by tannertexaslady

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

6:00 a.m.
A cool front moved through during the night leaving the air clean and crisp. Larabee and Tanner were the first to stir and soon had coffee making and breakfast started. Chris knew his wayward agents did not get back to camp until late. However, that did not stop him from banging two pots together and shouting for them to get up.

“Rise and shine boys. It’s time to get started!” Chris laughed, hearing the moans and groans from assorted areas of the camp. “Get your butts moving, NOW!”

“Gawwd, what time is it?” Ezra groaned.

“Good Morning, Brothers.” Josiah said cheerfully.

“I’m going to check on my patients,” Nathan said as he grabbed his cup.

JD covered his head with his blanket and moaned, “Please, not so loud.” Katrina and Pam started to move around and although Kelli was up, she had not left her sleeping bag. She kept it wrapped around her for warmth as she came to stand next to Vin. Chris watched Tanner hand her a cup of coffee and smiled at the site of his brother being so domestic.

“Mornin’, Texas.” Vin smiled and gave her the cup, “If we didn’t have an audience, I’d offer you somethin’ better.”

“Thanks, for the coffee, but I’d rather have you keep me warm.” She answered in a husky voice.

“Keep talkin’ like that and I won’t be responsible for what happens.” Vin said gruffly, feeling a rush of desire when Kelli said she wanted him and he suddenly wished they were somewhere else.

“Is that supposed to be a threat or a promise?” She laughed first but seeing’ that’ look she finally relented. “Okay, Tanner, this time you win and I will try to behave.”

Vin shook his head, seeing the sparkle in her eyes. Tanner, your days as a single man are numbered. They finished their coffee in silence and then she left to join the other women. The sharpshooter enjoyed the view as she walked across the camp.

+ + + + + + +

Thirty minutes later Chris had Sam on his way home with Katrina and Pam as escorts. He had everyone else break camp and get the trucks packed. Nathan gave him a report on Buck’s condition.” He is much better and should be okay for today.”

Larabee gathered them all together. “Boys and girl, we are on the final leg of this exercise and Nathan and Buck will be joining us. Today we hit a thirty-mile course, the purpose is to test your physical endurance and teamwork. It will not be easy, but remember at the end of the day we go home. Gather your gear, we are leaving in five minutes.”

They had been out for two hours when Chris called a break. “We are hitting some rough country and I do not want any of you to overdo it and that is an order.” He gave the agents twenty minutes to rest.

“Chris, are you sure we need all this ‘training’?” A tired JD asked.

“If you think this is hard, wait until that baby gets here.” Chris grinned, “Keeping up with an infant will make this seem like a walk in the park.”

“You got that right!” Buck laughed, “Still can’t see JD as a Dad yet though.”

“I would say Nathan and JD both have a lot to learn.” Josiah flashed a smile. “You don’t know tired until you spend a few all-nighters with an infant.”

“Alright, let’s get moving we have a long way to go.” Chris clapped his hands to urge them on. The sooner they started, the sooner they could all go home.

“Oh joy.” Ezra mumbled.

“What was that, Standish?” Chris asked

“I said oh boy can’t wait.” Ezra answered with a mock salute.

Twenty minutes later, Larabee faced a rock wall that offered a steep path to the top. Taking no chances, he had Tanner check it out first. “Piece of cake,” Tanner yelled from the top.

Larabee made the climb to the top to help Tanner guide the rest of them up the path. Josiah and Nathan made it next. Buck and Ezra slowly followed them. That left JD and Kelli to finish.

“Okay, use your ropes and go exactly the way the others did.” Chris called down. JD started, Kelli went last. They had made it one third of the way when JD slipped on a loose rock, he reached out to gain his balance and only came up with a handful of air. When he started to fall, Kelli tried to stop him, but failed as JD crashed into her. The rope lifeline slipped from her grasp. Gravity took over and they both tumbled to the ground hitting the rocks, on the way. Above, the men watched, Tanner was in motion the second he saw JD slip. Fear gripped his heart and urged him to move faster. He was half way down the wall, before either of them hit the ground. Larabee and Jackson were right behind him and Wilmington followed

“Don’t move anyone, until I can check them!” Nathan shouted, as he saw Larabee and Tanner hit the ground and move to the injured agents.

Tanner reached Kelli first, grateful to find her conscious, he lightly ran his hand over her body looking for breaks and determining her injuries. When she tried to move she cried out in pain and Vin tried to calm her. “Don’t move Kel just stay still, ‘m here with you and ‘m not goin’ anywhere.”

Buck and Nathan reached the injured at the same time. Larabee stopped JD from getting to his feet, wanting to make sure he remained down. “Examine Kelli first. I think the kid’s banged up good and maybe has a broken arm, but in fair shape otherwise, she evidently broke his fall.” Chris told Nathan.

Josiah and Ezra were there to assist in any way possible. Nathan had them contact base declaring a medical emergency. Nathan gave instructions as he listened to Vin recite his findings. “Her shoulder took the hardest part of the fall, I couldn’t find any broken bones, but there are numerous cuts and maybe a bruised rib or two.” Tanner had not missed much in his examination. The Texan did intervene when she started to move again. “Kel, you already scared ten years off my life, let Nate check you.” The medic examined her, taped her ribs as a precaution and bandaged a cut across her shoulder. He was almost sure she had a shoulder separation, but could do nothing except immobilized her arm.

Jackson quickly checked on JD and found he did have a broken arm and numerous small cut and abrasions. He quickly had the worse of them cleaned and covered and a splint in place for his arm. “As soon as the EMS gets here with some backboards, we’ll move them back to base and from there to the hospital.” Nathan saw the look that passed between Chris and Vin and continued, “It’s just a precaution and they should both be fine.”

Three hours later at base camp Vin threw Buck his keys and climbed into the ambulance with Chris Kelli and JD. Dunne kept trying to apologize, thinking it was his fault for not paying closer attention. “Not your fault JD, not anyone’s fault, just is.” Larabee tried to reassure him.


The nurse threatened to throw him out and the doctor tried using intimidation, but Tanner stood his ground. He was not leaving Kelli alone especially when the doctor said he was admitting her. The doctor confirmed a shoulder separation and it was immobilized. He wanted to put her under observation for twenty-four hours in case of a concussion.

“Vin I don’t want to stay here, please, take me home.” Her eyes pleaded with tears threatening.

“Kel…” Vin started to argue but then thought about a scared child being forced to spend months alone in a hospital in Texas, looking around he could understand why she did not want to stay. The threat of tears, however, was his undoing. “Okay, but you will do everythin’ I tell you, no arguments.” Signs of concussion I know about. The doctor did argue, but he was no match for Tanner. He had her checked out, with a list of instructions and prescriptions in his hands, in twenty minutes.

In the waiting room, Nathan had just finished talking to JD’s doctor when Wilmington walked back in. “Buck, did you get JD to settle down?” Nathan rejoined them. “The doctor told me he was being difficult and refusing to stay.”

“His arm is in a cast, but they want to keep him for observation, just in case. I told him that Kelli was staying and he might as well stay in a bed, since we had to be here for her too.” Buck reported, “They are getting a room ready now.”

“He is staying and I’m sure Vin is getting Kelli settled in now.” Chris was confident of that but his old fears threatened to rise to the surface. His family was hurting and there was no way for him to control it. “If I know Vin, he will insist on at least a three day stay,” Larabee managed a smile, accepting a cup of coffee from Josiah. ” We all know how protective he is about people that he cares for. I would say, he cares a lot about Agent Coulter.”

“That I believe is an understatement.” Ezra laughed. “Rest assured, the young lady will not defy the doctor’s orders with out stubborn brother on watch.” Relief spread around the room as they all realized it could have been much worse.

+ + + + + + +

Vin helped Kelli dress and gave her a rundown on JD. “His arm is broken and he’s bruised up, but he seems to have missed havin’ any worse injuries.” Now though, she wanted to get out this exam room, find JD and make sure he knew she did not blame him and that it was just an accident. They made their way to the waiting room to find the others.

“What are you doing out of bed?” Nathan shouted when he spotted them.

“We’re lookin’ for you.” Tanner answered. “Kel wanted to see and talk with JD, before we leave.”

“Leave? Just where the hell are you going?” Chris snapped. “Have you lost your mind?”

“Yes, home and no, damn you ask a lot of questions, so do you know where he is or not?” The exasperated Texan huffed.

“Kelli, you are not leaving this hospital,” Chris ordered. “The doctor said you had to stay.”

“Already done, Cowboy, it’s Tanner one, doctor zero. We are gonna see JD and then I’m takin’ her home with or without your blessin’,” Vin challenged.

“Allow me to show you the way.” Ezra decided an intervention was in order.

When they arrived at the room JD was waiting in, they were not alone. The other brothers did not intend to miss the fireworks. Tanner and Larabee seldom squared off against one another, but when they did, it was entertaining.

“What are you doing here? I thought Buck said you had to stay.” JD looked at Buck who just shrugged his shoulder.

“Vin’s takin’ me home but I needed to see you first.” Kelli explained tiredly. “I wanted you to know, I don’t think this was your fault. It was an accident plain and simple.”

“I appreciate you telling me that, it helps. However, I only agreed to stay because someone told me you had to stay too.” JD was already getting off the table. “If you’re going home, so am I.”

“She is staying and so are you!” Chris cut his eyes to Vin. “Anyone with any sense can see you two belong in a hospital!” The glare he sent out was full of fire.

“Lar’bee...don’t go there!” Vin sent his own blue glare in Chris’ direction. “We are goin’ home!”

Five brothers stood aside and grinned, Ezra was taking bets on the winner. He favored Vin, but Nathan had confidence in Chris. Buck placed his money on Tanner. Josiah knew better, the outcome was already clear. “Brother Buck, we best decide on who is driving home. I have a feeling we will be leaving soon.” Josiah laughed.

“JD, ‘m takin’ Kel out of here, you want a ride, we’ll wait for you.” Tanner knew Kelli was fading fast and decided to end the argument.

“I’ll drive so you can keep a watch on her,” Buck offered. “Ezra can navigate and JD will be more comfortable stretched out in the back seat of Chris’ truck.” Chris knew he had lost this round when Buck gave him a gentle reminder. “Try to remember brother, if it had been Sarah, you would not have backed down either.”

Vin sat in the back seat and Kelli leaned against him. It might be a few hours until they reached home, but she could think of no better place to be. “This is ‘bout right. I finally get you in the back seat of my truck and there ain’t a damn thing we can do that wouldn’t hurt you,” Vin whispered to her. Judging from the sounds of amusement coming from the front seat, Buck and Ezra heard him too.

“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts.” Kelli whispered back.

“Son, with that shoulder injury of hers, all I can say is I hope you like cold showers for at least a couple of weeks.” Buck smiled. With Buck’s words, realization hit them both at the same time.

“Damn!” Kelli and Vin said in unison.


For once, morning came too early for Vin Tanner. He spent the night sitting in a chair, watching Kelli try to sleep through her pain in his bed. Realizing he could not take it away, he did everything possible to ease the hurt. Sometime during the night, he came to terms with the fear he felt when for a few minutes yesterday, he thought he might have lost her. That fear had transformed into an overwhelming need to have her in his life. Vin was content, just sitting here listening to her breath. She belonged with him and he was prepared to convince her to stay. All too soon, it was time to tend the horses and he knew he needed to get moving. Satisfied that she would sleep after taking her pain medication, he left to take care of the morning chores. He sensed Larabee was there before he saw him enter the barn.

“Morning Vin, how is Kelli doing?” Chris was hesitant, not sure, Tanner was ready to talk to him yet.

“She’s sleepin’. You heard anythin’ about JD?” Vin was concerned about the younger man.

“Not this morning, but Nathan was going over early to check on him.” Chris continued, “Nate said he would be here after that to look in on Kelli too.” He saw Tanner nod in agreement.

“Look, Vin, you know better than most that I can be a bastard at times. I cannot fault you for being protective of the woman you care for. I was the same way with Sarah and it seems I just forgot what it was like to care that much.” Chris made an effort to sooth things between them.

“Maybe you’ll get another chance to remember, Cowboy.” Vin accepted Larabee’s’ offering. “And I do know you can be a bastard, but I think I’ll keep you around anyway.” In there usual companionable silence, they finished the chores quickly and walked outside. Buck had just arrived with Inez and the girls. The babies sought out their Uncles. Sarah was delighted when Chris picked her up and Maria giggled as Vin lifted her up in the air.

“What brings you two out so early?” Chris asked as little Sarah checked out his pockets.

“We talked about it and thought today would be a good day for the family to be together. Casey will bring JD over later and Josiah said Mallory needed to get out of the house. Rain will be out as soon as her shift is over and Ezra is picking some things up in town for us. You do not have to do a thing we have it all covered. It’s just…well…we just need to be together.” Buck finished his explanation.

“I understand and think you’re right.” Chris knew how suddenly life could change. They were lucky yesterday and everyone knew it.

“Vin, I made some soup for Kelli and you make sure she eats it.” Inez handed it to him in exchange for a squirming Maria. “I will be over later to see her.”

“Thanks Inez.” Vin was appreciative of more than the soup. Inez was telling him that they accepted that Kelli was important to him and for that reason to them.

Inez took both girls inside to begin preparations for the day. Before he followed his wife, Buck gave Chris a rundown of his phone calls. “Katrina is coming by later to bring some clothes and things for Kelli. Pam is out of town for the weekend and Reed said he was recuperating from a twenty-four hour bug. When I told him about the accident, he just said he was not surprised, dismissed it and said he would be in on Monday. Buck finished and then went inside. Chris remained outside with Vin.

“What did Linda say when you told her what happened?” Vin thought to ask.

“I haven’t told her yet.” Chris answered just realizing he should already have called her.

Not good


Vin left to check on Kelli and Chris reached for his cell phone. He gave Linda a basic report on the accident. Linda said she would be on the next flight out and would take Kelli to her ranch to recuperate. Chris agreed to pick her up at the airport after she let him know the time. Now all he had to do was tell Tanner, that Linda was planning to take Kelli to her home. Later, Larabee, tell him later.

Tanner heard the water running in the bathroom and knowing Kellie was up, put the soup in the kitchen and went to investigate. He waited, leaning on the doorframe for her to come out. “You okay, Texas?” He asked through the door.

“Depends on your definition of okay,” she tried to laugh as she opened the door. The bruises were starting to show color and she had been unable to brush her hair as she usually did, with only one hand. Thanks to the pain medication she was able to move, though slowly.

“You should have waited for me to help you.” Vin reached out to steady her, but wasn’t sure how to hold her without it hurting.

“Trust me, you’re not gonna make it worse and with the meds you gave me, ‘m feelin’ no pain at the moment.” Vin led her to his favorite rocking chair and assisted her in joining him. Once he had a comfortable hold on her she continued, “I’m sorry you got stuck takin’ care of me, Lord, I took your bed and probably kept you up all night.”

“First of all, I want to take care of you, second, I gave you my bed you didn’t take it and third… I want you to keep it, you belong there.” Vin watched for her reaction, “Stay with me Kel, I want to share it with you... not just til you’re well either.”

“Vin, are you sure?” She realized her heart was racing and tried to slow it down, by thought alone.

“Hell, that’s not the way I meant to say it, but yes, I’m sure. For now, just to be close and to hold you. Later, after you mend, I want to make love with you and God willin’, babies.” He gathered his courage before he spoke his next words. “There are three things I value more than anythin’, one is my name and the others are love and family. I want to give you all of that.”

Sitting with him, black and blue from bruises, her hair in disarray and her arm in a sling, she could not believe this man still wanted her in his life. For a woman who seldom cried, Kelli found more tears than she thought was possible for one person to have. In fact, she had cried more since she met Vin than she had in the last fifteen years combined. She only managed to nod her head since her voice refused to cooperate.

“I reckon, I’ll take that as a yes,” Vin was relieved. He had planned this differently, but found he could not stop once he got started. Tanner knew this was right for him and right for her, they belonged together. He was content just holding her until her pain returned. “Now, you are going to rest and I’ll heat up the soup Inez sent.” He kissed her first and then helped her to bed. He knew his life was about to change considerably, but he was looking forward to every minute of it.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan arrived and went to the main house to report that JD was doing fine and to find his other patient. He found Chris and Buck instead. They told him where to find her. “I thought Vin made a practice of not having female company here at the ranch.” Nathan commented, “In fact, I remember him telling me that not long ago.”

“Guess he decided to make an exception,” answered Chris. “Linda will be here tonight though and plans to take Kelli home with her.

“I wouldn’t bet on that stud.” Buck spoke directly to Chris, “She might just have a fight on her hands.”

“You don’t know Linda once she makes her mind up, I don’t think even Kelli can change it.” Chris smiled when he thought about seeing Linda again.

“No, I don’t, but I do know Vin and trust me, brother, he is not going to allow it to happen.” Buck grinned thinking about it.

“Regardless of where she is going, she is here now and I want to check on her.” Nathan said as he headed out the door.

Nathan went to Tanner’s place to examine Kelli and was satisfied the pills, the Doctor prescribed for inflammation, were helping. He recommended a doctor in Denver for her to see on Monday, having already set her an appointment and then warned her not to place any strain on that shoulder, unless she was willing to risk permanent damage. The Texan walked him out.

“I hope you know, she shouldn’t engage in any extracurricular actives for a while. Speaking of which, I do trust you two are practicing safe sex.” Nathan was very serious and could not understand Tanner's outburst of laughter.

“Trust me, Nate, couldn’t be safer.” Vin smiled and kept the explanation to himself.

As promised, Inez went to see Kelli, followed by Rain, Casey and then Katrina. Vin started to think his quiet home had been renamed Grand Central Station. He began to re-think the wisdom of telling the family their news, just yet. Once they knew, any chance of time alone with Kelli would be over. Seeing an opportunity to discuss it with her, he shared his thoughts and she agreed they should wait a while to tell the others. Together they slowly walked over to the gathering at the main house.

“About time you two decided to join us,” Buck placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder and lowered his voice. “I’ll try to run some interference for you, but you know you have given them reason to speculate about your actions.”

“Appreciate it, Buck.” Vin loved them all, but he knew them well enough to know they could be overwhelming at times. “Don’t plan to stay long.”

The kids entertained the adults and the women talked about babies. With three pregnant wives in the bunch, it soon became an enlightening round of discussion. “I can’t wait for the next fives week to pass, seems like I have been pregnant forever.” Mallory sighed.

“Just think, Rain and Casey have this to look forward to.” Inez smiled, “You will love every minute of it, but be oh so thankful when it over,”

“Kelli, do you like kids?” Casey asked. She had been designated by the other women to find out what she could about Kelli and Vin.

“What...yeah I like kids….” She saw Vin watching her and was amazed that he could stir the fires of her passion so quickly, with one look. Remembering his loving caress and the pleasure she gained from touching him, only increased her desire. She was not paying attention to the conversation around her. Casey’s next question, however, did get her attention.

“You and Vin are practicing safe sex, aren’t you?” Casey was fishing, but the question did bring Kelli back from her fantasy. She was saved from having to come up with an answer when Vin rescued her, telling the ladies it was time for her medication. She passed him an appreciative look.

As they started home, Chris stopped them to say he was leaving to pick Linda up at the airport. “She plans on you being ready to go home with her, Kelli.” Chris informed her, “I’m picking her up in an hour.”

“Take her home Cowboy, she can visit tomorrow,” Vin answered. “Kelli’s on her way to bed and Grand Central is closin’ for the night.”

Chris watched them walk away and shook his head. Things would definitely get interesting tomorrow. Then he had to smile, one more hour and Linda would be here.

+ + + + + + +

Vin got Kelli in the door and locked it behind him. It was the first time he could remember locking it this early, but he had seen enough family today. He was not going to share the rest of the night with them. Focusing his attention on the woman beside him, he drew her close and walked her to the bedroom.

“You, Texas, are gonna take your medicine and go to bed to sleep.” After making her comfortable and kissing her good night, he started to leave.

“Where are you going?” Kelli expected him to stay, “I thought we were supposed to share.”

“I’ll be in later, but right now I have a date with a cold shower.” Vin heard her gentle laughter as he closed the bathroom door. Gonna be a long two weeks, Tanner, get use to it.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had no problem spotting his lovely blond as she walked though the gate. Her plane was on time and so was he. He welcomed her home with a kiss, which let her know he had missed her. As they waited for her luggage, he filled her in on the details about the accident.

“Well of course, I am taking her home, she can’t stay in your guestroom when you go back to work and I have plenty of room.” Linda had assumed Kelli was at Larabee’s home.

“Actually, she’s not in my guestroom, she’s with Vin.” Chris explained as they made their way to his truck. “He insisted she stay there and she accepted.”

“I won’t let him take advantage of her when she’s hurt. He can just wait until she’s better to see her.” Linda was adamant. I said misbehave, girl, not go off the deep end.

“Either way, she’s already asleep tonight and we can work it out in the morning.” Chris changed the subject as they got in his truck. “I have missed you.”

Pulling her close, he kissed her, starting with her sensual mouth, exploring with his tongue and sucking on her lips as he moved his attention to a downward path. Alternately nipping tender flesh with his teeth and raining kisses on her beautiful neck. A car engine coming to life close by, had Chris grudgingly withdraw from her heated passion. Slowly, they both came back to reality. When Chris knew he could make a coherent sound he whispered to her.

“Welcome home”


The more you need morning coffee the longer it takes to make. There must be an unwritten law somewhere that dictates that. Tanner needed his coffee and so much more, but he would settle for the hot brew. He waited until Kelli was asleep before he join her in what he used to think was a big bed. It was not big enough to keep him away from her during long night. Finally, he quit trying to fight the inevitable, rolled on her side on the bed and held her close for the rest of the night. It was heaven to wrap his arms around her and know she was staying with him, but hell, knowing that he could not make love to her without hurting her. Vin already knew he would wait no matter how difficult it was, because they deserved their first time together to be special. He knew it was not going to be easy, but then nothing worthwhile ever was.

Just as the coffee was ready, he heard Kelli cry out and rushed to check on her. What he found was not what he expected. Evidently, she had decided to change clothes using only one hand and without completely removing the sling on her arm. The oversized jersey monster had her trapped in its grasps. A rescue was definitely in order, if Vin could stop laughing long enough to help.

“Very funny, Tanner, a little help here would be appreciated.” Kelli failed to see the humor, he apparently did.

“Alright, Texas, but first, are we puttin’ on or takin’ off?” He tried to be serious, but could not quite get there.

“Either…both…I don’t care! Just do somethin’.” She was by now desperate to get free of this imprisonment.

Vin had her untangled before she could say another word. Liberating her from the jersey, he realized how little else she was wearing. He retrieved one of his shirts that did not have to go over her head, but buttoned instead. In short order he had it on her and her arm immobilized again. The only mistake he made was to make contact with her eyes and see a mirror image of his own desire. Without any hesitation, he drew her to him and instead of quenching that desire magnified it into a raging inferno of passion with only a touch. One hand sliding around her waist to bring her closer, the other lovingly protected her injured shoulder. One more kiss was all he could allow to satisfy their hunger before calling a retreat. They may be forced into a waiting period, but Vin refused to deny them the pleasure of being intimate. He also knew that for now, Kelli would follow his lead, trusting him to guide both of them safely through this tempest.

A knock on the door indicated it was time to open Grand Central, again. Nathan and Rain waited for Tanner to answer and invite them in. Nathan examined Kelli quickly and then Rain took over. “Gentlemen, it’s time for you to depart for a while.” Rain instructed, “The lady is due for having her hair washed and a decent shower, come back in an hour or so.” Rain had brought the necessary items to accomplish this task. Quickly, Rain had the injury covered and Kelli in the shower and even changed the bed sheets while she waited. Once Rain helped her wash her hair, it was dried and brushed. Kelli dressed and felt like a new person.

“Thanks Rain, I feel better already.” Kelli did appreciate the help. She knew Vin would have done it, but it would not have been easy for either of them.

“You are very welcome.” They joined the men and before the Jacksons left, Rain made one more offer. “Kelli, I know Vin has to work tomorrow, so I’ll be here at ten to take you to the doctor. By the time we are finished these two can treat us to lunch.”

“You have a deal.” Kelli accepted and the men quickly agreed.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat in his study staring at the same piece of paper he had been trying to read for thirty minutes. He should have been reviewing the files on the new team members due in next week. Instead, he was thinking about his conflicting wants and needs. He knew, without a doubt, he wanted Linda and all her sexy body had to offer. Just the thought of her sensual curves had him aroused. He wanted someone permanent in his life, to share with her the things a man only shared with the woman he loved. That was something he had missed since Sarah was gone, but never realized it, until now. The doubts he held now only surfaced since Friday’s accident and he needed to get past his doubts. Would he ever be able to control his fear of losing more family? He needed to reconcile his emotions and reservations before he moved any further into a new relationship. The only question he had now, was how?

“You gonna sit there all day and brood?” Vin asked, leaning on the doorframe. “Linda called and is on her way over to see Kel. I thought you might want to know.”

“How do you do it, Vin? Chris asked, “How do you deal with the doubts and make it appear so damn easy to start changing your life?”

Vin thought for a moment, reading the real question in Chris’ eyes. “For a few minutes, I thought I might have lost Kel before we ever had the chance to share the kind of love and life you and Sarah had together. I could no more control that rock shiftin’ than I can control the next sunrise and knowin’ that scares the hell out of me. However, I am grateful we still have that chance and intend to take every second of the time given to us, to make as many memories as we can. Because as sure as I’m standin’ here, there will come a day one of us will die, leavin’ the other to go on alone. The memories we make will have to sustain the one left behind.” Vin stopped and reckoned Chris would work the rest out on his own.

Chris sat deep in thought about the words Vin had shared and was a little amazed the Texan said so many of them. Then he shifted his focus to the time, realizing Linda should just about be here. He put the files away and went out to meet her.

Vin met Ezra in the middle of the yard. Standish had dropped by to check on Kelli and had just left Tanner’s place. “It is my wish to extend an offer of my services, should you required supplementary provisions for your care of Miss Coulter.” Ezra stated.

“Thanks, Ez, appreciate the offer but I think we have what we need.” Vin had long ago learned to decode Ezra’s words. What I need is a traffic light at my front door.

“Should you find out otherwise, you need only ask.” Ezra offered as Josiah and Mallory drove up.

“Afternoon brothers, beautiful day.” Josiah held Joanne, who was already reaching for her Uncle Ezra and Mallory went straight to Tanner’s place. Vin just smiled and shook his head. Chris joined them, watching for Linda as he saw Joanne take a leap to Ezra’s waiting arms. He listened as Josiah explained how restless Mallory was waiting for the baby to come. Larabee drifted into fantasy, thinking about the woman who was fast taking over his thoughts full-time. He thought about how it would it would feel touching her and making love all afternoon and into the night, with no interruptions. …

“Chris… Lar’bee...Are you listening?” Vin was trying to get his attention.

“What?” When did Mallory get here and where were the others going?

Vin gave Larabee an indulgent look and just smiled. “They’re going inside to find some leftovers from yesterday and Linda is coming up the drive.”

You with me, Cowboy?

I am now.

Linda exited her truck and came to stand beside Chris and then he gave her a warm kiss hello. Tanner stood with his arms crossed, waiting for her to say something. When she did not, Chris resigned himself to playing referee. Without a word, Vin led the way to his place. When they went inside, Kelli was nowhere in sight. “Lar’bee, you know where everythin’ is, get what you want.” The Texan headed for the bedroom where he knew his redhead was. He found her, curled up in the rocker they had shared yesterday. Vin hated to disturb her, but thought it best to get this over.

“I’m not asleep, just restin’ a little. Linda made it over, I assume.” Kelli opened her eyes and took in the sight before her. She loved to run her fingers through his long hair, his voice.... she could listen to all day and his eyes spoke more with one look, than some people said in a lifetime. His extraordinary body and catlike movements could keep her busy watching him all day.

“Chris too, but say the word, Kel and I’ll tell ‘em to go away.” Vin reached to help her up, wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him, he was concerned about the pained look in her eyes. “Are you sure you’re up to this now?” He felt her head shake affirmatively. “Alright, but pills first, Linda can wait a bit.”

Vin led her to the couch, sat next to her and held her close to him. Prepared for a long discussion he was surprised when Kelli started first. “Linda, don’t say anythin’, just let me talk, it looks worse than it is and is nothin’ life threatenin’. I will be good as new in a couple of weeks. Just so you know, I am not goin’ home with you, although, I do appreciate your offer. Furthermore, let me save some energy by answerin’ all your questions now. Yes, I am sure. No, I have not lost my mind. Yes, I know what I am doing. Yes, I know it's only been three weeks. No, I am not gonna reconsider. I am stayin’ and you better get used to it, because I happen to love this man and plan to spend the rest of my life with him.” Kelli knew her friend’s thoughts, too well.

“In case, you missed any part of that, we’re gonna marry soon and she’s stayin’ here.” Vin looked at Chris and read the approval in his eyes.

Make some good memories.

Plan to, Cowboy.

“Kelli, welcome to the family or the group, I fondly think of as the ‘wild bunch’. I‘ll try to make them all behave until you get to know them better, but I will not make any promises.” Chris was pleased by Vin’s choice and wanted them both to know it.

Linda was silent for a minute before speaking. “If you’re happy, my friend, then you know, I am happy for you.” Linda watched her ‘little sister’, but spoke to Tanner. “Vin is a fortunate man and if he ever forgets that, I’ll make sure he gets reminded.” She saw something in Kelli’s eyes, which she had never seen before and realized it was peace. She was finally letting go of the past and Vin was the man responsible for that.

“Tanner, I think your lady needs to rest, we’ll talk more later.” Chris saw how tired Kelli was, took Linda’s hand and walked her outside. The more Larabee thought about talking to Linda the less he wanted to do it. This was not the time or the place to do this. She might run the opposite direction, if she knew how much extra baggage he carried. Chris was not prepared for that possibility and was having a helluva argument with himself, when he realized Linda was speaking to him. Larabee you need to focus.

“Chris, I have two mares overdue to foal and need to see about them.” Linda hated to leave, but knew she had to. “Can you forgive me for going so soon?” God, does he know the effect he has on me?

“Only if you spend tomorrow evening with me, I’ll take off early and pick you up at four. There’s somewhere special I want to take you.” Chris knew he had received a reprieve and now had time to plan and make it right. You have to make it right, Larabee. Fail and you lose too much.

Chris wrapped his arms around her and gave her a kiss full of promise and hope. The best he could do, standing in the middle of the yard, with so much family in residence. As she left, he began to make plans for tomorrow. A day, which could change the course of his life


Another hour and the sun would make its way over the mountain to grace another day. Kelli had slept for twelve hours and felt rested and refreshed. She slipped out of the bed quietly, taking care not to disturb Vin. She knew he had not slept that long and he had to work today. There was no sense waking him until necessary. A quick trip to the bathroom and she headed to the kitchen to start the coffee.

He knew the exact moment she woke, heard the change in her breathing and as she slipped out of bed, he felt the loss of her warm body. Watching her cross the room, Vin appreciated the graceful way she moved. He loved the color of her hair, strands of lighter red highlighting the darker wine-red tresses, which flowed across her shoulders. Tanner knew sleeping in the same bed was not the smartest move, given the circumstances, but that was one pleasure he was unwilling to relinquish. When she left the room instead of coming back to bed, there was no reason for him to stay there either. After a few minutes, he followed her into the kitchen. “You are supposed to rest not work.” The Texan walked up behind her and kissed the back of her neck. “It’s gonna be a long day for you seeing the doctor and all.”

“Don’t forget the lunch you owe me, afterward.” Kelli turned to face him and any thought of speech, forgotten. He was wearing only sweatpants and the beauty of his body astounded her. Tanner, you are going to be the death of me yet.

Vin savored the moment, her reaction and the flash of desire in her eyes was another image he would file in his memory. He gathered her in his arms and very thoroughly kissed her, until he felt himself begin to lose control. Kissing her brow, he decided retreat was the wisest course of action. In a gruff whisper she heard his parting remark. “I owe you more than lunch, but you’ll have to wait to collect.” Forty-five minutes later, he was on his way to the office.

MCAT Office

No matter how unique this unit was, one thing remained the same. The government’s love of paper, it showed in the stacks of files the agents still had to worked through and study. There were so many, it was a good thing they had another three weeks before their first official assignment. The only one to escape the drudgery was Standish because Larabee had sent him on a special errand.

“Conference room, five minutes.” Chris entered the office like a whirlwind, issuing the order as he briskly made his way across the room. Larabee had been in a meeting with Travis for the last hour and no doubt had more instructions for the team. Chris passed by his office and instead went to Tanner’s. Vin was on the phone when Larabee knocked and he entered without waiting for an invitation. He overheard the tail end of the conversation.

“Yeah, Fed-Ex will be fine, thanks, I owe you one. Next time I’m in Texas, I’ll buy you lunch.” Vin hung up the phone and faced Chris.

“Lunch in Texas? Better be with a male or a certain redhead might have something to say about it,” Chris teased.

“It is. Tired of your office already, Lar’bee?” Vin changed the subject.

“I talked to Travis. Since MCAT is an independent unit and answers only to him, he has the authority to set his own policies. You and Kelli can still work in the same unit as long as it does not create a problem with your supervisor, in this case me. You are both professionals and I do not foresee any difficulties, but if you find out it’s too much, let me know.” Orrin did say he expected an invitation to the wedding, however,” Chris explained.

“Thanks, that’s one less thing to think about.” Vin was glad Chris had thought to inform Travis so soon. “That’s not why you have that grin on your face though.”

“You’re right. I am taking off at two, you will be in charge of this zoo after that.” Chris was beaming.

“It has to involve Linda or you wouldn’t have that silly grin plastered on your face.” Vin laughed, “I hope I’m not as easy to read as you are.” They were both still smiling when they made it to the conference room.

Once there Chris looked at his agents old and new.

“I will make this short and sweet. Travis wants current certifications on everyone within two weeks. If your status is over six months old, you will attend classes to bring you up to date. Tanner has a list on which classes you each need to take to recertify. Dates and times will be on you desk by morning.

Jackson is setting up a schedule for physicals. Get your appointment time from him and remember no physical means no job. That is all for now, you are free to return to your ‘interesting’ array of files.”

+ + + + + + +

Ezra returned shortly after lunch and went straight to Chris’ office. Larabee was anxious about the results of his assignment.

“What took so long? Did you do it? Do you know what time it is?” Chris was pacing the floor.

“The endeavor is accomplished and the outcome, I think, you will find agreeable.” Ezra smiled at Chris’ obvious attack of nervous tension. “Your directions and all necessary items are in this envelope. Enjoy your evening.” Standish took his leave.

Chris sat at his desk and stared at the envelope as if it would jump up and bite him. Finally, his curiosity won out, he had to see what Standish had done. A slow smile began to cross his face as he read his instructions. Committing the directions to memory, he slipped a key in his pocket and destroyed the note. Ezra, I owe you.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee left the office at two, heading home to shower and change. He stopped only long enough to check in on Kelli, for Vin. Assured the she was okay, he was ready to pick up Linda and arrived at her ranch shortly before four. She greeted him with a brilliant smile and a kiss.

“You ready?” Chris was not going to enlighten her about their destination just yet.

“Born ready, Larabee.” Linda knew she would go anywhere as long as Chris was there.

The trip took an hour and a half to complete, but they never ran out of conversation. Their journey ended high in the mountains in front of a beautiful chateau. Awed by the spectacular view from this elevation Linda was speechless for a moment. “This is fantastic! Who does it belong to?” Linda regained her voice.

“Us, at least for this evening.” Chris took pleasure in the look of joy on her face.

The inside was just as beautiful as the outside. An elegant table set with china and crystal lay before them, a gourmet meal was warming in the kitchen. Scented candles, waiting for the touch of a match, were scattered around the room. “Chris, this is so beautiful, how did you manage to do all this?” Linda liked what see saw and the thought of what this could mean.

“I confess, I had a little help from someone that is a connoisseur of the good life.” Chris turned on that killer smile. “I wanted this to be perfect for you.”

The meal was excellent and the sounds of Nat King Cole drifted from the stereo. When they finished, Chris asked Linda to sit by the fireplace. He needed to tell her a story and wanted her full attention. Problem was he was not sure how to start. “I think you know by now how much I enjoy being with you… However, there are some things you do not know and I want everything in the open between us.” Just do it ,Larabee.

“I always have and always will be a private man. My life is not an open book and there are only a few close friends who know, how my past has affected who I am. I was married to a woman who was the most important person in my life. Why she loved me is still a mystery to me, but she did. Sarah was loving, beautiful, graceful and had a terrific sense of humor. She never put up with my moodiness and temper, if I yelled she yelled right back and I loved it. After four years of marriage, we were blessed with a son, Adam Christopher, who quickly became the center of our life. He had me in one pocket and his Uncle Buck in the other. ..” Chris stopped for a moment to collect his emotions.

“Eight years ago, I lost them both…a car bomb intended for me, stole my family and left me a broken man. For the next year, I tried to stop existing, but failed. I drank too much and tried to run off every friend I had. Buck took the brunt of my anger and to this day, I cannot figure how he put up with the shit I threw at him. Then Travis can along with an offer to run a unit in the ATF. I thought I could lose myself in work, but it did not work out that way. I met Tanner and he seemed to know what I needed, more than I did and still does most of the time. One by one, each of the boys became part of my new family and worked their way into my heart. I wanted you to know all of this, because I am not sure I will ever be able to risk marriage again and… children. Sarah had just found out she was pregnant again, a week before she…died. I could never stand to lose that much again. I do want you in my life, but the only thing I can promise is to love you and spend as much time together as possible.”

Linda listened to Chris pour his heart out and felt the tears that rolled down her face. She knew how hard it was for him to tell her about his family. Not sure what to say, she did the only thing she could think of to let him know how much she cared for him. Rising to her feet, she stood before him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Chris, I am thankful you had Sarah and Adam in your life. They have made you the man I love. Right now, I cannot tell you I will never want more. I really do not know and I have many responsibilities with the family business, which demand my attention. I do love you and I know I want you. Can’t that be enough for now?” Linda spoke from her heart.

Looking into her eyes, Chris knew that would be enough and pulled her closer. This woman loved him and he knew that somehow they would make it work. What started out as a slow tender kiss became more intense, as he felt her respond. All the love Linda felt for him poured out and they soon found themselves lost in desire.

Kissing her with all the passion, he had held back before, Chris lifted Linda in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. Afterwards they clung to each other whispering words of promise and love. They stayed together most of the night, making love several times, only more slowly. It was almost dawn before, regrettably, they knew they had to leave. Both vowed to look only to the future.