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
Chris and Linda stayed at the château for the next two weeks loving, laughing and learning more about one another. Chris felt stronger than he did before Jack came back into his life and Linda finally felt at peace with her father’s death. She found one more thing to add to the list of good that came of the most horrible moments of the last two months. They discovered that their love was tough enough to endure even during the worst time of their relationship.
“That’s the last of it, babe, everything is loaded and we’re ready to go.” Chris put his arm around her waist and guided her closer to the door. He knew she did not want to leave and that it would take some distraction to get her to the car.
“Are you sure we can’t stay another week...or two?”
“Not if you want me to finish the nursery before our baby gets here.” He kept urging her closer to the car.” Besides I do have to get back to work sometime.”
“Alright Larabee, but I do want to come back here as often as we can, okay?”
You got it sweetheart.” He helped her into the car, kissed her and shut the door.
Larabee 7- Six weeks later-Saturday morning
It was still early and Chris lay in bed studying his wife sleep. Sometimes when he watched her, he forgot completely about all the horrible things that had happened earlier this year. The identity theft, the wreck, Vin shot, Kelli almost freezing to death and then there was Jack with the drugs. Because of those drugs, he had not been here for Linda when she was rushed to the hospital and he knew that she had to have been scared. Instead of being here for her though after that, he took them on another month long ride through hell with those damn pills.
*She still came through for you Chris; the woman had every reason in the world to tell you to go to hell. Instead, she took that ride with you and had a safe place for you to land when you finally came back. She deserves to have every moment of pleasure she can with the new baby. Remember how you felt when Adam was born? Each day brought something new and wonderful into your life, a new experience to treasure. You are a lucky man Larabee.
Linda only has one opportunity to be a first time mother though. You do realize Chris that timing is everything? Can you really ask her to give up this special experience in her life and throw her into instant motherhood instead?* He ran his hand over her stomach and felt the baby kick. She had gone from barely looking pregnant to definitely looking pregnant almost over night and she still had almost seven weeks to go.
Chris was aware that they needed to make a decision soon about Jason and Andi. Somehow, nine weeks had passed since they decided to postpone thinking about adoption. That was five more than they allowed themselves and they were no closer to a decision than when they started talking about it over a month ago. All they had were more questions.
* As their uncle, it was his responsibility to provide for them. What was for the best? Was it the urgent situation you found them in that made you decide to adopt? Was it strictly for them or… your thoughts about Adam? Or because you could not help Jack and you want their life to be different from his? Why do you feel the need to be their dad, instead of loving uncle? Which feelings are the real reasons? Was it you thinking or was it the drugs? You know that you love them, but you love every child in the Larabee 7 family. Do you love them more? They deserve a chance for a decent life they did not have before. They need to have a secure home and you want to your keep your promise to their mom. The bottom line, you want them to be happy, loved, and provide them with a good home, Larabee.*
The baby kicked again, this time harder. “Okay little one, I hear you, go back to sleep and let mama rest for a little longer. Your brother-in-law Vin, your Uncle Buck and I are going to work on your new room today.” Larabee looked at the clock, it was almost six and he slipped quietly out of bed to get an early start.
The sun would be up soon and this was his favorite time of day. Vin was waiting for the coffeemaker to finish as he gazed out the kitchen window. His thoughts drifted over the last few weeks. Chris had been back to work for almost a month now, he was his nearly his old self again and fully in control at MCAT. Married life seemed to agree with Larabee and there had been no permanent damage to his health, from the drugs. He did remain a little distant, but Tanner hoped that was only temporary. As promised though, the Texan was getting some down time and had spent most of it working on plans for the new house. The weather was getting milder and soon he and Kelli could begin to build.
*Vin, it’s been nine weeks since Chris said he was putting the decision on hold about the kids. You have not asked him about it, because you do not really want to hear his answer anymore than Kel does. So you wait some more, but damn it is getting harder each day. You asked Kel to be patient just a little longer and you see the same look in her eyes that you know would show in yours, if you let it. Chris loves them, no doubt about it. He will be a good dad, too. They will have a loving, happy home with him and they are Larabees.
The kids are happy with us though, aren’t they? Both of ‘em feel secure here, they know they are wanted and Kelli is blood family, too. So, how can you convince her that Chris taking the kids is the only solution and the best choice for everyone, if you cannot convince yourself anymore? Better question Vin, after months of cairn’ for and lovin’ ‘em how do you let go?*
Tanner did not have to hear Kelli behind him to know that she was there; he felt her presence anytime she was nearby. He smiled and waited until she was close enough then he turned around, to pull her into his arms.
“Dammit Tanner, how do you do that?” In all the time she had known him, not once could she sneak up on him the way he did her.
“Natural ability baby,” Vin ran his fingers through her tousled hair. “Why do you look so damn sexy at six in the mornin?’
She smiled and stroked her finger across his cheek.” Maybe it’s because I have an incredible lover that wakes me up at five and he has a number of amazing abilities that he shares with me.”
“Amazing abilities, huh?” He lowered his head to her neck and began a trail of soft kisses that sent waves of pleasure right to the core of her being. The unexpected sound of giggles halted their love play. Vin simply shifted his hold on Kelli to a more casual embrace and smiled, “Mornin’ Jason.”
Jason’s blue eyes showed laughter, but honestly, he enjoyed seeing them together. It reminded him more of the way his parents used to be, his mother smiled at him most of the time and she laughed, sometimes his dad did, too. Then, when she became sick, she didn’t laugh or smile anymore and his dad yelled more often, after she died Jack yelled at him all the time. In contrast, his dad and Patrice fought constantly and never even seemed to like each other. With Vin and Kelli it was different, they liked being together.
“Morning Vin, Andi’s still asleep and… I was hungry.”
“Well you came to the right place, pard.” Vin picked up his coffee and passed Kelli hers. “What do you want for breakfast?”
He thought about it, “Could we have pancakes?”
Kelli smiled at him, “You know I was thinkin’ the same thing. I bet that together we could talk Vin into whippin’ up a few Tanner specials.”
The child did not hesitate to join them. “Would you Vin, I’ll help?”
The Texan looked at two sets of persuasive blue eyes, smiled and shook his head; he was smart enough to know they both had his number. “Tanner specials it is then, but ‘m gonna put you both to work.”
Chris sat at the kitchen table and reviewed the blueprints for the nursery. The room was built connecting to the master bedroom, all that was left to do was the interior work; the paint, and wallpaper was ready to go. With a little luck and his brother’s help, he could probably finish this weekend or at least most of it. He would feel better, when it was completed and so would Linda. She was anxious to set everything up and although she had not pushed him, he knew that she was tempted.
Buck trudged in the backdoor and went straight to the coffee pot, “Mornin’ stud.”
“Damn Buck, you look like you went a few rounds with a grizzly. What in the hell have you been doing?”
“Don’t worry, I feel better than I look. I decided that I could adjust the satellite dish on the roof without calling the company that installed it. Well, Inez told me not to, but I didn’t listen. I ended up on my ass after I slipped and then slid off the damned…”
Larabee’s laughter interrupted him, Buck did not need to finish, because he knew exactly what had transpired. “So what time are the dish people supposed to be out?” He knew that Buck could have been seriously injured, but since he wasn’t... Chris’ laughter turned to quieter chuckles.
“It’s not that funny, and they’ll be out before noon,” Buck huffed. “What time is Tanner supposed to be here?
“He said he’d take care of the horses on the way over and be here soon.” Chris still wore a smile, picturing Buck sliding off the roof.
Buck watched his oldest friend and was very pleased to see the old Chris, but one thing had been bothering him. He was hesitant to bring up bad memories but he wanted an answer. “Chris, I’ve known you for over twenty years. Why didn’t you ever tell me about Jack and how bad it was at home for you?”
Chris thought about his answers for a long minute, “At first, I couldn’t talk about it or him. After that, I just never had a reason to dig into that part of my life.”
“Yet, you told Kel and not me.”
“I wasn’t going to, but then I realized she had no family history her entire life, she damn well deserved to know about my side of the family at least. Once I dug out the old records and pictures, I started telling her about the Larabees and it was surprisingly easy to tell her all of it, the good and the bad. It was the first time in twenty-five years I even said Jack’s name out loud. Guess that you might be right; I should have talked about it a long time ago. Maybe if I had things could have been different.”
Buck sat and reflected on Chris’ words. “Hell, it wouldn’t have changed anything if you had. I supposed there is a right time for everything, until you found out about Kel, it wasn’t the right time.”
“Now it’s all out and I can move forward again.” Although he wished things had been different, he was glad that it was out in the open.”
The mood was broken when the back door flew open and two little whirlwinds ran inside.
“Chris! Uncle Buck! Guess what!” Jason flew in first and was certainly excited about something.
Andi tried to beat him to it. “We gonna have a baby for old!”
Chris’ questioning eyes quickly caught Tanner’s before Jason could explain. *Not us, Cowboy.*
“Andi! It not a baby it’s a foal!” Jason corrected his sister.
‘That’s what I said! A baby froal!”
“Okay, you’re both right.” Vin ended their disagreement and explained. “Angel, the mare I bought Kelli for Christmas, is starting to foal.”
Buck laughed, “I thought for a minute our family was expanding.” He grinned and could not help himself. “Chris or I could probably tell you how to do it. Vin, if you need some instruction.”
Jason had no idea what Buck was talking about, but felt that Tanner needed defending. “Vin knows how to do everything!”
“You heard the boss, Vin doesn’t need our instruction, Buck.” Hearing Jason’s defense of the Texan however, did make Chris pause and think.
“Jason is going to help us today, while Andi and Kel keep an eye on that mare.” Vin knew Chris wouldn’t mind having Jason around.
“Appreciate the help.”
Kelli came in a few minutes later, greeted everyone and then spoke to Vin. “I couldn’t get hold of the vet, he’s out of town, but if Angel has any problems I can always call Matt.”
“Tanner mumbled, “I hope she don’t have any problems, then.”
“Behave Tanner,” she whispered and kissed him on the cheek. “Come on Andi; let’s leave these men to their work. We’ll come back later when Linda’s up.”
“Bye everybody,” Andi took Kelli’s hand.
“You’ll come tell us before the foal comes, right?” Jason knew she would not leave him out, but still had to ask.
Kelli gave him a hug, “Of course I will, but it might not be for a long while yet.”
Chris sat and just observed the interaction of the kids with Vin and Kelli. *Chris, it looks as if there is another thing that you had not considered. One more question to add to your list. Hell, you should quit adding questions and find some damn answers, Larabee. Just how much have they invested in the last three months, while you were getting your life back in order? Are you being fair making them wait for your decision?*
“Larabee? Chris? ...”You ready?” Tanner was trying to get his attention.
“Yeah, let’s get started.”
Chris, Buck and Vin all took time to teach Jason the safety rules when power tools were to be used. They found the best way that he could help and then the four of them went to work.
Later that morning
It was reasonably warm today and the ladies had decided to take advantage of the weather. Inez and Kelli sat on the deck and talked while watching the girls play. Linda had just gone to see if the men needed anything before she joined the women on the deck. Linda finally sat down, “Chris said he’d give us a fifteen minute warning before they stopped for lunch. Everything is ready all we have to do is set it out.”
“It amazes me to see those three girls together, each one is headstrong, but somehow they all get along very well.” Inez was talkin about Sarah, Maria and Andi, of course. “It’s as if they have always been together.” She then turned her attention to Kelli. “Have you and Vin decided where you are going to build, Kel?” Inez was curious as well as the entire family.
She hesitated with her answer. They actually had two locations in mind closer to the main ranch, but the option of building by the lake was one they kept open, too. Their choice actually hinged on Chris’ resolution about the kids. “We haven’t decided yet.” They had discussed it and felt that if Chris went through with adopting the children that it would be easier for Jason and Andi to adjust if they were not living nearby, easier for them, too.
“Well, you know my vote is for the closest one. I can’t imagine you and Vin anywhere but here by us.” Linda had been trying to find out their plans for the last two weeks. “I want to see some little Tanners running around soon to play with my children.”
Inez laughed, “Lord I can see it now another generation of Larabee and Tanner.”
“I don’t know about that, you know that we’re in no hurry…” Damn, her emotions were failing her.
Kelli felt the tears forcing their way out and was powerless to stop them. Her strong feelings for the kids only highlighted the fact that she and Vin might not have their own children. The added stress of waiting to see what would happen with Jason and Andi was wearing on her, too. What she was not aware of was that Jason was coming to tell them that the men were ready for lunch, but before anyone saw him, he saw her crying and… ran to get Vin.
“Kel? What’s wrong?” Linda could count on one hand the number of times she had seen her friend cry in all the years that she had known her.
Sighing deeply she attempted to answer. “Linda, ‘m fine, it’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“You sure as hell don’t look fine and I am worried.”
An anxious Jason ran back on the deck, followed by the men and he went straight to Kelli. “I got Vin. You’re crying are you okay?” Obviously, he was upset; he could not remember seeing Kelli cry before now. Vin stood back to let Kelli handle this, indicating to Chris and Buck that they should do the same.
Kelli pulled him real close and everyone else disappeared, her only thought was to reassure this child. “I didn’t mean to upset you; I just remembered some things that made my insides feel sad.”
He looked up at her. “You mean like I do …at night…sometimes?”
“Yeah, like that…everybody has sad feelings and happy feelings and depending on what you think about, one or the other can make you cry”.
“It makes me better when you or Vin hug me, would that make you better?”
“Yes it would, very much.” Jason hugged her as tight as he could and patted her on the back the same way they did him. Kelli hugged him back, “See ‘m better already and thank you for getting Vin for me.”
The child looked up and saw her smile, but he wanted Tanner to make sure she was okay. “I still think you need Vin, too.”
The Texan figured that was his prompt to help Jason out and he knelt down next to him. “I think you took care of Kelli just fine, but if you think I need to, I’ll sit here for a while,” He sat down next to her and patted Jason on the shoulder. “You want to keep an eye on your sister while I do?
Jason was positive that Vin could keep Kelli smiling and agreed, then a happy little boy took off to oversee the girls.
Buck was puzzled. “Does somebody want to tell us what just happened here?”
Chris though had no problem understanding what he just saw. “You saw Jason tell us what he has learned in the last few weeks. Listening is important, a hug is a cure-all, that Vin and Kelli are okay whenever they are together and that he trusts both of them unconditionally.” *Chris the sooner you get this over with the better, do not put it off any longer and do not make this harder by waiting. Talk to Linda and then put things into motion tonight.* He slipped into the kitchen and made a phone call.
Linda planned to get some answers from Kelli, but for now, she decided that it was a good time to break the tension. “Lunch is ready, buffet style in the kitchen.”
“Jason, would you take Andi inside? We’re gonna make a quick check on the mare and then come back to eat.” Vin wanted to find out what had upset his redhead.
Chris was back and told them. “They’ll be fine, Linda and I will get ‘em cleaned up and fed. Take your time; I wanted a chance to talk to both of them anyway.”
By the time they had walked to the barn, Vin knew the reasons for Kelli’s tears and he understood how she felt. He kept telling her that he knew Chris would take them and that these kids were never meant to be theirs. Still, after all this time it was damned hard to imagine their lives without them.
“Vin, I think Chris is close to deciding and you know he won’t waste any time once he does.” Kelli somehow knew that Chris was ready to act.
“Baby we knew this day was coming.” He brushed her hair back with his hand and kissed the top of her head. “We did right by ‘em though and accomplished a lot. They are healthy, confident and well-adjusted kids. Their nightmares are rare now, and they know that they have a place to belong.” He tilted her head up to look at him. “They also know that we love ‘em.”
“I know, it’s just…so damn hard.”
The Texan could not argue with her. “Yeah, it is.” They stood next to the mare’s stall and spent the next fifteen minutes comforting each other. With their emotions back under control, more or less, they were ready to go back to the house. The next few days and weeks were going to be hell, but like everything else, they would face it together.
“Ezra I think you are worried about nothing.” Barbara sat next to him on the couch, cuddled up close
“When Chris calls and demands a meeting, I become concerned, especially when he specifically asked that you be there, too.” He pulled her closer to him. In the last two months, they had spent many days and evenings together. “Although, he did say that he wanted a private meeting with him and Linda. Maybe at last he has decided to take action and move forward on the adoption petition.”
“That is tonight, right now I think we should concentrate on something less stressful.” Barbara diverted his attention. “Tell me more about this surprise you have planned for me.”
“My dear, if I told you it would not be a surprise,” Barbara enthralled Ezra more than anyone he had ever known. They talked, shared dinners together, and had gotten to know each other very well. She kept him interested and that was more than he could say for most of the women that he had been involved with in the last few years. Barbara was beautiful, intelligent, sexy and intriguing. He knew that he wanted this woman in his life for more than a few weeks though and had planned a romantic getaway for the two of them to explore the possibilities of sharing more than the stolen hours that their demanding careers had allowed.
Barbara drew his head down for a long passionate kiss. “We still have several hours before we have to leave, Ezra.” She began to unbutton his shirt. “I am positive we can find a more interesting way to spend our time.”
Ezra’ green eyes turned to the color of dark emeralds; he slid his arms around the woman that had captured his mind and was well on her way to staking a permanent claim on his heart. “I absolutely agree, counselor.” All thoughts of Larabee and his call disappeared as she led him to the bedroom
Chris and Linda found that they enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know Barbara better. They had called earlier and extended Chris’ original ‘invitation’ for Ezra and Barbara, to include an evening meal and a tour of the new nursery before they sat down to discuss business.
“Buck, Vin and Jason helped me to finish the last of it just a few hours ago. Now it’s up to Linda to direct the rest,” Chris was proud of the way the room had turned out. The soft colors of light peach trimmed with turquoise really made a beautiful combination. The wallpaper border had just a splash of sienna, giving the room a southwest feel.
“This is a room that will grow with the child and I think you made an excellent choice of colors.” Barbara commented, “There’s a warm feeing in here already, even without the furniture.”
“Thanks, that was exactly what we wanted and I fell in love with the pattern of the wallpaper the moment I saw it.” Linda was looking forward to placing the baby furnishings and adding the accessories.
“You still have not said if I am to expect a new niece or nephew.” Ezra looked to Chris for an answer.
“No, we haven’t and we don’t intend to. You’ll find out when everyone else does.” Chris grinned, he knew it was driving them all crazy guessing. “Why don’t we move to the den now and get our business taken care of?”
The four of them sat down to discuss the reason that Chris had called them and he noticed immediately that Barbara moved into attorney mode. He and Linda had already decided precisely what they wanted to carry out and had it all written down along with a specific list of details that explained why. He gave Ezra the papers and waited while he read it over.
Ezra took his time, making sure that he read each line carefully. He then handed them over to Barbara before he questioned the Larabees. “I see no problem with adhering to your request. “However, I would be remiss if I did not review this with you. Are you certain that this is what you wish to do?”
Chris held Linda’s hand and looked at her before answering. “Ezra, we have discussed this at length and we have painstakingly taken everything into consideration, which is why this decision has been so long in coming. This is what we both want.”
“Trust me Ezra, this was not easy, but Chris and I are in agreement that it’s only the outcome we will be satisfied with.” Linda wanted him to know that she was confident in their choice.
“Until today, I still had some doubts, but I am positive now that we’re doing the right thing. You always hear that timing is everything, well; it is time to move forward. To make this as easy as possible for everyone involved, we want this done without any more delays.”
“I can file your request with the court and have a hearing date set when the application is accepted. Have you discussed this with the Tanners yet?” Barbara wanted to be clear where everyone stood on this. “I will need to talk to them.”
“No, we wanted to see what had to be done first.” Linda answered. “Do you think there will be any problems?” Linda hoped not, she wanted to make this a certainty.
Ezra glanced at Barbara. “I do recommend that you speak to Vin and Kelli, informing them of your decision as soon as possible. However, I do not foresee any problems and I am positive that it will not take very long. The other part of your requests can be taken care of within a few days and I will need to speak to your personal attorney to finalize the financial arrangements that you have outlined. “
“I talked to him this afternoon and he is expecting to hear from you. We want that established first and then we will talk to the Tanners.” Linda assured them.
Chris squeezed Linda’s hand. “I know that Vin and Kelli will probably not want to accept certain aspects of it, but in the end they will agree to it. After that, we’ll decide the best way to tell the kids.”
Ezra stood. “Well then, you have most assuredly given us enough to work with and we will endeavor to conclude the official procedures promptly. We will say good evening and thank you for the wonderful dinner.” Chris and Linda walked them to the door.
Once they were in the car Ezra sat lost in thought for a minute before starting it. “You do agree with their decision don’t you?” Barbara questioned, concerned about him.
“Yes I do, this will close the chapter of Jack Larabee’s reign of terror into Chris’ life and open an entirely new one for our family. However, I just realized that my job as advocate for those children will be ending and to my astonishment I believe I will miss it.”
Barbara smiled, “But your role as their Uncle Ra will be permanent.”
Ezra leaned over and kissed her. “You lovely lady are correct and I am looking forward to it.”
The young mare had taken her own sweet time, but finally Angel delivered a little filly by nine. Vin and Kelli let the kids see the new foal after it was born and then insisted that it was time for bed. The only way Jason and Andi would go to sleep though, was with the promise that Tanner would wake them early so they could see the new foal again first thing in the morning. Kelli took them inside and once they were asleep, she sat up in bed and waited for Vin. He had stayed with the mare to make sure it was okay to leave her for the night.
Kelli looked up from her writing when he walked in the door. “How are they doin’?”
The Texan made his way over to the bed, stripped and stretched out beside her.” Angel is fine; the little one is on her feet and nursing.” He noted the book that she was writing in and the letter sitting next to her. “Been busy I see?”
“Yeah, I wrote a long letter to Walter and thought I would play catch up on my journal while I waited for you.” She closed the book and set it aside, moving closer to him. “I’d rather spend my time with you though.”
“Then get your sweet little butt over here.” Vin put his arms around her and brought her down alongside him, she snuggled as he intertwined his legs with hers. The Texan rubbed her back and thought about what they would be facing sometime in the next couple of weeks. Chris was deliberately not sharing his thinking about the adoption or much else and it was frustrating not knowing when they would have to give up the kids, but the way he saw it there was only one thing they could do.
“You think any louder Tanner and they’ll hear you in Texas. You ready to share?”
“I knew that we would love ‘em, but I never imagined that they would totally captivate our hearts the way they have. Of course, I saw it more of a temporary thing in the beginnin’, maybe two or three weeks at the most, but I can’t say ‘m sorry about how it worked out.” Vin held her tighter. “We have enjoyed every minute that we’ve had with ‘em Kel. They have filled several chapters in our book of memories. When the time comes we are gonna stand back and let ‘em go without a fight … because it’s they only way not to put ‘em in the middle of somethin’ that would only end up hurtin’ ‘em.”
Kelli knew that he was right, anything less than an amicable agreement would only make it harder for the kids. She loved them too much to put them through that and so did Vin. ”How long do you think it will take before Chris ask for a hearin’?”
Tanner sighed and decided to tell her what he had seen. “Barbara and Ezra were up at the house tonight, so I reckon it won’t be long. It had to have been a visit concernin’ the adoption or they would have stopped by here to at least say hello.”
“So we wait until Chris is ready to tell us?”
“Yeah and in the meantime we make some more memories with the kids. After...Once the court stuff is over, then we’ll start to work on our new home.” Vin kissed her. “We’ll make it though this baby, we have each other and we can still be close enough to see Jason and Andi when we want.” He knew that it was going to be rough going though and that their hearts would not escape without some scars. “We’ll ride this storm out together, Kel.”
The one thing Tanner was certain of in this world was the strength of their love.
The first part of the week had been a busy one and Chris had not found a spare minute to discuss anything but business with Vin. He had pushed himself to get back on track here at work and he planned to vigilantly stay on top of things. Finally, late in the afternoon he found himself caught up on everything and asked Vin to come to his office.
Vin came in, closed the door behind him and sprawled out in the chair opposite Larabees desk.” What’s on your mind, Chris?” it seemed like an odd question to ask, but lately Vin wasn’t sure where Chris’ mind was on anything.
Troubled by that question, Chris looked up. In all the years they had known one another he could never remember a time that Vin had difficulty reading him.
*Damn, you have been so involved in fixing the wrongs in you life that you have neglected the things that were right. Have you really closed him out that much?*
*Yeah you have.*
“I’ve been so busy putting my life back together that I have tended to shut out everything else. You included. I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry”
The Texan leaned forward, “That’s bull Chris. What are you afraid that I’ll see if you let me back in?
Larabee walked over to the window and looked out, he should have known that Vin could see through that excuse. Was he ready to admit what was holding him back? Was that what was blocking their connection? How could he let it go this far and not realize it?
After a few minutes of silence he spoke. “I have a lot to make up for Vin and I need to be in control of my life. Linda and I are doing great and I feel confident about my role here in MCAT but I still… have some doubts that just will not let go. I made a few bad choices that got me into a situation that almost destroyed everything I care about in this world. What if I fuck up and hurt the people that I love again? What if …”
“Fuck what if! … Hell Chris; you are the same person you were before, you are my friend, my brother and a damn decent man, but ‘m gonna tell you what I think. I think you are afraid to let go completely because if you do, you just might have to accept what I already know. Chris Larabee is human, you make mistakes, and you made one with the pills. It’s not the first one you’ve made and it damn sure won’t be the last, but makin’ mistakes is a part of life. Will you go back to pills again? It’s a possibility… but then so is having a heart attack while you’re tyin’ your shoelaces; possible, but not probable. What you need to do is quit playin’ what if, get your head out of your ass and move on with your life. Go back to being the cantankerous sonofabitch we all know and love… let it go.”
Suddenly, Chris felt much better having admitted what was troubling him. “Tanner you are the only man that I know that could get away with what you just said…but thanks for saying it.” He felt the connection between them open again and realized just how much he had missed it. He made himself a promise not to ever take this special gift for granted.
Vin felt it to and was relieved that this part of their relationship remained intact “You want to tell me now why you originally called me in here?”
He went back to his desk and picked up a piece of paper. “What I wanted was your signature on this; I need to update my POA. Linda and I talked about it and agreed that you should be the one to hold it.”
“Me? I thought Linda didn’t like how I handled things the last time I had to use a POA?”
“She didn’t, but she realizes that where I’m concerned she is too emotional. I need someone that can make the tough calls especially now that I have to be careful about certain drugs. Besides, in all probability if it is necessary to use it again, it would be work related and she would not be close. It’s all legal, this overrides her rights as next of kin and gives you the authority to make decisions for me if I am incapacitated.” Chris saw him hesitate. “We trust you Vin, and Linda insisted.”
*Then I reckon that I should sign it.*
Tanner did sign, then he got up and started to leave, Chris stopped him. “One more thing, we need you and Kel to come over tomorrow evening without the kids, the four of us need to sit down and talk. Seven o’clock okay with you?”
“I’ll check with Kel, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Vin and Kelli had mixed feelings about the coming evening. On one hand, it would be a relief to have everything out in the open, on the other they wished that they could hold it off indefinitely. Just leaving Andi and Jason at the Wilmington’s home for the night was difficult for them. They also knew that it would not be any easier putting off the inevitable. Whatever transpired tonight, they would agree to without any argument, but they might just have to build their home in another state to survive emotionally.
It was exactly seven o’clock when they walked in. Chris met them first, “Right on time. Come on back to the den, it’s more comfortable and Linda has coffee set up for us.”
Linda hugged them both and smiled. “We have so much to tell you, I can hardly wait to get started.” She poured the coffee and everyone sat down. Vin and Kelli together on the couch and Chris and Linda opposite them in the twin recliners.
*You okay, Vin?*
Chris was not convinced, but knew he would find out soon or later what was on the Texan’s mind. “I’m gonna let Linda start so she’ll calm down. She is so excited that she hasn’t stopped flitting around all day.”
“I already told you that my dad gave me my mother and grandmothers jewelry for a wedding gift. Well, Matt made the trip to Louisiana for me to get it and came back yesterday. I wanted y’all to see it all before I split it up.”
Kelli could not imagine what this had to do with anything, but was willing to be patient, for a while. “What do you mean split it up?”
“I have decided that I want each one of my sisters to have a piece of it and will present it to each one on their birthday as a gift. Except for you Kelli and I have several pieces that I want you to have now.” There was a large case on the coffee table, when Linda opened it, Vin whistled and Kelli gasped.
“Linda when you told me about it I had no idea you meant this much, there must be a small fortune in there.” Kelli figured that was an understatement.
“This is not about money, it’s about sentiment. Kel, you know that I have always considered you my sister. I want part of my family history to belong to you, something you can pass down to your own daughters or daughter-in-laws someday. These are pieces that I picked out especially for you.” She handed Kelli a smaller case, inside were several pieces of very expensive jewelry, a mixture of earrings, necklaces and rings. They were all sapphire, emerald or diamonds and there were a number of additional pieces included that were unquestionably antique.
“Linda I couldn’t…”
“Yes you can and you will! Do not go stubborn on me Kel, this is my gift to you and I refuse to take no for an answer, it means a lot to me for you to have them. I have a special piece set aside for Inez, Mallory, Casey and Rain, too.”
“You might as well accept graciously Red; she will not change her mind.” Chris tried to help persuade her. “The sooner you say yes the sooner we can move on to our next little surprise.”
Vin looked up, “Another surprise?” He was not sure just what was going on, but this was definitely not, what they expected to be happening. Chris’ actions seemed strange and Linda was smiling too damn much. He decided to play their game for a bit and see what developed. “Kel, it’s up to you, but it is a gift.”
Kelli felt pressured to accept. She knew Linda meant well, but this type of present was something that she was not normally comfortable about taking. However to appease her friend and in the interest of keeping things amicable, she sighed and reluctantly accepted. “Thank you, Linda. I’ll take your gift, but if you ever change…”
“I won’t and now that we have this settled we need to talk about “My Texas Lady.”
“Our horse? You want to talk about our horse?” Kelli was taken aback, “You ask us here to talk about jewelry and horses?”
“Relax Red, one thing at a time.” Chris smiled at her, “Show a little patience.”
“Patience?” *Right, that is such a strong Larabee trait!* Kelli could not believe that Chris Larabee was telling her to be patient.
Vin put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. He didn’t understand all this either, but he wanted to see where it was leading. He spoke low enough that only Kelli heard him, “Give ’em a few more minutes.”
“Yes, your horse. My brothers would like to keep her in the Dubois line and wish to buy her from you. They have made a good offer and I think you should consider it.”
“Since she was bred to Hunter, her expected foal belongs to both you and Larabee7. They have made a separate offer to keep it but they want Lady regardless whether we keep the foal or sell it. Ezra wrote up two proposals, one is for her only and we keep the foal. The other is they buy both and one half the sale price of the foal goes to you the other to Larabee 7.” Chris handed the papers to Vin. “I think it’s a fair price.”
Vin read the proposals and then set them aside. There was more going on here than an offer on their horse and he was ready to find out what it was. “You want to tell us what in the hell this is really about. I feel as if you’re tryin’ to buy us off, first the expensive jewelry and now an out of the blue offer on lady.”
Chris looked at Linda and then decided to try an explanation. “The jewelry is a gift, pure and simple. The offer on Lady…I arranged. Kel, I know that racehorses are not your first love and that you did not keep any of the money she won. I saw a way for you to make enough to pay for the house you both want to build and allow you to concentrate more on quarter horses. It is important to me that you have the home you want without going into debt over it.”
Vin answered. “That may be Chris, but we can afford to pay for our own home and we will build the house that we want. What I don’t understand is why you felt it was necessary to arrange this yourself. We’ve had several offers on Lady that would meet or beat what’s on these papers and we could sell her within five minutes if we wanted to. More to the point that is our business, not yours, and I don’t buy your half-ass excuse about keepin’ up out of debt for one minute. So why don’t we get to the real reason we came here tonight?”
Chris knew that the waiting was over and that it was way past the right time to explain what was on his mind. “You’re right, Vin. I have been stalling and Linda was excited about giving Kelli the jewelry so I let her go first. As for Texas Lady, I have two reasons for bringing her into this. One I know Kelli wants to pursue her love of quarter horses and be involved in expanding their role on Larabee 7. I want her to feel free to do that.” Chris hesitated briefly. “The other reason has to do with the kids, the real purpose for us being together tonight, but before I tell you more about why, I need to explain a few things.”
Vin took Kelli hand, squeezed it and leaned forward, “We’re listenin’, Chris.”
“When I first became aware that Jack had kids, the only thing I could think of was getting them away from a bad situation and making sure they were safe. Of course, the drugs he was pumping into me made thinking about anything difficult. I knew that they had to get away from him and yes, as their uncle I felt I had to be the one to save them. Even after we made it back here to the ranch that is all I could see. I made that decision without talking to Linda, without considering my battle with drugs and without thinking about the future.”
“Hell Chris, anyone that saw them at that cabin would want to see them in a better place. Especially a man that knew he was related to them.” Vin understood that.
Chris stood up and walked around the room. “I have been, shot, stabbed, beaten and seriously ill in my life. Nothing has even come close to what the drugs have done to me. Even though I did not choose it, the result was the same for me as those that willing take them. Thank God, I have had my family to see me through this. I cannot imagine how hard it is for those that do not have that kind of support. Linda made me realize that I needed time to reclaim my life and my thinking before we even thought about adopting the kids. It has taken more time than I expected, but I believe I can now see the situation clearly.” He stopped and looked over to Linda.
“I want you both to know that Chris and I have discussed this thoroughly and together we have made a decision.” Linda wanted them to know how she felt. “It was not easy, but we know that for everything there is a right time, for us this isn’t it. We need to be us for a while and with the baby coming; it would not be a fair situation for Jason or Andi if we adopted them. They need undivided love and attention right now and should not have to compete with a baby to get it.”
“I spent a week with them during a crisis period for all of us. They have spent the last three months with you two putting a life together.” Chris carefully watched their reactions. “Before we go any further though, I need to know how you both feel about this.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Vin answered. “We want them to stay with us … permanently.”
Chris nodded his head affirmatively, “All I have ever wanted for them is to be safe, loved and happy. I promised them a home on the ranch and for a while, I believed that I was the only one that could give them that. I was wrong. I did have a long talk with them last weekend and after listening to both Jason and Andi I am convinced that they are happy, I know they are safe and I can see that you both love them as much as I do.”
Kelli was almost afraid to voice her thoughts, but she had to be certain. “Are you saying that you would approve of us adoptin’ them?”
“Yes, assuming that’s what you both want to do.”
The relief that flooded through both Vin and Kelli made it difficult to answer, but Vin found his voice first. “We do want to, but we also have to make sure that you are certain because once we apply there will be no turnin’ back.”
“We asked Barbara and Ezra for help on this and they have set some things up at our request. Barbara already has my letter stating that as their uncle I fully support you adopting the children, along with a detailed statement listing why I believe it would be in the children’s best interest. She said that would carry a lot of weight with the judge’s decision.” Chris picked up a folder on the end table, pulled out some papers and handed them to Vin.’ This is a copy of what we gave them.” Chris sat down again.
Vin and Kelli read the statement and could tell that Chris had put a lot of deliberation into his reasons. “So that’s why Barbara and Ez were here, we thought...” Kelli’s emotions threatened to spill over and she found that she could not finish.
“We thought you had decided to go forward with the adoption and we’ve spent the last week tryin to prepare ourselves for it. We know that you love ‘em and that y’all would give ‘em a great home, but...” Vin found that he couldn’t finish either.
“You already loved them too much and found it hard to think about letting them go. I should not have made you wait so long, but I had to be sure myself and I am positive this is the right way. However, I told you that we had Ezra and Barbara work on our requests, so I need you to hear the rest.”
“There’s more?” Kelli questioned. *Patience Kel, patience.*
“First of all we had Ezra check into a few things for us. We want to make sure the kids are always protected emotionally and financially. We had Ezra set up that you and Kelli could take immediate guardianship of our child if something happens to us. We also provided the proper financial arrangements, if that is ever necessary. We would like for you and Vin to do the same for Jason and Andi. If you agree, Linda and I would be their guardians.”
“That makes sense, especially in our line of work and I don’t see a problem with it.” Vin answered warily, waiting to see what else Chris had on his mind.
“That brings up back to Texas Lady. If you had agreed to sell her then we would not need to have the argument that I know is coming. Linda has set up a college fund for every child on the Larabee 7 and certainly, the kids would be included, but we wanted more for Jason and Andi. Hell, maybe I just want to feel I have done everything possible to add to their future. So I am sticking my nose into your business and as Kelli’s father and the kid’s uncle, I am entitled to do that once in a while.” Chris ended on a defensive note.
“Okay, what is it that my father and their uncle wants to do?” Kelli thought it was funny that Chris would resort to the interfering father role. She had never considered that he could be that way until now.
Linda answered. “We want to pay for the building cost of your house, as a gift to the new family.”
Vin was already shaking his head no, “We appreciate the thought, but we cannot allow you to do that. A college fund is fine, but we can provide a home for them without your help, hell Chris you know that. Besides you have your own finances to straighten out and a new baby coming.”
“Ezra has most of my financial mess taken care of and we want to do this for all of you. Kel, convince him.” Chris looked to her for some support.
“I have to side with Vin, but if you feel that you have to do something besides spoil them as a loving uncle and aunt, I do have a suggestion. If you give me a few minutes to consult with Tanner we might find some common ground to agree on.”
“Take all the time you need.” Chris watched as they got up and left the room. *Patience Larabee, patience.*
It was a long fifteen minutes before they returned.
They sat down and Vin started. “Texas Lady belongs on Larabee 7 and will play a big part in your quest for a winning thoroughbred. We won’t sell her to your brothers Linda, but we will give her back to you in exchange for three of your quarter horses that we would like to own.” He saw the protest coming. “Wait please…We do know that she is worth much more than that and if you feel that you must do something else, then take this amount and put it into a saving account for Jason and Andi.” Vin handed Chris a slip of paper. “We will use it only for them, additionally we will agree to let y’all buy Jason’s horse when he’s ready for one of his own and do the same thing for Andi.”
“Vin that’s not even close to what we wanted to do.” Chris looked at the amount and objected.
“Dad, I promise you that Jason and Andi will be loved and cared for in a way that you will approve. We need to be responsible for buildin’ our own house, though. You can however offer to baby-sit occasionally and advise us if we need to call on your experience. This solution gives everyone a part in their future.”
Reluctantly Chris, after grumbling some and seeing Linda nod her approval, gave in.” This would have been so much easier if you would have just agreed to sell Lady without questioning my motives, but …we accept your terms.”
Linda reached behind the chair and brought out a bottle of non- alcoholic champagne and four glasses. “I came prepared to celebrate the new family.”
While Linda filled the glasses, Kelli stood up and went straight over to Chris. “Thank you.” She hugged him and he held on for a long time, they had come full circle over the last few months. Last October she gave him a chance to be a father to her and now he gave her a chance to mother the children she already loved as her own.
Finally, all the broken pieces of his life fit together again.
Last night it took all the self-control Vin and Kelli could muster not to go over to Buck’s house, wake the kids up and just hug them. However, reason won out and they knew they needed to think through how to handle telling them their news.
Standing together, they watched as the morning dawned with a magnificent sunrise that promised a beautiful day ahead “Tell me again that ‘m not dreamin’ all of this, that Jason and Andi are really gonna be ours.”” Kelli leaned back against her Texan, absorbing the warmth of his love and the solid strength that he offered.
“It’s no dream baby, you, me, Jason and Andi are gonna be a family.” Vin kissed the top of her head. “Sun’s up, so let’s go get our kids.”
They saddled their horses and rode over to the Wilmington’s house. Jason and Andi were thrilled to find out they would be riding this morning.
Buck and Inez walked outside with them while the kids gathered their things. “They did just fine last night. Andi played with the girls and Jason stuck close to me, helping on a few things I had to do. He is a great kid.”
“Yeah he is Bucklin,” Vin agreed. He was pleased with how far Jason had come and now could openly admit how much he was looking forward to being a father to him. “The best kid any dad could ask for.”
“Anytime you two need a place for them to stay, you know they are welcome here.” Inez wanted to make sure they knew it. “I enjoy having them around.”
“Thanks Inez, ‘m sure you’ll be seein’ a lot of ‘em.” Kelli said as Andi ran up to her for a hug.
“Me ready.” Andi declared clutching her doll and her clothes. Kelli took them from her and put them in her saddlebag, except for the doll. Then she hoisted the child onto the saddle and mounted behind her.
Jason was right behind his sister and he did remember his manners. “Thanks for lettin’ us stay over.” He handed Vin his clothes and smiled when the Texan lifted him onto the saddle and then sat behind him.
“You are welcome, anytime.” Buck grinned, “It was nice to have another guy around for a change.”
“See y’all later,” Vin said as they rode off.
With Jason on Peso with Vin and Andi on Dancer with Kelli they rode for almost an hour around the property. They ended up close to where they had started. One of Vin’s favorite places on the ranch that he had shared with Kelli almost a year ago. The stream that ran through the Larabee 7 property was close by, the meadow where they were married was in view, and Chris’ place was not far. They spread out a blanket and had hot chocolate in a thermos for the kids along with some breakfast rolls.”
Vin started the conversation. “You know, I found this place several years ago and it’s my favorite I think on the whole ranch. It’s on high ground and has a beautiful view of the entire ranch.
“I like it.” Jason looked around, “It’s quiet and it has some great climbing spots.”
Of course, Andi agreed. “Me too.”
“We are thinkin’ about buildin’ a house here.” Kelli added, “But we wanted to see what y’all thought about it.”
“You’re leaving us?” Jason was starting to worry.
“We’re not goin’ anywhere without you and Andi.” Vin assured him quickly. “We want to build a bigger home where we can be together as a family.”
“Like a real family… together?”
“Yep, in fact Kelli and I want to adopt both of you. Do you know what that means?”
Jason thought about it. “Kinda...maybe,” he was afraid to say more in case he was wrong.
“It means we want to go to a judge and have him make it where we can belong to each other. We love both of you and want you to stay with us.” Kelli offered him an explanation.
“Like a mom and dad?”
“Yes, we don’t want to replace your mama or your daddy, but we want to be here for you.” Vin was suddenly hit with a brief spell of insecurity. Were they handling this the right way?
Andi watched Jason to see if this was something to be excited about, as he studied on it. His friend at school said he was adopted and told him what that meant, but he had to be sure that his friend was right. “I think ‘dopted means that we’re special and you chose us ‘cause you want us real bad.”
“Yes, that is exactly what it means.” Kelli felt her tense nerves relax. “We do want you both very much.”
Jason was relieved, too. “I reckon we would like that, but…” He hesitated and sent a questioning look to Vin.
“Say what you want to Jason, we’re listening.” Vin encouraged him to speak freely.
The child lowered his voice and his head. “Chris…I have to talk to him ‘cause I don’t want him to be sad.” Jason looked up and was surprised to see them both smiling.
“I think that’s a very good idea and as soon as we get home you can talk to him okay?” Kelli gave him a hug to reassure him that it was all right.
After a short bout of exploring, they decided to head back to the ranch. The horses were quickly taken care of and while Andi when inside with Kelli, Vin took Jason to find Chris. They found him in the kitchen.
*We told him, but he does not know that you know. He wants to talk to you about it.*
“What are you two up to this morning?” Chris asked.
“We’ve been riding and looking at places around the ranch.” Jason answered and got right to the point. “Chris, could I talk to you?”
“How about we take a walk? “ Chris looked at Vin, “I’ll bring him home when we finish.” Vin started to leave.
“I’ll be home soon, Vin.” Jason made a point to emphasize the word home.
“Sure thing pard, Kel will have you some lunch ready when you get there.” He ruffled Jason’s hair and smiled. “Take as long as you need to.”
The walked for ten minutes before Jason said a word. Chris decided to let him lead this conversation and see what Jason had on his mind.
“Chris, Linda’s gonna have a baby isn’t she?”
That was not the question that Chris had expected, but he answered it anyway. “Yes in about six more weeks and we’re looking forward to it.”
“Vin and Kelli don’t have any kids.” Jason stated.
“That is only half right Jason. They don’t have their own born baby, but they do have you and Andi.” Chris ventured a question of his own. “You like being with them don’t you?”
“Yes!... I mean ...they want to keep me and Andi, but…I want to keep you, too.”
Chris realized Jason’s dilemma. Somehow, he thought it could only be one way or the other, not both. “Jason, I am your uncle and always will be, just like Kelli is my daughter, nothing can ever change that. We are and always will be related, no matter what.”
“Really? You wouldn’t be sad if they ‘dopted us?”
“I will be here if you need me, but I think it would be a good thing if you belong to Vin and Kelli, too. I know they love you and Andi as much as I do.”
“We can come see you all the time ‘cause we won’t be far, just over there.” He pointed toward the spot by the stream. “Vin’s gonna build a home for us and me and Andi will belong here for always.”
If Chris had any doubts left about this being right, the look on Jason’s face would have erased them. “We are all family for always, too.”
Jason threw his arms up for a hug. “I love you Uncle Chris. Can I go tell Andi it’s okay to be ‘dopted?”
“Sure you can, pard.” Chris watched him run home and thought of Carol Larabee. *I promised you that they would be loved and protected, but somehow I believe that you already know they will be.*
Chris found some quiet time later that evening and decided to start writing in his journal again.
I know that I have been remiss in writing, but I have been away for a while. I feel as if I have been on a long journey and just returned home today. The last few months have been a mixture of reality and illusion for me. At times, I found it difficult to separate the two, but I suppose if I just hit the highlights of the last few months it will be enough to record here.
January started great, I thought things could not get any better in my life. I was back at work, had a beautiful woman beside me and I had a daughter that was beginning to accept me as her dad. Then my world began to fall apart. I found out that my identity had been stolen, Kelli was almost killed in a car wreck and Vin was shot, all because someone wanted me to suffer. Then I found out that it was my baby brother. Now me being the cocky sonofabitch that I am, I thought I could fix it all by myself. I damn near lost everything that I value in this life instead.
Jack pumped me full of drugs and waited for me to become hooked on them. I did not disappoint him. The only good thing that came out of the eight days he had me captive was finding out that I had a niece and nephew. When Vin and the others found me, they found the kids, too, and then they brought all of us here to the Larabee 7. That should have been the end of that story and we all lived happily ever after, but then I had to go and make things worse.
February was a time to heal, except instead of listening to my brothers, I did things my way. While Vin and Kelli cared for the kids, I compounded my problem by taking more pills. I lied to my family; I tried to bully them into accepting my decisions and damn near killed myself in the process. My family intervened and after I spent another ten days in hell, I was finally drug free for the first time in a month. However, when I was able to see clearly again, I found my life had been shattered into what seemed like a million pieces. I began the slow, painful process of trying to put it back together.
Linda was there for me though and we took this trip together. We were married on the eighteenth and then we spent two weeks alone in the mountains. During that time we really got to know one other in a way we had never done before. Our relationship is stronger now than it has ever been, but when we returned, I still had a long way to go.
March flew by; I went back to work and resumed my role as Commander. My agents accepted me, but I had to prove to myself that I was all the way back. I worked long hours and tried to push my doubts behind me. I could not admit how scared I was that I would fail. I also did not allow the people that I cared about to get to close because I thought they would be able to see how imperfect I really am. I put off making a decision about the kids, Vin and Kelli still took care of them.
April saw me feeling almost like my old self. I worked on the nursery and we attended some parenting classes. Caught up with some family stuff and I realized for the first time that while I had been ‘away” Ezra had found himself a special lady named Barbara. I also was forced to accept that I had been keeping Vin at arm’s length and had not even known it. He called me on it and I finally had to admit my fears. I am glad that he pushed me because now that I had said it, I could let him back into my life completely.
I was ready to decide about the kids and was surprised to find that while I was taking my journey of rediscovery, they were making themselves a home. I suppose I should have seen it, but then again I think mistress fate was working overtime. It hit me last week, I did not have to do anything to make sure they were loved and protected. It had already been taken care of without my help. Jason and Andi had a place to belong and I could still be a part of their lives.
This morning Jason came to me looking for my approval for Vin and Kelli to keep them. When he understood that I would always be there as part of his family, even if Vin and Kelli adopted him and Andi, the look on his face was priceless. I felt as if we had all found home again.
Vin called Barbara this afternoon and she is filing their petition to adopt on Monday. Within a couple of weeks, there will be a hearing, but she assured all of us that she could not foresee any problems. Next week is Vin and Kelli’s first wedding anniversary and after a party for them on Saturday, we get to baby-sit while they spend the night at their cabin. Soon they will begin building their home not far from here and I very pleased they decided to stay close by.
Linda has less than six weeks to go and we will welcome the newest Larabee into the family. I am both excited and extremely grateful that I have been given another chance…more later…
or is it the beginning?
Continues in MCAT 6: Additions & Apprehensions