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 28

Costa Mesa, California

When it had become obvious that they would be sending MCAT agents undercover in California, Josiah had thought of his long time friend, Fred Wilcox. Wilcox ran a mission in Costa Mesa, California, that seemed an ideal place for him to take on another persona and act as a contact man for Chris, Justin, and Raphael. He knew for a fact that he could trust Wilcox explicitly to keep his true identity a secret, and from all of his years experience in volunteering at missions in and around Denver, Josiah knew the basics of how one was run.

He and Fred had met at a law enforcement seminar several years ago and had struck up an instant friendship that had lasted over the years. It was very rare that they had the opportunity to see each other in person anymore. After being severely injured on the job as a Los Angeles S.W.A.T. supervisor, Fred had gone on disability for a while until he had his health under control. He had made his decision not to return to work as a law enforcement officer, and instead had taken over the running of the Fourth Avenue Mission.

At the time that Wilcox’s recuperation was going on, Josiah had been fully entrenched with his caseload as a member of Denver’s elite ATF Team Seven; and then later on as a husband and father. Regardless of the infrequency of their visits to one another, Fred and Josiah had stayed in touch with one another via email and phone calls.

A couple of weeks before the child trafficking case had started; Josiah had shared a long phone conversation with Fred. They had caught each other up on everything that had happened in their lives over the past year. Wilcox had shared with Josiah that he was starting to get burned out on the day-to-day business of running the mission, no matter how worthy a cause it was, and was seriously in need of a vacation. Sanchez had commented to his friend how much they all needed a vacation, and then the topic had changed to other things.

Josiah had brought up his friend to Chris and Vin, explaining the friendship he had with Wilcox, and the man’s untarnished record as a law enforcement officer in Southern, California. He had explained to them about the telephone call that he had shared with Wilcox a few weeks earlier, and Fred’s mentioning that he was sorely in need of a vacation. Josiah knew that he needed to be in a position to ‘read’ each agents state of mind as they called in and keep an eye on what was happening in Santa Ana at the same time. It had taken him all of a couple of minutes to convince Larabee and Tanner that it was the ideal cover for himself, and Chris had given him the go ahead to set it up with his friend.

Josiah hadn’t even had to give Fred details into the case that MCAT was currently working on, past the fact that it had to deal with child trafficking, before Wilcox had adamantly agreed to do it. Wilcox had told Josiah that it would take him a week or two to set up Josiah’s cover as temporary director of the mission in his absence, with his employees, and Sanchez had assured him that there was time to do so before he needed to be in California.

Tuesday, August 1 –9 a.m.

Josiah, alias, Jonah Drake spent the past two hours of his first morning at the Fourth Avenue mission, going over the meticulous records that Fred Wilcox kept as its director. He had arrived at the mission at 7, eager to have some time alone to familiarize himself with the layout of the building, how the three programs operated, and the details of the files of the four salaried employees, before anyone else arrived for the day.

He had learned from Fred before his arrival in California, that the mission’s assistant director, Marie Davis, was on maternity leave for the next eight weeks. That had been one of the reasons that his friend hadn’t been able to go on vacation, because he was short staffed. While the rest of his staff was familiar with the ins and outs of running the mission, they had only been hired to do their specific jobs, and not anything else. Josiah’s plan had worked to benefit both of them.

That had left him only three employees’ files for him to read through and memorize. Nancy Harding was twenty-five years old, single, and had been working for Wilcox as his secretary for the past four years; Zachary Stephens was forty-five years old, a widower with five children, and had been with the mission for ten years. Xander Browning, fifty-years-old had been the cook since the mission opened in 1990.

He had just finished going over the scheduled shifts for the regular volunteers, when someone knocked on the door to Wilcox’s office. He set the file on the desk, and rose from behind it and moved over to answer the door. A petite, blue-eyed blonde dressed in a short sleeve blouse, denim skirt and low-heeled sandals stood on the other side of the door.

“Hi, Mister Drake, I’m Nancy, your secretary for the next six weeks while Fred is gone.” She said bubbly, holding out her hand to him. “If there is anything you need, just let me know.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you Nancy. I would like it if you called me Jonah. Fred filled me in on informally things were run here. It helps set the people who come to the mission for help at ease, and generates an overall warm and comfortable place to be. I want that to continue.” Jonah said, shaking her hand.

Nancy smiled. “Alright, is there anything that you need my assistance with now? Explaining of some of the procedures? Help finding some files? A cup of coffee, maybe?”

Jonah smiled at her. “No. I can’t think of anything at the moment.”

“Okay. I’ll be at my desk if you need anything.”

Costa Mesa Police Department ~ 9:20 A.M.

Justin Michaels alias, Billy Ray Hackett, sat outside Chief of Police, William Blaine’s office, and waited for the man to call him in for his interview. As he waited, he mentally reviewed his persona’s work history; all the while observing the activities of the law enforcement personnel going on around him.

It was twenty minutes after ten o’clock when Blaine’s office door finally opened, and Hackett got his first glance at his potential employer. Blaine stood about 5’ 6, with a balding head, and a cumbersome body. His face was wrinkled and pock marked, and Billy Ray had to suppress the shudder of revulsion that crept over his body.

“Hackett?” Blaine queried

Billy Ray nodded, stood up, and moved over to join the Costa Mesa Police Chief in the doorway to his office. “That would be me.”

Blaine gestured for Hackett to precede him into his office, and then closed the door behind them.

“Records?” The chief held out his hand.

Hackett handed the older man his work folder and then seated himself in one of the leather armchairs before the desk, leaning back in the chair and stretching out his legs in front of him.

Blaine weighed the folder in his hands, and glanced over at Hackett. “Kind of on the hefty side ain’t it?”

Billy Ray smiled at him and shrugged his shoulders. “Shit happens.”

Blaine moved around his desk, seating himself, and plopped the folder onto the top of his desk as he opened it. Hackett pretended to doze as Blaine rifled through his records. The lengthy list of reprimands alone would take the older man at least an hour to peruse them, and he thought he might as well try and get over his jetlag by taking a nap.

The more he read of Hackett’s file, the more familiar the details became. He could almost imagine that the file he was reading had been replaced with that of either Jeffries or Shipley’s. After several moments had passed, Blaine figured that he had familiarized himself enough with Hackett’s idiosyncrasies.

He looked up from the folder and saw to his chagrin that it appeared that Hackett had gone to sleep while he had been busy reading. He stood up and moved around the desk and nudged Hackett’s feet with the toe of his boot.

“This isn’t the Queen Mary.” Blaine commanded. “Wake your ass up.”

Hackett opened one eye and squinted up at him. “Hell, I thought by the time that you finished reading that, you wouldn’t be offering me the job, so I figured I might as well catch some shuteye.”

“It definitely made for some interesting reading.” Blaine commented. “You’ve been a bad boy.”

Both eyes popped up open as Billy Ray studied Blaine, trying to discern whether the older man meant that as a censor or compliment. “Yeah, but I’m really at my best, when I’m bad.”

For the first time since Billy Ray had entered his office, Blaine cracked a smile. “I like a man who admits his shortcomings.”

“I aim to please.”

“Cocky, too, I see. I like that…”

Billy Ray grinned in response.

“You know that normally that work folder would end any chance of you being hired by reputable law enforcement agencies. However, I find your methods of carrying out the letter of the law creative. I could certainly use someone with your experience and ingenuity in my department.”

Hackett cast a wary eye at Chief of Police. “Really?”

“But I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t ask you to explain a couple of things. First off, why in the hell choose California?’

“Would you believe me, if I told you that I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Pacific Ocean?”

“No. I wouldn’t.” Blaine said. “Try again.”

“To make a long story short I had one too many helpings of that young sweet stuff. One of the daddies kind of took it personally and filed a statutory rape charge against me. I decided not to stick around for the fireworks and no matter what happens here today, I’m staying in California. It’s a little too hot in Tennessee for me. ”

“How old?”


“I think maybe we can find you a position here. How long do you need before you are ready to report for duty?”

Billy Ray looked down at his watch. “Give me enough time to find a place where I can unload my car, and I’m all yours.”

“My day starts at seven, so yours does too. See you tomorrow.”

The two men shook hands and Hackett made his escape.

Santa Ana, California ~ 2 p.m.

Chris Larabee and Raphael Cordova, A.K.A., Adam Carmichael and Creed Cortez arrived at LAX with very little incident. Carmichael had been flirted with by stewardesses and female passengers alike, and attributed it to the getup that Standish had insisted he wear for his new persona. Leather pants that clung to his body like a second skin, blue silk shirt opened up at the collar, and a couple of gold strands around his neck. His hair had been darkened, and he now had brown eyes, as well as a mustache and full beard that he had worked to grow. Cortez hadn’t really had to change much about his appearance except for the style of clothing he wore.

The first thing they did after exiting the airport terminal was to pick up their waiting rental car. With Carmichael behind the wheel, and Cortez navigating, they maneuvered through the airport traffic, and out onto Interstate 5 heading south toward Santa Ana.

It was just a little over an hour when they arrived at the Starz Motel just outside of Santa Ana. Carmichael pulled the vehicle up in front of the motel and turned off the ignition. He took one look at the rundown building and decided that if their room was a mirror image of the outside, Standish was a dead man. The two men exited the vehicle and entered the manager’s office to check in.

The sign over the desk read in chipped paint letters “la oficina”. There was no one at the reception desk when they entered. Cortez noticed a bell on the desk and hit it to call for service. A few more minutes passed by before a large Hispanic woman sauntered up to the desk.

“Carmichael and Cortez. We called ahead.”

The woman answered him with a blank stare.

He tried again. “Carmichael and Cortez. We called ahead.”

“Let me try.” Cortez said and rattled off their names in Spanish and requested the keys to their room.

The woman’s face changed as she complied with his request. A few moments later, found the two men unlocking the door to room number seven. Carmichael opened the door and bravely was the first man to enter their new abode. The interior of the room didn’t mirror the motel’s exterior, it was much worse.

Two sagging double beds were in the center of the room, with stained bedspreads, to match the stains on the floor. The color reminded them both of a crime scene and the thought ran through both of their minds at the same time, ‘How many people had been murdered in the room and would they have any nightly visitors of the transparent kind’.

“It’s not so bad.” Creed said, optimistically. “I’ve seen worse…in the ghetto.”

Carmichael’s only response was a brown-eyed glare.

“I’ll flip you to see who takes a shower first?” Creed said.

“Be my guess. If you survive the ordeal I might give it a shot.”

“You’re all heart.” Cortez said as he moved toward the bathroom.

Adam considered unpacking his clothing, but decided that it was safer to leave them in the suitcase. Cortez stuck his head out of the bathroom and said, “We don’t have to be at the Silver Slipper until nine if you want to try and take a nap.”

Carmichael looked at the beds and decided that he didn’t want to know what was underneath the stained bedspread.

Silver Slipper- 8 p.m.

Somehow Creed and Carmichael survived the first few hours in the motel from hell, and arrived at the Silver Slipper an hour early to look things over. The interior of the club was dimly lit except for the stage area where scantily clad girls were gyrating around poles. Topless waitresses moved around the crowded tables, refilling drinks and taking orders from patrons.

Carmichael and Cortez elbowed their way through the crowd and up to the bar where they managed to find two vacant bar stools. The muscular young man in tight fitting leather pants and a vest, with no shirt, pranced over to their end of the bar and shouted, “What’s your pleasure?”

Adam and Creed both ordered a beer.

The bartender was quick to fill their order. He placed the mugs of foaming brew onto the bar in front of Carmichael and Cortez and winked at Adam. “My name is Ryan and my number’s written on the napkin. If you don’t find anything on stage that interests you, call me sometime and I can give you a private showing.”

Cortez choked on the sip of beer he had just taken, and glanced over at Carmichael, as Adam mumbled, “I didn’t even wear the damn earring.”

Creed flashed Adam a Cheshire cat grin, earning him another lethal glare.

Adam glanced at his watch. “It’s time. Why don’t you call Ryan over and ask him about Donner?”

“You ask him. He likes you.”

“Payback’s are a bitch.” Carmichael said as he lifted his hand and waved at the bartender.

Ryan flashed him a flirtatious grin and immediately came over. “What do you need, sugar?”

It was Adam’s turn to choke on his beer. Creed reached over and patted him on the back. “You okay there, honey?”

Carmichael lowered the timbre of his voice and said, “We have an appointment with Donner. Could you tell him that Carmichael and Cortez are here to see him?”

“Anything for you.” Ryan purred and went to convey Carmichael’s message to one of Donner’s bodyguards.

The muscular man glanced warily over at the two men at the bar that Ryan pointed out to him as being the ones that had given the message to him to deliver. The larger one of the two disappeared into a back room and returned a few minutes later with a well-dressed man accompanying him.

Carmichael and Creed studied the tall, polished Latino man in a three-piece Armani suit as he walked over to them. As he neared, they noticed that around his neck he wore enough gold to finance MCAT salaries for the next five years. They knew instinctively that this was Donner.

“Gentlemen, welcome to my club. Ryan, whatever they want it’s on my tab.” Donner’s unvoiced command had them moving over to his private table to discuss their business.

“Anything they want?” Ryan asked, his eyes suggestively raking over Carmichael’s body.

Ignoring him as best he could, Adam introduced himself and Cortez.

“Sam’s already told me all about you. I’m pleased to have someone of your reputation interested in working for my organization.”

“From what Sam has told me, you need someone like me and Cortez working for you. Let’s cut the pleasantries and get down to business. I understand that you have recently had two positions in your organization open up. I can guarantee you better results than your recently departed employees. We’re the best at what we do and expect to be paid accordingly. We’ll start at double the previous salaries and see how it goes from there.”

Donner studied the two men in front of him. He liked the confidence that Carmichael and Creed both exhibited. “I understand you have good resources. If they pan out you will be worth every penny of it. I’ll start you out on a month’s trial and see how it goes from there.”

“Sounds good to me,” Creed agreed.

“Housing accommodations will be on the premises. You will be on call twenty-four hours a day. I don’t like a lot of questions and I’m only interested in successful results. Willis will show you to your quarters later.”

Donner snapped his fingers. Two young girls appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Both were scantily dressed. “These two women are from my personal stable. They will be your entertainment for the evening.”

Rose, a buxom blonde draped herself over Cortez’s lap and proceeded to stroke a finger down his chest. Blossom, an exotic Asian beauty lowered herself into Carmichael’s lap and proceeded to wrap her arms around his neck, rubbing herself shamelessly again him in a sexual manner.

“Thank you, but we can find our own entertainment.” Carmichael said gently pushing the Asian woman off of his lap. Cortez followed suit with his own lap partner.

“In my club, you amuse yourselves with my merchandise only.”

Adam, thinking fast, said. “I don’t think you have the right merchandise. Besides, like I said, we can create our own amusement.”

To emphasize his point he turned and winked at Cortez. Creed had the decency to blush.

Donner grinned, “I understand. Perhaps Willis should show you to your quarters now. You can retrieve your personal items and get moved in.”

Carmichael could feel the daggers aimed at the back of his head from Cortez’s direction, and knew he would have to answer to him later. At least for now, he didn’t have to worry about answering to his wife after this assignment was finished.

Donner made a motion with his fingers to dismiss the two girls, and also for Willis to appear at his side. “Arthur, escort Carmichael and Cortez to their new quarters.”

Willis nodded and without preamble began to walk toward the back of the bar. Carmichael and Cortez rose as one to follow Donner’s bodyguard. The suite of rooms at the back of the Silver Slipper, were a vast improvement over their current accommodations, although a bit flashier than either men preferred. But they weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not only had they managed to secure positions for both of them in Donner’s organization, they were also being sprung from the hell motel that Standish had arranged for them. That definitely had to be the icing on the cake.

The two men were leaving the Silver Slipper a short time later to retrieve their personnel belongings from the Starz Motel, when they were stopped at the door by the bartender.

“If you ever decide that you’d like to try out someone younger than your amigo here,” Ryan said to Carmichael, casting a disparaging glance over at Cortez. “You’ll know who to call. I’ve got moves someone his age could end up in traction over.”

Cortez bristled at the remark and stepped threateningly toward the bartender. Carmichael stepped carefully between the two men. “I’m flattered, really, but I’m quite satisfied with my Latino lover.”

“Pity.” Ryan replied. “You don’t know what you are missing.”

He stalked back toward the bar, as Carmichael and Cortez exited the nightclub and got into their vehicle. Silence reined in the car for several moments as Carmichael waited for Cortez to explode over the scenario that he had gotten the two of them into. He didn’t have long to wait.

“You could have warned me back there that I was about to become your bitch.” Cortez commented, an edge in his voice.

“Ease off with the macho shit, Cortez. This isn’t a stab at your manhood, or anything. It was the only thing I could come up with that would prevent Donner from further insisting that either of us sample the merchandise.” Carmichael told him as he drove. “I don’t like the situation anymore than you do, but to be honest, I’d rather face your ire any day than try to explain to my wife what I was doing letting some other woman drape her body all over mine.”

“Suppose your right. Just took me by surprise is all.” Creed sighed, after a few more moments of silence had passed between them. “Women! … Now that’s a laugh. Those girls looked barely sixteen, if even that. Knowing what we know about the sick bastards entangled in this twisted mess, sixteen is almost too old for their preferences.”

“And that’s why we’re going to bring Donner and everyone else involved down.” Carmichael stated in a lethal voice.

“Damn straight.”

It took them less time to grab their belongings, turn in their keys and leave the Starz Motel, than it had for them to check into it a few hours earlier. They returned to the Silver Slipper a short time later and retired to their new living accommodations. Without a word, the two men swept the room for surveillance equipment and found that the room was clean of everything, except for a couple of listening devices that they quickly disposed of. If Donner asked any questions about why they had removed them, Carmichael and Cortez would tell their new employer that either he trusted them at face value or they walked. Regardless of whether or not Donner agreed; they would do regular checks. They could not afford to have their covers blown before they got enough physical evidence on Donner to bring the man down, and anyone else that he was working with.

Carmichael headed immediately for the shower, even as Cortez stripped down to his boxers and climbed under the covers. The two men had agreed on the way back over to the Silver Slipper that they were going to have to carry through with acting out being lovers by sleeping in the same bed. Neither of them were too thrilled with the concept, but knew they couldn’t risk someone coming into the suite and finding them sleeping apart, and questioning them on it.

Cortez was still awake when Carmichael came out of the bathroom wearing silk pajama bottoms and flashed Cortez a grin. “Nothing about us having to act like lovers or sleep in the same bed…ever…gets put into any official reports or reaches Buck’s ears, do we understand each other?”

“This isn’t exactly a scenario I’d ever want to try and explain to my daughters or my grandchildren.” Creed told Carmichael. “I’d rather go to my grave first before I’d ever tell anyone about this. Just make sure you stick to your side of the bed and we won’t have any problems.”

“You’ve got a deal.” Carmichael said he slid under the covers on the other side of the bed. He reached over and turned the light off. “Get some sleep…”

“Night.” Creed rolled over onto his side, facing away from him.

Carmichael lay on his back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling in the darkness. Their cover was effectively established. What tomorrow held for him and Cortez he didn’t know, he just hoped that they would be able to get the evidence that they needed to take down the Donner’s operation so he and Cortez could get back to their real lives in Colorado.

Cortez didn’t fall asleep right away. He suspected that Carmichael hadn’t either. Even though he was an old hat at undercover work, each assignment had to be approached differently. He had done all of the mental preparation well in advanced, as best as he could, given the circumstances that had led to him and Carmichael being in California in the first place, but knew it wasn’t going to be enough. Most of his prior operations had dealt with drug dealers or gunrunners, not with people who dealt with innocent children as commodities. These bastards were the lowest scum of the earth and they would be brought down if MCAT had anything to do with it.

Chapter 29

Friday ~ August 4

Standish Townhouse

Barbara had awakened earlier than normal, and crawled immediately out of bed; much to Ezra's chagrin...He wasn't as ego-centric as other men were about certain things regarding women. But it did kind of bruise a man's ego just a bit to know that his lady love was scrambling out bed, moments after making love to him, in order to get ready for an early breakfast date with another man....even if he had known about it well in advance.... As he watched the graceful brunet cross the room, he could not help but want her naked body back in his arms.

“Are you sure that this is necessary at this ungodly hour?” Ezra knew that the courts ran on their own schedule and that Barbara did have to meet with other attorneys, but he was enjoying having her back in his bed and did not want to give up one minute of it.

"Don't pout, Ezra." Barbara had told him with a loving smile that grew wider as he protested quite loudly that he NEVER pouted, and it slowly dawned on him that he was being teased...He looked so devilishly indignant that Barbara had rushed back over to the bed and peppered his face with light kisses, before finding his lips and giving him a searing lip lock that made him lose his breath.

Ezra grabbed her hand before she moved away. “Live with me Barbara.” The look on her face told him that he had not expressed himself as he wished. Normally his vocabulary was his best weapon, but she reduced him to fragmented sentences and a loss of coherent speech. “Hell, what I mean is…move in with me here, you Huey, Dewey and Louie. I know that planning a wedding will take time, but I love you and I can’t wait that long to have you with me every day, occasional overnights are simply not enough.”

Barbara sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the man she loved more than anyone in this world. “Ezra did you just propose marriage to me?”

Kicking himself for his lack of timing and finesse, Ezra ran his hands over his face. “Damn it, I wanted to do this the right way. Candlelight, romantic music, a ring, flowers and…”

She leaned over him and hushed him with another searing kiss that left them both wanting more, before she spoke. “You said you loved me and that you want me in your life. That’s what is right.” Barbara took a deep breath. “Yes, I will marry you Mr. Standish, but you best be warned. Now that I have you, I won’t let you go.”

The Southerner relaxed and grinned. “There’s not a chance in hell, lady that you could.”

“I love you and I hate to do this Ezra, but I do have to be in court.” Barbara’s tone of voice expressed her regret.

“You take care of business love and tonight we’ll discuss details over dinner. I can be patient about the rest as long as I know that we’ll be together.”

“Deal Standish.”

MCAT Office ~ late afternoon

It had been a long week for the MCAT unit. As expected cover stories were checked out, and apparently has passed. Billy Ray, Adam and Creed were settling into their new position and the reports from Jonah were good. Alders was good at his word and Sorenson was held in without bail and in isolation. The only drag was the attempt to coordinate the takedowns by the task force. With so many states involved it had turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.

A frustrated Buck Wilmington stood in front of the big map. They had identified locations of trafficking houses in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Carson City, Seattle, and Salem. The law in Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon were all very cooperative. The last four locations were in California, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego, according to the State Police it would be Monday before they would be prepared to act.

“I don’t like it Vin, the longer this takes, the bigger chance we have of word leaking out and losing it all. My entire task force is spread out from here to California; I only have Kel, Selina and Mark left to work the raid here in Denver. If Denver PD hadn’t picked up on the surveillance here we’d be up a shit creek without a paddle.”

“Buck, you have what’s left of the unit to back you and you know how important it is to have at least one member of your team in each location, so relax. Regardless of what California does we are a go for Monday.” Vin assured him.

“Yeah I know.” Buck sighed. “I don’t like having our unit spread all over the map though. At least with Max moving this weekend we’ll have a diversion, otherwise I think I’d spend all my time pacing in front of this damn map.”

“Walter will be in tonight, too, and y’all will have a chance to meet him tomorrow. JD, Nathan and Ezra will be at the house by nine. All we have to do is unload the truck and we’ll have Max moved in within a couple of hours. Then we’ll eat some fine barbeque and enjoy the afternoon with our families.”

“It won’t be the same without Josiah and Chris there, but I’m glad Mallory is coming with the kids.” Buck turned around to face Vin. “Speaking of kids, Inez and I have been talking. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but we would like to help out with Caleb.”

“What kind of help Buck?”

“We know that when you and Kel moved to be his guardians, you lost any financial assistance from the foster care system. We’d like to outfit him for school, you already have Jason to buy for and…Hell Vin, I know you can handle it, but it’s something we want to do for the boy.” Buck waited anxiously, hoping that Tanner would not ask too many questions about his motives, at least not yet.

The Texan saw a certain look cross his brother’s face and he knew that this was important to him. Vin also recognized something else, and decided to follow his instincts. “We appreciate your offer Bucklin, and your attention will make Caleb feel special. I think you should tell him though, you and Inez together.”

A huge grin spread across Buck’s face. “Thanks, we’ll tell him when you get ready to take Jason shopping, and then we’ll take him and Sarah at the same time. She’s looking forward to preschool, that’s all she and Joanne have talked about for the last two weeks. It’s hard to believe they are already old enough to go to school.” Wilmington added. “I also managed to get tickets for the Broncos exhibitions games in late August. I thought maybe we could take the boys, they would have a ball.”

Tanner grinned, “Yeah they would. I don’t think either one of them have ever been to a football game.”

“Then it’s a done deal.” Buck slapped Vin on the back and then returned his thoughts back to work issues. “So what do we need to do now?”

“Chris, Justin and Raphael have checked in, your surveillance is covered, mandatory refresher training is over, and we have a full day ahead tomorrow at the ranch. What do you say we try to get away from this place at a semi- decent hour? I don’t know about you, but these fifteen hour work days are playin’ hell with my love life.”

“Tanner, you read my mind.”

Sacramento, California

Millard Jefferies was certain that there was something big in the wind; he was just not sure what it was. His position with the State Police did not give him access to the files he needed to see.Hell, it not much, but it better than nothing.

He picked up the phone and called the Costa Mesa Police department “Lyle Jefferies please.” He waited to be connected.

“Captain Jefferies.”

“Hey big brother, I have some information you might be interested in knowing. The big brass is up to something and it’s big, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s going down on Monday and some fed agency is involved.”

“Which agency is it?”

“That’s just it, I never heard of this MCAT, but they seem to be calling the shots on this one. Sorry I can’t tell you more, but the brass is keeping a tight lid on whatever it is. I’m off this weekend, but I’ll be in early on Monday. If I hear more, I’ll call you.”

Lyle Jefferies narrowed his eyes and wondered what in the hell MCAT was up to now. “I’ll pass it on bro, call me if you hear more and next time I see you I’m buying the beer. See you later.” Captain Jefferies thoughtfully started at the phone after he hung up and then made a decision. He made his way up to the Chief’s office and walked in unannounced.

“Damn it Lyle, don’t you know how to knock?” Chief of Police William Blain was busy with a young blond and the intrusion was unwelcome.

“We may have a big problem, Bill.” Lyle waited for his boss to untangle himself from the young hooker that was servicing him.

“Fuck! Get you clothes on and get out, now!” He threw some money at the woman and waited until she was out the door.

“This better be worth it Jefferies! “ Blain zipped his pants and glared angrily at his Captain.

“One of my sources just called. I’m not sure what it is, but something big is going down here in California on Monday and MCAT is calling the shots.”

“MCAT is working in my state again? I guess they didn’t get the message the last time they were here.” Blain leaned back in his big leather chair. “Donner will owe me for this one, you go on home Lyle, and I’ll handle this.” The chief waited for Jefferies to leave and then called a number he had committed to memory.

Santa Ana, California

The Silver Slipper catered to urban businessmen, lawyers, doctors and professionals. It was over 12,000 square foot in area and was considered to be an upscale gentlemen's club that featured female strippers and dancers. Adam Carmichael and Creed Cortez were sitting on the cushioned chairs at the half mooned shaped bar watching the crowd. The club was packed with a rowdy bunch, waiting for the acts to change. Adam had no difficulty picking out the undercover vice cops in attendance, although he was certain they were on Donner’s payroll and no busts would be forthcoming. Carmichael was nursing a beer and a headache. The DJ had the music turned up so loud that he was sure they could hear it in LA, add that to the smoke in this place and he decided that the ache in his head would not be leaving anytime soon.

Ryan the bartender nudged Creed’s shoulder. “Boss called and said he wants you two in the back office, now.”

Adam downed his beer and sat the glass on the bar, “On our way.” He and Creed made their way through the crowd to the back of the club.

Before either of them had a chance to knock on Donner’s door, it opened and Willis rushed out almost knocking them over. Adam could hear Victor cursing and tentatively stepped into the room.

“You wanted us?” Creed said lazily.

Donner turned quickly toward them. “Damn right I do. Tell me about MCAT!”

Adam hoped that his face did not betray the shock that he felt. How in the hell does he know? The best that he could do was try and bluff his way through this and hopefully buy them some time. “MCAT?”

“Yes! I want to know what it is, who’s in charge and why in the hell they are fucking with my business!” The older man’s voice steadily escalated in volume.” Those sonsofbitches are coming into MY state and plan something big for Monday.”

”The only thing I know about this MCAT is it’s some kind of new government agency.” Adam said with a confidence that he did not really feel. He realized that somehow Donner had gotten wind of the planned task force activities and made a connection to MCAT. “I haven’t heard about anything going down, but I’ll keep my ears open.”

Willis had returned, whispered a message to his boss, and then he turned to face Adam and Creed. “You two are headed south. We have a shipment scheduled to leave out of Costa Mesa tonight. You will make sure no one interferes with it.”

“Give us the details and we’ll handle it.” Creed proposed.

“Details, you won’t need. Willis will connect you to the man in charge. Your job is to guard my men.” Donner answered. “Until I know what those bastards are after, I won’t take any chances.”

“Guard your men? What about your merchandise?” Adam asked.

Donner shrugged his shoulder. “My merchandise is expendable as well as stupid, but employees talk and make deals. Any law enforcement agency gets close enough to take any of my men down; your orders are to silence them…permanently.”

“Silence the law officers or your men?” Creed was certain he knew the answer, but wanted to hear for himself.

“Both,” Donner stated. “I hate loose ends.” Victor then ordered. “Go with Willis, he’ll set you up with what you’ll need.”

That last order dashed any hope that Adam had for making a phone call to warn Vin about Donner’s information on MCAT. Somehow he would have to find a way to get word to Tanner before it was too late.

Denver Colorado

Wilmington Home

“Daddy’s home!” Sarah saw him first, but Maria was hot on her heels as they ran to launch themselves at Buck.

Easily catching the little whirlwinds, he hugged them both. “You two were good for Mommy?

“Yesssssssss!!!” Maria squealed.

“The bestest,” Sarah assured. “We missed you Daddy.”

Buck hugged them tighter, “Not half as much as I missed all of you.” He looked up to see Inez watching them from the kitchen doorway. “Hello beautiful.” His words were few, but his eyes told her how glad he was to see her.

“I saved you some dinner, if you’re hungry.” Inez felt her heart rate speed up the way it always did when Buck walked into the room.

“I am, but first I want to tuck these two into their beds and maybe read ‘em a story or two.” Two ear-splitting shrieks told him that he had said the right thing. With Sarah riding on his shoulders, he swung Maria through the air like an airplane and made his way to their room. Twenty minutes and a half a story later both girls were asleep.

Slipping quietly out the door he was not surprised to see Inez waiting for him. Buck wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed the top of her head. “How is my little mama feeling?”

“Better, since you’re home.” Inez knew her husband’s work was important and necessary in this crazy world, but it did not diminish how much she missed or worried about him. The children kept her busy and she loved having a houseful, but still…Buck made her world complete. “Come husband, you need your dinner.” Leaning on one another they slowly walked to the kitchen.

“Baby, I have missed your cooking, it seems as if I have lived on burgers and pizza for a year.” Buck savored the home-cooked meal.

“Did you have a chance to speak with Vin about Caleb?” Inez had spent a great deal of time with the new addition to Larabee 7 and found him to be a delightful child. Having lived most of his life in either group or foster homes, he had learned to adjust quickly to new surroundings.

“Yep, and he agreed. We can take him shopping, when we take Sarah to get her school stuff. Then we can find the right time to talk to Vin and Kelli together. You haven’t changed your mind have you?”

“No, I want to do this as much as you do. Caleb is a wonderful little boy, and the Tanners are doing well with him, but he needs us Buck. I know that in my heart.” Inez was certain that their decision was the right one. “We have enough love in our life to include him and besides, with new baby girl coming, you need another male on your side.” The Latin beauty laughed. “Sarah and Maria already think he’s great and this way they can have the big brother they have always wanted and an adorable little sister to fuss over.”

Buck pulled her into his lap. “You darlin’ are an amazing woman, your ability to share love is my greatest gift. We are going to be the best damn family in the universe and have four beautiful children to share our lives with. Te quiero, Inez.”

“Te quiero, el marido.”

Well’s Ranch

Friday evening

JD stood in the doorway of the nursery and watched his daughters sleep. He smiled, Lilah slept on her stomach always, barely moving, but Daisy was all over the place. That was the way they were when they were awake, Lilah, was the peaceful one and Daisy was the one that you never knew what outrageous deed she would do next. God, he loved them with all of his heart and soul.

What JD could not understand was how anyone could hurt someone so innocent. But they do, the evidence you have been processing all week tells you that. How can I protect my angels from the ugly side of the world we brought them into? I can’t...someday they will have to face the fact that there really is evil, and sometimes it is found in the most unexpected places. Please God; show me how to make them understand when the time comes, protect them and keep them safe.”

Sweetheart, are you okay?” Casey had stood silently by and watched her husband. This was not the first time she had seen him standing at the doorway to the girl’s room, watching them but it was the first time she had seen tears roll down his cheek while doing it.

Brushing his sleeve across his face, JD answered in a choked voice. “Yes, I’m okay, I just…Casey…you think they already know how much we love them?

Casey slipped her arm around his waist and hugged him. “Baby, they knew that before they were even born.”

Jackson Home

“Rain you are not even trying to understand how I feel.” Nathan was almost hoarse from attempting to explain himself to his wife.

He had thought that out of anyone else that Rain would understand where he was coming from. She, alone, knew how hard it was to be an African-American living in today’s society. She had faced prejudices just like he had, and had thought that she would support him in his choice to become more active in African-American causes. He wasn’t just doing this for himself; he was doing it for her, for Terrell and any future children that they would have together. He wanted to make the world a better place for their children to grow up in.

“Oh I understand! You want to disregard a man that has been like a brother to you for over fifteen years and replace him with one that you have only spoken to four times in the last five years! Well, it’s not going to happen! Furthermore, if you continue with this kind of crazy talk, you may just be talking to yourself! Rain shouted back at him, fighting to control the tear that threatened to fall. She entered their bedroom and after throwing out Nathan’s pillow slammed the door, effectively ending their ‘conversation’.

Nathan picked up the pillow from the hallway floor, and moved back into the living room. He stretched out on the couch for the night, pulling the afghan on the back of it over him, and wearily closed his eyes. Tomorrow was a new day. Surely Rain would see reason by then, and the two of them could discuss things in a much calmer fashion.

Costa Mesa, California

Willis drove and they arrived in Costa Mesa before ten. Stopping in front of a warehouse, he cut the engine while looking at his watch and spoke the only two words he had uttered since they had left Santa Ana. “We wait.”

Twenty minutes later two trucks rolled up and the drivers exited to meet Willis. After a five-minute huddle, he motioned to the two to join him. “This is Carmichael, he’ll be driving the lead truck, the other one is Cortez he’ll take the second one. Now move your asses and get them loaded.” The first two men entered the warehouse and opened the large overhang doors.

“Alberto and Reyes will take care of the merchandise; you two drive and keep your eyes open for cops. Loose this load and Mr. Donner will not be a happy man. The only thing you need to know is that your destination is a border town called El Centro. You will overnight there and return tomorrow.”

“What about the merchandise?” Adam asked “Will the buyer be meeting us?” He hoped that they would be lucky enough to gather enough incriminating evidence against Donner quickly.

“You will leave the trucks with the keys inside at a location that Alberto will point out. A vehicle will be waiting for you at a local motel and you will drive back here tomorrow. I will have transportation waiting for you when you arrive.” Willis gave Carmichael a hard look. “Your job is to drive and not ask questions. I don’t particularly like either one of you, but the boss wants you so you’re here. That doesn’t mean that I trust you. Alberto and Reyes have their orders, too. You best not give them a reason to return without you. Usted entiende amigos’?”

“Yeah, we understand…friend,” Cortez scoffed and muttered something about Willis murdering the Spanish language.

Neither Carmichael nor Cortez were surprised that the merchandise was of the human kind. They were however shocked when Alberto had them to pull off the main road to a secluded area after two hours of driving,

Reyes simply grinned and said. “Hey we get to try out the merchandise, its not like we can ruin it or anything.” He pulled the back door open on the truck and yanked two young girls out onto the ground. “There more than enough to go around, so help yourself.”

Thanks, but no thanks.” Adam shook his head.

“Suit yourself.” Alberto and Reyes then proceeded to brutally rape the young girls in plain view of Carmichaels and Cortez. Before they were finished they had gone through four girls and made no attempt to hide their activities.

Creed was certain that he would hear those screams in his nightmares for years to come. Damn, he hated undercover work! He knew that if either of them interfered they would both be dead. They only way to stop this was to stop Donner and he vowed that one way or another that man was history. If they could get enough proof to prosecute him, if not…

Adam wrestled with his conscience. This seemed too much like a test of loyalty to interfere, it was as if that was what Alberto was expecting them to do. There was too much more at stake to risk overtaking them and having to explain themselves to Donner at this point. They had not been here long enough to gain the trust they needed to have access to information that would hold up in court.

There were only two things that Carmichael was certain of tonight. Some how he would find a way to warn Vin about the leaked information and that before this way over Victor Donner was a dead man, one way or another.

Larabee, there is no way in hell that you can walk away from this, no matter what the cost.

Chapter 30

Larabee 7 Ranch

Saturday ~ August 5

“Time-out Tanner!” Kelli stopped running and bent over with her hands on her knees to catch her breath. They were three miles into a four-mile run and she had had enough. Even though she knew he meant well she had to draw the line somewhere and this was it. She would follow Vin into hell in a heartbeat and not say a word, but the last two weeks had passed that description and he needed to realize what he was doing.

Concerned, Vin backtracked to where his wife now waited for him. “You okay Kel?”

Kelli straightened up and looked at the man that she knew so well. “Tanner, we need to talk.” She took his hand and led him to a place where they could sit for a while. “I love you and would do anythin’ to make you happy, but this has to stop.”

“What ‘this’ are you talkin’ about?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Vin, I didn’t say a word when you set up the additional trainin’ at work because I agree that we all need to stay sharp on this job. I also stayed quiet when you insisted that you and I train one on one in addition to that. But enough already, it’s not even six-thirty in the mornin’ and after an hour of great, but vigorous lovin’, a thirty minute workout, tendin’ horses, and runnin’ three miles, on top of a work week of twelve to fourteen hour days, ’m tired. We still have three energetic kids to face at breakfast, a day of movin’ Max, and a family dinner to look forward to. I do enjoy runnin’ with you in the mornin’s and it seems here lately that anytime we can spend extra time together is a windfall, but…”

“Kel, I hear you, but it’s important to me to make certain that you are prepared for whatever may happen out there. Especially after that incident at the mall, we were lucky…damn lucky and I…” Vin rubbed her back as he talked.

Kelli put her finger to his lips. “I know that and I was to blame for most of that.” She laughed. “I was carried away with being a regular mom and taking the time off work was enjoyable. I forgot somethin’ very important though and became careless. The job is always there and I should have been watchin’ closer, instead, I quit thinkin’ like a cop for a while and it almost cost me my life. It won’t happen again, I promise you, but I think I did okay and you have never complained that I was out of shape before so…”

“Hell, you’re not out of shape and I know that you are capable.” The Texan sighed deeply. “This case is gettin’ to me the same as it is everyone else and bein’ stuck in a waitin’ pattern for some action to start is hell. The more I learn about this syndicate, the more I tend to be apprehensive about the kind of people we are dealin’ with. Then havin’ to split the team between here and California…I don’t like it at all. My gut says that this one is gonna cost us before it’s over and I’m not prepared see someone I love get hurt again.”

“I know how much you care, and I do understand that you are concerned about Chris as well as the rest of us. Raphael may not be you, but he is good at what he does and he knows what’s important. Keepin’ his partner safe will be his highest priority and he’ll watch dad’s back. You did right by insistin’ on the mandatory workouts, but in-between your schedule of extra trainin’, this case, the kids, the move, and those damn shots Dr .Weeks has me takin’, you’re kickin’ my ass Tanner.”

Vin flashed her with a rascally grin and his blue eyes filled with amusement. “I reckon we could cut out the vigorous love sessions.”

“In you’re dreams Wise Eagle because that is not an option.” The redhead smiled. “We can though; cut our runs down to twice a week, relax our workout schedule and stay in shape chasin’ down kids instead. The drainin’ side effects of those shots won’t last forever and this case will end, eventually. You still want me to practice more defense moves, then we’ll do that in the bedroom and have a helluva lot more fun in the process.”

Vin stood and offered his wife a hand up. “You have a deal. I suppose I have been a bit obsessive here lately and I promise to let up. Besides I can think of better things to do with that sweet ass of yours that to kick it and there some new moves I can show you that we can practice in our bedroom.” The Texan slid his arm around her waist after patting her backside and they began to walk. “We’ll take a slower pace and go home, if the kids are up Walter may be lookin’ for a rescue.”

“If last night is any indication, Walt can handle the kids’ just fine. He did surprise me, because for a man that doesn’t have any of his own he had them wrapped around his finger with his Indian stories. His wild tales reminded me of the ones Jake use to tell.”

“He did at that. I like him and I hope he decides to take the job here on the ranch. I know you’d like for him to be around and I think the kids would too. Walter reminds me a lot of my grandfather. He was a soft-spoken man, but you knew you had better pay attention to what he said because when he talked it was usually about somethin’ important or profound and he wasn’t goin’ to say it twice. He was a firm, but gentle man that had a unique way of seein’ life and was able to convey that to me without lecturin’, but he could tell one hell of a story.”

Kelli heard the love in Vin’s voice and she knew that his grandfather’s spirit was still with him. She did not have to meet the man to know him. He had taken a young boy and helped to shape him into the man that stood next to her and he was a part of everything that Vin was. His grandson was now passing on the teachings he had learned to Jason and Andi with the same firm, but gentle hand that had taught him. “I think I would have liked your grandfather.”

“Grandfather would have liked you. “Tanner grinned. “He always considered a wild spirit to be a personal challenge and your spirit is almost as wild as mine was.”

“Was Tanner? You’ll never be tamed; your spirit is as free as the eagle and as wild as the raging river that spills down off the mountains. Your gentle, caring soul emits a healing spirit, yet beneath that is a fierce protector that I know will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the ones that you love.” Kelli leaned in and hugged him. “Don’t ever change Vin. Our circumstances in this like may alter, but it’s comfortin’ for me to know that Vin Tanner is and always will be the same man that I fell in love with.”

Vin answered her with a return hug and sighed. He recognized that to Kelli he was all of those things, but it was useless to try and explain to his redhead the power her words held over him, she could not or would not comprehend what having her in his life meant. Many years ago his grandfather had told him that one day he would rediscover two spirits that he had known in the past and that once reunited, one would strengthen his mind, and that with the other, his destiny in this life would be revealed. Chris was the brother of his spirit and certainly made him stronger mentally, but Kelli was the one that fulfilled his fate.You may be a raging river Tanner, but since Kelli came into your life you know where that river leads.

“Let’s go home, Texas.”


When the Tanners walked into their house they found that Walter already had breakfast started. The aroma of frying bacon made them realize how hungry they were and evidently had aroused the children from their sleep. The sound of running feet and giggles alerted the adults that quiet time was over and that three little ones were on their way in to meet the morning. Vin and Kelli grinned and hugged each child as they raced into the kitchen.

Walter laughed. “Now that is the best way I know of to start a day. I took the liberty of makin’ breakfast and if I may enlist some help from the junior crew here to set the table; we can eat in five minutes.”

Three little helpers went to work and within a short time breakfast was underway. Quickly mounds of bacon and eggs disappeared along with two pans of homemade biscuits.

“Dad, may me and Caleb be excused?” The young boys were ready for the outdoors.

“Caleb and I, and yes you may.” Vin smiled as the boys took off for outside.

“Mama, you play with me ‘til Sarah and Maria comes?” Andi turned her pleading blue eyes on Kelli. “I don’t wanna play boy stuff.”

“Tell you what baby, you go change into day clothes while I straighten up in here and then we’ll play ‘til the other girls arrive.” Kelli watched their little princess zip off to her room.

“Go on with her Kel, I’ll finish in here.” Vin saw her hesitate, but before he could say more Walter interceded.

“I’ll help Vin, it will give us a chance to talk about the ranch security.” Walter smiled, “Besides she won’t always be little, enjoy her while you can.” Kelli gave in and followed Andi.

“You have a beautiful family son. Don’t be like this old man and spend more time on your career than on the important things in life. I should have married and had a houseful of young’ns, but I never made the time. After ten years in the military, I discharged and went into law enforcement and then let it take over my life.”

Vin nodded, he had seen too many law enforcement officers let the job run them instead of the other way around. “We promised ourselves not to let that happen to us. Kel and I make time to be with each other and the kids. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.”

Walter studied the younger man in front of him. “Before I give you my answer about the job, I want to tell you why I’m interested in takin’ it. When I first laid eyes on Kelli she wasn’t much bigger than your Andi. When I saw her I was certain that even if she made it to the hospital alive that it was highly unlikely that she would last through the night, but mercifully I was wrong.” He stopped to compose himself and swallow the lump in his throat.

Tanner laid down the dishtowel and turned to face Walter. “I didn’t realize that you were there before she was taken to the hospital.”

“The preacher that found her called the police dispatcher. I happened to be close to the location and was the first one to respond to the call. Now, I had a military background, a few years on the force behind me and had my gold detective shield for three years. I thought I had seen just about everythin ’but…I tell you Vin, that child got to me right here.” Walter patted the chest area over his heart.

“She can still do that.” The Texan smiled. Walter reminded him of the mountain men he had heard so many stories about as a kid. However as tough as the older man appeared to be at first glance, Tanner had seen the gentler and compassionate parts unveiled when he spoke about Kelli or the kids.

“Anyway to make a long story short, I stayed with the case and spent a lot of time with that girl. I wanted to make things right for her somehow and could not give up. Not havin’ kids of my own I suppose Kelli is the closest I ever got to havin’ a child and bein’ able to see her now with her own family makes me feel good. Correspondin’ with her and hearin’ about how her life turned out is the only bright spot in my retirement. I’m not so much interested in the money Vin, because I do have a good retirement income, but I am lookin’ for a place to settle that I can call home and a family to share my twilight years with.”

Vin knew that Walter’s determination to stay on the case was the only reason he was able to find the answers that Kelli had needed to end her nightmares. He owed this man more than he could repay and had no problem making him an extended part of their family. “I reckon you found one Walter.” The Texan offered his hand. “Welcome to our family. There is a room downstairs with your name on it if you get tired of livin’ in that motor home.”

Walter took the hand that Vin presented, “Thank you son. In that case I accept the job offer and with your approval I’d like to talk to the ranch foreman and begin puttin’ together a plan to present to you and the others.”

“I’ll go with you and introduce you to George before I get started with helpin’ Max. Later today you’ll get to meet the rest of this wild bunch we call family.”

Vin and Walter walked down to the barns and found George. After introducing the two, Tanner moved on to connect with Buck and the other brothers that were already assembled at Max’s new place. They had just raised the door on the big u-haul truck and were preparing to unload when he walked up.

“Good timing Vin, we’re here and ready to get started.” Buck grinned. “We’re working on Max’s schedule and Miss Nettie is helping Gunny to make sure we stay on track. Rain, Mallory, Inez, Barbara, and Casey took all the kids up to your place.”

“I can’t lift, but I can lend you guys some moral support.” JD offered.

“Thanks JD, we’ll take it.” Nathan answered as he grabbed two boxes to take inside.

Ezra took two more boxes and sighed. “If JD is supervising then I suppose I am to be demoted to manual labor.”

Tanner grinned. “Hard work never killed anyone Ez, besides if you end up with achin’ muscles, ‘m sure Barbara can massage ‘em away with no problem.”

“There is that.” Ezra grinned back at Vin. He and Barbara had decided to wait until this case was over to announce their engagement, but she was moving in with him this weekend.


Inez, Kelli, Barbara, and Casey started on the dinner, the food would be slow cooked and the barbeque ready by the time the men finished unloading.

“Kel, how is Caleb adjusting?” Inez asked.

“He seems to be doing okay. He has always been in either temporary foster homes or a group house so he’s used to followin’ rules, but he needs more than that. Caleb needs the freedom to be a little boy and parents that will love him. I am tryin’ to get him to be more assertive though and ‘m teachin’ him a little Spanish. You know his mother was Hispanic so I though he should at least know the language. He’s smart and it’s easy for him to learn so he’s pickin’ it up fast. All in all he is a great kid, beautiful on the inside as well as outside.

“Caleb is a child that could steal anyone’s heart after only a few, minutes of spending time with him. I have a feeling that that child will have his own family before you know it.” Inez smiled and turned to work on the food preparations.

Outside, Mallory and Rain were watching the children play.

“Mal, are you doing okay with Josiah gone?”

“Yeah, pretty much. We miss him, but I know that what he’s doing is important. This case is affecting everyone in the unit in one way or another and I hope we have a good outcome with it.”

Rain huffed. “It certainly has made an impact on Nathan, especially since they found Caleb. I tell you Mal, I think that man is having a mid-life crisis or something close to it.”

“I know he was upset about Vin and Kelli taking Caleb, but I’m not sure that I understand why.”

Shaking her head, Rain sighed. “Nathan thinks he has sold out his black heritage. Caleb made him realized that there are too many little ones like him out there that are not learning about their history. He thinks that he has gotten too comfortable in the white world as he calls it and now he is determined to be active in programs that promote black heritage. With Vin and Kelli, it’s not that he doesn’t believe that they can be good parents, he knows they are. But he doesn’t think they can teach Caleb what he needs to know as a black child. He even wants us to change our will and list his brother as Terrell’s guardian instead of you and Josiah should anything happen to us. I haven’t agreed to it and I won’t. However the fact that he wants to list a brother that he only speaks to maybe once a year simply because he’s black, instead of a friend he sees almost every day that he has known and trusted for more than fifteen years says a lot.”

“Do you think that once this case is over that it will make a difference in how he feels?”

“I hope so, because it sure has put a strain on our marriage,”

“If there is anything I can do, let me know.”

‘Thank Mal, for now just keep your spare room open. If Nathan doesn’t become reasonable soon, Terrell and I might need it.”

“You ladies look as if you’re trying to solve all the world’s problems.” Casey commented as she and the others came outside to join Rain and Mallory.

“We were discussing MCAT’s current assignment and how it has affected everyone.” Mallory explained. “I think every agent in the unit is on edge.”

Casey nodded affirmatively. ‘You mean THE case, the one that has JD not sleeping and checking on the girls ten times a night.”

“The one that had Ezra become a jackass and try to run from our relationship.” Barbara added with a smile. They had worked past the harsh words that had almost cost them their relationship. Their future was now on solid ground and Barbara still had to pinch herself to believe that they were going to be married. When the time was right they would share with the rest of the family, but for now she was content and she was confident that Ezra would never try to shut her out again.

“The same one that has my Buck’s heart doing summersaults, and he’s not sleeping either. He wants to keep our girls within our sight twenty four hours a day until they’re thirty.” Inez sighed. “I’m worried about him. I’ve never seen him take an assignment so personal, unless it involves one of our brothers.”

“Vin is the same, he just hides it better. Chris insistin’ on going undercover and allowin’ the team to be split is what I think worries Vin the most. Not being able to be in two places at the same time. Knowin’ that Josiah is in California helps, but if he had a choice, he’d be there too.”

Two little ones approached the group and as Maria made herself comfortable in her mama’s lap, Andi did the same with Kelli. The ladies’ conversation quickly changed direction while the girls fought a losing battle to keep their eyes open. Two dark headed little Dunnes followed, Daisy climbing into Barbara’s lap while Lilah claimed Casey’s. Terrell and Adam were not too far behind, leaving Joanne, Sarah, Jason and Caleb on the swings.

“Vin did a great job on this playground, it is an amazing wonderland, seems there is something for every age child to play on. Whatever gave him the idea?” Mallory asked.

Kelli laughed. “Don’t you know that Vin is still a kid at heart? He wanted to make certain that no child would be left out, even the littlest ones. That’s why there is soft padded plastic around the sand box area and the smaller swings.”

A sudden flurry of activity from the other children signaled the approach of the men. Sleeping toddlers were shifted to the inside while the final preparations for dinner were finished. The move was successful and Max, Gunny, and Nettie soon joined the rest of the family. By the time the meal was served Walter was on a first name basis with the wild bunch. Afterwards he gathered with the brothers on the deck to discuss his plans from improving the security around the ranch.

Ezra was impressed with Walter’s ideas “I must say that using our existing personnel rather than bringing in more men is an excellent idea, not to mention cost efficient.”

“They already work here and I found that many of them have the necessary qualification to do the work that needs to be accomplished. Instead of several additional salaries, increasing their pay seemed to be the better option as well as least expensive. I’ll have the cost estimates on a security access gate for the front entrance, video feeds from all sections of the property, and alarm systems for the fence line for you on Monday.”

“That sounds good to me.” Nathan agreed. “I wouldn’t mind having you look at our home security system either.”

“Not a problem, and with your permission JD I’d like to include your fence line in that estimate. Chris did say that the Well’s place and Sanchez land were to be included. Correct?”

“Yep and Nettie has already agreed to comply with whatever needs to be done.” Once JD had explained that it was for the protection of the family she did not hesitate.

“Josiah already knows that you’ll be taking a look over their place, Mallory is expecting you. You might as well check our security system too while you’re at it.” Buck offered. “I think we’re set up well, but I want to know that we have the best available.”

“I reckon it safe to say that you’re on the right track Walter. Make a list of the things you want to implement and we’ll…” The ringing of his cell phone interrupted Vin.

“Tanner,” he answered. “Chris, what in the hell are you doing callin’ this number? ...Yeah, are you certain? …Got it…On it now…Watch your back pard.” Vin closed the phone and faced four sets of anxious eyes.

“We may have a problem.”

San Diego, California

Adam Carmichael closed his cell phone and signaled to Creed that their mission was accomplished. He felt better knowing that at least the team had an idea of what they may be facing and he trusted them to find a way around it. The last eighteen hours had been a living nightmare. There was a big difference from hearing these activities on pre-recorded tapes in his office and actually being there when it was happening.

You wanted this, you insisted on being here in the middle of it didn’t you? I supposed now you have to find a way to live with yourself when this is over. What? You thought that knowing that you were doing the right thing would make it easy? God! No one should have to endure what those girls are going through…and you had to stand by and do nothing to help them. That makes you no different than the ‘good folks’ that stood by and did nothing to help your daughter when she was trapped in hell.

Doesn’t it?