Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 8 |
Chapter 9 - 13 |
Chapter 14 - 17 |
Chapter 18 - 22
Chapter 23 - 28 | Chapter 29 - 34 | Chapter 35 - 39 | Chapter 40 - Epilogue
Chris was sure Monday morning would never arrive. The horses had repeated their great escape again on Sunday evening and they had resorted to using chains and padlocks to keep them in. Larabee was on his way to meet with Travis and welcomed the sanity of work.
Good Morning Chris. I hope you had a relaxing few days off. Travis greeted him.
Im just glad to be back at work. Chris would not share how stressful the time off really was.
Let get down to business and we can be through by lunchtime. Orrin was ready to get started.
That will be fine with me. Chris settled in to work.
When they finished it was time for lunch. Larabee arrange to meet the boys at the Standish Tavern. His head ached with thoughts of things they had to accomplish quickly. Everyone was there when he arrived and Tanner had ordered for him.
Everythin go okay, Cowboy? Vin asked.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it is doable. Our first joint meeting of agents will be Thursday. In the mean time, we will meet with everyone individually to get things rolling. Chris reached for some chips.
It sounds like things will move fast, Buck observed, digging into the salsa.
The office records are ready to be transferred and we can have things set up within a few hours of moving. JD reported, pleased with himself, for getting it done so quickly.
You will have some extra help; Pamela Reed is a computer expert and will be assisting with the transition, informed Chris. Before you ask, JD, she is very experienced and might even be able to teach you a few things.
I looked over the gun range scores and think we need to update. If I need to find us a backup for me I want to be sure. Vin was meticulous about accuracy. I want everyone on the gun range, to record new scores.
Is there a problem Vin? Larabee asked, concerned that they might have already hit a snag.
Not really, but some of theses scores are old and I wanna work with current and accurate numbers. Tanner replied and was thinking about all the things that still needed to be accomplished.
Do it. Set it up for tomorrow and include everyone. Larabee raised his hand and continued. We all have to be re-certified anyway so dont complain.
Their lunch came and conversation was at a minimum until their hunger was satisfied. Then the questions started again.
What do we know about the new people coming in? Nathan asked.
We know they are good or they would not have been considered and three of them are women. Chris offered, that was the best he could offer for now.
The next few weeks should prove very interesting. The medic answered.
I really want to do this only one time so hold your questions until the joint meeting on Thursday. Larabee requested.
When they were finished, Tanner reminded them to meet at the range. He had called and reserved it for 8:00am.
Coulters Place - Monday Evening
Tripping over an open box, Kelli just made it to the phone. Her instructions were to be on the gun range at eight in the morning. Great, here we go again. New bosses always want to start on the gun range. Is it so hard for them to accept that a woman might shoot as well as a man? Guess it is, Coulter but you have been here before.
Firing Range - 8:00 a.m. - Tuesday Morning
Everyone was early because they wanted to observe the new transfers as they came through the door. Chris and Vin were in the office selecting the order of the shooters. I made these for you guys, thought you would want the information. JD handed out a sheet to all the old team seven members. Transfers:Samuel Reed is married with twins, a boy named Marcus and a girl named Martha. He is 61 green eyes 175lbs and dark brown hair. Sam has an extraordinary record most of which is classified. He was educated in the military and a former Navy Seal; he is 34years old and has worked with the CIA. He has a born in Georgia and proud of it. He speaks German and Arabic.
Pamela Walton is 30 years old and was born in Arizona. She is Native American and has long black hair, black eyes, is 57 and weighs 133lbs. She is a computer genius and has recently done programming for the Justice Department. She set up a new system to stop information leaks in the witness protection program. Earning a masters degree in computer science at the University of Arizona she went directly from school to working for the State Police.
Katrina Santos was born in New Mexico and is 31 years old. Her father was a police officer killed in the line of duty. His partner adopted her at age nine and with her new family she gained five brother and four sisters, she is single, 55tall and 130 lbs. Katrina is a certified medic. Kat for short has dark brown hair and brown eyes. After leaving the State University, she trained and worked for the Taos Police Department for four years. The next four years, she worked with the DEA and speaks Spanish and Cherokee.
Kelli Coulter from Texas is 27 years old. No early information is available. She is 55tall, 125 lb, dark red hair and blue eyes. She attended the University of Texas and Louisiana State University and has a degree in criminology. Trained with New Orleans PD. Moved back to Texas and worked for the Governors office on a State Task force. Coulter also participated in joint operations with DEA. She is fluent in Spanish.
Thanks JD now we at least know who to look for. Buck was impressed with JDs efforts. Pamela Walton and Sam Reed were the first to arrive and were welcomed by the other team members. JD immediately engaged Pamela in computer talk. Josiah wanted to compare notes with Sam. Katrina Santos came in next and wasted no time introducing herself to everyone.
It looks like our other team member will be late, Nathan noted it was five minutes to eight.
That would not be a competent way to get in Mr. Larabees good graces Ezra started to say more when in walked the team member in question. Chris walked in at the same time.
Welcome to MCAT. I am Chris Larabee, Unit Commander. To my right is Vin Tanner, Squad Captain. I trust you have introduced yourselves to one another. If not, do so before we leave today. We will qualify by teams and for today, we will have our new members with Agent Sanchez and the others with Agent Tanner. We will qualify on targets with Tanners team going first.
Kelli could not believe this man was here, concentrating on business was not going to be easy. Focus, Coulter, he is only one man. She had never let a man interfere in her work before and was not going to start now.
Before we start, you should know Agent Tanner is a qualified firearms instructor and can help you if you need it. Do not hesitate to ask, we are all in the same unit and should support each other. Josiah instructed. There were numerous smiles and chuckles around the room. Vin Tanner was not only qualified, he was the best in the west or anywhere else. Tanners team scored an average of ninety-eight percent accuracy with Tanner at 100%. There was a lot of backslapping and grinning among the members of the team. They still had it.
Josiahs team was up next. Vin came over to watch and stood next to Coulter. The last person he expected to see here was this woman. Focus, Tanner, she is only one female.
Kelli really tried to ignore him but it was not easy. Hard not to notice his hands, long slender fingers and the man moved like a cat, graceful and sleek. He had blue eyes that held enough fire to melt a glacier. Stop! Since when do you let a man affect you like this?
When the team finished they averaged a score of ninety-seven percent accuracy. I want the new agents to stay and the rest of you have you assignments, Vin ordered. Yall meet Agent Larbee in the range office in fifteen minutes.
During the break, the four agents became acquainted. When Katrina said she was staying in a motel and had been unable to find a decent place, Coulter had an idea. I just moved into a new place and if youre interested we could room together. Kelli offered. You can come over after work and check it out. Kel, you need to socialize and now is a good time to start.
Great, I think I will. Katrina liked her and thought they would get along. She took down directions and arranged to meet after six.
Larabee was ready to start this meeting and the four agents were sitting around the room. Tanner was leaning against the doorframe.
I will make this short. Tomorrow our new office will be ready to move into and you will all be there to help. You will each have a scheduled time for a private interview. Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m., I expect everyone to be ready to work. If you have any challenges and to get your schedule, see with Agent Tanner. Chris wasted no time with details.
Vin stepped up with a clipboard and called for everyones attention. He read off the scheduled interview times for the next day.
Reed, Samuel - 9:00 a.m.
Walton, Pamela - 10:00 a.m.
Santos, Katrina - 11:00 a.m.
Coulter, Kelli - 1:00 p.m.
Youre expected to be in the office no later than 8:00 a.m. and tomorrow yall will be issued new cell phones and pagers. Vin dismissed the group. The new agents exited the office silently and Vin stood in the doorway watching them. She noticed you Vin Its only your imagination Tanner and Vin your talking to yourself again. Damn!
Kelli was the last to leave, when she reached the door, she turned and caught something in Tanners captivating blue eyes. Coulter could not quiet identify what it was but the intensity of his gaze would stay in her memory.
Vin re-entered the office and shook his head. Tanner, you had better watch yourself.
+ + + + + + +
Later that evening, Kelli showed Kat around the townhouse and Santos agreed that it would be a great place to share and they could even carpool to work. They found common ground on many issues.
If you like horses, I spend most of my free time with mine. Kellie said, I keep em at a friends ranch and youre welcome to come with me when I go.
Try and stop me. Katrina grinned.
Kelli went with her to pick up her things from the motel.
That Evening - Larabee Seven
The night sky was alive with brilliant stars and the nights were still cool. Standing on Larabees deck, the view was unobstructed. Vin was relaxed and in a reflective mood. By nature, he was a cautious man and found it disturbing he was thinking so much about someone he barely knew. Tanner certainly did not believe in love at first sight, but as for fate and destiny, he held respect. Okay, whatever it is, bring it on, m ready.
Chris watched his brother work through his feelings. He then realized, that for the first time in a long time his own thoughts were taking a turn to a direction, he had not have believed possible. Larabee had resigned himself to the fact that he would not have another committed relationship after Sarah died and now he was rethinking his options.
Both men sat in a comfortable silence and did some serious soul searching.
The twelfth floor was in chaos, the only thing complete was Larabees office and that was questionable. Boxes were stacked against the wall, labeled, but out of order. Nevertheless, with almost a dozen dedicated agents on the job it would be in order in no time. Chris Larabee walked in on this mess and was not a happy man. Surveying the room, he made a decision. We will have the interviews in my office and order lunch in. This office will be functional by the end of the day or no one leaves. With that announcement, he disappeared into his office.
You heard the man, lets get started. Vin pushed them to get busy.
Everyone grabbed a box and tried to put them in the appropriate place and within the hour, the agents had a space to work. JD and Pamela were busy setting up all the computers. Larabee and Tanner spent the next three hours in interview sessions. By eleven, they were ready for a break. Entering the bullpen, they heard JD telling jokes to the new agents.
So, have you heard the one about the three legged dog? JD was ready to tell it as groans sounded around the room.
JD, we expect them to stay, not be run off by your lame jokes. Buck grabbed the kid by the neck and pretended to strangle him.
Brother Dunn, your jokes are not funny. Josiah tried to explain above the laughter.
Larabee smiled at the antics of his friends. He also kept his eye on his new agents, looking at his watch, he told Ezra to get the orders for lunch thinking this would be interesting to watch. Just as he expected, his brothers had a lively discussion about what kind of food to order.
Lord, if I have to stand in stead for a waitress at least cooperate for once. Ezra complained.
Enough, Ez, deli sandwiches and a few salads will be fine. Chris reluctantly put an end to it all.
Buck decided to assign the pagers and cell phones while they waited for lunch.
Tanner called Coulter in the office for her interview, Chris conducted the session. Vin sat on the edge of the credenza and listened.
I am glad to have an opportunity to personally welcome you to the unit. I do realize it may take some time to know everyone, but it is important that we learn to function as one unit. Larabee stopped for a minute and flipped through her file. I am curious, your have excellent recommendations from a variety of sources, but numerous writes up for attitude problems, care to explain? Attitude, I have experience with and it sounds like she will fit right in with this bunch.
Coulter sighed, I tend to say whats on my mind. If I think somethin is right, I do it. If not, I have a reputation for raisin hell til it is. That probably accounts for half of those. Lord, cant the man read? I thought the write-ups were damn specific.
Larabee asked many insignificant questions just to test her reactions. He knew when he had pushed enough and glanced at Vin.
Five more minutes of this, Tanner and the woman will lose her temper.
I didnt know you could talk so much
With Agent Tanners additional duties, we are looking for someone to fill a backup position for him. Your scores were excellent, but the position carries a lot of pressure. If that was your assigned position, do you feel you could handle it? In addition, would you put in the extra range time necessary to develop it?
I can handle pressure and if extra time on the range were necessary I would do it. Kelli tried to hide her exasperation. I am not new at this of course I can handle it! I think hes tryin to irritate me with these pointless questions on purpose.
Agent Coulter, if you are offered the position it will be necessary, Tanner responded and tried not to grin. Chris, I think she would like to throw somethin at you about now.
You will know my decision tomorrow. With that said Larabee dismissed her and waited for the door to close.
Well, did you get the reactions you needed to know? Chris got up to face Tanner.
Shes got the scores, wasnt intimidated by you and has the attitude to fit in with this bunch. Yep, Id say the position is filled. Vin was sure she could handle it.
With the exception of Tanners office, the units new home away from home was functional. The agents started to leave for the day. Chris was already out of his office. Better hurry, Cowboy, you dont want to leave the lady waitin. Vin laughed at the look Chris threw him as he left.
Chris had plans for dinner with Linda at her ranch and did not intend to be late.
Southern Breeze Ranch
Chris made it right on time. He might be out of practice, but he knew better than to be late. Linda was sitting on the porch swing where he joined her. Hello Lady, you been out here long? Chris struggled to start the conversation.
Not too long, I enjoy watching the sunset from here and try to catch it every evening. Linda answered. How is the new unit coming?
Chris was taken aback, You know about that?
I know things about you that would surprise you. She smiled and decided to share her secret. My best friend is in your unit and I talked to her not long ago
I forgot you know Kelli...well, I assume you know her since you had dinner with her. Chris had forgotten she was not alone that night. Youre slipping, Larabee.
How did you end up here? Chris wanted to learn all he could about this woman.
My dad. We moved to Colorado for his health and brought the horses with us. His family has raised horse for several generations. My brothers, with the exception of Matthew, wanted no part of the horse business, so it was Dad and me. We planned on a bigger place, but he died before we could relocate. Kelli came to stay with me for a while and helped me make the move. So, here we are and we now own The Southern Breeze Horse Ranch; we have kept the best of our own bloodlines to breed, raise and hopefully race. Linda explained.
We are looking for that perfect horse too. Vin has put together a good breeding program and all the boys are partners. New blood is always welcome and maybe we can do some business. New is good
You never know do you? Linda was enjoying spending some quiet time with this man. Would you like to see some pictures of my horses? Dinner wont be ready for another thirty minutes. He has the most gorgeous eyes
Sure and here, I brought a bottle of wine. Chris replied, smiling at her. Linda felt herself melt when she saw that smile. It lit up his entire face. That is the sexiest smile I have ever seen! No, do not go there, Dubois.
Hastily, she rose and let Chris into the house. Chris was happy to follow her. That was because he could enjoy the view of the tight blue jeans fitting around a firm, sensual butt. God, she was beautiful and he loved the way she moved.
Over here. Linda motioned the way and suddenly Chris realized he had been staring. He had not stared at a woman in ages! The last time I was staring at you, Sarah. Even after all our years of marriage, you astounded me.
Linda took out the stock books and bloodline charts. Looking up, she saw sadness in Chris eyes and wondered what had caused it. Not knowing what else to do, she started talking about her horses and soon Chris was caught up in the conversation. Thirty minutes passed and they were still talking.
We have Thoroughbreds, cutting horses, paints and Arabians and we even cross them. Sometime, you might like to see our foundation stallion Magnificent One, he is 30 years old and still on the family farm in Louisiana.
It would be an interesting trip to make. Especially since our stallion appears to come from the same bloodline. Chris realized how much he enjoyed just talking to her and was amazed how easy it was. He was smiling again, the sadness gone and he was very unaware what that smile was doing to his company.
They had a good dinner starting with a chefs salad and chicken and dumplings, corn, tomatoes and homemade bread. For dessert, they had a strawberry-lemon cheesecake. Chris enjoyed every bite although he was not sure if it was the food or the company. He loved what Linda had to say, the things she told him and her sharp mind. He also loved to hear her musical voice and even more her laughter. It sounded like chimes and he could not help teasing her, now and then, just to hear it again. What he did not know was, Linda loved the teasing and did everything she could to see that gorgeous smile light up his face. At those moments, she had to watch herself so she would not get lost in those wonderful green eyes.
Time flew by and before they knew it, midnight approached and Linda walked with Chris to the door. Chris took a deep breath, realizing what he wanted to do, but nervous about it as well. Just do it, Larabee
I want to see you again, soon, how about tomorrow night I take you to dinner?
I would love to, Linda could not believe they found so much to talk about all evening. Linda, you could lose your senses here
Her answer and the warm look in her eyes gave Chris the push he needed. He kissed her, intending to be quick, he lingered instead and tightened his hold on her. He felt her respond and deepened the kiss, tasting her sweetness and wanting more. She leaned into him and felt a flame of desire sweep through her body. Linda pulled back first and fought to recover her breath. Chris loosened his hold and gently kissed her brow.
Chris moved a step back. Ill pick you up at seven. Reluctantly he said good night and left.
Linda leaned against the closed door until she was steady enough to walk. That man does know how to kiss
Instead of going to bed when he got home, Chris grabbed a beer from the fridge and went out on his deck. He sat in one of the oversized deck chairs and thought about the grand design of life. Eight years ago, when his wife and son were killed by a car bomb, he had thought it was over. Then the ATF came along bringing more than he thought would ever be possible again. First, Vin had been able to penetrate the emotional walls he had built around himself, soon followed by Buck and the other member of team seven. Now he had a new family, friends and hope for a better future.
Sitting here, he realized none of the new parts of his life took away the memories he held dear from the old. They blended and made him, who he is. It was time to move forward and he wanted to include a woman in that future. It was too soon to know if Linda was that woman, but he hoped they had a chance to find out. Somewhere in his heart, he knew Sarah had been waiting for him to realize this and would approve.
He whispered into the night, Thank you, Sarah, for teaching me to love.
MCAT Office 8:00 a.m.
Buck was concerned about the time. Chris and Vin were always the first ones in the office. Not only were they late for a pre-set meeting, they were not answering their cell phones.
Do you think we should drive out and check on them? Nathan was worried too.
One more hour and if we havent heard anything by then we start searching. Buck answered taking charge in their absence. We will push the meeting to later in the day and hope we hear from them soon. Thirty minutes later the missing men entered the bullpen and went straight to their own offices, slamming the doors behind them. Not one word of explanation came from either one. Their friends exchanged looks that said I am not going to ask.
Well Buck go find out what happened. JD encouraged.
Yes, Mr. Wilmington we will back you. Ezra added.
Ezra, I think you should go, speaking for all of us. Josiah smiled at the thought.
Buck, you see Chris, Ezra, you check on Vin. Nathan instructed.
The other agents in the room just shrugged their shoulders and watched the older men discuss the issue. Before anyone had made a move, the Texan came out of his office.
Meetin moved to one. Tanner tried to retreat, but Ezra intercepted him.
Did it occur to you or Mr. Larabee, that we might have been concerned as to your location? Ezra continued, A phone call would have sufficed.
Ez is right, we were about to send out a search party. Buck voiced his concern. You should have called.
Gonna need two new phones, Buck, need you to set em up today. Tanner was not ready to say why.
Hold on, Tanner, there must be a good story behind that and wed like to hear it. Curiosity was driving Buck to push the issue.
Vin sighed, he had a raging headache but knew they would not give up until they heard the whole story. He decided to give them a short version of events. Highway patrol - 6:00am - bangin on door - damned mares - our horses on highway - rope-mud-water-drowned phone - you can fill in the rest. Tanners remarks were met with silence then one by one, the men started to fill in the blanks. Laughter broke out and continued to get louder and louder, until Chris door flung open. Larabee glared them into silence turned and went back inside.
Kelli started to laugh as she realized the damned mares Vin referred to had to be either hers or Lindas.
1:00 p.m. Conference Room - Team meeting
Lighthearted banter filled the room as nine agents waited for their leaders. Chris entered followed by Tanner and both had their hands full of folders. Larabee went to the head of the table and was ready to start.
For practical purposes, we are starting from scratch with this unit. Agent Tanner has a packet for each of you. He waited until they each had their folder and then continued. The top sheet is a medical form with your blood type and any allergy information. If you find the entire information correct, pass it along to Nathan and if incorrect, pass it to Tanner. I know you all have someone who holds a power of attorney for medical treatment. I want you to consider adding someone on the team for a second one. We will have official status by the first of next week and in the meantime, I am going to assign each of you a temporary partner.
Share information and get to know your partners. The other files in front of you contain background information on cases we are likely to inherit. They came to us from a variety of other agencies. Study and learn. Chris observed as each agent retrieved the information. The cases we take will be either too complex or too hot for other agencies to handle. Sometimes, they will be long and complicated and sometimes we will roll out with very little notice. When we begin, you will be on duty 24/7 and you will have your pager with you, at all times. There will be many nights, working on difficult cases that you will sleep in the lounge down the hall. There will be times you leave on a moments notice keep a packed bag ready at all times and within easy access. We have another five weeks to be operational and I have planned some team building exercises, in the next fourteen days, to help in that direction. Over the next few weeks, we will expand the number of agents in this group. We are the first and only team involved with MCAT. We will make it work and set the bar for future units. Are there any questions? No one asked any for now.
One last thing, Mallory Sanchez will be on maternity leave beginning Monday. It is also the last day team six will be together and they are hosting a going away party tomorrow afternoon, in the lunchroom at 4:00pm. You will all be free to attend if you wish. You have your assignments, get started. Larabee left immediately.
Coulter, in my office, five minutes, Tanner ordered as they were leaving the conference room. Kelli knocked on the door and hearing come on in entered waiting for Tanner to look up and acknowledge her.
Be with you in a minute, go on and have a seat. Vin said as he closed out his report on the computer. Determined not to let this woman get to him, his tone of voice was rougher than he intended. You have been assigned to me to train. Tomorrow mornin meet me on the range at seven and bring your favorite rifle. I want to see how you can shoot long range. Vin said all of this trying to avoid her eyes. He knew that would be a mistake. Any questions?
Have you taken anythin for your headache? Kelli wanted to kick herself for saying that. You have to work together Coulter, Remember that! Remember why you never get involved.
How did you know my head hurts? Vin looked at her and was surprised she noticed. Tanner, dammit, you looked at her eyes!
It was just an observation. Coulter recovered quickly, Firing range seven tomorrow, is that all? God, I hope so, it is starting to get warm in here.
Vin nodded and she was out the door. He sat there a full five minutes, lost in a fantasy. He could see desire in her eyes as he drove her wild with kisses starting with her sensual mouth, down her neck, until he reached her breasts Dammit, Tanner, keep this up and theyll have to lock you up! Vin shook his head to clear his carnal thoughts and tried to get back to work.
The rest of the day passed quickly and by five oclock, everyone was out the door. Kelli felt a need to ride and headed for the ranch. She took her mare out and they both enjoyed the run. When she returned to the barn, Linda was waiting for her. I thought you had a date with Chris, tonight. Kelli said
I do, but not until seven Linda knew Kelli, too well. You came straight from work to ride?
I just needed the fresh air and Dancer needs the exercise. It was a lame excuse and she knew it.
Want to talk about it or do you want me to tell you? When Linda received no answer, she continued, You have spent most of your life avoiding anything that resembles a relationship and now you finally met someone that has made headway though your defenses. Linda waited for a response and not getting one made a guess. Its the guy you told me about, Tanner, right?
Anyone ever tell you youre a smartass? Kelli replied, her friend knew her too well.
I think you have a time or two. Linda laughed, knowing she hit her mark.
What about you? Kelli decided to push back. You want to tell me youre not interested in a certain green-eyed blond.
We were talking about you girl, not me. Linda answered.
I know how much time it took for you to take care of your dad and why you never pursued many relationships. Your brothers, with the exception of Matthew, left it all up to their baby sister to care for your father and now, its time you started thinkin about what you want. Kelli continued. I know you would rather raise horses than anythin. Whats wrong with findin a man to share that with?
What are you saying we should do? Linda questioned.
Hell, if I know this is new territory for me. Coulter sighed.
You know we could just shoot them and not have to worry over it. Linda smiled as they headed to the house.
Sounds like a plan to me. Kelli smiled back and wondered how long it would take to miss a federal agent. Hell, you just want him out of your head, Kel, not injured.
At the house, they decided a girls night out was called for. Making plans to include Kellis new female teammates they decided on tomorrow night. As they finished Chris arrived.
Evening ladies. He flashed a killer smile to Linda and nodded to Coulter.
I was just leavin, you two have a good time, Kelli excused herself.
Chris leaned in, gave Linda a kiss, just to say hello properly and soon forgot the time. He could have stood there all night holding her, but remembered their dinner reservations and stopped while he was able.
At the restaurant
Ezra had recommended the restaurant they went to and he had made the reservations for Larabee. It was first class all the way and Linda loved it. She had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed places like this. Being here with Chris made it all the more pleasurable.
Soon they were lost again in conversation and each other, just like the night before. Chris was the first one to come back to the world around them. We have been here three hours and if we dont leave soon they may try to throw us out. Chris smiled. Are you ready to go?
Ready when you are. Linda did not think anything could spoil the mood she was in tonight.
They drove to her ranch in a comfortable silence each reflecting on the evening. By the time they arrived neither was ready to end the night. They sat on the front porch swing and started to talk.
Linda I enjoy your company Chris tried to explain his feeling. You more than enjoy it, Larabee, be honest.
I like you too, Chris Larabee. Linda had no problem expressing hers. Like, Linda? That is an understatement.
Think we might spend some time finding out how much? Chris stroked her cheek.
Think I could manage that. Linda decided she could stare into those green eyes forever and totally get lost.
This time she was prepared for the desire that sweep through her body when he touched her. His kiss was slow and sensual, starting with her lips, devouring her mouth and leaving none of it unexplored. Feeling the kisses trail down her neck, she shivered when his warm breath brushed her ear. It would be easy to forget the short time she had known this striking man and longingly she leaned further into his kiss.
Chris felt Linda move towards him and it filled him with warmth. This woman was amazing and she awakened things in him, he had not felt in a long time. He did not want this to be something short and fast, he started to hope this really could be the woman to share his future.
That thought suddenly filled him with fear. He was falling for her hard. But, what if she would leave?
Linda sensed his retreat, so she slowly pulled back. They looked at each other and Chris swallowed back that sudden fear. No, he would not give in and there was nothing to fear. He had not lost anyone from his new family in all these years. He was ready for this. He wanted this.
Tomorrow? Chris rasped.
Linda did not know why Chris had pulled back, but she was relieved he had not lost interest after all and she almost said yes. Then she remembered the girls night out. Reluctantly she shook her head. I have plans for tomorrow. How about having dinner Sunday evening?
That sounds good to me. Chris gave her one more kiss and said goodnight.
Firing Range 7:00 a.m.
Vin had been on the range since six and was already on his third cup of coffee when Coulter arrived. Truth was he had trouble sleeping and had almost called and cancelled this session. Almost took the cowards way out, Tanner...shut up, Vin!
Coffee? Tanner offered, trying to behave normally.
Thanks, but if I have one more cup, I wont be able to hit the broad side of a barn. Kelli replied. Coffee is the least of your problems, Kel.
Then lets head to the tower and get started. Vin took the lead until they reached the ladder for the tower. Ladies first, He did offer to carry some of her gear but she refused. Stubborn woman.
Kelli hesitated, not sure, if she wanted Tanner behind her as she climbed. On the other hand, if she had to watch his great looking backside climb up first, she knew it would be a challenge to control her wayward thoughts. She took a deep breath and started up the ladder. Okay, Coulter you can do this, forget how good he looks and that charming smile.
Tanner had been thinking about this situation since last night. This was the reason he thought of canceling this session. Dammit, it was going to be a long morning. Reaching the top, Coulter pull out her gear and prepared her rifle. Tanner watched her set up and did not miss the sight of cleavage as she leaned over. His mind wandered, thinking of how it would feel to make love to this alluring woman. Suddenly, he realized what his mind was doing and brought himself back to where they were. Tanner, you are losing it.
Vin put his mind back on work. He was satisfied with her choice of rifle, a Winchester model 70. Tanner waited until she was ready to speak. I can start at six hundred yards if you want some practice rounds.
Fine by me.
Coulter scored a perfect round at six hundred yards. You are good, but I can still make you a better shot. If she lets you, Vin. Tanner took his turn at twelve hundred and made a perfect score.
Where did you learn to shoot? Vin finally had to ask. Actually, he just wanted to hear her talk, because he liked the sound of her soft and sensual voice
Jake taught me the basics but he always said I had a natural ability for it.
Jake? Tanner wasnt sure why, but hearing that another man taught her to shoot bothered him. Who in the hell is Jake and why does it matter to you, Tanner?
Mackenzie, he was a Texas Ranger and my guardian for eight years. Jake was a 100% ranger and he believed knowin how to handle weapons was mandatory. Kelli responded. He taught me a lot about the outdoors and self defense, too.
How does he feel about you being in law enforcement? Vin recognized in her voice the affection she held for the man. Her sexy voice gets to you. Right, Tanner?
Hes been dead ten years, I wouldnt know. She sighed, He was killed in the line of duty, when I was seventeen.
Sorry. Vin noticed the quick glimpse of sadness in her eyes. Why do you want to comfort her, Tanner?
Why? You didnt kill him. Kelli decided to change the subject. I will understand if you say no, but I have to ask. Do you mind if I try out your rifle? Ive read about a Genesis, but never had the opportunity to shoot one.
Vin grinned and handed her the .308. He was proud of his newest purchase and was delighted she asked about it. The fact that she even recognized it surprised him. It was only just out and top of the line. When she had a problem with sighting the scope, he decided to help her out. Without thinking, Tanner reached around and put his hand over hers to make a correction and that was a mistake for them both.
Tanners reaction to touching her was immediate and almost embarrassing. He could feel the heat between them and her response to him was not much better. A stimulating shock passed between them. Vin heard her indrawn breath and felt the quiver that raced through her body. The only thing he wanted to do right now, was not something that was going to happen at a gun range, full of agents. What he wanted would have to wait until he could get her alone. Then Then what, Tanner? He reluctantly moved and put some distance between them to regain some control. Kelli was a little slower getting her breathing back to normal, but did take the shot and missed.
Tanner, this was not what you expected.
Coulter, you have lost your mind.
Blue eyes met blue and without a word spoken, agreed to discuss this at another time. They packed their gear and headed back down, careful not to touch each other.
MCAT Office - Lunch Time
Larabee was in an extraordinary mood all day. Buck watched him and just shook his head He could not remember the last time Chris smiled so much.
You are in an unusual mood today, stud. Any special reason?
Nope. Chris was not ready to share his new feelings yet. Why dont you see who wants to join us for lunch, at that new Mexican food place?
Buck knew Chris was up to something, the trick was finding out what it was. Maybe Tanner would tell him. He caught Vin walking across the room. Hey, Tanner, wait up. Buck stopped him. Whats got Chris smiling so much?
Dont know hell! Vin watched Kelli walked out the door with Katrina, before he could reach her. Turning back to face Buck, he said, What did you want?
Buck decided Chris and Vin both were in another world and thought maybe he would just wait and watch. Lunch brother, lunch and Chris wants Mexican food, you in? Buck asked
Yeah, sure thats fine. Vin answered, but Buck was not sure he was here.
Talk was buzzing about Mallorys party, people she knew from all over the building planned to be there to say good-bye and leave a gift for the new baby.
Before going down to the lunchroom, Kelli reminded Kat and Pam about the girls night out, at the ranch. There will be plenty of loud music, cold beer, Texas ribs and good company.
Dont we get an invite? Buck asked.
If you morph into a female before eight tonight, you can come. Katrina replied with a smile.
As the girls made plans, the men listened and decided a guys night out sounded good. Sam declined the invitation. They made plans to be at Larabees for a game of cards, a few rounds of pool and drinks. Nathan checked with Rain and found out she would be working the night shift. Tanner saw his chance for talking to Coulter tonight slip away.
Southern Breeze - Later that night
The women had a great time and they did what women do, when men are not around. They talked about them. Katrina and Pam gave them a rundown of the men they had worked with and past relationships. Linda kept them entertained with stories about her brothers and life in the world of horseracing.
Pam had made plans for the rest of the weekend and headed back into Denver. That left Kelli and Katrina to spend the weekend at the ranch.
Man that was fun! Well have to do this at least once a month. Katrina was excited.
It would have been more fun if someone had joined the party and not been in her own little world. Linda looked directly at Kelli.
Whats up? Katrina asked.
Sorry, I just have things on my mind. Kelli offered an excuse.
Two legged kind, I bet, Linda retorted. Want to talk about him er...it?
Think I will turn in, see you in the morning. Katrina excused herself.
Well? Linda waited
Nothin to talk about. Kelli snapped.
Right! Linda did not believe it for a minute and an idea started to form in her head. Okay, Dubois, it is time to interfere.
Im headed to bed, its been a long day. Kelli said goodnight.
Ill be inside in a bit. Linda said as she headed to the barn. She had something to do and hoped her friend would forgive her interference.
Larabee 7 - That Same Evening
Josiah left early to check on Mallory. Nathan planned to pick Rain up at work and Ezra decided to stay over. Buck stayed to help clean up, trying to decide if he should give the guys a warning. Loyalty to his brothers won out.
Inez will kill me for telling you this, but I think you should know. Buck hesitated before continuing. The girls plan to set you three up at the Sunday cook-out.
What exactly do you mean by set up? Chris had that look in his eyes.
You know, women, females, girls, they plan to invite some single ladies they know. Buck tried to explain.
Like Hell! Tanner shouted. We dont need that kinda help.
I must agree with Vin and demand you stop them. Ezra was incensed.
Buck, you best pass the word along. If they try they will be embarrassed. Chris promised.
Look, if you three just showed up once in a while with a date, the girls might just back off. They just want to see you with somebody and not spending all your nights alone. Buck decided to go out on a limb. Maybe there is someone and youre not sharing that information.
Tanner was uncomfortable, Ezra coughed loudly and Chris just stared at Buck.
Tell you what, I promise, Ill get them to back off for a while. Just dont wait too long to share whats going on. Buck was pleased with the reactions he witnessed and knew something was in the wind. Goodnight boys.
Gentlemen, we will discover a solution for this dilemma tomorrow, in the meantime I will bid you goodnight Ezra went to his room.
Chris grabbed two beers and handed one to Tanner. Vin had been quieter than usual tonight, for Tanner. He thought that was impossible and the Texan was extraordinarily unfocused. He knew his younger brother was wrestling with how to handle a problem. More specifically, a certain blue-eyed lady. Larabee decided to help him out.
Hell Vin, just ask her out, buy her dinner, have a night of wild sex and then come home and forget about it. That should solve your problem. Larabee waited to see Tanners reaction.
I cant do that! Vin gave the blonde an incredulous look. That is no solution, Tanner.
Why not? Chris decided to push the limit. Its not like you havent done that before.
I know, but this isnt the same thing. Vin said it, but was not sure why. Not the same thing, at all.
Isnt it? Chris could see the turmoil in Vins eyes and waited. He knew the instant he worked through his thoughts.
Why, Tanner? Because, you like the woman, Vin and want to know her better, not just lust after her body. No, it isnt. I want her and wont be satisfied till I have her, but one night of sex just will not be enough and I know it. Vin suddenly realized what had eluded him and with amazing clarity knew what he had to do.
You are welcome, Vin.
Larabee Seven - Saturday
Chris was the first one up, pleased he beat Vin to the coffeemaker. Stepping out on the deck to greet the morning, he listened to the frisky horses in the barn. Vin joined him in a short time.
You need to learn how to make coffee. Vin complained
Like that stuff you make is coffee. Chris grinned.
Their ranch manager, George Ramos approached them.
Mr. Larabee, I wanted to let you know I called the vet to check on that little bay mare. She has been off her feed for a couple days and with her due to foal soon, I was concerned. He should be here about eleven, George reported.
Thanks, well meet him when he gets here. Chris replied.
George had just left when the horses in the barn started to get louder. It sounded like Peso was harassing Chaucer, again. Chris decided to check on them while Tanner fixed himself a decent pot of coffee. Closer to the barn, he saw three horses in the corral, one of which did not belong there. Running to the fence, he shouted for Tanner.
In the corral, Pony and Chaucer were nipping at a black mare. She squealed as Peso put himself between her and the other horses. Behind her was a foal that was the dual image of Peso. Tanner ran to the corral in answer to Chris shouts.
Where in the hell did she come from? Chris was afraid he already knew.
I dont know, but we better get her and the foal out quick. Tanner said as he climbed over the fence. Vin easily haltered the mare and led her out with the foal following behind.
Damn, if I didnt know for fact he was a gelding, Id say Pesos been keeping a secret family. Chris laughed.
Shes a beauty and the colt is bout as cute as they come. Vin was taken with the black mare and her offspring. At least my horse has good taste.
Only one place she could have come from. Well take her back after the vet leaves Ill call Linda and let her know. Chris said as he headed to the house.
Linda was pleased to hear from Chris. When he explained about the mare and having to wait for the vet she told him she would have lunch ready. She insisted he bring Vin and Ezra to see her horses. They talked for another twenty minutes and planned on lunch at about one.
+ + + + + + +
The vet arrived a little before eleven and checked on the mare. He did not think it was anything serious, but told them what to watch. If she was not eating in the next twenty-four hours, he promised to come back.
+ + + + + + +
It was a little after noon before the trio had the mare and foal loaded into the trailer and on her way home. Ben Watson, Lindas ranch manager, greeted them and helped Vin unload her and the colt. Linda joined them after a few minutes. Chris greeted her with a quick kiss and formally introduced her to Vin and Ezra.
I feel like I know both of you already, but its nice to officially meet. Lindas eyes sparkled.
Katrina walked up and joined them, Ezra masked his surprise at seeing her here but Vin was unable to hide his reaction. It escaped Tanner why Katrina was here unless Kelli had asked her to come.
Kat, these gentlemen brought Kellis mare home. I just cannot imagine how she got out. Kel had a fit when she found her gone. Linda explained. She was relieved to hear that you found her.
Well we couldnt leave the lady stranded, could we? Chris was curious about the look in Lindas eyes.
Perhaps now would be a good time to give you the grand tour. Lunch will be ready in about thirty minutes. Linda offered. I could give you a preview of the horses going on the auction block. Linda tried not to smile, while watching Tanner look around. If by chance you are looking for Miss Coulter, shes in the barn Mr. Tanner.
Chris and Ezra followed the ladies to the paddock. Tanner headed to the barn, to talk to the woman, who had taken over his thoughts. Vin leaned against the door of the barn and watched Kelli brush the black mare. He listened as she talked to the horse. With her back turned it was unlikely Coulter even knew he was there.
You should be ashamed, runnin off to chase some horse you dont even know and draggin your baby with you. I raised you better and that is a good way to get in over your head. I should talk, huh? I feel like I just jumped in deep water myself and have no idea where the shore is. Men will make you think crazy thoughts, but you got to promise, no more runnin off, especially with the little one.
Think shell listen? Vin decided he had been quiet long enough. Tanner, what now?
Good lord, Tanner you shouldnt sneak up on someone like that! Kelli jumped. Now what, Kel?
Hidin out in the barn? Vin came over to where she stood, closing the door behind him. Now, maybe we can talk. Right, Vin, talk. She has you roped in and she does not even know it.
Im not hidin and I dont know that we do have anythin to talk about, Kelli actually took a step backwards. Dont do this, Coulter.
I think we do. Vin moved to stand in front of her, reached out and brushed an errant strand of hair back into place. Tanner dammit just go with how you feel.
Maybe we should think about this some more, Kelli was nervous. For once, Kel, listen to yourself.
Dont think so Coulter. Vin leaned in and kissed her, ever so lightly. He was thinking that he was in control. But was he? He intended to stop at that, but his desire pushed him to explore further. He deepened the kiss and felt her walls of resistance start to crumble, replaced by a wild passion he sensed no other man had known. That knowledge both surprised and pleased him. The taste of her innocence spurred him on, possessively holding on to her. Kelli leaned into him, her fingers tangled in his hair and something else took over. A feeling that this was not new for them, it felt so very right. Without ever moving his hands from her back, Vin made love to her, one ravenous kiss after another, taking her senses and allowing her no time to recover from one assault, before he started another.
It could have been five minuets or hours, time had stopped and they were both lost in the moment. That kiss might have continued for much longer, had a voice from outside, not finally penetrated through their desire for one other. Vin pulled back without letting her go and thought about not answering. Resting his forehead on hers, he waited a minute, not trusting himself to speak. Whispering to Kelli in a husky voice, he said, Damn, Ez and his timin. She had to agree as the barn door opened.
Linda wants you to know lunch will be ready in fifteen minutes. With one look, Ezra took in the situation and retreated, blocking Katrinas entrance. We will see you at the house.
As soon as she was able to speak, Kelli whispered. You think he knew what we were doin? she blushed, uncomfortable with the intrusion of their privacy. Lord, Kel, what happened to your defenses?
I reckon he does, but we werent doin anythin wrong. Last time I checked kissin wasnt against the law. Vin relaxed his hold and allowed her to move back. Go easy, Tanner, shes like a wild colt, you need to use a gentle hand or she will break and run from you. And that, Vin, is unacceptable. Well join em in a few minutes. Vin reluctantly moved away, giving her some space and him a chance to cool off. After a few minutes, they started for the house. Vin could not resist one last comment.
We still need to talk, you know. Tanner grinned when she glared at him.
+ + + + + + +
Lunch was finished in a leisurely manner and soon the horses drew them back. Linda asked Kelli to go to the house and get the papers on their bloodlines. She intercepted Tanner before he could offer to keep her company.
I have known Kelli for ten years and no one could ask for a better friend. She has earned a reputation as a tough cop and I know she would march into hell for something she believed in. Nevertheless, she is not as hard as people think. She just hides her fears and emotions better than most and with good reasons. I will not stand by quietly and let anyone hurt her. I just wanted you to know that. Linda stared directly at Tanner.
Youre not telling me anythin, I havent already figured out. More to the point, if someone hurts her, they will answer to me first and then you can have what is left. Tanner, do you know what you are saying? ...Yes, Vin, I do.
Linda did not say more as Kelli brought out the pedigrees and some pictures of other horses. Tanner looked at them first. Damn, look here Chris, this is Bounty Hunter, our stallion as a colt. Hes related to those horses your starin at. Vin offered him the book.
I saw it earlier and forget to tell you, youll have to tell Hunter he has family over here. Chris grinned.
My brother, Matthew, runs the family farm in Louisiana, maybe someday youll want to visit Hunters other relatives. Linda added.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the Larabee 7 and tend to their horses. Vin pulled Kelli aside and told her, You best resolve yourself to the fact, we will talk. He gave her a quick kiss and joined the others to leave.
Well, are you going to tell me? Linda asked Kelli when they left.
Not much to tell. Kelli was evasive with her answer. Except, you just lost any good sense you ever had, Kel.
Did you talk things out and clear the air? Dubois persisted. Tell me what happened.
Not exactly, we werent able to talk much. That at least was the truth.
Damn, all that trouble with the mare for nothing. Linda mumbled and turned to go.
What about the mare? What did you do? Linda Dubois! You come back here Dammit!
+ + + + + + +
Chris watched his young friend, as they tended the horses for the evening. The uncertainty he has seen yesterday was gone, replace with a look of resolve.
You know, Linda set you up with the mare. Chris wanted to keep things in the open between them.
Actually, she set Kelli up, she did me a favor. Vin smiled. Ive been tryin since yesterday mornin to get her still long enough to talk to me.
Chris nodded, Try to remember you have to work together.
That wont be a problem. Vin assured him. Before you ask, yeah I know what Im doin. I may not understand a woman, like Ezra seems to, but I do understand horses.
Vin, even I know that no woman wants to be compared to a horse. Chris, for once, was not sure where Tanners thoughts were taking him.
Tanner grinned at Larabees confusion. Chris, assume I gave you a wild young mare to tame. How would you do it and not destroy her spirit?
Well, the first thing would be to gentle her to touch and then teach her to trust
Thought you might.