Chapter 1 - 3 |
Chapter 4 - 6 |
Chapter 7 - 9 |
Chapter 10 - 12 |
Chapter 13 - 15
Chapter 16 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22 | Chapter 23 - 25 | Chapter 26 - 28 | Chapter 29 - Epilogue
*Cowboy, maybe we should make this private for now.*
Larabee looked around the room at the expectants faces. “Show me.”
Chris saw the hesitant look in his daughter’s eyes and had the feeling that he knew what was coming. When Vin described the ring in detail he knew who it belonged to, but did not want to believe it. That this man would try to ruin him financially and humiliate him was certainly feasible. But to run Vin’s truck off the road and standby while he was shot? Could time have changed him so much?
Larabee repeated himself. “Just show me.”
Kelli got up, took the album over to Chris, and laid it in him lap. He took one look at the picture and paled, “You’re sure?” His mind raced back over the years thinking about the young man in the photo. The pain he felt was evident in his eyes. Everyone in the room remained silent, not knowing what was going on, but sensing strong emotions between father and daughter.
“I wish I wasn’t, but yeah ‘m sure.” She remembered how heartbreaking it was for him when Chris first told her about all of this. She knelt down beside his chair and whispered, “You told me you always felt you could have done more, well you couldn’t. He is what he chose to be and nothin’ you did or didn’t do would have changed that.” Kelli waited until he looked at her. “You cannot let him destroy you and he will if you give him half a chance.”
Chris nodded, but was unsure about where to even begin an explanation. He ran a finger over the picture before pulling it out of the album. “JD, how long would it take to age this picture?”
“With CASSIE, only a few minutes,” JD did not know why, but he felt a wave of sadness wash over him when Chris spoke.
“I need some time on this, “Chris saw the arguments coming. “I’ll be fine, just give me until Monday and we’ll cover it all in the office. I will tell you everything, but not here or now.”
Josiah stood up. “If you want to talk, call me.” He indicated to the others that it was time to leave.
“Gentlemen, I have a dinner engagement with a lovely young woman and should leave now in order to meet her on time.” Ezra retrieved his coat.
Buck was dying of curiosity, but decided to give Chris the time he wanted. “Come on JD, I’ll show you the new stereo system in my truck before you go home.”
After they left Chris grabbed his crutches and moved in front of the fireplace.
“I think we’ll stick around a while, at least until Linda gets back,” Vin casually commented
Chris knew neither Vin or Kelli would push him on this and he needed to decide how to handle it. “Sure, pick out a movie and I’ll put it on,” Chris told them.
Vin grinned, and handed him an action movie. “We’ll make out on your couch while you watch it.” He pulled Kelli back down beside him.
Chris put the DVD in the player and smiled, “Just don’t go x-rated until you get home.”
“Leave it to you Lar’bee to take all the fun out of things.” Vin knew that Chris would talk to him when he was ready and he was pleased to see Larabee smile. They would stay for him as long as he needed them to, in the meantime they all settled back to watch the movie.
“Matt, I am glad to see you, but why are you the only one to come meet my new family.” Linda watched his face as he answered.
“It was just easier for me to take some time off. You know how our older brothers are, Robert’s surgery schedule at the hospital is tight and when Blake is on a case, he cannot just tell the judge he needs some time away in the middle of a trial. Lucas…well he is part of the reason I’m here.”
“What wrong with Luke?”
“Nothing is wrong exactly, he wants a change and he and Doris want to bring the kids to the ranch to work it.”
“Luke wants to come to Colorado?”
“No, he wants to come to the home ranch in Louisiana and since I can be a vet anywhere I’m thinking about moving to the Southern Breeze when you get married.” He stopped her from saying anything. “I know what you are thinking and it is not that. We were wrong about Larabee; we only got part of the story from that investigator. After discussing it we feel that we have put too much on you since dad died and it’s time we took out share of the responsibility for the Southern Breeze.”
“Well, if you know the truth now, why this trip?”
“Lucas is only part of the reason; I have to be sure I can handle living here.”
It was then that Linda realized Chris was right. “You mean living this close to a married Kelli?”
Matthew was surprised. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t. Matt I though you got Kel’s message years ago. She will never see you as more than my brother, you know that.”
“I always believed that was because she was so young when I met her. That if I gave her enough time, she would change her mind, as she got older. I have not been able to change how I feel.” He asked Linda a direct question. “Is she happy?”
“Absolutely, more than that she is free for the first time in her life to let her emotions go and Vin is the reason for that. She is not the same person that you knew before. I will not standby and let you or anyone else cause problems for her.”
“I won’t, but if I move here I have to be sure it won’t be a problem for me. I also need to see for myself that she is really content. That is why I wanted to stay here instead of the ranch. It has been three years since I have even seen her, all I want is a few days to put my feelings in the proper perspective. If I can’t, then I will not stay and honestly, right now Linda I’m not sure what I will do.”
Linda sighed, “I will warn you, if you get out of line just once Vin will take you apart and then her father will take what’s left and squish you like a bug.”
Matthew’s head popped up. “Father? Since when does Kel have a dad, who the hell is he and where has he been all of her life?”
“Chris is her father and they both only found out a few months ago, but he is rather protective, so make sure you can handle it or leave now.” Linda noted the assenting shake of his head. “Tomorrow we’ll go over to the Southern Breeze and I’ll show you around there. We probably should head back up to the house.”
The movie was almost over and Vin was sure that Chris could not even tell him if it was a comedy or a western. Larabee’s mind was definitely somewhere else. Linda and Matthew came back in and joined them.
“What did you do with everyone else?” Linda sat down beside Chris, with Matt on the other couch opposite the Tanners.
“They went home, but Vin and Kelli are staying for dinner. “Chris made it clear that he appreciated having them at his side right now.
Linda was glad, at least this way she could keep an eye on Matt and he could see for himself that Kelli was happy. She hoped he got his head straight because she would like to have him living close by. “What’s the movie for?
“An excuse to make out on the couch with my wife and keep Chris occupied until you got back.” Vin answered when it was clear Chris was not going to and he deliberately emphasized the word wife for Matthew’s benefit. Kelli had told him a long time ago that Matt at one time wanted more than a sisterly relationship with her and she had told him no. The Texan was only making sure Dubois remembered that message.
“Right Tanner, as if you two need an excuse to make out.” Linda laughed, but felt a lot of tension in the room. She only wished she knew what was causing it. “Why don’t I order a few pizza’s and we have a casual dinner?”
Chris decided he had better join in or be prepared to answer questions he was not ready for, yet. “Pizza’s fine and I don’t even have to ask Red or Tanner, I know their answer.”
“You got that right and Dubois tell ‘m not to hold back on the pepperoni or the cheese.” After hospital food, Kelli was ready for pizza. “And don’t forget the breadsticks.”
Linda raised her brow. “Anything else I can do for you, Kel?”
“No, that’ll do for now.” Kelli answered with a grin and ducked behind Vin to miss being hit by the pillow Linda threw at her.
Unfortunately it did not miss Vin and when he threw it back his aim was better than Linda’s, within a few minutes they has a good pillow fight going on. Kelli decided to include Chris and threw the next one at him; in retaliation, he got Vin with another one. Before long, the tension was gone and they were all laughing, then Kelli made a big mistake. She zapped Vin with a stray pillow, careful not to hit his injured shoulder and he began to tickle her, instead of helping her Chris encouraged the Texan.
“Okay I give! You don’t play fair because you know I can’t get you back when you’re hurt.” Vin stopped his one handed attack and grinned. Kelli got her laughter under control and turned on Chris. “Just remember Lar’bee, paybacks are hell and when you least expect it, I will get even with you for encouraging him.”
Matthew watched all of this and realized that Linda had been right. This Kelli was a completely different one than the one he knew and fell in love with so long ago. Apparently, she was happy with this man and her life. He could do this, it would not be easy because he liked this new Kelli, but she was out of reach for him and he would have to learn to live with that in some way.
“So tell me about the Larabee 7 breeding program, Linda tells me that y’all set it up and have been very successful.” For the next two hours the conversation revolved around horses and ranching.
Chris made a point of mentioning that he would probably go with Linda and Matt over to the Southern Breeze tomorrow. Letting Vin know that he wouldn’t be around and not to worry about him.
*You really okay, Chris?*
*Yeah, I’ll be fine.*
“Matt, it’s been good seeing you again, don’t be such a stranger.” Kelli gave him a hug.
“Actually, you will be seeing me more often. I am taking over the management for the Southern Breeze when Linda and Chris get married. Linda has done a fantastic job, but it is time that we get more involved.”
Chris could not help but be surprised by that statement. “Really?”
“Yep, I miss my sister and want to be able to see her on a regular basis. Now that I see Kelli has found a permanent place here, I won’t have to worry about her either.” He spoke to them all, but watched Tanner for his reaction.
Vin took his time answering, trying to read what Matt was not saying aloud. “If you can get used to the cold, it’s a nice place to live and we can always use another veterinarian around here.” He extended his hand to Dubois, “Welcome to Colorado.”
Ezra was right on time, he told Barbara he would be there at seven and it was one minute before seven when he rang her doorbell. She answered quickly and he was appreciative not only for her promptness but she looked great.
“Come in Ezra, give me one more minute and I will be ready to leave.” He watched as she took a container of fish food off the shelf and gently dropped some into her aquarium. “Meet Huey, Dewey and Louie, guys this is Ezra.”
“Correct me if I am wrong, but weren’t Huey, Dewey and Louie, ducks?”
“Yes, but the names fit these little guys and I always liked Donald Duck so…”
Ezra smiled.*She is just full of surprises Standish.* “I always liked Underdog myself, but ducks are fine, too.” *Ducks are fine, too. Ezra what are you saying?* “I made our reservation for seven-thirty so we have no need to rush.”
Barbara locked her door and they left for the restaurant.
“I do hope you like Italian food.” Ezra commented as he pulled out her chair.
“My favorite, I have heard about this place, but this is my first opportunity to try it out.”
Once they had ordered, Ezra found it easy to talk to this woman. Just like the night they shared coffee, the conversation flowed between them and they covered everything from current events to a lively discussion of the arts. Ezra had quickly realized that what they talked about was unimportant, he simple enjoyed listening to her. However, both of them steered away from giving out too much personal history.
“This food is even better than I imagined it would be. Thank you for bringing me here.”
“You are most welcome. This establishment was highly recommended and I am pleased that it met my expectations.”
“I hate to do this, but I have a brief to work on tomorrow and it is getting late, we really should think about leaving.”
Truthfully, Ezra had lost track of the time and was surprised by the late hour. It seemed to him they had only been here a few minutes, when actually it had been more than four hours. “Of course.” He called for the check and they leisurely walked out to his car and began the trip back to her condominium.
They walked to her door in silence. “I had a great time Ezra.” *Barbara you are an attorney. Is that the best thing you can think of to say?*
“I would be honored if you agreed to see me again, Ms. Lindsey. Perhaps we could share dinner again Monday evening?”
“I can’t Monday, I have a short business trip planned and I will not be back before Wednesday night, but I am free on Friday.”
Ezra smiled, “Friday it is then, I will call you after I confirm our reservation and inform you of the time.” Before he could think about it he drew he close and passionately kissed her,” Goodnight Barbara.”
“Goodnight Ezra,” He waited until she was inside and he heard the door lock. *Ezra, whatever you are doing, you had best make sure you do it right.*
It was mid- afternoon, Vin and Kelli had not left the house all day. George took care of the horses early, Chris and Linda took Matt over to the Southern Breeze and not one family member had felt compelled to drop by just to check on them. That had left them free to spend the entire day together. Vin took his medicine at Kelli’s insistence and now comfortably curled up on the couch, neither of them wanted to move.
Kelli snuggled closer to Vin. “You want to talk about Matt and last night?”
“You noticed, huh?”
“Tanner, you were about as subtle as a train wreck, of course I noticed.”
Vin shrugged. “I wanted him to get my message, he did, end of story.”
She waited for him to look at her. “If he does move here, will that be a problem?
The Texan sighed and wrapped his good arm around her. “Not for us. Hell, I can’t fault the man for havin’ good taste and I trust you completely. Last night though, I wasn’t thinkin’ about that I was just reactin’ and I reckon I was a bit territorial.”
“Just for the record Tanner, the only man I have ever wanted is right here. Matt never has and never will be anythin’ to me except Linda’s brother and a friend.”
“I hear you Kel and who knows maybe he and I can even be friends at some point.” He grinned, “But enough about him, I’ve had my pain pill and we have some more catchin’ up to do.” He pulled her closer.
Kelli turned enough to nuzzle the Texan’s neck and her soft kisses quickly changed to teasing nips. Vin yelped and leaned back enough to see the impish light dancing in her eyes. With amusement threaded through her voice, she asked innocently. “Somethin’ wrong, Tanner?
“Texas, you can’t out play the master and you should know that by now.” He pulled her across his lap, facing him and began his own roguish game. He knew the places to tickle that would get the redhead back and launched a playful assault, guaranteed to get results. Kelli threw her head back and giggled with delight; Vin took advantage of her exposed throat and continued his lighthearted barrage of kisses. The smile in his twinkling blue eyes melted her resistance. The Texan was satisfied that he had proved his superiority at playing mischievous games and now decided that it was time for some serious lovemaking.
Afterwards Kelli became concerned about her enthusiasm, thinking that she may have injured his shoulder again. “Vin, ‘m sorry, I forgot about your shoulder. Please tell me you’re okay.”
Tanner grinned and said. “Well, ‘m not sure, I forgot to pay attention to it. Maybe we should try again, you know to see if it hurts.” She frowned at his teasing and he decided to rest her fears. “I’m fine baby and that was absolutely fantastic, but if it makes you feel better I’ll behave for a while.” He secured her at his side and pulled the comforter over both of them, but he could not resist one more tease. The Texan smiled and gently kissed her. “Now we’ll rest up …for later.”
It was almost five when the phone rang; Vin was in the kitchen so Kelli answered it. “Linda hi …No he’s not, I thought he was with you.” She listened and then answered. “We’ll be right over.”
Tanner came out of the kitchen when she yelled. “What’s wrong?”
“That was Linda, Chris didn’t go with them this morning and when she and Matt returned he was gone. I told her we would be right over.”
Vin was already grabbing their coats. “Let’ go.”
At the ranch house, they found Linda, torn between being mad and concerned. Linda came home to spend some time with Chris, only to find he was not here and apparently had not been all day.
“Linda, have you called his cell?”
“Yes, I have left him six messages and he has not called me back. Vin, he shouldn’t even be driving until his leg is better. He did not say anything this morning except he thought Matt and I would enjoy spending some time together. Since he was up most of the night, I thought he needed to rest and agreed.”
“Why was he up so long?”
“I don’t know, he just said he had some work to catch up on and spent hours in his office.”
Tanner headed for Chris’ office and did not like what he found. The picture from last night was on the desk and it looked as if Chris had spent the night on the computer searching for something. There were notes scribbled on a pad by the computer, but nothing specific.
*Dammit Chris, what are you doing and where are you doing it.*
When Kelli saw the photo and it did not take much for her to figure out what Chris had done. “Oh hell, he went to find him! Chris Lar’bee has to be one of the most stubborn, hardheaded sonofabitches in the world and when I see him I intend to tell him just that!”
Vin picked up the picture. “Kel who is this?”
Kelli sighed and shook her head. “That is John Andrew Lar’bee, better known as Jack. When we were off work, Chris told me all about the Lar’bees, including all the family’s dirty laundry. I thought that I had imagined seeing Chris in that car, but it was Jack. He is Chris’ younger brother, he ran away when he was fifteen and Chris has not seen him in twenty-five years. When you described that ring I remembered seeing it in that picture and the reason you thought it was familiar was because Chris has one almost like it and some time or other you must have seen it.”
Vin nodded as he remembered. “Yeah he showed it to me one day a few years ago. I was helping him look for some special cufflinks he wanted and we ran across it, but I forgot all about it. Chris’ ring didn’t have the blue on it either and he never has worn it that I know of, at least.”
“No, his is an original that his father gave him, Jack had a duplicate made for himself and added the blue, I suppose to make some kind of statement. Jack had… problems, but from what Chris told me most people always believed that the Lar’bee family was close to perfect, but in truth, it was far from it. The whole damn family thing was all an illusion that the old man wanted everyone to believe.”
“What about Jack? Why would he want to cause Chris so much trouble, now?”
“He resented Chris, mistakenly believing that in their father’s eyes Chris could do no wrong, and was the golden boy of the Lar’bee family. Jack never recognized that neither of them could ever please their father. He was a cold, cruel man that enjoyed pushin’ competition between the two boys. For Chris it only made him surer of how he wanted his own family to be different. He excelled at whatever he chose to do, but Jack…Jack failed at everything he ever tried and instead of finding fault with his dad, he blamed his brother. Somethin’ must have set him off recently for him to go after Chris like this.”
“Let me guess, Chris always felt he should have done more to help him and now he is out there tryin’ to make up for what he thinks he didn’t do.” Vin knew exactly what Chris was thinking. “Dammit he’s in no condition to take this on alone, that bastard left us out there in the cold to die. What in the hell makes Chris think that he will do any different with him?”
“I don’t know, but I have a bad feelin’ about this.”
“Me too, baby, me too.” Vin picked up the phone and dialed Wilmington’s number. “Buck, call the guys and have ‘em meet at Chris’. We have a problem.”
*Chris you had better let me hear from you soon.*
Vin was angry at Chris for going off alone. *Dammit Chris, you had this planned last night didn’t you? Why didn’t you say something? You know I would have been there to watch your back. You had better know what in the hell you are doing and let me know damned quick where you are!* Buck was at the house in less than five minutes, followed by Josiah and JD within a few more. It would take Nathan and Ezra longer to get there, but Tanner would have to start without them.
“Vin, you got us here, what in the hell is going on?” Buck would not sit, but demanded some answers.
“Chris is missin’ and right now there is no evidence that he is in trouble, but my gut says he is.”
“Then why aren’t we in the office getting the entire team together?” Buck yelled.
Tanner heaved a deep sigh. “We keep this among family for now and we will work from here. Josiah I need a profile, Kel can give you information that will help. JD, this picture needs to be aged. Can you do it from here?
“I need the right program…let me see what Chris has on his computer.” JD took the photo.
“Oh and JD see if you can track Chris’ phone. Buck, use your old contacts and discreetly get an APB out on Chris’ truck. If it’s found with him in it and he’s okay, we do nothin’.”
Buck reached for the phone but snapped first. “You gonna tell us more or keep it to yourself.”
“I only want to do this once and as soon as Ezra and Nathan get here, I’ll tell you everythin’, just be patient for a little longer.” They all got busy with their assignments.
Linda stood quietly by the window, when she finally spoke; it was so low that Buck and Vin had to strain to hear her. “If he could, he would be here now.” She turned and met Vin’s eyes. “Tell me the truth, is he dead?”
“Linda, I do know that he’s alive, but for some reason I can’t reach him and ‘m not sure why.”
“Hell, you know Chris, probably just exerting his independence, tired of us carting him around.” Buck flashed Linda a smile.
“Vin, can I see you a minute?” JD called from Chris’ office door.
“Sure, “Tanner joined JD in the office. “What did you find?”
“Plenty, first this is your picture aged twenty-five years.” He handed the photo to the Texan.
“Damn, guess there’s no doubt now that it was his brother in that car.” Jack and Chris almost looked like twins.
“When I saw that, I knew who to look for and hacked into CASSIE from Chris’ computer.” He anticipated Vin’s next question. “Pam helped me from the other end; no one else could do that. Anyway, I ran the Larabee name, found John ‘Jack’ Larabee, and was able to trace him back twenty years, so far. I also retrieved the sites than Chris was on last night and made a list, but no luck on a signal from his cell.”
“Thanks JD, keep diggin’.” Vin took the file on Jack for Josiah to look over and the list that Chris’ had worked on to share with the others.
Tanner passed the folder to Josiah. “Give me what you can ASAP. Are you through with Kel?” Josiah nodded yes, already engrossed in the file. The Texan pulled Kelli aside. “Linda is not holdin’ up too well, talk to her.” Linda did look awful and Matt was no help to her just standing around.
“I’ll see what I can do, but I want you to slow down. She cupped her hand against his cheek. “You may feel better Tanner, but you were shot only a few days ago and you can’t help Chris if you make yourself ill in the process.”
“I hear you, baby and ‘m sure you will keep remindin’ me, but I can say the same thing, I almost lost you, too.” Vin kissed her brow. “Love you, Texas, now go see to Linda.” He affectionately patted her butt and then watched as she went over to the window seat Linda was sitting on.
Linda saw her coming. “How do you do it, Kel?”
Kelli sat down with her. “Do what?”
“Live with all of this.” She swept her hand through the air. “I knew that Chris’ work was dangerous, but in the ten months that I have known him I have almost lost him twice, we were kidnapped by crazies, you were beaten, Vin was hit by a car and you two almost died last week. Now, Chris is missing and I have no idea about what is going on. How do you love Vin and face this kind of fear everyday?”
Kelli thought about Linda’s question. “Linda, look at me, I don’t know how long I will have with Vin, but I will take all that I am given and not waste a second of it. I try not to worry about what could happen and just love him. As far as our work is concerned, it is risky, but then so is getting’ on the freeway. Hell, Peso could hit a wild streak, throw Vin and break his neck or he could be on a plane that crashes. All of those things are out of my control so I have faith and pray that we have a long life together.”
“Well I guess I don’t have your faith, if I get Chris back this time I am going to ask him to quit law enforcement. I want him with me and I do not want to raise this baby alone. Call me selfish if you want to, but I love him and need him to be here, not lost out there somewhere.” Tears flowed down her face as she spoke. Whether it was her pregnancy or Chris missing that triggered it, Linda’s emotional state was in turmoil.
Kelli wiped her tears off Linda’s cheeks. “Maybe now is not the time to think about this. Do you want me to ask Inez or Mallory to come stay with you?”
“No, Matt will stay with me until...” Linda pulled herself up straighter and sighed. “You can help me by finding Chris.”
“We will find him.” Kelli stopped talking when she saw Matt move toward them from where he had stood watching the room. The look on his face was one of pure anger.
Matthew came over and hugged Linda; she began to cry all over again. “Kel, I want some answers about what in the hell is going on! Who is in charge of this?”
“Right now this is all unofficial and it’s just family workin’ on it. You will know somethin’ when we do.”
“That is not good enough! Can’t you see what this is doing to Linda?”
“I know you love your sister Matt and so do I, but do not come in here and start making demands! Everyone is this room is concerned about Chris and you behavin’ like a jackass will not help anythin’!” Kelli’s voice was getting louder. “Dammit Matt, you’re actin’ like your brothers and think you need to control everythin’.”
“Maybe I need to call a few of our family contacts and make this official!” Matthew threatened.
Kelli stood up. “Maybe you should tend to Linda and stay the hell out of this! She was yelling now. “Do not ever pull that sanctimonious attitude with me Matthew Dubois or I might just find a reason to haul your ass to jail!
Now he stood up. “Linda was right you have changed. I thought you cared about her now I see that all you care about is your new family!”
Everyone in the room heard the sound when Kelli slapped him.” Linda, either you control him or I will have him escorted out of here!
‘Now you just wait one damn minute…” Matthew started but stopped suddenly.
Vin had heard more than enough and did not appreciate Matt’s interference or the way he talked to Kelli, he came over and stood between Matt and her. “Dubois, if you know Kel as well as you claim to, then you know she is about ten seconds away from layin’ into you and right now we have work to do. You can either sit down and shut up or leave, it’s your choice.”
Linda pulled on his sleeve. “Matt, let them work. We’ll talk about this after Chris is home.”
“Okay, but I want her to apologize for hitting me.”
“When hell freezes over!” Kelli snapped. If Vin had not been standing in front of her she would have slapped him again and Tanner knew it.
Matthew decided that retreat was the better option for now when he saw the look in the Texan’s eyes. “Fine, I will let it go, but you had better come up with some answers soon.”
“Kel, would you see how many copies of the photo JD has printed? I want enough for everyone to have one.” Vin spoke without turning around, but he was aware when she left the room to check with JD. “Linda, if you can keep your brother quiet you are welcome to sit in while we cover what we know. We were waiting for Ezra and Nathan to get here before we began so we would only have to do this once. They just arrived so we are ready now.”
“Thanks, I do want to know and Matthew will behave.”
JD and Kelli came in with the pictures and everyone sat down to listen.
Vin started. “For now this is to be handled by family, if we need to make it official it will be a MCAT case. We now know who was behind Chris’ identity theft and the plants in the press. That same person is responsible for runnin’ Kel and me off the road, leavin’ us to die after shootin’ me. Chris spent last night on the computer trackin’ down leads to find him. JD retrieved that information and we have a copy for all of you.” The Texan looked to JD for confirmation.
Vin continued, “We believe Chris left here this mornin’ and in typical Larabee style thought that he could handle this alone. Although we have no evidence to indicate that somethin’ went wrong, I feel he would have been back by now or at least called, if he could. Before I pass out this photo and Josiah gives us a preliminary profile, I need to explain why we want to keep this private if possible.”
Vin hesitated briefly. “The man behind all of this is…John Andrew Lar’bee aka Jack Lar’bee, Chris’ younger brother.”
Buck was shaking his head no. “Vin, I’ve know Chris for over twenty years and I’m telling you, he doesn’t have any brothers, other than us.”
“Yes he does Buck; when we were all recuperatin’ here, Chris went over the Lar’bee family history for me and told me all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly parts. Jack is his younger brother and there were reasons that Chris never talked about him, just wait and hear Vin out.” Kelli had her say.
“Maybe this will help. “Tanner passed out the copies of Jack’s picture. “This is an age-enhanced photo; JD took a picture of a fifteen year old Jack and worked his programs to come up with this.” He waited while everyone got over the shock of seeing a man that looked so much like Chris. “Before we play twenty questions I want you to hear what Josiah has to say.”
Josiah stood. “Kelli repeated to me the story Chris told her and JD was able to gather a lot of information on Jack. So far, I can tell you that although Chris and Jack may look alike they are exact opposites. Chris took the hardships of his early family life and welded them into an inner strength that has made him who he is today.
Jack however let events shape him into a person that needs to blame others for his own shortcomings. He failed in business, has had three marriages, and he has spent most of his adult life pretending to be someone else. An accomplished con man, he has had many scrapes with the law. He blames his brother for all the wrong in his life and wants to strip Chris of everything he values. His intention with the identity theft was to cost him this ranch, his job and his upcoming marriage.
Chris of course felt that he should handle this because we all know how he feels about family and responsibility. Until now, I do not believe that Jack intended to do any physical harm, but when his cohort shot Vin a line was crossed. I just don’t know how desperate they are now or what they would do to Chris if they are cornered.”
JD passed out the next list.” These are some things that Chris worked on last night and if we split up we can cover them in a couple of hours.”
“I called in some favors and we have discreetly put out an APB on Chris’ truck with instructions that if they find it and he is in it to leave him alone and notify us.” Buck passed on what he knew.” We cannot rule out other possibilities either.”
Nathan was angry, “That fool knows he should not be gallivanting around, much less be driving with that leg in the shape it’s in.”
“I will contact my sources immediately and try to locate this Jack person through another route.” Ezra pulled out his phone and moved to the back of the room.
“Before we split up are there any questions?” Tanner asked.
”I don’t have a question, but I do have something to say. We already have one brother out there that needs to have his head examined, and Vin you will be next on my list if you don’t heed what your doctor said. Don’t push yourself or I will push back.” Nathan hoped that his message was clear.
‘Don’t worry Nate, I plan to stay on my feet until we have Chris back so I won’t do anythin’ stupid. Besides if I did it wouldn’t just be you givin’ me hell, I think Kel already claimed first shot.”
Matthew watched as these men worked together, grudgingly admitting that it was through and professional. “I have a question. Obviously, y’all are working this as law enforcement officers would. Why keep it unofficial?”
Vin chose to answer, “Because like it or not this involves a member of Chris’ family and he would want us to try this way first.”
“I don’t care if it involves the president; I want this bastard somewhere that he cannot hurt Chris!” Linda shouted.
“That is what we all want, Linda and getting Chris home safely is our priority.” Tanner tried to ignore Linda’s outburst. “Okay Bucklin, take that list and decide who goes where.”
“Vin, what about tomorrow morning when none of us show up for work?” JD was curious.
“I already took care of that JD, Travis knows why we are all takin’ a personal day and I let Justin know he was in charge until Chris or I tell him different.”
Buck had it all sorted out. ”Vin, you and Kel will stay here, there is no sense in you two going out until we have something solid to go on, humor us, stay here to rest while you can. JD will continue working on the computer. Between Nathan, Josiah, Ezra and me, we can hit all these addresses in less than two hours. We pop on anything and I promise we will call you.”
Tanner knew that Nathan was behind the decision for Kel and him to stay behind, but he would not argue about it for now. His shoulder was hurting a bit and Kelli had already done more than she should have. “We’ll stay, but I expect to be kept informed.”
“You got it.” Buck grasped Vin’s good shoulder and whispered. “Keep an eye on Dubois; I’m not sure I like his attitude.”
While JD stood with Vin watching the other men leave. Kelli grabbed her coat and started for the door.
“Just where do you think you are goin’, Texas?”
“To our house to get your pain pills and don’t tell me your shoulder doesn’t hurt because I know it does,”
“Tell me where they are and I’ll get them, you should stay out of the cold.” JD offered.
“The meds are sittin’ on the bar between the kitchen and the den; all I need is the antibiotic, leave the pain pills there.” Vin directed him and JD was off.
Kelli grumbled, “I could have done it and you should take both of ‘em.
Vin drew her snuggly beside him. “I know you could, baby, but now you don’t have to and I’ll take the pain pill when I need it.” The Texan stole a quick kiss. “Besides, if you got cold I’d have to warm you up and that would lead to other things and then we would have to find someplace private …” Vin kept talking to keep her mind off Chris and her fight with Matt until Dunne made it back, handing the prescription to him. “Thanks JD.”
“You’re welcome; I’ll be in Chris’ office if you need me.”
”Sit down Tanner, and I’ll get you some water.” Kelli picked up a bottle of water from the kitchen and the joined Vin on the couch, leaning into his good side. They took some time to rest and talked quietly about their fears for Chris.
Linda and Matt sat across the room, the more Linda thought about Chris taking off after this long lost brother, the madder she got. The idea that he would risk their life together for someone that wanted to hurt him was incomprehensible to her. She was now in a pacing stage and her anger was building.
Matt on the other hand, watched Vin and Kelli as they sat so close together and talked. His emotions were waging their own battling inside him and he would handle it they only way he knew how. The Dubois family had money, along with some very powerful contacts and when they wanted something, they were used to getting it one way or another.
When Tanner’s phone rang an hour later, he answered before the second ring and listened to what Buck had to say. ”Yeah, I know where that is, we’re closer than you are and heading out now, so we’ll meet you there.” He stood up, pulling Kelli with him and yelled for JD. “DPD found Chris’ truck, you’re with us.” Vin was already grabbing his coat.
“What about us?” Linda was not about to sit and wait.
“Linda it might be better…” Vin was going to try and discourage her, Buck’s report was not good.
“No! We’re going.” Linda reached for her own coat.
“Okay, you can ride with us.” Tanner was not going to waste time arguing.
“We’ll follow you, Linda I’ll drive.” Matt intended to stay on top of everything that happened, this was his baby sister hurting here, not theirs.
Canyon road –twelve miles from the ranch
From what Buck had told him, a police officer spotted Chris’ truck when he stopped to investigate a damaged guard railing. After running the visible license plate number, he notified The Denver Police Department. It was not hard to find the right place; flashing lights from emergency vehicles were evident long before they reached the crash site.
Vin knew that there had been some kind of accident and he tried to prepare Kelli for what they might discover “Kel, all Buck could tell me was that Chris’ truck was halfway down some type of ravine and that rescue personal were on their way. It might be bad.”
“You think Chris is…”
“I just don’t know. I get nothin’ from him at all and that in itself concerns me.” She only nodded and Vin kept her close by his side.
JD was driving; he began to pray and pushed the accelerator for more speed. Rescue workers were just starting to descend the canyon wall when they arrived. Linda and Matt were right behind them and when she realized where they were searching she almost collapsed.
“I’m Captain Tanner from MCAT, who is in charge here?”
“That would be me; I’m Jim Nevis, search and rescue. We have only been here for about ten minutes, the truck is down about three hundred feet and wedged between two huge boulders. My men should reach it soon and then we will know if this is a rescue or a recovery.”
“I have more agents on the way, what can we do to help?’
“Truthfully sir, just stay out of the way and if there are any family members here stay close to them because by the looks of it I do not expect to find anyone alive down there.” In all fairness, the man did not know that almost everyone there was family and that they all heard what he said.
“Just so you know our own forensics team is on the way and they will be handlin’ the crash investigation.” Vin found that it was hard to breath when your chest muscles felt like tight rubber bands. He moved back to stand close to Kelli and held a taut rein on his own emotions.
Buck and Ezra arrived next and Tanner told them what he knew. Nathan and Josiah joined them a few minutes later. A quiet group stood on the edge of the road waiting, and praying for some sign that Chris was alive.
Waiting … the dictionary defines it as to stay in one place or do nothing until something happens or in the expectation or hope that something will happen. Chris’ family had a better definition … hell with a capital H. They stood silently waiting for the rescue team to produce some results. Since they could only navigate by artificial light and dawn was still a few hours away it was slow going.
When the MCAT forensic team arrived, Greg Ramsey sought out Captain Tanner. “Sir, Bones sent us, he said he would wait and come only if needed, he thought it would be easier for the family if the ME was not hanging around. Kat and I brought a lab technician with us and with your permission; we want to start working up here until we can have access to the vehicle.”
Vin knew that whatever had happened to Chris and his truck, it started up here. “Go ahead, just let me know first, what you find.”
Buck stood next to Tanner. “Have you noticed that Linda is letting her brother call all the shots for her?’
“She’s pregnant, scared and close to bein’ in shock, emotions are runnin’ high for everyone Buck. Give her some space and see what happens.”
“I do know how pregnant women can be a bit stubborn, but she sure as hell don’t need to be standing out here in the cold for hours. She should be at the ranch taking care of herself and that baby. Can’t you get Kel to talk some sense into her?” Buck was worried about both of them.
“I’ll see what I can do.” Vin was concerned about her too, but Matt was in brother protective mode, keeping her separated from the others. *Maybe Kel should have kicked his ass, Tanner. Hell, if he keeps this up Vin, she still might and if she doesn’t you can.*
Kelli had been watching Linda and finally she could not stand it any longer. She went over to the rescue truck, grabbed a blanket and then went over to confront her friend. “Linda you need this,” She draped the blanket around the blond’s shoulder. “There is nothing that you can do here, take care of yourself and your baby, go home. You know that I will tell you when I know somethin’ and from personal experience I can tell you that this kind of cold is not good for you.”
“I can take care of Linda without your help.” Matt interjected.
“Then do it, think about her and the baby, instead of trying to play the aristocrat.” Kelli glared at him.
“I am tired,” Linda held her hand protectively over her lower abdomen. ”Kel, call me the second you know anything, I…”
Kelli hugged her. “I will, I promise, now go get warm and off your feet.” Matt, take her home and keep a close eye on her.” Reluctantly Dubois agreed to take his sister home; Kelli walked her over to Matt’s car, helped her inside and then watched as they drove off.
“She’ll be fine, Kel.” Vin walked up behind her with another blanket and wrapped it around his redhead. “I don’t think old Matt stands a chance against you.”
“Linda’s brothers have always been overprotective and controllin’ and she got to the point that she would not put up with it. I don’t know why she is lettin’ Matt do this now, but until she gets her grit back, I plan to keep him in line.”
The Texan pulled her back to lean against him. “Linda is scared for Chris just like the rest of us and right now it’s easier to fall back into old patterns that make her feel safer. Unfortunately Matt will let her, you just keep doin’ what you are doin’ and she’ll come around.”
“How is your shoulder and don’t your dare tell me you’re just fine because I know better.”
“It hurts some, but I will be good as new in a few days and I have no plans on going anywhere.” Vin hugged her with his good arm. Besides, you need me around to keep you and that temper of yours out of trouble.”
Kelli had a great comeback for that remark but forgot all about it when she saw Greg Ramsey rushing over. Vin saw him too and released her, stepping forward to meet him.
“Captain Tanner, you need to see this.” Ramsey handed Vin a plastic evidence bag, inside was a white cloth. “Chloroform.”
“Damn,” on one hand Vin was relieved because this meant Chris probably had not been in the truck when it went off the road. On the other hand, it did not bring them any closer to knowing where he was. “Show me where you found this.”
Ramsey led Vin and the others down the road about one hundred yards and showed them what they had found. “Chris’ truck was parked here and judging from the tire tracks that came off the road he had a blowout on the left rear tire. We recovered two shell casings and I believe the tire was shot at, which of course, means that someone deliberately forced him to stop. At some point, he exited the vehicle and was subdued with the chloroform soaked cloth from there…We are not sure yet exactly what transpired, but we can put together a likely scenario.”
“Are you positive he was taken and not in the truck when it left the road?” Buck asked anxiously.
“There was a second vehicle behind the truck and two sets of footprints leading toward the disabled Ram. There are three sets leading away from it, the original two were walking and a third that was half-walking and half-dragged back to the waiting car indicates that that man wore a boot on one foot only. We made plaster cast of the tire prints that could lead us to that second vehicle and of course all of the footprints.” Ramsey retraced their investigation. “We also found this and unless I am mistaken, this is the Commander’s cell.” He held up a bag that held a smashed cell phone, obviously the reason that JD could not track Chris.
Ramsey continued. “It appears that the third man was placed in the car and then the other two went back to the truck. This is the path it took until it went over the side.” He walked the trail showing them where it picked up speed and the route ended at the edge where the truck apparently dropped down the canyon wall.”
“Good work Greg and as soon as you can, get on the truck and let me or Buck know when the lab results are in.” Vin turned to Buck first. “We’ll wait for confirmation from the rescue team, but I think we just went official on this investigation. How do we want to handle this?”
Ezra made his proposal. “Due to the delicate situation involving a family member, perhaps Vin, it’s good that you and Kelli are both on sick leave for a while, insuring that if any unofficial business needs tending…”
“We can act unofficially and off the radar. Good thinkin’ Ez.” Vin continued, “Buck you take over the official investigation, that will leave us free to check out a few things that we might not want included in the case file.”
Josiah agreed. “It might be best if you both keep a low profile on this one anyway. If the press gets the story, they will dig and they would not hesitate to drag Kelli and Chris’ relationship out in the open, as well as details that should remain buried. Add another long lost relative to that and it could get ugly.”
“Beside, I do not have a release in my hands from either one of your doctor’s and you both need time to recover completely.” Nathan was more than pleased to have another reason to slow both Tanners down.
“I can keep us all connected and get reports to you, unofficially of course. A few extra phone lines installed at the ranch and some small modifications to Chris’ computer would give you full access to anything you need.” JD was already planning how to do it.
Jim Nevis interrupted their discussion. “Excuse me, I thought you would like to know that we have searched five hundred yards in each direction of the wreckage and we could not find a body. We will make another sweep after daybreak, but I do not think that there is anymore to find. It appears that whoever was originally driving was not inside that truck when it crashed.”
“We appreciate the effort that you and your team have put into this. Our forensics people will be here until they have the Ram towed and the entire scene cleared.” Buck shook the man’s hand.
Buck began his official duties. “Vin, you and Kel go back to the ranch and tell Linda what is going on, JD can ride with me. Tomorrow morning we will hit all our snitches and call in every favor we can. Once we have Jack’s picture out there we will find some leads because somebody, somewhere in Denver has to have seen this man. I will talk to Travis, but this is bound to make the news, I hope that we can work that to our advantage.”
“Put the entire team on this, we are gonna need all the help we can get, the other cases will just have to be shoved onto the back burner for now.” Vin addressed all of them. “Our only priority is findin’ Chris and until we are positive that Jack has him, we check all possibilities.”
“Pam and I will get the communications set up early and put CASSIE to work digging into Jack Larabee’s background for a more detailed search.” JD said.
Ezra added, “I still have a few untapped sources to contact.”
“My biggest concern is that they found no sign of Chris using his crutches and for a man that had the damage around his heart that he did, chloroform could cause some bad aftereffects.” Nathan just gave them something else to consider, but for Vin it was a possible explanation as to why he could not ‘feel’ anything coming from Chris
Josiah laid his hand on Kelli’s shoulder. “We will find him.” Sanchez knew that this was harder for her than she was showing. She and Chris were both working on their relationship, but it was still new and fragile for them. They needed more time to reconcile their minds and hearts for total acceptance, even the possibility that they may not get that time would weight heavy on her emotions.
Vin knew, too, that Kelli had not fully realized yet, just how important Chris was to her. He hoped that it would not sneak up and blindside her, before they found him. “Come on Kel, you can drive.” He threw her the keys. “Buck will take care of things on this end, while we go tell Linda what we know.”
Linda was awake when they drove in and was at the door waiting for whatever was coming. When she saw that Vin and Kelli were alone she was not sure what to think, she expected everyone to come back here when they knew anything.
“Linda, sit down, they will be in soon enough,” Matt instructed and was annoyed when she ignored him.
When the Tanners came in Kelli steered Linda to the couch and sat down next to her. “First off, Chris was not in the truck when it crashed.”
“Thank God!” Linda relaxed a bit. “If he wasn’t in the truck then where is he?”
Vin answered. “That we don’t know yet, apparently he was forced to stop and transferred to another vehicle. We are waitin’ for our lab to run through the evidence they collected and now that we have proof of foul play, we are official. We can’t keep the kidnappin’ of a federal agent quiet and I expect the news people will be all over this.”
“We hope that will work to our advantage and help find someone that knows Jack and can give us information to locate him.” Kelli explained.
“Buck is in charge of the official investigation, Kel and I are stayin’ out on sick leave and we will work from the ranch. JD is gonna run some extra phone lines in here and add some stuff to Chris’ computer so we will be able to access what we need. So, I guess you are stuck with us for a while.”
“At least if you two are here, I will know what is going on. I just…” Linda swallowed hard and tried not to get more emotional.
“Linda, we will find him, it just might take a little longer than any of us want it to.” Kelli hugged her. “We can make it through this and no one will stop working until Chris is home.”
Matt spoke up, condescendingly delivering his own orders. “I expect results Kelli and that means you will keep us informed on everything.”
“Dubois, Kelli does not work for you she works for MCAT. Any information that we can share we will, but as a courtesy only, we are not obligated to tell you anythin’. Linda knows that as her family, we would never shut her out.” Vin stood up. ”And just so we are clear, you will not speak to my wife again with that holier-than-thou tone in your voice. If you do you will find yourself with more to worry about than havin’ your ass kicked.”
Linda decided that enough was enough. “Matt I don’t know what your problem is, but Vin and Kelli are family as well as everyone else that was here tonight. This ranch is their home and you are a guest, I do expect you to remember that and behave accordingly.”
“Fine Linda, but I will be staying here to look out for your interests.” Matt insisted while throwing Tanner an arrogant smirk. “I also will be keeping our family informed of events as they unfold.”
Ignoring him Kelli stood up and joined Vin. “It will take a while for the lab test to show some results, so we are going to try and sleep for a couple of hours or at least until daylight. It’s gonna be a long day, Linda, you should try to get a little sleep yourself.” The Texan took his wife’s hand and started for the front door.”
Linda stopped them. “Vin, one more thing, have you…can you...is he okay? She was not sure how to ask about their connection with Matt in the room. That is something he would never understand.
Tanner knew what she was asking though. “He’s still with us Linda, I just don’t know where.”
Somewhere in Colorado
His head felt as if Pony and Peso had stomped on it enough to make mincemeat out of his brain. There was not one part of his body that did not ache and the fire that burned in his left leg could not be good. Chris tried to pull himself to a sitting position and groaned with each painful effort to move. *You need to get your ass off this cold floor Larabee, MOVE IT!*
“Okay, okay…” Once again, he attempted to maneuver into a different position evaluating his condition as he did. It was difficult to distinguish which body parts just hurt and which ones screamed in agony, but in the final analysis, he could only come to one conclusion. *You are fucked big time, Larabee.* Apparently his body protested any movement at all and the chain that stretched from his good ankle to the wall made it easy to comply with his body’s demands.
There was not much light, but as his eyes began to focus he noticed a small shadow that stood in the doorway staring at him. Chris was amazed when he realized that it was a child and for a brief moment, he thought it was his Adam. *Larabee, you are losing it, concentrate.*
Chris squeezed his eyes shut and then reopened them only to see that the child was still there. He was not an illusion, nor was it Adam, but for some reason, Larabee felt he should know this boy.
The kid just stood there and it unnerved Chris how silent he was. Kids were not supposed to be that silent.
“Hi,” he said softly, amazed at how his voice croaked. He tried again and this time it went a little better, he could at least get the words out. “Hi, I’m Chris. Who are you?”
In the half dark, he thought he saw the boy shrug and then he walked over to Chris. He held something in his hands, but it appeared to be forgotten, all the boy’s attention was riveted on the chain around Chris’ ankle. Chris shifted self-consciously, feeling bad enough about being chained on the floor like some animal without a child’s fascination. With difficulty, he finally succeeded in sitting up and exhausted he leaned back against the wall. Pain rolled through him, followed by a bout of nausea that made him gag, but he managed not to throw up. He’d be damned if he would do that in front of a little boy.
The boy kneeled down, far enough away that Chris could not reach him, but with some concern in the bright eyes. The way he was sitting there, his face so earnest under the mop of dark blond hair made him look so much like Adam that Chris had to look away.
“I’m fine,” he said softly, not wanting the boy to be worried. When he looked back, the boy was still squatting in front of him, his face now devoid of any emotion. Suddenly Chris wondered if his first impression was correct and if the boy really was only five or six, about the same age, as Adam had been when he died. The expression on the boy’s face was much too solemn for a child so young.
“I told you my name, so, how about you tell me yours?”
The boy seemed to think about it for a moment and then he nodded. “Jason. Here, I’m s’posed to give you this.” He held out the items he was holding. One was a canteen and the other a food bar. Chris had to lean forward to be able to get the two items and it made him gasp as pain once more coursed through his body.
“Yep, you are sick,” the boy stated. His eyes were riveted on the way Chris handled the food bar. If there was one thing Chris knew for sure, it was that he couldn’t stomach the damn thing. Disgusted he put it down and opened the canteen. Water, thank God!
After he drank his fill, he saw that the boy was still eyeing the food bar. Something about the way he tried not to look, but could not seem to be able to help himself tore at Chris. “Here,” he said softly, tossing the bar to him. “Jason, right?”
Jason nodded and grabbed for it with an eagerness he could not hide. “You... you sure?”
“Hell yeah, I hate that stuff.” Chris leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to keep the water in his stomach.
“You really are sick, I better tell my father,” the boy stated.
That brought Chris’ attention back. “Your father?” Although he dreaded the answer, he knew he had to know. “Is Jack your father? Jack Larabee?”
The boy nodded. He had devoured half of the food bar and was looking at the other half wistfully. Chris felt a deep anger surge up. The boy was obviously hungry. “Why don’t you eat it all?” he asked softly, trying not to show his anger to the boy. “I really don’t want it.”
“This is for Andi.”
“Yes, my little sister. She gets sick too and then she looks just like you now.”
“Jason, I’m alright.”
The boy shrugged and stood up. “I can see that you are sick, but that’s okay. Grown ups always lie about stuff and they always think I don’t know.” Before Chris could answer, the boy had already turned and disappeared through the door.
The energy it had cost Chris to sit up and to talk to the child was now taking its toll and Chris felt himself slip into unconsciousness again. His last thought was for the boy who was so like and so unlike his Adam and he knew one thing.
*Jack, if you have mistreated this kid, you have a helluva lot to answer for, brother.*