Chapter 1 - 2 |
Chapter 3 - 5 |
Chapter 6 - 8 |
Chapter 9 - 11
Chapter 12 - 14 | Chapter 15 - 18 | Chapter 19 - Epilogue
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Southern Breeze Ranch
Linda woke up sick again, she had finally given in and gone to the doctor yesterday afternoon, and all he did was take blood and run a test. She made her way to the bathroom and then, managed to get dressed for the day. Deciding she needed fresh air, she walked to the barn and checked on the new foals. Somehow, she had lost track of the time and it was almost eleven when her cell phone rang.
“Your call, your time, starting now.” She loved to throw people off when they called. “Yes, this is her…Oh Dr. Ryder…Are you positive? I mean it has to be a mistake I was…I know that! ...You did? …No, I can come in Friday.”
Linda was staggered by the news the Doctor gave her and in a panic over what she should do.*Oh my God, Linda! Why now? Better yet, what are you going to do about it? Well, calling Chris is out of the question, he is still too angry to listen to you. My brother … No, not yet …Kelli… she owes me and she will listen.*
A vehicle approaching the cabin stirred Kelli from her reading. Knowing that Vin had only planned to spend at a couple of hours with the horses, she thought it might be him. After a quick check, she realized it was Linda. *Dammit, Kel, another one who will want answers that you do not have.*
“I expected you to return my calls!” Linda said the moment she walked into the door. “Especially after all the trouble you caused!”
“The trouble, I caused?” That statement puzzled Kelli.
“Yes and I hope Vin gave you hell because now things here are in one big mess.” Linda was pacing and yelling. “Chris is angry with me because you ran off and now he won’t even talk to me. Of course, I suppose it doesn’t matter to you that my heart is broken and my life is ruined.” She took a breath and then continued, “I don’t know how you do it, because if I did what you did, Chris would still be giving me hell. But, not you, instead of making amends and checking on me, your friend, you get a vacation. While you are up here playing with Vin all day, I’m having a crisis in my life and have no one to talk to about it.” Linda finally stopped her tirade and sat down.
Neither of the women heard Tanner when he returned, but he stood on the porch and listened for a minute. When Linda went on and on, he started to interrupt, but thought better of it and decided to wait it out on the porch swing. He did not like hearing Linda put so much blame on Kelli and he would not hesitate to intercede if necessary, but for now it seemed not to be too serious, just Linda letting off a little steam.
Kelli listened and still had no clue as to what Linda was trying to say. “Linda, I should have called when we returned, but honestly I didn’t feel like talkin’ to anyone. What I don’t understand is why … Chris blames you for somethin’ I did.”
“Since I helped you sneak off he thinks the entire thing is my fault. At first, he didn’t say much, but when Vin got upset with him well, it was all down-hill after that. Anytime Vin is upset with Chris, somebody pays and this time it was me. I was going to give him a day or two to cool down, but for some reason he will not talk to anyone. Inez told me he even refused to have the family come over Sunday. Now I’m afraid it too late for me to tell him …hell, it doesn’t matter he probably wouldn’t care anyway.”
“Linda …” Damn, she hated it when Linda got like this, it could take hours before she knew what the problem really was. “Can we just cut through all the drama and get to the point. How did I ruin your life?”
“Haven’t you been listening? Chris will not talk to me or anyone else, all because you ran off and Tanner got mad. Now instead of waiting for he right time to tell him, there is no right time at all. I’ll just have to leave Denver and have my baby alone.”
Kelli was astounded. “Your what?”
“Baby, you know, little person, infant, I was on the pill and didn’t miss any, but … Chris didn’t want any more children in the first place and as angry as he is now, I can’t tell him.” Linda was close to tears again thinking about the phone call she received only an hour ago from he doctor. “The best thing I can do is get out of his life.”
“You damned sure will tell him! How could you even consider not to? Hell, I always have known you were spoiled, but I did not ever think you could be so damn selfish! All I have heard in the last fifteen minutes is how bad things are for you! What about the child or have you even considered that there is another life involve! I am warnin’ you Linda Catharina Dubois, you tell him or I will! I do not care how long we have been friends, you run away from this and I will never speak to you again!”
Linda stopped her pacing and huffed. “If you hadn’t decided to go off and play in Texas, maybe he would be in the right frame of mind to listen to me. All you had to do was answer the damn phone!”
“You want to know why I stayed in Texas. I’ll tell you, I confronted the woman that gave birth to me, who like you was so damned selfish she didn’t tell my father she was pregnant, but let me be shoved into an overloaded system that had no home to send me to. I found a woman that wants nothin’ to do with me, except use me for spare parts. I found the startin’ point of my road to hell and the missin’ pieces I needed to fit my incomplete childhood together.” Tears started to form in her eyes.
“You always wanted to know what I would not tell you, well let me tell you now! I was abused, Linda, physically and sexually. All those years you thought I was shy. I was terrified to get involved in a relationship. I almost ran away from Tanner when I met him and was afraid to tell him the truth, afraid to open up my emotions that I spent years trying to conceal. Vin’s love convinced me that my fears were unfounded. You also, never knew about the devastating nightmares that plagued me most of my life. The worst part now is, knowin’ that it did not have to be that way, if that bitch had only been truthful! Chris could have made a difference, but he never got that opportunity and now it’s too late!”
Kelli was no longer seeing Linda but her own mother and the price her decision extracted from everyone involved. She was in tears and still shouting angrily at Linda. The Texan had heard Linda’s confession and immediately thought about how this would affect Chris. The man who wanted no more children and now he had two to deal with, one reluctant to face him and another one on the way. He could not help him with the one coming, yet, but he could do something for Larabee’s daughter.
Tanner went inside to give Kelli the support she needed and without a word, he opened him arms to his wife, offering her shelter from her now raging sea of emotions. Then he just held onto her and let her cry. As painful as it was, this is what he had been waiting for. She was venting the anger she had been holding on to and her feelings were coming out in the open. This he could help her deal with, and then maybe she could start to heal from the new wounds Marissa had inflected.
“I didn’t know…I never thought ….” Linda struggled with her words and wanted to do something to ease her friend’s pain. She wanted to wrap her up and protect her, but Vin reached her first. It was then that Linda realized how foolish her jealousies of Tanner had been. He loved, protected and cared for the same people she loved and his connection to Chris did not take away from his love for Kelli *No more than Chris’ love for his brother will take away from you Linda. You wasted too much time resenting Vin. He did for your friend something you could never do and he would lay down his own life for the ones you love.*
“God, Kelli, “You know sometimes I speak before I think things through and I am sorry for laying into you when I came in.” She looked to Tanner, “I have been blind to a lot of things and I’m sorry.”
“We all are blind sometimes, that what makes us human.” Vin acknowledged her apology.
Then another thought struck her, “My father knew didn’t he? Of course, he knew.” Many things were beginning to fall in to place for her. “The only thing that I don’t understand is how Chris could have made a difference, unless, he knew your mother and… No … please tell me Chris isn’t …”
“Chris Larabee is Kelli’s biological father.” Vin supplied her answer. “He didn’t know until Sunday morning.”
Linda thought about Chris’ phone call and the pain she had heard in his voice. *God what he must be going through, Linda and you did not pick up the damn phone. Now your careless words have hurt Kelli, too. Want a mess all because… all because someone else did what you were thinking of doing. You know what you have to do now, don’t you Linda? Chris needs you, whether he knows it or not and you need him so what are you waiting for Dubois?*
“I promise I will tell him about the baby, but now might not be the best time. Chris needs me to be there for him as you are for Kel. Could we maybe keep this new development among the three us of until things settle down some?” Linda was already thinking about the cost of lying and now understood what Chris meant about secrets and lies.*There are no harmless lies are there, Linda?*
“I will have to tell Chris that you know about him and Kelli. But I won’t volunteer more information than that unless he specifically asks or you break your promise, then I will make sure he knows.” Vin answered for both of them. “And, Linda it is up to Kelli and Chris if they want to tell anyone else. Are we clear about that?”
“Yes.” Linda went to give Kelli a hug. “If there is anything I can do I would like to help.” She saw Kelli at least nod her head, “Vin, you take care of her.”
“Count on it.”
Chris had managed to get through this long day somehow. He knew the mess he made last night was waiting for him at home. At least cleaning it up would give him something to do this evening, besides thinking about his failures. Vin had called him and told him about Linda knowing the truth. *Just as well, Chris you were going to push her away, too. Now you do not have to worry about how to do it, she will do it for you.*
When he walked in the door, for a moment he thought he must be in the wrong house. Everything was back in order and he swore that he smelled food cooking in the kitchen. He went to investigate and found Linda.
“What in the hell are you doing here?”
“Making sure you have a decent meal.” Linda gave him her best smile. “I am disappointed that you did not invite me to the bash you had here. You know I love get-togethers and from the look of your living room, you must have had one hell of a party.”
“You need to go home! I can manage to eat without your help.”
“No? What do you mean no?
“I mean no. I am not going home, I came prepared to stay and if you want me out of here, you are going to have one hell of a fight on your hands.” Linda gave him a defiant look. “I will apologize for not being truthful with you and promise it will never happen again. I was wrong and I know it. However, that is the only apology you will get and I have already moved my things back into your bedroom. They are staying and so am I!’
“I don’t want you here and you need to be with Kelli not me!” Chris shouted.
“She has Vin and I will always be there if she needs me, but she doesn’t need me right now, you do.” Linda sighed, “Chris you are the most decent man I have ever known and Kelli knows that, too. Given time, she will come around, right now, she has a lot to deal with, but she has a good man to help her do it. When she gets to the point that she can see you, I will not be the one to tell her you destroyed yourself over this. She has enough misplaced guilt as it is and you will not add to it. I love you and I plan to stay. You want me out then this will have to get ugly because I will not go quietly!” Linda was now standing in front of Chris daring him to try to throw her out.
“Linda, everyone I care about gets hurt if they stay with me, I don’t want you to get hurt, too.”
“Good, then it settled because the only way I’ll get hurt is if you try to push me away. You are stuck with me Chris Larabee, get used to it.” She wrapped her arms around his neck giving him a kiss that carried all the love she had for him. Linda held on refusing to let him go.
Chris was a man that was drowning in guilt and Linda had thrown him a lifeline. He took it and would do his damnest to hold on to it.
Buck Wilmington was ready to hurt someone, and at this point, he did not care who it was. The entire week had been a ride through hell for all of them. They were shorthanded with Katrina at a forensic conference and both Tanners out. They had two cases to work on and just had a third one a third dropped in their lap. Larabee came in, worked in his office all day, left and went home, all without sayin' three words. The entire office felt the tension that radiated from behind Chris’ door.
“Buck, we have to do something, things can’t go on like this.” JD wanted answers the same as the rest of them did.
“I am worried about Chris, I bet he has lost five pounds this week and he obviously is not sleeping much.” Nathan was as puzzled by the turn of event as JD was. “Vin wouldn’t tell you anything?”
“Nope, that mule headed Texan would only say, talk to Chris.” Buck thought about the evening he confronted Tanner at the stables. “He just shrugged me off and shut up, but he did seem… I don’t know... distant.”
“Brothers whatever it is, maybe we should let Chris and Vin work it out between them.” Josiah knew they would not let it go, but felt he needed to try. “This is not the first time they have butted heads.”
“Not like this Josiah, there is something different about this.” Buck could not put his finger on what it was. “Inez told me Linda has moved to the ranch, but she won’t tell her what’s going on anymore than Chris or Vin will.”
“With another case coming up next week we need Vin and Kelli back on the job.” JD was concerned not only for his family but about the team, too.
“Why do you think they both took off?” Nathan asked. “You think she would leave just to support Vin over Chris, if this was no big deal?”
“I think our silent brother over there could tell us more, if he wanted to. Right Ez?” Buck snipped
Ezra sighed; everyday this week it was the same conversation only with a different brother each time. Now it seemed they decided a full company assault was necessary. “Gentlemen, I will only reiterate the words I have said all week. Leave it be and have some patience.”
“I for one can’t do that anymore. We need to find a way to confront both Chris and Vin. This has gone on long enough. Who’s with me?” Buck asked.
With the exception of Ezra, they all agreed and then went to work on a plan of action.
Vin had been at it all day, one project after another and Kelli was ready to scream. One more great idea and she might seriously have to consider throwing him in the lake. Oh she knew why he was doin' it, but that did not change the fact that he was driving her crazy. Finally, she had had enough and sought him out.
“Tanner, we need to talk!” She found him in the kitchen drafting a strategy to rework the cabinets.
Vin laid down the plans he had drawn and gave her his attention. She definitely did not have bedroom talk on her mind. “I’m listening.” He could not imagine what had her so worked up, but he enjoyed watching her, because an annoyed Kelli was always entertaining to him. *Besides Vin, she’s behaving more like her old self and that is a good sign.*
“I love you and I know you want to be here for me, but it has been almost two weeks and I don’t need a full time babysitter. Honestly, I don’t think I can take a full time Tanner, you have done so much this week alone that you are making me tired just watching you.” The grin on the Texan’s face irritated her even more. “I am trying to be serious here and I don’t know why you think this is amusing.”
“I was just thinking about all the little projects you had going when you were home before.” Vin brought her closer to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “It seemed like you always managed to find somethin’ more to do.”
“Vin you need to go back to MCAT. I will work this through and I promise that I will never shut you out again, but you cannot give up the other part of your life to be here with me.”
“Maybe ‘m not ready to go back. I kinda like being here with you.” Tanner kissed her neck and rubbed her back.
“I like that part too.” His overt actions quickened her pulse rate “But you need your work, your family, your brothers and … Chris they are all a part of the man I love. I know that ‘m not ready to go back yet, but you can and you should. You need them as much as I need you. It’s not fair for you to give up a part of who you are for me. Make things right between you and Chris because if I cause you to lose what you have with him then that will only make me feel worse.”
“I won’t lose what I have with Chris, it may be a little bent right now, but it won’t break.” Vin knew that as well as he knew his own name. *You have waited for her to come to this point, Tanner. Kel’s wounded spirit has healed, the rest is up to her now and you have to start mending fences somewhere, might as well be with Lar’bee.* “Tell you what, I’ll think about going back to work, if you help me finish another project before I go tend to the horses.” Mischief danced in his eyes as he unbuttoned her shirt.
“Really, and what project would that be?” A wild rush of desire shot through her body, responding to his touch and the warm look in his eyes.
“This one,” he was in of those moods that she loved so much. Teaching Kelli how to discover the freedom that came with doing things just for the helluva it or on the spur or the moment was one of the gifts that Vin had given her in the last six months. One that she treasured and she always looked forward to the next lesson.
Vin captured her mouth with a sizzling kiss that took her breath away. Teasing her with the promise of more, Tanner was in a playful mood and that was always a pleasurable experience. This one was no different, with the toe of his boot he opened, the refrigerator door and then he grabbed a can of whipped cream. Despite her protest, Vin covered her in whipping cream, but he did not escape payback. She managed to get a fair amount of the stuff back on the mischievous Texan.
In between their laughter, Tanner was able to issue instructions about how to finish this project. “Now we gotta clean up the mess we made.” Between the laughing and loving, it took over an hour before they finally made it to the shower, but it put a new perspective on Tanner’s projects for Kelli.
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst and provide for it.
Tanner was later then usual getting to the horses and Chris had just made it home. The Texan went straight to the barn and broke out the feed for the hungry animals. He started grooming each horse and by the time he reached Peso, he sensed he would be having company. He continued brushing his mount.
“You gonna just stand there or you plan on helpin’.” Vin knew Chris had been there for a while. “Grab a brush, still got two more needs groomin’.” The Texan hid his smile when Chris chose to work on Dancer, Kelli’s horse.
Chris was aware that Vin’s mood had improved and did not see the pain in his eyes that had been there only a week ago. *Go ahead Larabee ask him, you know you want to know.*
“Better, Chris she’s doing better.” Tanner sighed, “It’s gonna take a while, Marissa stirred up memories that were best left in the past and created some new hurts.” Vin looked up and met Chris’ eyes. “She has received all your messages from me and Linda and If it helps you to know, I will tell you this much. She finally lost it last week and let loose a lot of her anger and frustrations.”
“Knowing that is supposed to make me feel good, how?”
“It’s what I have been waitin’ for to happen. She let go of things she had been holdin’ inside and Kel is not angry with you Chris, she’s just hesitant to face you right now. The rejection her…that woman gave her was callous and cruel. Her old defenses took over involuntarily and she moved into self-protection mode.” Vin saw the look in Larabee’s eyes. “Kel’s old spirit is back and she’s gonna be all right, just give her a little more time.”
“I know she’ll be okay, but this patience thing is damned hard,” Chris admitted.
Tanner grinned. “Knowin’ you and Kel, I would say patience is not a strong Lar’bee trait.”
“There is something else I wanted to talk to you about, Vin … I’ve decided that I want to tell the family.” Chris hesitated. “If they know I think they will respect yours and Kelli’s privacy and it might stop them from trying to ‘fix ‘things. Besides Linda knows, they should, too.”
The Texan laughed. “I don’t know about it stoppin’ em, you know how stubborn they are. When do you plan to do it? I’d like to be there, if you don’t mind, you might need me at your back.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.” Chris felt their old relationship shift back in place. “I thought tomorrow I would get them all to come over and tell them, but I want to make sure Kelli is okay with it first. The last thing I would do is something to hurt her more. I want them to know… that while I am not proud of my past moment of transgression, I am proud of her. I am more than pleased to know and to acknowledge that she is my daughter, they need to accept that, too.”
Tanner was sure now that everything would work out somehow. “After I talk to her tonight I’ll let you know what she says. I think that she will probably be okay with it, but don’t count on her being here, not yet.” Vin swore he saw a flash of disappointment in Chris’ eyes, but it was gone just as fast.
“When she’s ready, I won’t push, “They finished up and walked outside.
Tanner smiled, “Just so you know, I’m plannin’ on comin’ back to work Monday.”
“Good, I think Buck will be more than happy to hand the reins back over to you.”
Chris walked back up to the house and Linda met him at the door. One look at his face and she knew that his talk with Vin had gone well.
“What did he say? Is he going to ask her? Does he think she’ll agree?” Linda peppered him with questions.
“Hey, where is all this patience you been preaching to me about?” Chris gave a small smile for Linda’s enthusiasm.”
“I… You’re right, we’ll eat first and then you can tell me everything.” Linda dragged him into the kitchen to eat.
After dinner, they put on a movie and tried to watch it. At least, Linda tried; Chris could not sit still long enough to watch the opening credits. Waiting for the phone to ring had him anxious and he was beginning to lose confidence in his decision.
“You are going to wear a hole in the rug, if you don’t stop walking back and forth on it.”
“Maybe, I should have waited to bring it up, hell this was not such a good idea.”
“It is a good idea and it hasn’t been that long since Vin left, relax Larabee.”
‘That’s easy for you to say. What if asking makes it worse?”
“I know Kelli and she is not naive, she’s knows there is no way to keep this from the rest of the family. The fact that you are giving her a choice about when to do it will make a big difference. Now sit down and be…”
“Patient, I know.” Chris sighed.
When the phone did ring, Chris answered before it rang twice. It was Tanner and though Kelli was uneasy about the family knowing, she agreed it was best to get it over and done. They set a time to meet, but Vin let him know he would be coming alone. Chris made one more phone call to Buck’s voice mail and left a short message. “Family meeting, my place, noon, Linda has already planned lunch for everyone. Let the rest of ‘em know.”
Linda took one look at Chris and knew he would not be sleeping much tonight. “Come on Cowboy, let’s go to bed, tomorrow will be here before you know it. If you can’t sleep I’m sure we can find something to do. She wrapped her arm around his waist and leaned into his embrace.
“I just bet we can at that.” Chris grinned, lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. Once there Linda went to work on keeping Larabee entertained for the evening.
A new cold front moved into Denver last night and it looked like it was going to snow. This was Kelli’s first winter in Colorado and she was not used to this type of biting cold. She did get up with Vin, but piled back under the blankets after only a few minutes.
“What are you gonna do when it really gets cold and the lake freezes over?” Vin laughed when he brought her some hot coffee and sat on the bed with her.” It stays about ten degree colder up here than it does, down on the ranch.”
“You laugh, but I noticed you’re wearing a few more layers of clothes this morning, too” She snuggled close to the Texan. “I know you must think ‘m acting childish, but I hope you aren’t too disappointed that ‘m not going today.”
“Childish? The Texan laughed,” Kel, you weren’t even childish when you were a child.” Vin waited until she looked up, “I would like for you to be with me, but that’s because ‘m greedy where you are concerned,” he grinned. “I do understand why you want to wait, but I think you are worried about nothin’. I know that bunch and not one of ‘em will see you differently than I do.”
“I don’t know, Tanner, some people have a hard time acceptin’ certain things. They sometime become indignant and tend to misplace their anger. She sighed, and said, “Something like this can change the way people view who you are, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve see it happen.”
“This is family, baby and that makes a difference.” Tanner gave her a reassuring smile. Inside Vin was infuriated with all the ‘decent folks’ that had judged or dismissed her for something, which she had no control over. “Beside, they won’t ask for details.”
“I hope you’re right Vin, but try not to blame them if you’re not. I think they will ask...No. they will demand to know the full truth so you need to be prepared to answer their questions. I know you don’t want to, but I have resigned myself to the idea that you’ll have no choice, tell them what you have to, I trust you to do it right. They will need facts to understand all that has happened and to convince themselves that their infallible Chris is really only human after all.”
Vin realized that she was right, he had seen it himself time after time, normally people had to know everything and were not satisfied with just a few bare facts, But their family was not what most people would call normal. “I hear you, Texas. Now is there anything special you want me to do while I’m there? Something you need from the house?”
“Just check on my horses for me and the foals. I bet they are growing like crazy and Midnight, too. I miss seein’ ‘em.”
“You’ll see them soon, if not there, I’ll work on a barn so we can get them all up here.” Vin promised. “Now if you’re still cold, we need to do somethin’ about it.” The Texan took her cup, put it on the nightstand, and then reached out for her. He brought her close enough to feel her heartbeat against his chest. “I wanna make sure you stay warm enough, while I’m gone,” he smiled. “It just might take a while to make sure.”
Kelli’s soft whisper of “Slow sounds good,” was all he needed to hear. Tanner blanked her body with his and turned up the heat, taking her to their special place.
Linda stayed busy all morning making sure lunch was just right. Chris tried to help, but he was restless and concerned about the upcoming family meeting. Finally, she told him to go do something with the horses just to keep him busy. Vin arrived early and found Linda in the kitchen.
“Morning Linda and before you ask, she’s okay.” Since the day Kelli had told Linda everything, she and Tanner were getting along much better. In fact, they had spoken several times in the last few days, each keeping the other updated on any progress toward reconciliation between father and daughter.
“Vin, I’m glad you are here, Chris is in the barn and in a very anxious mood. Would you see what you could do about it before the family arrives?”
“On my way.” Tanner grinned as he snatched two sandwiches off the tray Linda was preparing. She almost managed to slap his hand, but the sharpshooter was too quick.
In the barn, Vin found Larabee grooming Pony. “You gonna eat both of those or share?” Chris looked up and took one of the sandwiches from Tanner.” How did you manage to get away with them? I though Linda was standing guard over all the food.”
“Talent and practice, Cowboy,” Tanner felt the tension radiating from Chris. “You know we could just saddle up, ride out and forget the whole thing, if you want.”
“It shows that much? Hell Vin, I feel the same way I did the day I was waiting for Adam to be born.”
Vin laughed, “If it helps, you already know this one is female, redheaded, 5’ 5”, with her shoes on and 120 lbs, sleeps through most nights and doesn’t need formula. However, she does have one hell of a temper when pushed, hates cold weather, has a tendency to forget puttin’ on her shoes and does not have a problem speakin’ her mind. She also thrives on junk food, is fond of iced tea, likes my coffee and she has roped herself a Texan that loves her.”
Chris shook his head and then laughed. “Thanks, I guess I needed another perspective and in case I forget to tell you, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Now, grab a brush and help me finish.”
Ezra was the first to arrive at the house because he wanted to be there to support Chris and Vin. After yesterday’s conversation in the office, he thought the other brothers might still be a little aggravated. He did not have to wait long to see that he was right. The rest of the family arrived at he same time and it was obvious that Buck remained irritated, even more so, when Sarah and Maria ran to meet their two favorite uncles.
“I guess we know what this family talk will be about,” Buck huffed. “Obviously, Vin has been forgiven for whatever he did, Tanner is back in Larabee’s good graces and that is all that counts for Chris!” Now maybe he will stop making us pay for it!
“Buck, shut up!” Ezra grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. “I suggest you take your large foot out of your big mouth and listen for a change. You need to stop being so damned judgmental, until you hear the facts! “
Wilmington stared in disbelief at the southerner and his uncharacteristic outburst. ”All right, I’ll stay quiet, but they better have a damn good explanation!”
Vin lifted Maria onto his shoulders and watched his friend with little Sarah. Larabee was hesitant at first to take her, but did so at the child’s insistence for a hug from her Uncle Chris. A fresh wave of guilt passed across the blonde’s face and Vin knew he was thinking about Kelli at that age.
“Don’t go there Chris, don’t lose yourself seein’ a child that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve already tried that rocky road and it doesn’t help. Look at the woman she is today, be grateful she survived and that you still have a chance to be in her life.
Chris studied the Texan, for a moment and then saw the certainty of his statements etched in his blue eyes. With a tilt of his head, he acknowledged his understanding and then lifted Sarah onto his shoulders as well. Her squeal of delight brought a smile to the older man’s face. “Let’s go eat.”
With the exception of the children, lunch was a quiet affair. Everyone had questions that they wanted answers for, but by silent agreement, they would wait until the babies finished eating and went down for their naps. Soon it was time to explain and Chris called them together, thinking that this would not take long.
Larabee took a deep breath and began. "You've all been wondering what's wrong ever since Kelli disappeared on us. It wasn't her disappearing act, it was that she met with her birth mother and finally found out who her father was."
Chris faltered when the time for an explanation came and looked at Vin, who nodded. “Let me finish.’ He waited for everyone to quit talking. “Turns out that her mother was one of the many girls I dated at college. That first year, I... dated a lot. Didn't think about it, just had fun. Some fun!" he said bitterly. “Kelli paid the price for that fun and yes… she is my daughter. I am very proud of that and I want you all to know that! It is hard on Kel though because her mother never told me, she just... abandoned her.”
There was silence at first and then as they realized the meanings of Larabee’s words, the questions began.
“Why would you and Vin fight about it?” Buck wanted to know, while he mentally reviewed Chris’ words from the last two weeks.
“Kelli is twenty-seven and you are forty-four add nine months and... no it couldn’t be.” JD did the math. “Chris that has to be a mistake, for that to be true you would have had to go to college at…sixteen years of age and your records say you were eighteen.”
“Just where is Kelli?” Casey asked. “She should be here, shouldn’t she?”
“Does this have anything to do with her running off in Texas?” Buck again. “Does she think you are not good enough to be her father? Doesn’t she know you well enough by now to know how fortunate she is?”
“What kind price are you referring to, Chris?” Rain was confused about that. “She seems as if she did okay, and she has too much self-confidence to have had a really bad life.”
‘What about her age?” JD knew it had to be a mistake. “Even if it were true she couldn’t blame you for something you didn’t know. What kind of proof do you have?”
“ENOUGH!” Vin looked at Chris before he spoke. “You know Kelli told me this mornin’ y’all would react this way and I told her she was worried about nothin’. This was family and all that you needed to know was that she was more than my wife and that you would accept the rest without question. She also said I would have to give you more information, I told her she was wrong and I owe her an apology for that.” He turned to Larabee, “Chris she told me to tell ‘em if they asked, but it’s your call.”
Chris hesitated only a moment. “The only person to blame here is me! All this guilt, pain and anger started with my irresponsibility and I'm sorry you all got caught in this as well. But, honestly, all you need to know is that Kelli and I still have to work on this, that she needs time and space. That means I need to practice patience and so do all of you. Vin and I have come to terms about what is important and any more information is frankly none of your damn business! Oh, and JD, she is 25.”
“If I may,” Ezra stood, “I have faith that this family can get through most anything and I want Chris, Vin and Kelli to know that they have my full support and that I will respect their wishes. The hurtful things I witnessed in Texas I pray will only be left where they belong and that is in the past.”
“Brothers, if Mallory and I can help in any way we’re here.” Josiah spoke for the first time.
“It’s not that important about age anyway, whatever Casey and I can do just ask.” JD still was not sure he understood, but he would be there for his family.
“Rain and I are here, too, for all of you.” Nathan added their support, realizing it was a delicate position for them to be in and it would take time to work through the emotional side of this situation.
“You know Inez and I will do whatever we can and I’m sorry I pushed so hard. This must not be easy for any of you.” Buck took his foot out of his mouth.
“Vin, when will it be okay to see Kelli? She has a few sisters here that are willing to be there for her.” Inez spoke for all the women.
“Thanks Inez, I will tell her what you said, check with Linda, she will know when.” Vin answered. “Now if everythin’ is okay here, I want to go home and be with Kel.”
*You let her know, Vin. Let her know she has family waiting for her when she is ready.*
The two men looked at each other. Vin nodded and then they both smiled. The first genuine smile anyone had seen on Chris' face ever since this all started.
*Chris, it will work out, you'll see.*
After Tanner left, the rest of family stayed, once Chris made his announcement the previous tension vanished and they were ready to help any way they could.
“Old friend, you are just full of surprises, congratulations.” Buck slapped Chris on the back.
“Don’t congratulate me for messing up so many lives, or haven’t you noticed that being related to me is not exactly good for your health.” Chris shook his head and walked off.
All the brothers, who then decided they would have to interfere after all, heard Larabee’s comment.
*Christopher has accepted the bitch as his own, all the better for my plan. It will be so much sweeter for him to know he is responsible for the death of another one of his children. The more he cares, the more he suffers and that Larabee is the name of my game.
When the time comes, Christopher, I will make sure you do not miss a thing. Hell, I will even videotape it so you can watch it constantly. I promise it will be painful for you .Painful and never-ending*.
Most of the change we think we see in life is due to the truths being in and out of favor.
Larabee 7- Sunday morning
“Linda, I don’t mind helping and besides I thought we would have the day together.” Chris was exasperated because it was still early and his day was already off to a bad start.
“I could be tied up for hours on a conference call with my brothers and I really want to see for myself that my ranch is prepared for the expected snow.” Linda pulled him closer, “Just keep your motor running Cowboy, I’ll be back before you know it.” After a kiss full of promise, she was gone and Chris was alone for the day.
Thirty minutes later Buck was there with both daughters in tow, Sarah ran to her Uncle Chris and waited for him to lift her. He took one look at her and could not refuse. “Come on little one.” The baby giggled as Chris swung her in the air.
“Chris I need your help, Inez isn’t feeling too good and Mallory offered to take the girls for the day, but with the new baby these two might be too much for her. So I’m leaving Sarah here with you, dropping Maria off with Mal and then going home to take care of Inez. Here’s her stuff and I’ll be back later for her, thanks.” Buck set the little pink bag down and left before Chris could protest.
Little Sarah waved bye-bye to her Dad and then gave Chris a hug. “I wuv you.” she said, “This much.” She then extended her arms to show him and almost toppled over, but fortunately, Larabee’s reactions were quick, easily catching the child. “Want down, now.” The little Wilmington was ready to play and for the next hour kept Chris so busy, he did not have time to think about guilt.
JD arrived during the middle of ‘playtime’ and had to smile. Sitting there on the floor was badass Larabee, playing dolls with the little munchkin. Dunne joined them and swore he saw Chris blush at being caught in the act. “I guess I need to practice, maybe you can teach me a few things Chris.” JD just laughed at the glare sent his way.
“What do you want JD?” Chris growled.
“Well, you are one of the smartest men I know and I need some advice.” JD said, “With two girls coming, I’m starting to get scared.”
Chris saw a shadow of fear cross JD’s face. “Everything is okay with them and Casey right?”
“Yeah, they are all fine, it’s just… I’m worried Chris… What if I’m not a good enough Dad? How do I know all the things I need to? How do I know I can always be there for them? What if I can’t?” JD said anxiously.
“Relax, you’ll learn as you go and you’ll do fine. As for the other, you can waste a lot of time worrying about what if….” Chris suddenly stopped. *Listen to yourself Larabee. Isn’t that what you have been doing?*
“Are you okay, Chris?”
“Yeah, I just… You have to concentrate on the here and now JD, do what you can and know that it doesn’t matter how big they get, you still fret over them.” *You still have time, Chris to make a difference.* “Just love and guide them and you’ll do okay.”
“Thanks, Chris, I feel better,” JD smiled.
*Me too, Kid.* Chris thought as another Barbie doll landed in his lap. “Sarah, are you hungry?” The toddler shook her head yes. “JD, your on the job training starts now, watch her while I fix lunch.”
After lunch Sarah took a nap and JD went home, Chris was surprised when Nathan stopped by just to chat. “Hi Nate.”
“Chris,” Nathan was uncomfortable. “I don’t want to pry, but whatever is between you and Kel… Do you mind if Rain and I still keep in contact with her?”
“Why would I mind? I do not want any of you to have to take sides. This isn’t a war and I’d like her to know that the family cares.” Chris smiled, “I appreciate your support but I’m okay with it, really.”
“Good, you know you’re lucky not every one gets a chance like this. You get more family and she gets a father for the first time.” Nathan laughed, “I bet that is what’s so scary for her, she has Chris Larabee as a blood relative and now she doesn’t know what to do with you. It’s a whole new area for her, you just show her what having a dad means and she will come around.”
“Thanks Nate.” *Just show her what having a dad means.* “Tell Rain to hurry with that baby, he’s got a great father waiting for him.”
Josiah came by with Maria about two o’clock to pick up her sister and take them home. He found Chris and Sarah playing hide and seek, and little Sarah was winning.” Afternoon Brother,” he grinned and questioned, “Having fun?”
“As a matter of fact, yes I am.” Chris smiled “The young lady and I have had a very pleasant day and it was very enlightening.”
Sanchez smiled and hoped that their plan had worked. ‘Enlightening?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure until Nathan stopped by and then I realized what all of you were doing, but it worked. “Chris grinned, Ezra tried to tell me, but I wrapped myself up in guilt and did not listen. “I just need to be a father again and leave the past where it belongs. Isn’t that the message?
“Something like that. You know that given the circumstances that could be easy to overlook. Don’t feel bad that it took you a while.”
“Tell them all thanks and now I know what I need to do.”
A blanket of white covered Denver and Monday morning arrived quickly. Vin was in early to catch up on last week’s work and was surprised to see Buck standing in the doorway hesitant to enter.
“Come on in Buck, I‘ve had my coffee so I won’t bite.” Tanner waited for Wilmington to sit down. “What brings you in so early?”
“I thought it would be easier for you, if I helped you get caught up and…” Buck was uncomfortable. “I owe you an apology, dammit. I did what I usually do when family is concerned and jumped to a bunch of wrong conclusions about you and Chris. I’m sorry.”
“Forget it, Buck. Let’s just move on.” Vin smiled, “But if it makes you feel better you can finish all this paperwork you left for me.”
“Hell, I’m just glad you’re back to ride herd on this bunch.” Jointly they had most of it done before the other agents arrived and the Texan was up to date on all their current work. They walked out of Tanner’s office together and the workday began.
“Welcome back Tanner, hope you had a good vacation. I can’t wait to hear about it, but I haven’t seen Kelli yet to ask her.” Katrina smiled, “Is she on her way in?”
“Actually, Kat, she’s takin’ a little more time off, but she’ll be back soon.” *You hope Vin.*
“Oh, well tell her hello for me and to get her butt back in here, she’s played long enough.” Kat laughed and went back to her own paperwork.
“Hey Vin, where’s Chris this morning?” JD asked.
“Meetin’ with Travis.”
JD hesitated, “Then could I talk to you for a minute, in private?”
“Sure, let’s go in the office.” Once inside Vin realized JD was anxious about something. “Just spit it out JD.”
JD swallowed hard, “You can yell at me or not speak to me …I was curious about Chris’ remark concerning Kel’s age and I…uh I did some digging on my own and well, I know why her age is different on her records. I should have just left it alone, I know, but …I did kinda do something… I made you a copy first. … Aw hell, Vin, I blocked it all, that’s not the stuff people need to know anyway. “JD handed him a folder. “If you want me to put it back I can, but I was angry when I read it and didn’t want just anybody to be able to access something that should be private.”
Vin flipped through the folder, which contained copies of some of the old medical and police reports that he had already found. They were not the worst ones, but it was still more detailed proof of the abuse Kelli suffered as a child than he was comfortable knowing was on the Internet. The Texan studied JD for a minute, “How easy was this to get?”
“It wasn’t easy, but somebody that knows the correct program could get it if they wanted to and that isn’t right. If she wanted people to know I reckon she would tell them. I didn’t want to see you or her hurt more if somebody else … I didn’t break any laws I just made sure it was inaccessible.”
“Thanks JD, appreciate it.” Vin thought for a minute. “There is one more thing you can do, if you’re willin’.” The last piece of the puzzle was still out there and it needed to be finished.
“Just name it, if I can do it, I will.” JD was relieved that Vin forgave his snooping.
Tanner wrote something on a piece of paper and gave it to JD, “This is all I have on this guy, a name, he was in the Austin area twenty two years ago and is most likely a child predator, I haven’t had any luck on it but I want to locate him. Whatever you do find out come to me with it, okay.”
“You got it and Vin, tell Kel …well tell her Casey and I want her there when the babies comes regardless of how things work out with her and Chris.”
JD had been gone about ten minutes when Nathan stuck his head in the door and asked Vin for a minute.
“I wanted to make sure you and Kel, were taking extra care, stress can make you ill and you two have probably had too much of that lately.” He sighed, “Also Rain and I want to make sure you both will be there when the baby comes. What ever happens with Chris, you and Kelli are family and we want to share that time with you,”
Vin nodded, “Thank Nate. We are doing okay, I take care of her and she takes cares of me, but I appreciate the concern.” The Texan smiled and wondered who would be next, he did not have to wait long to find out.
“What can I do for you Ez?”
“I have a dilemma that perhaps you could assist me with. I find myself committed to entertaining a woman this evening, one that I do not know very well. Would you and Kelli consider joining us for dinner and dancing? I will of course make all the arrangements and you are welcomed to stay at my townhouse to avoid a late night drive home in this weather, if you wish.”
Tanner laughed at the obvious attempt to distract them for a while. “You have a blind date and want us to run interference for you.”
Ezra sighed, “In a word, yes.”
“I’ll check with Kel and let you know, but a night out might be just what we need.” Vin was fairly certain that the Southerner knew that and set this up for that reason. *Four down and one to go, Tanner.*
It was almost an hour later when there was another knock at Tanner’s door.
“Come on in, Josiah.”
Sanchez entered, “Just wanted to see how you are doing.” Josiah sat down before he spoke, “Being in the middle, between two people you care about can be complicated. Sometimes it helps to talk about it.”
Vin sighed. “Josiah, ‘m doing okay, I just… I just want things back to normal.”
“That’s not possible because the old normal doesn’t exist anymore. That does not mean that it will not work, it just means it will be different. Often that difference is the scary part, brother.”
Tanner sat up straighter as Josiah’s word sunk in. *Damn, Tanner that is it, you should have thought of that yourself. Kel’s not afraid to face the past she’s done that all her life, it’s the uncertainty of the future that has her concerned.* “Thanks Josiah, you may not know it but you gave me just what I needed, appreciate it.”
“Anytime,” Josiah walked out with a smile on his face and left Vin to his own thoughts.
Tanner was lost in thought, *Chris is not infallible…only human …resigned myself …seen it happen before…. Vin, she doesn’t blame Chris and she has dealt with what happened in Texas. She just does not want to see changes happen. She wants Chris to see her as she really is, as he did before, not changed by a piece of paper. But will it change? Will things be different? If it does, what can you do about it? Could she accept it? Could you? You had better make sure you are right first Tanner.*
Vin was so deep in thought Chris called his name three times before he responded. “What? Oh…How did the meetin’ go?”
“Back one day and you’re already gone again. You okay?” Larabee was not able to sense what Vin was thinking.
“Yeah, it was just something Josiah said. So what does Travis want now?”
Chris had hoped Vin would share whatever had him so distracted, but he didn’t. “He’s satisfied with most things, but he has decided we need an administrative assistant and in fact has already found us one, she starts next Monday.”
“Great, I swear this stack of paperwork grows by the hour. Most of it‘s done though, thanks to Buck’s help. I sent Justin and Paul over to the courthouse to pick up the offense reports you wanted. Everyone else is working on his or her assignments and Pam has CASSIE workin’ on background for that new case. The briefin’ is set for tomorrow at ten and all parties have been notified.”
“Damn, you have been busy.”
“That’s what you pay me for isn’t it?” Tanner grinned. “You got somethin’ else on you mind, you might as well say it.”
“I’ve been thinking about Kel coming back to work and I’m not convinced that it is a good idea,” Chris explained, “I’m going to give her a recommendation for another assignment.”
That statement sure got Vin’s attention. “She’s a good agent Chris. Why would you want to transfer her somewhere else?”
“I know that, but now… I just do not want her in a position where she could get hurt.” Chris held up his hand. “I know, we talked about this before and I am aware of how you feel about it, but you were right about one thing, she is like me Vin and that is why I want her off the street. Hell, you should be glad; this way you only have one stubborn Larabee to worry about.”
“She would never agree to it and would quit first.” Of that, Tanner had no doubt.
Chris walked to the window, “That might be better anyway. Hell, then she could stay home, work with the horses and have those babies you both want.
Vin could not believe what he was hearing. Larabee had gone into full protective mode and wanted her to fit into it somehow. “Chris, she is the same person now as she was before she went to Texas.”
”No she’s not Vin, she’s my daughter now and it’s my responsibly to look out for her interest. If getting her off the street will keep her safer, what is wrong with that?” Chris turned to face the younger man. “I couldn’t protect her before, but I can do something now.”
“You have a problem with her work, transfer her, but If you want to make this personal, just to appease your guilty feelin’s you need to find another way. Any decision about changing careers or starting a family will be discussed between us and you will have to accept that you have no say-so in it.” Vin was more than concerned about Larabee’s new attitude.
“As her father I have already decided that she needs to be in a safer place and as unit commander I have the right to ask for her resignation. Kelli’s place on this team is now open and we start looking for a replacement. End of discussion.” Chris walked out.
*Guess that answers your questions Tanner, you now have mother-in law-problems, only this mother is a green-eyed blond cowboy that evidently has run out of patience and good sense. Damn! You just figured out the problem with one Lar’bee and the other one goes off the deep end. Josiah was right; being in the middle of two Lar’bees is damned complicated. So now what Vin? Maybe It’s time to let them square off and battle it out between themselves.* Vin opened his desk drawer to look for some aspirin, he felt a headache coming on.
The insistent ringing of the telephone had Vin awake and a glance at the clock told him it was 5:00 am.
“Tanner,” He yawned, “Chris do you know what time it is? … No, I didn’t, we had a late night and … If you must know we went out to dinner and then dancin’ afterward. … Yeah, I know what the weather was last night we were in it! … Of course we did! …” Vin sighed and counted to ten. “We’re fine, what do you need? … I’ll take care of that. … Maybe we should hold off on those other interviews and discuss it some more. ..Dammit, I know you can...it’s just … Fine! … You do that! ... .No., I can handle it! …I know how to do my job and I can damn sure take care of my own!” He slammed down the receiver hard.
“Go back to sleep Kel, I need to go in early and change some things for a meetin’ we have today. *Then I need to find a big brick to knock some sense into a certain Cowboy. Damn Vin he’s actin’ like you’re both two years old.*
“Think I’ll get up and make coffee while you get dressed. I don’t want to miss seeing it snow some more.” Kelli saw very few snowfalls in South Texas and was fascinated with the white stuff that actually stayed on the ground. She stopped to kiss him good morning. She wanted to make sure that he knew she found him more interesting than a little bit of snow, so she turned on her own form of heat. When she whispered huskily in his ear, he forgot all about his irritation with Chris.” Stay home and I’ll make it worth your time.”
“Damn woman, you are becoming a sassy wench,” He kissed her one more time. “I gotta go in, but I’ll make it up to you when I get home.” It took all the strength he had to tear himself away from her because what he wanted was to drag her back to bed and make wild passionate love. Instead, he gently pushed her away, gave her a swat on the backside and enjoyed watching her sashay into the kitchen, wishing that he could stay home and play.
Smiling, Vin shook his head in wonder thinking about how far they had come, his reserved wife had turned into a playful imp, both inside the bedroom and out. Last Sunday they both had acted like kids playing in the snow. He yelled loud enough for her to hear him, “If the forecast is right, baby, you won’t miss seein’ it snow.”