assist Barbara, while Justin asked Ezra to wait. "I can't do much physically for a while, but I can offer my investigative skills and contacts to help find the bastard that did this to us."

"Noted. For now, heal Captain, I will keep you apprised." Ezra left Justin to rest and went in search of his daughters. He'd missed them terribly during his convalescence and was anxious to spend some quality time with both.

Ezra found them lying on the living room floor. Pearl letting out peals of laughter as Bianca tickled her stomach. He smiled. It was good to be home and back with his family. He walked over to the couch and gingerly sat down on it, wincing slightly as he did so. Though most of his injuries were now healed, he still had sore places on his body that caused him pain from time to time. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Are you okay?"

The voice was tremulous.

Ezra opened his eyes and saw Bianca watching him closely, an unguarded look of worry on her face. "For the most part, I am."

Bianca lowered her head, as emotion overwhelmed her, and tears sprang into her eyes. She'd promised herself she wouldn't cry when she saw Ezra. She'd done enough of that while he'd been in the hospital, and then the infirmary, but he was home now.


She wiped the tears from her face and glanced up at him. "I'm fine."

Ezra smiled softly. How often had he said the same thing when he really wasn't? More times than he could count. "No, you aren't."

"I will be." She sniffled. "I'm sorry…the last thing you need is to deal with a weepy teenager."

"You are my daughter and I love you. What you are feeling is important to me. I am really sorry I scared you."

"I know." Bianca met his gaze. "It's not like you did it on purpose."

"No, I did not. I wish I could promise I would never be injured in the line of duty again, but I can't." Ezra paused. "I can, however, promise you that I will do my best to always come home to you, your mom, and Pearl."

Bianca scrambled up from the floor and sat down next to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder. "I love you…. Dad."

*Dad* He swallowed the lump of emotion lodged in his throat. The pain and anxiety from his injuries hurt, but from that a small miracle emerged. Today he graduated from Ezra to Dad. "I love you too."

His arm encircled her shoulders for a moment before he released her, not wanting to have her pull away. He gained another small miracle when her arm went around him in a hug. He blinked his eyes to hold back the tears threatening to fall. His homecoming turned into one of the best days of his life.

+ + + + + + +

It was controlled chaos when Buck and Inez arrived home. Tannis, Maria, Sarah, and Bella swarmed Buck, each wanting to be the first to earn a kiss and hug from their dad. He laughed away Inez's cautioned words to their daughters to be careful in their exuberant greetings. Only when his sisters were finished welcoming their dad home, did Caleb move forward to hug Buck.

Once the initial excitement of having daddy back home died down, the Wilmington family enjoyed the delicious lunch Tia Isabella and Inez prepared for them. Afterwards, Tannis and Bella went down for their afternoon naps. Sarah and Maria were sent to their playroom. A reluctant Caleb went with them, leaving Inez and Buck alone in the family room.

"It is good to be home." Buck exclaimed, sitting gingerly onto the couch.

"We are glad for you to be here." Inez sat down beside him.

Buck threw his uninjured arm around Inez, drawing her closer to him. "I missed you woman."

"I missed you as well husband." Inez leaned her head on his shoulder.

Buck wished he could be contented to just enjoy being at home at last. There were moments after the explosion at MCAT, when he didn't think he would make it. He'd thought about Inez and their children, wondering if he would see them again.

Afterwards, while in the hospital, and then in the infirmary, he'd vowed when he went home, he would take time to just be with his family. Now, here he was, and all he could think about was what was going on at Camp Larabee.

He shut his eyes and tried to simply be content to hold Inez close. It worked for about five minutes. He opened his eyes and glanced at his watch.

Inez sighed. She sat up and turned to look at him with a resigned look on her face. "Go."


"My husband, I know you too well. As happy as I know you are to be home, you are anxious to be with your brothers and find the bastard who did this. Go!"

+ + + + + + +

Mark sat in the Tanner's kitchen finishing lunch with Kelli and the children. He enjoyed being around the kids because it reminded him of his family home. As the oldest of five, the antics of Jason, Andi, and the twins reminded him of his own brothers and sisters. Taking his plate to the sink, he rinsed it, and placed it in the dishwasher.

"Thanks for lunch. Is there anything I can help you with Kelli?"

Hustling her oldest two out to play, Kelli shook her head. "You're still healin' Mark. No work for you."

Max entered the room. "I heard that Missy. Good advice, you should take it yourself. Just because the sling came off this morning, doesn't mean you can overdo." Max gathered the twins and took Rebel from her mother. "I've got the little ones. You take a glass of tea to the porch swing to relax and heal."

Kelli sighed, "You see, Mark. Can't get by with anythin' around here. Reckon, I'm goin' on the porch to relax and heal. You may join me or," she reached for her keys on the hook by the door, "you can take my Yukon and check out what's goin' on at Camp Larabee."

Mark grinned. "How did you know I wanted to do that?"

"Maybe it was you watchin' the clock or checkin' your watch every five minutes." Kelli laughed. "Or, knowin' that's what I'd be doin' if I thought I could get away with it."

"Thanks. Guess it wouldn't hurt for me to just drop in on them for a bit." Mark, with Bandit beside him, hurried out the door before Kelli had a chance to reconsider.

Kelli retrieved her stationary and a book from the bedroom. She stopped in the kitchen to pour a huge glass of iced tea and then slowly walked out on the porch. The spring-like weather made it a pleasant place to pass the time and the swing was calling her name. After two hours of attempting to pen a letter to William Slade she gave up and opened her book. It was then she felt a cold chill and a presence.

She laid her book aside to speak to Tracker, who appeared, leaning against the railing with his arms crossed. "You're the last person I expected to see here."

Tracker shrugged, "I get around."

"Not sure if I should be glad or terrified that you're here. Last time I heard your voice I…"

"Was dyin'." He finished her sentence and uncrossed his arms. "Couldn't let you slip away. Not after Cowboy and I made sure Vin had enough warnin' to save you."

Kelli nodded. "I'm grateful y'all did. It was the sound of your voice, which at the time I thought was Vin's…" She took a deep ragged breath. "Well, it kept callin' me back. Thank you."

"You're doin' okay now?"

"Still sore, lung healin' and it'll take a while 'til I'm at 100%, but compared to dyin', I'm great." She leaned forward. "You're not here to check up on me and for some reason you're not talkin' to Vin, so spill it. And don't you dare give me some kind of cryptic riddle I won't understand."

"Straightforward as always." Tracker laughed. "I kinda got forced to promise not to interfere with the seven's Fate again for a long, long while so I can't go to Vin, but you can."

"What do I need to do?"

"Listen to a story." He began, "They're on the right track with Covington. We crossed paths with his great-great grandfather, Corbin, back in our day. He was a SOB, corrupt, and a thief. His fortune was built on the corpses of men he used or crossed to get it. Word is, some of the family properties are still listed in his name. His whole bunch is in cahoots with the evil darkness out to get rid of the seven. Corbin tried with us, but we dealt with the old man and thought that particular evil was done. It's too bad we didn't get him before he had heirs. Now with Alexander, the apple don't fall far from that tree. He's tryin' to finish off what his ancestor started."

"All the awful things happenin' is from an evil darkness?"

"One who seeks to destroy the power of seven." Tracker figured he might as well go all in, break a few more rules, and answer for it later. "Tell Vin their Judge Travis is in trouble. Our Travis and the boys are with him, but we can't stop what's happenin'. Tell him, their Judge don't have a lot of time. The seven best get busy on findin' him."

Kelli understood the message. "And you can't say where Travis is 'cause it will shift the path of Fate and consequences are dire. I know the drill."

"You're learnin', Girl." He smiled when Kelli huffed up at being called 'girl'. He offered one more piece of advice. "If it were me, I'd track north of where they find the Judge's car. You take care, Kel, and heal." In an instant, he disappeared.

Kelli mumbled a curse and hurried into the house for her cell.

+ + + + + + +

Mark and Bandit showed up after lunch. Buck and Ezra joined their brothers a few hours later at Camp Larabee. Working together they continued looking for proof that Alexander Covington was indeed the Southerner.

Vin's cell rang, he answered and listened carefully. "Kel, are you certain he said evil darkness? Yeah, I got it all. You stay put, we'll take it from here. Love you." He turned to find all activity stopped and several sets of eyes on him. All waiting for information.

"Travis is supposed to be havin' a three day weekend in Vermont with Evie. I have it on good authority he's in trouble. Josiah, check with Tom, see if he contacted him about usin' the MCAT jet. Nathan, call Tai, ask him where his bodyguards are. Brodie, track Travis' car. Buck, hunt down Russo. Ezra, discreetly talk with Evie. JD, you find any properties under the name Corbin Covington."

Brodie watched his son as he worked to find Travis' vehicle. He knew Vin's strengths and his unwavering tenacity were enough to push him through most any situation. However, the events of the past week coupled with possibly a missing Director could take a huge toll on his Heart Warrior son.

"Vin take a look at this map." Brodie drew lines with a marker. "Travis' car left MCAT Thursday evening, traveled north along this route. Made a stop here," he circled the stop, "then made loops and zigzags until finally resting close to this ravine."

"Travis told Tom mid-afternoon Thursday he might need him later. Tom didn't hear back from him." Josiah shook his head. "Not a good sign."

Nathan ended his call. "Tai's men aren't answering their pages."

Ezra said goodbye, closed his cell, and reported. "I told Evie we were just checking on her for Orrin. She hasn't talked to him since Thursday. He told her if he could get away he'd call…he didn't."

"Russo hasn't heard from our Director, either. He said if we need anything, he'll find a way to get it for us. I told him to put the Texas Team on high alert status and stay close to his bodyguards." Buck slapped his notebook against the palm of his hand. "I'd bet the ranch, Covington is behind Orrin's disappearance."

JD joined them with a large map, rolling it out on the table. "Properties under the name Corbin Covington are located all over northern Colorado" He marked them with an X. "We can crosscheck with the route of Travis' car and use thermal imaging. Unfortunately, the imaging will take a while since we don't have the tools we had at the MCAT office."

Vin checked the time. "Travis has been gone for a minimum of forty-six hours. I agree with Buck. The probability is high Covington is responsible. Regardless of who and how, Travis is in serious trouble. Every minute he's gone reduces the chance of us findin' him alive." He turned to JD and Brodie. "I don't care how y'all do it, with Russo or without, legal or illegal. Get us use of a satellite with thermal imagin' capabilities," he leaned over the map and circled a large area. "We look north of this ravine."

Brodie nodded, and JD said, "On it."

"Ezra, talk with Justin. He still has good contacts with the State Police. We're gonna need manpower we can trust. Find out who that'll be."

"We need a forensic team at Travis' office. Nathan?"

"Consider it done." Nathan began making calls.

Josiah observed Vin as the stress mounted. "Are you going to call Chris?"

Vin stopped what he was doing to consider Josiah's question. Mentally making his decision, he gave a one word answer. "Yes."

+ + + + + + +

Orrin lost track of time. The beating he expected. The constant harassment in an attempt to disorient him was standard torture procedure. The dark basement with a 4x4 jail cell, well, that surprised him a bit. The way he figured, no one would miss him until Monday morning. All he had to do was hang on until then. His men would come…they would find him. Alex would pay.

Chapter 11

Alexander Covington returned early Saturday evening to the log and stone house built against the base of the snow-covered Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Surrounded by several hundred acres of Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, and Spruce, the secluded residence was only accessible by a long, winding road whose turnoff from the highway was obscured from view. No one who didn't know of its existence would ever suspect there was a road there at all.

Two of his men met him when he entered the residence. They escorted him through the house to the basement entrance and followed as he descended the stairs. Another of his men waited at the bottom.

+ + + + + + +

A bead of bloody perspiration rolled down the side of Orrin Travis' face and dropped onto the already stained collar of his rumpled suit. Pain radiated throughout his bruised face and battered torso. His eyes were swollen, his left almost totally closed, making it hard for him to see. His nose was broken, he had a split lip, and his right temple throbbed in time with his heartbeat.

He breathed raggedly, each gasp sparking red-hot agony through his chest as if he was inhaling shard of glass. He knew a couple of his ribs were broken and deduced at least one might have punctured a lung.

Travis continued with his mental assessment of his injuries. His legs were numb from him being confined to the chair for so long. His wrists and ankles burned where the handcuffs rubbed against his bare skin.

Although his vision was severely impaired, he strained to look past the rusted metal bars of his cage, and saw his prison stood within the center of a dank, dark place. A basement or some other subterranean-like room.

Parched from lack of water, his throat scratched, and his tongue stayed firmly stuck to the roof of his mouth. His stomach ached from not having eaten for several hours. He knew however, Tanner and his remaining MCAT agents would search for him as soon as they discovered the bodies of his bodyguards, and realized he was missing.

He did not doubt they would do everything they could to find him. He just didn't know if he would still be alive when they did. He was ready to meet his maker if it meant he never gave Alex anything to use against MCAT.

As unconsciousness threatened, he closed his eyes and wearily welcomed it.

In a shadowy corner of the room outside Travis' cell, seven men huddled, watching with growing worry.

Healer paced, fists clenched, gazing at the injured Director, and voiced aloud his inability to offer him aid. "I can't stand here and do nothing to help him!*

*We can't…* Cowboy started, only to have Healer wheel on him.

*I know!* Healer snapped at him, his dark eyes flashing angrily. *It doesn't mean I have to like it!*

*Do you think I do?* Cowboy's face flushed, his own worry over the Director transitioning into anger.

*None of us do,* Tracker murmured hearing Sheriff and Rogue echo his words.

*Turning our ire upon each other will not grant the Director the assistance he needs.* Gambler said.

Both Healer and Cowboy turned glares on him.

*Gambler is right.* Preacher decided an intervention was in order before things got too out of hand. *We are all on edge. We cannot allow our feelings to get the better of us.*

*Sorry.* Healer muttered to Cowboy.

Cowboy gave him a curt nod.

*There has to be something we can do.* Sheriff exclaimed, his words laced with emotion.*We can't just let him die!*

Rogue placed a supportive hand on the younger man's shoulder.*We…*

*You Seven might not be able to help him, but I can.*

All seven men whirled around to see their Judge standing behind them.

*Judge, what in the hell are you doing here?* Cowboy exclaimed.

*Intervening on your behalf.* Judge stated calmly. *You don't believe you are the only ones Fate calls on, now do you?*

He disappeared from their view only to reappear a few seconds later inside the cell where his present-day counterpart was nodding in and out of consciousness.


Orrin startled awake at the sound of an oddly familiar voice saying his name. He slowly opened his swollen eyes and stared dazedly at a blurry personage before him. He blinked and then peered again at the image, certain he was hallucinating. There was absolutely no way there was a carbon copy of himself in his prison with him.

"Who are you?" He asked hoarsely.

*Folks call me Judge. My Seven Peacekeepers accomplished things no ordinary men could ever do. Trust in your Seven to do the same for you. You're a tough old man. All you have to do is hold on until they arrive.*

Travis straightened, wincing against the pain that shot through his torso but ignored it as he did so. "I have no intention of dying until that Southern bastard is in prison or buried six feet under!"

The Judge nodded his approval before disappearing from view as Travis became aware of footsteps approaching his prison.

+ + + + + + +

Covington expected to find Orrin a broken man. To his surprise the old man was stronger than he thought. Descending the stairs to the basement, he found the Judge still conscious and glaring at him.

"Orrin, my old friend." Alexander nodded to one of his men who opened the cell, untied Travis, and dragged him out. "You don't look so good." He doubled his fist and punched the Judge in the stomach. "All you have to do to end this is tell me where your men are holding Franklin and Evans."

Catching his breath, Orrin spat out, "Go to hell."

"Tsk,tsk. Didn't know you liked pain so much, Orrin." Again, he hit Travis in the stomach and watched the older man fall to his knees in pain.

Doubled over in agony, Travis bit the inside of his cheek to keep from yelling. Barely audible, he spit blood and grunted, "Hell's too good for you."

"Orrin, Orrin, Orrin, you are a stubborn man, but you're not being realistic. Your MCAT is broken. All you have left is one small unit in Texas and two fragmented teams here. I don't believe your elusive Delta unit exists. Nice try though, wanting me to think you do. With MCAT out of my way, I am back in business full-time. You, however, will not be around to pull your crumbling Agency together. I will find Franklin and Evans, with or without your help. Make their deaths, quick and easy. Tell me where they are, and I promise, yours will be quick, too. Otherwise, your suffering has only begun."

Travis painfully pulled himself upright and locked gazes with Covington. "Never!"

"You will soon realize withholding information from me is futile. Let's see how obstinate you remain under the specialized care of my men for the next thirty-six hours. By then you will be spilling your guts and begging me to put you out of your misery. And I will happily oblige." Turning to his men, he nodded towards Travis. "Put him back inside! No food, no water. Every two hours, I want you to use your unique interrogating skills to convince him to talk." After issuing his orders, Alexander turned and started up the stairs. Then paused, "If my return should be delayed for any reason, info or no info, at six a.m. Monday morning he dies."

Two of Covington's henchmen dragged Orrin back to his cell, after leaving a few more marks of their brutality.

+ + + + + + +

Once upstairs Covington expanded his order to his second in command. "Mike, if Travis talks call me a.s.a.p. If he doesn't you're the only one who walks out of here Monday morning."

"Understood, Sir."

Alexander nodded and walked out the front door. His easiest route was for Travis to tell him where they held Franklin and Evans. However, it was not his only pathway to eliminating his vulnerability. He was well-versed in how to cut ties which led back to him and misdirecting evidence to have others pay for what he had done. Orrin may die without divulging the information he held, but his reputation would be forever stained.

Smiling as he got into his BMW, Alex visualized the headlines when the world discovered that Orrin Travis was the mastermind behind MCAT's destruction and the deaths of his own agents.

+ + + + + + +

Camp Larabee bustled with activity in the early evening hours. While computers hummed, plans were being made and executed. The men of MCAT had one concern…finding Orrin Travis. Nathan, JD, and Josiah were already at the MCAT facility to assist forensics. JD would bring back a surveillance van for the tech to transform into a satellite receiver station.

Walter edged into the crowded room with a tray of sandwiches, which he placed on the table. "Max said to tell y'all an army don't march on empty stomachs."

"Thanks Walter." Vin took one from the tray. "Tell Max we appreciate it."

"No problem, Son. Is there anythin' I can do to help?"

Vin swallowed a bite of the ham sandwich before answering. "Best thing you can do is keep close watch on our families. Take Mark and Bandit with you." He saw the younger man start to protest and stopped him. "Mark, you need to heal. If you want to help, you and Bandit stick with Walter."

Reluctantly, Mark nodded, stood, and joined Walter at the door, with Bandit at his side.

"We'll do fine with his and Bandit's help." Walter started to leave and then snapped his fingers. "Almost forgot. Chris brought Cait and Tempest home 'bout thirty minutes ago. Expect y'all will be seein' him soon."

Vin nodded and watched Walter walk out the door. As much as he hated for Chris to lose time with Tempest and Cait for their homecoming, he was damn glad Larabee would be with them. The power of seven increased their chances of bringing Travis home alive.

Tanner washed the last of his sandwich down with a swig of cold coffee. Then he moved over to the computer terminal Brodie hovered around. "Where are we, Dad?"

"We've accessed the GPS on Travis' car remotely, thanks to the tracker we planted before his lunch with Covington." Brodie turned to the map. "These are the co-ordinates where it stopped before being ditched. Old aerial shots show a home at that location. We pulled the blueprints from the county clerk's office. It's a good bet that's where they're holding Travis."

Vin took the blueprints, laid them on the counter and studied them. "Probably holdin' him in the basement. A small team could breach, but they'd still have time to kill Travis before we could reach him."

"We'll have to work on the premise they have armed guards unless the newer satellite image shows differently. How many men do we have available?" Chris asked as he walked in, overhearing Vin's assessment.

Buck grinned from ear to ear. "Welcome back, you old dog, I knew you couldn't stay away." Slapping Chris on the back, he asked. "Cait and Tempest okay?"

"Settled in at home under the watchful eyes of Donald, Lillian, and Charlie." He frowned at Tanner. "You and I will be having a talk later about you recommending Charlie to Cait."

Vin hid a grin and nodded. "As for available men, Brodie has a couple, workin' on more. We have…" he looked at Buck and Ezra, "countin' you, five."

"Hey, don't count me and Ez out just because we have a few boo-boos." Buck crossed his arms. "We're gonna help."

Chris eyed the still healing duo. "I'm sure there's some way you two can help. Just not in action mode…no arguments."

"We need more current Sat photos. When JD…" Vin stopped to answer his cell. "Damnit to hell! …Yeah, okay…Tell Tai...hell, he's got the right to insist, so tell him fine. Hurry back." Ending the call, Tanner relayed the information. "Tai's men are dead. They found 'em in Travis' office. Tai wants to take lead on the investigation. JD's on his way with the van, Nathan and Josiah are securin' the MCAT facility and workin' with forensics."

"Our advantage is discovering Travis gone before Covington expected." Chris glanced at his watch. "We're going to beat him at his own game. Twenty-four hours early. We rescue Travis and then toast the bastard and his henchmen."

"Russo is working on charges, indictments, and warrants. We sent him all the Intel we have on Covington, including the flash drive we recovered in Evans' apartment. It doesn't name all but does give us a list of most of his associates." Brodie threw a diagram of the house and grounds on the screen. "A small team can get in and out easier than a large force."

Ezra felt compelled to note, "We know this man usually has an alternate strategy. Might I suggest we cover what remains of our MCAT facility in case he plans another attack there."

Chris looked at Vin. "You're acting Commander, it's you're call."

Vin pulled out his cell and called Josiah. "We can't take the chance our perp has another plan for MCAT. You and Nathan secure the perimeters and be ready for anythin'. Keep your mental energy flowin'." He ended the call and looked at Brodie. "Whatever we do, we do with two less men."

+ + + + + + +

Several hours later, after several discussions, and huddling, a plan came together.

Brodie started, "There's only one way this can go down." He used the tablet to project circles on the screen. "Thermal imaging shows us a person tied up, who we assume is Travis, in the basement. It also appears there are only three other people in the residence. We'll only need a small team to slip in, take them out and, rescue your Director."

"You should all know our chances of finding Travis and getting him out alive are no better than fifty-fifty. He could already be dead or there could be traps set we have no way of seeing with the Sat image.That said, we believe this plan is our best bet for a good outcome." Chris gazed at each man. "No matter what happens we keep our energy flowing and know we did our best."

Vin continued with the explanation of their plan. "The van will be our command center." With Nathan and Josiah at MCAT with Tai's men, if anythin' happens there they'll be ready. Buck, you'll stay here to coordinate our communications with them. JD, you and Ezra will man the satellite van. Jam the cells and internet so no messages go in or out. We'll cut any landlines. Buck, can you build us a bomb powerful enough to break through to the basemen without takin' out the room in the process?"

"Damn straight I can."

"Good." Vin pointed to a place on the map. "The van, with Ezra and JD, will be parked here. Brodie, Chris, and I go in on foot, usin' personal coms and night vison goggles. Our job is to blow a way into the basement. Brodie will take on the guards while Chris and I bring Travis out." Looking at the time he nodded. "We strike at 03:00, which means we have less than two hours to make this happen."

+ + + + + + +

A quarter moon kept the light in the wooded area to a minimum. The air was cool and crisp at this elevation, the temperature drop due partly to patches of snow, which still clung to the mountainside. JD sent a jamming signal to interrupt the cells and Internet. It did not take long for Chris to find and disable the landline. The trek from the van to the perimeter of the house would take fifteen minutes by foot. Brodie, Vin, and Chris spread out to approach the structure, carefully watching for any traps as they stealthily moved through the woods.

JD's voice streamed through the coms. "Guys, something is going on with the heat imaging. One second it was showing four sources, now all I can get is a snowy picture."

Vin raised his hand to stop Brodie and Chris' forward movement. "JD any sign of the interference comin' from the house?"

"Nope. I suspect it's more likely a blip from the satellite passing through a dead zone."


Tanner signaled Brodie and Chris to keep moving.

A few minutes later, Chris, who carried the small explosive Buck put together, whispered into his microphone. "Five minutes out, still a go."

Brodie checked in, "All clear here."

As they approached the house the trio moved to the left side to have better access to the basement entrance. They halted at three hundred yards, so Chris could pull out the small explosive from his backpack. Kneeling they checked their watches.

Vin whispered, "We go on the count of three. Y'all know what to do. One…two….thr…"

Before he could get the word out, the serene mountainside transformed into a fiery hell, as an earth-shattering explosion rocked their world. The concussion of the blast catapulted them into the air. All three men hit the hard ground ten feet away, knocking the air from their lungs.

Flaming shards of splintered wood and jagged pieces of glass rained down around them as they scrambled to move. A thunderous sound filled their senses, alerting them to the reality that an even more perilous threat was headed their direction. The initial blast triggered an avalanche of rock and snow which now tumbled down the mountainside.

"Fall back! Fall back!" Vin yelled as they scrambled to distance themselves from the rapidly approaching wall of rock and ice.

Ezra's anxious voice screamed into their headsets. "What the hell was that?"

Instead of vocally responding to Ezra's question, Chris sent his brothers a mental image of the frightening scene he, Vin, and Brodie were desperately attempting to escape.

A collective surge of energy flooded through the three men as they found a safe vantage point. Looking back, they realized that the hopes of them finding Travis alive, had dropped to zero.

Chapter 12

Lightning struck in the distance as ominous dark clouds rolled in. Vin saw himself standing in front of his home bracing for the worst. His hair whipped wildly in the wind, the smell of rain grew stronger. The storm approached slowly, but the closer it came, the intensity dwindled. By the time it reached the ranch, the wind had died down, the clouds turned light shades of gray, and the rain felt gentle and warm. A peaceful feeling enveloped him, and he saw butterflies dancing around flowers of every vibrant color, and hummingbirds dipping into the blooms for nectar. The scenes before him were beautiful, yet surreal and disturbing.

Vin opened his eyes, mystified about his dream or vision or whatever these things were invading his sleep. What the hell it represented he had no clue, but it managed to end the night for him. Before he left their bed, he tucked the quilt around Kelli, taking a few moments to watch her breathe as she slept. Only a few weeks earlier he'd feared he'd lost her. Now she was healing, and Fate had given them the gift of more time together.

Quietly slipping out of bed he grabbed his sweats, made a stop in the bathroom, dressed, and headed to the kitchen to heat a bottle for their youngest. Rebel's schedule was precise. Glancing at the wall clock, he grinned. Four a.m., if she wasn't already awake, she would be in the next few minutes.

Entering the nursery, his timing was perfect. Rebel didn't have a chance to cry before her father lifted her from the crib. After donning a fresh diaper, she snuggled in her daddy's arms and hungrily drank her bottle as Vin softly spoke to and rocked her.

"You know, a few years back your mom told me we'd have a houseful of children one day. I couldn't imagine the four, five, six, or more kids she envisioned. After your big brother Jason, and big sister Andi came along, my thinkin' began to change. Then Bren and Trey entered our lives and shattered my original vision of a small family. When we found out about you though, well, by then I knew your mom was right. You fought to be here, and I can't imagine not havin' you and your brothers and sister in our lives."

Vin burped his almost asleep daughter and smiled. He knew she didn't understand his words, but evidently hearing his voice was enough to send her back to dreamland. Gently placing Rebel back in her crib, he made certain the blanket covered her and quietly backed out of the room. He looked in on his other four children, then made a stop by his desk to retrieve his journal. Next, he settled on the couch in the den to play catch-up.

Vin's personal journal:

I've had seventeen days to reflect on the decisions I made about our search for Travis. I still believe I made the right ones but wish there had been better alternatives. Some results were unanticipated. Missing and presumed dead is tragic, add in the gossip and scandalous news reports about our Director, and it's devastating. Covington, of course, is right in the middle of it all, feeding the media about his sorrow and disappointment with his old friend Orrin. We know it's all BS, just doesn't make it any easier to hear or read.

Russo called in a Federal prosecutor friend of his and convened a special, empaneled, grand jury to review the evidence we have against Covington and his associates. With cooperation from Spencer and Evans, and other pertinent testimony, he's certain we'll get an indictment and our warrants, but for now we wait for the grand jury to act. In the meantime, vetted Homeland Security agents are keeping Covington and his family under surveillance.

The waiting is hard on everyone, especially since we know who's responsible. Missus Travis refuses to even think about a memorial service until there is proof of Travis' presence when that house exploded. Digging through a few tons of mountainside to get to the ruins is taking time.

For the time being, Delta Team is dissolved and dad's back working the ranch. Kel and I gave him his saddle and told him we'd have a belated birthday party later. He appreciated the craftmanship of the saddle but said to forget a celebration. Kel surviving and Rebel being born on his birthday was all he needed.

Tess' parents are full of surprises. They talked with Cait about positions at Reins for Change, she agreed, and took their offer to buy her house on Reins' property. Paul put in his retirement papers with the Seattle PD and Louise is getting her teaching certificate updated and applied for one in Colorado. Right now, they are back in Seattle preparing for their move here.

Chris decided to take his full paternal leave with Tempest and is spending time with his babies, Jesse, and Cait. MCAT is on stand down, with the exception of arresting Covington when the time comes, so, for what's it's worth, I'm still acting Commander. Reckon it's not much since the rebuilding of our offices has been put on hold by Russo. Buck and Ezra have been released by the doctor, and Michaels, who is still healing went home with his wife. Westin, Langley, and Cordova are still healing. Hunter has decided to stay in Texas on Charlie Team. Can't say I mind. Gives me time to sort out some things weighing on my mind.

Kel's check-up with Doctor G was good. He says she's doing well and should not have any permanent damage from being shot. Her appointment with Doctor Weeks went well too. Our kids have been great with Rebel, and very patient with their mother while she's healing. Our seventh anniversary is in a few days, but we're not planning anything until after Kel is 100%. In the meantime, Ezra has been in touch with Slade's lawyer in Texas and is taking care of the legal end of things. Slade is sending some of Jillian's family keepsakes for Kelli. Says Marissa has no interest in the Forsyth family or much of anything concerning family, and feels they belong with Kel. Still not sure why the old man changed his mind, but we're cautiously optimistic it could be a good thing.

Marissa, on the other hand, is blaming Kelli for her other children's jail time. Both are awaiting trial in Texas for conspiracy to commit capital murder. Marissa wants my wife to testify on behalf of her older half-siblings and claim her attempted murder was a mistake. She seems to think since Kel's okay, she should have the charges dropped. Right…when pigs fly. If I had to decide they'd both end up on death row.

None of us on the L7 feel much like getting together for anything. My brothers want a Legacy meeting, I'm not sure they are ready to hear what I have to say, and I have been putting them off. Reluctantly, I agreed to one for today. We meet later this morning at the Carriage House.

All of us are playing the waiting game. We want to take down the bastard responsible for the hell of the past month. At the same time, we're attempting to make sense of all that's happened. Travis, of course, is what we think about the most. With MCAT's seventh anniversary coming this month…he should be here.

Where we all go from here is a big question mark. For me, at the moment, I'm gonna search my memories and, look for answers for my questions, and attempt to sort out my latest vision.

More soon….

+ + + + + + +

Chris stirred from his bizarre dream when he felt the mattress empty beside him. He rolled over in time to see Cait slip out into the hallway and close their bedroom door behind her. He squinted at the clock on his nightstand and saw five a.m. He smiled as he heard Tempest's low whimpering come over the baby monitor, before another voice filled his ears.

"Hush now, my sweet Baby Girl. Mama's here."

As he listened to his wife's low voice talking quietly to their infant daughter, he felt a wave of gratefulness wash over him. It was way too soon for him to forget how close he could have come to losing both. He slid out of bed and reached for the sweats he'd stripped off before going to bed the night before.

He padded barefoot from their room and the down the hall to Tempest's nursery. He came to a stop in the doorway at the heartwarming sight before him. Sitting in the rocking chair they'd picked out together, Cait gazed lovingly at their baby's cherubic features as she nursed. She softly sang an unfamiliar tune, but one which seemed to be soothing to their infant girl.

Quietly, he padded across the room and crouched down on the right side of the chair, so he could see both their faces. He watched Tempest's eyes close slowly as her mama finished singing to her.

"Hush my wee bairnie an' sleep wi' oot fear. Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear."

Neither parent spoke for a few moments, wanting to be sure their little girl was fast asleep. When enough time passed, he spoke softly.

"What were you singing?"

"An old Scottish lullaby my father used to sing to me. I sang it to Billy and Mandy when they were babies, too." She smiled at him. "It is called 'Sweet Angus'."

"She likes it." Chris reached out and ran a finger over the reddish-blonde down covering Tempest's head. When she didn't respond to his touch, he grinned at Cait. "I think she's out."

"I know. Give me a couple more minutes with her and I'll join you in the kitchen for coffee."

Chris stood up, gave Tempest a kiss on her forehead, then claimed one from his wife, before leaving the nursery and heading off to put on a pot of coffee.

Cait had barely settled at the kitchen table when Charlie breezed into the room. She quickly shooed Chris away from the coffeemaker.

"You and the Missus head on into the family room. I'll bring your coffee to you before I start on breakfast."

Cait hid a smile behind her hand at the darkening expression which came over her husband's face. Chris hated anyone giving him orders, especially in his own house. Fearing what would happen if he directed the line of thought forming in his head onto Charlie, Cait moved quickly to intercede before an eruption occurred.

"Thank you, Charlie. We'll get out of your way."

She shot Chris a warning look as she grabbed his arm, leaned into him and directed him out of the room. He gave an aggrieved sigh and with her hugging his arm to her chest they made their exit. Charlie had already ingratiated herself to Cait as a valued employee, and he knew there would be hell to pay for him if he did anything to cause her to leave.

+ + + + + + +

JD leaned back in his chair and pressed the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb. He'd been awake since four and spent the last couple of hours giving his computer system a complete overhaul. All his hardware and software were now updated to the latest technology. He'd painstakingly gone through all his files, deleting those he no longer needed, and adding pertinent information to the important ones he'd neglected for too long. Among those were the childhood records for each of his children. Besides starting a new one for Keira, he also created a new family tree chart to represent the current dynamics of his family. Copies of the children's records and the new family tree, he'd placed on an external flash drive for Tess.

Nagging thoughts invaded his sleep. Plus, he didn't know how much longer he could handle having all this 'free' time off work. Their Director had been missing and presumed dead for almost three weeks now, and it felt wrong for them to be sitting around doing nothing. Not only feeling helpless about the Travis situation, the incident in Boston about the mysterious Jonathan bothered him and troublesome questions about their Legacy floated around in his head. Waiting for the call from Russo, which would give them the greenlight to finally apprehend the Southerner, made him feel powerless. He didn't like feeling like this and knew his brothers felt the same way.

"You plan on staying locked in here all morning John Daniel? Or are you going to join the kids and me for some family time before they're off to daycare?"

He glanced over at the doorway where Tess stood with her hands on her hips. "I just finished up in here."

He slipped the flash drive into his pocket, rose to his feet, and moved to join her in the doorway. Slipping his arm around her waist he tugged her to him, using the toe of his right sneaker to nudge the door closed behind her.

He lowered his head to claim her mouth in a searing kiss, which curdled her toes and made both gasp for air when it ended a few minutes later.

"Mmm… nice." she murmured, a sexy smile curving her lips.

He responded by promptly kissing her again, shifting them both so he could press her back against the door, freeing the arm from around her waist, allowing him to use both hands to caress her luscious body.

She curled one of her legs around his, her hands roaming over his shoulders down to his butt and back up again, thoroughly giving herself over to the sensuous moment between them.

"Mama? Daddy? Why the door closed?"

The very distinct voices of their three daughters on the other side of the closed door brought an abrupt halt to their passionate moment.

"Damn." JD muttered, stilling his wandering hands and working to get his raging desire under control. He straightened and took a few steps away from her. "You'll have to handle them alone for a couple of minutes."

Her gaze traveled onto the bulge in the front of his jeans and gave him a regretful smile. "We'll continue this after our kids are down for the night."

"It's a date." He captured her lips in another kiss before he let her open the door and slip out to their waiting daughters.

He smiled when he heard another young voice and knew JJ had joined his sisters in bombarding their mother with questions. When no physical indication of his earlier desire remained, JD left his office to help his wife wrangle their brood.

+ + + + + + +

Buck appraised the construction going on at his home and nodded. It turned out to be more than he imagined necessary, but it made Inez happy. At five and a half months pregnant, he would agree to anything which put her in a good mood. Lately, it seemed even the slightest detail could set her off on a tangent. They hadn't been able to agree on names for the boys, where to stop adding to their home, or colors for the nursery. He supposed having him underfoot as he healed didn't help much either.

"It's coming along well husband." Inez's voice broke into his thoughts.

"Yeah it is."

Inez thoughtfully gazed at her husband. She knew his mind centered on Travis and all that happened the past few weeks. For some reason though, she believed it was more than that, yet she couldn't put her finger on what. "What time is your meeting?"

Buck glanced at the clock. "Still got a couple of hours. You need me to do anything?"

She slipped her arm around his waist. "No, but perhaps you should rest a bit while you wait."

He shook off any troubling thoughts and smiled, "Only if you rest with me."

"Si, I think our boys are due for a nap." They detoured to tell Tia Isabella their plans, then entered their bedroom and closed the door.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was not surprised when Nathan showed up shortly after Mallory left for work. He already sensed the unrest with all of his brothers, Nathan more than the others. He poured a second glass of lemonade and passed it to Nathan. "What's troubling you my friend? Problems at home?"

"Home? No. Everything is great. Terrell and Ronesha love Leia already and Rain is in her element with a new baby in the house." Nathan shook his head. "I just can't wrap my head around Travis being gone. Also, I don't understand Vin's reluctance about us having our Legacy meeting. You'd think it would be important now more than ever."

"It's always important, Nathan."

"Yeah, but since you spoke with me and JD about our Legacy, I've thought about more questions."

Nodding, Josiah suggested, "Ezra is setting up our meeting today. Perhaps we should go over early and help him. At least with three of us together. Our energy level should rise."

Nathan stood. "The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra unlocked the Carriage House and went inside. Barbara and Bianca, with Pearl animatedly watching from her bouncy seat, outdid themselves earlier, making Raspberry Cream and Lemon Poppyseed Scones for the Legacy meeting with his brothers, and for their own indulgence at home. He smiled in remembrance of how proud Bianca was when she presented him with a fresh baked scone at breakfast.

His eldest daughter showed as much enthusiasm and determination learning how to cook as she did with everything else. It was hard to believe how much she'd blossomed under his and Barbara's care in such a short amount of time.

As he went about turning on the lights and fans, starting the coffeemaker brewing, and setting out mugs next to the large platter of scones, he couldn't help thinking about the importance of this meeting. Certainly, his brothers were stewing as much as him over the dismal state of events which led them all to having such prolonged time off from work.

Not knowing whether their Director was alive or dead, troubled them all. He hated that Alexander Covington still walked the streets as a free man, when they knew he was directly responsible for the deaths of four of their MCAT teammates and the two security guards.

He'd worked hard not to allow his anger and frustrations to filter out in his wife and daughters' presence, but on more than one occasion he'd caught Barbara studying him intently and had seen a questioning look appear on Bianca's face when she gazed at him. Neither were aware of his knowing they were worried about him.

Writing to his mother about such things was out of the question as well. He would not burden her with such worrisome details in her final days. Instead, he filled his latest letter with the varied accomplishments of his wife and daughters, descriptions of the three new babies to join the Wild Bunch, and some of Charlie's amusing antics.

"Morning Ezra." Josiah said as he and Nathan entered the Carriage House.

When Standish didn't answer, Sanchez and Jackson exchanged worried glances. Both approached their silent brother and Nathan reached out a hand and touched Ezra's arm. "Ezra, are you okay?"

Ezra, caught up in his thoughts, didn't hear his two brothers arrive. He startled slightly at Jackson's touch, blinked, and then offered them a wan smile. "My apologies brothers, I'm afraid you've caught me ruminating."

"I think we've all been doing a bit of 'ruminating' lately Ezra." Josiah commented dryly. "That's why having this meeting today is important. We need to hash out what's bothering us and further solidify our Legacy connection."

"Bringing Alexander Covington to justice once and for all will make me feel a lot better." Nathan said vehemently.

"It will certainly help, but I fear we have a multitude of fragmented pieces scattered to the winds. It will take more than ending Covington's reign of terror to bring order to our lives." Ezra stated as he pulled up another chair.

+ + + + + + +

Vin groomed all the horses, mucked out the stalls, and straightened all the tack. He was killing time and attempting to psyche himself up for the Legacy meeting. It wasn't that he objected to having one, but he knew not all his brothers were ready to listen to their Heart Warrior. Some lessons were more painful than others.

*Heavy ain't it?*

Vin looked up after he reset the last saddle and sighed. "Thought you weren't talkin' to me."

Tracker shrugged. *Wasn't before, now I am.*

"Could've used your help."

*You did fine, Son. Some things you have to learn on your own. Like how weighty the mantle of Heart Warrior can be.*

"Pretty damn heavy." Vin murmured as he sat on a hay bale, pulled a piece of straw and chewed on the end. "Has it always worked this way?"

Tracker laughed. *Asked the same question myself more than a century ago. Got the same answer I'm gonna give you. Yes.*

"Did you ever have to…"

*Yep.* Tracker interrupted. *As did the Heart Warrior before me, and the one before him, and well, you get the idea. It's Fated and one of the last secrets to be revealed.*

"It sucks."

Sighing, Tracker shook his head. *Your trial period is over, you have your answers. Just don't expect your brothers to be ready yet to understand. Stay the course and they'll come around. A few of 'em have their own trials to face before they're ready. The rest, when they remember, will understand. Until then, expect resistance.*

"You know, when we started havin' our conversations, you occasionally made things easier. Have to tell you though, you've lost your mojo. Your words ain't reassurin'."

*Not meant to be. It is what it is. Always has been. Always will be.* Tracker steadied his gaze on Vin.*The road ain't ever been easy. It's up to you now to make certain your brothers find the right path and successfully maneuverer the obstacles along the way. You have the heart, the wisdom, and the strength to see it through.* he chuckled, *Good thing you know how to ride buckin' broncs. The ride's gonna get rougher before you hit the finish line.*

Tracker vanished, leaving Vin even more apprehensive about the upcoming Legacy meeting. As he walked to his truck he thought about what he'd say to his brothers. Driving to the Carriage House, he gave up planning his words. He decided sitting atop a wild

bronco sounded damn good about right now.

Chapter 13

"Orrin Travis has tarnished the law enforcement community with his illicit crimes. He has cast a dark shadow on the stellar reputation of the elite MCAT agency." Alexander Covington stated firmly into the microphone a local reporter held out toward him.

"Thank you, Mr. Covington for sharing your thoughts with us." The petite blonde female reporter said as she and the burly male photographer accompanying her packed up their equipment.

"Certainly. I am always available to talk to the press when my busy schedule allows."

He saw them out of his office and closed the door behind them. He grinned. All the press he'd done over the past few weeks were doing wonders for his already exemplary image, while simultaneously digging a deeper hole to bury MCAT along with Orrin Travis.

"Orrin, you old bastard. You really thought you'd get me, but in the end, I got you. I've proven yet again I am not a man to be messed with. I always come out on top and I always will!"

Walking over to the bar in one corner of the elaborate room he uncorked a glass decanter and poured amber liquid into a shot glass. He took a sip of his brandy before settling behind his mahogany desk.

Even though his men did not discover where MCAT was hiding Tom Evans and Spencer Franklin, he was no longer concerned by what they could reveal to MCAT. Orrin Travis was dead, his once impeccable reputation discredited, and MCAT was in shambles.

Once again, he'd come up against a worthy opponent, and brought them to their knees. He'd proven that he was a man few ever succeeded in besting.

+ + + + + + +

The energy level in the room grew when Buck and JD arrived together and headed straight for the refreshments. Once they filled their plates and mugs they settled into chairs around the table, waiting with their brothers for Chris and Vin to arrive. Each of them silently musing about things they wanted to discuss.

Chris walked in, took one look at his morose bunch of brothers, and shook his head. He could feel their depression before he entered the room and sincerely hoped this meeting would dispel their blue mood. "Scones look good." He took a Lemon Poppyseed one, bit into it, then nodded. "Good."

Ezra half-smiled. "They're courtesy of Barbara and Bianca. My eldest daughter is keen on improving her culinary skills, and my wife is only too happy to oblige."

"Give them my compliments." Chis took another bite of the tart treat as he joined his brothers at the table.

Buck glanced at the wall clock. "Vin is late."

Outside Vin listened to the tail end of the recorded interview Covington gave earlier, then killed the engine. It disgusted him to no end to have to listen to that kind of drivel over the past three weeks. Hearing the bastard lament about the fall of MCAT and railing about Travis, made his stomach turn. Hopefully Russo had pulled the right strings and the 'Southerner' would be history soon.

As a Heart Warrior he read his brothers' thoughts. Looking toward the Carriage House, he knew what to expect on the other side of that door. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed his book, exited his truck, and headed inside.

"I'm just saying. With our Legacy we should have found a way to get to Travis first." Nathan had given a lot of thought about his comment over the past few weeks and it relieved him to say it aloud.

Overhearing Nathan's statement as he walked in, Vin stopped and poised a question, "What do you think we should have done, Nathan?"

"Well… uh…I'm not sure but something." Jackson slumped back in his chair as Tanner joined them at the table, laying his book in front of him.

JD sighed and decided to voice his opinion. "There must have been something we missed. What good is it to be part of this Legacy and not be able to save people we care about?"

Buck nodded. "I've been thinking the same thing. Especially when I hear or read all the garbage meant to smear Travis' reputation."

"It is most definitely a distressing turn of events." Ezra spoke while absently spinning his empty mug. "One would think we've lost our advantage with our Legacy."

"You're being quiet over there Chris." Buck leveled his gaze on Larabee. "Wanna share your thoughts, Stud?"

Reflecting on his disturbing dream, he realized this was all part of it. His brothers were having a crisis of faith about who they are and what they represent. "Legacy or no Legacy, I trust our Commander made the best decision possible with the information he had." Chris glanced from one brother to the next. "Anything we say now would only be second guessing or armchair quarterbacking. I don't see much point in doing either."

Josiah too, had questions and concerns. "I've read our book several times. Usually I find answers, now it's not speaking to me as it was."

Vin stood, slid his Legacy book to the center of the table, and walked around the chairs. His first stop was Nathan. Placing his hands on his brother's shoulders he finally spoke. "As a healer I'm sure you know, while you do your best, some things are beyond your control and nothin' is certain. The same could be said about our Legacy. It is not a mystical force we can tap into and magically change things to suit our needs, nor does it provide us any guarantees."

Next, he moved behind JD. "Our ancestors lost a multitude of family members and friends through actions not their own. Though they grieved for each of them, they were fated to move on, not allowing guilt to slow or halt their pathway to justice."

Standing behind Buck he sighed. "As our Guardian Warrior, I understand how difficult it is for you to accept any attack on us, be it physical, mental or with unfounded words. There are times, however, when you need to stay your physical instincts, and rely on Fate to see us through."

Ezra knew he was next to hear from their Heart Warrior and readied himself. "All right, what have I missed?"

Vin smiled. Their Sight Warrior already sensed what was coming. "Do you really believe our advantage is havin' that book? Think past the obvious, Ezra, and remember."

Rounding the table, he stopped beside Josiah. "Our eldest, guides us from a spiritual plane. He is the first to remember, and his gifts guide us when the road ahead is uncertain. But what happens when the road ahead is unclear to him?" Vin turned and focused his gaze on his eldest brother. "It's funny you worded your comment the way you did. Less than an hour ago, I was sayin' basically the same thing to Tracker. It dawned on me then…we've heard the words before, we've even practiced what we think we've learned. The answers are there, if we ask the right questions. Do we really understand the difference between what we've learned and what we've failed to remember?"

The last brother to hear his words waited. Chris wasn't sure what Vin would say, but deep down he sensed it concerned an important turning point for all of them.

With one hand on Chris' shoulder, Vin leaned in and picked up his Legacy book with the other. "Our Chief Warrior, the one who keeps us focused, may not know it, but he gave you the best answer to your questions. Trust is the key. We trust Fate, and we trust one another. But, we've done that for years, before the book, before we even heard about our Legacy. We each traveled our own road and have our induvial stories. Coming together as teammates first, then family and finally sharin' our Legacy didn't take away who we are, it only brought our story full circle. Hell, we were known as the Magnificent Seven back in our ATF days. What changed? " He raised the book and said, "We got THE book. This bound journal is just that. Words from our ancestors about their journey of learnin' and their pathway to understandin'. Each successive seven have added to it and passed it down as we will." He dropped it, and the brothers collectively cringed when the sound of it hitting the table rang throughout the room. "It's not supernatural, it can't shoot, kill, or maim an enemy. That book is simply a learnin' tool. One we have become too damn dependent on."

Glancing at the astonished looks on his brothers' faces, Vin now understood Tracker's warning about resistance. His warrior brothers were acting as passive, powerless individuals. Reacting badly to circumstances they couldn't change, forgetting the lessons of their Legacy and how strong they are.

"As your Heart Warrior, my task is to use my gifts which allow me to sense all we each need to know to complete our transitions and embrace our destinies. At the same time, I need to ensure a strengthenin' of the bonds that protects our Legacy. Each of y'all are in a different stage of our journey and that's okay." He paused as he looked from one brother to the next. "Some of us have passed our trials, some of you still face disturbin' events which will change your perspective, regardless if you wish it to or not. We always face challenges as a whole, the same as our ancestors have from the beginnin'. However, some things never change… We must always remember how we came to be and what is expected of us. We cannot allow the times we live in to define us or our actions. Neither shall any book, tall tale, or reputation dictate who we are."

Vin's piercing gaze stopped on Josiah. "We haven't been listenin'. Cowboy and Tracker told us from their first visit... we are, we were, and will be again. What lies before us or behind us is of little matter…. It is what lies within us that's important." He paused and placed his hand over his heart. "We are the Legacy. Remember why and how."

A contemplative silence settled over the room. His brothers wanted to respond, but none found the words to give voice to their thoughts. Each one came here today, looking for answers with a sense of confusion and disappointment regarding the whys of recent events. None expected their Heart Warrior to add a multitude of new questions to their list which overshadowed their previous concerns.

The shrill alert of the Commander's secure cell startled them all. Vin pulled out his phone, punched in the code and waited. Less than a minute passed before Russo was on the line.

"Yes, Sir. Glad to hear that…we'll be there."

He disconnected his call and looked at the others, who were watching him expectantly. There was a thread of tense anticipation in the room as they waited for him to reveal the contents of his conversation.

"Our Legacy meetin' is now an MCAT meetin'." Commander Tanner stood in front of them instead of their Heart Warrior. "That was Russo. He has in his possession RICO indictments and search warrants for us to not only arrest Alexander Covington, but also 37 of his associates."



"I thought we didn't have enough evidence against him, let alone anyone else?"

"Enough!" Chris' voice ended the tirade of questions posed to Tanner. "Stop yammering like a bunch of hyenas and let our Commander talk!"

When the room fell silent again, Vin continued, "Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Commander Larabee set into motion an undercover operation spearheaded by the DOJ back when he decided to investigate the Trinity Brotherhood. Thomas Evans, disgraced alcoholic FBI agent, actually faked his downfall as an agent, and went undercover for the DOJ. He's been in Covington's organization for months and has provided MCAT and the grand jury with additional and extensive evidence of Covington's criminal activities. Those activities include conspiracy to commit murder, murder, money launderin', kidnappin', fraud, tax evasion, and a host of other crimes. Not only will he be arrested, all his assets will be seized and bank accounts frozen."

"Yes!" Buck howled, "We got him!"

Vin saw the smiles and relieved looks on their faces. "Our own diggin' provided evidence of his former crimes as a hitman. He is now wanted in several countries and Interpol will assist with his prosecutions once we're done with him. Along with the written statements of Spencer Franklin and Director Orrin Travis, it's enough for us to put the bastard away for a very long time."

Chris' brows furrowed, and he leaned forward. "Did you say Travis? He's alive? How? When did you find out?"

Josiah hid his smirk. "Chris, let our Commander talk."

Larabee shot Sanchez a glare, before levelling it on Tanner.

*We were almost blown to kingdom come, Vin!*

Vin winced as Larabee's roar echoed through his head. *That wasn't part of the plan, just bad timin'!*

*Bad timing! You should have told me!"

*Need to know.*

Vin pointedly ignored his brother's mental tirade and focused his attention back to the task at hand. "Just as Commander Larabee made decisions he felt were necessary for the greater good, and on a need to know basis, so did I. The mornin' we planned our rescue of Travis, I had already agreed to have a covert team that specialized in extractions, go in through the escape tunnels Covington built behind his house. They removed Travis, took custody of the three men inside, set off the explosives, and arranged to have Orrin disappear for a while." He scanned the faces of the rest and said, "In order to live, Travis had to die that day."

A weighty silence filled the room as his brothers absorbed his stunning revelation.

"I'm glad Director Travis is alive." JD's softly spoken statement broke the silence. "Who else knew about your plan?"

"At the time it was executed, only Brodie, who arranged it, the extraction team, and myself." Tanner told him. "Once Travis was rescued and under medical treatment, both Russo and Missus Travis were informed."

He paused to 'read' his brothers and then continued, "Russo wants us to meet him and a collection of U.S. Attorneys, U.S Marshals, Homeland Security, DOJ, and FBI Agents at three p.m. He arranged a makeshift MCAT office at the training facility. We will be reunitin' with Director Travis shortly and will be protectin' his six when he personally serves Alexander Covington his warrants. Go home and gear up, we leave here promptly at two pm."

Vin turned and headed toward the door, before his brothers could aim any more questions or recriminations in his direction. There would be time enough for that after they took Covington down.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee parked his Ram half a block down from Covington's residence. Director Travis and Vin were with him, while JD, Buck, and Ezra were in a second vehicle. Josiah and Nathan were in the third. Behind them were three teams of U.S. Marshals in their vehicles, with a Forensic unit bringing up the rear.

He glanced at his watch. They still had five minutes to wait until the 'go' signal. He turned his attention to Director Travis. He appraised the fading bruises on the older man's face, and the unconscious way he favored his side when he made any kind of movement. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Perhaps a bit battered, but I'll do." Travis answered, then turned his attention to Tanner. "Could you go over the plan one more time?"

"We know from our continuous surveillance where every one of our actors are located. At four pm, in a synchronized operation, we, along with teams of U.S. Marshals, FBI and Homeland Security agents, will execute warrants at all of Covington's business locations. Additional teams are ready to execute warrants for the thirty-seven individuals named in the indictments. All of Covington's bank accounts will be frozen and the U.S. Marshals will handle the search and seizure of the properties. At five p.m., Assistant Director Russo will hold a press conference. When I give the command, all teams will move in. All you have to do Sir, is knock on the door, arrest the bastard, and cuff him. We got your back."

Travis nodded.

"We're down to one minute." Larabee started his engine and glanced at Tanner, who gave the order into his com, "Execute! Execute! Execute!"

Across Denver, varied law enforcement vehicles were in motion. Racing the short distance to Covington's residence, they slammed on their brakes, piled out with guns drawn, and rushed to the front door in a textbook maneuver. With Director Travis secure between them, Larabee and Tanner led the way, flanked by the others.

Larabee pounded on the door with his fist as he and Tanner shouted, "Federal Agents, open up!"

They kept the battering up until finally the massive oak door swung open revealing an angry Alexander Covington. "How dare you…" His face paled when he recognized the men. His gaze widened and froze on Travis. "No, it can't be…Orrin, you should be dead!"

"You and I both know should means ought to but not necessarily is. Alexander Corbin Covington you are under arrest for the kidnapping and attempted murder of a federal agent and an array of other charges." Travis pulled out a set of cuffs. "I told you where to go when you had me in that basement." He cuffed his ex-old friend and told him, "Welcome to your hell."

As two U.S. Marshals stepped up to take Covington into custody, the Forensics team and the rest of the Marshals moved in to begin their search. Travis' seven MCAT agents surrounded him.

Chris placed his hand on Travis's shoulder. "Speaking for all of us, Sir. Welcome back."

+ + + + + + +

At exactly five p.m. Assistant Director Russo stepped up to the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, today at four p.m. we executed a joint operation which resulted in thirty-eight arrests. With the cooperation of MCAT's esteemed Director Orrin Travis, who testified before the Grand Jury and loaned us his reputation, resulting in a battering by the press, we arrested a career criminal in the city of Denver. Alexander Covington was taken into custody in accordance with the Rico Act and charged with kidnapping of a Federal Agent with intent, conspiracy to commit murder, money laundering and tax evasion, with more charges pending. My written press release, which you will receive at the end of this update will give proof of false evidence you have received the past three weeks and exonerate our Director With me today is SSA FBI Agent Gideon Porter, Senior U.S Attorney Blake Connors, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Tucker Gentry. Each will be available to answer further questions. We welcome back Director Travis, who after an extended medical leave will again be in charge of MCAT. I'll take a few questions before turning this over to Agent Porter……"

Vin's personal journal:

As I wait for Kelli to join me tonight, I wanted to add a few thoughts to thoset I wrote this morning. Not only was I able to tell the secret I've been keeping, we finally brought down the bastard Southerner aka Alexander Covington. He was arraigned and in spite of his best efforts, bail was not granted. There's no way he can escape justice this time. While I'm glad we ended his reign of terror, it won't bring back the men we lost. Russell Miles did not die in vain though. His work as an undercover agent, which preceded Tom Evans, and his death ordered by Covington, in part, led to the indictments. Posthumously, Travis is giving the Medal of Valor to Russell Miles, Brad Garrison, Guy Sanders, and Alex Sandoval. For now, MCAT will remain on stand down while we all take time to grieve our losses and heal. Once Travis decides to rebuild, we'll be ready.

Our Legacy meeting got cut short. Probably better that it was, because I'm not certain all of them are ready for the next Legacy secrets. Now each of my brothers have time to think about my message for them. I know we have some rough patches ahead, but we did beat another attempt from the evil darkness to stop us. There will be and plenty of questions coming from my brothers, but I know we'll all be better Legacy warriors when the dust settles.

I know Kel and I have touched on how we feel about the circumstances of Rebel's birth, but not talked enough about how we both were affected. With so much going on the past few weeks, we really haven't had time to process everything. She tries to hide it, but I know her old insecurities have danced around in her head. Very self-aware of her scars, I believe she thinks they will make a difference in how I see her. It's past time for me to put those fears to rest.

I planned to wait until we could get away to ourselves and make love again, but she needs to hear my thoughts now. Tonight, I'll share with her the words I should have said earlier, but then she may not have been ready to hear them before.

In Colors I Watch You Sleep

I feared these powerful arms I hold this tiny life within, had failed you.

The red I saw that day both clouded my vision and coated the ash gray ground.

This crimson heart that beats with love in time with yours fell out of step from terror.

My body ached, I felt you leave, and I was distraught inside,

Feared to wither and lose all earthly power. But I stayed strong for you,

And channeled a rage so raw it glowed white hot.

Along an alabaster corridor our little miracle appeared,

Swaddled in pink, the color of hope. And I instantly knew you would stay.

To remain my inspiration, my soulmate, my companion in life's multihued journey.

My adored forever love.

Gonna make this short, Kel just walked into our room and sharing with her is a helluva lot more important than writing here…more soon.


Next ~ MCAT: Hell of a Ride #3: Highway to Hell
Part 1: Bloodlines

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*Poem written by Sue M