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

Friday Evening
Kelli paced the floor waiting for Vin to get home from work. Tanner should already have been here. She knew the brothers were having a meeting at Chris’ tonight, to discuss what to do about the stables. Even her good news would have to wait because this was getting serious. After a million trips back and forth across the den floor, she heard the sound of his Durango and stopped pacing. It’s about time, Tanner

Vin was grateful to be home, he had thought for a while today he might be spending this night in jail. That is where they put people, who attempt to kill their best friend. Still might end up there if Larabee did not get his head straight. Seven years he had known this man, knew every bad mood he had, he thought. Now the man had to go and invent a new one. The meeting tonight should be a barrel of laughs. Maybe the six of them could form a conspiracy and …nope that probably would not work. JD would end up telling someone, for sure.

“Tanner, you have to do something, anythin’, but find out what in the hell Larabee thinks he is doing!” Kelli met him at the door.

“I already know what he is doing. He has transformed into a grade A jackass. One, that will be lookin’ for some new agents when we all quit. Provided, that he doesn’t manage to kill us all first.” Vin grumbled.

“Linda likes to ‘do the outrageous’ when she is upset. We now have enough weddin’ presents to open our own store. Five pre-paid trips to take, in the next three months and, she has planned a regular shower, a lingerie shower, three nights of dinners on the town and an overnight in a penthouse suite. All are to be used within the next week.” Kelli was getting desperate. “One more shoppin’ trip and I will be a basket case. Look what she bought today!”

Vin started to laugh at the brief, very brief, lingerie set she held. Not that he wouldn’t like to see her wear it, but pink kittens? “Not your style, Texas.”

“It’s not funny and if I hadn’t been there you would be wearin’ purple silk briefs with black leopard spots on it!” She was glad to see Vin stop laughing and maybe realize this was getting out of hand.

“Purple? Look… it doesn’t matter, it all can be returned.” Vin shook his head again. “Purple?”

“Vin, it more than that, Chris is avoiding me and I have to work for the man. Linda is avoidin’ you and now tells me, she will not be attendin’ the weddin’ because Chris will be there. I am her friend and cannot say no when she is upset like this, but I need help.”

“Okay, I get the point, but just what can we do about it?” Tanner hated to think about interfering.

“I don’t know, but somethin’ better happen fast. With the phone calls, the shoppin’ trips and the extra plans, we may never have any time alone. While you have your meetin’ tonight, Linda wants me to go to the mall with her, again. She will be here shortly.” Kelli smiled and played her ace. “Of course we are having a lot of practice …waitin’.”

Vin just remembered she had seen the doctor today and realized Kelli was using both hands. The sling was gone, at last. “What did the doctor say?”

“He said I was doing great and lifted all my restrictions, as long as I keep going to physical therapy and stay on desk duty until I finish it.” Kelli waited for Vin’s reaction. Tanner grinned and grabbed her around the waist pulling her to him. For the first time in a long time, she was able to place both arms around his neck and pull him closer, too. Unbridled passion threatened to overtake them as Vin buried his mouth on her neck, drawing her flesh into his mouth, one tender bite at a time. Kelli leaned her head back, giving him free access to continue down her throat…the ringing phone they could pay no attention to, however, Chris’ bellow of ‘Tanner!’ at the door was harder to ignore. Vin sighed and pulled back. “Dammit!”

“Be with you in a minute, Chris.” Vin yelled at the annoying door. “Hold those thoughts, Texas. This thing between Linda and Chris ends tomorrow, if not before, one way or another.” He had to steal one more kiss and regain his composure before he opened the door.

+ + + + + + +

Six of the men discussed the bids before them, needing to make a decision on which one to accept. The seventh man sat aside and said nothing.

“What can we afford, Ezra?” Josiah tried to get things moving. “The insurance won’t cover it all.”

“Anything we decide on will require addition funds obtained in the form of a loan. I have however arranged for said loan to be made through a private source and we will not require bank intervention.” Ezra explained.

“In other words, Ez is gonna front the money.” Vin translated for the others.

“If we have to rebuild anyway, shouldn’t we go ahead and implement the changes we wanted?” Nathan remembered what Chris said they needed.

“Yeah, we could have thirty six stalls, instead of the twenty four we had in each stable. With the success, we are having with the breeding program, we would have no trouble filling them, quickly.” JD was seeing the possibilities.

“Could even put in the new treatment room Nathan suggested.” Buck thought that was a fine idea. “Also the new video security alarms in the foaling stalls.”

“Chris, what do you think?” Buck risked asking.

“Whatever you decide is fine with me.” Chris got up and went outside, leaving the rest of the men at the table.

“Gentlemen, I believe it’s time for a short break.” Ezra announced. After a nod from Tanner, Buck went after Chris. JD and Josiah went to replenish their beers.

“Ez, need to talk to you for a minute.” Vin motioned him over.

“What may I assist you with, kind sir?” Ezra asks.

“Couple of things, first Kelli would like to talk to you. She thinks she owes you an apology for the other day.”

“Nonsense, she did nothing you or I wouldn’t have done under the same circumstances.” Ezra laughed, “Of course next time I will not underestimate the lady’s skills.” Noting the look of concern on Tanner’s face, he continued, “I will make a point of talking with her, brother.” Sometimes when it was just Vin or Chris, Ezra dropped all the big words and spoke with his emotions instead. “I will make sure she knows I was not offended.”

“The other thing is about Larabee 7. I know you handle all the legal side of things for us, so I need your help. I want you to set up for Kelli and me, what you did for the other guys and their families. Also, change my will and figure out how to keep Kelli’s horses separate from ranch assets. Kel wants you to talk to her attorney, too.”

“I would be happy to do that for you. In addition, before you ask about a fee for these services, allow me to do this for you as a gift. Call it part of a wedding gift, if you want.” Ezra was pleased to see Vin’s nod of acceptance. “I will sit down with both of you and see what we need to do.”

Buck entered the room with a look on his face that would freeze hell. Chris followed in a few minutes and he was trailing his black cloud behind him. Again, they tried to set their plan for the new stables.

“Okay, we all…most of us agree each building will be enlarging to thirty six stalls. The treatment room will have all the latest equipment installed and double in size. We will move the buildings to the locations Vin suggested and install safeguards for water drainage off the roof.” Ezra was writing this down. “Anything else?”

“Don’t forget the sprinkler system and the smoke sensors.” JD remembered.

“Right JD., Glad you reminded us.” Ezra waited. “Alright then, I think we have everything covered and as the hour grows late, I believe we should adjourn….” The ringing of Tanner’s cell interrupted him, Vin knew immediately it had to be Kelli… the ‘wild bunch’ was accounted for.

“Tanner…You’re where? ...What in the hell happened? …Yeah, I can do that…Are you both okay? ...NO! Do not argue with the man…Kel...maybe he is a stupid ass, but… No … I don’t think telling him that will help…Tell Linda to keep her mouth shut, too…I’ll be there are soon as I can ….No, I don’t think you can legally shoot someone for being a jerk...About forty-five minutes or so…Yeah, me too.”

Six set of eyes focused on Tanner waiting for an explanation. Big smiles accompanied quiet laughter. Hearing Vin’s end of the conversation, they knew there was a good story coming. “I need to go get two very angry women out of jail.” Vin sighed and knew an onslaught of questions was coming.

“Jail! Oh, this has got to be good.” Buck laughed because he knew if they were hurt, Vin would already be gone out the door.

“Do you need the assistance of an attorney?” Ezra inquired. “I will gladly offer my services.”

“No, just proof Kelli is a federal agent, since she is on sick leave her ID and gun are locked up. I guess I should be thankful because if she had her weapon, Denver might be minus one police sergeant.”

“I’ll go with you and we’ll take my truck.” Chris stated, “Any charges?”

“No, as long as we can prove who she is.” Knowing the others as well as he did, he decided to tell them what he knew. “Short version, incident at the mall, needed intervention, she did it, security detained Kelli for some questions, police arrive, didn’t believe her about being an agent, made some crude comment to Kelli that Linda took exception to and let them know it, both were arrested and taken to jail, supervisor was called, gave Kel one phone call and there you go.” Vin had left a lot out, but this was enough for now.

Ready, Cowboy?

Lets ride.”

Chris did not talk on the ride to the police station, but he was secretly anxious about the prospect of seeing Linda. The last forty-eight hours had been sheer torture for him. He wanted, no needed, to see her. Some how he had messed thing up and he was ready to try to fix it. Maybe she would appreciate that he was coming to get her out of jail. What ever landed them in this fix, he was glad, it made getting together much easier. Larabee had not convinced himself to go see her, but now circumstances had intervened. Hopefully, she would be receptive to hear him out. When they reached the station, Chris entered first and went straight to the desk sergeant, who actually took a step backward when faced with two very intense looking men.

“Supervisor, now!” He pulled out his ID and the sergeant called his boss. He met them at the front desk and seeing the look on their faces, decided to cooperate.

“You have one of my agents detained. I want her and her friend released immediately.” The glare that accompanied that statement was enough to make the man mover faster. He took Tanner and Larabee to the holding area. They heard the two females before they could see them. Vin hoped they could get them both out fast, before real charges were filed.

“Turn them loose, Holden, this man has proof of ID.” The supervisor ordered, when the man hesitated he added, “Now!”

“You’re kidding, right, no way somebody that hot looking…” He stopped as he caught site of two fiery glares aimed in his direction, one green and the other blue.

“You will apologize to Agent Coulter for that remark along with any others you may have made. Are we clear?” Larabee was in the man’s face. Holden did apologize as he unlocked the cell door.

Linda was not sure if seeing Chris, here, was a good or bad thing. She only knew that her pulse quickened and her heart raced when she saw him. Since the police impounded her truck, she hoped Chris would offer to drive her home and then at least she could be near the man for an hour or so.

Once outside, Kelli and Linda let out some of their anger. By the time they reached Chris’ truck, the men had heard the whole story. Larabee knew he would file a complaint with DPD. There was not excuse to treat them the way they were treated and someone would be held accountable. Chris did offer to drive Linda home and she sat in the front, after Vin claimed the back seat.

“Just drive, Lar’bee. And flip up you rear view mirror, we plan to be busy back here, doin’ somethin’ hot and steamy.” Vin drew Kelli to his side and giving her a wicked grin whispered, “Wanna make out?” Her laughter was the only response he got.

Chris drove and decided to drop off Vin and Kelli before he took Linda home. When they reach her ranch, she started to get out of the truck and he grabbed her hand.

“Can we talk?” Chris suddenly found himself nervous again. Just like the first time he had asked her that question.

Linda hesitated a moment, “Take me to retrieve my truck in the morning, throw in breakfast and we’ll talk then”

“Deal.” Chris said goodnight and started counting the hours until breakfast.

Saturday - 5:00 a.m.

Tanner could not sleep, it had been late when they finally made it home last night. Kelli had barely managed a shower before the adrenaline rush from her anger wore off and the day’s events took their toll. Probably just as well, Vin wanted to get them both away from here for some private time, at least that was his plan. Their plans had not been too successful in this relationship. He had to smile thinking about all the events that had led to today. In spite of the fact, that circumstances had intervened again in their quest to become lovers, he felt closer to Kelli than if they had been together for years. Today, however, their waiting would end and if anyone tried to interfere, he might just have to shoot someone. As he sat here with his morning coffee, he heard her moving around and knew she was awake. Now he could tell her where he intended to take her to get away. He poured her a cup of coffee and headed back to the bedroom.

Kelli woke up this morning feeling more anxious about the day than she expected. Somehow, today she wanted this waiting to end, much longer and she knew her confidence would fail and trepidation would replace it. She was not afraid of Vin, but did not want to disappoint him either by suddenly becoming nervous. Lost in her thoughts, she missed hearing him come in the room and was startled when he walked up behind her.

“You really need to stop doing that, Tanner!” Kelli yelped in surprise when he grabbed her around the waist.

“Good morning, Texas.” Vin said, setting the cups on the dresser, he turned to face her. “We need to talk.”

“Talk?” Standing here looking at this amazingly sexy man, talking was not the first thing that came to her mind. Kelli knew the instant her self-confidence exerted itself and would not let this opportunity pass. “Don’t think so, Tanner.”

She grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled. Vin needed no encouragement to possessively draw her closer. Any thoughts about conversation were forgotten when he saw the desire in her eyes. He kissed her hungrily and deeply, her heart pounded, her stomach fluttered and she was gripping his shoulder, so she would not fall. His hands caressed her body as he undressed her, moving her towards the bed and somehow in the process, Vin removed his own clothes. He pulled her with him onto the bed and his hands were suddenly all over her. He stroked her shoulders, the curve of her spine and her silky thighs. She kissed him with all the feelings of passion he had ignited inside her. He tried to temper the insatiable demands of their bodies.

“Damn,” he whispered. “We need to slow down.”

“Why?” she demanded.

He had to concentrate in order to answer her. “I want this to be perfect for you.” Vin knew that she had never been made love to before and wanted this to be right for her. She stroked his back, nearly overwhelmed by the strength she found in him.

“It is perfect,” she whispered.

He could not wait any longer to make her his. His hands shook as he gently kissed her. He wanted to go slow, but found her response to him electrifying. With energy, born out of their passion, they finally became lovers and as one, they found their reward for all the waiting they had endured.

Afterwards Vin held her and whispered the words of love that she needed to hear and he needed to say. He felt an overwhelming possessiveness. He did not know how he managed to find her or why she loved him, but she belonged to him now and he did not want to let go. Tanner, she thinks she need you, you reckon she will ever know how much you need her?

It also pleased the Texan that the sun was just now making its way into their room. This was certainly the most spectacular sunrise he had ever experienced and it was a memory he would carry for a lifetime.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was at Linda’s front door by six-thirty, which was shortly after sunrise. He had spent most of the night tossing and turning. Finally giving up on sleep, he got up and prepared to leave early to pick her up. After calling her to say he was on his way he thought about his decision. Sometime during the long night, he realized he did not want to spend the rest of his life alone. He decided he would give her all the time she needed, but was going to make it clear that he wanted her back. If he had to apologize, he would, somehow. Linda was ready when he arrived and instead of leaving immediately, she asked him to sit on the porch with her.

Chris knew this was the time that would determine, if they still had a chance to move forward. He was right back where he started from and now that he was here, was not sure what to say next. “Linda…I….” Chris swallowed hard and continued, “I let my past sneak back into my life and you paid the price for it. I’m sorry for hurting you that way.” he risked a look to see how she was reacting. “I would like for us to have another chance and this time I will remember that there are two of us involved.”

Linda had thought about this all night and she realized what was missing in their relationship. They were great together sexually and she knew she loved him, but she did not really know him. Not the way she wanted to. She wanted what Kelli had found, a way to know this man intimately, without depending on sex to speak for her. She would find out with her next words if Chris was sincere about wanting another chance.

“Chris, I have given us a lot of thought and I do want to be with you. However…I think we need to back up a few steps and really get to know each other. Are you willing to do that and see where things go from there?” Linda held her breath waiting for his answer.

“I think we can do that and we can start with breakfast, if you are willing.” Chris knew she was right. He knew what turned her on, but did not know what she liked in her coffee. He realized he wanted to know all the little details that made her the woman she was.

“Okay, let’s go.” Linda hoped she could learn enough about him in the next few weeks to help keep the past firmly in its place. This would be a start.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was back at his ranch by nine-thirty. Linda was coming over, shortly, to make sure Kelli had all the arrangements for next weekend finished. When Larabee left his truck, he heard the horses restlessly moving around in their stalls. He decided to check and was surprised to find that Vin had not tended to them this morning. Chris quickly took care of feeding them and then went to check on Tanner.

Vin heard the pounding on the door, but was unwilling to move. He and Kelli had spent the morning making up for lost time. After their first session of lovemaking, they had showered together. That had resulted in another hour spent in passionate exploration of each other’s bodies. He wanted to show her all the ways they could make love and today was her first lesson. Whoever was at the door was not leaving, so reluctantly, he slipped on his sweats and trekked to the door, to deal with the persistent caller.

“Chris! Why in the hell are you tryin’ to beat down my door?” Tanner was annoyed with the intrusion.

“I thought I should make sure you were still alive.” Chris grinned as he figured out the reason for Tanner’s irritation, “Peso, said hello.”

“Damn, I forgot the horses.” Vin was not really surprised by his lapse of memory. “Sorry, I had other …things on my mind.”

“Tell your ‘other thing’ that Linda is on her way to see her.” Chris laughed at the expression on Vin’s face. “I’ll keep her busy at the house for a bit. I suggest you two make it up there or the next person at you door will be Linda." The Texan’s affirmative nod was the only answer Larabee would get.

An hour later found Linda, Rain and Inez deep in discussion on Larabee’s deck. Maria and Sarah were keeping Buck and Chris busy, the two toddlers thought climbing on the deck rail was exciting. Their father and uncle disagreed and had their hands full keeping an eye on the boisterous girls. Uncle Nathan watched the show from a deck chair, too busy laughing to be any help.

“Well, look who decided to grace us with their presence.” Buck grinned as he watched the younger couple walk across the yard. When they were in earshot he said, “Chris, did you notice Kelli lost her sling. Do you know what that means?”

“It means, Bucklin, that she will be back at work on Monday.” Vin smiled as he gave Buck a ‘brotherly shove’.

“Kelli, we need you over here.” Rain beckoned from the other side of the deck. “We need some decisions from you.”

Vin started to follow her, but Chris intervened and whispered, “It’s time she gains some experience on how to handle this family and they need to learn about her, too.” Tanner knew Larabee was right and leaned on the deck rail to watch. He knew it was bound to be interesting.

“Here is a list we made on what still needs to be done for the wedding. We have a lot to do and little time to get it done.” Rain handed her a piece of paper. “Casey and Mallory will be here later to help us. You just need to answer a few questions and we will take care of the rest for you.”

Kelli looked at the ‘to do’ list and shook her head. “I appreciate your offer, but there must be some misunderstandin’. Most everythin’ is already taken care of and what’s left ‘m sure I can handle.”

“Nonsense, you only get married the first time once, every woman wants an event to remember.” Rain smiled, “We want to make this a lavish affair.” With the exception of Vin and Linda, who both were waiting for the explosion they knew was coming, the others expected Kelli to concede to the plans before her.

“We know this is a new area for you, but there are certain things that are expected and with over one hundred guests….” Inez was interrupted quickly.

“Stop! ... Vin, do you have family I don’t know about?” When Tanner shook his head no and smiled, Kelli continued. “There will NOT be a hundred guests, a tent, a catered meal, imported flowers, no formal wear or anything else like that! What part of the word ‘simple is so hard to understand?”


“But nothing! Vin already invited the family to be there. There are only three additions. I asked Katrina and Pam to attend and Vin invited Travis, at his request. The sun will rise at 6:23 a.m., without any assistance from anyone and Josiah has agreed to perform the ceremony. It will take place right over there on the rise by that meadow. I will be there and so will Tanner. He already knows what he is wearin’ and so do I. It will be maybe fifteen minutes and then we will be gone for three days. There is nothin’ else to do!” Kelli looked at Linda.

Linda held up her hands, “Hey, I already got your message yesterday, loud and clear. I cancelled all the extras, I had planned.”

Rain sighed and Inez spoke. “I told them you would not be one to be pushed easily, but they had to test you anyway. They did so want to produce a big wedding. With your approval, I would like to provide a family breakfast afterward, as a gift for our new… sister.” Inez smiled, “We need another strong-minded woman to keep these men in line.”

“As long as you don’t serve somethin’ I can’t identify, we have an agreement.” Kelli returned her smile.

Vin walked up behind Kelli and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Inez, thanks, a breakfast will be great and instead of strong-minded, I think the word is stubborn.” He laughed as he said it and that earned him an elbow to the ribs.

Buck laid a hand on Tanner’s shoulder and grinned mischievously. “ son. About your bachelor party. I’ve got this idea….” That earned Buck an elbow to his ribs from Vin.

Linda watched Chris and the smile that he wore while he held little Sarah. He was watching Buck harass Vin and Linda was starting to realize just how much he enjoyed his family’s antics. He had passed the point of accepting a new family in his life again. Now, if she could only get him to recognize that having his own was no different. Maybe they could have a future together that included having children.

MCAT Office - Late Thursday

One more hour and he was out of this office. Another week and they would be an active unit. MCAT was coming together nicely, but the closer they got to the end of the six weeks the busier they were. Buck was doing well with the new people that had come in the last two weeks. The unit was now home to fifteen agents, well, home to fourteen and a place to exist for Reed. Tanner had stepped into a leadership role as if he was born to it. Larabee recognized, years ago, the Texan had a natural ability to be the person in charge and everyone else knew it too. It seemed, the only one who did not see it was Tanner, until now.

Chris had spent the last few days getting to know Linda better. They had dinner together, visited the art museum and managed to sneak in a horseback ride. He was discovering things about the lady that he found delightful. The only difficulty he was having, was curbing his desire for her. Thinking about their previous wild encounters did not help him control the permanent state of need, he found himself facing these days. However, he had promised Linda time to broaden their relationship and that was what she would get. A knock at the door drew him back to the time.

“Come on in, Tanner.” Chris waited for the evaluations he knew Vin had. The only one Tanner had not personally handled was Coulter’s and Chris took care of that one, to keep things fair.

“Here’s the last of ‘em.” Tanner placed the files on Larabee’s desk. “These should keep you busy.”

“I appreciate you finishing before you take off.” Chris studied his friend. “You know I would give you more time if I could, it’s…”

“Lar’bee, we’re fine with it. Hell, ‘m not sure if we could handle more than three days without interruptions, it wouldn’t seem normal.” Tanner grinned as he thought about the events of the last few days. Finding time alone with Kelli had been a challenge. It seemed everyone was excited about their impending wedding and wanted to be involved. Vin had entrusted the preparation of the cabin to Ezra and Buck. With their collective knowledge of women, he knew they would take care of the details Kelli would appreciate. Josiah had insisted on time to go over the ceremony with them and Nathan felt it was his duty to counsel them about planned parenthood. JD placed himself in charge of Vin to make sure Tanner didn’t forget anything important. He knew they all cared and they meant well, however, each one demanded a portion of their time.

Chris laughed, “I suppose all the help has taken a toll on quiet time.”

“We’ve managed, but I am lookin’ forward to time alone at the cabin.” Vin smiled, “You are pickin’ up my special order, aren’t you?”

“As your best man, I’ve got it covered. Linda and I are going tonight and pick it up.” Chris grinned, “You know her, curiosity is killing her.”

“As long as she doesn’t tell Kelli, that’s fine.” Vin had designed their rings and the jeweler had just finished them. Kel had not seen the design and wanted it to be a surprise.

“It’s almost closing time, take off, I’ll shut things down here. I don’t want to see you or Coulter back in this office before next Wednesday morning.” Chris smiled, “However, if I were you, I‘d rest up for the bash tomorrow night. You do know the ‘wild bunch’ has a helluva send off planned for you two.”

“Yeah, I know they only think they are good at sneakin’ around. I figured it out three days ago. Where is it and what time have you been designated to get us there?"

“You two did not want a bachelor or bachelorette party or a big wedding party. You know this bunch had to organize something. It’s at The Standish Tavern and don’t come before seven.” Larabee acknowledged Vin’s nod as he watched him walk out the door.

Chris stayed busy reading over Tanner’s work until it was time to head out. Linda was meeting him at a nearby restaurant and he was anxious to see her again. She was on time and he was ten minutes late. “Sorry, Travis caught me on the way out and had some last minute things to discuss.” Chris apologized for his tardiness.

“That’s okay, I understand how demanding your work is.” Linda smiled and thought he was the best-looking man in the room. God, this man is sexy without even trying.

The initial awkwardness with each other, after getting back together, was gone. Once more, they were finding that conversation was easy between them. Before they realized it, the meal was finished and it was time to leave.

“I can’t wait to see the ring. I hope Tanner was right to do it this way.” Linda knew what Kelli liked and did not like, but did not recognize that at this point, Vin knew her better.

“Why don’t we walk over from here, it’s not far.” Chris had seen some of Vin’s designs and knew he was more than capable of making it special.

By the time they reached the jewelers, Linda was excited and she could not stop talking. Unlike her friend, she loved bold pieces of jewelry and sparking diamonds. They might be there for Vin, but she took the time to look at some of the newest pieces for herself. She had trouble understanding that Kelli did not want an engagement ring and was leaving it to Tanner to choose their wedding rings. Of course, Kelli did not like to shop as much as Linda did either. She heard Chris’ voice as he told the owner why they were there.

“Chris Larabee, I’m here to pick up and an order for Tanner.” Chris informed the man. “I believe you were expecting me.”

“Certainly and would you tell him it was a pleasure to work on these pieces for him. If he ever decides to change his line of work, I know he would be able to stay busy with designing.”

“Chris silently laughed at the thought, but said he would pass the message along. When Linda saw the results, she was impressed with the two bands of platinum encircled with a rope design and set with blue sapphires. The rings were exquisite, but she wondered about the choice of sapphires, instead of diamonds and she decided to ask the expert.

“The rings are beautiful, but why blue sapphires? What makes them so special?”

“The color blue is linked to emotions such as harmony, friendship and loyalty. Theses emotions belong to features that are permanent and reliable-emotion where fiery passion is not the main element, but rather composure, mutual understanding and unshakeable trust. Sapphires symbolize loyalty and faithfulness, while at the same time expressing love and yearning. Women from many countries chose this stone for engagement or wedding rings for those reasons.” The man was pleased to explain the spirit of the beautiful stones.

“I am starting to believe that Tanner just might understand my friend better than I thought. Kelli will love the design and the message.” Linda was thoughtful. Will Chris understand me that well?

“Linda...You ready to go?” Larabee tried for her attention again. Larabee, what are you going to do about this extraordinary woman?

They walked back to his truck and he drove her home. When he reached her front door, he could not hold back any longer. Chris pulled her close and started with a light kiss, which turned into a passionate declaration of his feeling.

“Linda, I am going home, but I want you to think about me tonight.” He spoke softly before he buried his mouth on her neck to mark his claim on her. His hands caressed her, as he traced kisses down her throat. Hearing the intake of her breath, he knew she received the message he was sending. Once more, he returned to her sensual mouth and thoroughly kissed her until he knew she was ready to surrender. Chris forced himself to ignore what his body was screaming for him to do and released her instead. They would have time to answer their desires later. First, the wishes of their hearts needed tending. She barely heard him when he said goodnight.

+ + + + + + +

After supper, Vin and Kelli took care of the horses for the evening. Tanner spent time with Midnight and liked the colt more every time he was around him. He still was not sure why it was so important to Kelli that the colt belonged to him. Watching her, as she finished grooming her mares he decided now was the time to ask. “Will you tell me now why me owing Midnight is so important to you?" Vin had one arm around her waist as he spoke.

“When Jake became my guardian and moved me to his ranch, I was nine. It was the first place I had ever had considered…home. He gave me a colt to introduce me to horses...” Kelli hesitated. “It was also the first time anyone gave me somethin’ that belonged just to me and I will always remember how that felt. It was special and probably why, even now, I find comfort with the horses. I was not free enough with my emotions then, to let Jake know how much… how much I appreciated him. I wanted to give you somethin’ that was special and sharin’ that feelin’ was the best way I knew how. I can’t explain it any better and maybe…” She did not know where to take it from there.

Vin did understand what she was saying and drew her closer before he said anything. “I couldn’t be there and you gave me the next best thing, Midnight will always be special for just that reason. Thank you, for tellin’ me.” He had wanted to erase that part of her life for her, but now realized that would have been wrong. Those times made her who she was today. The woman he would spend the rest of his life with.

“Why don’t we go home and …talk?” Tanner grinned as they walked back to their house. As soon as they were inside and comfortable in Tanner’s overstuffed chair, he heard the words he had expected.

“Don’t think so, Tanner.”

Kelli matched his grin and started to unbutton his shirt. Once his shirt was gone, she felt her body react to the sight of him. It amazed her that this man belonged to her and she knew she would never tire of this vision. The warm glint in his eyes told her, he knew what she was thinking. Kelli positioned herself in front of him, started a trail of kisses at one shoulder and moved down his upper body, she heard him suck in his breath, as she ran her tongue across his chest. Vin had taught her a lot in the past few days and made her feel things she never thought possible. Now it was her turn. She saw the question in his eyes and did not hesitated, “I’m sure.”

He then pulled her up to straddle his lap and kissed her hungrily. That only served to reignite the fire inside him, but dammit, she was still fully clothed. Tanner set about correcting that little detail.

When Vin had enough strength to move again, he gathered Kelli in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. After taking care of necessities, they crawled into bed. Just before sleep claimed them both, he heard her whisper, “Love you, Tanner.” He wrapped his arms around her and held her as he went to sleep.


The clock read 4:00 a.m.and Kelli was tossing and turning in her sleep. When she cried out, Vin knew she was caught up in a nightmare. He wanted to wake her without scaring her. He softy repeated her name until she was aware of who was speaking, but when he tried to hold her, she pulled away. She stumbled to the bathroom, attempting to be sick, tears were streaming down her pale face. She shook so badly, all she could manage was to sit on the floor and lay her head on the cool porcelain on the bathtub.

Vin grabbed a washcloth and ran water over it. He sat on the floor next to her and pulled her to him, washing her face and neck. Then he cradled her against him and gently rocked her as he softly whispered soothing words. He knew, without a doubt, she was thinking he would quit on her. If anything, he was more determined to find a way to free her completely from her past, but not today. This storm would pass and he was prepared to wait it out. However, his heart ached thinking about how many times she must have gone through this alone.

Twenty minutes had gone by, before she stopped shaking and started to gain back some color. She whispered in a rasping voice, “I’m okay now,” then she dared to look up at Vin, not knowing that he had been waiting for her to do so.

“I told you, we would handle this together and I’m not goin’ anywhere.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m a Tanner, stubborn as hell and I‘ve never quit on anythin’ in my life. You are just as strong or you would not have survived to become the woman you are. I figured between the two of us, we can take on these nightmares and send them back to hell, where they belong.”

Kelli knew she needed a way to get back in control again. “I need … us… I need to control my thoughts again.” Fortunately, Vin was thinking the same thing. They got up and he turned on the shower, the bathroom quickly filled with steam. The need to renew their commitment took over and this time it was not slow and sensual, but fast and demanding. Raw sexual power washed away the viciousness of the nightmare while hot steamy sex triumphed over the ghosts from her past.

Having the entire day just for them was something new. While the rest of the family worked, Vin and Kelli played. After breakfast, they packed a lunch and took the horses out for a run. Tanner showed her some of his favorite places on the ranch before they stopped. They had raced, chased and played like kids all morning.

The place Tanner chose for lunch was a secluded area set by a spring fed creek, which ran though the property. He would come here a lot when he needed to be alone. Since he met Kelli, those times of needing solitude were rare. Vin found serenity with her presence in his life. His soul renewed each time they made love and she was the only peaceful place he needed to be. “I hope you know how to swim, Texas” Tanner had a mischievous look on his face as he started to undress her.

“Vin, that water must not be over forty degrees, if that.” Kelli was hesitant. “We’ll freeze!”

“Not likely.” True to his word, she never got cold. She got Tanner instead and he took her to a place, not on any map, that was theirs alone. Lovemaking, which was driven not by need or lust, but fueled simply by the desire to share their love and a moment of time that belonged to only them. Afterwards, with the sun to bask in they slept curled up together for a few hours. They both knew the chances of sleeping later tonight, were nil. It was close to five when Vin woke. He really hated to see the day end, however, the hour was getting late and family was calling.

He woke Kelli with his gentle touches. “We probably should head back.” He kissed her and said in a soft voice. “If we don’t show up for that party, we’ll never hear the end of it.” The private party planned for them was at The Standish Tavern, one of Ezra’s many business investments. “Ezra, for sure, would never forgive us.”

“If you insist.” She answered while returning his kiss with so much passion and fire, they forgot about family and the time. Vin covered her body with his own and proceed to make another memory to treasure. He spent time to let her know how much he loved her and took pleasure in her reactions, to his touches. She might be reserved with everyone else, but with him, she let go. Their lovemaking had no limitations and no holding back. Vin drove her to a point where wild desire took over and he knew she was ready for him. Afterwards they lay together for a long time before moving. Finally, they knew there was no choice, but to dress and leave this haven.

“Are you sure you are not forgetting something?” Tanner’s eyes held amusement.

“I don’t think so, why?” Kelli though she had everything.

“Boots, Texas, your boots.” Vin laughed when she realized she was barefooted, again.

They knew the evening would be loud and full of activity, so they took the long way home for the extra few minutes of quiet time alone.

+ + + + + + +

The Standish Tavern was closed to the public tonight. Standish had thought of everything. Ezra had made special arrangements for the children. They were to stay in his private quarters with a hand picked nanny, for the evening. The girls were close enough for their parents to check on them and far enough away for the music not to disturb their sleep.

The Tavern decor had been transformed to remind the guests of honor of Texas. A band from the Lone Star State was the live entertainment. The music was country and sawdust covered the floor. The food was Tex-Mex and the beer was Lone Star. Bales of hay lined the room and Texas memorabilia adorned the walls. Ezra even had a mechanical bull in residence and made sure Nathan would have his medical supplies on hand.

“Ezra, how did you do all this?” Linda was amazed, “It feels just like places I have visited in Texas.”

“I assure you, it was not an unproblematic endeavor.” Ezra sighed, “Were it for just anyone, I would never undertake such a challenge. However, for our illustrious sharpshooter and his bride to be, it was a worthy enterprise.”

“You did a good job, Ezra and I know they will be surprised.” Chris gave Standish his approval.

“What time did you tell them to be here, Chris?” Linda asked as JD and Casey came in the door.

“Not before seven, I wanted everyone else here first.” Larabee smiled, “Looks like Buck is going to give the bull a trial run.”

“Brother Buck has already started celebrating. I hope he knows what he is doing because Nathan isn’t here yet.” Josiah shook his head as Buck let out a yell and hit the floor.

Slowly, the place filled with family and friends from work. Someone turned up the music and everyone began to have a good time. The friends would leave by eleven, leaving the family time to present their gifts to the young couple in private. However, in the meantime, the celebration was in full swing.

“Buck, I don’t think we’re as young as we used to be. I remember a time that bull would never stand a chance to throw you.” Chris nudged his old friend.

“I haven’t seen you on it yet, stud.” Buck grinned and he could see a wager coming. “How about we have a little contest?” Chris was saved from answering Wilmington, when he saw Vin and Kelli come through the door. Larabee joined Ezra to greet them and was relieved he would not have to commit himself to riding that thing.

“Welcome to Texas.” Standish smiled when he observed their reactions. “Come on in and stay a spell.”

“Reckon we will, thanks, Ez.” Tanner grasped Standish by the shoulder. “Appreciate what you’ve done, brother.”

“My pleasure. Now, may I suggest you eat first before partaking in libations?” Ezra suggested.

“It really looks great, thanks.” Kelli saw the buffet and realized she was hungry. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll start with the food.”

“What? Tanner doesn’t feed you.” Larabee grinned, “Or does ‘resting’, work up an appetite?”

“Oh, he takes care of me. I just want to eat before I try out that mechanical bull.” She walked toward the food bar, leaving one very concerned Texan with his friends.

“She’s not serious, is she?” Chris asked, with a little concern of his own.

“Knowing her, she just might be, but it ain’t gonna happen.” Tanner vowed, “With our luck she’d end up in a cast for six weeks.” Vin went to discuss this with his lady. As he walked away, he heard the laughter of his brothers behind him.

Tanner made his way through the crowd, having to stop and talk to friends that cornered him along the way. By the time he reached Kelli, she had two plates in her hand and passed him one, along with an impish grin. The laughter in her eyes made him forget what he was going to say. “’Bout time you got here, Tanner,” she smiled. “I thought I’d have to come rescue you.” Vin grabbed her by the hand and searched for a place they could sit down to eat. Buck intercepted them and had them sit with the family.

“I should have known I would find you all together.” Chris said as he and Linda joined them.

“I was just about to explain about the stripper, I ordered.” Buck laughed when Vin started to choke on his food. “It seems Inez took exception to that and I had to cancel the order.”

“Thank God for Inez, I don’t think I’m in shape for that kind of fun.” Mallory laughed, “I might have laughed hard enough to go into labor early.”

“That depends, was the stripper male or female?” Linda ventured.

“Female, of course!” Buck sputtered. “Why would I order a male stripper?”

“Maybe for your wife.” Rain joined in the laughter around the table.

“We could always get Buck, Vin and Ezra to perform. I seem to remember a case…”Chris was not allowed to finish as three “shut up” looks were sent in his direction.

“Sounds like an interesting story.” Linda was surprised to see this teasing side of Chris. “I’m sure Kelli would be interested in hearing it, too.”

She never got the chance to hear it. Tanner decided dancing was a safer alternative and he took Kelli to the dance floor. They danced through George Strait, Brooks and Dunn and Rascal Flatts before the live band took the floor. Vin made a point of saying hello to all the friends that were there. He made sure to keep Kelli close by, there was no way he was allowing her near that bull or Larabee. Chris was in one of his rare teasing moods and no telling what he might tell her. On the other hand, he smiled to himself thinking about the possibility of showing her what they had to do as undercover male dancers.


Before they knew where the time went, it was eleven and the extra guests said goodnight. Pam and Katrina said they would be at the ranch by five in the morning to help. The only ones left at the tavern were family. Ezra asked the band to stay for a while. They played some romantic songs for the remaining couples to enjoy.

Linda was pleased to find that Chris was a good dancer. Inez enjoyed time with her husband without the kids, as did as Josiah and Mallory. Nathan and JD had no problem getting their wives on the dance floor either. They made it through some beautiful songs from Alabama, Alan Jackson and Colin Raye. When they hit ‘Amazed’ by Lonestar though, Ezra realized it was time to get Tanner and Coulter off the dance floor. It looked as if they forgot there were other people in the room. He dismissed the band and called for everyone’s attention.

“It’s time for us to share a few things and we start with Inez.” Ezra gave her the floor.

“We, meaning Rain, Casey, Mallory and myself, have made a list of the gifts that your friends left for you. We will make sure they are ready for you to open when you return on Tuesday.”

“Thanks, we appreciate it, there was too much going on for me to keep track tonight.” Kelli was starting to like these women very much.

Vin figured this was going to take a while, so he propped up his feet and pulled Kelli into his lap. When everyone laughed his only comment was, “I listen better when I’m comfortable.”

“You have plenty of time to be comfortable, if that’s what you call it now.” Buck grinned, “We decided to get you something we know you need. This is from all of us.” He handed Vin a large package to open. Tanner started laughing before he showed Kelli what it was. It was a miniature version of a traffic light that could be wired to a door like a doorbell.

“In case you need instructions, you keep it on green when it safe to knock, yellow when you’re hopeful and red means, get the hell away.” JD was pleased to explain and assured Vin it would be operational before they returned.

“I don’t know who told, but thanks.” Vin laughed.

“My turn,” Linda handed Kelli a newspaper.

“Thanks, Linda, but what am I supposed to do with it?” Kelli was uncertain.

“Read the circled part out loud.”

“My Texas Lady is the winner of this year’s Kentucky Oaks, maiden race for fillies. Sire: Texas Justice ,Dam: Majestic Lady. She will reside at Larabee Seven Horse Ranch in Denver Colorado. Owners are Vin and Kelli Tanner….Linda! ... You didn’t! ...Thank you!” Kelli yelled in excitement.

“Yep, I did, you were there when she came into this world and named her, its only right. Her papers and history are all in this album. She has several races to finish before she goes off to stud, but it has been arranged, to breed her to that gorgeous red chestnut, “Gallant Red’. I know you will take good care of her.” Linda was pleased to see Kelli so excited.

“Since you are now officially owners of a winner, next weekend you will be going to watch the Preakness run in Baltimore, all expenses paid, courtesy of your family.” Chris grinned when he gave them the news.

“I don’t know what to say.” Vin was lost for words.

“Say thank you, son.” Josiah instructed with a wide grin.

“Thanks, y’all.” Tanner had the start of a smile.

“One more thing, we were at a loss to come up with the perfect gift for you both. Something, in line with the gifts your other siblings received upon entering the state of matrimony. Therefore, we all went in together on this one.” Ezra handed something to Vin.

“Ez, you guys, you already did all this, it…”

“Just look at it, Vin!” JD couldn’t wait.

Vin did look, it was a bankbook for ‘Tanner’s Dream Home’, with a deposit of six thousand dollars. He showed it to Kelli and shared her emotion. “We all contributed and it’s a start for when you decide to build on your property. We all, of course, will help and I will be happy to supervise.” Ezra beamed with delight. The look on their faces said they picked the right idea.

“I...we…aww hell, thanks.” Vin didn’t know what else to add.

“Now that it’s after midnight and in about six hours the sun will be up, I think it’s time to close shop. Tanner, you’re with me. Kelli, Linda will take you home.” Chris waited for his words to sink in.

“What do you mean, I’m with you?” Vin just realized what Chris had said.

“He means tradition, Vin. You can’t see Kelli before the ceremony.” Nathan patiently explained. “We all had to go through it, now it’s your turn.”

“Linda, I’m fine, you can come over at five, like we planned.” Kelli did not like the change in plans, either.

“This is how it is going to be. Vin, my truck, Kelli with Linda, Buck will drive your truck to the ranch and Inez will follow with the girls. Ezra and I will keep you company tonight and no arguments.” Larabee issued his orders.

“It’s just a few hours and it will give me some time to spend with my best friend before she changes her name.” Linda made her plea.

Neither Vin nor Kelli had an argument for that and reluctantly agreed to the change in plans. However, agreeing and getting it done were two different things. “Linda, you ride with Chris, Buck, go with Inez, I got it covered. When we get to the ranch, we’ll follow your plan, but until then we follow mine.” Vin’s mind was set in stone and no amount of arguing would change it.

Chris figured it was the best he was going to get from Tanner and agreed. Buck had already left with his family when Ezra locked up and headed out. Chris and Linda followed him, after Vin assured them they would be along shortly. Sitting in the parking lot of the Standish Tavern, Vin had not yet started his truck. He wanted to make sure Kelli was okay with the change of plans their family had set up.

“I’m okay with it, it’s only a few hours and I get the impression Linda has somethin’ to discuss.” Kelli continued, “I don’t think, I’ll be sleepin’ anyway. Katrina and Pam will be there by five and I can guarantee the other ladies won’t be left out.”

“If you need me, I won’t be far.” Vin sighed. “Sometimes I forget you made it on your own for a long time, before I met you.”

“That doesn’t mean, I want to be alone again, I kinda like havin’ you around,” she smiled.

“Then I guess we’re even, cause I kinda like havin’ you around, too.” Vin graced her with that Tanner grin. “Let’s get it done then, Lar’bee will be pacin’ till we get there.”

+ + + + + + +

Larabee was pacing, Ezra had already taken Vin’s clothes to the main house and Chris and Linda were waiting on Tanner’s porch.

“They will be here, relax, you’d think you were the one getting married.” Linda laughed, ‘Why are you so uptight about this?”

“It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. It seems like every time things start to go good for Vin, something goes wrong.” Chris paced some more.

“Chris, they will be fine and so will you.” Linda was confident. “Just don’t let your imagination run so wild.”

“Are you going to stay here this weekend?” Chris tried to clarify his rapid change of topics. “What I meant to say was… I want to spend some time with you this weekend. You could stay in the guest room, if you want and maybe we could go for a ride and later go out to dinner.”

“I think maybe we can work out something.” Linda smiled, “As long as you don’t plan to keep worrying all weekend.”

Just then, Larabee saw the lights from Vin’s truck and relaxed just a little. What he was concerned about was something going wrong, that might hurt his family. Something he may not be able to control. He wanted Vin to experience some of the same kind of happiness that he had shared with Sarah. As Tanner approached, Chris found himself with a real smile on his face.

“You can drop your guard, Cowboy, we made it safe and sound.” Tanner knew Chris was worried and wanted him to know he did not need to be. “Now, if you wanna give me a few minutes of privacy, I’ll be up at the house after that.”

Chris shook his head, “Nope, say goodnight and come on, your clothes are already at the house.”

“Tanner, I don’t think they are going to leave us alone.” Kelli observed.

“Then I guess they will just have to watch.” Tanner then proceeded to passionately kiss his bride-to-be goodnight, holding nothing back. Just when he was sure he was ready to tell Chris to leave, he heard Linda laugh. How could you forget she was there, Tanner? He leaned back and looked at the woman that had changed his life and whispered, “Goodnight, Texas.”

Turning to Chris, he snapped, “Well, are you coming or not?” Vin walked toward the house only after Linda and Kelli went inside. He did not check to see if Larabee followed him.

Once inside Kelli found Linda’s laughter contagious. “I don’t know how you do it because I’m not sure I share your humor.” she smiled anyway. “So, tell me why having some time with me is so important.”

Linda quit laughing and got serious. “I was instructed to give this to you, on the day you got married and since it is after midnight, I guess that is today. I do not know what is in it, but I do know there is one waiting for me, too. If I ever get married, that is. It’s from my dad, he left this for you.”

Kelli took the large envelope and opened it. Inside were two letters, one for her and one for the man she married. She opened the one addressed to her and read it.

Kelli, if you are reading this, then I am not around to tell you this in person. I always thought of you as my second daughter and was honored that you came into our lives. You deserve to find happiness in your life and I hope that on this day, you have found it. I wish I could be there to walk you down the aisle, but we both know that sometimes life takes turns we do not always want. My wish for you is that you have a good life ahead, filled with love and happiness. Please accept the enclosed, as my gift to you on this special day. Love,

Your almost Dad.

Kelli was in tears before she finished and passed the letter to Linda and soon she was crying, too. In the envelope was a bank draft for one hundred thousand dollars. They sat there and cried together until both women cried themselves out. Kelli would wait to share this with Vin. Tonight, two old friends would reminisce about a man they both missed.


Sunrise was forty-five minutes away and the Larabee household was full. All the brothers were there to keep Tanner from being anxious. They were all taking too much and could not sit still. With the exception of Ezra, they each had a story about their own wedding day to tell. They just would not accept that Vin was not stressed about the upcoming event. Actually, the Texan was the only one who was calm. Vin was ready, he was wearing blue jeans and a long sleeve blue shirt that matched his eyes. He would slip into a darker blue western cut jacket when it was time. A little after six he planned to run everyone out and meet Kelli at six-fifteen.

Kelli was ready for them all to go. She was fine, but everyone else was too anxious about details. She insisted her hair was staying down, not up. Her make-up was okay and her dress did not need any more accessories. Her white tunic top had a V-neck and long billowing sleeves. She wore a white skirt that was long and straight. The only accessory she wore was a silver and turquoise Concho belt that rested perfectly just above her hips. Her jewelry was a pair of silver stud earrings Linda gave her as she was dressing. It was already six and she insisted they all leave.

Vin stood by Chris’ deck and waited for Kelli, a quick check of the time showed ten minutes after six. He had already sent everyone else ahead. He knew they might not approve, but there would be a new tradition started today. He and Kelli intended to walk up that rise together as equal partners starting a new life. Tanner was so lost in thought, he almost did not see her. He had to catch his breath when he saw the beautiful woman walking toward him. Tanner, what did you do to deserve this woman? When she was close, he reached for her hand.

“Good morning, Texas.” Vin only managed to whisper.

“Good morning, Tanner.” She managed to whisper back.

“I have somethin’…” They both spoke at the same time and laughed.

Kelli went first and started to unbuckle Vin’s belt. “The Navajo Indians consider it good fortune to wear turquoise, so my gift to you is this.” The gift was handmade, the image of a bronco in perfect profile carved into a turquoise stone, set in a sterling silver buckle. She helped him put it own and receive a kiss for her efforts.

“And this is for you.” He gave her a silver eagle necklace. It had hand cut pieces of sleeping beauty turquoise inlaid into handmade casing of sterling silver, which formed beautiful eagle images. “Turn around and let me put it on you.” Once it was on, she turned to face him. The necklace was the perfect size to rest in the cut of her V-neck tunic. Kel, how did you ever find this man?

“Are we ready to do this, Kel?” Vin asked and received her nod in return.

Five minutes later, they stood in front of Josiah with Linda next to Kelli and Chris standing with Vin. The young couple listened as he spoke the words that would change their lives. They had written their own vows and once their pledge of commitment was made, they exchanged rings. As they did, the sun came into full view over the mountains.

Chris watched the Texan as he took the next step in his life and was pleased for his brother and best friend. Vin was one of those people that always gave more than he received and he deserved some happiness of his own. His glance fell on Linda and saw she had lost the battle with her own emotions and was crying. If this were not over soon she would not be alone. Chris then realized Josiah had stopped speaking.

The ceremony was over and suddenly even being outside was confining. Everyone moved forward, at once, to offer congratulations. Thankfully, the best man with his natural commanding authority, soon steered the group to breakfast.

Thanks, cowboy.”

Anytime, brother.

Breakfast was loud, with everyone talking at the same time. Somehow, Vin got everyone’s attention and quieted them enough to listen. “We wanna thank all of you for sharin’ this with us and for all the wonderful things y’all have done. It means a lot to both of us to know that we have family that cares.” Vin was through talking and was anxious to get moving.

Kelli and Vin cut the cake and while everyone was still eating, they slipped out the door. Buck and Ezra were to keep the group inside, while Chris and Linda saddled the horses. When they reached their house, they hurriedly changed for their ride. Kelli picked up the envelope from last night and put it in her saddlebag with a few other last minute items. She was ready to go.

“Kel, wait a minute.” Vin held up her boots and laughed.

“It’s your fault you know, you make me forget things, Tanner.” She put on her boots and they were out the door.

At the barn, the horses were ready and now if they could get away quickly things would work out great. Larabee and Tanner said all they needed to with a grasp of forearms. Linda took a little longer. First, she hugged Vin and told him to take care of Kelli. Then she hugged Kelli and was close to tears again.

“Linda, we’ll be back in three days and you and I can have lunch on Wednesday, okay.” Kelli knew how emotional Linda was feeling, especially after giving her the letter last night, it had stirred memories of her father. After last night’s crying session, she figured Linda was in for a rough few days. She only hoped Chris would keep her busy.

Chris knew he needed to do something or they would be standing here all day. He put his arm around Linda’s waist and pulled her to his side. “You two have a good trip and we’ll take care of things here.” Larabee nodded to Tanner.

Vin read Chris, loud and clear and wasted no time with words. He and Kelli rode out leaving Linda in good hands.

“Now, lady, about our weekend plans.” Chris had Linda headed away from the barn before she even realized that Kelli was gone.

+ + + + + + +

Taking a direct route at a brisk pace, the trip to Tanner’s property would only take about thirty-five minutes by horseback. Vin took an indirect trail at a leisurely pace so Kelli could enjoy the scenery. He stopped after an hour of riding and asked her to get off her horse. “We are fixin’ to cross the property line and I want you ridin’ with me when we do.” Vin helped her get on Peso and then settled in behind her. She leaned back against him and enjoyed the feeling of belonging. When she got her first view of the lake, she was in awe of the beauty before her.

“Vin, it’s breathtaking. How did you find something so perfect?”

“Just lucky, I guess.” Vin was watching her, not the lake.

There was a corral for the horses and once they were taken care of, Vin took her to the cabin. He insisted she on carrying her inside and once again, she was surprised. Tanner’s idea of a small cabin was not what she expected. She thought they would be ‘roughing it’. The log cabin was actually about the size of their place at the ranch and was more of a weekend getaway with all the comforts of home. She could see Vin’s touch in every corner of it and knew he had done most of the work himself.

“You are a man of many hidden talents.” Kelli smiled, “You could have told me.”

“And miss the look on your face, no way.” Vin was glad she liked it and was anxious to show her the rest of it. He took her hand and led her through the bedroom to the bath. “You should like this.” There was a garden tub, with whirlpool jets and an oversized shower, which looked very inviting. She was pleased to see he had included skylights here, also.

“I don’t know how much time you have spent here in the past, but plan on a lot more in the future.” Kelli could just stay here, forever. “Let’s build a barn, move the horses and never go back.”

“That might take a little while, in the meantime, how about we check out the shower before lunch?” Vin was already undressing her as he posed the question. “We have somethin’ important to talk about.” He began to make love to his new wife and soon they both lost track of time

Much later, after a late lunch they sat on the front porch swing and talked about the future. Kelli figured it was a good time to share the letters from Linda’s dad. She let Vin read the one addressed to her and showed him the check. “I’ve been thinkin’ about all this money we suddenly have and have some ideas about what to do with it all.” With Vin’s encouragement she continued. “I thought we might take the money My Texas Lady won and will win and give it to programs that help children that have been abused. The money from Linda’s dad, we could put into the breeding program for Larabee 7." She watched him for his reaction.

“It sounds like you have given this some serious thought. I agree, but I think we should talk to Ezra and see how to go about it. He is the expert on investments and legal issues concernin’ Larabee 7. Josiah can probably direct us to some organizations that work with children." Vin already knew she had never touched her trust from Jake and expected her to want to give away most of the rest.

“Okay, now your letter. If you want to read it in private, I’ll give you some time alone.” She was prepared to leave.

“Stay where you are, we don’t need secrets between us.” Vin opened the letter and read it.

I may not know your name, but I do know who you are. You are a man of strong character, tenacious and have a compassionate soul. Kelli is too street smart to let just any man break through her defenses. You must also have gentleness and a helluva lot of patience. Kelli trusts you or you would not be in her life, consider yourself fortunate. She is a daughter not of my blood, but of my heart. As much as I wanted her to be part of our family, there was a part of her which she could never give to us. A part she could never give to anyone. The fact, that you are reading this says she has found someone that has reached her soul and given her freedom to love completely. She would not settle for less.

I will apologize now for leaving this for you to deal with, but I never found the right time to tell her this. If you are going to share this with her that is fine, but you might want to keep the information on this page to yourself for a while. Pick the right time to tell her. I know she has told you about her past, she would never consider marriage without telling first. Kelli does not know that I knew about her history. I never told anyone, not even Linda, but I wanted to help. Without her knowledge, I hired the best investigators in the country to search for some answers. They had only limited success. The enclosed disk holds the information they did find. It is the only record and there are no copies. She deserves some answers and I pray that you are the man to help find them. Take care of her, son, or you will answer to this old man in the hereafter.

J.M Dubois

Vin was moved by the old man’s word and amazed he knew Kelli so well. He gave her both pages to read and prepared himself for the tears he knew were coming. He held her for a long time and let her cry. It seemed only fair since he was the one to unlock all the emotions she now had to deal with. However, she did not have to deal with them, alone.