by tannertexaslady

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

Chapter 10

Second Day Missing

Larabee 7-Monday 6:00am

Sleep was hard to come by and it seemed as though daybreak would never arrive. Kelli was worried about Chris, the man that had him may be family, but she had seen enough to know that for some people that meant absolutely nothing. Her thoughts drifted to Linda, she could not decide if she should feel bad for her friend or take her out behind the barn and give her a few home truths about Matthew and her other overprotective brothers. Then there was Vin, he needed rest to heal and he had tossed and turned for the last two hours, she planned to keep a very close watch on him.

Suddenly his body jerked, he groaned and yelled, “No!” the Texan thrashed around holding his head. Again, he shouted, “Chris!”

“Vin!” Kelli realized he was lost somewhere out there with Chris, but she was afraid he would hurt his shoulder, so she did the only thing she could. Wrapping her arms around him, she held onto him, softly calling him back in a low voice until he stilled and returned from wherever his connection had taken him.

Tanner was quiet for a few minutes and then looked at her through pain-filled eyes. ”God Kel, he’s confused and hurts so damn much I can feel it.” Laying his head against her breasts, he drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “He’s not in Denver or anywhere close and he must have passed out because I lost him again.”

Kelli placed her hand on his head, gently stroking her fingers through his hair. “He’s alive Vin and I know he will hang on until we can find him. That man is just too stubborn not to and he won’t leave us.”

“I find it hard to believe that his own blood brother could hate him so much and do somethin’ like this. How could anyone do this to their own kin?”

“I don’t know Tanner, but I bet Marissa could tell us.”

Vin closed his eyes and wanted to take back his words, he had almost forgotten about that bitch. “Yeah, I reckon she could.” He raised his head and looked at her. “Sorry baby, you don’t need me to drag up her memory on top of everythin’ else.”

“Nothin’ to be sorry for, she is what she is and Jack …I guess we don’t know enough about him yet to know what he will do. Maybe some of that Lar’bee blood in his veins will stop him before he goes past the point of no return.”

“I hope so Texas, but ‘m not countin’ on it.” Vin rolled off the side of the bed to his feet, pulling her up with him and held her close. “Let’s get started, we have a lost Lar’bee to find.” He kissed her before he let her go. “You call and check on Linda and I’ll get the coffee goin’.”

Kelli watched, resisting the urge to offer him help, as he eased into his sweats using only one hand and then he slowly walked off toward the kitchen. She reached for the phone on the bedside table, speed dialing the number; it was answered on the first ring. “Linda…”

While Tanner was waiting for the coffeemaker to stop brewing, he got lost in his scattered thoughts.*What in the hell got into you Lar’bee, playin’ the lone ranger in your condition. If I had done this you would be givin’ me hell into the next century and don’t think for a minute that you are goin’ to escape a damn good ass chewin’ either. Dammit Chris, give me somethin’, hell anythin’ to go on here. Where do I start lookin’?*

Vin sensed her presence before he felt the hug that gave him the calm he needed to focus his mind on the task at hand.

“Linda is awake; Inez is already there with her and has breakfast waitin’ on us.” Kelli reached around the Texan and grabbed the cup of coffee that he had just poured for her. “Thanks baby, now take you meds so I can check on those bandages.” She took a sip of coffee and then began to unfasten the sling that draped over his shoulder and arm to make sure there was no blood showing.

Tanner grinned as she fussed over him. “You do know that with a little practice, you could be just as much a mother hen as Chris, course it’s a lot easier to take when you do it.”

“Easier or not, you damn well better not make me practice too often. I prefer you without all these bandages holdin’ you together.” She was relieved to see no further damage after all Vin’s thrashing around earlier. “Looks good, now let me help you dress that perfect body of yours so we can go eat.”


“Inez, this is great, but you did not have to drag the girls out this early just to make sure we have breakfast.” Although Linda felt awful and was very glad that Inez had come, she felt guilty all the same.

Inez laughed, “Those two young ladies have been awake since five and they were ready for a change of scenery. Besides, their daddy stayed at the office last night and I had to feed them anyway so it made sense to come over here to help out.”

“I appreciate it and I told Kel they should come on over. Lord only knows when Matt will get up…”

“Matt is up and ready for coffee.” He entered the kitchen and sat down, apparently expecting Linda to get it for him; Inez was shocked when she did.

The back door opened and the Tanners came in stopping long enough to hang up their coats.

“Damn, it cold out there.” Kelli complained.

“I hate to tell you this sister, but its ten degrees warmer that it was yesterday.” Inez smiled; she knew how much the transplanted Texan disliked the cold, even more so since the accident.

The girls had already spotted Vin and Maria beat Sarah to him by at least ten seconds. ”Uncl Vin! Both girls yelled at the same time.

Tanner crouched down and hugged both girls. ”Did you two help your Mom make this great lookin’ breakfast?” They both nodded yes. “Well then, I reckon we should eat it while it’s hot. Why don’t you sit with Aunt Kelli and I’ll help your Mom with the plates.” He whispered to them, “Save me a place okay?”

Kelli herded the girls to the table while Vin and Inez handled the breakfast. “Sit down Linda before you fall down, Vin will fix you a plate, too.” She was worried about the blond and irritated that her brother was not caring for her. “Matt, ‘m sure there’s plenty, you should fix yourself a plate.”

Linda hesitated, “I’ll get it Matt, just stay where you are.” She knew he was not being himself, but she was just too tried to give him hell over it.

Vin beat Kelli to a response. “Linda sit, Chris would have my head if he thought I let you wear yourself down.” He handed a filled plate to her and watched until he was sure she sat down.

“Matt would you give these to the girls, please.” Inez held out two more filled plates and smiled when Dubois grudgingly got up to take them. “Thank you, sir.”

Tanner took Kelli her food personally, “Here you go baby, enjoy.” He went back for his and then sat down next to her. Maria sat on his right side and Sarah sat on Kelli’s left. Inez gave Matt an empty plate so he could prepare his own and sat down by Linda.

The kids finished and Inez took them to wash off the breakfast they were wearing. Matt had waited for the opportunity to question Vin.

“Tanner, what have you been able to find out and what are you doing to ensure Chris’ safe return?”

“Matt, give the man a break, it’s only been three hours and even I know labs don’t work that fast, Vin knows what he is doing and the entire MCAT team is the best there is. I know they will find Chris.” Linda felt she needed to make Matt back off.

“I have no doubt that they will find him sis, but will he be dead or alive by the time they get around to it?” Matt asked and Linda paled.

“Mathew Glen Dubois!” Kelli stood up. “I don’t know what your problem is and right now I don’t give a damn, your behavior is inexcusable. I want you off Lar’bee property immediately!”

“Linda is that what you want?” He knew that his sister would not force him to go.

“Kel, I want to speak to Matt alone and before you decide to shoot him, give us a few minutes please.” Linda composed herself and started to get up.

Vin stopped her, “Wait, use this room Kel and I will be in Chris’ office if you need us.” He knew Kelli wanted to stay, but Tanner urged her out of the room.

Once they cleared the kitchen, they ran into Inez and the girls on their way back.

“Inez, you might want to keep the girls occupied in the den for a bit, Linda is in there with Matt. Unless I miss my guess,” Vin smiled, “I think Linda just got her grit back and she knows what’s going on.” He had figured it out and he was almost positive that Linda knew, too.

“I am so glad somebody does, enlighten me Tanner. Just why in the hell is Matt being such a jackass?” Kelli was very frustrated and right now, she wanted to make Dubois pay for her aggravation.

JD walked in carrying a stack of folders and a roll of cord.

Vin whispered to Kelli before he met JD. “Trust me; I’ll explain it all to you later.” He moved to help JD balance his stack of documents. “JD, what is all this for?” They all went into Chris’ home office.

Indicating the papers that he had just set on the desk he explained, “These are printouts from CASSIE and she has been very busy in the last few hours. The folder on top Josiah wanted you to pay special attention to; he thought you and Kel might want to take a drive this morning. While you two read, I’m going to set up a link to CASSIE for you.”

Vin picked up the file that Josiah wanted him to see. “I thought you were going to add somethin’ to Lar’bee’s computer.”

“I was, but this will be better. I have a complete separate system to hook up for you; this will be easier to do and give you instant access to anything CASSIE has to give. The first one will be at your place, but I am putting one in Chris’ office so he can use it when he… gets back. Each one has a special code allowing access to you or Chris with a matching password on the other end.”

Dunne continued, “I should have thought of this a long time ago. I have the rest of what I need in the car and I will have it all done before noon. I can handle all this, if you decide to take a drive on your off time.” JD smiled, he loved all this off the record stuff.

“JD, you can speak freely, no one here cares if we are on or off sick leave.” The Texan shook his head and grinned at the younger man that was on his way out the door to collect more equipment from his car. He opened the folder and began to read while Kelli sorted the other files to move them to their house. As long as Matt was staying here, Tanner wanted all sensitive files out of his reach.


Linda sighed, “I really did not want to deal with this now, but you leave me no choice. I want to know who you are, and what did you do with my real brother?”

Matt walked over to the window and looked out being quiet for so long that Linda was not sure he would answer her at all. “Hell Linda, I just can help myself I guess. I thought I could, but…”

“Green is not a good color for you, brother and if you keep setting Kelli off you might just find yourself in a world of hurt.” Linda huffed, “And I don’t mean the emotional kind either.”

“I know, it’s just easier to keep her angry than to see her happy with Tanner. I just do not understand, I have money, been told I am reasonably good-looking, have a respected family name and could have given her anything she wanted. She would never have to work or worry about being shot or kidnapped or…Yet she chose him. What has he got that I don’t?”

“He’s got Kelli for one thing and that Matthew is not gonna change. If you can only deal with this by being a total jackass, then maybe you need to go home. Now is not the time for you jealous behavior. One more comment like the one you made earlier and I fear your safely could be at risk.”

“I do recognize that I have been an ass, I sound so much like Robert that it’s scary, but I want to be here with you while you go through this”. He saw the doubtful look on her face. “Really be here for you and not be such a jerk. What do I have to do to fix this?”

Linda laughed at the reference to their oldest brother, Robert was a doctor and arrogant was his unofficial middle name. “More than one thing, but I know a couple of apologizes are in order and a major change in attitude.” She watched as he nodded in agreement. “At some point you need to talk to Kel and clear the air, if you do it as the Matt that we all know and love instead of this monster you created, it might be easier. However, I warn you I will not run interference for you; the only thing I can concentrate on now is Chris. Remember what dad always told us?”

“Yep, ‘your broke it, you fix it son’, seems I heard that more than a few times growing up. I will make it right.”

You better or Matt will be gone.” Linda wanted to make sure that he understood.


Vin passed the folder over to Kelli. “I think Josiah had the right idea. You and I are gonna take a short trip.”

She opened the folder and read the first page. “Let me guess, Colorado Springs.” Kelli pulled the map from the desk drawer. “Seventy miles south of here on I-25, we can be there before ten.”

Matt joined them with Linda right behind him. He stepped forward. “Could I speak to you both for a minute?”

“Whatever it is will have to wait, we are on our way out.” Vin gathered the papers he needed and gave JD some messages to give to Buck.

“Tanner, I’ll meet you outside.” Kelli took the map. “Come on Linda, walk me out.”

They walked to the back door and while Kelli put her coat on Linda tried to talk about her brother. “Kel, I spoke to Matt…”

“I don’t want to hear about him, I wanted to get you alone to tell you that Chris is alive. Vin was able to confirm that this morning, but not where he is. We are going to Colorado Springs to talk to Jack’s last ex-wife; she might be able to help.”

Linda understood what Kelli meant about Vin and Chris, she felt better knowing that he was okay for now. “Thanks for telling me Kel, do what you have to and I will keep Matt in line, but when this is over we need to talk.”


On the way to Colorado Springs, Kelli drove and Vin reviewed what they knew about the former Mrs. Jack Larabee.

“Patrice Garner is thirty-four years old, this was her first marriage. They were together for two years and divorced less than six months ago. She has no arrest record and works from her home as a computer consultant, whatever that is. She moved to Colorado Springs in July and the only known living relative is a sister in New York.” Vin laid the folder on the seat.

“Did it say what grounds they used to divorce?”

“Same as ninety per cent of all couples that split, irreconcilable differences. I just hope she knew him well enough to give us some more information in him.” Vin rolled his shoulder to work out an ache.

Kelli noticed. “I suppose you’re gonna tell me that’s just from tension.”

“I could, but you wouldn’t believe me would you?” The Texan sighed, Kelli knew him too well to buy that ‘m fine business. “Patience baby, it will heal and it’s not anythin’ I can’t handle. Before you ask yes, I took the antibiotic, but not the pain pill and I won’t take it unless I have too. I want to keep my mind clear.”

She knew he hoped to make a connection with Chris again.” Speaking of patience, we are alone now and you said you would tell me. So why is Matt being a bastard?”

Vin could have given her a long explanation about male egos, wounded pride and fantasies, but decided to be more direct. “Bottom line, all these years he believed that he loved you and that someday you would feel the same. It’s easier for him to keep you ticked off that to admit to himself that you are happy with your life and that you were never his to lose in the first place.”

“You are jokin’ right? I never gave him any reason to think that.”

Tanner was shaking his head. “Doesn’t matter, he had plenty of time to convince himself that you would change your mind. Now that he is here, he has to accept that it was all one-sided. I think Linda knew, but just did not want to deal with it, now she has to do somethin’ or watch it spin out of control until her brother gets hurt.”

Kelli was amazed, because she had never considered this. “You seem to be pretty calm about it. How long have you had it figured out?”

“I suspected Saturday, but wasn’t sure until this mornin’, he is at his worse when you and I am in the room together. This is his problem to deal with, not ours, and aside from being a pain in the ass; I don’t think he will push it. He will accept it and go back to bein’ the man you told me about or not accept it and go back to Louisiana.

“And men say women are complicated.” She sighed, “So, what am I supposed to do?”

“Nothin’, just be yourself, see if he works it out and realizes that he never stood a chance.” Tanner grinned, reached over and tugged at a strand of her hair, “Because It takes a special talent to ride herd on a hot-tempered, stubborn, misbehavin’ Texan.”

“You’re right and it’s a good thing I have that talent Tanner, to keep you in line.”

Colorado Springs, Colorado

“Ms. Garner we appreciated you agreein’ to see us on such short notice. I am Special Agent Tanner and this is Agent Coulter, we need information about your ex-husband and hoped that you would be able to help.”

“I’m not sure what I can tell you. Is Jack in some kind of trouble again?”

“We just need to locate him. Do you have a way of getting’ hold of him, Ms. Garner?” Vin asked casually.

“Not really, Jack…Jack can be the most charming man in the world and certainly is one of the handsomest. However, it did not take me long to discover that he is not what he appears to be at all and our marriage was over not long after it started. I tried to stay in touch, for the kid’s sake, but lost track.”

“Kids? You have children Ms. Garner.” Kelli asked.

“Me no, but I think that is one reason Jack wanted to get married so fast. His second wife died in childbirth and he was trying to be a single dad, but he just did not have the patience for it. I guess he thought I would sit at home with Jason and Andi while he played his con games and ran all night.”

“Tell us about the children.” Tanner wondered how CASSIE had missed this.

“Jason is six now and Andi, her real name in Andria, she would be three. I suppose Jack did what he always threatened to do and gave them to the authorities. When Carol was alive, she doted on Jason and Jack treated him okay, then after Andi was born and he had two to look after, it was just too much for him.

Kelli felt sick at the though that they might still be with him. “Do you have a picture of Jason and Andi?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do, I took them shopping with me one day and there was a photographer in the store, you know, running some kind of special. On impulse, I had their picture made, Jack was furious about it; he took all of the photos and burned them, except for this one.” She reached over to the table for her wallet and pulled out a picture, handing it to Kelli. “Their birthdates are on the back. It’s a shame how he treated them, they really are good kids.”

“I promise to get this back to you, but we need to have a copy made. Do you mind?”

“Keep it, I doubt I will ever see them again and I don’t need a constant reminder of them. The only reason I stayed with Jack as long as I did was for their sake.”

“Can you think of any place he might go if he wanted to hide out for a while? Vin wanted to find this bastard as quickly as possible

Patrice thought about it and started to say no. “Wait a minute, he said something about his idea of getting away would be at the lake, but he never said which one. I’m sorry, I really don’t know what else I can tell you, we didn’t talk much, when he was around all he wanted was…sex and afterward he would take off again.”

Vin stood up. “Thank you for talkin’ with us and if you think of anythin’ else that might be helpful in findin’ him, please call.” He handed her his card.

“Agent Tanner, I hope that you do find him and make him pay for whatever he has done. He is not a nice man and if he has those babies with him...well I just will pray that he doesn’t.”

“I need to ask, Ms. Garner. Was Jack ever physically abusive with you or the children? Kelli was afraid she knew the answer.

Patrice hesitated for a moment before answering. “Yes, especially when he had been drinking or was high on drugs”.

Vin was on the phone as soon as they were in the truck relaying the information to Buck. “Ask Pam to run a background on his second wife, maybe she has kin that Jack might have sent the kids to. Also, tell her to search property records for anything near a lake that might be in his name. We’re gonna have lunch and then head back to Denver.”

They were both upset thinking about those children and hoped that if they were with him they were safe.

“If Jack leaves ‘em the same place Chris is, you know he’ll try to watch out for them if they are being mistreated. Chris has a soft heart when it comes to kids he…” Vin felt a sharp pain that started in his head and trickled slowly through his body.

*Chris? Hang on, we will find you just…Chris?* As suddenly as the pain started, it was gone, but Vin knew his brother was trying to reach him, only something was interfering with his thoughts or he was just too damn far away.

“Vin, are you okay?”

Tanner heaved a deep sigh. “I am, but ‘m not sure what’s wrong with Chris. All I know for sure is that he needs us to find him real soon.”

Chapter 11

Pain shot through his head and his aching body cried out as movement forced fatigued muscles to react. Chris had no idea how long he had been out or even if it was still daylight. All he knew for certain was that he hurt like hell and that his brain was too scrambled to remember much else.

“It’s about time you woke up and joined the party; after all I arranged this just for you, Chris.”

Chris looked up and tried to focus, “Jack?”

He laughed, “At least you remember my name. An important man like you remembers your name it must mean something. Not as if you ever tried to contact me in the last twenty-five years. Hell, I didn’t even rate a Christmas card. You were too busy living the good life to think about me, your own flesh and blood!”

“I did look for you…”

“Bullshit! Mr. Perfect never cared about looking for me! You had a life to live and just like always, everything you touched worked out to be the best! “Daddy’s golden boy, God, he must be pleased. Important job, big-time ranch owner and now you’re gonna marry some rich bitch socialite and breed more golden Larabees!

“He’s dead Jack, has been for twenty-three years, he went down with cancer not long after you left. He was real sick and … Well, it took him almost two years to die.”

“SHUT UP! You think I care, I don’t! Anymore than I care about you! I want you to know what it feels like to have nothing, to be alone without anyone to give a shit if you live or die. When I finish with you that is exactly how it will be, your rich girlfriend will hate the sight of you, you will never work in law enforcement again and you so-called friends will abandon you.”

“Never happen Jack, they are out there now looking for me and they will come.”

“Oh and they will find you when I am ready, but they will not like what they find.” Jack pushed his brother to the floor and as he held him down, he pulled a syringe out of his pocket plunging the needle into his vein. “Sweet dreams, brother.”

Chris tried to get up, but the room began to spin and his stomach lurched. Then the room disappeared, replaced by a dark abyss that sucked him in.

MCAT Office

Buck walked over to the CASSIE station and handed a note to Pam. “Vin called and this is what he needs you to check on for him.”

“I’ll get right on it.” Pam turned to the keyboard and began searching.

Gunny approached him, “Mr. Buck, since Commander Larabee and Captain Tanner are unavailable, I need your signature on these papers.”

‘What are they for, Gunny?

She took a deep breath. “Director Travis sent them down; one is putting Commander Larabee on inactive status, at least until we know….” Gunny cleared her throat. “It is a necessary formality, the other one gives you stand-in rank as Commander until Captain Tanner returns,” She handed him the papers.

Buck took them, but felt very strange about signing them. Hesitating briefly, he took the pen and wrote out his name. Handing them back to Gunny, he placed a hand on her shoulder and said softly. “We will find him and have him back for you to fuss at in no time.”

“Yes sir,” she turned and went back to her desk.

Mark walked up and stood beside Buck. “I’m sorry, but we came up with nothing today. I think Paul and I must have flashed that picture to every snitch in Denver, no one claims to know Jack Larabee. Paul stopped at the DPD to gets some files from their fraud unit.”

“Why don’t you go over and help Ross on those old police reports? Get some more addresses for us to follow up on.” Buck watched the young man that usually was bouncing all over the place as he slowly walked away. Chris was his hero and he was not taking his disappearance well at all.

To work on an in-depth profile of Jack Larabee, while they waited on more possible leads.

The phone rang and it was Ezra for Buck. “I need you to meet me at 2230 Avenue C.” Ezra instructed. “Raphael is with me, but come alone. I do not wish to excite the others until I am sure of what we have.

Wilmington grabbed his coat, told Gunny to page him if needed and then walked to the elevator.

Across town, Ezra and Raphael waited for Buck, developing a plan of action. They had been able to confirm that a Chris Larabee had rented an apartment in the building across they street. In the three hours that they had been watching though, no one had come in or out of that unit. Standish had considered breaking in, but had second thoughts and decided to let Buck make that call. After all, he was acting commander.

Buck made it there in less than twenty minutes and waited for Ezra to explain. “Unit 114 was rented by Jack Larabee, using Chris’ name. The manager confirmed the photo ID and here is a copy of the rental agreement. There has been no activity in or out of there in the last three hours. We can wait and stake it out or go in, it is your decision.”

There was no decision to make as far as Buck was concerned. “Come on, we go in one way or another.”

The three of them marched across the street to unit 114. Knocking brought no response so with weapons drawn; Buck kicked the door open only to find an empty apartment.

“It would appear that he left in a hurry.” Ezra noted that the room was in disarray and stripped of most personal belongings.

Checking out the second room, Buck began cursing. “Sonofabitch! That bastard did have those babies with him.” He held up a child’s coat that was on the floor on top of piles of trash

Raphael looked up. “Babies?”

“Yeah, according to Vin there’s two of ‘em, a boy about six and a girl three.”

“Buck, are we positive that this bastard is related to Chris?” Ezra asked.

“Unfortunately yes, why?”

“I just hope he will forgive me when I kill his brother and I promise you it will be a slow death.” Ezra said angrily. “You had better look at this.”

Raphael and Buck went to the side of the room where Ezra stood next to the closet. Obviously, it had been home for two small beings for some time. On the floor was one soiled blanket, two dirty plates of what was once food and a old ragged brown teddy bear. The door had a lock on the outside that apparently had kept them inside.

Wilmington was on his phone calling forensics while Raphael repeated Buck’s curses adding a few more in Spanish that Ezra was sure he had never heard before.


The trip back from Colorado Springs was a quiet one; both Tanners were thinking about those kids and worried about Chris. It was three in the afternoon before they made it back to the ranch. They sat in Kelli’s truck for a few minutes collecting their thoughts before facing Linda.

“Should we tell her about the kids?”

“Let’s wait until we find out more about them.” Vin sighed, Lord he was tired. His cell phone rang and he answered willing it to be good news. “Tanner,” he listened. “You’re sure? ... Yeah thanks.”

Kelli knew by the look on his face it was not what he was hoping for, “Vin?”

“It’s not about Chris. That was our insurance company, after lookin’ over my truck; they decided to write it off as totaled. They’ll cut a check and get it to us for a new one.”

“I’m sorry. I know how much you loved that truck.”

Vin smiled at her. “It wasn’t the truck I loved as much as the memories we made in it.”

“Then, I guess will just have to make some more memories in a new one when all this is over.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Sassy,” he smiled and pulled her over for a languorous kiss before he opened the door. “Let’s go face the Dubois siblings and see what’s comin’ at us next.”

Linda had heard them drive in and waited to see if they were coming in or going home. She was disappointed because she knew if they had good news they would not be out there sitting in their truck.

Vin was the first one through the door, Kelli behind him and he answered her unspoken question, “Sorry, nothin’ new.”

“I suppose I knew that when you did not come in immediately. JD left some instructions on the desk for you and Mallory brought over some supper, all we have to do is warm it.”

“Vin nodded, “I’ll go see what JD left.”

Kelli sat down next to Linda, “How are you holdin’ up”

“I’m as okay as possible I guess, just really tired, but Vin didn’t look so good. When is his follow-up with the doctor?

“It’s supposed to be tomorrow.” Kelli smiled, “You know how he is, stubborn as a mule, but ‘m gonna put my foot down and make him go. I know he’s been pushing hard and won’t stop until he has to.”

“Matt wants to talk to you.” Linda tried to gauge Kelli’s reaction.” He knows that he has been an ass and wants to apologize.”

“Linda, he’s a grown man, he is the one responsible for his actions and you should not be deliverin’ messages for him! I really do not want to deal with him right now. I have enough goin’ on in my life to keep me occupied and pacifyin’ an overgrown spoiled brat is not somethin’ I choose to do!”

You don’t understand, it just that…”

“Do not speak for him Linda and don’t let him run over you. I understand more than you think I do and now is not a good time for me to hear about it. After we find Chris and after I know Vin is healed, then maybe I will listen to what he has to say. Until then he can keep his mouth shut or leave, it doesn’t matter to be which one.”

Vin stepped out of the office and motioned to get Kelli’s attention. “I need to talk to you for a minute.”

“Excuse me Linda; we’ll have to talk later.” Kelli followed Vin back into the office and then he closed the door.

“I just got off the phone with Buck, they found the apartment that Jack was using and forensics was able to lift Chris’ fingerprint off the outside doorknob. He was there, but Jack probably was not home, Chris must have left because his prints are not inside and then….” Vin sighed, “Hell I don’t know, maybe Jack saw him and followed him out to Canyon road.

“What else did they find?”

The Texan did not want to tell her the rest, but knew that he should. “It looks as if he cleared out in a hurry and Ramsey found evidence that the kids were livin’ there with him. Evidentially they had been … Hell, the bastard kept them locked in the damn closet.”

“God, how could…” Vin reached out to steady her when her saw her sway and held on until she could speak. ”If he could do that to his own kids…What do you think he is capable of doin’ to Chris?” Her voiced broke with emotion and tears formed in her eyes.

“I don’t know baby, but Chris will fight anything Jack tries to do, you know that and if the kids are there he will do whatever it takes to protect them, too.” Tanner drew her closer and held on tighter.

She leaned into him and spoke so softly that he could barely hear her. “That’s what scares me Vin, he will do whatever it takes and it might cost him his life.”

Vin had no comforting words to offer because he knew her fears were well-founded. Chris would protect those kids with his life and he was in no shape to put up much of a fight. Things were now a hell of a lot more complicated and dangerous than they were a few hours ago.

“Kel, I wish that I could tell you that I know things will work out okay, but I won’t insult you by sayin’ that. You’re smart enough to read what’s happenin’, there are just too many things we don’t know right now. I’m afraid that this time it’s gonna take more than my connection to Chris to find him. We need a good lead to turn up that can point us in the right direction.”

Kelli did not want to move, she wanted to stay safe with Vin and pretend for just a few minutes that this was all a nightmare that would be over soon. She realized that it would take time to find Chris, maybe more time than he had to give. She was not ready to let go of the man that she was only now learning to count on and call Dad.

“So, what do we tell Linda?

“Probably as little as possible until we have somethin’ solid to go on.” Vin was concerned, it was unlike Kelli to be so vulnerable to her emotions, but then she had never had a father to worry about before either. Combine that along with abused kids, a wounded husband, a near death experience from the cold, and Matt’s bull, it was more than enough to tilt her off balance “I’ll talk to Linda and then we are goin’ home.”

“What about Chris?”

“There is not a thing we can do right now, but wait and see if the feelers we put out generate some information or forensics comes up with more. Buck will call me if he finds out anythin’ new and I don’t know about you, but that two hours of sleep we got this mornin’ is wearin’ off for me.”

She knew they both needed rest and that there was nothing to do right now, but wait for results. “Let’s go talk to Linda.”

Matt had joined his sister in the living room and they were in a deep discussion about something. That is how Vin found them when he came in to talk to Linda. Kelli sat opposite them, and Vin sat next to her on the arm of the chair.

“Linda there is not much I can tell you right now. We have forensics working around the clock, the team has been all over town puttin’ the word out about Jack and we have to wait to see what that produces. We also have followed up on other possibilities and we will continue to do so until we are sure that Jack has Chris.” Vin wanted her to know that they were doing everything possible to get a lead.

“Jack’s picture went out on the wire nationwide and has been faxed to every law enforcement agency in Colorado. The bus and train station were checked as well as the airport and if he left Denver, it had to be by car. So far, the car rental places show nothing in his name or in any of his known aliases. Tomorrow I expect the news will have the story and that could generate some leads.” Kelli added.

What does all that mean?” Linda felt her fears increasing.

Vin answered, “It means that this is gonna take time. Unless we get somethin’ dropped in our laps, we keep searching for answers until we find some and it is a slow process to cover all the bases and narrow the playin’ field. Of course one lead could break this wide open.”

“You are sure that he is okay now, right?” Linda knew better than to ask that in front of Matt, but she was not thinking straight.

Matt did respond to that question. “Linda, how could he know something like that?”

“We both have faith that Chris is still alive and pray that he will hold on until we do find him.” Kelli replied when Linda did not. “For now though we’re going home.”

“Before you leave, I wanted to talk to Kelli in private, if I could.” Matt was ready to explain, but Kelli was not ready to listen.

Vin felt her tense up and decided to intervene. “Now is not a good time, we have some things we need to discuss and we both could use some sleep. Two hours of rest is just not enough to keep doing what we need to.” The Texan stood up and offered his hand to Kelli. “Linda, we’re not far, call if you need us.”

“At least take some of the food Mallory brought over, there’s plenty.” Linda got up and was already on her way to the kitchen. They had little choice but to follow her in there.

Linda was already putting some food in a container for them to take home. “I’m sorry Vin, I should not have asked that with Matt in the room.”

“It’s okay. No harm done and yes Chris is still with us.” Vin watched the blond relax some when he told her.

Kelli took the container of food from Linda. “Try to get some rest yourself, okay?

She hugged the redhead. “Thanks, I promise I will.”

Somewhere in Colorado


Chris sighed. He didn’t want to open his eyes. He was feeling nauseas and had not been able to stop himself from vomiting. Whatever Jack had been giving him had been great at first and really helped stop the pain, but now he was worse off then ever. His leg hurt like hell and he felt strange in his head, dizzy and light. Opening his eyes only made him feel sicker he had already discovered.

However, he could not ignore that childlike voice suddenly calling out in between his misery, so he looked anyway.

A little girl was standing in front of him, her blond hair all tangled up and her eyes huge and frightened. She was staring at him, her mouth still forming a big O and she clutched a battered rag doll against her chest almost in desperation.

His heart immediately went out to her.

“Hi,” he said softly, trying not to scare her even more. Damn, he couldn’t blame her for being frightened he had to look awful. Not wanting to think about that, he tried to push himself up. The little girl immediately stepped back, her eyes riveted on him. When she saw he wasn’t going to leap up and come for her, she stopped again, some of the fright warring with curiosity in her eyes.

Chris smiled when he saw that. Despite her totally different looks she reminded him of Sarah, the way she was standing there, determined to find out what was going on.

“You must be Andi,” he said softly.

When he said her name, it made her relax a little and she nodded. Then she wrinkled her little nose and with grave sincerity told him, “You really dirty.”

“Yeah,” Chris whispered, not wanting to look at himself right now.

Andi studied him for a moment, her head tilted to one side. “You could swim in the lake,” she offered. “It’s real big! But daddy said we can’t go.” She pouted now and Chris would have loved to hug her and tell her everything would be all right.

If only he could.

“Are you sad? You look sad.”

Chris nodded in answer, not wanting to lie to her. Ever since the emotionless, matter-of-fact way in which Jason had told him that grown-ups always lied, as if it was to be expected, he’d decided to stick to the truth with Jason. He would do the same with this little wonder. The nodding made him dizzy again and hastily he closed his eyes to fight the nausea. When he reopened them, Andi was standing closer with a worried expression on her face. Her fear seemed to have gone completely.

“You sick?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted. Nathan would have keeled over in surprise had he heard, he thought ruefully.

Suddenly she walked right up to him and patted him on the shoulder. “That’s why Jason takes care of you, like for me. I’ve been sick too. Lots!”

Chris held his breath for a moment; he so did not want to scare this precious girl away again. “I’m sorry to hear that, Andi. It sucks to be sick, doesn’t it?”

That made her grin. “You talk funny.”

“I do?” How could he not grin back?

“Will you tell me a story?” she suddenly asked. “No one ever tells me stories anymore after Patrice.” With a sigh, she plopped right down into his lap and it was all Chris could do not to cry out in pain. Fighting to stay conscious, he finally managed to say, “Don’t you think I’m a bit too dirty to sit on?”

“Nah! Me’s dirty too! A lot,” she told him with complete sincerity, grinning up at him. Then she suddenly blanched and scrambled up and away.

“Andi? What’s wrong?”

“I… I try to not be dirty, really!” Her eyes were huge and frightened again. Chris wanted to strangle his brother right then and there. He had no doubt about who put that fear for punishment into her.

“It’s alright,” he told her softly. “I don’t care what anyone says, when you’re small you get dirty and that’s alright. Hell, look at me, I’m all grown up and I get dirty. I know a little girl who’s about your age and she gets dirty all the time! When her mother tells her she’s bad for getting dirty she laughs, because her father always says: getting dirty is healthy.”

“He does? Really?”

“Really! And then he grabs her, tickles her and puts her on his shoulders to carry her to the bath.”

“Jason helps with my bath now since Patrice is gone,” she confided in him.

“Andi! What are you doing here?” a voice suddenly hissed. It was Jason, standing in the doorway with a look of horror on his face. Once more, he was holding a canteen and a food bar, but this time he was also carrying a blanket. Chris didn’t want to think about the last time Jason had come in. He had been half-delirious, but he remembered that he had been shivering constantly. Obviously, it had struck a nerve in the boy.

Andi started sniffling. “D… daddy was d… drinking with the bad man, Jason. I… I got scared and I c… couldn’t find you!”

“Oh Andi, you know I was outside for a minute. Dad said to get out the trash. Get over here; you know you’re not supposed to be in this room!”

Andi’s pout was back and she suddenly had a very stubborn expression on her face that immediately warned Chris. She came back to him and plopped into his lap again. This time Chris was prepared and he managed to catch her with his arms before she connected. Carefully he set her down in such a way her weight was on his good leg. Jason had blanched when he saw what his sister did and hastily he run towards them.

“Don’t touch my sister,” he called out.

Chris held his voice as calm and unthreatening as he could. “I’m not going to hurt her, Jason.”

“Nah, he’s gonna tell a story! You gonna tell more ‘bout the girl?”

“If you want me to. Her name is Sarah and I think you would like her.”

“Please?” She leaned against him, her head resting against his chest in complete ease. Chris couldn’t do anything else but put his arms around her and gently hold her. He looked up at Jason, who stood staring with an unreadable expression on his face.

“Maybe Jason would like to hear something else, not about little girls,” he told Andi softly, but his attention stayed on the rigid boy.

“You know a boy too? Like Jason?”

“I did Andi, once. A very brave, loving boy.”

“He got dirty too?”

“Oh yes! And when I came home he would run up to me and he would try to throw himself against me so I would get dirty too. I had to catch him in mid-flight and make sure I caught him in my hands, so I could keep him at a distance.” Chris smiled, remembering Adam’s exuberance every time he came home from his work as a police officer. “And then he would pull me away to show what he had been doing. Mostly it was something involving a lot of mud.”

“He your son?” Andi asked, nestling herself even more in Chris’ arms.


“Why is he not here too? I wanna see him.”

“You… you can’t Andi. He’s dead.” It still hurt to say it, even after all these years and the new life he’d built. Andi squirmed in his arms and he looked down to find her big, earnest eyes on him.

“Our Mama died too.”

“Andi, shut up!”

Without paying attention to her brother, Andi said softly, “Jason still misses her.”

“Andi!” Jason sounded outraged and for a moment, it seemed he would come and pull her right out of Chris’ arms. Chris looked at him and the boy stopped. He looked back with hooded eyes, but Chris saw his lower lip was trembling. Right then and there he vowed he wouldn’t leave without these two kids. He would get them away from his brother, no matter what the cost.

Staring straight at Jason, he said softly, “I still miss my boy too. Very, very much and I always will. I think that’s only right.”

Jason’s lip trembled even more and hastily he threw the canteen, food bar and blanket beside Chris. Grabbing Andi’s arm he started pulling. “Come on, Andi! You know Dad will be mad if he finds you here! Please come!”

Reluctantly Chris opened his arms and heaved Andi from his lap. “Then I guess you better go, Andi. I hope I can see you again.”

Smiling brightly at him, the girl stated, “I come visit!”


“In secret,” she whispered loudly. Then she followed Jason to the door, her rag doll hanging limply from one hand, the other hand held tightly by her elder brother. Chris looked after the two retreating small figures. At the door, Jason looked back for a moment and then they were gone.

A grateful Chris took the blanket and wrapped it around himself before lying down, fully alone with his misery again.

Chapter 12

Third day missing

Vin had a lot on his mind, the bedside clock read 4:30 am and he was laying in bed awake and on edge. Last night he and Kelli ate a light supper, piled into bed early and snuggled together under the warm blankets. They both fell asleep almost immediately giving in to the rest that their bodies demanded. That ended for the Texan about thirty minutes ago and he had spent that time sorting through the thoughts that were racing through his head.

* Chris mistakenly believed that he could talk to Jack and set him straight, obviously that did not work. Okay Vin, think this through. If Jack has Chris and he is keeping him alive then it must be for a reason .Is it to make him suffer or try to break him or both? He already tried to put him into bankruptcy and failed. When he ran us off the road it was to kidnap him, not kill him so what else could he take from him to make him feel that Chris has paid for his imagined wrongs? Will he use his own kids to hurt his brother? Why can’t Chris reach you? Why can’t you reach him? There are just too many damn questions Tanner and not enough answers, yet. You had better keep yourself grounded Vin or this could pull you under before you find those answers and too many people are counting on you.*

Vin knew that he already had the anchor that he needed to stay grounded and she was right here next to him.*You don’t have to isolate yourself anymore Tanner to find the sense of balance you need.* He shifted enough to pull her closer and took a deep breath.

Kelli was awake, but wanted to give Vin the time he needed to think, so she was quite until she felt him move. “Nothin’ has changed since last night, Tanner.” She knew that her Texan was trying to find answers that were just not there yet.

“That’s not entirely true, baby. I did get some sleep and my body is rested.” She cuddled up to him with her head resting on his good shoulder. “A little sleep makes a world of difference.”

Kelli shifted her position enough to kiss him good morning. “You ready for some coffee?”

Tanner placed his good hand on the back of her head drawing her to him for another kiss. “Not just yet, ‘m not through here.”

His kiss was urgent and demanding, but Kelli understood why. She needed his assurances as much as he needed hers. “Vin, we’ll find the answers, right?”

“We will, but there’s a hell of a lot that’s not makin’ sense to me right now. I do know with without a doubt though that what’s between us is sure and strong, I need that, Kel.”

“Me too.” The comfort they found in each other was more than enough to fight the misgivings that tried to shake their confidence about finding Chris.

Thirty minutes later Kelli finally rolled out of bed, pulled on her favorite old shirt of Vin’s and headed for the kitchen to make the coffee. She heard the phone ring, but knew that Tanner would answer it and then waited to find out if it was good news or bad.

“Kel, you had better get back in here and put some more clothes on.” Vin yelled from the bedroom.

She hurried back to find him almost dressed. “What’s wrong?’

“That was Matt, somethin’ is wrong with Linda and she won’t tell him what it is. She insisted that he call for you to come over.”

They were both dressed and out the door in less than five minutes. When they got the main house, Matt was waiting for them by the door.

“I heard her cry out and when I went to check on her she was in tears, but refused to tell me why. She told me to call Kel and…”

Kelli was already down the hall that led to the master bedroom, while Vin and Matt waited in the den.

It was only a couple of minutes before Kelli was shouting for Vin. “Tanner!” He ran to the bedroom when Kelli yelled. “Call 911 and get an ambulance out here.” He was already dialing and when he connected, he looked to Kelli for information. “Tell them their patient is four months pregnant and fell in the bathroom about twenty minutes ago. Have ‘em to call Dr. Ryder to meet us at the hospital.” Linda would still not let go of her hand. “I think she may be having contractions.”

Linda insisted that Kelli ride in the ambulance with her and it was almost six when they arrived. Dr. Ryder was waiting for her and rushed Linda to the emergency treatment room. She allowed Kelli to stay a few minutes to answer some questions.

“Tell me what you know.” Dr Ryder was already examining her patient, issuing orders as she listened.

“All she said was that she got up to go to the bathroom and then got dizzy, collapsin’ before she could catch herself. Says she has sharp pains in her stomach. I know she has been stressed and probably has not been eatin’ or restin’ as she should.”

“What kind of stress?

“Chris is missin’ and we don’t know where or how he is. We believe he was kidnapped and Linda has had an emotional ride the last couple of days.”

The Doctor nodded, “I heard about a missing federal agent on the news coming over here this morning. Okay Kelli step out and let me see what we are doing here, you will know what’s going on when I do.”

“Linda I will be right outside the door.” She had to pull her hand out of her friend’s grasp and assure her again that she would be close. “I’ll be in the waiting room and I know the others will be here soon. You and the baby will be fine.”

Denver Memorial Emergency Waiting Room.

The room was empty when Kelli went inside; she knew that Vin would be here anytime. When the Texan called Sanchez, he came over to drive him to the hospital since Kel’s truck was standard shift and hard to handle one-handed. Mallory made the calls to the rest of the family and one by one, they arranged to get to the hospital. Vin and Josiah arrived with Matt in tow.

Tanner saw his redhead and went over to see what she knew. “Ryder tell you anythin’ yet? He sat down next to her taking her hand and lacing his fingers with hers.

”No, she has Linda hooked up to some monitors and ordered an ultra sound.”

Josiah told her what the sisters were doing. “Mallory will watch the kids and Inez is on her way here with Rain, Casey will be up later as soon as she finishes with the twin’s check-up.”

Matt observed all this and was somewhat surprised they were doing all this for his sister. “Is this doctor the best, do we need to call in a specialist?

Kelli looked at him. “Dr Ryder is a good doctor and Linda trusts her, which is what is important.”

Dr. Gilford was making his morning rounds and when he saw Tanner, he made a point of talking to him. When he found out why he was in the emergency room again, the doctor made a decision. “Vin, I heard about Larabee on the news and I am sorry. I have a feeling that I will not be seeing you in my office later today so why don’t we find an empty room and I check out that shoulder now?”

“That is an excellent suggestion Doc. You know Vin was looking forward to seeing you and this way he will have it taken care of while we wait for word on Linda.” Kelli thought it was a great idea, in spite of the look the Texan threw her way that promised payback.

Tanner knew he had no choice and stood to follow Gilford. “Sure thing Doc, maybe we’ll run into Dr. Landers while we are here, too. I can have him check on Kel.” Vin gave her a mischievous grin before he left.

Before long, the waiting room filled with members of the wild bunch. Inez and Rain arrived first followed by Nathan, Buck and JD, Ezra was on his way, but stopped long enough to pick up newspapers for everyone. Chris’ disappearance was front-page news and some of it was not too flattering.

“I fear gentlemen and ladies that this will further enhance the speculation concerning our esteemed leader and his financial situation.” Ezra handed out the newspapers. “The implication is that he arranged his own disappearance for personal monetary gain.”

Buck was furious, “This is bullshit! Let me get my hands on the man that wrote this for five minutes and I will make him a believer!” He threw the paper down and began pacing.

“Anyone who knows Chris will not believe this!” JD was angry. “But, now if there is a ransom demand the press will jump all over it!”

Sanchez did what he always did; he observed the reactions of the others. The anger and disbelief was evident among most of them, but Kelli sat quietly and surprisingly showed no anger at all. Vin returned took in what was happening and sat down with her, letting the others rant.

Matt noticed also and could not refrain for asking. “Y’all do not appear to be upset by all this. Kel, I would expect that temper of yours to join the others.”

His statement got Buck’s attention. “Why aren’t you angry, Kel?

She sighed, “Two reasons Buck, the first is that any publicity, good or bad, might help get the break that we need. The other one is more selfish I suppose, I think that for Chris he would much rather have the world believe that he is out for the money, than to discover the truth about his personal family history.”

Tanner added,” Chris would do anythin’ to protect his privacy and his family. It doesn’t matter what the rest of ‘em think, we know the truth and like it or not, this type of article will produce the kind of attention we need to get a lead.”

Dr. Ryder chose that moment to come out and talk to the family. “Linda gave me permission to talk freely. First off, she is not having contractions, when she fell however, she did crack a rib and her blood pressure is elevated. The baby is fine and I want to keep it that way. I do understand how much stress a missing partner can cause, but I am afraid that if she does not remain calm and take care of herself, next time we might have a different outcome.” Dr Ryder wanted to make sure she had everyone’s attention.

“I am keeping her today for observation, that will give you time to make arrangements for home. She must have complete bed rest for the next week and I do mean rest. If you cannot do it at home, I will keep her here. I want her blood pressure down and she needs as much quiet as possible under the circumstances.”

Inez spoke up. “Dr. Jackson and I will stay with her and she will follow your instructions. We will make the proper arrangements for her home care.”

Matt added, “Whatever she needs, she will have, I guarantee it.” He turned to Inez. “If it is acceptable to you ladies, I would like to stay here as well.”

Rain looked at Inez and answered for them. “You are welcome to stay with us, but I warn you no attitude or you will have to leave.” She was already aware from what Inez and Nathan had told her, about Matt’s control issues.”

“There will be no problem, y’all may not believe it, but I do love my sister and want what is best for her. Besides I can help make the arrangements you need, if you allow me to.” Dubois sounded sincere and the women agreed.

“Okay, the rest of you go to work on finding Chris.” Rain shooed them off.

“Vin, I’ll be right back, I want to see Linda before we leave.” Kelli walked back with Dr. Ryder.

Linda was resting and Kelli started to leave thinking that she was asleep. “I am awake and everything is okay according to Susan, so I guess I need to follow her orders. Thanks for being there for me this morning.”

”Where else would I have been?” The redhead smiled. “Inez and Rain are staying with you along with Matt. I will see you at home this evening, okay?” Linda nodded and drifted off to sleep.

Somewhere in Colorado

Chris was having difficulty concentrating, he knew that he needed to do something, but could not remember what it was. The door opened and the bright light of day blinded him temporarily. He tried to cover his eyes with his hands and just could not find the strength to do it.

“Well, the golden boy is awake. I must say Chris, you look like hell, your friends would have a hard time recognizing the great Chris Larabee, curled up on the floor in his own filth and spaced out on the good stuff.”

“Go to hell, Jack.”

“Now is that anyway to talk to your only brother, you should be ashamed Chris. I get you all this good publicity and you berate me still.” Jack shook his head. “This is better than I had hoped for; you do know that the press doesn’t like you much. They think you planned your own disappearance to extort money from your fiancées rich family. So I suppose I must oblige them.” Jack threw a newspaper at Chris and when he caught it, snapped a picture. “This will look real good on the front of tomorrow’s paper. Now though, I suppose you are ready for another dose from the magic needle.” This time Chris did not fight him as hard when he pulled out the syringe and he almost welcomed the abyss when it claimed him from the pain in his leg.

Jack closed the door and returned to the main part of the cabin. “Lester, I have a job for you. I need a ransom note that cannot be traced and then I want you to deliver it to this reporter along with this picture.” He threw the Polaroid on the table and the article with the writer’s name.

Lester picked it up. “How much do we ask for?

He laughed, “An important man like that should be worth at least half a million. Do it and remember no prints and nothing that can be traced. Tell them to wire the money to Chris Larabee at the Cayman Island account that we used last year for than scam in Nevada. I want them to believe that he set this up.”

“You really mean to turn him loose when this is over don’t you?” Lester was not happy about Jack’s plan.

“Of course, what good does it do to get him addicted to drugs and then kill him? I want him to lose everything that he values in his life and when I am through with him the only thing he will care about is where his next fix comes from. Relax, we’ll be long gone by that time and he’ll be too fucked up to tell anybody anything.”

“What about the brats?”

“I will deal with them when the time comes; now get to work on our $500.000.” Jack did not expect them to pay, but it would make Chris look worse to the world when it appeared that the he instigated making the demand.

Jason overheard his father talking to Lester and knew that whatever he had planned was not good for them or the man in the other room. He looked at a scared Andi and whispered. “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”

It was three hours later, when Lester finally left; Jack took out his bottle and began to drink. Jason knew how his father would get before the bottle was empty and decided to take his chances with the stranger. At least he had been nice to his sister. He and Andi slipped quietly into the other room.

Chris opened his eyes when he heard soft whispers. The pain in his leg was coming back, but it wasn’t bad yet. He smiled when he saw the two small figures standing in front of him. Even though they were whispering, it was clear an argument was going on.

“Can I help,” he asked softly. He had to grin when the two jumped up. Jason stepped back and even in the dim light of the room, Chris knew the boy was probably glowering. The little girl on the other hand happily trotted over, again hauling her doll with her and sat down beside Chris. There she saw something.

“Oh!” With reverence, she lifted the food bar and looked at it happily.

“You like it? I got a… another one somewhere. Wait.” Pulling himself up Chris suddenly hissed. “Damn!”

Andi giggled, but Jason immediately came over, worried. “What’s wrong,” he asked, sounding angry.

“N… nothing. I….” Chris stopped. He’d made a promise to himself, hadn’t he? A promise that had to do with these kids. Oh, yes, he wasn’t going to lie to them.

“Leg hurts. Oh, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to come sit near me. I think I… I threw up somewhere.”

“I know. Dad made me clean the floor. You were sleeping.”

“Shit, that bastard!”

Andi giggled again. It didn’t amuse Chris. He did not feel so good anymore; all he felt was a deep rage. “I’m gonna get him for that,” he vowed with vehemence. “Stupid son of a bitch! Hey, here is the other food bar. For you.” The anger was gone as fast as it had flared up and he held out the bar to Jason.

“Oh,” Andi breathed. “Then I can eat this one? All of it?”


Jason sighed deeply before he held the food bar back out to Chris. “N… no. You need to eat some.”

“Believe me Jason; I can’t eat that, no way.”


“Yeah, really!” No longer able to keep himself upright, Chris slid back down and starting to feel cold, he pulled the blanket up Jason had brought him the other day. At least Jack had let him keep it.

Jack…. Damn, he couldn’t think straight.

A small, warm body nestled itself against him. Happy eating sounds were coming from it. After standing rigid for a moment longer, Jason suddenly stepped over and dropped down on the other side of Andi. Soon he was eating too. Chris smiled. He no longer could keep his eyes open and a moment later, he fell asleep.

Jason looked at the sleeping man and saw how Andi nestled herself against him. Too tired to think about it all any longer, he decided that although he might be too big for a daytime nap, he could still lay down a bit. He moved close to Andi, one arm around her. A commotion could be heard in the other room, then angry yells and the sound of things being thrown around. He knew his father would probably be too drunk to really come looking for them, but he stiffened anyway.

“What’s… what’s that noise?” the stranger, Chris he had said his name was, mumbled groggily.

Jason did not answer and then suddenly the blanket settled over him and Andi, a bit askew, but still covering them enough to revel in its warmth. Next, an arm sneaked over Andy and settled over him as well. Jason didn’t dare move and then Chris slept again.

Strange, but that arm around him and his sister suddenly made Jason feel a lot better. He fell asleep almost immediately afterwards.