Additions and Apprehensions

by tannertexaslady and Wendymypooh

MCAT: Turbulent Transition #6

Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12
Chapter 13 - 15 | Chapter 16 - 18 | Chapter 19 - 21 | Chapter 22 - 24
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 33 | Chapter 34 - 36
Chapter 37 - 39 | Chapter 40 - 42 | Chapter 43 - 45 | Chapter 46 - 49

Chapter 19

Larabee 7 Ranch

Sunday ~ July 16th 10am

Larabee tossed the hay into the stall, muttering to himself as he worked off his anger. “Damn southerner, I should have ordered him to stand down, but did I? …No! He thinks he can tell me…Hell, he did tell me. You wait Standish your time is coming! When this is over…” The sound of laughter from the doorway of the barn drew Chris’ attention. “What’s so damn funny, Tanner?

“You are.” Vin grabbed another pitchfork and started to work on the next stall. “Most of the time, you’re spittin’ nails cause Ez takes too many risks. He decides to play it cautious for a change and you’re still angry with him. You can’t have it both ways Cowboy.”

“Who in the hell says I can’t?”

The Texan shook his head and chuckled; he stopped pitching the hay and then turned to face the blonde. “I think you just enjoy bitchin’ Lar’bee. If it was Ez goin’ under and you were meetin’ with a man you didn’t know, you’d be doin’ the same thing. No sense in advertisin’ what that ugly mug of yours looks like ‘til it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Be careful about who you’re calling ugly, Tanner. I’m in a mean mood and you are the closest target to take it out on.” Chris snapped. Two months of celibacy had Larabee tense enough; having three of his agents’ targeted for death in less than a week had him fuming, and the sordid details of this case made him sick to his stomach. To top it off with having the team undercover specialist practically ordering him to stay away from today’s meeting had him gnashing his teeth. Being insulted by his best friend and brother was the last straw.

Unaffected by Chris’ hollow threat Vin laughed. “Hell, Chris, have you looked in the mirror lately? You look scruffier than a wet gopher.” Chris had quit shaving and his usually neat blonde locks were in need of a trim. The rugged appearance of the man before him was looking less like the old polished Larabee every day.

Chris stopped pitching hay and leaned on the pitchfork He sighed; and then started to grin. “I’ve noticed a few times lately that you’ve been taking on this same type of appearance yourself Tanner.”

Vin smiled as he recalled Kelli’s sensory reaction to what she called his scruffy look. “Your daughter seems to find it … pleasin’… for some unexplained reason and I do try to keep her happy.”

Larabee shook his head, and laughed. Discussing women was something he and Vin had done often enough in the past. However, now it was different; the woman in question that Tanner was referring to was his daughter. “I don’t need to know details Tanner.”

“That’s good, cause you ain’t gettin’ ‘em, anyhow.” The Texan had no intention of sharing details about his and Kelli’s intimate relationship, but he had accomplished his goal of getting Chris to laugh.

Chris had just realized the time and wondered why Buck and Kelli weren’t back yet. “I thought another team was supposed to relieve Buck and Kel at seven. Where in the hell are they?”

“Kel called and said they would be late. Buck insisted they had to stay at the office until last night’s tapes were transcribed and I reckon he has a good reason for it.”

Chris nodded; he knew Buck would explain when he got here. “If you’re here and Kel is still working with Buck, where are the kids?”

“Inez is at your house with their girls and she asked me if Andi and Jason could play with ‘em. I feel for Jason though, when Sarah, Andi and Maria join forces they usually managed to get him into the middle of their latest escapade.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he has forgiven me yet for Grace being a girl.” Larabee chucked. “Anyway I appreciate you being here to help with the stalls; maybe by the time we finished we’ll hear something from Ezra.”

Chris and Vin had always been in tune with each other mentally and it felt as if they had known each other forever. It was something they accepted without question, it was just the way it was from the first time they met. It was as if two old souls had found one another again and rekindled a friendship older than the ages. They may argue, fight or be down right ornery with one another, but underneath it all they knew their friendship would survive. The old friends worked in comfortable silence for the next thirty minutes.

Inez's accented voice cut through that silence, “SARAH CHRISTINA AND MARIA INESA WILMIGTON!

Jason’s yell was not far behind, “DAD! You better come here!”

“Uh-oh.” Chris said. “Inez sounds hot under the collar.”

“I wonder what the girls did now.” Tanner commented, though frankly he did not think anything those three little angels had found to get into would surprise him…much.

Tanner and Larabee started out of the barn to go investigate what was going on. The two men raced across the yard and up the stairs of the deck expecting to find some type of major disaster. Coming to a sudden halt their worst fears vanished however when they took in the scene before them. Jason stood off to the side with his arms crossed in front of him, while Inez was giving her two girls a sound scolding. In the middle of all this Andi sat with her face completely covered with Inez’s make-up.

Jason rolled his eyes and said. “I was way over there by the tree swing dad; I had nothin’ to do with this.”

Linda stood by the kitchen door holding Grace, and tried to stifle her laughter. “Inez and I were in the kitchen. When we heard all the giggling out here, we thought we should check on the girls.” To keep the mischievous young ladies from hearing her laugh, she went inside for a jar of face cream to remove the paint job that the girls had masterminded.

“This is not the first time Sarah and Maria have gotten into my cosmetics. But I did warn them about doing it again and now I suppose they will have to be punished.” Inez looked over at the guilty imps.

Chris and Vin took another look at their two little nieces and it took a great deal of effort to control their own laughter. Both young ladies had a fair amount of lipstick and eye shadow smeared on their faces, too.

Larabee cleared his throat and spoke loud enough for Sarah and Maria to hear his message. “Inez I’m sure that they will not ever again take anything of yours without asking permission. “Right girls?”

Two young heads nodded yes, enthusiastically.

“Vin, I’m sorry they painted all over Andi, I’ll get her cleaned up.” Inez took the jar of face cream and tissues that Linda passed to her.

“Inez, stop frettin’ about it, she was not an unwillin’ victim.” Vin picked Andi up. “We can handle a little lipstick and…whatever.” Tanner wasn’t sure what the rest of it was, but it didn’t matter to him. “There’s no harm done.”

When Andi saw that the Texan was not too upset with her, she smiled. “Sarah make me beautiful Daddy.”

“You were already beautiful, Princess; but you should have asked before you used somethin’ that doesn’t belong to you. Next time, you need to wait for a grown-up to say okay first.” Tanner grabbed some tissues and a glob of cream to start removing the war paint from his daughter’s face. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Inez took on Maria, while Chris worked to clean Sarah’s face. The trio had almost completed the job when they heard Buck’s truck pull into the drive.

“Mom’s home, “Jason moved quickly toward the exit, deciding to distance himself from the girls, and he went to meet Kelli.

Vin knew what his son had in mind and laughed. “Kelli and Buck will have a full report on this little escapade before they make it to the deck.”

Buck was the first one up the stairs followed by Jason and Kelli. Wilmington had heard the story of the mischief that his daughters and Andi had gotten into from Jason. He knew that Inez would expect him to agree with her that the girls should be punished in some way, but he just did not have the heart to do it. The only thing he had on his mind was how thankful he was that they were here safe and sound. After all the horrible things that he had heard being done to innocent children during last night’s stakeout; a little mistake with some lipstick did not seem like such a big deal.

“I love both of you.” Buck had knelt down by Sarah and Maria with an arm around each one of his girls. “I know what you did and your Mother and I will talk about your punishment for using the make-up. We’ll let you know what we decide to do about it when we all get home.” He hugged them both. “Now I want you both to play close by and promise me that there will be no more trouble today.”

“In chorus the girls answered. “Okay. We love you, too Daddy.” They immediately took off to play and after Andi gave Kelli a hug, she followed them.

Jason looked at Vin and with a resigned sigh stated. “Reckon I’d better go too, and make sure they stay out of trouble.”

Once Jason was out of earshot, Inez said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about those little imps.”

“We’re gonna love and protect them.” Buck answered softly, still watching his daughters.

“Y’all need anything to drink before I sit down?” Linda asked.

Kelli responded first. “I could use a shot of Tequila, but I’ll settle for a beer.” She walked over to the deck railing and wrapped her arms around Vin for a much needed hug,

“Make that two, Linda.” Buck replied.

Chris was surprised that either of them would ask for a beer this early on a Sunday morning, but said. “I’ll get ‘em, Linda go ahead and sit down. Vin, you want one?”

“Think I’ll stick to coffee, thanks.” Vin was more than surprised. Kelli never drank beer this early in the day, and he noticed that her hair was still damp, surmising that she had taken a shower at the office. It was becoming a habit with her to ‘get clean’ before she came home. The Texan had a feeling that whatever they had heard last night on surveillance was disturbing because both Kelli and Buck were very subdued.

Vin laid his hand on the back of Kelli’s neck and massaged gently. “You okay baby?” The Texan’s strong fingers rubbed the tense muscles knotted in her shoulders and neck.

Kelli rolled her head in response to the massage and sighed, “That feels good, and yeah I’ll be fine.”

Chris came out of the house and handed Buck his beer, and then walked over to Kelli passing her the other one. “Rough night?”

“And mornin’, but maybe we should discuss it later.” She looked over at Linda, Inez and Grace. “You need to talk to Buck.”

Larabee studied his oldest friend, noticing the tired lines that crossed his face and the slump of one shoulder as he stood off to himself. “Buck, walk with me to the barn. Vin and I left in a hurry and I need to put up some stuff we left laying around.”

“Sure stud,” Buck downed his beer and threw the bottle in the trashcan. “Let’s go.” Wilmington followed Chris down the stairs.

“Kel, you look tired. Inez and I will keep an eye on the kids; go get some sleep. Vin, take her home.” Linda could feel the tension in the air and wanted to help the only way she could. She knew that no one would discuss the case with her and Inez around.

“Sounds like a plan to me, “Vin took his wife’s hand. “Come on, let’s go home.” She went with him with no argument.


Chris busied himself picking up the pitchforks and putting them away, giving Buck time to gather his thoughts. He knew the man well enough to know that something was weighing heavily on his mind.

Finally Wilmington spoke. “I need more manpower for this task force Chris. We need to start doubling the surveillance so one team can leave if necessary.”

“Add as many people as you need Buck. You ready to tell me why?”

“There are a lot of different activities going on in that house. Last night…” Buck swallowed hard. “Last night was particularly busy and brutal for some of the younger girls. Keats, that’s the man in charge, also took an order from one of the clients for a virgin male, specifically in the four to six year-old range. They agreed on a price of twenty-five thousand dollars and made arrangement for him to take delivery later this week. I want a free unit to be able to follow him once he leaves there and rescue that child.”

Larabee nodded thoughtfully. “Once you have it on tape that he paid the money, we can arrest him and keep him locked up. No one would be the wiser. Do you know yet what day it will happen?”

”Not yet, but my guess is that it will take a couple of days to … fill the order.” Buck had difficulty getting the words out.

Chris cursed aloud. This case was taking one hell of a toll on his team already, and they hadn’t even begun to dig. He didn’t comment any further, knowing that there was more that Buck needed to get off of his chest.

“So what happened when you got back to the office?”

“Mark was waiting to transcribe the tapes for us, but after fifteen minutes of listening to that shit he became violently ill.” Buck shook his head. “I just can’t let anyone listen to those damn tapes anymore unless there is a second person in the room with them.” Buck began to pace. “God I will be glad when those bastards make a move so we can bust them. Hell is too good for the sonsofbitches.”

“I know how hard it is to just wait and do nothing for the children that we hear being abused Buck. But it’s the only way we’re going to be able to do it. We’ve got to dot all of our ‘eyes’ and cross all of our ‘tees’ on this one if we’re going to be successful in taking down as much as the organization as we can.” Chris had listened to every one of the tapes that they had as evidence. He knew how damaging the recordings were to his agents’ psyches and wished that they didn’t have to be subjected to anymore of the gruesome details, but realized that it could be weeks, or even months, before they were actually in a position to bring the case to a head and arrest anyone.

Buck stopped and studied Larabee. He knew that Chris had heard all the evidence as well and knew that it was just as hard for him as it was for the rest of them. “How much longer before you go in?”

“Soon, I hope. I’ll know more when Ezra gets back from his meeting with the AG’s man from California. Go home Buck, get some sleep.”

“Yeah, maybe I will.” The two men walked out of the barn together. “I need to hug my girls again, and tell Inez that I’m going home.”

Chris watched Buck say his good-byes. He knew that something had to break soon or he would have to put a counselor on full-time status for his agents to help them cope with this one.


It was late afternoon when Inez and the girls went home. She wanted Buck to sleep as long as possible in a quiet house before the girls made it impossible to keep the noise level down. She found that she had no need to worry about either. Buck was already awake and the girls decided that if they were quiet their parents might forget about their punishment for today’s ‘paint party’.

While the girls quietly watched a movie, Inez joined her husband at the kitchen table. “I thought that you would still be sleeping.”

“Couldn’t sleep, darlin’,” Buck took her hand. “It was too quiet.”

Inez knew Buck too well, “I am worried about you husband.”

“I’ll be fine as long as I know you and the girls are safe here at home.” Buck sighed, “But can we not punish them this once? I know they were wrong…” Inez placed her fingers against his lips to silence him.

“I gave them a warning this time, but next time, and there will be a next time, they will have to lose some privileges. Agreed?”

“Agreed, and in case I haven’t told you today, I love you lady.” Buck squeezed her hand and leaned over to gently kiss the beautiful mother of his children.

Inez sighed contently, pleased to see her husband relaxed again. “I love you, too. Now, go spend time with our girls while I make you your favorite dinner.” Inez kissed him and shooed him out of her kitchen. As she watched him go, she had a feeling that things were going to get worse before they got better for her big-hearted Buck.


Kelli opened her eyes and looked at the clock, it was almost six. Now if she could only figure out if that was am or pm she would be fine. The absence of Vin next to her and the sound of children’s laughter coming from the direction of the kitchen gave her a good clue that it was still Sunday. Damn she hated working nights and sleeping days, she missed out on so much time with the kids. She rolled out of bed and after a quick stop in the bathroom, followed the sounds of her family’s cheerful voices to the other side of the house.

She found Vin, Jason and Andi working on dinner and it reminded her of the first morning that the children were with them. Andi stood on a chair helping Vin with the makings for hamburgers and Jason was setting the table. That however was where the similarities ended; a lot had changed in the seven months that the children had been with them.

“Hi Mom,” Jason grinned and met her for his expected hug. “Dad said you’d be up soon and we almost have dinner ready.”

“We making hamburglers.” Andi said proudly, balancing herself on the chair positioned next to Vin.

“Hamburgers, Andi, not hamburglers.” Jason corrected.

“That’s what I said.” Andi stomped her foot and almost fell off the chair. Vin easily caught their little blond haired princess and set her down on the floor.

“Everythin’ is ready; all we need are some bodies with hungry appetites that are ready to chow down.” The Texan leaned over and kissed his redhead. “Did you sleep well, baby?”

Kelli smiled, “Yep, and ‘m starved.”

Vin noticed that her smile did not reach her eyes and her posture showed how tense she was. It is gonna be a long night Tanner, but she needs to talk and you need to listen. She’d do the same for you.

They sat down to eat and the kids kept a steady stream of conversation going throughout the meal. Most of it centered on their day or Sarah and Maria, but Jason dropped a question his parents were not expecting to hear.

“Dad, how do we get another boy in this family? Can’t y’all order a boy baby or something?

Vin had his mouth full of food and chewed slowly trying to decide how to answer that question. He didn’t expect to have to have this discussion with Jason for a least another few years and was not prepared to have it just now.

“Jason, that’s silly, we just ‘dopt one.” Andi answered her brother, confidant that she was right.

“Can we do that?” Jason wasn’t sure how it all worked, but that sounded good to him “I want a boy close to my age ‘cause there’s too many girls around here.”

Kelli looked at Vin and decided to let him answer this one. “Vin?”

Tanner cleared his throat and took a drink of tea before answering. “Jason, we can’t just adopt a child to have an extra boy around. Adoptions are special and we may adopt again sometime in the future, but not right now. However we have thought about being available as foster parents again.”

“What’s the difference?” Jason’s curiosity was boundless.

“We chose to adopt you and Andi and that means we are your parents for always, and we will love you forever. But there are other children out there that have no family they can go to and those kids are placed into a temporary home. We are approved to be foster parents, and when we foster a child they stay with us for a while, being loved and cared for, until a family can be found that wants them as much as we wanted both of you and then they leave.”

Jason thought about what Vin said. “So we could have a boy foster child and then he would leave when you find his Vin and Kelli?”

“Yes, it could be a few days or a few months, but he or she would leave when a home was found for him or her.” Vin smiled when he saw Jason’s reaction to the last part of that explanation. “You and Andi will always be ours, but if we help to look after another child that means you would have to share us sometimes. Are you willin’ to do that?”

Andi spoke up first. “Yep, Max help too.”

“Shoot, you helped us, it seems only right that we help another kid that has no home. If it’s a boy he can share my room.” Jason said. “But, I don’t think he…or she will find parents as good as we did.”

Vin looked over at Kelli. “I think we just made our first decision as a family.”


Chris was pacing the floor waiting to hear from Ezra.

“Larabee, you need to relax, he will call when he calls. Glaring at the phone will not make it ring any faster.” Linda smiled and patted the empty space on the couch beside her. “Sit with me while you wait, I promise we can hear the phone from over here.” She wanted Chris’ attention on her, not the damn phone.

“I know, but he should have called hours ago and…” The ringing phone interrupted him. Chris grabbed it and growled. “Standish, this had better be you!” he listened for a minute. “It’s not that late damn it … yeah I hear you, just be there by eight, no sleeping in Ezra.” Chris slammed the receiver down and cursed.

“Bad news, babe?”

“That depends on whether you’re me or Ezra.”

Chapter 20

MCAT Office ~Monday Morning ~July 17th

Chris was in early and anxious to get the days’ work moving. Ezra had called late yesterday evening and suggested that the Covert Operations Team meet at the office this morning to discuss their next move. He was reluctant to come out to the ranch and talk about his meet with Michael Vance.

Larabee stopped in front of Mrs. Montgomery’s desk. “Gunny set up the conflict room for the covert op team and then herd them all in there as soon Standish arrives. The meeting will begin at nine-thirty.”

”Yes sir. Will there be anything else?”

“Yes, we will have the entire unit meet at one in the war room. Make it happen.”

“I’m on it, Boss.”

Vin and Kelli arrived at the office together, both of them not up to par, due to staying up late talking, but they were determined to work anyway. Kelli’s emotions had held until after they had put Jason and Andi to bed; but as soon as Vin had closed their bedroom door behind them, the waterworks had fallen. Vin had cradled Kelli to him and held her as she wept, hashing over some of the things that she and Buck had been subjected to listen to the night before, and Tanner had found his stomach knotting up with a combination of anger and sorrow.

Tanner left Kelli at her desk and headed for Chris’ office. He gave one short rap on the door and then walked in. He flopped down in a chair across from the desk and waited for Larabee to look up from the paperwork he was going over.

“Hard night?” Chris queried. “Kelli okay?”

“Yes…” Tanner replied. “Kelli’s okay…just needed to unload a little. Did you hear back from Ezra, yet?”

Chris nodded. “Yes…I would have called you last night, but I thought you and Red could use some time alone. The Covert Op’s Team is meeting shortly to be briefed on what Ezra found out from Michael Welch aka Michael Vance, and then we’ll have a unit meeting at one.”

Vin ran a hand over his face. “Sounds good…look Chris, I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’.”

“That’s always a dangerous thing.” Chris couldn’t help quipping, thinking that Tanner was seriously in need of a laugh or two himself.

Vin chuckled. “It’s been known to happen a time or two Lar’bee…you might try it yourself sometime.”

Larabee cocked an eyebrow at him, but didn’t say anything else.

“This case we’re on is gettin’ pretty ugly already, and we haven’t even gotten into the worse of it yet. With just what we’ve already been able to find out, the fellows runnin’ the organization aren’t goin’ to go down easy. They are goin’ to play dirty; we’ve already been made well aware of that by the attacks on Ezra, JD, and Kelli. And that was back when they only thought we were sniffin’ at their bone; now we’re not only sniffin’ after it, we’re plannin’ on takin’ all of their bones away, and they are goin’ to come after us like the rabid dogs that they are.”

“I’m following you.” Chris said.

Vin straightened up in the chair. “We’re goin’ to have to not only hold our own against them, but we’re goin’ to have to be strong enough to bring them down. I want to institute a regiment of hard core trainin’ for the next couple of weeks, around everythin’ else that we’ve got goin’ on. It’s not goin’ to be easy; and I’m certain we’re goin’ to get some protests from the rest of the unit, but it’s imperative that we’re as ready as we can be to go up against those bastards.”

“Do it. They already are the best-trained agents around, but this will keep their skills sharp as well as teach them some new techniques. It might just reduce the stress level around here.”

“I’ll work out a schedule and have it ready for the team meetin’.” Vin stood up to leave.

“Work on it after we meet with Ezra. You need to know everything that’s going to happen because you’re going to be the man in charge when I leave.” Chris rose and headed for the door with Vin right behind him.

Conflict room ~9:30am

Ezra waited for everyone to find a chair before he started presenting his plan. He had worked on it most of the night and was anxious to set things into motion. They now had enough information to proceed and he was ready.

“Gentlemen, two things have transpired since we last met that will have an impact our planned mission. This first event was on Friday and I have asked Josiah to join us this morning because he accompanied me on a short jaunt to Arizona. We were able to interview Samuel Carmichael, cousin to the now deceased Ray ‘the Jag killer’ Carmichael. Samuel is currently incarcerated in the Arizona State Penitentiary and with the help of the Attorney General’s office of Arizona, very cooperative.”

Josiah passed out some folders to everyone before Ezra continued.

“We now have enough information concerning Ray ‘the Jag killer’ Carmichael to give Chris a believable identity and a way to infiltrate O’Mara Enterprises. Specifically, we have an avenue to get to our mysterious Mr. Donner.”

“How do we know this Samuel won’t blow my cover?” Chris asked.

Josiah answered. “Samuel is in prison for a first time drug possession and wants out. With the cooperation of the Arizona Attorney General’s office we were able to guarantee him an early release, provided he help us and we are successful. After talking to him I feel confident that he wants out worse than he wants to protect his dead cousin’s reputation. He has a wife and two children waiting for him on the outside.”

“Study the information in that folder Chris because you are going to be Adam Carmichael, another cousin. We will discuss how that is going to happen at the end of this meeting.” Ezra flipped his notes. “Raphael your folder contains a biography on one Creed Cortez, memorize it. You will become him for the duration of this operation.”

Raphael opened the file for his new identity and began to read.

“Yesterday I spent the day with Michael Welch aka Vance. He is an investigator that works for the Attorney General’s office in California and has been undercover for the last ten months. He is firmly established as an FBI agent in the field office located in Costa Mesa. Michael Welch was one of the men that Kelli ripped into after the fiasco at the warehouse. He is also the man that sent us the unedited tape of that day’s event. I have a copy of all of his reports and since he is partnered with Agent Zimmerman, they contain a wealth of information.”

“So we have proof of what is happenin’ there?” Vin asked.

“Proof no, but we know that Zimmerman, Chief of Police William Blain and two of his officers, Jeffries and Shipley are all on the take. Donner owns them and pays them a great deal of money to keep the law away from his organization. The warehouse bust was to be a diversion and the men he chose to have arrested were supposed to die. Our presence, meaning JD, Kelli and myself, threatened their plan and thus, we were to die also.”

“Sonofabitch, “Chris mumbled.

“That surmises my sentiment exactly, Chris. Nevertheless, we know Donner is the middleman and is the man responsible for issuing the order to kill me, JD and Kelli. He is the man we need to bring down in order to find out who his boss is and hopefully his connections around the country. Unfortunately, we have nothing that connects him to us, the child trafficking or the import of humans into this country. “It will be up to Adam Carmichael and Creed Cortez to hopefully prove that.”

Raphael grinned, “That will be a pleasure.”

“Justin, your folder contains the bio for Billy Ray Hackett. Billy Ray is a good friend of Michael Welch’s’ brother and after a few disciplinary reprimands from his current boss, he is looking for a new position. It just so happens that there is an opening in the Costa Mesa police department and Billy Ray is being recommended for the job. Study his bio and memorize it because sometime next week you will be receiving a call from California offering you the job.”

Justin nodded and began to read about Billy Ray Hackett.

“We will flesh out the details the remainder of this week; in the meantime you all must become your new identities. I want you to be that person from here on out and that means you need to begin to cut your ties with your families and start living, as your new identity will live. Justin since you will be going in first, take care of what you need to at home and carry this cell with you.” Ezra tossed him a phone, “This one has the number that belongs to Billy Ray and Michael will be giving it to the Costa Mesa PD along with your application for employment. Josiah has arranged with an old friend of his to work at a local mission in Costa Mesa. He will be the contact for all of you and he will leave for California next Monday morning.”

“Got it Standish,” Justin checked the cell and memorized the new number.

“Raphael, next week, you and Chris will be taking a room at a place called the Starz Motel, just outside Costa Mesa, closer to the action. The room will be registered in the name of Adam Carmichael and I expect you both to be living there by the end of next week. In your case Chris, we need to complete your transformation.”

“What in the hell does that mean?” Chris wasn’t sure, but it did not sound good for him.

“It means that where Justin and Raphael only need to learn who they are, their appearances won’t change much. You sir, have had your face plastered on television, in newspapers and magazines for the last year and need to …transform your appearance. We start today.”

Vin laughed, “It means you mug is gonna get even uglier, Cowboy.”

“Shut up, Vin.”

“Our Mr. Tanner is correct, I’m afraid. We need to darken you hair, change your eye color and I’m thinking you need to wear an earring, maybe some flashy gold necklaces and an entire new wardrobe…”

“Now wait a minute! You don’t really expect me to change that much…do you?”

“Indeed I do or you could let someone else go in your place instead.” Ezra waited. He was really against Chris doing this, but if his boss insisted he would make sure that he was not easily recognized.

Chris sat back in his chair. “No, I’m going under so do your best or worst Ez. I’m not changing my mind.”

Task Force Meeting ~10:30am

Buck waited until the room was quiet and then began his short presentation.

“Most of you know by now what happened over the weekend. We have a deal on tape for the purchase of a child; the delivery will take place in a few days. We’re gonna nail the bastard that made the order before he has a chance to hurt that kid. For us to be able to do that I made a request for more manpower. I’ll let you introduce yourselves after I finished, but we have with us six officers that will be joining our task force as of today. Welcome aboard, Selina Cordova, Wyatt Kellerman, Gary Carlson, Steve Womack Brad Garrison, and Hank Lawrence... I briefed all of them earlier this morning and Mark is passing out the new stakeout schedule. We are moving into twelve hour shifts, that way each of you will have at least a thirty-six hour break after stakeout assignment before you have to go in again.”

“When this goes down how do you want us to handle it?” Jose asked.

“With this schedule there will always be an extra team present, ready to follow the suspect away from the surveillance site, stop him, and then arrest the bastard. We’ll take the child into protective custody. I know that for most of you this is not near enough for us to do, but we wait on any other arrest until we have all the players and places located. That could takes weeks, so be prepared for the long haul on this one. If you need to talk to someone, we have counselors available. Also there will be two people present at anytime tapes are being transcribed. There will also be a unit meeting at one in the main conference room.”

As everyone introduced himself or herself to the new team members, Buck sought out Selina Cordova. “Selina, I know your personal life is your own, but I think you need to let your Dad know that you are joining the task force. He should be out of his meeting anytime now.”

“I had planned to sir; I just have not had a chance to catch up with him yet.” Selina had always been open with her dad and did not intend to keep her involvement a secret.

Kelli stopped beside the pair.” I’ll show her around and see if we can find Raphael, if it’s okay with you Buck.”


“Go ahead darlin’, the last I checked they were meeting in the conflict room.”

Conflict Room

Ezra had dismissed the team and made arrangements to meet with Chris after the unit meeting to go over his transformation. The only ones left were Chris, Raphael and Vin when there was a knock on the door.

Kelli stuck her head in. “Is it okay for us to come in for a minute?”

“Certainly, our meeting has concluded, but who is us?” Ezra inquired.

Kelli and Selina stepped inside the room.

“Selina, what are you doing here?” Raphael stood and went over to greet his daughter.

She kissed her dad on the cheek. “Actually I work here now, at least temporally. I volunteered to be on the Trafficking Task force and Agent Wilmington accepted my application for a spot on his team. I just wanted to let you know.”

Raphael was taken by surprise and had mixed feeling about his daughter working on this case, He knew it was ugly and only going to get worse, but he had always encouraged his girls to take on anything they thought they could handle. “I’m glad you told me. Are you sure this is what you want to be doing?”

“I’m positive Dad. You are the one that always said that it only take one person sometimes to make a difference in this world and never be afraid to step up to the plate to take a swing at it. I’m at the plate and ready to take my swing.”

“I guess I can’t argue with my own words now can I? “ Raphael stepped back, proud to know that Selina had listened to him on occasion.

“We need to get back, so we’ll see y’all later.” Kelli said for both of them

After the women had disappeared through the door Chris grinned and slapped Raphael on the back. “Welcome to ‘Anxious Father’s Anonymous’. Come on Creed, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

Ezra was putting his papers in order and looked up to see that only Tanner had stayed in the room. “Was there something else you needed Vin?”

“Nope, but I wanted you to know that if you need to talk about risk taking and love, my door is open.” Vin was tired of seeing Ezra miserable. He knew that the southerner was in love with Barbara and for some crazy reason thought he was avoiding something disastrous by staying away from her.

“I assure you that I have no idea what you are talking about.” Oh but you do Standish. Ezra was aware that Tanner had an uncanny ability to see through him when others could not.

“Yeah you do Ez. Sometime loving a woman means taking chances. Don’t cheat yourself out of today; worrying about something you think might happen tomorrow.” Tanner stood up, but before he left he made another comment. “I wouldn’t give up one second of today with Kel even if I could see the future and knew it might hold some pain. But then I can’t read the future and the last time I checked, neither could you.” The Texan walked out.

War Room ~1pm

Chris watched as the room filled with agents, with the additions to the task force their number had swelled to twenty-five. He fleetingly wondered how many there would be still with MCAT by the time this case was over.

Larabee stood up to begin. “I know that most of you have met with your respective team leaders so I will make this brief. First of all welcome to the new members of the task force. Make a point to introduce yourselves to the new additions after we’re finished here.

Beginning next Monday Captain Tanner will be in charge of this unit. I will be around for a while longer, but he will be the man you go to with questions or concerns. My team leader has plans for me, or so I have been informed.” The room filled with laughter. Chris grinned and was pleased that his agents could still find something to laugh about.

“Go easy on him Ezra, when this is over he will be back in charge and he will be looking for payback.” Buck laughed.

“I think that I’ll have to instigate some type of amnesty program or I’ll never get even.” Larabee waited for the room to settle and then became serious again. “We have a rough road ahead of us. Captain Tanner and I had a discussion this morning and we made a decision. I will let him explain it to you. Vin, they’re all yours.”

Vin rose from his chair and faced the group. “As most of you are already aware, this case that we are workin’ on is goin’ to get nasty. Hell, it’s already nasty, and we’ve only just begun the investigation. We’ve seen what these bastards are capable of doin’ already, what with the hits taken out on Ezra, Kelly, and JD. The people that we are goin’ up against are cowards in the worse way. They pray on the young and innocent. We know this because of the extensive amount of evidence that our surveillance teams have already recorded; and will continue to record. The more we dig around in their business, the nastier things are goin’ to become, and ultimately more deadly as well. That is why, with Lar’bee’s approval, I am instigatin’ mandatory trainin’ for everyone involved with this investigation, regardless of the job you have been assigned.”

“What?” Buck exclaimed. “You’ve got to be shitting me? I’m pulling in so many extra hours as it is now, that my girls barely know me anymore.”

“Is that really necessary for Mallory, and myself, Captain?” Pam asked him. “We won’t be going to be out in the field.”

“Mr. Tanner I don’t see how I can possibly squeeze more time out of a day.” Ezra stated.

Vin listened to the protests and comments for another couple of minutes, before he finally exploded. “ENOUGH!”

Tanner’s voice echoed off the walls of the enclosed room and effectively silenced the MCAT officers.

Blazing blue eyes scorched the faces before him. “No one is goin’ to be exempt from this trainin’! No one! Do you understand me? It’s goin’ to take all of us, combined, to bring down this organization, and we can’t do that just because we have the law on our side. We’re each goin’ to have to be at the top of our personal best and focused to take on the players in this case. They are goin’ to come at us, no holds barred, and we’ve got to be ready for whatever they throw at us. While we’ll all be brushin’ up on our shootin’ skills, most of the trainin’ is goin’ to consist of a regimen of calisthenics and hand-to-hand combat techniques.”

Vin picked up a stack of papers that had a rough draft copy of the training schedule he had done earlier. He took one sheet of paper from the stack and passed the rest of them to Chris. Larabee took one and passed the stack onto the next person. “This is a rough draft of the trainin’ schedule for this week. It is subject to change at any given moment as needed. It will not be possible for all of you to attend each trainin’ session because of your assignments, but I do expect all of you to attend as many of them as possible. Anyone who does not show will NOT like the outcome. Meetin’ dismissed.”

That went better than I thought it would.

Vin snorted. I have a feelin’ we haven’t heard the last of the complaints, Larabee.

Larabee's Office

Chris sat and stared at the phone. It was simple enough, just pick it up call Linda and tell her he would be late coming home tonight. You are a coward Larabee. You know that she had plans for tonight and now…hell ...who are you kidding Chris? You were looking forward to tonight just as much as she was. But you cannot ask your team to do something that you are not willing to do yourself.

Forcing himself to dial the number, Chris counted the rings until Linda answered. “Hey babe …I have some bad news….

Training Facility

Just as Tanner had expected, there were a few more complaints made from the other MCAT officers who hadn’t voiced them during the meeting earlier in the day, as they entered the training center later that afternoon. He chose to ignore the complaints, knowing that if the shoe were on the other foot, he might have done the same thing. No, he would have done the same thing. He didn’t like spending anymore time away from his and Kelli’s kids as they were already doing, but he wouldn’t have the deaths of any MCAT agents on his shoulders because they were unprepared to face the ferociousness of their opponents.

“Everyone spread out arm lengths from the people on either side of you.” He commanded the group, and nearly smiled when Larabee immediately moved to do as he has instructed them. “We’re goin’ to start out with some of the basics…to get our bodies limbered up before we move into somethin’ more strenuous.”

“My body’s limber enough.” Buck quipped, causing laughter to break out among the group.

“Wilmington drop and give me fifty.” Vin figured the best way to start was to let them know just how serious he was about completing this practice.

“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Wilmington exclaimed.

Tanner moved up into the rogue’s personal space and said, “That little remark just attached twenty-five more pushups onto the fifty you already owe me. Want to make it an even one hundred?”

Buck bristled at the tone that Tanner used, but he didn’t argue. He dropped to the ground and began to slowly count out correlating numbers as he did the pushups that Vin had assigned to him.

Tanner put the rest of the agents through a series of stretches, pushups and pull-ups before he moved on to practice self-defense techniques. By that time Buck had caught up to the rest of the group and Vin paired the group up by similar body weight. He would show them a certain hold on his partner, who was Larabee, and then let the pairs practice the hold a couple of times, before moving onto another hold. When it seemed that the class had the holds down fairly well, he added a few more steps to the hold that they had learned, and again waited while they practiced what he had shown them onto one another.

While the moves weren’t quite as fluent as he had hoped them to be by the time he called an end to the first training session, Vin was still pleased at how well his teammates had done nevertheless. He and Kelli left the training center together, after checking to see that Buck didn’t hold any hard feelings toward him about his discipline of the other agent. Wilmington assured him that they were on as solid ground as ever.

Chapter 21

Tanner Home

Tuesday –July 18th 3”30am

Vin was mentally cursing his decision to add extra hours of training to an already heavy schedule. Max was due here in less than an hour to watch the kids and he needed to be at the training center before five-thirty to set-up. However, the only thing he was interested in at the moment was his redhead and the amazing things she was doing to rouse him from his sleep and capture his complete attention. He had to admit that she was very successful at it and as much as he wanted to lay in bed for the next hour or two and make love, he knew their time was limited, but…

The aroused Texan growled huskily and pulled her to him. “Baby you know we don’t have much time.” His mind was trying to be reasonable, but his body was not cooperating, neither were his hands.

Kelli grinned, “Then I reckon we shouldn’t waste any of it talkin’ Tanner.” She nipped at his shoulder and then laughed when Vin reacted with a gentle swat to her backside. “We can always take our time later Tanner.”

“Woman, loving’ you is gonna be the death of me yet.”

Playfulness quickly turned to serious passion. One hungry kiss led to another and the two of them were lost to the rest of the world.


Max arrived at four-fifteen and the Tanners rushed out the door, catching breakfast at a twenty-four hour McDonalds on the way in to work. Vin hated to be running late but truthfully he could not be sorry about it. Since the task force began the times that had found to be together had unusually included the kids, alone time for just the two of them had been severely restricted. The irony was that with Kelli’s new schedule she had more time, but now Vin had filled that time with his newly implemented training program.

“You do know that this is all you’re fault, Tanner.”

“We all need the refresher course on this one Kel. These guys play hard ball and I don’t want to see anyone on the team get hurt unnecessarily. Remember it was your trainin’ that kicked in and helped you when that bastard attacked you at the mall. I want everyone in top form and if extra hours of trainin’ are what it takes, so be it. It may cut into our free time, but…”

Kelli interrupted his little speech. “I wasn’t talkin’ about the class, Vin.” Her blue eyes sparkled with laughter. “I was talkin about runnin’ late. If you weren’t so damn good-lookin’ and sexy I wouldn’t feel the need to wake you up so early and… distract you.”

Tanner grinned, “You can distract me all you want, and I’ll make the time to take care of that need.”

“I never believed otherwise, Tanner.” Kelli then remembered the letter she received yesterday. “Did I tell you that I heard from Walter and he’s comin’ to visit?”

“No, did he say why?”

“Yeah, he says that wants to meet Jason and Andi, but to tell you the truth I think the man is lonesome. He has no livin’ family and his retirement is not workin’ out the way he thought it would. He has a lot of free time on his hands and no idea what to do with it. Accordin’ to his letter he’ll be here in two weeks.”

“We should be settled in the new house by then so there’ll be plenty of room. It will be good to see him; I didn’t have much time to visit with him before. Maybe I can get to know him better while he’s here.”

“I’m lookin’ forward to his visit, and I think the kids will like him. Speakin’ of kids, did you take care of that little surprise we planned for the weekend?

“All done, Ezra will pick it up on Friday and keep it hidden until we’re ready.”

Vin pulled the Tahoe into the parking garage.

“Move it Tanner.” Kelli hurried him. “I made you late so I’ll help you set-up the trainin’ class.”

Training Facility-6:00am

Vin rotated his neck and shoulders, trying to get the kinks out of them that the yesterday’s training session, added to the stress of the job that they were currently doing, had placed there. His and Kelli’s early morning love making had done wonders for the rest of his body. He grinned as he prepared the training room for another round of exercises, remembering the abandon that Kelli had exerted, just for him.

Today, after they had completed the initial stretching exercises, he was going to show the team some new moves to defend themselves against someone with a blade, or other sharp apparatus. Defending one’s self from an opponent’s hands was much easier, than defending yourself against someone who was wielding a knife.

The groggy, grouchy group drifted in one by one or in groups of two, and he waited for them to settle into similar positions that they had taken up during the previous session. Everyone was in a rather good shape and that was a bonus for the whole team, because it meant he would have them in the top form they needed to be that much faster. When the last person had arrived, he moved to stand before them.

“I know that y’all probably are hatin’ me about right now, but I really don’t care. If my runnin’ roughshod over y’all in these trainin’ sessions means that one or more of you are goin’ to come home alive from a bust, then that is all that matters to me. Yesterday I put y’all through some of the basic self-defense holds. Today we are goin’ to go over the same moves as before, ‘cause I want you to feel so comfortable with them that you could do them in your sleep. Then I am goin’ to show you a couple of new moves, which will introduce a whole different level of self-defense into them because I’m goin’ to arm you. Or rather, I will arm one member in each pair. These moves will be choreographed in order for no one to receive any serious injuries during class, but I do not want that to deter any of you from takin’ this seriously. In a real situation, your life will most likely depend on your ability to deflect the movements of your opponent, and you can be sure that they are not goin’ to play fair.”

He set the members through the familiar paces of the stretching exercises, and then allowed them to practice the basic holds that they had also done in the previous session. When he was sure that all of them were more awake, and limbered up, he motioned with his fingers for Chris and Kelli to join him at the front of the group, and then proceeded to pair up the rest of the team members.

“First we’re goin’ to start with a Cross Block.” Vin said, instructing the pairs to face off with each other, eyes leveled on their opponents, feet spaced slightly apart and body weight balanced evenly between them. “The partner in each pair that is standing to the right of me will be the aggressor, while the one on the left will be the defender. To begin, the aggressor’s are only goin’ to simulate havin’ a weapon in their hands. Your dominant hand will be the one that you will use, regardless if it is the right hand or left hand.”

Vin put the team through the steps of the Cross Block, and then moved them onto learning the steps of a Two-Hand Block. When he felt that they had gotten the steps down well enough, he moved over to the weapons bag he had brought from home and extracted a couple of knives, ice picks, screwdrivers, and stickpins. He gave Kelli a knife, and then moved through the group, distributing the rest of the items he had brought with him.

Practicing the moves with actual weapons in their hands against their teammates was an entirely new experience for some of them and a rusty one for others. As Tanner had expected, the partners who were playing the aggressors were even more conscience of their movements for fear of actually doing serious injuries to their partners. This slowed them all down considerably, and he had to encourage them to pick up their speed. The more they practiced, the more each pair got used to the movements that they had practiced and were able to pick up their speed some without anyone getting hurt. When he finally called an ending to the training session, Vin was pleased with how things were progressing.

MCAT Office

Chris Larabee was in a rotten mood, even after the workout Tanner had put them through this morning, he still was tense. It did not help matters that he had just spent the last hour with Ezra working on his makeover. His blonde hair was now dark brown and he wasn’t sure if he would ever get used to the contacts. He hated the ‘new wardrobe’ Standish insisted that he was to wear and no way was he going to pierce his ear to wear a damn earring. On top of that Linda was still mad at him for not coming home early last night to celebrate her release from the doctor.

Vin knocked on the door and walked on in. “Damn Chris, you look like a cat that just had his tail run over by a truck.”

“Cute Tanner, but blame Standish. He thinks this look is perfect for Adam Carmichael.” Chris grumbled. “Personally, I think I could just stick my finger in a light socket and have the same result.”

Tanner chuckled,” That might be an improvement over this look. Ez has always been good with disguises, but I believed he’s outdone himself this time. What does Linda think about the new you?”

“She hasn’t seen the latest installment and as mad as she was last night, I doubt she’ll be making any comment about my looks…or anything else for quite a while.”

“I told you that you should have gone on home. You’re in good shape already Chris, you didn’t need to stay last night.”

“Yes I did, I’m not going to order my agents to do something that I am not willing to do myself.’ Chris laughed. “Judging from the complaints about aching muscles this morning, I’d say your assessment of most of the team was correct. They need to stay in shape for this job and you’re idea was right on the mark. It won’t hurt any of them and might prevent them from having an unnecessary injury or two later on.”

Vin laughed, “Yeah, if the trainin’ don’t do ‘em in first.”

“You’re still planning on moving this weekend I hope. I want to help and I can’t guarantee I’ll be around much after Sunday.”

“Yep, we’re gonna go ahead and do it, unless somethin’ breaks here first. Max and the kids are at the new place today waitin’ on a couple of deliveries. Most of the big stuff is finished on the house and what’s left; Kel and I can do after we move in. I can work on the barn and corral for our horses at my own speed. Besides we’re goin’ back on the list for emergency care and we’ll need the extra space.”

“Are the kids okay with that?”

“They’re the ones that brought it up actually. Jason wanted to know how to get another boy on the ranch and Andi though we could ‘dopt one. When I explained to them that we weren’t ready to adopt again, the subject of foster care came up and one thing led to another. Bottom line we had a family meetin’ about it and decided it was time. Jason and Andi liked the idea so much they insisted that they both have twin beds so they can share their rooms.”

“That sounds just like something they would come up with.”

“Jason wants to make sure that we find each foster child their own “Vin and Kelli’, before we let ‘em go though.” Vin shook his head. “I explained that we’d have to trust CPS to look for new parents or placements for each child and that we were only there for temporary emergency care. If Jason and Kel had their way we would end up with ten or twenty kids and I’m not ready for that.” Tanner laughed. “I’m happy with the two that we have…maybe one or two more later on …but I’ll be satisfied just helpin’ some foster kids find their homes for now.”

“Hell Vin, you know damn good and well you and Kel seem to draw children like magnets. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you two did end up with a houseful.” Chris frowned. “I wished that…”

“We haven’t given up Chris” Vin knew what Larabee was thinking about. “Kel changed doctors and we’ll just wait and see what fate has planned. We’re okay with whatever happens.”

Chris nodded his head. He was certain that Vin and Kelli would handle what fate had in store for them, good or bad. An easy silence fell over the room broken only by the ringing of the telephone.

“Larabee,” Chris had picked up the receiver and now listened. “Send her up.” He grinned as he hung up the phone. “Linda’s here, maybe she not as mad as I thought she was.”

Vin stood up, “You two need some privacy and I have work to do, see you later.”


Chris met Linda at the elevator and walked with her to his office, closing the door once they were inside. He sat with her on the couch and he hoped that it was a good sign that she was here and evidently still willing to talk to him.

“I’m glad to see you, but where’s Grace?”

“Inez has her for a while. What did you do to your eyes?” Linda wanted to ask who this man was and what he had done with the real Chris Larabee. It seemed that every time she saw him lately something was changed concerning his appearance.

Chris had forgotten about the contacts and took them out. “It’s part of Ezra’s plan to disguise me. He wants me to wear an earring too, but I have to draw the line somewhere.”

Linda laughed, “An earring! Now that is something that I would pay good money to see.” She shook her head. “Is all this really necessary Chris?”

“Yes, as much as I hate to admit to it. My face has been on TV, in newsprint and featured in a magazine or two in the last year and there is always the chance that someone could recognize me. Ezra doesn’t believe in taking chances on undercover assignments and insist that I need to change my appearance.”

A chill ran down Linda’s spine. Chris had refused to tell her the details of this operation, but until this moment she had not realized just how dangerous this could be for him. “I know you said that this was important to you and I agreed to support you on it, but…” She sighed. “I’m sorry… I gave you a promise and I shouldn’t ask questions that you can’t answer.”

“Trust me babe, the less you know the better off you will be.”

“Do you suppose that this unit can operate without you long enough for you to have lunch with your wife?”

Chris laughed, “I think that they might be able to manage.” He leaned in and gave her a slow and sweet kiss. “Let’s go babe.”

Larabee stopped at Gunny’s desk on the way out. “The Captain is in charge, you need anything, call him. I’m taking my wife to lunch.”

“Okay, so where do you want to go eat?” Chris asked Linda once they were in his truck.

“I hope you don’t mind but I made room reservations for us in that new hotel downtown. I thought we could order room service and talk about everything that is going on with the investigation that MCAT is doing, your participation in it, and how it’s going to affect the life that we share together.” Linda told him quietly.

“All right.” Chris agreed shifting the truck into reverse and backing it out of the parking spot it was in. He placed the vehicle into drive and headed out of the parking lot toward the hotel that Linda was talking about, slipping his free hand over hers. He dreaded the conversation to come, because he was firmly set on what his part in their investigation was going to be, yet hated the idea of being separated from Linda and Grace. Linda had come into his life at a time when he had almost given up on the idea of ever finding love again with another woman. Sarah had meant the world to him, and losing her had nearly done him in.

Admitting the truth is easy, Larabee. If it wasn’t for Buck’s unwillingness to let you wallow in grief and self-pity you would have never been in the right frame of mind to take on the ragtag group of men that formed Denver’s number one ATF team. You would have missed out on knowing these men that have become your family of brothers. You also owe Orrin Travis a debt of undying gratitude for allowing you to pick the men you wanted on the team. That led to your fateful meeting with Vin and the bond that the two of you share is something that will never be severed. Together these men had given you more reason to live than you had thought possible, and their influences on your life had helped you to see that life wasn’t worth living if you weren’t willing to take risks. Allowing yourself to fall in love with Linda was one of those risks and thank God, you did.

They arrived at the hotel a short time later and were escorted to the lavish suite that Linda had reserved for them. Chris paid the bellhop for his assistance, and then inserted the key card into the door slot. He opened the door and allowed Linda to precede him into the room, and then closed the door behind them. The room was done in a color scheme of gold and burgundy, with heavy brocade draperies, fine linens and maple furnishings. There was a sitting area, a kitchenette complete with full table, a bathroom bigger than his office at MCAT headquarters, and separate bedroom that held a king size bed, lounge chair, two dressers, closet, and an entertainment center complete with a 25 inch tv/vcr/dvd combo player, and CD stereo system.

“Do I even want to know what this room cost us to rent it?” Chris asked Linda with a grin.

“No.” Linda told him. “Just enjoy it. Who knows when we’ll be together again like this.”

Chris took Linda into his arms, and held her close. “I’m sorry that this is so hard on you. You know that I wouldn’t do anything to purposely hurt you.”

Linda sighed against his chest. “I know…I’m just scared, Chris, and feeling very selfish right now. I don’t want to be separated from you. I don’t want to know that you are putting your life in jeopardy to catch some bad guys, because the thought of anything happening to you again scares the hell out of me.”

Chris pulled away from her, slipping one of his hands over one of hers while leading her over to the couch and indicated that she take a seat. Linda sat down on the couch, and Chris settled himself onto it beside her.” Linda, we’ve talked about the possibilities of me going undercover in an investigation before. It’s all part of my job description as the Commander of MCAT. Is it something that I do in every case that we are working on? No, because it’s not necessary for me to do so. That job is usually reserved for Ezra or someone else on the team, but with the case that we are presently working on, it’s going to take all of us to go above and beyond what we’ve ever had to do before. I won’t sit back and let my agents take all the risks, and not do my part. Don’t ask me to do that.”

“I won’t, even though I want to. I know that this case has hit a chord with you that you can’t shake loose. I just wished...” Linda shook her head to clear her depressing thoughts. “I have our trip all planned out. Grace and I will leave Monday for Louisiana and visit with Luke a while. Then we’ll see Robert and his family in New York before we go to DC to spend time with Blake. Finally we will go back to Louisiana and stay until I hear from you that it’s okay to come home.”

“Is Matt going with you?”

”You don’t think I can spend that much time with my older brothers without a referee do you? Of course Matt is coming to try and keep peace in the family.” Linda laughed. “My elder siblings can be…difficult and overbearing at times. Matt and I together can handle them though.”

“I want you to be sure and let Vin know where you are at all times.” Chris instructed her. “He’ll know what is going on with me and if he feels you’re safe then I’ll know it. “

“You take care of you and don’t worry about us.” Linda leaned into Chris and kissed him gently. “Stay with me this afternoon, just you and I. Surely Vin can handle things at the office for a few hours without you.”

Chris hesitated only for a second and then reached for his cell phone. When Tanner answered Larabee got straight to the point. “Vin, I’ll be out of contact for a while. See you at the training this evening.” He hung up without even saying goodbye, and grinned at his blond. “I’m all yours Mrs. Larabee.”

At the office Vin hung up his phone and laughed. Good for you Cowboy.

Training Facility

Vin led the team through the usual round of stretching exercises, and then set them to practicing the holds, and blocking techniques that he had previously shown them in early classes. Then he had them reverse the procedures, making the former aggressor in the pairs become the defender, and their partner the aggressor. It was important that they all practiced both positions so that they could get accustomed to reading their opponent’s body language, and react reflexively to whichever move their attacker made toward them.

“Arm needs to be at an angle like this.” Tanner told Paul, taking hold of the other agent’s arm and showing him the proper way to hold it to block the thrust Ross made with the knife that he held. He gestured for the two agents to go through the sequences of movements that he had taught them, and was pleased by how quickly the two were picking up his instructions. He moved through the room, checking the postures and movements of the rest of the pairs to make sure they were doing them right, and he was pleased at the progress they were making in picking up the new techniques that he was teaching them.

The session had been going on for about an hour, by the time that Larabee made an appearance. Tanner grinned at him, “Glad you could make it cowboy. You are just in time to be my first opponent in a free-for-all. ”

Chris groaned good-naturedly and moved onto the mat to face off with Tanner. “Just remember that if you do any damage to my face, you’ll have to answer to Ezra for it.”

“Spoil sport.”