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 31

MCAT office ~Sunday ~ August 6 ~Noon

It may have still been the weekend, but you would not know it from the buzz of activity in the MCAT unit. From the time that Chris’ call came in yesterday afternoon, the agents had been working to move their Monday takedown to Sunday. Coordinating with law enforcement officials in five other states, it was now past noon and the last of the details were coming together. Director Travis had joined Tanner and Wilmington in the war room and now stood looking at the huge map dotted with colored push pins.

“You have been in contact with each member of the task force?” Travis inquired.

“Rick was the last one to check in and California is now a go. We’re synchronized to serve all ten warrants at 5:00pm MST. “Buck informed the Director.

“Our team is ready to move, and will be in place before four. Denver PD is providin’ fifteen additional officers to help out. The hospital has been alerted to expect an influx of young people to examine and the counselors are on standby.” Vin continued. “As soon as the takedowns are complete we’ll have reports with fingerprints of all the recovered juveniles from the other nine sites and feed ‘em into CASSIE. She’ll compile and compare the results as well as help us locate some of the families of the kids.”

Travis nodded affirmatively. He knew his unit was prepared and had every confidence that Tanner would cover all the details. “I’ll be here for the duration, if you need anything. “He hesitated. “The minute you hear from Larabee, I want to know.”

“Yes sir.” Vin agreed as he watched Travis leave for his own office. Travis was not the only one worried about Chris. Tanner knew the risk he had taken to call him direct instead of going through Josiah. Larabees’ next check-in was tomorrow and the Texan was certain he would not relax until that happened. “Buck I need to follow-up on a few things. I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

“I’m good.” Buck observed the younger man walk out. He knew Vin well enough to know that something was bothering him and Wilmington wished he knew how to help him. Chris would know. His eyes searched the room and saw that Kelli was also watching the young Texan retreat to his office.

Kelli had just hung up the phone when she saw Vin come out of the war room. Most anyone that saw him would think that the laidback Texan was in complete control, but she knew better. The telltale signs of his stress were there if you knew what to look for and she did. Ninety percent of their time the work environment complied with their rule of keeping a professional relationship here at the office. However there were times that it was just not possible and Kelli Coulter, agent, lost out to Kelli Tanner, wife. Hesitating only briefly she rose and followed him to his office, entering without knocking.

Vin was sitting at his desk staring off into the distance. She walked up behind him and began speaking as she massaged his shoulders. “I just talked to all the kids. Caleb said to tell you hi, and Jason and Andi send you their love. While Max is fixin’ lunch I think Walter has them as well as Joanne and Adam mesmerized with his tales of the old west.” She felt him lean back into the massage and sigh. “You know that dad is tough and it takes a helluva lot to stop Chris Larabee. He would not have made that call unless he knew it was relatively safe.” She continued to rub his neck and shoulders and was pleased to feel some of his tense muscles relax.

Tanner reached up and took one of her hands and squeezed. “I heard somethin’ in his voice Kel, somethin’ I didn’t like. I’m not sure what it was, but I do know that whatever is goin’ on out there has him more uptight than I’ve ever heard him. Normally I’d agree with you about how tough he is, but the last year has been hard on Chris, emotionally as well as physically. My gut says he may not have been ready to go under on an assignment that is this volatile.”

“Once he had made up his mind, do you think you could have stopped him from going?”

The Texan thought about it before he answered. “No, but he’s too damn stubborn for his own good sometimes.”

“There is an entire unit out there that is dependin’ on you to direct them and they deserve your full attention. Vin, ‘m not tellin’ you not to worry, because I know you will, but Chris is not in there alone, and Raphael will back him, no matter what. However, if you gut says Chris is in danger, pull him out, if not have a little faith, and don’t let your uneasiness about not being close enough to read him, eat away at you.”

“You always manage to cut through to the heart of things, don’t you?” Vin tugged on her hand and pulled her around him and across his lap. “You’re gonna make me break my own rule about our work relationship, too.” He gathered her closer and claimed a gentle, reassuring kiss before asking. “Does your husband know that you fool around with your boss?”

Kelli laid her head against his chest and sighed contently as he held her. “Maybe, but then he is an understandin’ man. Of course, he’s only human though and he does have his limits.”

Vin kissed the top of her head. “Thanks for remindin’ him.” He then swatted her backside. “Now, it’s time for Agent Coulter to get back to work.”

“Whatever you say Captain,” Kelli grinned and Vin helped her to her feet.

Sunday ~4:55pm ~August 6

Buck and Vin would be the first ones through the door to serve the arrest warrant for Keats and his three men. It had been determined that there were five paying clients inside and once the suspects were in custody the uniformed officers would sweep the lower floor before they moved upstairs. Selina and Kelli would follow the uniforms and hopefully be the first ones to come in contact with the girls upstairs. Paramedics were on standby down the block and would move in closer when the all clear was given.

Tanner checked his watch and then spoke into his headset, “All units standby.” Silently everyone prepared to move in from their assigned positions and waited for the next signal.

A nod from Wilmington five minutes later had Vin issue the go ahead. Three of the men on their wanted list were captured easily, lounging around the foyer. Keats tried to make a run for it and with Tanner right behind him; he foolishly made a grab for a hidden gun.

“Give me a reason!” Tanner yelled as he leveled his sidearm at the man’s head.

Jonathan Keats saw his own death in the agents’ eyes and wisely decided not to take hold of the gun. Throwing his hands up he dropped to his knees and surrendered. Vin handcuffed him and passed him over to another officer. After being read his rights, he was taken and placed in the backseat of a waiting patrol car.

“First floor clear,” Buck shouted and they moved on to the second floor.

Chaos reigned as half-dressed, middle-aged men tried to run and young girls screamed. The men were quickly taken into custody. Coulter and Cordova moved forward to confront the girls while Tanner and Wilmington covered them as a precaution.

“You are not under arrest, but I need you to remain where you are and stay calm.” Kelli instructed in an even tone. “We are here to help you. Please sit where you are and wait until we clear this floor.” Several young girls huddled together, not comprehending what was happening around them.

Selena found three more girls in other rooms and assisted them in dressing before she brought them out. Kelli had coached her about how to talk to the victims and what to say. She spoke softly, but firmly. “Sit here and try to remain calm.” Cordova rejoined Coulter.

Kelli looked at the twelve frightened young girls in front of her and wished she could make this easier for them. However, there were certain actions that had to be taken, and information that was necessary to collect. “My name is Kelli and this lady is Selena. She, along with two other police officers, is going to ask each of you to give them your name, age and family information if you know it. We want to try to get you home. Medical care is available to those of you that may need it and you will be fingerprinted for identification purposes only. But I need you to look around and make sure that everyone is here. If there is anyone that you know of that is not, please tell me.”

At first no one made a move and Kelli was sure they were too scared to say anything. Then one of the youngest girls spoke in a low voice. “There…there’s a room…for the sick ones.”

“Where is this room?” Buck asked, trying not to let his anger show.

The girl looked up and whispered, “Attic.”

Vin was already looking for a way up and he found a concealed entrance in the hallway ceiling to an attic crawlspace. Pulling himself up into the darkened area he turned on his flashlight to find three seriously injured children. Moving closer he kept his voice clam and soothing. “We’re gonna have you out of here before you know it. Don’t be afraid ‘m a police officer and pretty quick some people will be here to help you.” His stomach knotted when two of the girls pulled even further away, the third one was too still and he knew that they were too late to help her. He decided not to add to their fear and eased himself down from the opening.

“Buck, we need the paramedics in here, and tell ‘em to send the female ones only. Call Bones and have him and the forensics crew come in too.”

Keying in the radio, Buck felt his heart contract. He was aware that it had always been a possibility that they might not be here in time to help all the children, but he had hoped they would not have to face finding any of them dead. “Mark, send up the female paramedics and tell Bones we need him.”

While Wilmington radioed for the medics to move in, Vin went back to the other room and whispered to Kelli. “Move these girls downstairs; I think one of the ‘em in the attic is dead.”

Kelli paled slightly, but followed orders. “Okay, we’re gonna go downstairs and then we will take a trip to the hospital. There are doctors there waitin’ to help you.” Watching their eyes as the girls slowly began to move broke her heart. There was pain, distrust and a loss of innocence in those eyes that they would never recover.

MCAT Office ~ 11:30pm

Buck stood up and stretched as he reached over to pick up the last page of his report from the printer. He and Vin were the last ones left in the office, since he had sent everyone else home for the night. The day had been an emotional rollercoaster and he was relieved that the waiting was over and the takedowns were finished. No agents had been injured here or at the other nine locations. However, now came the hardest part of piecing back together the lives of two hundred and seventeen juveniles that had been rescued from the hell they had been living in. He knew that it would be at least another twenty-four hours before he had all the reports in his hand, but he did have enough preliminary information to know that it had been a successful day for law enforcement.

A quick rap on Tanner’s office door and Wilmington walked in handing him his report before he sat down. “That’s the last of mine. I expect to have the rest of them sometime tomorrow, but prelims look good. Two hundred seventeen juveniles in protective custody, thirty-two arrests were made, twenty-one computers confiscated as well as a total of over a quarter of a million in cash.”

Vin placed the report with the others on his desk. “Kel and Selina are on their way over. The girls are settled in for the night and the counselors are staying with them. Except for the two in ICU the others were released from the hospital and Bones will have a report for us tomorrow on the COD of the one that didn’t make it. I also want you to make certain that JD has access to those other computer hard drives to feed the information into CASSIE.”

“JD will be here at six in the morning and already has made arraignments with each state involved to connect with their computer expert. As soon as the last interview is finished at each location our people will return to Denver and we’ll be working with Jed Alders to put our case together for the U.S. Attorney.” Buck sighed. “I’m just sorry that we didn’t find anything on Danny yet. I had hoped...”

“It’s too early to give up Buck; we may still find a lead on his whereabouts. Your task force did a terrific job and you should feel good about what was accomplished.” Vin was aware of how Buck was involved emotionally with these kids and wanted him to see the bigger picture. “Hell, you have enough work now to keep y’all busy as beavers for the next few weeks. Enjoy the moment of victory Buck, we don’t get enough of ‘em.”

“You’re right. All in all it has been a day to chalk up to the good guys.”

There was another rap on the door and Kelli came in with Selina. “Hey.” She set a stack of papers on Vin’s desk. “Last interview completed and all the medical reports on the girls.”

“So what do we have?” Buck picked up one on the reports.

“Fourteen females’ rangin’ in age from eleven to sixteen, with the exception of the two in ICU, most of ‘em are in fair health, but there are a few that will need some follow-up. One of ‘em tested positive for pregnancy. Five other girls tested positive for assorted types of STDs. We have full statement from all twelve, and seven of ‘em were able to give us information about family. The others either couldn’t or wouldn’t.” Kelli consulted her notes. “Nancy Donaldson....Carmen Johnson...David Wallace... and Sandra Edwards are all qualified crisis counselors and will be workin’ with ‘em over the next few days or weeks if necessary. We left them safe and secure for the night and we’ll check on ‘em in the mornin’.”

Buck stood up. “I’m gonna crash in the lounge for a while, you guys staying or going home?”

“We’re stayin’, I already talked to the kids and they don’t expect to see either of us ‘till tomorrow night.” Vin answered for himself and Kel. “Selena you can go home or if you want, or you can use the couch in Chris’ office for the night.”

“Thanks, I believe I’ll stay.” Selina answered.

“I’ll point you in the direction of a pillow and a blanket and then you’re on your own. See you two in the morning.” Buck escorted Selina out of the office.

As soon as the door closed Vin stood up, offered his hand to his wife, and initiated the hug that they both needed. “You okay baby?” Vin held on tight, letting some of his tensions drain away. No matter how bad it was with work, Kelli had the power to reach through the worst of it and lighten the load on his shoulders.

“I reckon I will be. It was hard hearin’ their stories Vin. What they have been through…” Kelli shivered.

“We’ve done all we can do Kel. At least now they have a chance they didn’t have before and it’s up to them whether they make good use of it or not.” Tanner rubbed her back. “The kids sent their love and there is a nice hot shower waitin’ through that door that has your name on it. There are cold cokes in the fridge along with a salad if you’re hungry. Then we’re gonna curl up together on that couch and for a few hours forget what we’ve seen today.”

Kelli hugged her Texan. “I’m not hungry for food, but that’s the best offer I’ve heard all day.” She handed him her gun to lock in his desk with his.

“Hit the shower, baby and I’ll finish up in here.” He patted her backside and urged her to move toward the bathroom door. Vin knew that she needed a few minutes to come back from the world she had just left. Kelli wanted to make a difference for those young girls and felt good that she could be proactive on this case, but it still wore on her emotions.

Vin put her gun in the drawer, shut down his computer and then walked over to lock his office door. Next he flipped off the ceiling light, leaving only one soft desk light to illuminate the room. By the time he had the couch ready for the night and had undressed, Kelli emerged from the bathroom with a towel in her hand and wearing one of his shirts.

Tanner took the towel and had her sit on the couch in front of him while he worked to dry her wet hair. Vin always enjoyed doing this for his redhead, it was relaxing and it put him closer to his favorite person. He leaned down to kiss the back of her neck and grinned. “This keeps up Coulter and your husband is bound to find out about us.”

Kelli turned to face him and teased. “I am certain that he already knows that ‘m in love with you.” She slid her hand through Vin’s hair and pulled his head down. The sizzling kiss that followed left both of them breathless and the growing need between them was more than physical.

“Now that you mention it ‘m damn sure that he knows I love you, too.” His hands gently caressed her hips and pulled to him. Tomorrow they would start over and face the ugly side of their work again, but tonight called for a spiritual cleansing that the beauty of their love offered. “But you’re right, he is an understandin’ man.” Tender touches soon gave way to reckless passion and the workday was forgotten, at least for a while.

Santa Ana, California ~Midnight

Carmichael and Cortez had been back in town less than an hour. As soon as they stepped into the club they could feel the prevailing tension in the air. The music was still deafening, the patrons were half-drunk and boisterously enjoying the show, but something was different. Making their way to the back of the club to Donner’s room, the feeling was stronger and when they reached the door of his office there was no doubt about the source of the disquiet.

Creed opened the door and they both ducked to miss the flying projectile that crashed into the wall over their heads. Victor Donner was on a violent rampage and the air was blue from his raving expletives. Most of what he had to say made no sense, but several words stood out to the two men that had recently joined the organization. “MCAT… retribution… Larabee…regret.”

Adam looked over at Willis, Donner’s right hand man and calmly asked. “What in the hell is wrong with him?”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong!” Donner yelled. “Those fucking MCAT agents meddled in my business and now they have started a war! They think they have me, but they will never connect me to anything with their pathetic efforts to bring me down. However, I will bring every one of those bastards to their knees before I’m finished with them! Obviously Larabee didn’t receive my previous message and now he’ll wish he never heard of California!”

“You’ve tangled with Larabee before?” Adam asked. “I’ve heard he can be a tough bastard.”

Victor laughed. “Not tough enough. I warned him when I went after his agents, and he didn’t listen. Now he’s made this personal!” Donner turned to Willis. “I want everything you can find on MCAT, how many agents, all about their families, where they live, hell I want to know what they eat for breakfast! I also want specifics on Chris Larabee, their so called commander. That man just cost me millions of dollars and years of work, I want him to suffer. Call Zimmerman, he should be able to help. What good does it do to have the FBI on you’re payroll if you can’t get details on another government agency?”

“You want to order a hit?” Willis asked.

“No … not this time. I think I want Larabee to watch his family and agents suffer. If they die quickly he won’t feel their pain and I promise you that man will rue the day he interfered with my business.” Victor was still livid about losing ten of his money-making operations. We’ll start with that redheaded bitch that killed my men, she’ll make a good addition to my enterprise and I’ll take care of breaking her in myself! I also want to know how many other females work for MCAT; they can start replacing the bitches I lost. Get on it now!” Donner ordered

Although Carmichael was not surprised to hear Wills confirm that Donner ordered the hits on his agents he still felt a surge of anger bolt through him. When he thought about what Victor’s answer implied a chill ran down Adam’s spine recalling the treatment the girls received from Donner’s men. He caught Creed’s look and realized that both of them were having the same thoughts about the female agents on their team. The unit evidently had been successful in bringing down a large part of O’Mara enterprises. He was relieved to know that Vin had heeded his warning and made it happen, but now he had to find a way to inform Tanner about Donner’s plans.

“Whatever we can do to help you, we’re ready.” Adam stated. He knew that the risks had just compounded for him and Creed, but he had to be in a position to know what Donner was doing. All he could do now was pray that Victor did not make a connection between Chris Larabee and Adam Carmichael.

“You and Creed will work here; I’ll take care of MCAT myself.” Donner dismissed them with a wave of his hand. “Get out of here, I have plans to make.”

Chapter 32

Costa Mesa, California

Wednesday~ August 9th

Jonah Drake stood on the dock of the warehouse and stared out at the streets of Costa Mesa, but his mind was in Denver, Colorado. Ten days was such a short time on the calendar, but the dynamics of his world had changed dramatically. His primary thoughts were on Mallory, Joanne and Adam, he knew that his brothers would move heaven and earth to keep them safe, but there were always unforeseen issues that could breech even their watchful eyes.

Billy Ray Hackett seemed to be moving in the right direction. Chief Blain had assigned Billy Ray to be his personal driver. Slowly information was beginning to come through about the corrupt dealings of the Costa Mesa Police department. That should have made Jonah feel good, however it only accentuated how truly alone he and his teammates were out here. Now it was certain that there would be no backup to count on from local law enforcement. Even without the foreboding warning from Adam Carmichael, Billy Ray’s last report indicated a great deal of unrest with the local PD. MCAT’s involvement in taking down ten trafficking houses had indeed stirred up a hornets’ nest.

Carmichael’s message was perhaps the most disturbing. Nothing good ever came from vengeance and retribution, but that appeared to be the path that Donner was taking. MCAT was the target of that hatred and that meant that Jonah’s entire family was in the line of fire. They were in Colorado and he was here in California, helpless to assist. He said silent prayers for them and for Vin Tanner, the man that would have to lead them safely through dangerous territory.

“Jonah … Mister Drake?” Nancy Harding tried again to get her boss’ attention.

Returning from his mental trip to Colorado, Jonah shook his head to clear his mind. “Sorry Nancy, you caught me daydreaming. What do you need?”

Nancy smiled, “It is a beautiful day, isn’t it? I just need your signature on this inventory report sir.”

Drake took the clipboard and scrawled his name across the bottom. “There you go.” Jonah took one last look towards the east and then he went inside.

Santa Ana, California

Creed Cortez thought that he had seen too damn much in his years with the DEA, but what he had witnessed since coming here was enough to give him nightmares for the rest of his life. He was finding it difficult to separate the images of his daughters and granddaughters from the ugly scenes that had played out over the last few days. Young girls that should be home playing with dolls and being safely tucked into to bed by loving parents were forced to perform perverse sexual acts that no child that age should even know about.

Splashing water on his face, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom mirror. How long can you stand by and do nothing, before you lose what little control you have left? Damn it, why in the hell couldn’t Donner send them to Colorado instead of playing bodyguard for his merchandise. Those sick bastards of his that move these girls should be castrated! Shooting was too good for them! He heard movement in the other room and knew that Adam was awake.

Creed entered the room while drying his face on a towel. “You okay?”

“Hell, I may never be okay again!” Adam growled. “It’s bad enough that Donner kept us here, but another night like this last one and I’m gonna have to kill somebody.” Last night had been the worst so far. The ‘merchandise’ was much younger than the previous group had been and it was gut-wrenching to watch the atrocities that were happening to those children. The only thing worse was to know that Donner planned the same for the women that he loved and being here in California there was not a damn thing he could do about it. Staying here was something he had to do; no matter what was going to happen or who disagreed with it. The only problem was he had no idea why or how far how was willing to push it.

“We had better find some tangible evidence on this bastard soon or I can’t promise that I’ll remember which side of the law I’m supposed to be on.” Creed had seen more than enough.

“I hear you, but… I know I didn’t leave you much choice when I told Jonah I was staying, but if…”

Cortez was already shaking his head. “You’re in and so am I, end of story. We’ll do this together and come hell or high water we’ll find a way to take that sonofabitch down or if the worst happens, drag him into hell with us.”

“I just wish to hell I knew what was happening in Colorado.”

Donner’s Office ~late afternoon

Carmichael and Cortez responded to the summons their boss had issued. Victor Donner was in much higher spirits than he had been yesterday and welcomed them with a smile.

“Good Afternoon, gentlemen,”” Victor greeted them. “I trust that you rested well.”

“Well enough, “Adam answered casually.

“Good, I have another assignment for you. O’Mara Enterprises has several diverse operations and I need your assistance with one south of the border. In light of recent events, I find it necessary to concentrate on quick cash merchandise verses long term. I will be sending you both to Oaxaca, Mexico to pick up a package. You’ll fly down tonight and return Friday night, simple. Manuel will be your pilot and he will give you the details once you cross the border.”

“This package, what is it?” Cortez asked.

“Do not concern yourself with small matters at this point in time. Do your jobs well and perhaps you will earn yourselves a promotion in my organization. Be prepared to leave after midnight.”

It did not take a genius to figure out that quick cash and Mexico meant drugs. Adam felt like a traitor. He was relieved to be sent away from the live merchandise, but it would take them even further from whatever was going to happen in Colorado.

“Willis gonna tag along?” Adam had not seen Willis and he was certain that he was the man that Victor would send to deal with MCAT.

“No, this will be your assignment only. Willis and a few of my associates are on their way to Colorado to take care of some business for me. I will expect you both to join me for a late supper before you leave. That will be all for now.” Donner dismissed them from the room and his thoughts.

Adam did not like this turn of events, yes the drug part of this operation had to stop, but it was the trafficking that was his priority. Two days in Mexico would not bring them closer to finding the physical proof they need to tear down that part of Donner’s business. He looked towards the exit and with a slight tilt of his head, indicated for Creed to follow him outside.

Once they were clear of the club Carmichael began speaking. “I don’t like this shit. You know what he wants us to do in Mexico.”

“Yeah, but unless you think we’re in a position to pick and choose what we do I don’t see that we have a choice.” Creed pointed out.

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Adam retorted. “Let’s find a place that we can call Jonah and inform him that we will be out of the country.”

Adam made the call while Creed covered his back. “Jonah Drake, please.” He waited for his call to go through.

“This is Jonah Drake, how may I assist you.”

“Hell, I think we’re beyond assistance. Just wanted you to know we’ll be out of the country until late Friday or early Saturday. I’ll have to call you sometime over the weekend.”

Jonah leaned forward in his chair. “I have a message for you. Abort and come home.” The return silence on the line was not reassuring.

Finally Adam answered. “No can do. We’re staying.” He hung up before Jonah had an opportunity to argue with him. Vin, take care of the family and try to understand.

Josiah sat and stared at the phone. He knew that Chris was a tenacious man, but he did not think he would disregard an order that clearly was issued for his protection. He dreaded the next call he had to make. Vin Tanner would be furious when he found out that his order had been ignored and that the risk to his brother’s life had just multiplied tenfold.

MCAT Office ~ Thursday ~10:00am ~ August 10th

Josiah had relayed Chris’ message on Monday and the last one from yesterday, but they were no closer to answers now than they were then. Chris could only tell them that all of MCAT was targeted, especially the women and to take every precaution. Mallory was sent home to stay with Adam and Joanne until further notice. Kat and Pam had a daily escort to and from work and Vin was keeping close tabs on Kelli, if he couldn’t be with her he made certain that Buck, Nathan or Ezra was. Justin’s family left yesterday to stay with relatives in Florida per Tanner’s direction and Walter was working to implement the new security measures for the Larabee 7 as well as to protect the Sanchez and Well’s property.

The task force had pulled together all the reports and over half of the juveniles rescued were already with their families. Both girls that were in the hospital were improving, and the rest were in the processes of being relocated. The U.S. Attorneys’ office had filed charges on all the men arrested and were confidant that they had strong cases to take to trial. Additionally the officers that were loaned to MCAT from the Denver PD had returned to their previous positions and MCAT would handle the remainder of the work.

The entire MCAT unit had been on high alert status since Larabee made his call, and everyone’s patience had vanished. Wilmington and Standish were in Tanner’s office and the tensions were running high.

Buck threw down the report in his hand in disgust. “There is NOTHING in this shit to connect Donner to any of these operations! Not one shred of physical evidence to bust his ass on. We KNOW he ordered the hits on Ezra, JD and Kel. We KNOW he was behind the trafficking of those kids and we KNOW he is planning to hit us again. But we can’t touch the bastard! You’re the man in charge Tanner so act like it and abort this op before it blows up in our face.”

Vin stopped pacing and yelled. “No shit! I don’t like the way things are any better than you Buck! Hell, you think I want to keep Chris and Raphael in there knowing that Donner is actively searchin’ for information on MCAT. It’s just a matter of time before he realizes that he has Chris right in front of him and when he does it’s gonna be too late for us to help ‘em!”

“Pull him out Vin! You leave Chris in there and he dies, it’s on you head!” Buck yelled louder. “Call it! We’ll get Donner another way!”

“You think I haven’t fuckin’ tried! Lar’bee refuses to back down and acknowledge that particular order! That hard-headed sonofabitch is determined to stick it out ‘til he finds proof that will nail Donner, even if it kills him! In the meantime I have to deal with the angry women in this unit. It seems they don’t like having full-time babysitters any more than Gunny or Judy, Travis is all over me for answers, and ’m workin’ around the clock tryin’ to stay ahead of this bastard. Now you wanna ride my ass and tell me how to do my goddamn job!

Tanner’s cell phone rang and he grabbed it. “TANNER! I kinda in the middle of …What? Is she fuckin’ out of her mind! ... I AM NOT YELLIN’!” Vin took a deep breath. “I’m not yellin’ at you Kel… I know it sounds like it… NO! ...I’ll handle it …Hell, I don’t know…I’ll just add it to my growin’ list of things to do!” Vin closed his phone and sat down. One look at Ezra and Buck and he knew they were waiting for the next shoe to drop. “Linda decided to come home, seems she’s tired of arguin’ with the Dubois family so now she’ll be spendin’ her time and energy arguin’ with me “

“Why would she argue with you Vin?” Ezra had been silent during the heated exchange between Buck and Vin.

“Hell Ez take your pick. Findin’ out that she has to be restricted to the ranch, not bein’ able to get information about Chris, or maybe the fact that she couldn’t get in the goddamn gate when she came home since Walter changed it to an access code entry. She didn’t know the damn code because she’s not supposed to be here yet. Accordin’ to Kel she spent twenty minutes on the phone catchin’ hell over it.”

Buck sat down too. The more he thought about Linda and the gate, the funnier it became and soon he was trying to stifle his laughter.

“You find somethin’ amusin’ Bucklin?”

“Yeah, I was tryin to picture that conversation between Linda and Kel. I’d bet it was loud on both ends.” Buck sighed and then turned serious on the young Texan. “I’m sorry Vin, I know you’re doing all you can, it’s just damn frustrating. Chris needs to be reminded that you were put in charge for a reason…to avoid this, but I know how stubborn he can be. So now what?

Ezra laughed. “Well I think Vin may have to do some damage control with Kel. She’s already not thrilled with being watched everywhere she goes and now he yelled at her on the phone.”

“The last time I yelled at Inez that way, it took me a month to work my way back into our bedroom.” Buck agreed. “Our ladies can be a bit prickly and headstrong at times.”

Vin sat silently wrestling with his conscience. He knew that he had been hard on Kelli the last couple of days. His temper had been short and his apprehension about her safety had him snapping at her constantly. He had worked three days straight because he felt the weight of responsibility was his alone, but he really didn’t have to do everything himself around here. Finally he made a decision; he needed to get away from this office for a while. “Buck set up a meeting for four o’clock in the war room, we’ll go over where we are, and then see if JD can pull anythin’ else from those hard drives. Ezra, you call Linda and explain why she can’t leave the ranch and let her know what we authorized Walter to do.” Vin stood up to leave. “You two try and keep a lid on this place ‘til I get back.”

“Where are you going?” Buck knew the answer to that question, but asked anyway. Vin had not left this office since Josiah’s call came in on Monday, he needed to recharge and that was something he could not do here.

“I’m gonna follow Kel to the ranch, leave her truck there, spend some time with the kids, and then ’m takin’ my wife to lunch.” Vin smiled. “It’s not gonna take me a month, Bucklin.”

Once Tanner was out the door Ezra looked at Buck and grinned. “I doubt it takes him more than a few minutes to make amends.”

“You’re probably right, but he needs to unwind and spending some time with Kel and the kids will help. Now if the rest of this mess was that easy to fix, we would be in fine shape.”


Tanner walked out of his office and quickly scanned the room. He knew that everything that could be done had been done and that he could do nothing more except wait for Donner to make a move. For now though he needed fresh air and some time with his wife.

Kelli was taking her frustrations out on her keyboard, which made it difficult to finish the work in front of her. Cursing under her breath, she was so intent on beating up the defenseless letters and her poor mouse that she did not see Vin coming.

Without warning he was leaning over her shoulder and whispering in her ear. “Shut that down, grab your keys and come with me.”

Although she was still irritated with Vin for yelling at her on the phone, not going with him was never a consideration. When it came down to it, she would go with him anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. “One minute.” Kelli shut down her workstation, took her keys from the drawer and allowed Tanner to escort her to the elevators.

Wordlessly Vin punched the down button and waited for the doors to open. Once inside he pushed LL to take them to the parking garage, still holding on to Kelli’s arm as the elevator began its descent. Somewhere between the ninth and tenth floor he reached over and hit the emergency stop, the small elevator car came to a halt and in one fluid movement he pulled Kelli to him and shrouded her with his body, claiming a leisurely kiss that seemed to go on forever.

Kelli leaned into the strong arms that held her and sighed. Vin had the power to touch her soul effortlessly and he was unquestionably the love of her life. He was her Texas sunrise and he made each day they had together special. He may irritate her occasionally with his stubbornness, but there was no way she could stay mad at this man, not now or ever.

Vin felt her sigh and read the signs of surrender in her movements. The last three days had been hell, and his energy had been depleted. Five minutes in an elevator with this woman made him feel like a new man. Kelli may not realize or acknowledge the affect she had on him, but he knew. Hell, just holding her gave him the strength to take on the world, and loving her brought out the best in him. His hands made on more pass over her body before he said, “Reckon we should get this thing movin’ baby, before they try to ‘rescue’ us.”

With her head against his chest listening to his heartbeat Kelli mumbled. “Do we have to?” Lord she had missed him the last few days.

The Texan chuckled, “Yeah we do, but ‘m gonna follow you home, spend some time with the kids, and then ‘m takin’ you to lunch.” He reached over, hit LL again, and they began to move. Reluctantly they separated before hitting the eighth floor, where they were joined by two other people.

The lady standing in front of Tanner questioned. “Is there trouble with the elevator?”

“No ma’am. I lost somethin’ and stopped the car deliberately in order to retrieve it.” He grinned when he saw Kelli smile. “Everythin’ is fine.”

MCAT Office

Ezra rubbed his temples to ward off the headache he was developing. Linda Larabee was not a happy woman and had spent the last ten minutes letting him know it. She took exception to being restricted to the ranch and was extremely upset that Standish would not tell her anything about Chris.

“Linda, I assure you that Chris knows what he is doing.” Ezra crossed his fingers as he spouted that dubious statement. “I will relay your message to him, however at this time it is unadvisable for him to attempt to communicate with you. In the meantime Walter will assure your safety as well as all of the Larabee 7, Sanchez and Well’s property. Please be patient and I promise I will keep you advised of the situation.” He said goodbye and sighed as he hung up.

Buck heard Ezra’s end of the conversation and it was not difficult to fill in the other side. “You’re a braver man than me, Ez. Let’s just hope that she doesn’t find out that Chris is staying under after Vin ordered him and Raphael out.”

“Amen to that.”

Parking Garage

Tanner was still grinning as he and Kelli walked out the exit doors toward their vehicles. They had almost reached her truck when he heard someone call his name. Turning he saw Selina Cordova walking over to them.

“Captain Tanner, I was on my way to your office to speak to you. Do you have a minute?”

“Hello Selina, I was on my way out. Is it urgent?”

“Not urgent, hi Kel, but it will only take a few minutes. I wanted you to look over my application to join the MCAT Unit. Could you make certain I have everything necessary?”

Vin was somewhat surprised by her request, not because he was against it, but that he didn’t see it coming. Selina was young, but was also a damn good officer. She was her father’s daughter after all and the strong principles that Raphael possessed had been passed on to her. “I can look at it, but I can’t promise you a position.”

“I know it’s a long shot, but to even be considered would be an honor. I have several recommendation letters and a copy of my work record as well as my education transcripts. However, I wasn’t sure what else might be required.”

Tanner took her application and then looked over at his wife. “You go ahead Kel; I’ll only be a couple of minutes behind you.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at home.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Bye Selina and good luck.” Kelli climbed into her truck and started the engine while Tanner spread Selina’s application papers out on the hood of his Tahoe and began to review them.


Arthur Willis had been surprised to find that somehow MCAT had been alerted to an impending threat to their female agents. Later, he would have to find out just how they knew. Watching the redhead pull out of the parking garage, he waited to see if one of her bodyguards would follow her. When no one else exited, he started the engine of his rental car and merged into the traffic behind her truck.

Picking up the two- way radio that lay on the front seat beside him he keyed it on. “Team one Subject is on the move, headed west on Sherman Avenue, looks as if she is headed out of the city. Prepare to intercept.”

“We’re good to go on this end.”

“Make it happen and don’t fuck this up.”

Keying in the radio again, he order “Team two, you have your assignment, wait for your best opportunity and then move in.”

“Affirmative, sir.”

Willis sat back and relaxed as he made a right turn to go back to the hotel. He had hired some of the best men available for this job. All he had to do was to wait for them to report their success.


Vin looked at his watch and cursed, Kelli had left over fifteen minutes ago and he was still here in the parking lot. “Damn! Selina, I’ll make sure Chris sees this when he returns, but I should have left ten minutes ago.”

The Texan was pushing the speed limit and chiding himself for being so paranoid, with only the morning traffic it would not take that long for her to make it home. Kelli was fine and he was worrying over nothing. He would feel better though when he had her in his sight. He pushed #1 on his cell phone and waited for her to answer.

“I’m here Tanner.” Kelli answered.

“Where is here?” Vin relaxed when he heard her voice.

“Hmmm... ‘m comin’ up on exit 73 I think…yep, one more exit to the frontage road.”

“Take the lead out of your boot and slow down. I’m ten minutes behind you.” Vin laughed, Kelli had two speeds when she drove…fast and faster. “Slow can be a good thing you know.”

“Slow is only good when you’re around and then it’s fantastic. You want me to stop and wait for you?”

“You don’t have to stop; just try not to break any land speed records ‘til I catch up.”

“I’ m takin’ the exit to the ranch road now Vin. Traffic is clearin’ out and …damn! It looks like the county is doin’ some road repairs up ahead. Guess I’ll have to slow down.”

For some reason Vin had an uneasy feeling and was about to tell her to stop and wait for him when she spoke again.

“It’s not that bad; they put up a helluva lot of warnin’ signs for a small patch of rough road. I’m turning on the road to the ranch now, another fifteen miles and ‘m home. Be careful when you hit that rough road though, it looked like there were a few big holes and yes I did manage to avoid ‘em.”

“Stay on alert Kel, I ‘m not that far behind you now and keep our phone connection open.” Vin’s uneasy feeling was intensifying and a few minutes later when he hit the road construction’ it went on a rampage. Where Kelli had passed only minutes before with no problem, the road was now barricaded. Tanner switched to four wheel drive, went off road and around it, picking up speed.

“Kel, how many workers were on that road crew?”

“Two, I think. Why?”

“Because now there are none and the road was closed off. Be ready for anythin’.”

“I am. Are you… Vin, there’s a green SUV coming up behind me pretty fast and …oh hell! ...” Kelli had been busy watching behind her and when she looked forward again, there was another SUV in front of her. She saw the brake lights come on, but was traveling too fast to stop. Quickly she turned the wheel, hoping to avoid a collision…

Vin heard Kelli scream moments before the crash and then silence ensued a moment before their phone connection was lost. He immediately called Buck as he raced to get to his wife. When Wilmington answered Tanner began to rattle off a string of orders.

“Buck, we’ve got trouble! Call 911 and get them out to the ranch road, eight-mile marker, ASAP. Call Walter and have him tighten the security at the ranch. Bring at least five agents and get your ass out here too. Kel’s had an accident and I believe she had some unwelcome help with it. I’m almost there now.” Tanner threw the phone down on the seat.Five minutes baby…hang on.

Chapter 33

MCAT Office

Buck Wilmington wasted no time with explanations; he quickly stood and began shouting instructions. “Vin’s in trouble! They’re out on the ranch road, near the eight mile marker.” Several agents rose in unison, and started to follow him toward the bank of elevators. “You can’t all go; someone needs to stay here and look after things. Pam, keep our line of communications open. JD, you’re in charge here. Call 911, and then the ranch; instruct Walter to lock it down.”

Wilmington wasn't sure what was happening, but he thought that it was best to prepare for anything. He yelled back at JD. "Also have the forensics unit on standby. Nathan…”

“Already done Buck,” Jackson had his medical bag in his hand and was two steps behind him.

“Ezra and Paul, you’re riding with me. Ross and Mark, you two are with Nathan, let’s roll.” Once the six agents had reached the parking garage, they wasted precious little time piling into the two vehicles. Buck took the lead in his truck, with Nathan’s SUV right behind him; both vehicles sped out of the garage with lights flashing and sirens screaming.


Hans and Broderick had a job to do. Willis had been specific, grab the woman and make certain she stayed alive to hand over to Donner. Collect one-hundred- thousand dollars and be on their merry way. Hans however had plans of his own, he would deliver her to Donner, but not before he had some fun of his own.

“Remember, Willis said she would probably be armed. Look for a gun, I don’t want any surprises.” Broderick instructed.

“Who in the hell do you think you’re talking to? It’s not like I’m new at this.” Hans answered incensed at his partner’s patronizing attitude. He hated working with this jerk, but for this kind of money he would work with Beebe the clown. “I'll get her gun; there won’t be any damn surprises.”


Kelli was certain that she had avoided hitting the truck in front of her. However, she felt the impact from the rear that threw her into the steering wheel, as her Chevy Avalanche slid across the road. Why did it seem as if the world was moving in slow motion? The rock facing that bordered the curve of the road was moving toward her and upon impact crushed the front of her truck with no difficulty. All motion and sound ceased for a moment and then the silence was broken by several earsplitting pops as her world turned white.


I can’t breathe! God make it go away, it’s everywhere…pressure …eyes…Lord they burn…I know what that is….air bags…I hate those things! Who’s shouting? Vin? No, that’s not Vin. Leave me alone and let me stay here please, my head hurts too much to move. That hurts, don’t pull, NO!


Unknown hands roughly grabbed at Kelli, pulling her by the hair, and dragging her away from the cushioned air bags. When her left leg refused to budge from where it was caught under the console, she heard a long string of obscenities echo through her head from what seemed far away in her dazed state. Although she didn’t recognize who was doing the cursing, Kelli could make out that there were two distinct voices.


“Hurry up damn it!”


“Shut the fuck up, Broderick! This ain’t exactly easy getting her out of here!”


“Come on bitch, move!”

Confusion reigned inside her head momentarily, but then her instincts kicked into overdrive! They were screaming trouble! Whomever, these men were Kelli’s intuition was telling her that they weren’t there to help her. She began to fight her ‘rescuers’ with a vengeance once they had freed her left leg and dragged her out of the vehicle. Nothing she was doing to fight them was working as it should.Think Kel think!

“Whoa! This one is a fighter. Donner will like that.” The man holding her cackled, his stinky breath perfuming her face for a moment, making Kelli’s stomach roll in response; at the same time she felt a thread of fear slice through her as she recognized Donner’s name and knew that these men had been sent by him…and why.

“Hans use the goddamn tranquiller on her already and let’s get her into the truck before somebody comes along.” Kelli heard the other voice tell the man holding her irritably.

She had only a moment of thought to digest his words, before she felt a sharp prick to her arm and felt the rush of something warm enter her veins. A new wave of panic fled through her as her body began to feel the effects of whatever drug they had injected her with start to work.

Vin! She screamed wordlessly, knowing that her husband couldn’t hear her, but couldn’t refrain nevertheless. She tried to remember how much time had passed since she had last heard his voice on the other end of her cell phone and prayed that he would get there in time to rescue her.


Tanner’s Tahoe careened down the exit ramp and around the curve onto the road leading to the ranch. Two minutes was all it took to get to the eight-mile maker, his truck sliding to an abrupt halt as Vin slammed on the brakes. He was out of his SUV, with his gun in hand, before the vehicle finally stilled. Quickly he surveyed the heart-stopping scene before him with mounting fury.

Kelli’s truck was lodged against the rock wall with two other vehicles surrounded it. His glinting blue orbs zoned in on the man, whose filthy hands were slowly dragging his wife away from the wreckage of her truck, and toward another vehicle a short distance away. Kelli was attempting to fight him off, but was not being very successful at it, and that alone told Vin that either his wife had been badly injured in the wreck or something else was impeding her movements.

Another man stood a couple of steps in front and to one side of the man that was holding a struggling Kelli. Both men’s attention left the woman that they had come to kidnap, and focused on the longhaired young man whose vehicle seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.

“Let her go.” Tanner’s voice was lethal as he stalked toward them, his movements strung tight with barely controlled rage.

Kelli’s heart gave a familiar tug as she recognized Vin’s voice, and raised her dizzy head up to see him stalking toward where she was being held, leaving himself open to be killed by her abductors. Frantically she tried to think of anything that she could do to offer her husband some sort of aide in taking the two men down. She knew that as long as she was in danger, that her Texan’s thoughts wouldn’t be focused on protecting himself, only on reaching her.

Hans, the man dragging Kelli toward his vehicle, gave the redhead a vicious tug that jerked her body before his in a way that he could use her as a human shield. “I don’t think so Cowboy; this whore is mine and I’m keeping her.”

He brought both of his hands up on either side of Kelli’s body and sliding his hand inside her shirt, ripped it open and then crudely touched her to emphasize his statement. “We’re gonna have our own private party before I deliver her to my boss.” The repulsive man who held her might not know it yet, but Kelli knew that he had just signed his own death warrant when he had dared to touch her in a way that was reserved only for her Texan.

Tanner never ceased in his approach, as he took in the lowlife scum that was manhandling his wife. His stride was steady and calculating, and his gun hand did not waver. “Then I reckon that you’ll have to die, but… first things first.”

Vin shifted his aim onto the other man that was holding a gun on him, and pulled the trigger of his weapon before he had even finished the sentence. He felt nothing at all, but the cool inner calm that settled over him every time he shot a weapon. He felt no remorse, only certainty that his bullet had pierced the man’s heart. Broderick was dead before he hit the ground. Nor did Tanner feel any satisfaction in the killing, only relief that he had neutralized one threat against his wife and then he directed his attention back onto the man that held Kelli.

“Now it’s your turn.” The Texan stated as he continued his advance.

Hans watched in disbelief and anger as the longhaired man had aimed his gun at Broderick and pulled the trigger without hesitation. Who in the hell was this guy? He raised the weapon he had confiscated from the holster on the redhead’s belt.


“That is close enough! One more step, and she dies.”

Kelli felt the muzzle of the gun press into the back of her already aching head. She fought against the waves of pain and nausea that assaulted her, and tried to center her attention on the deadly situation playing out in front of her. Vin was there, and she knew that she should find that comforting, but she didn’t. All she could focus on was the fact that he was alone, wasn’t wearing a vest and yet he still advanced toward the man that held her. Distantly she heard sirens and knew the cavalry was on their way, but if she didn’t pull herself together enough to help Vin, they were going to be too late.

Tanner stopped less than eight feet in front of Kelli and the man that held her. It seemed to him that it had been hours since he heard Kelli‘s scream over his phone, but in reality it had only been minutes. He risked taking his concentration off the man with the gun momentarily, and for the first time he glanced at his wife. Expecting to see a mixture of pain, fear, and confusion in her eyes, Tanner was surprised, because if anything he saw a flash of anger.

Kelli caught Tanner’s eyes with her slightly unfocused ones and knew that Vin was trying to tell her something, without actually coming out and saying anything that would tip off the man holding her hostage. She took a breath and let it out slowly, feeling it chase away the dizziness for a moment and kept her eyes trained on her husband, sure that if at all possible he was going to give her some sort of sign.

“You should have minded you own business, mister, not come in here like some damn avenging angel of death. Now throw down your gun unless you want to watch this bitch die.”

Several thoughts raced through the Texan’s mind, but the one that stood out the most was the trust he had in Kelli’s instincts; even injured he knew that she would understand what he was going to do.

Kelli’s eyes followed Tanner’s movements as he complied with the man’s commands. One boot shifted ever-so-slightly back on its heel, at the same time Tanner’s right elbow went back and his hand up as he dropped the gun onto the ground at his feet and waited.

With the threat seemingly gone, Hans relaxed his hold on Kelli and moved his gun to direct it at the young interloper. The man laughed. “That was right smart of you boy, but unfortunately for you it not gonna save your life.”

The moment he raised his weapon to shoot Vin, Kelli’s fear for her husband’s life, gave her a fleeting burst of adrenaline to fight the drugs in her system. She stomped back on the man’s foot with her heel of her boot, and then brought her right elbow backwards into the man’s solar plexus as hard as she could. Following the movement upwards with the last bit of strength she could muster, she swept the man’s gun arm up as the weapon discharged. The shot went wild, but Tanner was already in motion. He propelled himself across the short distance that separated them and tackled the man struggling with his wife.

Kelli found herself falling forward toward the asphalt as her husband and her abductor rolled back and forth on the ground, each one of them struggling to gain control of the gun that Hans still held in one hand. Franticly grabbing Vin’s gun off of the ground she precariously rose to her knees and aimed it at the struggling pair with trembling hands, attempting to cover her Texan.  

Tanner worked his fingers up to the gun and managed to grab onto his adversary’s thumb, easily snapping it. Hans let out a shriek as pain flooded through his hand and he dropped the weapon onto the ground. The moment it fell, Vin released his right hand's hold on the man’s arm and began to pound his fist into his opponent’s face. Hans struggled to defend himself from the Texan's furious blows, and managed to bring one hand up to grasp hold of Vin's throat and began to squeeze. 

Vin had no choice but to cease his ferocious pounding of his opponent's face, and bring both hands up to grapple with the tightening hold Han's had on his throat. Spots began to dance across his eyes as he started to pass out from lack of oxygen, and knew that he couldn't allow that to happen. Hans took the advantage, lifting one foot up into Tanner’s mid-section and sending the Texan flying backwards onto the ground. Tanner was momentarily stunned from the impact of his body hitting the ground, and couldn't move from the lack of oxygen in his lungs. Hans scrambled to his feet, and lunged onto the man that had killed his partner, and interrupted their fun. However; he underestimated the Texan's abilities to defend himself and keep his redhead safe.

As Hans lunged onto him, Tanner’s self-preservation kicked into overdrive, and his years of extensive military and martial arts training, rose to the surface.  He brought his arms up across his chest to block the blows that Hans aimed at his chest and face, while bringing up one knee to connect with the other mans' groin. The move sent Hans crumpling off of him in severe pain, and allowed Tanner to regain the advantage.

It was Vin's turn to lunge at the man who had so lasciviously attacked his wife, and show him just how serious a mistake he had made. But he didn't expect the man's fingers to fumble over the butt of the gun, which lay on the ground next to them, and only Vin's quick response, kept him from being shot. He drew the bowie knife that he wore on his belt, as Hans brought the gun up and aimed it at him. Vin then plunged the blade up to its hilt in the man's chest and gave it a savage twist.

The gun fell to the ground from the man's lifeless fingers, a moment before Hans himself, crumpled to the ground with a look of abject surprise on his face.

Tanner stood, a little unsteady on his feet, but basically all right. It was finally over and the threat to both of them was now gone. They had survived, albeit a bit banged up in the process, but alive. He turned in time to see Kelli on her knees, slowly sagging to the asphalt. Vin rushed over to her and caught her in his arms before the rest of her body could connect with the road. The sound of screeching tires and blaring sirens assaulted their ears and announced the arrival of the other MCAT agents.

“Talk to me Kel, and tell me how badly you’re hurt.” Vin began to assess her for injuries as Nathan, Buck and Ezra reached them.

“Jesus Vin, what in the hell went on out here?” Buck asked. “It looks as if you had your own private war.”

“Later Buck, Kel comes first.” Tanner answered without looking up. “Nathan, ‘m not sure what’s wrong, but she was in the truck when it crashed and then treated pretty rough by that bastard over there.”

Jackson knelt down by the two Texans. “You’ll have to let her go Vin so I can look her over for injuries.”

Kelli burrowed deeper into Vin’s hold on her. “Don’t wanna move. Check Tanner.” Her speech was slurred and obviously she was not thinking straight. Nathan could not check either of them until one of them moved. It seemed that was not forthcoming voluntarily by Vin or Kelli.

“I’m fine Nate.” Vin insisted.

“No you’re not! You are … in big trouble Tanner. As soon as … I feel better; you’re catchin’ hell for a week …at least.” Kelli’s words contradicted her actions; she clung tightly to Vin and refused to budge an inch.

Vin could not help it, he had to smile. He would gladly listen to her raise hell twenty-four hours a day and be grateful to hear it. “I’ll be lookin forward to it baby. But you have to admit that we made a damn good team.”

“There is that…I don’t feel so good Vin and ‘m co….cold. Make everythin’ stop spinnin… please.”

An exasperated Nathan had heard enough. “You two can talk later! But if she goes into shock you might not have a later. Ezra get me some blankets, Vin you’re gonna have to let go of her. Kel, I need to know…”

“Head hurts really bad ... don’t think anythin’s broken, just banged up all over… ribs ache and my leg was trapped…they …gave me a shot of somethin’… not sure…” Kelli voice trailed off.

“Vin, do not let her go to sleep! Buck, see if you can find a syringe or anything that might tell us what they injected into her.” Nathan took the blankets that Ezra handed him and covered Kelli. He gave up trying to make her move. He figured that she already had told him enough to know that she needed more medical attention than he could give her out here. “Where in the hell is that ambulance?’

Ezra was on the phone before Jackson had asked the question, and then reported. “There was a horrific bus accident about twenty miles from here and all local ambulances responded to it. There is one en route from the hospital now, but it will be another twenty minutes before one can be here.”

Wilmington ran back with an evidence bag in his hand. “I found this syringe by Kel’s truck and another one unused in one of the other vehicles.”

“That’s good; at least the doctor will have something to go on.” Nathan took the bag from Buck.

“Buck, you take them to the hospital in Vin’s Tahoe. I’ll take care of things here.” Ezra took charge. “Go! We’ll get your’s and Nathan’s truck to the hospital, besides you drive faster than any of us.”

Tanner was already on his feet, carrying Kelli to his truck. Nathan opened the back door and helped them inside while Buck jumped into the driver’s seat. As soon as Jackson was in, he took off. Nathan called ahead and informed the hospital that they were coming in and what to expect. To the amazement of his brothers, Vin kept a steady stream of one-sided conversation going for the next twenty minutes to keep his wife awake.

“Damn, I didn’t know Vin could talk that long outside of a meeting.” Buck noted to Nathan as they drove up to the emergency room doors.

“Me neither.” Jackson jumped out and opened the back door to assist Tanner.

To no one’s surprise Dr. Gilford was waiting for them and took over immediately. He did not even bother trying to get Vin to leave the examination room because he knew that the Texan would not go.

Doc gave the bag that contained the syringes to his assistant, Dr Brian Allen. “Run to the lab with it Brian, I want results ten minutes ago.” The sooner he knew what they were dealing with the better.

“Okay Kel, what did you get yourself into this time?” Dr Gilford teased.

“Wasn’t me, that bastard Donner did it.” Kelli was fighting to stay awake.

“You certain it was him, baby? Vin questioned, he had assumed that Donner was behind this, but since both men were dead they had no proof.

“That’s what that idiot said. Doc, check on Vin, ‘cause I wanna go home….need a shower.”

“We’ll see about that.” Dr Gilford began his examination.


Two hours later Ezra entered through the emergency room doors and found Wilmington and Jackson pacing in their ever-familiar waiting room. “I take it that we have no news as of yet?”

“Hell Ez, I haven’t even seen Vin since we got here. What have we got?” Buck stopped pacing.

“Forensics has taken over the scene. I drove your truck in and Ross will be along shortly with Nathan’s. Perhaps we should wait for Vin before we go over the details.” Ezra suggested.

“Nathan, can you…?” Buck motioned toward the closed examination room door.

“I’ll try.” Jackson started to leave the waiting room when Dr Gilford appeared and had them sit down with him.

“Gentlemen, Vin asked me to come out and explain to you what is happening. First off Kel, she has a concussion and with the sedative cocktail that she was injected with we have had a few challenges. However, I believe we now have that under control. There are no broken bones, but she does have a swollen left ankle, due to a pressure injury, assorted contusions, and one hellish headache. That could continue off and on for a few weeks given the drugs involved. Fortunately, it appears that the drugs were premixed and stored in sterilized packages according to what was found on the scene. Exposure to the HIV virus or hepatitis should not be a concern.

I am allowing her to go home in a few hours, with strict instructions and signs to watch for. She was lucky, her injuries could have been worse, and Vin has convinced me that home is the best place for her. I understand that Dr. Jackson lives close by and a nurse is available.”

“Yes, and we’ll make certain that your instructions are followed.” Nathan assured.

Dr Gilford laughed. “I’m sure you’ll try, but with two patients it will be interesting to see how successful you will be. At Kelli’s insistence, I examined our Mr. Tanner and Vin has one very sore rib and a couple more that may give him some grief for a while. I have ordered him to rest for the next twenty-four hours; of course I am certain that he will not follow my instructions. He said to tell you that he would be out in a few minutes to talk to you. Nathan, I will give you the scripts and the information that you’ll need.” Dr. Gilford stood to leave. “Good luck; I have a feeling your going to need it. Call me when you require reinforcements.”

”Ezra began to give Buck information from the investigation. “Preliminaries indicate that one of our deceased suspects was shot, by whom, we don’t know yet.

“I’m sure Vin can explain.” Buck snapped. “Ain’t no way this will go down as a bad shoot!”

“You’re right Buck.” Vin walked up beside Wilmington. “Donner sent those two to kidnap Kel and they would have eventually handed her over to him, if they had gotten away. One of ‘em held a gun on me while the other bastard had her own gun at the back of her head, drugged her and made his intent to sexually assault her clear. I shot the sonofabitch that had the gun and … I killed the other one, too. It was justifiable, end of story.” Tanner’s words did not hide the anger that he had been holding back around his wife.

Buck looked Vin over and for the first time noticed the bruise on his face and swollen knuckles. “You okay?”

“Kel’s safe, I’m alive, and the two bastards that were after her are dead. Yeah, I’m good”

Vin was ready to change the subject and issue a few orders. “I talked to Travis; neither of us believes that Kel was the only target. Donner’s men are probably still in Denver linin’ up their next prey. Orrin is moving his family to an undisclosed location and we are givin’ Judy two weeks’ paid leave. Our jet is on standby to take her to New York. She will stay there with some of her family until we call her back. The plane will also be available to any family member of an MCAT agent. Our office is closed until Monday. I want to know where every agent, and their families, is twenty-four hours a day.

“Buck, you find out where and with whom they will all be. I want all our families sequestered on the ranch until further notice, also make arrangements for Mallory and the kids. Ezra, talk to Barbara and see if she can take some time off work. We’d like y’all to come and stay with us for a while. JD and Casey will stay with Linda, that way he can use Chris’ CASSIE station to keep working. It took some convincing’, but Nettie will stay there, too.

Nathan, I want you to call Josiah. Tell him when Chris checks in to relay a message for me. Adam Carmichael is to contact me directly, ASAP! If he doesn’t I’ll go in and personally drag his ass out of there.”

“It appears that the accident was a set-up. The first vehicle was a diversion and the second one rammed Kel’s truck and sent her into a slide and off the road.” Ezra stated. “There are still some unanswered questions.”

“We’ll go over it all, but first I’m taking Kel home. I want our agents’ secured, and then you can take both our statements.”

Oaxaca, Mexico

Goddamn, stupid sonofabitch!” Adam Carmichael yelled and he was in severe pain. One of the helpers Donner had provided for them on their trip to Mexico had thrown a crate on the truck with such force that it shattered, wood splinters were sent flying in all directions, like small missiles. One large piece of wood was imbedded in Adam’s forearm and blood was spewing from the wound.

“That looks bad; we should get you to one of the local clinics and have a doctor look at it. You’re probably going to need stitches.” Creed wrapped a towel around Adams wounded arm.

“Great, we’re stuck in Mexico instead of somewhere we can do some good. Our idiot help incapacitates me, and now you want me to see a doctor that probably doesn’t even speak English. Then I am supposed to trust him to take a needle and thread to sew me up. This day just keeps getting better and better.” Adam growled. He had been on edge for the last few hours, his gut was saying that things were not going well at home and it would be tomorrow before he could call Jonah to find out what was happening in Denver.

“Relax, the good news is we’ll finish this job early, get out of here and be back in Santa Ana by tomorrow night. There’s a clinic a few blocks from here and I’m sure we can find someone to put a few stitches in that arm. I’ll translate for you and we’ll be back before we’re even missed.” Creed led him over to the jeep they were using and once he was seated they took off to the clinic.

It only took ten minutes to get there and Creed did all the talking. Adam sat down and waited for the doctor to clean his wound. A young Spanish woman came in and gave him a shot before the doctor began sewing the injury.

“Tetanus or antibiotic? Adam questioned, aware of the normal routine for injuries such as this.

Creed laughed, “You’re kidding right? They don’t worry about tetanus out here and antibiotics are hard to come by for these small clinics. They use what they can get. That was a shot to dull the pain while he sews you up.”

Adam flashed back to a familiar feeling and warily asked. “What was it?”

“Don’t worry amigo; it was just a dose of Demerol.”