MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 16 -
18 | Chapter 19 -
21 | Chapter 22 -
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 34
Standish Townhouse ~Thanksgiving Morning
“Ezra.” Barbara breathed out her lover's name as Standish played the strings of her desire. She had awakened to the sensation of Ezra's nibbling on her neck and his hands caressing her body. She had shifted onto her back and gazed up into his emerald green eyes and felt her breath leave her at the look in them. The intensity of his love radiated from his green orbs, and brought tears to her eyes, spreading warmth throughout her body.
“You’re not supposed to cry, love. We’re announcing our engagement today, not being sentenced to jail.” Ezra teased her and was pleased when he had elicited a smile from her beautiful face.
“Are you certain that you are okay with our plans? I know how important appearances are, especially if your mother…”
“Shh." Ezra tightened his arms around her. “Barbara Delaney Lindsey, I cannot believe you said that. You lady, are the most real woman that I have ever known and I would marry you anywhere, anytime. I love your plans to include the Wild Bunch and my brothers. If Maude shows up for our wedding, fine. If she doesn’t, I am fine with that too. You are the only presence that I require.”
“I love you Ezra Standish.” The warmth between them quickly turned into desire as they cuddled under the covers to spend extra time together before leaving for the ranch.
Wrapped in each other's arms they savored the pleasure their love produced between them. Ezra did not care what the rest of the world thought about their plans; he held his once in a lifetime love in his arms and that was all that mattered to him.
Chris was in the nursery dressing Grace for her first Thanksgiving with the family. He did not know what Linda had planned, and the way things stood with them at the moment, it really did not matter to him. He and his youngest were headed over to the Tanners to spend time with the Wild Bunch. If his wife wanted to join them fine, if not…well he could handle that too. At this point in his life he wanted to enjoy the simple things that meant the most to him. Spending time with his family, listening to the laughter of the children, watching the babies as they explored their new surroundings, and taking pleasure in the peace he had only been able to find here on the ranch.
He could understand why Linda wanted to make up for the years she was tied down to the horse business and taking care of her father, but he could not comprehend how she could possibly think that Grace or the new baby would take away from her enjoying life. For that matter, he had trouble figuring out why she could be so jealous of his ties to his brothers and their families. To Chris that was what it was all about, children, family, and home. One of the best days of his life was the day he heard Kelli call him dad for the first time, and Grace…she was the perfect gift for a man that thought he did not want to risk starting over. He was also certain that he could never live in the money oriented jet-set, adventurous world that Linda found so appealing. Hell, he had all the adventure he could handle with his work.
Standing in the doorway, Linda watched Chris as he spoke softly to Grace and wondered why it bothered her so much to share him with their daughter. All she knew was that it did, and she knew with certainty that taking care of children was not what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She had the money to live where she pleased and to try whatever she fancied, anytime, anywhere in the world. Why it was so hard to make Chris realize what they could have, she could not understand. If he would only let go of this place, and those brothers of his, Linda knew her life would be perfect. She did not need to see her brothers all the time. Hell, the less she was around them, the better for her, was how she felt about it, and if her husband would let go of his past he could do the same and enjoy a new lifestyle…with her.
“What time is dinner being served?” She finally spoke.
“Two o’clock and it won’t be served, it’s an open buffet. I expect there will be people in and out all afternoon. Grace and I are going over early to spend time with the family, after yesterday, I think we all need to be together.”
“I can not believe that you did not come and tell me yourself about what was going on.”
“Linda, I was kinda busy trying to help diffuse the situation. Besides, you slept through it all, so no harm done.”
Refraining from hurling back an angry retort, Linda simply stated. “If you don’t mind waiting, I‘ll get dressed and go over there with you. I would rather know what’s going on instead of giving all of them a chance to talk about me behind my back.”
Chris picked up Grace and nodded. “We’ll wait for you in the other room, don’t take all day.” He walked out with his daughter in his arms, leaving Linda alone.
It was a madhouse as the Dunne's finished breakfast and began to ready themselves and the twins for the holiday. JD had taken Nettie over to the Tanners earlier and she, Max, and Gunny were in full holiday cooking mode by the time he had left. If his daughters would cooperate they might make it back over there in time to visit with the rest of the family before the other team members arrived. Casey took Lilah and bathed her with no problem, but JD had his hands full trying to corral Daisy for hers. Ever since the girls had started walking it was a daily routine to play chase with dad, and with Daisy it was never a walk. She ran full speed everywhere she went. These days it was a full-time job to keep both of them in one place and to curb their inquisitive little minds.
Casey laughed when she saw the predicament her husband was in. Daisy thought he was playing a new game and at the moment she was winning. “Here, you take Lilah, and I’ll tackle the wild one.” She handed a clean, sweet-smelling, and dressed daughter over to her dad, and then took on the second one.
Shaking his head, JD laughed. “I don’t know how you do it every day, Case. I suppose we should count our blessings that they were not triplets, we’d be outnumbered.”
She gave him a saucy look and grinned. “That doesn’t mean we can’t stop having fun trying for another one. Who knows what we may have in store for us.”
JD frowned and thought about what his wife just said. “Casey? Just how many kids do you want to have?”
She only smiled at him in return and continued on to the bathroom with Daisy as he followed her. “Case, maybe we should talk about this. Casey?” Her gentle laughter was the only answer he received.
Buck had the girls dressed, and Caleb had been ready for over an hour. They were now waiting on Inez to finish dressing, and join them. Although she loved her children, and enjoyed most of her pregnancy, she was more than ready for Tannis to make her entrance into the world. These last few weeks were taking forever to get through, and she was moving slower.
“Daddy, is mama coming?” Sarah was anxious to move.
“Yes sweetheart, try a little patience.” Buck answered.
“Pay-cents, what’s that?” Maria questioned.
“It's patience, and it means to wait for something good.” Caleb explained.
Buck grinned. “I couldn’t have said it better myself, son, and your mama is certainly worth waiting for.”
Inez heard that last exchange as she walked into the room and smiled. “I’m almost ready, there is one more thing I want to do before we leave.” She motioned for the kids to move closer. “I am a lucky woman and God has been good to me. I want to give thanks for my beautiful children and my loving husband.” Buck put his arm around Inez and they joined hands with the children for a short prayer. “Amen.”
“I guess Caleb was right about that patience thing huh Dad?” Sarah smiled.
“Yep,” he hugged his wife, “Right as rain. I reckon we’d better get moving before these kids mutiny on us.” He kissed Inez as they walked out the door.
Rain and Mallory had left early to assist Max, Nettie and Gunny with preparations for today’s feast. Nathan and Josiah had a few minutes to talk over coffee while the remaining trio of children watched cartoons in the family room.
Nathan fidgeted with the spoon beside his cup. “Josiah, I appreciate what you and Mallory have done for us, letting us stay here while the contractors work on our house, the crib, the…”
Shaking his head Josiah stopped him. “No need to say anything Brother, that’s what family does for one another.”
“I haven’t been acting much like family lately.” Nathan hesitated, “Not sure I can explain it just yet, but I’m working on it.”
“No hurry, when you decide you need to talk, I’ll be around.”
Shouts from the family room drew sighs from two experienced dads.
Josiah grinned. “One television, three kids, I was wondering how long it would take for the blissful silence to end.”
Looking at his watch Nathan smiled. “Four minutes and thirty-two seconds.” Both men took a last sip of coffee, placed their cups in the sink, and then went to claim their children. It was going to be a long day.
The delicious aroma of two turkeys cooking in the oven and one on the rotisserie filled the house, along with an assortment of side dishes simmering on the stove. Desserts ranging from cranberry bread to chocolate cream pies and everything in-between covered an extra table that had been moved into the dining room. Max, Nettie and Gunny had set a tight schedule, and Mallory along with Rain had been put to work the moment they arrived. Kelli had been in earlier and Max insisted that she go back to bed saying something about a kitchen being no place for a sick woman.
Mark arrived early with Bandit and let him run over the area where the kids would be playing. He was certain that they had found all the explosives yesterday, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to play it safe. Chris and Linda drove in while he was outside and Linda headed inside immediately, leaving the baby with her husband. Chris, carrying Grace, walked over to where the younger man waited for his dog. “Mark, you think something was missed yesterday?”
“No sir, but I thought that all the parents would feel better if Bandit went over the area one more time.”
“No doubt about that, “Chris agreed. “You’ve been working with Bandit for a while now and talked to several dog handlers. It’s not something Tracker was trained for, how do you suppose that he knew that there were explosives on the playground?”
“I don’t think he did. Australian Shepherds are smart and have a keen sense of smell as well as a protective nature. My guess is he knew that the mine didn’t belong in his territory and he could pick up the strange scent of the humans that put it there. The actual smell of the explosive did not mean that much to him, but his instinct was right on. The rest was just what Aussie’s do, protect their people, in this case it was Andi and Kelli.”
“That makes sense and thanks for looking out for our kids today.”
“No problem sir, I’m glad Kelli invited me. It was not possible for me to make it home this year to be with my family, if I wasn’t here it would just be me and Bandit alone in my apartment eating TV dinners. It’s really nice to have friends that I care about to share the day with and this year I’m especially grateful to still be around.”
Chris thought about that fateful day when the MCAT office was torn apart by rocket propelled grenades and how different the outcome could have been. “We all have a lot to be thankful for this year and I am glad you are here with us today.” Larabee grinned. “I’ll give the kids an all clear and in a few minutes, I would bet that you and Bandit will be having some company out here.”
Mark flashed him a smile. “I’m the oldest of five kids; it will make it seem more like home, so send them on.”
Walking back up to the house, Chris thought about how his MCAT team had become extended family, it was a good feeling, and he was looking forward to the rest of the day. Casey had joined the ladies in the kitchen, and JD stayed outside with Mark, while Buck settled Inez in the family room, which seemed to be where all the family was gravitating to, including the kids. He noticed when he walked in that Linda had found a comfortable place and was deep in conversation with Inez.
Jason and Andi spotted their uncle and he shifted Grace in his arms to prepare for their greeting. “Uncle Chris!” Jason saw him first but Andi was faster.
Andi giggled as he managed to catch her while balancing Grace.” Morning Sugar,” Chris set her down. “If you two want to play outside, Mark and Uncle JD are out there with Bandit.”
“Mama said we have to stay inside ‘til the cows come home.” Andi pouted. “That’s a long time, ‘cause we don’t have no cows.”
Kelli had walked up behind them and laughed when she heard Andi’s interpretation of her words. “I suppose y’all can go outside as long as you stay where Mark or Uncle JD can see you, and you’re right Andi, we don’t have any cows, I should have said somethin’ else.” She watched the kids make their escape before their mama had a chance to change her mind.
Buck sat down next to Inez and said. “Mark told me what he was doing, and it does make me feel better knowing he and Bandit are out there with the kids.”
Chris sat down and made a place for Kelli beside him, handing Grace over to visit with her big sister. “I know we have to do something to stop those bastards from getting on the property but on acreage this size, that’s not an easy task. I’ll be damned glad when this mess is over.” Chris wanted all of his family together and he would not rest easy until Vin was home safe.
“Kel, where have you been all morning?” Linda questioned, not happy about the seating arrangement.
“I’ve been a little under the weather and Max sent me back to bed after breakfast.”
“It’s a good thing it’s nothing serious, especially with Vin off on some assignment God only knows where. I know how difficult it is to reach an agent once he’s undercover; in fact, Tanner flat out refused to give Chris any messages for me.”
“Who said anything about Vin being on an undercover assignment Linda? He’s trainin’ in Quantico and Kel talks to him regularly.” Buck commented, curious about where Linda was getting her information. “I thought everyone knew that he quit MCAT for another job.”
The surprise on Linda’s face was evident. “He quit MCAT? When did this happen? I thought he was on some covert mission that you were working on Chris.” She gave Kelli an accusatory look. “You’re moving and didn’t tell me! When are you leaving? Why on earth would Vin quit? Did you make him do it because of Chris? Of course we’ll buy your house; we wouldn’t want strangers to move in here.”
“We are not movin’ and our house is not for sale! Vin makes his own decisions, and Dad had nothin’ to do with it. Just where in the hell did you hear that he was undercover?” Kelli snapped angrily.
Larabee thought back to any discussions that Linda might have overheard about Tanner’s mission and he was certain that he had not had any while she was around.. There was only one place she could have seen any mention of where Vin was and that was if she had read it…in his journal. Chris also replayed in his mind her conversation about compromise and her impulsive behavior through his mind and realized that her offer to work things out was a direct result of her snooping into his confidential diary. Reining in his anger over her blatant invasion of his privacy he forced himself to stay calm. “Linda, the Tanners are not selling their home or moving, and what Vin does is really none of your business.”
Realizing her error, Linda quickly tried to cover her statements. “Mallory told me Vin was away and I assumed he was gone due to MCAT business. I never even considered the idea that he had quit.”
Buck knew that Chris was angry about something, but also knew that now was not the time to push the issue. “It surprised all of us when Tanner announced his career move, so I can see where you would assume he was on an assignment.”
Linda glared at Chris. “It was an honest mistake. If you told me what was going on once in a while, I wouldn’t have to guess would I?”
“If you cared to know, I’d tell you, but you have made it clear that you don’t, so why waste my time and energy?” Chris stood up. “Raphael and Selina just arrived and I need to talk to them.” Chris left and intended to make a point of keeping his distance from Linda until he had his anger under control. He knew that a confrontation would only result in another argument that solved nothing, and it was best to have a plan to gather proof of her subterfuge before facing her.
Linda decided that it was time for her to join the other ladies in the kitchen, leaving Kelli, Buck and Inez to continue on any conversation without her.
Kelli locked eyes with Buck to silently let him know that the subject of Vin was closed. “I reckon I should say hello to some of the new arrivals. Looks as if everyone is here except Justin and Alex, and they both had other plans with family today.”
Inez smiled. “We’ll let you go Kel, but please leave that adorable sister of yours with us.”
Grinning, Kelli handed Grace over to Inez’s waiting arms. “Enjoy, I’m goin’ over to talk to Ez and Barbara.” On the way she stopped and spoke with Bones, making certain he was comfortable and had something to drink. Katrina waylaid her and wanted an introduction to Matt, who seemed pleased to keep Kat entertained. She waved to Pam across the room and finally made it over to where Ezra and Barbara were seated. “Hi, you two look happy.”
“I’ve never been happier.” Barbara smiled. “Ezra told me you weren’t feeling well, how are you?”
“Thanks to Max, I am well-rested and feelin’ much better.”
“That’s good to hear, because I would hate to do all your paperwork next week.” Ezra grinned “Lord knows I have to carry most of it as it is.”
“Since when Ez? You dump three-fourths of the reports on me to do now.” Kelli replied.
Barbara saw one of their ‘did to, did not’ arguments coming and intervened. “Kel, have you heard from Vin today?”
“Yep, bright and early this mornin’, he even managed to talk to the kids and heard Andi’s rendition of ‘Happy Turkey Day’ to the tune of happy birthday to you.” Kelli smiled. “I promise you, he won’t forget it anytime soon.”
Chris walked up and asked to speak to his daughter for a minute. “Kel, just about everyone is here, and dinner is fifteen minutes away from being ready, since Vin isn’t here to do it, would you like for me to play host and get this shindig rolling?’
“Be my guest, they’re used to you bossin’ ‘em around anyway.”
“Fine, I have a couple of announcements to make before we eat so I suppose now is as good a time as any.” Chris moved over by the fireplace to get everyone’s attention and within a few minutes the room was full.
Buck whistled loudly to get them settled down. “Big dog has something to say so listen up.”
“Thanks Buck.” Chris grinned. “I’ll make this as short as possible. I want to thank Nettie and Max for heading this dinner up, and also thanks to the rest of our lovely ladies for their help. The buffet will be open when I finish, but there are a couple of things I want to say first.”
“Speech, speech,” Buck yelled.
“Not likely, Buck, but I do want to thank all of you for sticking with me during a rough year. Being together today is nothing short of a miracle for a few of those present and we all have much to be thankful for. I talked to Ross and his wife yesterday and he seems to be on the road to recovery. After a visit to Denver Memorial on Tuesday I am happy to report that the doctors upgraded Paul’s condition to guarded, and he is holding his own. For the MCAT team, I have another announcement. We have a new member among us, the official paperwork came in yesterday afternoon, and Travis called me last night with the news. Selina Cordova will begin working with us on the first, and we welcome her to the team.”
A chorus of cheers rippled through the room and congratulations were given to their newest teammate.
“I also want to share with you a personal announcement. Mistress fate has decided to bless our lives with another Larabee baby. Grace and Kelli’s newest sibling will be arriving in May.”
“You sly old dog, keep that up and you two will catch up with me and Inez in no time. Congratulations.”
“According to Miss Nettie and Max, the buffet is ready to open and…”
Larabee stopped speaking when Ezra tapped him on the shoulder “Before we partake of this delightful feast, Barbara and I would like to have a moment of your time.”
Chris stepped back, allowing the couple the floor, and said, “Go for it.”
Taking Barbara by the hand Standish began speaking. “After conscientious consideration of our emerging feelings for one another, Barbara and I have come to the conclusion….”
JD yelled. “Plain speak, Ezra. We don’t have all day to translate and the food’s getting cold.” He winced as Casey elbowed him in the ribs to shush him.
Ezra let out an aggrieved sigh and looked at Barbara who smiled, he tried again. “Barbara has agreed to make an honest man out of me. We’re getting married in April, details to follow.” Standish grinned at JD. “Is that plain enough for you?”
The couple was quickly surrounded by well wishers. It was a joyous group of friends and family that shared in the bounty of food and celebrated their blessings at the Larabee 7 today.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~late evening
Vin could not help but reflect on the days events. If he had been at home his day would have been spent with friends and family celebrating life, love, and giving thanks for all that they had been blessed with this year. Instead, his day at the compound had been a trial of endurance. After talking to Kelli this morning, he was aware of the events that transpired yesterday at the ranch, minus a few details. His first impulse had been to find Chambers and make the sonofabitch sorry he ever took on the Larabee 7 property as a target, however, reason prevailed and he reigned in his anger.
Once he had calmed down he realized that taking Chambers out of the equation was not enough, they had to take them all down somehow. Yet, having to share a meal at the compound, knowing that one of the bastards there had planted the explosives that could have taken the life of his wife, kids, or any other unsuspecting member of his extended family was not easy. It was getting damn hard to keep up his Dusty Slater act and as far as he was concerned the sooner this mission was over, the better. Even so, from what he had heard today, it looked as if he would be here a while longer.
Karl Chambers was disappointed that his Denver ‘fireworks’ had not resulted in good news for them, but he spent a great deal of time today bragging about the brilliant strategies he had for the RMR. He had promised that by the end of next week he would unveil the plans that would assure that everyone in Colorado knew that the RMR was at war. The whites in this country would not back down, nor allow their gene pool to be infested with inferior waste. Not as long as there were soldiers in the resistance willing to fight for the purification of the white race. Vin knew that he had to find a way to stop that from happening, before they required him to do something that would compromise his position or get him killed.
Fate, I could use your help here, I would like to make it home alive from this one.
MCAT Office ~ Monday November 27 ~7:30am
After the holiday break, Chris should have been rested and refreshed, but he was far from it. The relationship between him and Linda had been stressed and precarious since Thanksgiving Day. He was still upset over the thought of her reading his journal and playing games with the information she had garnered from it. She had taken exception to how he announced the impending birth of their new baby. Being upstaged by Ezra and Barbara’s proclamation was bad enough in her book; Chris mentioning Grace and Kelli’s name in his announcement, but not hers, was unforgivable. He made certain that he and Grace stayed busy away from the house for the rest of the weekend.
Today had not promised to be better than the last few either. Rain Jackson had received a phone call from a young patient of hers that had had problems with domestic abuse from her live-in boyfriend. She was hurt badly this time, but was reluctant to go to a hospital. Rain gave her the address of a clinic close to her and agreed to meet her there. It was a thirty-five minute drive to an area on the outskirts of Denver, but it was not the usual clinic that Dr. Rain Jackson worked in. Nathan was restricted to desk duty and not allowed to drive, so Josiah volunteered to take her, if Chris approved it. Reluctantly Larabee had agreed and Nathan rode into the office with Mallory, while Josiah drove Rain to the clinic where her young patient was waiting for her.
Chris had a feeling in his gut that he had not been able to shake and Vin was predominately on his mind. When Josiah called him this morning and said that they had a challenge, Larabee should have known then that it was going to be a helluva Monday. He felt confident that Walter was on top of the security at the ranch, but he was hesitant to condone any reason for a member of the family to leave the property with the exception of coming here to the office. He would feel one hundred percent better when he knew that Sanchez had delivered Rain back to the ranch safely.
Picking up the phone he tried Travis’s office again, only to find that the Director was still out. Orrin had promised to make a few discreet inquiries as to the identification of the man they knew only as Raven and who he was working for. Larabee was certain he would be less apprehensive once he was assured that the man did indeed have Tanner’s well-being as a priority on his agenda. Until he was convinced though, he would not give up on his search for the mysterious Raven’s true identity.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~ Monday ~ November 27th
Dusty Slater had adjusted to his daily routine fairly well. In the mornings he would arrive at the compound training grounds by five-thirty and prepare the day’s activities, including teaching martial arts and giving shooting instructions to the young recruits. When they finished at noon he would usually stick around and mix with some of the members to pick up bits and pieces of information or attend the classes that Karl Chambers had organized. In the afternoon he would return to town and work at Bubba’s Bar and Grill until eight and then join with the bar patrons until he retired to the back room to sleep, or do a little midnight reconnaissance.
After almost four weeks he had discovered the identity of the men that attacked Nathan and Paul. He knew with certainty that Abbott was dead and had a fair idea of where his body could be found. There were enough bits of information that he had been privy to that he could begin to piece together a larger picture of what the RMR had planned, and he had been able to gather enough physical evidence to connect the RMR, particularly Chambers, to an assortment of unsolved crimes. The threat to the ranch was still a very real possibility and although he had acquired some information about their plans, he still needed more details. There were packets of evidence that he had hidden, but it was useless unless he could get it to the right people. The problem was that since he was new to the group someone was usually monitoring his activities away from the compound and he had found it damn near impossible to get any information back to Denver. The few stolen minutes he did managed to attain were the times that he use to call Kelli and check in.
This morning he arrived at his regular time and found Karl Chambers waiting for him. “Morning Slater, don’t bother with getting out the usual gear. I have something special planned for today. Anson should be here soon and he will fill you in on the details. I’ll see you later, after your assignment is completed.”
Dusty raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Yer the boss.”
A few minutes later Anson showed up with six of the younger recruits ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-two. “Okay boys, Mr. Slater will be going with us today. Remember this is a practice run, you are to observe and learn.” He grinned “Of course you may feel free to kick some black asses while you are learning.”
Anson had pulled a large white passenger Van up close and when he slid open the side door he pulled out a box. Inside was an array of weapons and several ski masks. Passing them out, he took note that most of the men were grinning from ear to ear. The young men were excited and pleased that Anson had chosen them to be on his team. This would be a first time experience for most of them and they were eager to get out there and raise some hell.
“Load up; I’ll give you the details on the way to our target.” Anson looked over to Dusty, “Coming Slater?”
Dusty was standing between a rock and a hard place. If he refused to go then he could kiss his ass goodbye because Chambers would call him on it. Going with them could mean getting into the middle of a potentially illegal operation. He was aware that Chambers was waiting to see what he would do. Damned if you do and dead if you don’t Tanner. Make your call Vin.
“Yep, but I’ll use my own weapon.” He walked over to his truck and pulled out his 9mm GLOCK, not knowing just what he may be walking in to, he preferred to carry a weapon that he was familiar with. Returning to the van he crawled into the front passenger seat. “Ricter, ’m waitin’ on yer ass.”
Chambers stayed around to wave them off, but before he returned to his office he gave them one very important message. “Always remember in any contact with the so called enforcers always stick to five words. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. No one can help you but you yourself once you are in the hands of the enemy.”
Anson Ricter climbed into the driver’s seat and started the van. It would take them approximately one and a half hours to reach their destination, but Anson did not intend to implement his plan until eight, so they had plenty of time. He turned east when they hit the main road and took the route that would lead them to an area not far from Denver.
Arriving shortly before eight, Anson Ricter had parked in an obscure area close to today’s target and after removing the van’s license plates, he was instructing his soldiers on what to do.” First off, take a deep breath, keep very cool and remain detached. This is a practice exercise and we will be reviewing everything we do today. We already know from our scouting mission that there are no security cameras in this place and no silent alarms. When we do this for real that may be different, but for today I want to see how you react under pressure.”
Chip Bellows huffed. You act like we ain’t ever done this before.”
“You have and I’m sure old Dusty here has, but the rest of these men are new to the cause and have not had the opportunity to spread their wings. We need for them to at least get their feet wet before we join with the other troops next week. Hitting one little clinic out in the middle of Podunk, Nowhere is nothing compared to coordinating the simultaneous attack on twenty two of them in four different cities. Now do you know what your main objective is?
“To intimidate any darkies we encounter!”
“To destroying all equipment and records we find!”
“To instilling the fear of God into all the heathens we come in contact with!”
The younger men thought they had it all figured out. Dusty laughed and shook his head. “Wrong.”
Bellows smirked. “What the hell do you think we’ll be doing?”
“Makin’ sure we don’t get busted, and that we all get out alive.” Dusty stated bluntly.
Anson may not like Slater, but the man knew what he was doing, and he voiced his agreement. “We can’t carry our message if we’re sitting in jail or dead. You all have a brain, use it, intimidate, destroy and terrorize, but do not lose sight of the fact that this is only a skirmish. Our real battle is coming and the war is never-ending. Check your weapons, and secure your mask, we move in five minutes and we are out of there in under ten. Drag your feet and you get left behind.”
Receiving assurances from his team that they understood his instructions, Anson pulled on his mask, started the engine and drove to the front entrance of clinic. The side doors of the van flew open as eight armed, masked men exited the vehicle and then entered through the front door shouting and waving guns.
Rain had just walked out of a back room with Lawanda Sims, the young woman that she had come here to help. Josiah had been waiting for them by the registration desk and stood when he saw them coming toward the front to offer his assistance. He knew that Rain wanted to get the young lady safely to a woman’s shelter before they headed home. As he reached out to take Lawanda’s hand to steady her, the front doors burst open and all hell broke loose.
Eight men brandishing guns rushed in the room and yelled, “EVERYONE FREEZE!”
Immediately one of the men jumped over the desk and taking the telephone in his hand ripped the cord out of the wall. Two more moved down the hall kicking examination room doors open and dragged out patients in various stages of dress, lining them against the front wall. Everywhere they went, they destroyed anything in their path. Five of the men stationed themselves around the waiting room. One by the front door, which Josiah pegged to be the leader and one by the side entrance, the remaining three began to yell racial slurs and threats to all the blacks in the room.
Resisting the urge to go for his gun, Josiah tried to shelter Rain and Lawanda the best that he could as he watched the storm of terror and destruction running rampant throughout the clinic. That man stationed by the side entrance caught his attention though and he thought there was something very familiar about him. When intense blue eyes met his stare Sanchez sucked in his breath and held it as he tried to read the message the young man was sending him. Vin
Josiah’s attention turned as the man closest to them reached to drag Lawanda out from behind him. Before he could react Rain began to hit the assailant with her fist and screamed at him
“Leave her alone!”
“Back off you black bitch!” Chip shoved Rain against Josiah and kept his hold on Lawanda.
Rain regained her balance and shoved him back, forcing him to release the young woman. The masked man raised his gun, aiming at her head, and was prepared to shoot to stop her attack, but instead found himself being spun around and roughly pushed toward the front door. The man that Josiah had recognized placed himself between Rain and the other assailant’s gun.
“Not in front of the god damn windows and a room full of witnesses you idiot!” Dusty exclaimed, and then took Rain Jackson by the arm and half-dragged her to the closest empty room, pushing her inside.
Moving quickly to get Rain’s attention, Vin lifted his mask enough for her to see who he was. Whispering he said. “I’m sorry, but Chris can explain. Now scream and don’t stop.’” He raked his arms across a counter on which glass containers were setting. Picking up a broken piece he cut his forearm enough to bleed and then yelled. “Ya cut me, ya damn bitch!” Raising his gun he shot into the wall, and then motioned for her to stay put as he backed out of the room.
Running to the front he yelled again. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” All eight attackers backed out the door and jumped into the van. As it sped off Josiah ran to the room that Rain was in and found her sitting on the floor, crying and shaken, but alive and unharmed.
Helping Rain to her feet he heard her say softly. “Vin…it was Vin, Josiah. He stopped that man from killing me.”
Sighing deeply Josiah answered. “I know. We need to get out of here before the local police show up.” Normally Josiah would stay and help the locals as much as possible, but under the circumstances he did not want them to question either Rain or himself. “If you’re up to it I want us to go to the MCAT office.”
“I’ll be okay, but I won’t leave without getting Lawanda to that woman’s shelter.”
“I’m sorry Rain, but she took off the minute those men left.” He let her lean on him as they walked out of the confusion in the clinic and headed to Josiah’s SUV. He was trying to figure out what he was going to tell Chris when he called to tell him that they were coming to the office…and why.
Since they had left the clinic Dusty had been sitting silently in the passenger seat, while inside him Vin Tanner was battling a wide range of emotion. The inner conflict he had felt from the moment that he realized that Josiah and Rain were right in the middle of Anson’s practice run was working to chip away his control. He could still see the terror in Rain’s eyes when Bellows had that gun pointed at her head, and the more he thought about what could have been a tragic outcome, the angrier he became
Anson had driven almost fifty miles before Dusty grabbed his right arm and ordered him to stop.” PULL OVER NOW!” He did and as soon as they were stopped, Dusty jumped out and jerked the back side door open, dragging Chip Bellows outside. He hauled off and with his fist connected with the younger man’s jaw, knocking him to the ground.
“Ya almost blew the whole fuckin’ mission! Yer a god damn soldier in a war! NEVER let it become a personal vendetta! Ya lost yer cool and damn near made a fatal mistake in the process!”
Chip did not get up to face Slater, but he sat on the ground and huffed.”
That black bitch put her hands on me and deserved to die. You just stopped me
from doing it so you could.”
“What the fuck does that mean? I know you shot her!”
“Did ya see me do it?”
Anson stepped between them. “I think the point is…if you’re going to kill someone…don’t do it in front of two dozen witnesses. Bellows, you had better pay attention. The enforcers can not charge you with a murder just because someone thinks you did it, but an eye witness can put you on death row. You lost your control and that is unacceptable. You’ll be lucky if Chambers doesn’t do worse than hit you when he finds out what you did.”
Dusty had not hit Chip hard enough to work off his anger, but for now it would have to do. He opened the passenger door and climbed back into the front seat. “Ya comin’ or we gonna sit here all damn day?
MCAT Office ~10:00am
Chris was seated at his desk, going over some financial reports for the supplies that had been used to turn the old airport hangar into their base of operations. The amount astounded him, but all he had to do was sign off on everything, and then pass the reports onto Travis. His phone rang and he ignored it; Gunny would let him know if it was significant. A few moments later, his intercom buzzed and Gunny informed him that he had an important call.
“Agent Sanchez is on line one. He says it’s urgent that he talks to you.”
He picked up the phone at once and hit the ‘one’ button. “Larabee.”
“Chris, the clinic that I took Rain to was just invaded by eight masked men with heavy artillery and nasty attitudes.” Josiah told him as he headed the car toward the office. “We’re both okay, but I thought you should know …Vin was one of them.”
“Sonofabitch! What in the hell happened?
“I’ll give you details when we get there. Bottom line, he saved Rain’s life, she’s just shaken up a bit, and we left before the locals arrived to ask questions.”
“Make it fast.” Chris told him, his mind whirling with questions that he wanted answers to, and wasn't sure he was going to get them all from Sanchez.
What in the hell did you get yourself into now Tanner?
Whatever it was Chris knew that as far as the team was concerned Vin’s cover story was gone. There was no way to conceal what he was doing. He only hoped that Vin’s action did not compromise his position with the RMR and put him at greater risk. He punched the intercom. “Gunny, I need all available agents in the war room now and the Director on the line ASAP.” Travis needed to know that their ruse of being detached from the RMR investigation had just been shot out of the water.
Five minutes later Chris walked into the conference room and he still had no idea how he was going to handle this latest development, he only knew that there was no easy way to break the news. The thoughts he had bouncing around his head from Vin only indicated anger. Nathan, Ezra, Kelli, JD, Pam, and Mallory were waiting for some sign of what Larabee had on his mind. Buck knew by the look on Chris’s face that whatever it was it was not good.
Larabee decided on the direct approach. “We have a situation. The clinic where Rain went to meet her patient was invaded by several heavily armed, masked men with bad attitudes. Nathan, Rain is okay, and she and Josiah are on their way here now.”
Nathan visibly relaxed when Chris said that Rain was okay. “Thanks,” but he had a lot of questions. “Do we know who they were?”
“I don’t have all the details but…”Chris looked over to Kelli. “This incident will have serious ramifications for all of us, and you all need to know that Vin Tanner is not in training at Quantico.”
“Chris!” Kelli stood up.” What are you doin’?”
“If he’s not in Virginia, then where in the hell is he and what does this incident have to do with his whereabouts?” Nathan asked curiously.
“What connection does Vin have with Josiah and Rain?” Mallory was puzzled about how one fact could tie with the other.
“Hold your questions and let the man talk!” Buck tried to stop the barrage of reactions.
“Chris?” Kelli was almost in tears, she wanted to be angry, but the feeling, of impending dread made it impossible to keep her emotions in check.
“Kel, relax, I probably should have done this differently, but in a few minutes Josiah and Rain will be here and everyone needs to know the truth before they arrive.” He waited to see if she would argue or sit down and was relieved when Ezra gently urged her to sit. “Vin has been working a covert assignment within the RMR in an effort to keep MCAT out of the line of fire. Travis sanctioned it, and it was important for the team and the rest of the world to believe that Vin was not in Colorado.”
“I knew it!” JD shouted. “Vin wouldn’t leave us!”
“Dusty Slater, “Nathan whispered as he began to piece together what he should have already seen. He also realized that he would have seen it if he had not been so wrapped up in his anger.
“Yes, Vin Tanner, and Dusty Slater are the same person, and from what we know, he is in solid with that group of lunatics. We knew from the beginning that someone tipped off the RMR about Nathan and Paul, and since we had no idea who it was, we had to keep knowledge of Tanner’s involvement known to only a handful of people.”
“God, the things I said about Slater…”Nathan could not even look at Kelli. “Did I...is he at risk because of my big mouth?”
“Don’t think so Nate…his cover was tight, and the real Slater was killed three months ago. Anything you may have said to…others, probably only reinforced his badass reputation.” Chris could see that Nathan was now regretting a lot of his actions.
“You said that his cover was tight.” Kelli swallowed hard. “Does that mean that he’s in trouble now?”
Chris wished that he could give her a definite answer. “We don’t know that Kel, but he was there at the clinic this morning and according to Josiah, he possibly prevented Rain’s death. If he’s been compromised because of it…I don’t know.”
“Probably not,” Josiah said from the doorway as they arrived, and Rain moved straight into Nathan’s waiting arms. “Vin used his head and managed to extract himself from a situation that had the potential to force him into revealing his true identity.”
“Rain, you need anything?” Chris waited for her to control her tears and Nathan to satisfy himself that she was okay.
“No, I’m fine, but if Vin had not been there this morning, I probably would not be here.”
“I think I should explain. “Josiah sat down next to Mallory and retold the events that had transpired at the clinic up to the point that Vin pushed Rain into the empty room.
Rain took over. “Vin raised his mask so I would know it was him. He told me he was sorry and that Chris would explain. Then he told me to scream and not stop. He busted up the room, cut his forearm with a piece of broken glass to make it bleed, and then pretended to shoot me by shooting the wall instead. I know that other man intended to kill me, I could see it in his eyes…” She began to softly cry again
The room became quiet as each one tried to digest the story they had just heard until Chris broke the silence.
“Josiah, do you think it was believable?”
“Yes, I do. If I had not known it was Vin, I would have thought that…well it looked real enough.”
“If we think Vin is in trouble…we can go in and get him out, right? JD asked anxiously.
“We could try. Tanner has kept in touch with Kel by phone, but even then he has to keep the conversations short. As of today they have been watching him too closely for him to get any written info or evidence out. We can only guess at the layout of the compound and the areas that we could safely try to extract him from if it became a necessity.”
“When is he supposed to come out?” Nathan asked.
“Tanner already knows who was involved in the attack on you and Paul, he has a good idea where Abbott is buried, and he knows that the RMR has something big planned soon. I imagine that today’s assault was some kind of trial run for the big event. He is still trying to pin down details on their plan to hit Nathan and Paul again. I gave him two more weeks to find out those details, and then he is to come home whether he knows or not.”
“What do you need from Vin that he hasn’t been able to get out?” Kelli questioned uneasily.
“We need evasion and escape intelligence. He has obtained some physical evidence that could help convict these guys for various crimes, and if his cover was busted, it would help us a great deal to have a map of the compound. We would need to know the best way to get in undetected, position of guards, security cameras, and things like that. We can not get a man close enough in to do that though without arousing suspicions. Still, we won’t let that stop us, now that this is an open secret; Travis has authorized the entire team to work on this exclusive to anything else. I doubt that Tanner will be able to get a call out today, but…”
“You’ll be the second one to know.” Kelli answered, but she was already thinking about how to get the information from Vin that might just save his life if he ran into problems.
“Nathan, we need to know the source of the leak in that group whose meetings you were attending, look at the list of names we have already checked out and see if you can add to it. Ezra, you take care of the media, make certain they report the death of an unidentified black woman. JD, I have topography and aerial maps of the area, but I want you to try to get me some satellite views of Rocky Meadows and extend that to a hundred mile radius."
“I may be able to get a satellite link up for that area. If we can, we’ll have pictures that could help detail the terrain on the outside of the compound. I don’t know what we could see on the inside though, but I’ll try out the new thermal imagery program we ‘borrowed’ from the military.” JD explained with a grin, as he stood up. “I’m on it now.”
“Mallory, will you drive Rain out to the ranch please? Nate, you can go with her if you want to.” Chris thought they might need some time together.” If the local police contact you Rain, refer them to me.”
Nathan whispered something to Rain and then turned to Chris. “I may not have been thinking straight the last few weeks but I am now. I’d like to stay and help, if y’all will have me.”
“Welcome back, brother.” Josiah grinned at Nathan, and then nodded to Chris.
Every available MCAT agent now had one agenda and that was to get Tanner back safely. Pam kept CASSIE busy with inquiries, while JD worked on setting up satellite images that could possibly assist them in gathering more information about the RMR activities. Mallory had taken Rain home, and she planned to stay with her the rest of the afternoon. Nathan meticulously read over the information Chris had given him on the ‘Without Prejudice’ members and was surprised that there was so much of it. He felt really bad about doubting his brother's interest on this case and vowed to do whatever possible to help bring it to a good resolution.
Kelli dragged Ezra out of the office on the pretense of going out for lunch. She had the start of a plan in her head, but Standish was going to have to help her with it, whether he did so willingly or reluctantly.
Ezra drove to a small cafe about ten miles from the office. Once they had ordered, Standish finally asked the question that he was not certain he wanted answered. “You have successfully extracted me from the warm confines of our administrative center. Would you care to enlighten me as to the motivation for this unanticipated rendezvous?”
“I am goin' to Rocky Meadows to see Tanner. I have a plan to get Chris the information MCAT needs from Vin and you are going to help me pull it off.” Kelli felt that if she could get there with a plausible cover, Vin could give her what he had obtained without arousing suspicion. She also knew that Chris would never consider letting her go…if she asked for his approval.
“Like hell I am! I do value my existence and your plans tend to put me out of favor with Commander Larabee or Captain Tanner or worse yet, sometimes both of them at the same time. This one may cause me bodily injury, and Barbara likes my body the way it is…all connected in the right places.” Ezra thought about his and Buck’s trip to Rocky Meadows and he knew with certainty that any thought of Kelli going there was out of the question.
The redhead sat back and sighed. “I reckon all that talk when you were in the hospital about never underestimatin' my abilities and supportin' your partner was just talk”
“No, of course not I...hell…” Ezra shook his head and sighed deeply. “You are learning to manipulate words rather well.”
“I have a good teacher.” Kelli grinned. “I know what I am doin' Ez and ‘m also aware of the risks involved. This may be the only opportunity I have to help on this case. If it gets us what we need, where is the harm in it?”
“Need I remind you that you have been ill? Even if you had not, this is not the kind of assignment that Chris would sanction.”
“That’s why I have no intention of tellin' him about it." Kelli leaned forward. "I do realize that there will be times when Vin is working undercover that I have to sit back and wait, doing ' nothin'. However, this time I can help damnit, and I will do this with or without your assistance. Besides, can you honestly sit there and tell me that if Barbara was in a bad situation you wouldn’t break any rules to try and help her?”
Ezra knew that he would do the same thing Kelli wanted to do, if he were in her shoes. “Touché. What is this damn plan of yours and how much trouble will it get me in?”
Ezra’s Townhouse~5:00 pm
Standish paced the length of the living room and muttered inaudibly. He could understand Kelli’s desire to help Vin, but he was not at all convinced that this was the right way to go about it. Nevertheless he had agreed to assist her and one way or another he would make certain that she succeeded. Barbara sat on the couch and smiled as she watched Ezra pace. Rarely did she see him in what could only be described as a state of dithering, and she was finding it fairly entertaining. She was aware that Kelli had something to do with the change in her fiancée and was anxious to hear more details.
“Ezra, you’re going to wear a hole in the carpet.”
“She said five. Meet here at five and it’s…three minutes after. She’s late! I extricated myself from the office and ran myself ragged over the last three hours to procure the items she requested and I am here on time!”
The doorbell rang once and Ezra was there before it rang a second time. Throwing the door open, he exclaimed, “You’re late!”
“Damn Ez, five minutes. Don’t blow a gasket.” Kelli moved past him and spotted Barbara. “Hey Barbara, did Standish drag you into our little adventure?”
“Not yet, but I’m dying to hear details.” She grinned. “As antsy as Ezra has been, I bet it has to be exciting and daring.”
“Dear Lord! First my partner cons me into helping her implement an insane plan, and now my significant other thinks it’s an exciting and daring adventure. This little escapade could result in disaster. I expect both of you to take this matter seriously.”
“Oh ‘m serious; I just don’t see the risks that you do. It’s a good plan. It’s not as if I’ve never worked undercover before, besides, Ez, you’re the best covert operative I know. With your help what could go wrong?”
“Would you like me to list the possibilities?”
Kelli emphatically stated, “No. Did you manage to get what I needed?”
Standish sighed and produced the items Kelli had requested. “Identification and credit card in the name of Blaze Butler. Keys to the car that is parked behind my Jag, it is rented in Blaze’s name with a Boulder address, as is this cell phone listed under the same name. Memorize the cell number and the address on this paper. I have located a suitable rendezvous point close to the community of Rocky Meadow, but not too close. From there it should be less than a thirty minute drive to the cabin. The rest of the details that we worked out will be implemented with your call to me. I expect you to be in the office no later than ten or I promise I will send out the cavalry to drag your butt out of there.”
“I will be there Ez, don’t worry, and I took care of things at home. The kids know that I won’t be back until tomorrow. Max is sleepin’ in their room tonight. Walter will be downstairs and Raphael is stayin’ in the motor home. They will take the kids to school in the mornin' and I already talked to Chris. He won’t be checkin’ on me. I told him that I was probably goin' to turn in early and that I would be runnin’ late in the morning. She reached into her pocket and handed Standish the keys to her Tahoe. “The tank is full of gas and I have an extra set of keys that I’ll have with me. Now all I need to do is borrow your bathroom so I can change clothes. You can fill Barbara in on our plan while I do that. I want to make certain that I get to Rocky Meadows before Vin gets off work at eight.”
Barbara waited until Kelli had shut the bathroom door before asking. “Well what do I get to do?”
“You, dear lady, will drive Kelli’s truck to the rendezvous point and then keep me company while I, unbeknownst to my crazy partner, keep an eye on her.”
Kelli Tanner, wife, mother, and agent had gone into the bathroom. Blaze Butler, sexy vixen, came out wearing black hip hugger denim jeans that looked as if she had been poured into them. The jeans covered most of the black leather high heeled boots that she wore. That was tame compared to the candy apple red lace tank top with the scalloped neckline that showed more exposed breasts than a playboy bunny. Added accessories were a black sequined belt, hoop earrings, bangle bracelets, and the red ribbons at her waist that obviously belonged to a thong that was barely concealed.
Ezra stood speechless until Barbara exclaimed. “Cool outfit, Kel. I’ll have to try that look the next time Ezra and I go out.”
“Over my dead body, and dead is what I’ll be when Vin sees you walk into that bar dressed like that. Do you have some sort of a death wish woman?”
“Ez, you worry too much. You’re the one that said I needed to make sure that no one suspected me as a Federal agent. “Kelli patted Ezra on the arm. “Besides, Vin won’t be all that upset and even if he is he’ll get over it....eventually.”
“It’s not the eventuality I am concerned about, it is the initial blast. Need I remind you of my brother’s reaction to the little shopping expedition we had for Gina the airhead? The man was ready to rip into every male customer that dared to even look at you in those skimpy outfits. That was when he knew what we were doing. Springing an overly exposed Blaze on an unsuspecting Vin Tanner is the same as drawing a gun on Chris Larabee. Both actions are guaranteed to end with someone’s demise, and in this instance it will probably be mine for helping you to propagate this madness.”
“Don’t worry Ez, by the time Vin gets through yellin’ at me, it won’t be you that he is thinkin’ about.”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Five miles outside of Rocky Meadows, Kelli pulled the rental car off to the side of the road and got out. With gloved hands that covered her red painted fingernails, she opened the hood and with a small knife punctured the radiator hose. Slipping back behind the wheel she started the engine and then took a moment to prepare herself as Blaze. This was not something she would normally do, but getting that evidence and a map of that damn compound for Chris was vital. Knowing also that she could obtain information that may possibly mean the difference between life and death for her husband if needed, had in her opinion, left her with no other options. She also had to assure herself that Vin was okay after this morning’s near disaster for her own peace of mind. Kelli had no illusions about the reactions she would be getting for pulling this unauthorized stunt either. The redhead was confident that her plan would work, but both her husband and father would be furious with her and she was fully prepared to accept whatever consequences came her way.
By the time she reached Rocky Meadows the car had overheated and stalled less than two blocks from Bubba’s Bar and Grill. Blaze reapplied her lipstick, ran her fingers through her hair to give it a wild look, pulled on her form fitting leather coat, grabbed her oversized bag, locked the car, and started to walk toward the bar, which was the only business that was open in this town at this time of night.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado~8:00 pm
Dusty Slater worked at Bubba’s, the same as he did every day from four to eight. Only tonight he was deliberately making extra jobs to do to try and work off some of the anger he had been carrying around all day. Karl Chambers had jumped all over Bellows for his stupidity and had been pleased with the way Dusty had handled himself, but that did little to alleviate the rage that was churning in Vin’s stomach. He had been unable to make a phone call today before coming in to work because most of the senior members of the RMR had come into town to celebrate this morning’s success, so he had no way of knowing how Rain was. If it were not for the fact that he needed to stay in control of himself around this bunch of maniacs, tonight would have been the perfect time to get drunk and say to hell with all of them.
Throwing the last empty box out the back door, he looked around and realized that there was nothing left to do. Apathetically he mentally prepared himself to go up front and join the other members of the RMR that were already in full celebration mode. Dusty pushed open the door and his ears were immediately assaulted by the loud music coming from the jukebox near the dance floor. It wasn’t that he minded country music; but tonight he was in no mood for, Alan Jackson, George Strait, or Garth Brooks. He stood there for a minute to record in his mind who was there and where everyone was positioned. Some members were playing pool or darts; others were just shooting the breeze. He noticed that Karl Chambers had motioned for him to come over to his table and join him, he took a deep breath, hung his coat by the door, and then leisurely ambled over to claim the empty chair that awaited him on the quieter side of the bar. It’s show time Tanner, you had better pack your anger away…for now.
“Slater, take a load off and relax.” Karl pushed a chair out for the younger man that allowed him to sit with his back to the wall and give him a good view of the entire room. “Bubba, bring this man a cold beer! “Chambers yelled above the music. Four other men sat with them, three of which were recruits that Dusty had been training, and Anson made up the forth.
“Rick, we don’t see you too often in here, what’s the occasion?” Anson asked.
“My wife and his…” he indicated the young man next to him. “…are at some kind of baby shower tonight. Karl suggested that we join him and here we are.”
Robert, the third man laughed. “We’ll try to keep you out of trouble then.” He grinned, “But, no promises.”
Dusty fingered his beer bottle absentmindedly, and listened to the young men’s excitement as they talked about the day’s activities. It did not faze them that a woman had purportedly died, and suddenly Dusty was their hero for killing another black heathen. His stomach churned as he tried to block out the sound of the venomous hatred for minorities that dripped off every word they uttered. He wanted to permanently erase the stupid grin that Karl flashed while his young recruits talked about how good it felt to intimidate those ‘damn darkies’. For them to sit here openly and brag about it was nauseating.
Hell Vin, Victor Donner was an evil man, but for him it was all about money. These men spread their hate and violence for the pure pleasure of doing it. Your adversaries here are the good ole boys next door. At least in the real military it was easier to identify your enemies, and they did not try to hide their true selves. Lord it was going to feel good to see these bastards locked up. Hang in there Tanner, only a couple more weeks.
“Dusty, you look like you’re a million miles away.” Rick nudged his arm. “Are you still with us?”
“Yep.” Dusty picked up the bottle of beer and took a swig to clear his mind of Tanner thoughts. It might have worked if the door to the bar had not opened at that precise moment, and he saw a familiar redhead sashay into the room. A feeling of dread rolled over him as his mind ran through several reasons that Kelli would be there; the kids were hurt, Rain wasn’t really okay, Inez had had trouble with the baby, Chris or one of his other brothers was in trouble. Hell, the possibilities were endless. It took every ounce of his self-control to remain seated and to resist the urge to get up, grab Kelli by the arm, and drag her butt out of there. Take a deep breath Vin, and see what’s going on, before you blow your cover. He leaned back in the chair to observe his wife, hoping to get some indication as to why in the hell she was there.
A chorus of wolf whistles filled the room as the other male patrons of Bubba’s caught sight of the sexy redhead that had just entered the bar. They watched as she discarded her coat. Blaze’s hips swung provocatively left to right as she made her way to the bar, oblivious to the collective eyes on her.
Bubba immediately came from the other end of the bar to offer his assistance. “Little lady, what’s your pleasure?” A wide smile creased his grizzled face as he got his first look at the voluptuous curves that had been hidden beneath the black leather jacket.
“Sugar Bear, It’s cold outside; you reckon you got somethin’ hot that’ll warm me up?”
An unidentified voice yelled. “I got just what you need to get warm.”
Bubba scowled at the man and then turn back to the redhead. “You just make yourself comfortable darling, one mug of hot coffee coming right up.”
She gave Bubba a flirtatious smile and asked. “You think you might be able to rustle up some food to go with that?” With his affirmative nod, she gracefully perched herself on the bar stool and pulled out her cell phone. While punching in numbers she deliberately scanned the room as she waited for someone to answer. It was not difficult to find her husband’s searing blue glare that was aimed in her direction. Ignoring him for the moment she turned her attention back to her cell phone.
“Damn,” ‘Robert exclaimed. “I think that I just died and went to heaven.”
“There ought to be a law about wearing britches that tight.” Rick stared. “How in the hell do you figure she got into those jeans?”
“I don’t know, but I can sure as hell help her out of them.” Dusty commented roguishly. He had heard all the comments he cared to about Kelli’s assets and he wasn’t going to wait much longer before he made his move. The sooner he closed the distance between him and his wife, the better he would feel. Once he had her within reach he was confident that anyone that wanted to get to her would have to go through him first and that was not going to happen.
Anson smirked, “In your dreams maybe. Slater, you wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell with a prime piece of ass like that.”
Dusty cocked an eyebrow and drawled. “Care ta put yer money where yer mouth is?”
Ricter pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and laid it on the table. “My money says she won’t give you the time of day.”
Slater placed a hundred dollar bill over Anson’s twenty and grinned wolfishly. “My money says she’ll be givin’ me the rest of tha night.”
“You’re on.” Anson matched Dusty’s wager and they gave the money to Karl to hold. Ricter was confident that he had just made and easy hundred.
“Slater, if you win…I’ll take over your training tomorrow. You’ll need the extra time I think to recover.” Karl laughed. “Anson, if you win…You get the day off, instead.”
Dusty pushed his chair back and lazily made his way across to the room. I don’t know what’s going on baby, but you’d better have a damn good explanation for coming to this hellhole looking like that, and Chris ought to have his head examined for letting you. He knew that Karl and the others were watching to see what he would do and it had to be believable. Walking up to her and dragging her out of the damn bar was not an option, but he was not going to waste too much time playing games.
Still on the phone, Kelli knew when Vin sat down next to her without looking his way. “I don’t care what your damn policy is! You rented me that piece of crap and now I’m stranded in some hole in the wall place that rolled the sidewalks up at dark! I expect you to get me another car and find a place for me to stay until you get it here!” She was listening to Ezra’s laughter on the phone. “You do that! You had better do it damn quick too!” Snapping the phone shut she huffed loudly.
“Problems?” A masculine voice drawled from her left.
“Damn right!” Turning she saw the smile on his handsome face, but it did not match the storm of emotions raging in his blue eyes. “My rental overheated and died about two blocks from here. I was tryin’ to find a service station or garage, but hell, everythin’ around here is closed up tighter than a drum. I reckon I’m lost again, my daddy always said I had no sense of direction, and could get lost in a shoebox. I have friends waitin’ for me to join them for the holidays and now ‘m stuck in … Where in the hell am I anyway?”
Bubba had been listening to the conversation and volunteered an answer, “Rocky Meadows, Colorado.”
“Yeah, well, now the stupid rental car company is givin’ me a hard time. I told 'em to find me some place to stay and they could damn well pay for it! They’re supposed to call me back, but ‘m not holdin’ my breath. Thanks Sugar Bear, “She smiled as Bubba sat a plate in front of her that held a hamburger and some greasy fries. “It’s frustratin’ as hell to try and talk to 'em, and now ‘m not sure what ‘m gonna do. I guess they expect me to just sit in the cold and wait for ‘em and they’ll do somethin' when they get damn good and ready. My name is Blaze Butler, what’s yours?”
Slater was amazed; he did not think he had ever heard Kelli rattle on so much to get to a point. He damn sure was not used to seeing her dressed…or half undressed as she was unless it was just the two of them. “Dusty…”
“Dusty huh, well I hope you’re gonna tell me that there is some place a girl can get a room for the night in this town, ‘cause it looks as if ‘m not goin' anywhere.” Blaze smiled daringly at Dusty. “Course, if that idiot does find me a room, I’ll need a lift. Reckon you could help me secure a warm place for the night?”
“Yep,” Dusty grinned, “I’ll see ta it personally.”
Bubba recognized that the man had just staked a claim on the pretty redhead and watched as Slater proceeded to captivate the young lady’s attention. Dusty and Blaze talked for a long time and it was obvious to anyone watching that it was a cozy conversation. Anson could see his money slipping away as the two of them moved closer together. Karl let Ricter know that as far as he was concerned Dusty had earned a free night and ordered him to leave the man alone. When Blaze received the call she had been waiting for Dusty offered to drive her to the motel where the car company had made a reservation for her and she accepted the offer.
Helping her with her coat Slater winked at Bubba. “See ya tomorrow.”
Vin held on to his anger until they were outside and in his truck. “Kel, you had better tell me that the whole damn unit is out there waitin’ for you! You don’t belong within a hundred miles of these bastards! What is so damn important that you had to come here and what in the hell is Chris thinkin’?”
“Why don’t you start the engine and drive down the street to where my car is to retrieve my bag and I’ll tell you.” Kelli knew that Vin was furious and that he was going to need time to cool off before he was ready to listen to her, but she was willing to wait.
Stopping long enough at the rental to throw her bag in the truck, Vin drove toward the motel that was arranged for her, and was ready for some answers. “I’m waitin’ Kel.”
“First off, everyone is fine. Max, Walter, and Raphael know the truth about what is goin’ on and they are watchin’ the kids. Rain was shaken up, but thanks to you she’s alive and well. As to why ‘m here, you need a way to get out whatever evidence you have collected, and I can get it to Chris. I also know that you cut yourself this mornin’ at that clinic and I had to make sure for myself that you were okay. Besides, even pretendin’ to kill someone you care about has to be hard, and I thought you might need some support!”
“I’m fine! Chris could have sent someone else; you don’t belong around the scum that’s here!” Vin retorted, still angry.
"You don’t either Tanner, but you’re here, so don’t even say that I can’t manage one night when you have to put up with these people everyday!” Kelli hesitated a moment then plunged ahead.” I made the decision to come here after I found out that you had information that could help the team find you if you ran into trouble. Chris didn’t send me; he doesn’t even know that ‘m here, and even if he did there was no one else to send that could get close enough to you without creatin’ suspicion. Beside, me being here is not any different than when you and Buck as Cord and Sam Buchman went to California to check on Chris.”
Tanner pulled off to the side of the road, slammed on the brakes and threw the gear shift into park. “It damn sure is different! You came in alone! Damnit Kel! What if I hadn’t been here? What if they didn’t buy your act? You really think these bastards would care that you’re a woman if they thought you were an agent? Hell no! They’d kill you in a heartbeat and never think twice about it. They teach their own kids that killin’ is okay from the time they’re old enough to listen. Worse yet what if they did buy your sexy siren act? You have no idea how twisted these men think! I’ve a good mind to haul your butt back to Denver and lock you up! What in the hell were you thinkin’?”
“You just rein yourself in Tanner! I knew you were there when I saw this truck. If you weren’t, I would have never gone inside that bar. I broke that damn car, and I could fix it if I had to and drive away! I deliberately dressed this way to make sure they didn’t know I was an agent and even if they suspected it, I am capable of defendin’ myself! I’m not naive either! I know that these people don’t think the way you and I do, and that this was not gonna be a walk in the park. Maybe you think I was careless, but I thought out this plan before I ever considered actually goin’ through with it." She paused briefly to take a breath. "Facin’ a potentially dangerous situation in exchange for possibly helpin’ you was an acceptable risk to me! You don’t want me here fine! Give me the damn map and whatever evidence you have, take me to my truck and I’ll leave!”
Vin leaned back in the seat and sighed. He was not sure himself if it was anger or fear for her safety that had him yelling at his wife. If he was honest with himself, he would have to admit that having her here, even if it was only for a few hours, was exactly what he needed to calm the rage that had been building inside him all day. His emotions had been in turmoil since he realized that Josiah and Rain had been in that clinic today. He also knew that after today there would be no way to keep MCAT out of this, and his efforts to do so had failed. Seeing Kelli walk into Bubba’s and actually talking to the men that he knew were sick sonsofbitches capable of unspeakable actions…well that was something he had not been prepared for.
“Where’s our truck?”
“It’s parked at the motel. The room that Ezra reserved is at the back and our Tahoe is already there. You just need to go into the office and pick up the key for the room. I had hoped we could leave Dusty’s truck there while we drove on to the cabin for the night, but don’t worry about it! You give me the information that Chris needs and you can either stay at the motel alone, or go back to Rocky Meadows!” Kelli was fighting her own emotions, but was determined not to cry in front of Vin; instead she stubbornly clammed up and refused to say more.
Ezra! Of course Standish helped her, I should have known.
Tanner started the truck and then drove to a wooded area not far from where they had been stopped. “Stay here.”
Right Kel, he finally speaks and all he does is issue an order. You knew he would be angry, but this is too damn much.
When Vin returned he had two large packets wrapped in plastic in his hands. Climbing into the driver’s seat he gave them to Kelli. “Stuff these into your bag.” Tanner put the truck into gear and drove on to the motel without uttering another word. Once there he got out of the GMC, went into the office and claimed the key for Blaze’s room. Back in the truck he pulled to the rear of the building and parked in front of room thirty three, and then turned to face his wife. “I want you to haul your sweet ass over to our truck and warm up the engine. I’ll be there in a few minutes, after I give our motel room a used look.”
Vin waited by the door until he was certain that Kelli was in the Tahoe. He looked around expecting to see Ezra because he knew his brother well enough to know that he was somewhere close by. Standish would not leave Kelli on her own unless he was positive that Vin was with her, even if he knew she would throw a fit at the thought of having a baby-sitter. Finally he spotted him parked further down the row of cars in the lot; nodding silently to Standish, he used the key and went inside.
The first thing Tanner did was to turn on the light and head to the bathroom. Turning on the shower he made sure the soap was wet along with a couple of towels he scrunched up and threw on the floor. Back in the main room he turned on the television and rented an adult movie. The bedspread was tossed on the floor and the sheets were rumpled to make it appear that they had been used. Satisfied that it did look as if a couple had spent the night having wild sex in the bed he locked the door and then stuck the key into his pocket.