The next morning brought the irate Texan and miserable Southerner into Team Seven's offices. It was a toss-up on which was worse. Between Vin's quiet promises of death and loquacious soliloquies on precisely how hideously Harper would pay, the rest of Team Seven kept goading their long-suffering friends.
JD kept his computer volume up, playing a CD compilation of the songs Harper selected lyrics from the day before. This did not win him any popularity points, especially Toby Keith's 'Should've been a cowboy', but it served as background torment.
Buck, having suffered from a sleepless night filled with dreams of Inez and Harper, kept up a cheerful patter of conversation. He accompanied his patter with whacks to the heads of Vin, Ezra, and JD.
Finally, Vin drew his gun and issued a threat. "I'll make ya piss lead, Bucklin, if ya didn't knock it off."
Buck doubled his efforts on JD and Ezra, leaving the surly sharpshooter alone.
Nathan only had the welfare of the team at heart. He still shoved water at Ezra and Vin. The first two bottles went fine; both hung over men knew they needed to replenish their fluids. The third bottle drew some grumbles. The fourth Ezra threw at Nathan, cap off. It doused the EMT, along with some files and the floor, starting a diatribe about them being 'damn fools' and an admonishment that they could have prevented this if they had shown some common sense. Nathan stormed off to the restroom, returning with angry glares aimed at Vin and Ezra.
Josiah did nothing overt, owing his actions to the covert. First, he carried his breakfast from the diner in to eat at his desk. It was not his fault Vin and Ezra could not stand the sight of his eggs, sunny side up, or the smell of his bacon, the look of his sausage links, or even the cloying aroma of pancakes and maple syrup. For lunch, he brought everyone a Philippine dish with a fragrant smell. Both aching men turned green before walking out of the offices for some fresh air.
Chris came in with a foul temper. When pressed by Vin, Larabee reluctantly admitted to being called COWPOKE by several people who should have known better. They quickly learned the error of their ways. However, the incidents soured the already precarious mood of the team leader.
Vin, for his part, tried keeping to himself. He tried, but the sons-a-bitches that he worked with pushed his buttons. Of course, Kerry winking at him only served as a reminder. He already hung the dream catcher in his bedroom before he came in. His goal, he stated to all, was to survive the day. And then kill Harper.
Ezra tried sleeping at his desk, only to have Buck continually tormenting him. His phone incessantly rang with people talking about his tongue twister, resulting in a proclamation. He swore out loud he would shoot the next sonofabitch who said anything about mothers, pheasants, and pluckers. He then stated the bottle of wine Harper left him was not adequate recompense for his humiliation, and demanded his right to revenge.
The rest of the day passed peacefully enough. Quiet dulled the frayed nerve endings, and tempers slowly returned to normal. They made plans to meet for grilled burgers at Larabee's, and arrived without incident.
Most of them went outside to finish the cleanup on the vehicles from yesterday's humiliation. Chris started dinner.
Thirty minutes later, Vin started on Chris. "'Ey, cowpoke, where's my burger?"
Chris ignored him.
"Maybe I should say cowboy. Ya answer ta that." Tanner leaned against the side of the house.
"Got a message for you, Vin." Chris stared at the grill.
"The Administrative Assistants volunteer to be kissed whenever you want."
"What? How'd they find out?"
"So before you start calling me cowpoke, just remember I've got leverage."
"Ez would call that extortion."
Chris smirked. "I'd call it a deal."
"Yer all heart, Larabee."
"Never claimed to have one."
"Yeah, and that's why ya mother hen us ta death when we're hurt."
"I'm not a mother hen."
Vin snorted. "Yeah, right, cowboy."
Chris finished with the grill, carrying the platter of cooked meat into the house. It did not last long, as the rest of the Seven attacked the stack and left only the empty platter.
They finished quickly, everyone settling into their favorite spot for the upcoming movies.
Larabee disappeared for a minute, coming back with something behind his back. "Before we start the festivities, let's not forget the reason for Vin and Ezra's hangovers today." He held out the infamous line. "Time to divvy the spoils, boys."
Vin glared at his friend. "Chris, ya couldn't just leave the line somewhere and let us grab ours off of it without everyone looking?"
Chris smirked. "Nope. Figure if we went through all that for each other, then we deserve to know who owns what." He removed the black leather thong with silver chains off the line, along with the two flags. "Mine. Sarah bought this as a gag gift one Christmas. Never wore it, but couldn't get rid of it." He put the underwear down beside him, taking a long swallow of his beer.
"Please do not model them, Mr. Larabee, for I feel that would traumatize my already beleaguered brain."
"I'd rather see you in yours." Chris threw the line at the Southerner. "But we already know which ones they are."
Ezra carefully picked off the Christmas light-up boxers, along with his flags. "Mr. Wilmington, I do believe I owe you for the purchase of these, and their subsequent use in my humiliation."
"One of the best Christmas presents I ever gave, Ez." Buck grinned.
"Dear Lord! Someone actually guessed these were mine! They want a private showing!" Ezra's wide green eyes stared at his friends, one hand holding a flag with writing.
Chris looked at the scribbles. "You don't want to know what people put on mine." He tossed them behind him in the recliner.
"Gimme the line." Vin accepted the toss from Ezra. He removed the electric blue thong and accompanying flags.
"Vin? You? I thought those were Buck's." JD's eyes widened.
"They're mine. Thought I'd try them when I'm sniping 'cuz my boxers stick ta my legs and ride up my ass when I'm lyin' down fer so long. Gets damn uncomfortable, and 'cuse me fer being crass, but I can't exactly pick 'em out of my ass. Too much shit going down tryin' ta keep y'all from getting shot."
"That's one hell of an explanation, Vin. Guess you talked more now than you did all day." Nathan chuckled.
Vin threw the line at Nathan. "I ain't havin' y'all think strange thoughts. Still tryin' ta get the visual of Larabee in his outta my head."
"So what did the lovely ladies write?" Buck leaned over to check out Vin's messages.
"Ain't none of yer business, Bucklin. 'Sides, that's private, and I ain't sharing." Vin read one of the messages and blushed. "And I'm glad I didn't moon the bar, 'cuz someone would have grabbed my ass. These women are shameless!"
"All the more reason for us to make Harper pay." Ezra rubbed his hands together. "But we must plan, my compatriots. Plan a strategically sound campaign against a well-organized foe."
"Oh, she'll pay, all right." Chris finished the last of his beer. "I'll personally make sure of that."
"She won't be back until Monday," said JD. "We've got until then to come up with something."
"Mr. Dunne, a few days will not be sufficient for the scope of our revenge. We must take the time to insure that we do this correctly the first time."
"I agree, brother." Josiah grinned. "A battle of wits, and we are losing."
"Not losing." Chris scowled.
"Whatever ya say, cowpoke."
"Regrouping." Larabee threw a pillow at his favorite Texan. "Don't call me that."
Buck rubbed the back of his neck. "Cowpoke, cowboy. I think I'd like cowboy better. Poking cows don't exactly sound good."
"I DON'T POKE COWS!" Chris came out of the recliner, landing hard on Buck, and the two of them went tumbling across the living room. Their wrestling match continued for a few minutes until Seven, the black Lab who ruled the Larabee homestead, climbed in the middle and licked both men in the face. That broke them apart faster than anything - being tongued in the face by a dog.
"Seven!" Chris tried to keep a stern face, but he could not do it.
The Labrador retriever puppy sat down and whacked his tail repeatedly on the floor.
Six men tried unsuccessfully to hide their grins, but failed miserably.
"Go on, Chris. Yell at him for having fun." Buck rolled into a sitting position and wiped his face.
Seven, seeing his master's weakening, ran over to the recliner, put his front paws on the seat, and grabbed the thong with his teeth. He took off down the hallway with the chains clinking merrily from the sides of his mouth.
"SEVEN! Give that back!" Chris ran full tilt after the puppy, disappearing into the master bedroom. "Mine! Give it up!" A few seconds later, Seven appeared with a new bone in his mouth.
Chris walked out, glared at the puppy, and sat back in his recliner.
"Notice you gave him a bone."
"Something different than my underwear." Chris sighed. "I'll just take it out of Harper when I see her."
"In trade?" The words left Buck's mouth before he could stop them.
Chris threw his last pillow, hitting Wilmington square in the nose. "Shut up. Not like that."
Nathan chuckled. He removed the crimson boxers from the line, along with the flag. "I bought these to show Rain I could be less - stodgy - I think was her word. She liked them, but I don't see her regularly enough to wear these often." He tossed the line to Josiah.
"An ex-girlfriend gave these to me. Never could throw them out." Josiah removed the leopard print bikinis and flag. "Never did fit right, but she didn't complain about that." He grinned.
Buck chuckled, snatching the line out of Josiah's hand. "Mine, and they're comfortable for country-line dancing. Nothing sliding up and down my legs, or going up my butt." The dark blue thong came off with accompanying flag.
"That leaves my conservative shorts." JD took the last set off, throwing the line to Seven. They started a tug-of-war. "I wanted something different for when I'm sitting all the time."
"Kid, you've got the most boring drawers of all of us."
"At least I'm not embarrassed. I would have claimed mine in front of everyone, but I figured I'd play along because I sure as shit didn't want to piss off the owner of the black leather thong."
"Smart move." Chris sighed. "Now that we're done with that, how about the movie? We've got paperwork tomorrow, and maybe we can start plotting against Harper. And I don't care that I'm the boss and not supposed to know; it's too damn personal now for me to play ignorant. I want to be part of it."
"Sounds like a plan." Buck settled into his favorite spot, stealing one of JD's pillows and putting it behind his head.
Chris pointed to the barn. "Hay's out there with the horses, JD."
"Ha ha ha, Chris. You're so funny."
"Aren't I?" The team leader pressed Play, starting the first movie.
Larabee barely had time to recognize the voice before a small child attacked him. Effortless, he caught the jumper, bringing him up to eye level. "Hey, pard." He tousled the hair.
"Billy. How many times have I told you not to jump on Chris when he's not expecting it?" Mary walked down the hallway leading toward Travis' office with her hands on her hips.
"It's okay, Mary."
"It's not okay, Chris. One of these days something will happen."
Billy kept his head curled in the muscular chest. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay, pard. No harm done. Next time, just give me a little more notice."
"So what brings you two here?" Chris looked at Mary.
"Orin asked us to join him for lunch, and I managed to get away from work for a brief respite."
"Hope you have a good time." They entered Orin's outer office where his assistant worked.
Travis walked out of his private sanctum. "Chris. Glad you're here. Here's a folder on some of the new information we have for your case, but again, you're not acting on anything. Just want to keep you somewhat in the loop." The older man extended the file.
Chris accepted the folder with one hand, his other still holding Billy up. "Thanks."
"Mary, before I forget, will you and Billy be able to go to the show with Evie and me on Sunday?"
Mary thought for a second. "We'd love to, but I need to pick up Harper at the airport that night."
"I'll do it." Chris volunteered, setting Billy down so he could climb up on his grandfather.
"Chris, I couldn't ask you to take over for me. I promised her I would come get her."
Larabee smiled. "I don't mind. You have to take time with your family when you can. Besides, it will give me the opportunity to discuss our training so far privately."
"Well, if you're sure." Mary did not look completely convinced.
"Let him do it, Mary. I don't see my grandson as often as I want, and I'd like for the rest of this in-service to go well. It serves both our purposes."
"Orin, I wouldn't want to impose on Chris."
"No imposition at all. Glad to do it." Again, Chris smiled.
"All right. I'll give you the flight information." Mary searched her purse and found the paper, handing it to Chris.
"Well, Chris, sorry to cut this short, but I just needed to give you that folder. I'm going to take my daughter-in-law and grandson out to lunch. Talk to you soon." Orin ushered them out, giving Chris the impression that him picking up Harper at the airport was something that the AD did not object to at all.
"Bye, Chris." Billy waved.
"Bye, Billy. Mary." He waved goodbye to them both. "Sir, I'll talk to you later."
"Make an appointment; I think I'm booked solid." Travis nodded a farewell.
Chris returned to his office with the folder and a just-remembered mission. One he planned to farm out. He called Vin into his office. "I want my tags, Vin. Shake her office down, and make sure you check everything. If they're there, I want them back."
Vin smirked at his friend. "Ya don't want ta be drivin' around with COWPOKE on yer truck?"
"It kinda fits ya."
"Don't make me kick your ass."
Vin grinned. "Ya still couldn't do it in fifteen minutes, so I'm waitin' fer a rematch. Catch ya later, cowpoke." Tanner left before Chris could insult him back.
Thirty minutes later, Tanner returned. "Nothing, cowboy."
"Not there. Searched from top ta bottom. No tags."
"Damn. She's smarter than I thought, or not as dumb to leave them where she thought I would look for them."
Vin shrugged. "Guess ya might find out Monday."
Chris smirked. "Sunday. I'm picking her up at the airport."
"How'd ya manage that?"
"Mary's going out with Travis, so I volunteered. Travis agreed."
"Harper ain't gonna like that."
"She won't be able to argue."
"Ta be a fly on that wall." Tanner shook his head.
"I have more information on Harcourt Fenton for everyone. Meeting in the conference room in five."
"Sure thing, cow-poke." Vin ducked out of the office laughing.
Harper exited the plane with sincere relief at finally leaving that metal contraption. Not only did she share the flight with more than enough grumpy, irate people, but the flight also encountered severe turbulence. The woman beside her spent the majority of the cross-country trip from New York to Denver physically ill.
After comforting the woman as much as possible, Harper now reeked of the woman's aromatic stench, and all she wanted was a shower or hot soak, a good cup of coffee, or preferably a pint of Harp's. Followed by sleep. She needed sleep if she planned to face Team Seven the next morning. At this instant, she knew her mental and physical reserves were running on empty. If she tried, she probably could not find a snappy comeback, at least not without a road map and precise how-to directions.
Harper's eyes swept the gate checking for Mary, hoping to find her friend quickly, so they could leave. Too many months of attending seminars, as a student, speaker or Instructor, taught her how to pack light and get everything she needed in the carryon luggage. No Mary, but a familiar smirk accompanied by smug green eyes brimming with amusement greeted her from the still form leaning against the wall. A nightmare in black, waiting oh-so-patiently for the opportunity to have her alone, in order to pay her back for all she did the previous week.
Her poker face must be slipping because that smirk deepened and his eyes twinkled. The advantage went to him, in the choice of meeting place and time; how he managed to get Mary...never mind; she knew how he managed it. With a sigh, she moved forward to face her fate. "I take it you're my ride?" She opted against chauffeur, because he would probably leave her there and the cab fare alone staggered the mind.
She saw he noticed her bedraggled appearance and obvious exhaustion, along with the disgruntled expressions on every passenger. Then her aroma hit him, and she knew it was not pleasant, and then his nose wrinkled. She glared at him.
He gave her a guilty smile with a nonchalant shrug.
"Long and painful," she replied. "Are you giving me a ride home, or should I head for the taxis?"
He straightened from his lean and uncrossed his boots. "Your choice."
"You're not going to make this easy," she stated.
Chris allowed his smirk to change to a feral grin, before he turned on his heel and walked off with a shrug.
Okay, two could be infuriating. She let him get a bit ahead of her - he did not look back, the jerk - before calling out very loudly, "Hey Cow-poke, you gonna be a gentleman and get the bags, or am I gonna haveta lug everything while you saunter around checking out the women?"
With a statement like that, some of the men (the gentlemen among them) started staring at Chris, while the women glared. Those that did not glare or stare smirked and chuckled. She waited with her garment bag and rolling suitcase at her feet.
He stopped and turned around.
She miscalculated in her exhaustion and saw her mistake the second he looked at her.
Chris swaggered over to her and said, in a fair imitation of Buck with a touch of Vin, "Darlin', we wouldn't want ya ta strain yerself after that long ass flight. Lemme take care of everythin'." The next thing she knew, he picked her up and slung her over his shoulder, scooping her bags in the other hand. "Take a load off, darlin', because yer the only woman I wanna look at."
The assembled crowd laughed, applauded, or cheered his response while he carried her down through the airport and out to his truck. Security barely spared them a glance; they looked, but they saw no immediate threat to anyone, and the pair bothered no one. So, Security watched them from a distance without approaching.
"Put me down." She hissed. Since she somewhat asked for this treatment, struggling did no good and only weakened her cause. Harper figured she would try negotiating instead. If that was possible slung upside down over his shoulder, one of his hands on her butt steadying her, and her having an excellent view of his tight jean-clad rear end. After an appreciative glance, Harper used her considerable will to turn her thoughts away from that.
"Nope," he replied, shifting her to a more comfortable position on his shoulder, as he walked out the doors to the parking garage. His truck waited on the same floor. Her weight, or lack of, surprised him. He felt her bones poking him and realized she used her clothes to disguise her extremely thin build. Her attitude kept people at arm's length, if not away completely.
"Lady, you want to humiliate me in public, I'll do the same to you."
"How charming. Ooof!" Anything else she planned to say cut off when he placed her on her feet beside the Ram, her back against the door.
Once she steadied herself, he leaned one arm on either side of her and pinned her there with his weight. Chris knew her considerable fighting ability and bet on her current fatigue to keep her from making a move. Her bags sat at his booted feet. "Where are my tags?"
She declined to answer.
"You can still get a cab."
"Bye." She tried ducking under his arms, and he shifted to hold her there.
Green eyes stared into hazel ones. "Nope. Not until I get my tags."
"What happened to Mary?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Travis invited her and Billy to a show. I volunteered to pick you up when she wanted to decline. Told her it wouldn't be any trouble. For me, at least."
"Meaning I would be the one in trouble." She tried ducking under his arm again, and pushing it out of the way, to no avail.
He ignored her efforts. "Harper, you've done what only one other, well two, other people have managed to do."
"What's that?" Her tired brain zigged when it should have zagged, lacking a snappy comeback and going with the obvious question.
"Make me laugh about being called a cowboy or cowpoke." Chris finally smiled at her.
She shrugged. "I know I should be flattered to be in such august company as Mr. Tanner and Mr. Wilmington, but at this point, I could care less about your feelings, or nicknames. Besides, I don't call you cowboy because I know it makes you mad; I call you cow-poke."
"Flight must have been pretty bad," he commented, surprised at the lack of wit coming from the normally razor-sharp Instructor.
"You cannot possibly imagine the torment."
"Who do I work with?"
"Okay, you can imagine. Severe turbulence and the woman next to me was airsick for the entire flight. I may be called hell on wheels, but I had nothing on this hell in an airborne tin can. Thought they might take her off the plane by ambulance for dehydration, but we leveled out near the end and they dumped tons of water in her. It's a good thing New York does not allow weapons to be brought in by law enforcement without a special permit, and I had to leave mine home. I was tempted to shoot us both and put us out of our misery."
Chris inclined his head toward her wearing a ghost of a smile. "Sorry. Thought I smelled something foul...figured you got sick."
"Not hardly." Harper tried ducking under his arm again and he kept her there with a slow shake of the head. "Been on worse flights than that. Right now, though, I don't want to think of them. Can you take me home now, please?"
"Playing on my sympathy won't get you out of trouble."
"I'm not trying, Agent..." she cut off at his look and sighed. "Chris. Please. I'm cranky, exhausted, and all I want is a shower, a drink, and sleep."
"All right. Get in. We'll talk in the truck." Chris shifted so that he could slide her away from the door and open it. He waited until she finished sitting down and putting on her seatbelt, making sure all parts were in, before closing the door. Her luggage went behind his seat in the big cab and he climbed in, forgoing the seat belt for the time being.
"Thank you," she said, as he started the truck.
"Picking me up. I know I'm probably your least favorite person right about now."
He gave her an infuriating smirk. "I respect your guts, but not your method."
"Method? You could've caught me in the act, or even when I got your signature. I wasn't the one that didn't read what I signed."
Chris noticed the use of contractions, a rare thing in her speech, and more of an accent in her voice. Not an accent, more of a lilt. He figured she probably was tired as all get out; he knew flights like that sapped the strength, energy, and will. Larabee privately decided to take it easy on her and give her until Monday evening to give him his tags. After that, well, he might not be such a gentleman with her. "I read everything you send me."
She laughed. "Except that time when I forced you into a corner and made you sign an entire stack of documents in my presence. Last couple pages were the change of registration notices."
He closed his eyes and remembered that day in his office. Yup, he signed without reading and then it hit him...she organized this from the beginning, before that day was through...she already knew what she was going to do. "You planned this!" he snarled at her as they approached the exit to the garage.
"Of course," Harper admitted.
They fell in line with the rest of the cars and trucks trying to leave the parking garage. The going was slow, as drivers paid for the privilege to park at the airport to pick up their family and friends. He flicked his eyes over her; calmly waiting his turn in line, and saw she felt no remorse. Her hands were rooting through her small purse. What was she doing in her purse?
"Here." Harper tried passing him some money.
"No." He shifted to pull out his wallet and removed a couple bills, ignoring her outstretched hand.
"Put that away. I'm paying."
"Do you understand what 'no' means?" Exasperated, he asked her the question in almost the same tone she gave students. Chris stopped at the booth and glanced at the total.
"No." She verbally threw back, trying to reach across him to hand the money to the attendant. Chris pushed her back, earning a slap on the shoulder.
Larabee handed his own bills out the window. Receiving his change, he put the paper money in his wallet, while she fumed beside him.
"I told Mary I'd pay for that." She finally spoke as they continued on their way.
"I'm not Mary."
"No; she's nicer to me."
Chris chuckled, and then scowled. He caught her shoving the money under the sun visor. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Pissing me off."
"Then that's a bonus. I'm leaving the money here because I insist on paying."
He reached over and pulled it out, tossing it back into her lap. "You can pay the transfer fee to get my real tags back on my truck, where they belong." Expertly he merged with the traffic heading into Denver. Chris realized he did not know where she lived. "Where am I taking you?"
"Yeah, well, haven't had time to find an apartment." She looked out the passenger window.
"I can help you look if you want."
Hazel eyes flicked over to him, and then stared out into the night. "I appreciate that. I might take you up on it, only if I buy our lunch." She poked her chest with an index finger in emphasis.
"All right. One condition."
"No calling me cow-poke, or any variation of cowboy."
"That day only, agreed."
They rode in silence for a few moments. Chris considered her quietly, finding her sitting back with her eyes closed. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure. No guarantees I'll answer."
"How'd you break in and not leave a trace?"
Harper started laughing. "You mean into your ranch house? Piece of cake." He gave her a minor glare. "Should I mention that I'm used to places more difficult, with more security systems, cameras, infrareds, need I continue?"
Chris noticed the lilt grew a little thicker. "So, what you're telling me is you're a cat burglar?"
"More like Catwoman," she answered. "I look good in black leather. What about the whip? Does it work for me?" Harper joked, trying to keep things light between them. The team still had a significant portion of time left with her, as their Instructor, to certify them in all their needed classes. She really did not want to walk into a lion's den the next day. Not in her current mood, at least.
"I thought that was your voice," he dryly replied. "You can crack that pretty good."
"Voice of authority, Larabee. So why don't you respect it and do what I tell you?"
"I have problems with authority."
She started laughing. "I hadn't noticed."
He smiled at her. "Here we are, the Hampton Inn."
"Thank goodness." She sighed, undoing her seatbelt.
"You going to jump out before I stop?"
Harper realized one hand rested on the door while the truck was still in motion. She stopped herself. "Oh. Actually, no. I'm just so tired that I don't I know what I'm doing."
"Will you make it to your room okay?"
"Yes, thank you." Just as he parked out front, he climbed out before she finished unlocking the door and opened it for her, giving her hand when she alighted. Harper stretched again, reveling in the feeling of standing upright, and reached for her bags in Larabee's hands.
Harper sighed with resignation. "Your tags."
"You'll have them tomorrow."
"Thank you," he said, handing off the garment bag and suitcase, while taking the time to pull open the handle, so she could easily roll it.
"No, thank you for the ride. I appreciate it."
"No problem." He went to climb into his truck and she called out to him.
That smirk made him nervous. "Yeah?"
"Check under your desk for your tags. They've been there the entire time." Harper waved over her shoulder, walking toward the entrance.
His face immediately changed. Under his desk? She put his tags under his desk? Son of a bitch, he thought to himself, and twice damn him for being an idiot and not looking. Before he could respond, she disappeared into the hotel and someone behind him blew the horn.
"Hey COWPOKE, move it!"
Chris flipped the belligerent man the bird and climbed back in, all charitable thoughts about Harper destroyed in that instant. He drove around with 'COWPOKE' vanity tags for five days, when his own tags rested under his desk. Five days of abuse and jerks like this guy, making fun of him, all easily avoided because of her. Her little practical joke. It struck him that she made this his fault too - he never read what he signed near the end of that day, and he never searched his office. He enlisted Vin to help searched hers, but came up empty.
With thoughts of making her pay rolling through his brain, he drove to his ranch and starting plans on how to make her life miserable. Remind her who was boss in this situation and messing with Chris Larabee was not a good plan. Hell, it was inviting a disaster.
Six of the Magnificent Seven arrived for their training class Monday morning, most with relatively cheerful dispositions. Over the weekend, work did not call once, and everyone accomplished some project, or home improvement idea he put off for too long. The best part was no one was injured, or shot at for the entire time.
Fortunately unbeknownst to them, Harper recovered from her horrendous flight. She felt more like herself instead of the miserable wretch Larabee picked up at the airport, in more ways than one.
"Good morning, my rays of sunshine." Harper stood in front of the class, dressed in a tan blouse and above the knee length tight skirt.
"Hello, darlin'. How are you?"
"Not your darlin', Buck, but just fine. Eager to get started with your learning."
"Someone's in a chipper mood. Hope it's contagious." Josiah beamed at her, taking his customary seat near the front.
"Must you be so loud and cheerful?" Ezra squinted at her from beneath half-closed eyelids. He used his hands to lower himself into the chair he claimed as his for the duration of their in-service.
"Whatever is the matter, Ezra?" Harper clapped her hands. "Please, do not tell me you and mornings do not get along. It would be so predictable of you."
"Mornings are designed for sleeping, not dealing with demented she-devils intent on tormenting the suffering through bouts of perkiness and good cheer."
"I can happily say that I will not be speaking too long this morning, a point toward improving your already sunny disposition."
Ezra raised an eyebrow.
"We have videos. All day. Isn't that just so exciting, making you glad you showed up for work today?" She beamed broadly.
"I'm overjoyed. Note my song and dance number." The Southerner replaced his sunglasses on his face. "Pretend I'm the star, and you must cater to my whims. My whim is for you to...ignore me."
JD did. "Videos all day, Harpy?"
"Yes, all day. We get to watch them, talk about them, and answer questions about them."
Ezra groaned. "What did I do to deserve this punishment?"
"You can ask Chris about that."
"Mr. Larabee? Please, do tell us what we did, so at least I know who to blame for this exercise in boredom." The undercover Agent tilted his head, and only his head, to look back at Chris and Vin sitting in the back of the room.
"I don't know what you're talking about, lady."
"Then let me refresh your memory. I sent out a memo to all the leaders of the teams requesting they check out certain videos and review them with their people. The leaders then tested their people on the contents of the videos, and returned the tests to me."
"I vaguely remember that memo. It had a long time to do the videos in, right?" Chris checked her face for a reaction.
"That's correct. And, surprise! Most of Team Seven never checked a single video out. Most of Team Seven never took the required tests. And get this, Team Seven's leader failed to contact me about an extension, nor did he encourage his Agents to see me and take the videos home with them. I have made special exceptions before, and Nathan was one of them. He took them home, watched them, and returned the tests with the videos the next day. He's the only member of Team Seven to have watched these required tapes. So, without further ado, it's my pleasure to present them to you."
"Back off, Harper." Larabee deliberately put his booted feet on the table in front of him.
"You say something, cow-poke?"
"Harper, the rattler's restin'. Don't go pokin' him and piss him off." Vin tried stopping the argument brewing between these two.
"Feet down, Chris. This isn't Romper Room, or the playpen your team calls an office."
"Finally! Someone agrees with me that toys have no place in a work environment. I am vindicated!" Ezra shook a fist in the air.
"By a she-devil, Ezra. A woman that doesn't need to buy horns and a tail. They came pre-installed. Did you have to buy the pitchfork, or was that an accessory?" Chris gave her his most infuriating smirk.
"Take your feet off my furniture. Now."
"You want them down, lady, you take them down." He bobbed his eyebrows at her, the challenge dripping from his tone.
"It's going to be a long day." Buck looked heavenward.
"Amen, brother." Josiah's voice carried throughout the room.
"Okay, what happened on the ride from the airport?" Wilmington figured he would try to take a stab at clearing the air to salvage some of the morning.
Harper ignored Buck, glaring at Chris. "You do not want me to come over there."
"Trying to convince me, or yourself?"
"You've been warned, Larabee." Harper stalked to a stop on the other side of the table, her hands on either side of his boots. "Last chance. Move them, or I will."
Chris shifted his legs a quarter inch to the left, nudging her hand with them. "I moved them."
Harper reached down and grabbed both ankles, yanking them straight up over her head. His butt slid on the chair seat until it reached open air and gravity engaged. It also put his backside on an upward tilt.
Muscular arms clamped down on the seat and kept him from falling. Green eyes twinkled. "You want to kiss my ass while you have it up there? I'm guessing that was the point of this little exercise."
Buck dropped his head into his hands.
Ezra sat up, removed the shades, and enjoyed the spectacle. A broad grin brightened his face.
"I am not going to kiss your ass, Larabee, because enough people in this building already do. What I will do, however, is kick it because that's probably a foreign experience for you." She lifted her foot, shifting her balance, and gave his tush a good shove, letting the chair wheels carry him back. Harper dropped his ankles when they would clear the table. His feet landed with a thud.
Chris locked eyes with her. He held Harper's gaze in an old-fashioned staring contest. The longer it went on, the more he smirked. "You enjoy that? I'm thinking you have a fascination with my butt because you're always trying to stick some part of you on it."
"If there was something to hit, I might have enjoying knocking you on your butt. However, there's nothing there, or where my foot connected." Harper never broke the stare.
"Keep playing with fire, lady, and we'll see who gets burned."
"Are you challenging me?"
"As you like it."
"Then I challenge you to pay attention today. I would hate to waste my time, and that would force me to make a personal visit to your offices. You never know what can be found in there, especially under the desks."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "That a threat?"
She threw his words back at him. "As you like it."
"Then may the best MAN win."
"Forgive me, I did not realize there was a real man involved."
Vin muttered, "Now ya done it."
"You couldn't handle a real man."
"You don't know what I can and can't handle, Larabee."
"Don't think I'll let you 'handle' me."
"Now, that sounds like a threat."
Chris gave her a half-smile, that little twitching of the lips, hinting at true evil intent. "As you like it."
"I'd break you. Besides, domesticated animals are not to my liking. I like my men with a wild side."
"Of course, since you couldn't tame them anyway."
"Kiss my ass."
"And if I do, will you kiss it?"
"Moot point. You don't have the guts."
Harper broke their staring contest with a smile, walking around the table toward Chris. She passed Tanner, and her back was to the door. Her right hand dropped to the hem of her skirt.
Buck stood, moving behind Chris. "I've got to see this."
"You just want to see her butt," JD said.
"No, I want to see Chris Larabee kiss someone's ass. Don't recall him doing that too often."
"Back off, Buck, or I'll kick your ass." Chris didn't look behind him to know that the message went through; he sensed rather than saw Wilmington take a safe step back.
Vin looked at Harper. "Ya would, wouldn't ya?"
Josiah chuckled, his eyes missing nothing of the exchange.
The Southerner propped his chin on his palm, grinning like a fool. "It's such a pleasure to see someone else challenge Mr. Larabee's ire."
Chris held his hands out wide and said, "What are you waiting for?"
"Pucker up." Her fingers started tugging the hem upward. She exposed part of her thigh and showing she wore stockings instead of pantyhose.
"Instructor Harper. A moment of your time. Now." Jeff Hill stood in the doorway, glaring holes into Harper's back.
Harper mouthed 'later' to Chris. "Certainly, sir."
Chris puckered his lips and made a kissing noise, followed by a little arrogant wave of his fingers.
Jeff took her into her office and forcibly closed the door. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
"What exactly are you asking?"
"You were not seriously going to make Chris Larabee, one of the ATF's hotshot stars, kiss your rear, were you?"
"What do you think?"
"I'll reserve judgment, and I'll warn you that behavior like that will not be tolerated. Do you know how many sexual harassment regulations that would break? Or how fast you would be investigated if someone complained? There's enough people gunning for you, so don't give them a reason to get rid of you."
He corrected her with a look. "Sir."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you for your concern, Sir."
"Good. We understand each other. Now, moving on to real reason for my impromptu visit. Denver Fire Department's ride-a-long arrived, so I'll work with him for the first part of the morning. Second part of the day, he's yours. Six has a raid today, so he'll see something. Seven's slated for backup."
"Do I need to tell Seven?"
"Yes. Wrap up early before lunch; they'll make up more tomorrow."
"See you when you're done." He opened the door to her office.
"And Harper?" Jeff stopped and faced her. "Behave."
"Tell someone who believes you." He left, turning the corner for the main hallway to avoid the Training Center.
Chris felt satisfaction as Harper left the room. He straightened himself in his chair, and then dragged his body closer to the table.
"Stud, were you actually going to kiss that fine backside?"
"Hell, no. Just wanted to see if she would bare it."
"I agree, Mr. Tanner. Modesty does not seem to be one of her character traits." Ezra considered. "But I would have found it amusing to watch."
"Tangis ulcus." Josiah wagged his eyebrows at Ezra.
"What's that mean?" JD asked.
"You hit the nail on the head," Sanchez translated.
Ezra added his own Latin to the mix. "Usus promtos facet." His eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Practice makes perfect? Who needs to practice what?" Harper asked, walking in the room and checking out their faces.
"They're practicin' their Latin and tryin' ta piss off the rest of us."
"O! Plus! Perge! Aio! Hui! Hem!" Harper laughed at the sudden coughing fits coming over both Ezra and Josiah.
"Darlin', that almost sounded...pleasurable." Buck gave her a quizzical look.
"Do you want the translation?" She stepped closer, stopping right beside him.
"Go ahead." He leaned down.
Using her best bedroom voice, she whispered, "Oh! More! Go on! Yes! Ooh! Ummm!"
Buck swallowed hard. "Mind if I get some water? A shot? Cold shower?"
"Please, feel free to get some water." When he moved off, Harper signaled Chris she needed to speak with him privately.
He swaggered over to her. "You ready to bare it?"
"Not here. You're going raiding today."
The entire mocking attitude immediately left his body language. "Where, when, and why do you know before me?"
"You're backing up Team Six, and meeting them at one. I know so I could adjust your training schedule, and Jeff requested I tell you. I am going to push to get as much done as possible, and I would like your cooperation."
"Then shall we begin?"
Chris nodded. He turned back to the others. "Boys, we've got a lot to do. Those wusses in Six need our help after lunch."
"Doing what? Tying their shoes?" JD snorted.
"Cool." JD grinned and leaned back.
"Due to time constraints, I am going to show the videos one right after the other. You will complete tests on them tomorrow, and we will review them, but for now, watch. Oh, yes; do try to learn something."
"Harper, will we be spared the air horn?"
"Yes, Josiah. No air horn."
"Good. Buck hated that thing."
"Ha, ha, 'Siah."
"Wonder if Nathan's having fun." JD said when the lights went out and the first video started.
"He's found greener pastures. For this week, at least." Josiah leaned back in the chair, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, hands resting on his stomach.
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