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Buck stood and stretched his aching limbs before moving toward the door. The police protection was no longer in affect and he knew the police were right. Tasker was long gone and it would be several years before he showed up and sent Chris Larabee on another trip to hell.
Hey, Stud, thought you were going to sleep the day away. How are you feeling?
Want me to get you something to drink?
Could use a coffee and maybe a bowl of Mrs. Delvecchios soup.
All right, but I hate leaving you alone here.
Im a big boy, Buck, been looking after myself since I was 15, Larabee told him.
Yeah, I know. All right, Chris, Ill be back in half an hour. Dont go anywhere while Im gone.
Where would I go? Larabee asked, shaking his head as Wilmington left the room. He closed his eyes, but snapped them open once more as visions of a blood soaked Texan haunted his thoughts. Chris had no idea how long he stared out the window, but a soft voice brought his attention back to the doorway.
Mr. Larabee, these were delivered for you a few minutes ago. Where would you like me to put them?
Chris looked at the bouquet of flowers and forced a smile to his face as the young volunteer held them up for him to see. Just put them on the table.
They are beautiful, arent they?
Yes, they are. Thank you, Larabee said. He watched her leave and then stared at the bright arrangement. Blood red roses and carnations were the main flowers and white babys breath was spread throughout. The contrast was amazingly vivid and Chris reached for the envelope tucked into the center. His name was scrawled across the front in a nondescript hand that left him with no idea who had sent the flowers. Pulling open the sealed flap, Chris dropped the small sheet of paper and reached for it, but something stayed his hand. Closing his eyes, the blond clamped down on the tremor that started in his fingers as panic flared in his mind.
Larabee had no idea how long he fought to control his body, but he finally opened his eyes and reached for the card and read the words aloud.
Well, Chris, how about a bowl of ox-blood soup?
There was no signature, but he knew who had sent the flowers. Cursing his own weakness, Chris struck out at the vase of flowers and sent them crashing against the wall as his body reacted to the words. The card slid from trembling fingers and floated under the bed. Bile, bitter and hot burned its way up his throat and he bent over the edge of the bed as worried voices reached his ears. He felt hands on his body and heard someone ordering medication and felt someone at his IV, but he could not find the strength to answer their questions. Darkness reached for him and he welcomed the release from the bitterness of the world around him.
+ + + + + + +
What the hell happened? Wilmington asked when he saw Midland and Parker and several nurses working on his friend.
Were not sure, Buck, but were pretty sure it has something to do with the flowers that were delivered to him, Midland explained to the irate man.
Flowers? Who the hell sent them?
We dont know, Buck, but Chris threw them across the room. Tom and I were just coming to see him when this happened. He was sick and leaning over the edge of the bed. Weve put him on oxygen because his levels were too low and we also gave him the Soma with codeine because of the convulsions.
Damn it! He was getting better!
Yes, he was, Buck and although this is a set back I dont think its done any real harm, but until Chris wakes up and tells us whats wrong were going to monitor him closely. Are you going to stay with him?
Yes, Wilmington answered and spotted something wedged underneath the wheel of his friends bed.
Buck? Midland said and followed the ladies man into the room. She watched him reach for a card and saw the anger on his face when he read the words.
God damn him!
Buck, whats wrong? Parker asked.
Tasker! That sonofabitch sent the flowers, he said and showed them the simple message. I need to get this over to Miller, but I dont want to leave Chris alone. Maybe Ill just call Miller and have him send an officer over.
All right, Buck, Midland agreed. Do you think Chris is in danger?
Yes yes he is, but not right now. Tasker sent this as a way of making sure Chris knows hes still out there. Bastard loves to play mind games with him, Wilmington said and dropped wearily into the chair beside Larabees bed.
Are you sure youre all right, Buck? Parker asked.
Im fine, Doc, for some reason Tasker never saw me as a threat dont know why because if I see him Im going to rip his fucking heart out. The ladies man stared at the card held tightly in his fingers and knew the day would come when he would exact his own brand of revenge on the evil man. He heard the physicians leaving, but didnt acknowledge them as he reached for the phone and called Millers office.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah took care driving out to the ranch and avoided most of the deeper ruts in the road. He kept glancing toward the passenger who was seated next to him. To anyone else Tanner would have looked as if he was sleeping, but to those who knew him that was far from the truth. The Texans body was rigid and Sanchez knew it was from the injuries and that the young man would need the pain medications nestled in the overnight bag on the back seat. He pulled into the driveway and smiled when he heard movement beside him.
You stay put until I get your chair, Vin.
Aint goin no where, Tanner said and smiled in spite of the pain when the door of his house opened and Nettie Wells walked out to meet them.
Hello, Son, welcome home.
Thanks, Miss Nettie, the Texan said as Sanchez moved to help him out of the van. He held his breath as pain flared in the wound in his lower back and was glad when the big man settled him in the chair.
Ive got lunch ready for you and then its straight to bed, the elderly woman said and grew worried when she received no argument. She hurried to hold the door as the ex-preacher pushed the chair into the house and along the corridor that led to the kitchen.
Smells good, Tanner said.
Thought you might enjoy some biscuits and stew, Nettie said and quickly served up three bowls before placing a plate of hot biscuits on the table.
Thanks, Nettie, Sanchez said and opened the three bottles of medication hed brought with him. He shook the pills out and held them before the injured Texan. His eyes met those of the formidable woman and both grew worried at the lack of fight from their charge.
Vin knew they were worried about him, but he took the medication and swallowed them with the glass of water before reaching for a biscuit. He dipped it into the savory stew and wished he could do the simple fare justice, but his appetite was still almost nonexistent. By the time the pain meds kicked in hed manage to eat most of a biscuit and half of the stew.
Vin, why dont we get you into bed? Sanchez asked.
Am kinda tired, Jsiah. Sorry, Miss Nettie.
You dont have anything to be sorry for, Vin, the woman assured him and pushed back her chair.
Ya should stay and finish yer lunch, Tanner told her and heard her soft laughter as she headed toward his room. By the time Sanchez wheeled him inside, the covers were pulled back and the pillows were plumped and ready for him.
All right, Vin, Im going to lift you out of the chair, Sanchez said and moved to lift the injured man.
Ill be right back, Nettie said affording the two men some privacy as Sanchez helped Tanner out of his clothing and into the bed. By the time she returned, the Texan was covered with the hand made quilt shed given him last Christmas. She placed the glass on the table and sat on the edge of the bed as Sanchez left the room.
Thanks for being here.
No thanks necessary when family is concerned, Vin. You and me have a lot in common and I want you to know that I understand how much youre hurting in here, Wells said as she placed her hand over his heart. Its not just the physical wounds that are hurting you its the wounds we cant see. The ones that make you hurt so bad that no amount of medication will ever make it go away.
Aint in no pain, Miss Nettie, just tired need to sleep.
Sure, Vin, you go ahead and sleep, but this isnt going to go away until you talk about what happened.
Ya sound like Susan James, Tanner told her.
Ill take that as a compliment. Sleep, Vin, Im here for you, the woman assured him and watched as his eyes finally closed and he slept. She kissed his forehead before leaving the room and joining the ex-preacher in the kitchen.
Could use something a little stronger, Nettie said and pulled out the bottle of brandy she knew Tanner kept for her. The bottle had been bought the Christmas before, but it was still nearly full.
A woman after my own heart, Sanchez said and smiled when she poured liberal amounts into both coffee cups.
Lord, Josiah, whats this world coming to? Nettie said swirling the liquid so the coffee and brandy were well mixed.
I wish I knew, Nettie, but I think maybe Gods giving us a taste of real hell right now.
Hell is right. How do we fight Tasker when he only pops up long enough to hurt Chris and whoever hes close to?
I dont know how we fight Tasker, but I do know how we can beat him.
Nettie smiled and sipped from her cup before speaking. Are you gonna share the plan?
Tasker seems to be a man who devotes himself to making people suffer in this case Chris and by association Vin. According to Buck hes used mind games before and it took Chris a long time to get past it.
Taskers an animal.
Yes, he is and animals make mistakes. Sooner or later well trap him and when we do
Youll let the justice system take care of him for all our sakes.
Yes, maam, Sanchez readily agreed.
So how do we beat him?
By making damn sure he doesnt win. We make Vin see that Chris is not the one who did this. By getting them both to see they are the victims, but they dont have to be the ones to lose.
That may be easier said than done.
I never said it would be easy, Sanchez said raising his cup and tipping it toward the woman seated across from him. Do you think youre up for it?
All I can say is bring it on, Josiah. They clinked cups and grew quiet as they listened to the song playing softly on the radio.We were made to love and be loved
But the price this world demands
Would cost us far too much
I spent so many lonely years just trying to fit in
Now I've found my place in this circle of friends
In a circle of friends
We have one Father
In a circle of friends
We share this prayer
That ever orphaned soul will know
And all will enter in
To the shelter of this circle of friends
If you weep, I will weep with you
If you sing for joy the rest of us
Will lift our voices too
But no matter what you feel inside there's no need to pretend
That's the way it is in this circle of friends
In a circle of friends
We have one Father
In a circle of friends
We share this prayer
That we'll gather together no matter how the highway bends
I will not lose this circle of friends
Among the nations tribes and tongues we have sisters & brothers
And when we meet in Heaven
We will recognize each other
With joy so deep, and love so sweet
We'll celebrate these friends, and the life that never ends
In a circle of friends
We have one Father
In a circle of friends
We share this prayer
That ever orphaned soul will know
And all will enter in
To the shelter of this circle of friends
Josiahs breath caught in his throat as he repeated the last line aloud. To the shelter of this circle of friends.
Take heart in the words of that song, Josiah, because it sounds like it was written for you boys, Nettie said and began to clear the table.
+ + + + + + +
Jake Taylor looked into the room and nodded to the man seated beside Larabees bed. Jake would have come by earlier, but a family emergency had called him out of town and hed only just got the news about what had happened.
Hello, Jake, good to see you.
You too, Buck, how is he?
Hes doing okay. Should be getting out of here in a day or two, Wilmington answered and stood up to leave. He knew Miller would soon be there and was glad Taylor would be staying with Chris until he returned. Ill be back.
Take your time, Buck, Taylor said and moved closer to the bed. Hed met Chris Larabee and the other members of The Firm during a time when Larabee was considered a suicide risk. The blond had been tortured and subjected to mind altering drugs, but hed managed to beat the odds then and Taylor would wager hed beat them again. Theyd built a friendship since their first meeting and he would do what he could to help Larabee through this.
Jake? Taylor smiled when he realized he was being scrutinized by a pair of hooded eyes.
Hello, Son, how are you feeling?
Been better, Larabee answered honestly.
I should hope so. Who did you tangle with this time?
Miserable sonofabitch named Tasker, the blond told him and suddenly paled.
Easy, Chris, whats wrong?
N nothing just thought
Nothing, Larabee repeated and raised the head of his bed. Thought you were out of town.
Just got back in this morning. So, you feel like talking about what happened? Im a great listener.
Whats to talk about?
Well for one thing you could tell me how you feel about what happened.
Larabee let his head drop back on the pillows and closed his eyes. Jake Taylor was a good man, but did he want to bare his soul to him? Did he want to talk about his own weaknesses?
Chris, I know I might not be the best man for this, but you know you can trust me.
I know, Jake, its just not something I want to talk about right now.
All right, Son, but you know my number if you change your mind.
Thanks, you might just regret saying that, Larabee said, a weak smile on his face.
No, I dont think thatll ever happen.
Are you working tonight?
My shift starts in twenty minutes, Taylor answered and watched as the blond struggled to get out of the bed. Is there something I can do for you, Chris?
No, Im afraid this is something I need to do on my own, Larabee answered, grinning sheepishly. The IV was no longer in place and he grabbed for the crutches beside his bed. His ribs were not bothering him as much and the crutches were easier than getting in and out of the wheelchair.
Oh, I see what you mean, Taylor said and watched the younger man make his way toward the bathroom. He listened for any signs that the blond could be in trouble and was relieved when Larabee soon returned to his bed. Guess Id best get moving wouldnt look good to be late my first shift back.
Thanks for coming by, Jake.
Anytime, Taylor said and shook hands before leaving the room.
Chris lay back and closed his eyes as he listened to the sounds from the hallway. He felt the slight tremble starting in his hand and grimaced as it began to spread up his arms. His first instinct was to fight it, but the memories and pain returned and he knew the only way to be rid of it was to seek the blesses oblivion brought on by the medications. He looked at the button pinned to his pillow and reached for it.
Can I help you, Mr. Larabee?
I I please make it s stop
Ill send your nurse right in.
O okay Chris silently cursed his weakness and the shame that washed over him, but he did not stop the nurse who entered his room and quickly injected the medication into the hep lock still in his left forearm. He kept his eyes closed and waited for the drug to take affect. The nurse was speaking to him even as she took his vital signs, but he pretended not to hear and soon heard her leave the room.
Turning on his side, Chris silently cursed his own shortcomings and weaknesses as the drug took effect and slowly lulled him toward sleep. No one there to hear the half sigh, half sob as the ache in his heart left him feeling empty inside.
+ + + + + + +
Are you sure it was from Tasker? Miller asked. The card and envelope had been sent for analysis and finger printing, but it would be some time before they had the results. The look on Wilmingtons face when hed shown up was enough to tell him the man was beyond anger and moving closer to the rage hed seen once or twice before. The fact that Tasker had skipped town was bad enough, but there was also the knowledge of how easy it would be for him to get to Chris Larabee.
Bob, Ive seen how this man works and I know damn well he sent the flowers. Chris knew it too or he wouldnt have reacted the way he did. The bastard is probably halfway across the world now gloating over the things hes done. Someday hes gonna make a mistake and Im gonna be the one to put him down!
Buck, dont do anything stupid.
Me? Do something stupid? When have I ever done something like that? Wilmington asked sarcastically.
Im not the enemy here, Buck, the police captain answered.
Damn it, Bob, look Im sorry. It just pisses me off when that arrogant sonofabitch does shit like this and gets away with it!
Well catch him, Buck, and when we do hell stand trial.
Not if I get to him first.
You dont mean that, Buck
Dont I? Tell me something, Bob, have you seen Chris and Vin since that bastard did this to them?
Ive spoken with them and got their statements.
Thats not what I mean. Did you know that Vin doesnt want anything to do with Chris?
No, I didnt. Have you asked him why?
No, the gentle rogue smiled, but there was no humor in it. You want to know why? Its because Vin refuses to see any of us. Hes out at his place now and were damn lucky hes agreed to let Josiah stay with him and thats only because Stacey Midland was able to convince him. Chris is having nightmares about being forced to drink Vins b blood and hes blaming Midland because she gave him the last two pints of blood instead of giving it to Vin.
Hell of a mess.
Yes, it is, Wilmington agreed and sat down tiredly.
Buck, it will work out, Miller said.
I hope so, Bob. Look I need to get back to Chris. Let me know if you get anything off the card.
I will. Catch up with you later, Miller said and left the ladies man alone in the lounge.
Buck took a deep breath and let his head rest against the back of the chair. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily as he thought over the events of the last few weeks. So much had happened and it was tearing them all apart. Something had to give. Robert Tasker was a mean bastard, but someday he would find that Buck Wilmington could be just as mean, especially when someone hurt the ones he cared about.
Your days are numbered, Robert, Buck whispered, the words deadly cold in the quiet room.
+ + + + + + +
Vin woke to the silence of early morning and turned to look at the clock beside his bed. The green LED numbers read 5:57 and he knew he wasnt going to get back to sleep. He heard the sounds of the wind rustling the bare leaves and the branches of the tree scratching against his window. The sounds were usually welcome but now they aggravated the headache that was building to an intolerable level. Vin rubbed his eyes and was reminded of the wounds to his arms and shoulders. He shuddered when his throat constricted and a sense of panic overwhelmed him.
Vin turned and looked at the bottle of medication on the nightstand, which promised at least some relief of the pain invading his body, and finally reached for it. His fingers were stiff and unyielding, and he cursed the weakness that still held him in its grip. His frustration mounted as he continued to try and force the lid from the bottle.
God damn it! the Texan ground out and threw the container across the room. He held his arms tight to his sides as his ribs throbbed incessantly and his already weak lungs seemed unable to draw in enough air to satisfy his bodys need. His heart seemed to trip hammer in his chest and he fought to get his breathing under control.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah heard the sound of something hitting the wall and stood up. He grabbed his robe and hurried toward Tanners bedroom. He knocked lightly and heard a raspy, breathless voice telling him to go away. Ignoring the warning he opened the door and hurried inside. One look at the red faced Texan and the bottle that still rolled on the floor told him all he needed to know. Without a word he picked up the bottle and walked over to the bed. Uncapping the pills he dropped two into his hand before filling a glass with water and holding it out to the injured man.
Vin glared at the man standing silently beside his bed and grudgingly reached for the pills. He took them and popped them into his mouth before taking the glass of water and washing them down. Leaning back against the pillows he closed his eyes, but felt the other man watching him.
Thanks, the Texan muttered.
Youre welcome, Vin. Why didnt you use the bell?
Feel like Is in school when I use that damn thing. Should be able ta do things fer myself.
You will be able to, Vin, but its going to take time and a lot of work.
Work? Yeah right! How the hell am I sposed ta work when I cant even get out of the fuckin bed without help. Jesus Christ, Josiah, Id give anythin ta take a shower.
I know, Son, and tomorrow morning well see about doing just that.
How? Caint get all these bandages wet, Tanner spat.
Annie is bringing water proof bandages, the ex-preacher explained. Annie Preston was the home care nurse who would be coming twice a day to care for the injured sharpshooter. The woman was a professional and knew what she was doing. I went into Billings tonight and got you a chair for in the shower. Youll be able to get that shower anytime youre ready for it.
A shower sounds like heaven, the words escaped the Texan and a small smile formed on his face.
Im sure it does, Son. Are you going back to sleep or would you like to join me in the kitchen for a midnight er dawn snack?
Could use somethin ta eat, Tanner said and allowed the older man to help him into the chair. Sanchez wrapped him in a blanket and wheeled him from the bedroom, along the darkened hall and into the kitchen. They were both shocked to find Nettie Wells sitting at the table.
Good morning, Nettie said and reached for the coffee pot.
Good morning, Miss Nettie, Tanner said, smiling at the woman whod become a part of his life.
Are you hungry?
Could use somethin, the Texan answered when she placed a cup of coffee in front of him.
Well I could make somethin, but it might not be what you want so
Thought I smelled banana muffins.
As a matter of fact you did. Would you like one?
Id like more than one, Vin said, his stomach rumbling appreciatively as the tray of fresh baked muffins was placed at the center of the table. He reached for one and smiled when he saw the butter already melted into it.
Nettie watched the Texan eat; glad she woke before him and threw together the ingredients for the muffins. She hadnt slept very well and one of the reasons for her lack of sleep was seated across from her. It was easy for her to see how he was distancing himself from his friends and Chris Larabee in particular, but she was going to try and find a way to mend the damage done by Robert Tasker. She silently cursed the man who was causing so much strife in their lives and hoped some day soon he would be brought to justice.
Penny fer yer thoughts, Miss Nettie, Tanner said softly and couldnt help smiling when the woman answered.
My thoughts arent worth so much, Vin, but if it means putting that smile back on your face maybe Ill just give you a little advice.
Aint much fer advice right now, the young man said, wincing as he shifted on the chair.
Advice is free, Son, and sometimes its worth more than a few shares of gold, Nettie told him, but knew there was no point in going any further as Tanner placed the partially eaten muffin on the table.
Dont got much need fer gold neither, Maam, the Texan said and turned to the ex-preacher. Could ya help me back to my room, Josiah?
Sanchez met the sorrow filled eyes of the elderly woman before standing and grabbing the handles of the chair. He knew the reason for the sharpshooters hasty departure had more to do with wanting to be alone with his thoughts than the injuries to his body, but didnt say anything when they reached Tanners room. It didnt take Josiah long to help him into bed and cover him with the warm quilts.
Yall wake me when Annie gets here?
I will, Son, count on it, Sanchez said. You want the blinds closed?
Nah, leave em be.
All right. Use the bell if you need me.
I will. Vin turned slightly on his side and pulled the blankets tighter around his body. He knew the wounds were healing, but it would take time until he was back on his feet. In the meantime, Josiah was ready to help him and for now he had little choice, but to accept it. There was so much to be done and arrangements had to be made before he could sell the ranch, tender his resignation, and move on with his life alone once more.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah reached for the coffee pot and filled his mug once more. Nettie Wells stared back at him over the rim of her own cup and he knew shed been crying.
That boys got a lot to deal with, the woman said.
Yes, he does.
You all do, Josiah. Hes doing a lot of thinking and Ive seen him like this before. I think youd best be ready for just about anything.
I know. Theres a lot of anger and mistrust in him right now.
All because of that sick man.
Sick or not Id like to exact a little old fashioned vengeance, Sanchez said.
The eye for an eye kind? Nettie asked eyebrows rising.
You got it.
The line starts behind me, the woman said sharply.
Nettie, youre a
Tough old bird, she finished and smiled at his hearty laughter.
Well, you may be tough, but youre definitely not old, Sanchez assured her.
Josiah, flattery at my age does wonders, Nettie said and the duo lapsed into silence and finished their meal.
+ + + + + + +
Using the bed and the wall Chris limped to the closet and pulled open the small door. A clean set of sweats hung from a hook and he reached for them before heading back to the chair by the window. It took some doing and cost him every ounce of strength he had, but he managed the small feat. He looked at the bandage the lab tech had placed over the sight where shed drawn blood and had finally decided enough was enough. He was tired of lying in a hospital bed and no matter what the doctors thought he was well enough to be out and resting in his own home.
Chris pulled off the pajama bottoms and replaced them with the hunter green track pants. Next came the socks and shoes and he grunted as it put strain on the wound in his thigh. The last item was the sweatshirt and he was glad someone had taken pity on him and brought the ones that didnt have the elastic at the wrists. Finally dressed he searched the room for his shoes and found them on the opposite side of his bed. His jacket was nowhere in sight, but he was not about to let that stop him. He looked at the wheelchair and thought about leaving it behind, but his leg was already throbbing with enough force to cause him to grind his teeth.
Larabee knew hed managed a major achievement, but it left him bathed in perspiration and breathing through tightly clenched teeth. He had no idea how long he sat in the wheelchair before his breathing slowed and he was able to focus on the task at hand, escaping this room and the hospital. He was so intent on the controls of the chair that he didnt hear the door open until a soft voice asked.
Going somewhere, Chris?
What difference does it make to you? Larabee snapped. The woman standing in the doorway looked as if shed been scalded, but quickly hid it as she moved into the room.
Tom Parker walked in behind her and anger flashed in his eyes. He knew there would come a time when Larabee would see that shed made the right decision, but lashing out at his colleague was not something Parker would allow.
I am still your doctor, Chris, and I care what happens to you, Midland said.
If you cared you wouldnt have made the decision you did. Ill never forgive you for that, Dr. Midland.
She made the only choice possible at the time, Chris, and if youd sit down and think about it youll see that it was the right one! Parker snapped and soon found himself staring down a caged tiger with the scent of blood spurring him on.
Not fucking likely, Dr. Parker! Vin lost way too much blood and needed that transfusion a hell of a lot more than I did. She should have
She should have what? Let you die on the operating table? Let me tell you something, Larabee, without that blood transfusion you would have died!
You cant know that! Chris yelled, pushing himself to a standing position.
Like hell I cant. I was there remember oh wait, you were out cold and dying so how the hell would you know?
Easy, Tom, Midland placed a hand on Parkers arm as he stood nose to nose with the raging tiger. She forced her way between the two men and faced Larabee dead on. Chris, Im not going to make excuses or defend the decision I made. Its over and done you and Vin are alive and thats the only thing that counts.
No, its not! Larabee said and turned away from the woman. He walked back to his bed and sat down heavily. I keep hearing I
What, Chris? Parker asked and sat beside his patient.
Vins blood, Larabee said and nausea rolled through his stomach. His gut clenched and he knew he was going to be sick. God Vins blood should have been
Parker eased him back on the bed and looked at Midland as the lean form began to tremble. It started in the fingers and continued along the arm, as if each nerve were triggering a reaction throughout his body.
S sick Vins blood God it was V Vins blood.
No, Chris, it wasnt, Parker tried as Midland hurried to the door and told a nurse to bring the ordered medications.
Vins B bastard ma made me d drink i it, Doc, Larabee said, shaking violently as he tried to get the words out. Tears formed in his eyes and escaped through tightly clenched lids as he fought the sickness that continued to wreak havoc with his body.
I know he did, Chris, Parker said as the nurse injected the medication into the heplock.
M made Vin b believe I w was doing th that to h him, Larabee stammered as the medication slowly began to ease the tremors.
It will work out, Chris, Midland said.
No, Doc, n no it wont. G go a away I d dont want y you here! Larabee warned.
No! Damn it! Go b before I s say s something we well both re gret!
Stacey, maybe you should go, Parker said and watched as Midland turned toward the door. She made the only decision open to her, Chris.
Should have given it to, Vin, D doc. His plans for escaping were forgotten as he slipped towards the darkness that beckoned to him. His mouth was suddenly dry and the metallic taste of blood made him nauseous once more.
Tom Parker looked at his colleague and knew the woman had heard Larabees final comment when she paused at the door, head lowered in regret. Theirs was a profession wrought with hard choices and many times decisions were made on the spur of the moment. He knew Stacey Midland would wonder if shed chosen a different path would things have been different. He glanced at Chris Larabee and then at the physician once more before speaking.
Stacey, Chris would be dead if you hadnt sent the blood to the OR.
I know, Tom, and I keep telling myself that, but it doesnt make this any easier.
Come on, Parker said, standing and walking toward the door as the nurse recorded the new set of vitals. Lets go grab a coffee and some breakfast.
Sounds good, Midland said, but her words sounded forced as she looked at her patient once more before following the other man out the door.
+ + + + + + +
Annie Preston smiled as she helped her patient sit up on the edge of the bed. The nurse had given him his pills before she started and made sure shed included the prescribed pain medication in order to keep him comfortable. Annie knew the shy Texan was doing his best not to show his embarrassment, and she continued to tell him that he had nothing to be embarrassed about. Shed replaced the bandages with the waterproof ones that were supplied when the patient left the hospital the day before and was now ready to get the young man into the wheelchair.
All right, Vin, I believe were about ready. What do you say? Preston said.
Aint never been more ready, Tanner said, glad hed convinced her to leave his loose fitting boxers in place.
Josiah! Preston called.
Are you ready for me, Annie? Sanchez asked, pushing open the door and stepping inside.
I think so. Just be careful when youre helping him into the tub.
I will, Sanchez said. He helped the injured man stand and gently eased him onto the chair.
Josiah, if you need me just shout, the home care nurse advised.
Oh, I think Vin and I can handle this. Why dont you go in the kitchen and grab a coffee. I just made a fresh pot and Nettie left some of her muffins in the basket on the counter.
All right, but
Go ahead, Annie, Josiahll help me, Tanner assured the woman. The ex-preacher had control of the chair and pushed it into the spacious bathroom and Vin thanked God hed taken Larabees advice about the renovations hed put in place during the early summer months. A pang of guilt washed over him as he thought of the blond, but anger and resentment quickly washed it away. Hed be selling the place and the renovations would make sure he got more than he paid for the ranch.
Vin, are you okay?
Im fine, Josiah, the Texan lied.
All right, then. Just hang onto me and let me take most of the weight off your legs, Sanchez said. With more than a few grumbled curses and sharply bitten off cries of pain, the older man managed to get the younger one seated on the shower chair. He stood waiting for the Texan to catch his breath, knowing by the white knuckled grip the sharpshooter had on the chair that it was going to take a few minutes.
Im right here, the ex-preacher said.
Remind me why Im doin this, Tanner whispered.
Because youre hair looks like
Some of yer damn crows nested in it.
And then some. You ready to get rid of them boxers?
I can do it.
All right, Sanchez said and turned his attention to the shower controls. He made sure the temperature was right and finally held it over Tanners head. He let the water run for several minutes and smiled when the sharpshooter moaned appreciatively. He reached for the shampoo and poured a liberal amount into the Texans left hand. Josiah knew this would be difficult with the injuries to both arms, but it was good therapy in getting the young man using his arms again.
Vin felt the movement pulling on the wounds, but the feeling of warmth flowed through him when the hot water ran through his hair. He relaxed as Sanchez rinsed the soap and reached for the conditioner. By the time he completed washing the exposed areas of his body, Vin was exhausted, but would not give in. He towelled himself dry, and let Josiah help him into his chair before being wheeled back into his bedroom. The nurse returned and quickly changed the bandages, making sure there was nothing that needed immediate attention. Getting dressed used up the last of his meager strength and he was again grateful when Sanchez helped him into the bed. The blanket was eased up over his body and he drifted toward sleep, unaware that the others could read the pain etched on his face.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie looked at the sleeping blond and quietly moved into the room. She smiled at the way the sun seemed to frame his face and was glad he wasnt nearly as pale as hed been during her first visit. She placed the small parcel on the table and used her hand to brush a stray lock of blond hair from his face. How many times had she visited him in the hospital since theyd lost Sarah and Adam? How many tears had she cried? How much more would this man have to endure in his life?
God never gives us more than we can handle. Nettie smiled as Sarahs voice whispered the words as shed done so many times in the past. Sarah was so much like her mother, Netties sister, and those words were spoken so often during Sheilas marriage to Hank Connelly. A miserable lowlife whose only saving grace was the daughter hed created with Sheila. Sarahs love and devotion had been a staple in her own life after Sheilas death.
A penny for your thoughts.
Oh, Nettie said and pulled her hand back. How are you feeling, Chris?
I dont know any more, Nettie, Larabee said and pressed the button that would raise the head of his bed.
Are you hungry?
Not really not for the stuff they force on you here, the blond answered honestly.
The stuff they force on you is nutritious
Not if it comes back up, Larabee told her.
Stomach still doing flip flops?
Yeah, just dont have much of an appetite.
Not even for my banana muffins? the elderly woman said and pulled the wrapper from the muffins.
Oh I think I could manage one of those, Larabee told her.
Nettie watched him slide his legs over the edge of the bed and wondered how much longer the blond would be in the hospital. There was a lot of healing to be done, by both men, but Larabee was feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. He blamed himself for what was done to Vin Tanner and that was something that wouldnt be easily quelled.
Im not going to break, Nettie.
Thank God for that because from where I stand youve had enough breaks to last a lifetime and then some.
Only one broken bone, Larabee said and held up his right arm.
Its not a joke, Chris. Youre going to need to take it easy when you get out of here.
I know, Nettie, and Im sorry. Its just I get so damn tired of having to take it easy. Hows Vin? the blond asked and reached for a muffin.
He was sleeping when I left the ranch. Josiahs with him and a health care nurse was coming out this morning to help. Hes going to be fine, Chris, but
He still blames me for this, Larabee said softly.
Hell come to his senses, Chris, he just needs time to come to terms with what happened, the elderly woman assured him.
Might be better off if I just stayed out of his life out of all your lives.
Now you listen to me, Chris Larabee, because I am not going to let you do anything of the sort. We I need you and so do the others and that includes that stubborn Texan. It may take some time, but hell come to his senses and realize what happened was not your fault.
How can you say that, Nettie? This was my fault. Every damn thing that happened to Vin, every damn wound, every damn drop of bl blood he lost was because of me! Chris dropped the partially eaten muffin back on the table and felt his throat constrict once more, as the memory of the taste of blood in his mouth made it hard to breathe. He felt a hand on his back and the bed beside him bowed as the slight woman sat beside him. Her hand tenderly rubbed his back and he sighed as he lifted his head and looked at her.
No, Chris, it wasnt. How many times have we had this kind of talk since Sarah introduced us?
I dont know a lot
More than I care to count, Chris, but Ill never tire of having you in my life and having to remind you just what you mean to us to me. You keep thinking that you should have controlled yourself better, but I know thats not physically possible. No man can be subjected to that kind of electrical current and not react to it. He had electrodes inserted into your body and I know that had to hurt like a bitch. I had testing for carpel tunnel syndrome and that hurt so I can just imagine what you went through. Youre still being affected by it arent you?
Think so, Larabee answered softly, a pang of guilt washing over him at the thought of what he was doing, but he needed the medication. Needed it to help him deal with the pain, the loss, the anger and most of all the guilt. He closed his eyes and moved back in the bed.
Chris, are you all right?
Im fine, Nettie, just tired.
Well you go on and rest then. Ill come back tomorrow, the woman assured him. She watched the blond for several minutes, but finally left the room before he could see the tears that streamed from her eyes.
+ + + + + + +
For Vin, the rest of the day passed in a blur, his constant companions the aches and pains running rampant through his body. He did his best to grin and bear it when the physiotherapist put him through a gruelling session on his limbs. His lungs ached with each breath he took and his patience was wearing thin.
Vin, why dont you
Why dont I what, Josiah? the Texan snapped. Go fer a walk? Oh, wait I fergot! I cant go fer a walk cause Im stuck in this fuckin chair! Maybe I could read a book! No that wont do cause I cant hold the fuckin book long enough to get past the first page! How about watch TV? Shit no! Id be asleep before them fancy words go up on the screen!
Are you finished, Vin?
No! Tanner said as his eyes lit on the picture on the nightstand, one that was taken during a happier time in his life. He reached for it and without thinking threw it across the room. Again and again he grabbed things off his nightstand and dresser throwing them until his arms felt like lead weights.
NO! Tanner spat and levered his body out of the chair, crying out when his legs wouldnt hold him. He felt strong hands catch him just before he hit the floor, but the darkness reached out and claimed him before he could say anything.
Josiah breathed a sigh of relief at catching the young man before he took a nosedive onto the floor. He carefully lifted the unconscious Texan into his arms and placed him on the bed. Sanchez quickly checked the bandages and listened to Tanners breathing before lifting the blankets up over his body. Turning away from the bed, Josiah surveyed the debris strewn around the room. Some of it was untouched, but anything the injured man could grab had been privy to his angry tirade.
The ex-preacher walked over to the first item and knelt to pick up the shattered frame. The picture could be salvaged and Josiah carefully wiped the glass splinters from the paper. The picture was of the seven of them gathered around home plate at Veterans Park on Poly and Thirteenth. The day had been one of triumphs with Chris and Vin running the bases after Larabee had finally been cleared for active duty. The two men had run the distance in exactly the same amount of time, right down to the second. Theyd been about to leave the field when an elderly couple had asked them if they wanted a group picture taken. In the midst of the laughter and relief theyd done so. This picture showed the true value of friendship and Sanchez hoped they had not lost that camaraderie.
Sighing heavily, Josiah placed the picture on the dresser and vowed to have it touched up and placed in a new frame for the Texan. Next he cleaned up the other items, some damaged beyond redemption while others could still be salvaged. The salvageable pieces were placed next to the photo before he retrieved the broom and dustpan from the hall closet and cleaned up the broken glass. When the job was finished, the weary man moved back into the bedroom and stood watching over the injured man.
I swear to do everything I can to set things right for you,he silently vowed.
+ + + + + + +
Vin opened his eyes and looked around the room. His memories began to clear and he regretted the angry outburst of the night before. He looked at the nightstand and took a deep breath when he remembered the sound the glass made when it shattered and knew it mirrored the way he felt about his friendship with Chris Larabee. There was no way to fix the glass and no way to mend the broken friendship, not that he wanted to do that anyway.
Vin heard movement coming from the front of the house and looked at the bell, but refused to ring it yet. He needed to plan his next move and knew that he would have to rely on Josiah Sanchez to put the plan into action. The nurse and therapist would be out early this morning, but his afternoon was free and he knew what he had to do. Reaching for the phone he lifted the phone to his ear and dialed the number.
You have reached the law office of Paul Grogan. We are unable to take your call at the moment, but if you leave your name and number after the beep, and well get back to you. Office hours are nine to five Monday to Friday.
Paul, its Vin Tanner. Need you to call me as soon as you get this message, Tanner said and hung up the phone just as a soft knock sounded on the door. Come in.
I thought I heard you. How are you feeling, Vin?
A little sore, Tanner answered. He knew Sanchez had probably told her about his explosive anger of the night before and could not quite meet her eyes.
Im sure you are. Ive got your medications here and I thought you might enjoy breakfast in bed. Annie is here, but I told her to have a cup of coffee and Id tell her when you were ready for her.
Thanks, Nettie. Wheres Josiah?
Hes sleeping, Vin. He stayed with you until just after dawn and he needs that rest. Can I help you with anything?
No, its okay. Is that bacon I smell?
It sure is. Would you like some? Nettie smiled when the Texan nodded and hurried out of the room.
+ + + + + + +
Chris, just hold up and let me help you out! Wilmington snapped, regretting the harsh tone immediately, but his patience with his long time friend was wearing thin.
I can do it myself, Buck!
All right! Go ahead and when you drive one of your ribs into a lung Im not going to be the one to explain it to the doctors!
My ribs are better
Not by a long shot, but they are getting better, Jackson said upon entering the room to find the two men at loggerheads with each other. Now what seems to be the problem?
Nathan, did you get my discharge papers? Larabee asked from behind the closed curtain.
Yes and your prescriptions and your dos and donts and
Hell, Nathan, I get the picture! the blond snapped.
Do you? I dont think so, Chris, Wilmington said heatedly. Youre getting out of here today, but that doesnt mean youre going back to work tomorrow. Hell, youll be under the care of a health care nurse
I dont need
Yes, you damn well do! Plus theres physiotherapy and regular doctor appointments. Dr. Midland
I wont be seeing Stacey Midland
What? Why the hell not? Jackson asked angrily.
I requested a new doctor
Jesus, Chris, are you still blaming her for what happened? the gentle rogue asked.
She made her choice, Buck, and Ive made mine! Larabee spat.
Jesus Christ! What a fucking mess! This is stupid you know that, Larabee? Dr. Midland did what she thought was right and you should damn well be thanking her for saving your life! Wilmington snapped, running his hands through his disheveled hair and pulling back the curtain to find his friend shaking uncontrollably. Nathan, better get a nurse!
I d dont need a n nurse! Larabee stammered and lay back against the pillows in an effort to get his breathing under control.
The nurse is on her way, Chris, just try to relax, Jackson soothed.
Need to g get out of h here.
You will, but they need to get this under control before we leave, the medic warned.
W was under control Jesus, Nathan, I c cant stay h here any more.
Mr. Larabee, Im giving you a shot to help with this. Just stay where you are until this stops, Janina Lawrence ordered.
Ive put in a call for Dr. Parker
Not staying here!
Yes, you are! At least until Parker gets here anyway, Jackson told him. He saw the angry glare flash across the sea green eyes, but knew Larabee could do nothing without their help. The blond continued to struggle for control of the tremors that racked his body. The medication would soon kick in, but until then, their team leader would have to ride it out.
Lawrence reached for the BP cuff and quickly took a new set of vitals on the injured man. She smiled sympathetically as he looked at her and was glad when the trembling eased. A sound at the door alerted her to the fact that the physician had arrived.
Whats wrong, Janina? Parker asked.
Chris had another attack, the nurse answered.
Damn, the physician said and looked at the readings she passed him. Chris
Im leaving, Doc, Larabee said struggling to sit up as the tremors stopped completely. He felt Wilmington help him and nodded his thanks.
I didnt say you couldnt leave, Chris, but I want to check you over once more.
Chris reluctantly agreed to the examination and lay back on the bed. He tried to ignore the mans hands on his body and managed to keep from crying out when the physician gently probed the area around the wound to his right thigh.
Sorry, Chris, Parker apologized.
Its okay, Doc, just a little tender.
More than a little. Do you have my orders about what you should and shouldnt be doing with this?
Nathan has them, Larabee said as he was helped back into a sitting position.
Whos staying at the ranch with you? Parker asked.
That would be me, Doc, Wilmington interrupted.
Good, see that he strictly adheres to my orders and I want to see him in my office next week. Nathan, youll find the number on the discharge papers.
All right, Doc, thank you for everything youve done.
Youre welcome, Parker said and turned to Larabee once more. You have good friends, Chris, dont push them away.
Larabee nodded imperceptibly and once again reached for his clothes once more. He waited for Parker and Lawrence to leave and looked at the two men who remained in the room. He knew they were waiting for him to admit he needed their help, and reluctantly admitted the truth.
Cant do it myself, the blond admitted and was relieved when the two men helped him into his clothing. Finally dressed in the loose fitting sweats and shoes, Chris eased off the bed, put on his black jacket and sat in the wheelchair. He sighed as the medication hed been given lulled him toward sleep. By the time they reached the main doors of the hospital, Chris felt as if he could sleep for a week.
You wait here with Chris and Ill bring the car around, Wilmington said.
Nathan, can we wait outside? Larabee asked.
Its cold, Chris.
I know, but I need some fresh air, Larabee answered and was relieved when the medic acquiesced. When the door opened, Chris felt the chill wind brushed against his cheeks and sighed contentedly.
+ + + + + + +
Paul Grogan was glad to be back to work after a three week cross-country trek with his wife and in laws. He knew his secretary wouldnt return until the following day, but he wanted to get a heads up on any pressing problems. He pressed the button and listened to several messages until he recognized a decidedly Texan accent. He moved to the file cabinet and quickly found the paperwork he had on Vin Tanner. The Texan had only been a client for a few years, but was one that he respected. He lifted the phone and quickly dialed the number listed on the top sheet. The call was answered on the third ring by an out of breath woman.
Hello, I was looking for Vin Tanner.
Who should I say is calling?
Paul Grogan. Mr. Tanner left a message on my phone to call him. Is he available?
Ill see if hes up to talking. Hold on.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie placed the receiver on the table and hurried into the Texans bedroom. She couldnt tell whether he was awake or asleep and turned away, but was stopped by a raspy voice.
Im awake, Miss Nettie.
You have a call from Paul Grogan. He says you left him a message to call you.
Oh, yeah, I did. Can ya hang up the other phone? Tanner asked and picked up the cordless one on the nightstand.
Sure, Nettie answered.
Paul, its Vin Tanner.
Hello, Vin, your message sounded urgent. What can I do for you?
I need ta see ya about finding a broker for the ranch.
I need ta sell the ranch.
Thats what I thought you said. Can I ask why? If its money problems
No, nothing ta do with money, Paul. I just want this done as quickly as possible. When can I see you?
Im free this afternoon.
All right. Ill be there around two, Tanner said and hung up the phone. Coward, the voice of his conscience whispered and Vin fought the guilt that warred with his own anger. He needed to be on his own again, to control things in his own world without worrying about anyone, but himself. Hed been alone most of his life and had managed on his own on the streets of Vermont Texas. Maybe hed go back there and take up bounty hunting again. Hed managed to eek out a good living at it before and could do so again.
Vin, is everything all right?
Everythins fine, Miss Nettie, I jest got a few thins need clearin up, Tanner told her. He looked at the clock and knew hed need to get some rest before convincing Sanchez to take him into Billings.
Is there anything I can get you?
No, just gonna close my eyes fer a spell, the Texan assured her. He closed his eyes, but sleep was in short supply as his mind wandered over the plans he had for the afternoon. A part of him wanted to back out before it was too late, but he quickly squashed those thoughts and concentrated on the life he would soon take back. A life of loneliness, a life of regret, but at least his pain would be his own.
+ + + + + + +
The drive to the ranch was quiet as Larabee slept most of the way, mumbling incoherently about the deep ruts in the road. Buck smiled inwardly when he looked at the sleeping blond. The man was finally out of the hospital and hopefully on the mend, but there was still so much more to get through. He pulled into the driveway, shaking his head at the familiar corvette parked in the driveway. Standish had asked him for the keys to Larabees ranch with only the explanation that he would be making lunch. He parked as close to the front door as possible and turned to wake his companion.
Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty.
S shoot you, Larabee mumbled and opened his eyes.
Hard to do without your gun, Pard, Wilmington said with a soft chuckle.
Whys Ezra here? the injured man asked when he noticed the white Corvette.
He volunteered to make lunch. I just hope its not them fancy snails or fish eggs.
Buck, some day Im going to tell him just how much you really love caviar.
You do and Ill be the one looking for my gun. Cant let you ruin my image, Wilmington stated.
Most people want to be known for their great taste, Larabee said, wincing as he reached for the handle of the door.
Ah, but its such fun letting Ezra think hes the only one who knows the value of snails and fish eggs, Wilmington teased. He saw Larabee struggle to get the door open and quickly placed a hand on his arm. Just hold on a minute, Chris, Ill get the wheelchair.
I can walk, Buck, Larabee snapped indignantly.
I know, but right now Im not taking any chances. Its cold and there are icy patches and we both know you cant afford to go falling on your ass. So stay put!
Hell! Larabee grumbled, leaning his head back against the seat. He stayed where he was until the door beside him opened and a smiling rogue wagged his eyebrows at him.
Your chariot awaits, Sleeping
Fuck you, Buck, Larabee interrupted and moved into the chair. He reached down and eased his throbbing leg onto the footrest and sat back as Wilmington took control and wheeled him up the ramp. The door opened and Wilmington pushed him further into the house as Standish closed the door against the cold wind.
Mr. Larabee, its good to see you out of hospital attire, the conman said.
Its good to be out of there, Ezra. What are you cooking?
I do hope youre appetite is back because I have made Chicken Alfredo with penne noodles and mushrooms.
Well if Chris aint hungry I sure as hell am. Is it ready? Wilmington asked.
As a matter of fact, it is, but
Dont you dare tell me theres not enough cause I know where Chris keeps the key to his weapons cabinet.
Mr. Wilmington, I have no wish to be caught in your sites, but I was going to say that Mr. Larabee would probably enjoy his repast in bed
Dont go there, Ezra! Im not going to bed right now Im going to sit in my chair and watch TV for a while.
Chris, you need to eat, the gentle rogue lightly chided.
I didnt say I wasnt going to eat just that I wasnt going to eat in bed, Larabee said and let the other men help him out of his heavy jacket. He used the controls and aimed for the living room, unaware of the worried men watching his every move.
+ + + + + + +
Are you sure youre up to this, Vin? Sanchez asked. Hed helped the Texan dress in warm clothes and finally got him into the van, before driving him into Billings. Now they were parked outside the lawyers office and the ex-preacher felt uneasy about this trip as he helped the younger man into the wheelchair.
I need to see Paul Grogan, Josiah, Tanner ground out once he managed to get his breathing under control.
Thats what you said at the ranch. Is there anything in particular you need to see him about?
Guess yer gonna need ta know sooner or later, Josiah. Im sellin the ranch.
Youre what? the older man asked in disbelief. Of all the things hed expected this wasnt one of them. This ranch had become the Texans life and he loved the land and the surrounding grounds. How many times had he ridden Peso across the open expanse until both horse and rider were exhausted?
I aint got no reason ta stay here no more, Josiah, Tanner said when the older man came around and knelt in front of him. He respected Sanchez, but right now he did not want a lecture on how he should wait until he was back on his feet to make this kind of decision.
You gonna help me get inside, Josiah?
I guess, but please think about this.
Its all I been thinkin on. I aint got no ties here and I aint stickin round any more, Tanner spat.
Yes you do, Vin, if you just think about it.
Thinkins all I been doin. Either help me in there or Ill do it myself! the Texan vowed. He saw Sanchezs shoulders slump, but the big man stood without a word and moved behind the chair. Vin closed his eyes and wished he could turn off the feelings flowing through his mind. He knew hed hurt the ex-preacher, but he would not let it stop him from doing what he needed to do for himself.