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

“Now, lady, about our weekend plans.” Chris had Linda headed away from the barn before she even realized that Kelli was gone. “I’m thinking today we laze around here have an early meal and maybe watch a movie or two.”

“Since when does Chris Larabee, laze around?” Linda tried a smile.

“How many times do I marry off my best friend?” Chris grinned,” That’s damn hard work.”

“You’re right, I say they owe us. Maybe we should crash their weekend at the Preakness.” Linda was already feeling better.

“Think you could make the arrangements?” She nodded an affirmative answer, Chris knew now, that if she had a way to redirect her thoughts she would be fine. “You do that, while I try to reclaim my house.”

Linda pulled out her cell phone and Chris went to organize his affairs. Some things are just not that easy, even for Chris Larabee. It was after two before the clean up was finished and everyone went home.

“What movies would you like to watch?” Chris finally had Linda alone and did not plan for her to leave anytime soon.

“You pick the first one and I will pick the next.” Linda wanted to see what he liked.

Chris was not sure what she would like so he decided a comedy was a safe place to start. He settled with her on the couch and soon forgot about the movie. He spent time watching the beautiful woman beside him and soon was lost in thought.

Larabee, you know she deserves a man that can offer more. A man willing to give her the life she will not have with you. She could probably find him too, if you were not in the picture. All the things a woman wants, marriage, children and a future of growing old together. She would make a great mom, just look how she mothers Kelli. Yeah, but Chris, you also know you will not give her up, not yet. There will come a day she will get tired of waiting for you to change. In the meantime, make some memories to look back on, for the long cold nights you will spend alone.

Linda did not really care about the movie. She was enjoying the company of the man beside her, more. Even with no words spoken, it was an enjoyment just to be near him. He was almost the perfect man, if only he was not so set on punishing himself for surviving. Linda lost herself in her thoughts.

Dubois, you are in so deep with this man, you know you will not give up easily. He deserves to be complete again. To find the happiness he wants for his brothers. Chris needs more children of his own to love and nurture. He has so much to give and you know he was a fabulous Dad. Okay, Linda, you wait for as long as it takes. In the meantime, do not deny yourself what you need. Maybe you do not know him as you wish too, but you do know you desire him. Tonight, show him how much you miss his touch, stay with him and make love all night. With time and patience, maybe you can make it last a lifetime.

Chris tightened his hold on the woman, he held. He kissed the back of her neck and felt her shiver. His hand move to caress her lovely body. She may not be ready to let him back in her bed, but he could still enjoy the feel of her. He shifted his position on the couch and drew her down next to him. He spent time to explore every curve of her sexy body with hands that caressed and stroked. Suddenly, she was doing the same thing and he was losing what little control he had. Linda wanted this man, if she could not capture his mind, then she would take his body. She would receive his offer of lust as a gift for herself. Chris was surprised by her boldness, but very satisfied with the results.

Chris said the first thing that came to mind. “I love your choice of movies,” he gave her the Larabee grin and kissed her thoroughly. With a pat to her backside he asked, “Should we move the next episode to someplace more comfortable?”

Linda gave him an impish grin, “What makes you think there is a next episode, Cowboy?”

“This.” Chris kissed her and ran his hands over her warm body.

“Your place or mine?” She gave him a sexy smile.

“Mine’s closer.” He gathered her in his arms and carried her to his bedroom.

Chris spent the remainder of the night making up for the time they had lost. Sleep claimed them in the early hours of morning. The smell of coffee brewing woke him. The clock read nine-thirty, the reach of his hand told him Linda was still with him. Who in the hell, is in the kitchen?

Wearing only his sweatpants, Chris investigated. “Buck, what are you doing here?”

“Guess you forgot about the horse sale.” Buck grinned as he saw recollection cross Larabee’s face.

“Yeah, what time was that?” Chris reached for a cup.

“”We have to be there by noon, if we want to bid on the mare we want.”

“Okay, but Linda is going with us.” Chris hesitated for a moment. “And there will be no comments, Buck. We will meet you at the barn in thirty minutes, “As an after thought, he yelled out the door, “Plan on stopping for breakfast, I am starved.” The only answer he got, was laughter from his old friend.

Now, all he had to do was to wake Linda and tell her. Their lazy day together would be spent with Buck instead, not riding, but buying horses. Yeah, Chris, but there is always tonight

+ + + + + + +

Monday mornings always, come too soon. Larabee was reluctant to see this weekend pass. It was one of the best in a very long time. Linda was his lover again and he was content with his decision to move forward. Vin was happy and that was something that Chris wanted for his friend. They even managed a successful bid on the mare they needed. Now, if the final week of preparations for MCAT went as well…He heard Reed before he saw him.

“You better know the lay of the land, if you want to see action.” Sam was talking to their newest agent. “Larabee treats some of these guys like family and you have to work with women. Of course one of them got smart and starting putting out to one of the bosses so …”

“Reed, in my office now!” Larabee’s good mood evaporated. Once Reed was in his office, he had him shut the door.

“I am only going to say this one time. What my agents do in their personal life is their business. I expect a professional attitude in this unit and that means: Do not gossip! Do your job! No smart-ass remarks! No backstabbing! If you have a complaint, it comes to me! Are we clear?” Those remarks delivered with the Larabee glare had Sam very uncomfortable, but did not stop him.

“I have seen better behaved units in the Boy Scouts. Am I just supposed to ignore the lack of discipline around here? If I were in charge…”

“IF you intend to continue having a career in law enforcement you WILL find a way to resolve your asinine assumptions! If not, I will make a point to see that you spend the rest of your short career doing nothing, but grunge work. Now, get the hell out of my office!" Chris needed to get away from the man before he forgot he was a professional.

Buck stuck his head in the door. “You okay in here?”

“You heard, come on in.” Chris was still standing and was not past his anger.

“I think the entire floor heard.” Wilmington laughed, “Too bad it’s not professional just to shoot him.”

“What’s too bad is, we are stuck with him for another five months, unless he quits or requests a transfer.” Chris was exasperated. “Why is he so vocal, now? I thought he settled down.”

“Tanner keeps a close watch on him and I guess and with Vin gone, Reed decided to test the waters.” Buck speculated. “There is a lot that doesn’t get to you when Tanner is here. He does a good job of keeping a lid on things. Almost as good as you did with us.” Buck laughed, “You trained him right.”

“Yeah, he does. Of course, I got a lot of experience running interference between you guys and Travis. I am finding it difficult to not to have my hand in everything, like I used to. Letting go of old habits is not easy.”

“You have to delegate some of it or with all the new responsibly you will go on overload. We don’t like a stressed-out Larabee. It’s not good for our health.” Wilmington smiled.

“Tomorrow you get to watch him because I will be in a meeting with Travis most of the day.” Chris had to smile when he heard Buck groan.

“You said he either has to quit or request a transfer, right?” Buck had the start of an idea.

“Whatever you are thinking, I don’t want to hear about it.” Chris grinned, “At least not officially.”

Larabee smiled as Buck left. He knew if the boys decided to give Reed the ‘treatment’ they had perfected so well over the years, Sam would be begging to leave before the month was over. If anyone deserves it, it’s him. Larabee, just sit back and enjoy the entertainment.


Vin could not believe it was already Monday afternoon. Tomorrow they would return to ‘civilization’. Each second spent out here, he treasured and he could almost talk himself into staying permanently. They had taken long rides, played in the water, enjoyed beautiful sunsets and made love with the sunrises.

The last three days had been full of revelations for him about Kelli. Every time he thought he could not possibly love her more, she would do or say something to prove him wrong. Each time they made love, he was sure it could not be better. Until the next time they would come together and he found a new level of ecstasy to explore. Sitting here on the porch, watching her walk up from the lake, still mad at him for the disagreement they were having, he realized he even enjoyed arguing with her. Face it, Tanner, your life has never been better.

“Lake still there?” A twinkle of amusement danced in his vibrant blue eyes as she stood before him, with her hands on her hips.

“Very funny, Tanner and don’t do that.” Kelli tried to hold onto some of her anger from the spat, that drove her to seek solitude by the lake. She really wanted another firearms instructor instead of Vin, but he was adamant about training her himself. The look in his eyes was her downfall and wiped away all her remaining annoyance. The effect he had on her was exactly the reason that she wanted someone else to help improve her scores. Vin said no and would not even discuss it. She knew he would win this argument, but… she planned to enjoy every minute of losing it.

“Do what?” He asked innocently as he drew her to him. He first ran his hands down her smooth back. “This?” Resting his hands on her backside, he asked again. “Or this?” Drawing her even closer, he pressed against her and whispered in her ear. “Maybe this?” Finally, he captured her mouth is a fiery kiss than left her unable to object.

“You don’t play fair, Tanner.” All she could manage was a husky whisper while his hands roamed over her. She felt the heat race through her body like a burning fire.

“Never said I did, but it is my playtime and my turn to make the rules.” Vin lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bedroom. Slowly, he undressed her while replacing her clothes with his kisses. When she tried to undress him, he stopped her. “My game, my rules, baby.” He sat her on the edge of the bed and removed only his shirt and boots. “You can look, but you can’t touch.”

“Vin, please.” She reached for him.

“Not yet, I’m not through.” He kissed her stomach and moved up. Her reactions and the sexy sound of her moans of pleasure told him his game was almost over.

“Tanner, please!” Kelli could not handle more, he was driving her crazy with his sensual assault.

When he raised his head and looked in her eyes, he saw only wild desire and he knew she was past the point of being ready for him. It was a while after that before either of them could move. Finally, he rolled to his side taking Kelli with him. “You okay, baby?” Her head rested on his shoulder, so she did not see the look of male satisfaction on his face. He stroked her cheek and brushed back her hair with his fingers.

“Better than okay.” Kelli raised her head slightly to see his face. His blue eyes sparkled with mischief. Speaking slowly and punctuating each word with a kiss, somewhere on his body, she said, “Vin… next… time… I … make… the… rules… and… I’m …a… fast… learner.” Her last kiss had her face to face with the man that had brought her more pleasure, than she ever imagined possible.

“Countin’ on it, Texas.” He wrapped his arms around her to claim her again. “Next time, but we’re still on my time, now.” He said softly, as he began another sensual assault to take her to paradise.

Much later, they sat under the night sky and listened to the sounds of nature around them. Kelli leaned against him as he held her next to him. The Texan felt he owed her an explanation. “There are more than a few good firearms instructors around. However, the truth is, I am better than all of them. I want you to learn the best ways possible to enhance your skills. That increases the odds of you stayin’ safe and uninjured on the job. I will not trust anyone to teach you that, but me. Your safety is too important to me, to let anything get in the way of that.” Vin tightened his hold on her.

“I’m glad you explained and I do understand.” She sighed, “I just…dammit, Tanner, every time I get this close to you, my discipline vanishes. It’s difficult to concentrate when all I want to do is strip off your clothes. You just don’t realize how being near you affects me.” Lord, doesn’t the man realize how sexy he is?

Vin had not been able to figure out why she did not want him to instruct her. Many reasons crossed his mind, but this one he had not considered. One he definitely did not think she would readily admit to. He turned her to face him and wanted to ask if she was serious. One look in her eyes and he knew she was. A slow smile started across his handsome face.

“If you laugh, Tanner, so help me…”

Tanner was not laughing, he was too pleased to do that. He grinned at the thought of Kelli being undisciplined about anything. Hell, her whole life had been about self-discipline and controlling her emotions. Oh, he knew she enjoyed his body when they made love, but her admission was gratifying. He was aware that expressing her feelings was new to her and not always easy. Nevertheless, she had come a long way in a short time.

“I reckon, now that I know my once disciplined wife has no self control, I’ll have to have enough for both of us.” He kissed her slowly and deeply before adding, “But not tonight.” Vin started to unbutton her shirt and she stopped him.

“Tanner, you’re forgetting somethin’, it’s my game, my rules, baby.” She laughed as she pushed him back on the blanket and began to undress him.

+ + + + + + +

Chris made it home by six and was pleased to see Linda already here. They had pre-arranged to meet for dinner and she was staying the night. While he tended the horses, Linda was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on their dinner. With headphones on, listening to music, she did not hear him come in. When he walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, she screamed and dropped the tomato she was holding to the floor.

“Chris, you scared the hell out of me.” Her attempt to reprimand him failed when she set eyes on his gorgeous body. She was delighted to hear his laughter as he reached in the fridge for a cold beer.

“You were expecting someone else?” He grinned at the look of desire on her face. Walking to her, he took the cold bottle and touched her neck. She shivered from the chill. He decided she needed to get warmer and kissed her eagerly. The beer and dinner forgotten, he pressed her against the counter and ran his hands over her body. Leaving a mark of passion on her neck, he quickly started undressing her. Not one to be left behind, Linda had his shirt off in a matter of seconds. She sucked in her breath at the sight of his muscular chest and felt the fires of passion take over her body. Chris lifted her and carried her to his bedroom.

“Welcome home, Cowboy.”

It was much later, after they had a long hot shower and another round of hot steamy sex, that Chris realized he was hungry. Trying not to disturb a sleeping Linda, he went to the kitchen to see what could be salvaged from dinner.

“Hot salad doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?” Linda stood in the doorway.

“Not really, but I do make a mean omelet.” Chris smiled and opened the refrigerator to find the ingredients he would need.

Together they straightened the kitchen and then ate their ‘dinner’. It was almost midnight by the time they finished and the dishes had been done. “Let’s get some sleep. I have a meeting with Travis tomorrow that promises to be an all day affair.” Chris had his arms around her and together they went back to bed.

Somewhere, something was ringing. It finally registered with Chris that it was his phone. A check of the time found it was four in the morning. “Larabee.” Chris listened as his ranch supervisor delivered his message. “I’ll be right down, George.”

“Chris, what’s wrong?” Linda was awake.

“A couple of the mares are foaling. One is having problems and the vet is not available until late tomorrow.” He did not want to tell her anymore just now. “Go back to sleep.”

“Chris, which mare is it? What kind of problem?” Linda was already up and getting dressed.

“Linda…Sandstone is trying to foal and something’s wrong. George is afraid we might lose her.” Chris put on his shirt, “I’m going to see if there is anything I can do.”

“Sandy?” That was one of Kelli’s mares, a beautiful golden palomino. “I know that horse as well as Kelli does, I’m going with you.”

Within ten minutes, they were at the barn and Linda rushed to the mare. Speaking softy to her, she got close enough to feel her belly.

“How long has she been like this?” Linda was alarmed to see the horse in so much distress.

“She was doing okay until about an hour ago, then suddenly things turned bad for her.” George explained. “Mr. Larabee, I need to get back to your other mare, she is just about ready. Tonight must be the night for newborns.”

“Go, George. Linda, do you know if an ultrasound was done on her?” Chris thought he might know what the problem was. After a quick check, he feared the foal was breech and stuck.

“We did one before she was moved over here, I’ll call Ben. What do you need to know?” Linda was already dialing the number.

“When it was done, how big the foal was and did it show any potential challenge for the mare.” Chris talked as he continued to examine the horse.

After a few minutes of conversation with Ben, Linda had the answers, Chris needed. “I don’t know how I missed it. The ultra sounds were taken six weeks ago and showed one large foal.” Linda hesitated for a moment, “It also showed a second smaller one. Ben is on his way over to help.”

“That explains it. The larger foal is breech and with the second one pushing, it’s putting too much stress on the mare. We have to get the breech foal out as quickly as possible or we will lose them all.” Chris knew what he had to do and knew there was only a fifty-fifty chance of success. “How long will it take Ben to get here?”

“Not long, but I can help.” Linda offered.

“Just try to keep her calm, you don’t have the strength it will take to do this. Even with Ben to help me, I am not sure we can do it.” Chris waited impatiently for Ben to arrive.

Once Ben arrived, he and Chris put on gloves and together tried to free the larger foal. After five minutes of searching, Chris found a hoof and then quickly found three more and turned the backward baby. Together, he and Ben pulled and the new colt was in the clear. His sister followed in less than two minutes. They got both of them to their feet and found them to be in good shape.

“They’re beautiful!” Linda squealed with delight. “You have two new babies, Sandy. What do you think?”

Chris and Ben sat on the ground once the adrenaline rush of the delivery was over, they were both suddenly very tired. George came over and told them there was another healthy filly in the other barn.

“Ben, would you like to join me for a cup of coffee? “ Chris managed a smile, “I’m buying.” He looked to Linda, “Come on, George will keep an eye on them for a while.”

Once in the house, coffee turned into breakfast, then Linda sent Ben home and cleaned the kitchen. Chris showered and dressed for work. When he returned to the kitchen, she had just finished.

“Don’t you look handsome?” Linda gave him the once over.

“You don’t get any ideas, I am late already.” Chris gave her a quick kiss. “The vet should be here before noon. Are you staying around today with the new twins or at least until Vin and Kelli get back?”

“Try and keep me away from them.” Linda gave him a brilliant smile. Good luck with your meeting and try to stay awake.”

“Will you be here when I get home?” Chris was hopeful. “I can try to be in early.”

“Try and keep me away.” She gave him a kiss to think about today. Chris left for work, Linda headed to the barn.


It was almost three and Tanner had been trying to get Kelli to leave for over an hour. She kept finding one more thing to do and still did not have her boots on. He finally caught her on another trip to check on the kitchen.

“Kel, we have checked and double checked everythin’. The horses are ready, we have what we need and the place will still be here when we come back.” As he spoke, he steered her to the porch and grabbed her boots. “It’s time to go, baby.”

“I know.” She sighed, “It’s just that I don’t ever remember being this content and I’m reluctant to let it go.”

“I promise we’ll be back soon and often.” Vin drew her into his arms and held on to her. “In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to give you somethin’ else to think about.” He handed her the boots, threw her over his shoulder and gave a light slap to her rear. Ignoring her complaints, he walked over to his horse and once he had her on Peso, he stuffed her boots in the saddlebags. He climbed on behind her and wrapping his arms around her proceeded to give her something else to think about as they headed home. Dancer followed without protest.

“You still don’t play fair, Tanner.” Kelli leaned back against him as his free hand found its way under her shirt.

“Never said I did, but then you don’t either,” Vin growled, “If you don’t quit squirming and behave, you’re going to have a bigger problem to take care of.”

“Is that a promise?” Kelli wiggled against him just a little more and gave him a mischievous grin. “Vin have you ever...”

“No, I haven’t and Peso would probably kill us both if we tried.” Vin knew they would be making at least one stop on the way home. He had to smile though because it was his turn to make the rules.

It was after five when the Larabee 7 homestead came into view. Kelli raced Vin the last quarter mile. He said he let her win, she knew better. As they rode in, Chris was walking from the house.

“I was beginning to wonder if you two were ever coming home.” Chris had a smile for both of them. “I thought I might have to come drag you away from that place.”

“Almost, Cowboy.” Vin returned the smile. “I did have to drag Kelli away.”

“Good thing you did or she would have missed the babies first day.” Chris grinned even more at her reaction. He answered her unspoken question. “Sandstone.”

Vin took Dancer’s reins, “Go, I’ll be there as soon as I take care of the horses.”

Kelli ran to the other barn and Chris helped Vin with the horses. Once Tanner had everything put up the two men walked to the barn to see the latest additions.

“You look like a man with a lot on his mind.” Vin watched his best friend, he had missed their easy companionship.

“Nothing that won’t keep, we can talk later.” Chris felt better with Vin back home.

Linda was in the barn when Kelli got there and was surprised when she found out Chris had already talked to them.

“I didn’t even know he was here.” Linda looked behind Kelli. “Is he coming down here?”

“I think so, he was with Vin when I left.” Kelli’s attention turned to the foals. “Lord, look at them. Aren’t they beautiful?”

Linda told her the story about last night and gave her a report on the vet‘s examination. The colt had his leg wrapped due to a little swelling, but the filly was full of vim and vigor. She finished as Chris and Vin walked in.

“Chris, I owe you, Linda told me what you did and I appreciate it.” Kelli did not want to get emotional, but nowadays her emotions just snuck up on her, along with those damned tears.

“You are most welcome, I’m just glad I was here to help.” Chris gave her a warm smile, “Besides, Sandy did the hard part.”

Vin knew Kelli was battling her emotions again. A change of direction was in order. “Chris, you’re experienced with horses. Did you ever…”Vin never finished his question, but did have an impish look in his eyes.

“Tanner! Don’t you dare.” Kelli snapped.

Chris was not sure of the question, but he did know Vin had goaded his wife and had received the desired results. Kelli was not on the edge of tears now, in fact, she had a decent glare going.

How do you do it, Vin?

Natural talent, Lar’bee.

Better sooth her ruffled feathers.

Looking forward to it.

Chris laughed out loud and slapped Vin on the shoulder. Tanner joined his now annoyed wife and quickly had her back in a good mood.

Linda watched the by play between the two men and was not completely sure what just happened. She did see that Chris was very at ease with his younger friend and for the first time, she recognized the close bond concerning them. It was more than just a friendship. They both had an easy camaraderie with each other. Chris seemed more….open…more …complete?

“You’re real glad he’s back, aren’t you?” Linda was trying to work something out.

“Yeah, things tend to run smoother when Tanner is around.” Chris realized Vin was the anchor he depended on, one way or another. Tanner never let Chris get to far off center and was not put off by his temper or moodiness. They kept each other balanced.

Vin and Kelli checked on the other ‘girls’ and soon found their way back to Chris and Linda. They also made a point to see the other new foal, one of Hunter’s offspring.

“Looks like it might be a long night, that bay mare is startin’ to show signs of contractions.” “Vin shared his observation with the group.

“Then I suppose we should get everyone fed and put on some coffee.” Chris was prepared to wait with them.

“I ordered some pizza and it should be here soon, a welcome home dinner for you two.” Linda offered, “Then we can all wait it out together.”

“How about we meet you at the house, I need to shower and change first.” Kelli felt she needed a little time to regroup.

+ + + + + + +

Once the pizza was demolished, Larabee and Tanner left to meet with George. Vin wanted an update on the rest of the horses and Chris wanted to check on the progress of the rebuilding.

“So, did you show Vin the letter Dad left?” Linda thought Kelli would share all the details with her.

“Yeah and then I gave him the other one.” Kelli continued to gather pizza boxes for the trash.

“Well, what did it say? Did it have a check, too?” Linda was bursting with curiosity.

“No check. As to what it said you‘d have to ask Vin. It was his letter after all and for him to share, if he wishes to do so.” Kelli answered, only halfway listening to her friend.

“I will just bet he tells Chris, what it said.” Linda was frustrated.

“He might. Is there a reason why he shouldn’t?” Kelli stopped what she was doing. Linda now had her full attention.

“I don’t know…It just seems like Chris is more in tune with Vin, than anyone else.” Linda was not sure how to explain it. “He gives Vin a part of himself that he doesn’t share with anyone else. Not even with me and we are supposed to be…hell, I’m not even sure what we are supposed to be.”

“Linda, they have known each other and worked together a long time.” Kelli was uncertain if she should say more. She hesitated for a minute before continuing. “I hear things at work and one thing I heard was about Chris and Vin. It would appear that they have some kind of …unexplained connection. They can somehow read each other’s thoughts and talk without talkin’. I know it sounds weird, but I have seen them together enough to know that there is somethin’ to it.”

“Are you going to tell me that it does not bother you that Vin is ‘connected’, in some way, to Chris?” Linda could not accept that. “Shouldn’t you be the person closest to Vin?”

“Chris was a big part of Vin’s life before I ever met him. Just like you and I have been friends for a long time. These friendships help make us who we are and should not be abandoned, just because we care about someone else.” Kelli chose her words carefully. “As to Vin and I, whatever the connection is between him and Chris, it does not take away from our relationship. I am glad he has a friend that he trusts and one that he knows will be there for him, no matter what. That kind of trust is had to come by in this life and should not be taken lightly.”

“I didn’t say they should not be friends, I just…” Linda was not sure what she felt.

“So, talk to me and tell me what you are thinkin’.” Kelli waited.

“Chris has been upfront about his position, he does not want marriage or more children. I know he can get past that with time, but does he have room for more in his life. Between his work, Vin, the horses and the rest of the family, where do I fit in?”

“From what I have seen, you fit in with Chris, right by his side and that is by his choice. Just because a man can love a lot of things and people, does not mean he has no room for anyone new.”

“I agreed to his terms and I think it will work. However, what happens if I decide I want children later on and he still does not? I am already in love with him and could not just walk away.”

“Once you are confident of your place in Chris’ life, I think you might see things a little differently.” Kelli wanted to help, but was not sure how. “When you accept what he has to offer you, without doubts, you will be happier, but you are the only one than can decide if it is enough.

“You might be right. Maybe I will feel differently when I work things through with Chris.” Linda still had her doubts, however, about where Vin fit in Chris’ life. “What about you? Have you found what you want?”

“The only thing lackin’ is a guarantee that things will never change. I know that is impossible because life does not work that way. However, I have somethin’ that even life at its cruelest cannot touch. Every day Vin and I have together is marked in my memory. No matter what the future holds, I will have known what it feels like to love unconditionally and to be loved the same way. No one could ask for more than that.” Kelli felt those sneaky emotions trying to work their way into her words again.

“I am happy for you because you deserve to experience those things. I have been telling you for years you could find it. You just never believed me.” Linda smiled, thinking about all the arguments they had shared about this particular subject. “Now, about tomorrow, I think I should keep an eye on that colt and we will have lunch another time. Have you thought about names yet?”

“I have not even considered names. With another foal comin’ tonight and work tomorrow, it may take a while. In addition, I have to do some make up time in physical therapy and still write thank you notes for the wedding gifts.” Kelli sighed, “I wonder how many problems it would cause if we begged off on the weekend trip?”

“You would seriously think about not going?” Linda asked.

“Yes, if I can get away with it.” Kelli did not hear Chris and Vin return.

“Get away with what?” Vin walked up behind her and massaged her shoulders.

“Kelli thinks there is too much to do this week to take off for the weekend.” Linda explained.

“Well, at least on the work front she may be right. This week will be full.” Chris agreed. “I almost forgot, I have something for you two.” Chris pulled two envelopes from his jacket giving one to Linda and the other to Kelli. “They are letters of apology from the Chief of Police for the Denver Police Department. The two officers that gave you a hard time have been reprimanded.”

“Thank you, Chris. I know you are responsible for these.” Linda was pleased that he thought to follow up on it.

“Thanks, it more than I expected.” Kelli thought it had been forgotten.

“Besides work, what else would keep you from going?” Chris asked, “Maybe it’s something I can help with.”

“I doubt it, unless you want to write thank you notes, go to physical therapy for me and horse sit.” Kelli smiled, “But, I don’t want any one in the family to have hurt feelins’, if we don’t go.”

“The trip can be changed to any weekend and I’m sure everyone would understand, if you would rather be here with the new foals.” Vin knew why she wanted to stay home and agreed. “Looks like another one of the Larabee mares will foal tonight, too,”

What about your plans to join us?

Not a problem, another time is fine, Vin.

Linda watched and wondered what they were up to now. Maybe you should pay closer attention, Linda.

“Why don’t we go down and check on the ‘girls’. Linda, y’all come down when you are ready.” Kelli sensed Linda wanted to talk to Chris and urged Vin out the door.

“If you still want to go, we can.” Chris pulled her closer to him. “We can do whatever you want for the entire weekend.”

“No, we’ll pick another weekend and all go together.” Linda patted his butt and smiled, “You and I can be together anywhere.”


Chris stood on his deck and waited for the sun to make its appearance over the mountain. Linda had spent most of the night checking on the mares and had not gotten much sleep, so he dressed for work without disturbing her. Two new foals were in the barns this morning, both healthy and happy. He went in and retrieved a second cup of coffee for Vin, he knew he would be here any minute. Just as he made it back to the deck, Tanner appeared and took the offered cup.

“You look like I feel, you get any sleep? Chris felt every one of his forty-four years this morning. Between the birth of the new foals and making love to Linda, he had not slept much.

“Some, between takin’ care of Kelli and keepin’ watch on the mares, it was damned hard to get any rest, though.” Tanner grinned when he saw Chris shaking his head in agreement. At least he was not the only one worn out. From trying to balance his time between his need for his new wife and the demands of caring for the mares, he was dog-tired.

“You know, Vin, if we are not careful, people might begin to think we are getting soft.” Chris said referring to their sorry state this morning.

The two friends stood silent for a few minutes and then suddenly they both started to laugh at the same time. Criminals for years had tried to find a way to slow down the two men, who were considered to be hard ass sonofabitches. The thought that two females had easily accomplished, what no criminal ever had, struck them as funny.

“Linda decided we are having a’ Preakness’ party this weekend. Since we will not be going there, she is going to bring it here, via big screen TV and all the extras. She did not want you and Kelli to miss seeing your horse race.”

“Kelli will like that because she can run out and check on her babies during commercials. Any more of her girls foal this week and she will be insistin’ we sleep in the barn with them.” He smiled at the thought as he watched his young wife come up from the barns. She walked straight into his waiting arms, leaning on him for support. The long night takings it toll on her, she laid her head on his chest and sighed. The Texan rubbed her shoulders and back before giving her a good morning kiss, that was definitely rated for mature audiences only.

“How are your foals?” Chris asked, amused at how much things had changed for his Texas friend. Was it only six weeks ago he had called Vin shy and insecure about how to handle women? He certainly was not that way now. In fact, he had the perfect instincts about the right things to do, at least with this woman.

“They are doin’ great and the vet will be out later this mornin’ to check on them. George promised to keep a close eye on my babies for me today.” She responded tiredly. “I need to go or I won’t make it to my therapy appointment on time.” Kelli forced her self to move. “I should make it into the office by ten.”

“I need to get movin’ too. It wouldn’t be good to make the boss late and Lar’bee looks like he is ready to leave.” Tanner kissed her one more time and then they both went separate ways.


The morning moved swiftly amid a flurry of activity. Anticipation filled the air because everyone knew the time of transitions was nearing an end. Within days, they would be doing the work they had been trained to do. Larabee or Tanner had said nothing yet, but the agents sensed real action was just around the corner and eagerly awaited their assignments.

Fifteen agent stuck on desk duty, for six weeks, had the tension level high and tempers short. Chris decided to give them one final training project. One that was sure to vent some of the built up aggression.

“Conference room, ten minutes.” Larabee issued the command.

As the ream gathered, their usual lively banter was missing. Instead, fifteen agents quietly filed in the room, sat down and awaited their leader. Larabee did not make them wait long.

“The reports I have received on all of you, from Captain Tanner, have been favorable and I am pleased to see the progress that has been made in the last few weeks. I also realize this is a working environment that is new to you. If you recall when we first started, I told you our MCAT unit was the only one of its kind, in existence. That is still true. Therefore, it is a big responsibility for all of us to make sure it is successful.

I do want to make some things clear. Captain Tanner is your immediate supervisor and you will go to him first with any challenges you may have. I am the one, however, that will make the final decisions on assignments and will approve all plans before we go into action. When you go into the field, I go into the field. You will never be asked to do anything, I would not do myself. You do not need to look for me because I have a habit of making my presence know in all operations. That means if you screw up out there, you will have me on your ass in a heartbeat.”

“Sometimes, quicker than that and I speak from personal experience.” Buck could not resist interrupting.

“I can attest to the actuality that Agent Larabee gives no clemency with his reprimands.” Ezra added.

“For those of you who don’t speak Ezra, that means Larabee kicks butt.” JD clarified for the newer agents.

Everyone laughed, some knowing and some thinking, the agents were exaggerating. Chris silenced his rowdy agents with one look and continued.

“Starting Monday, we will be handling our first real case and you will have your assignment given to you then. In the meantime, we will have one more teaching exercise. Agents Tanner and Wilmington will be your instructors for training classes in the art of self-defense. The classes will be from eight to eleven, Thursday and Friday. Only three of you will be excused from this assignment. They are Agents Dunne and Walton, who are preparing background information for our new case and Agent Coulter, who is still on restrictive duty. The rest of you meet at the training center tomorrow morning at eight for your directives. Four of you will be chosen to participate in a friendly match, set for Friday afternoon, against your instructors.”

After giving them their orders, Chris dismissed the agents. With two days on the mats, they should be able to release a lot of accumulated aggression.

+ + + + + + +

Some days have twenty-four hours in them and some add a couple hours of hell just for good measure. Today was one of those days. Any little detail that could delay leaving the Federal Building had occurred and consequently, it was almost seven before Vin and Kelli made it home. Chris was still another fifteen minutes behind them. Thankfully, Linda had already tended to the horses and had the grill ready to throw some steaks on, for the exhausted trio.

“Please tell me that none of the mares look like they will foal tonight.” Kelli loved her horses, but two hours of sleep in the last twenty-four was pushing her limits.

“The all look fine and the vet gave all the colts a clean bill of health.” Linda was happy to report.

‘”Linda, thanks for staying on top of things today and for dinner. I’m glad you were here.” Chris wrapped his arms around her waist and gave her a kiss.

“Appreciate it and thanks for tending to the horses. Cowboy, kiss her again for that.” Vin gave Larabee a big grin.

“Sometimes, Vin, you do make some excellent suggestions.” Chris did kiss her again. He whispered only for Linda to hear, “Once dinner is over, I’ll give you a proper thank-you.”

After their meal, Kelli offered to help with the dishes, but Linda declined. She knew her friend needed some sleep. In fact, they all looked like they could use some sleep. She suggested that Chris relax in the den and that Vin take his redhead home, while she took care of the clean up. No one argued with her.

“Come on, woman, let’s go home.” Vin took Kelli’s hand. A quick check on the foals and the Tanners went home and for once, went straight to bed and slept.

Linda finished the dishes and went to check on Chris. The only sound she heard was coming from the television. She took one look in the den and realized he had fallen asleep in his recliner. Shaking her head, she smiled and she knew she could not carry him, so she gently shook him awake.

“Come on, stud, let’s go to bed, but you owe me double for tomorrow.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stretched and looked at the clock it was almost the morning? The last thing he remembered was sitting down to watch the news and oh yeah…he must have gone to sleep. Then Linda’s voice… Damn, Larabee, she must be madder than hell.

Linda watched Chris walk across the bedroom, he was naked and gorgeous. She had to smile when she heard him turn on the shower. Hot, steamy, sex. What a way to start the morning. She slid out of bed and headed for the shower. Chris owes me.

“Morning, stud.” She undressed and slid into the shower behind him.

“Good morning to you, too.” Chris reached for her and she stopped him.

“No you don’t. I learned a long time ago how to check out a stud before he get near my mares. Now, I need to check you out.” Linda gave him a wicked grin. “Just stand still, I promise this won’t hurt.”

“Good muscle tone.” Linda ran her hands over his chest and arms and then lower to grasp more muscle. “Nice firm butt.” She slid her hand down his long powerful legs. “Tendons are in good shape. Now to see if the equipment is in working order.” When she reached for him, he could take no more.

“Let me show you how it works.” Steam filled the room and the two lovers found a pathway to paradise.

“Well, do I pass?” Chris grinned. Linda could not speak and only nodded for an affirmative response.


Linda and Chris took their morning coffee to the deck and waited for Tanner to arrive. “Chris, would it be all right if I called Inez about the party this weekend? Maybe she could even get Casey, Rain and Mallory to help.” Linda wanted to see if he minded her involving his family.

“Sure, Inez loves to be involved in all those things.” Chris saw no problem with it. Sensing Vin was close, Larabee poured another cup of coffee for him. Just as he set the pot down Tanner was there.

“How did you know he was coming?” Linda was still trying to work through what Kelli had told her.

“Just knew.” Chris shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention to Vin. “I must say you look better this morning.”

“A little sleep and a lot of loving go a long way to restore my balance.” Tanner grinned. “Morning, Linda.”

“What did you do with Kelli?” Linda did not see her.

“She already left for her therapy session, one more and she’s done.” Vin explained. “Oh and Chris, Buck’s ridin’ in with us today.”

“Someone call my name?” Buck joined them. “You ready to kick some butt today, Tanner? I gotta warn you about that new kid, Mark Westin, he is good.”

“Westin reminds me of JD when he first joined us. You gonna be his mother hen now, Bucklin?” Vin smiled, thinking about how Buck was when JD first came onboard. “Seems like you had plenty of practice with JD."

“I think he already is, Vin, you see one of them, the other is around somewhere.” Chris knew Buck liked the kid because he picked on him all the time.

“I’ll take one Westin over ten Reeds any day.” Buck said and received quick agreement from both men. “You know, Tanner, you weren’t so easy to tame, either. Between you and JD, I think Chris and I must have aged an extra ten years.”

“You know Reed will be one of the four to challenge you two, tomorrow. He will have the points for sure to qualify for it.” Chris gave them a warning, “I don’t think he will look at this as a friendly match.”

“We’re ready for him, besides Kel was put out that she wouldn’t have a chance to get some payback for the remarks he has been makin’. I told her Buck and I would do it for her.” Tanner answered.

“You two, watch your backs when he’s around.” Chris knew Reed would try his best to show them up, even if it meant someone could get hurt.

“Yes, Dad.” Vin and Buck answered together.

Chris kissed Linda and said he would call her later and urged her to call Inez. She reminded him she had to go home and take care of some business. She did promise to try to make it back tonight, if she could.


Chris was wading through paperwork when there was a knock on his door.

“Come on in, Coulter.” Larabee responded. “Feeling alone out there?”

“It is strange to be the only one out there, but actually I wanted to give you this.” She passed him some papers, “I am officially released and stopped at the range to re-certify on my way over here.”

“Welcome back, Agent Coulter,” Chris smiled, “Are you sure you don’t want to go by Tanner? Your official records have already been changed.”

“No, I think it’s easier this way, at least here at work. I would not want someone to use our relationship to get to Vin.” She laughed, “Besides, do you really want two Agent Tanners? I have found one to be a handful to keep up with.”

“When you put it that way, I have to agree.” Larabee grinned at the thought. “If you change your mind let me know.” He noticed that she hesitated about leaving. “Was there something else?”

“I know this is not the proper place to discuss this, but it is difficult to talk to you in private at the ranch. Vin told me, he shared with you, information about my…background.” She hesitated…, “I know he is determined to keep looking and I appreciate your offer to help him … I just wanted you to know that.”

“Whatever I can do, I will, helping each other is what friends and family do.” Chris added, “I want you to know, this stays between you, me and Vin, no one else needs to know, not even Linda, unless you chose to tell them.” He saw relief in her eyes, “Anytime you need to talk to me, I will be available.” He acknowledged her nod of acceptance as she left.

Just as Kelli stepped out of Larabee’s office, one of the security officers delivered a packet for Vin. She signed for it and put it on his desk, but could not help but notice it was from Texas. Voices from the hallway drew her attention.

“I told you, Westin, never underestimate a woman” Katrina had a big smile on her face as she entered the bullpen.

“Next time, Santos, I’ll be ready for you.” Mark Westin had a silly grin on his face, too.

As the rest of the agents entered, it was apparent the morning was a success. The tensions of yesterday had vanished, replaced by smiles and laughter. With one exception, Sam Reed had a noticeable limp and a sour look on his face.

“What happened to him?” Chris stood outside his door to see the results of the morning’s activities.

“He tripped on the mat and before you ask, he was alone at the time.” Buck was more than glad to make that announcement.

“I’d say your classes were successful.” Chris was pleased by the outcome.

“I’d say you’re right.” Tanner grinned, “They all did great and the new guys will work out okay, I think.”

“Speaking of which, you two join me in my office we need to discuss a few thing.” With Chris in the lead, Wilmington and Tanner followed him into his office. “Close the door.” Larabee pulled the files for the four new team members. First one is Mark Westin, 26 years old, Caucasian and comes to us from California Highway Patrol. Buck, tell me about him.”

“Mark finished second in his class at the academy, worked LAPD two years and he then applied for CHP and was accepted. He is smart, eager and has a good record. Applied to be a federal agent when he heard rumors that this unit was forming. Finished his training at Quantico in the top one percent of his class. He has the potential to be an exceptional agent.” Buck was proud of the young man and it showed.

Chris nodded and picked up the second file. “Justin Michaels, 48 years old, Caucasian, comes to us from the State Police investigative unit here in Colorado.”

“He has done some damned good work there and was a homicide detective with DPD before that. Good attitude and understands the meanin’ of teamwork. Justin should be an asset for the unit.” Vin had watched the man and knew he would be a team player.

“Okay.” Larabee pulled the files for the two latest additions to the squad. “Paul Roberts, age 31 and Ross Anderson, age 34, both African American and both come from Metro police departments, Paul from Atlanta and Ross from Detroit. I know they have not been here long, but you have both been around them enough. What are your first impressions?”

“Roberts has a quick mind and can think on his feet, he stays in excellent physical condition and seems friendly enough.” Vin observed him during the classes. “Time will tell, though, how he adjusts to federal work.”

“Same with Anderson, his career has been focused on inner city crime. Neither one of the two has any experience with State or Federal work, but they are willing to learn.” Buck had not seen enough yet, to give more of an assessment.

“Good, keep working with them, Buck.” Larabee looked at Tanner, “Coulter was released and re-certified today, get her on the range as soon as you can and let me know how she does.” Chris stood and stretched, “That’s all, get your butts back to work.”

+ + + + + + +

For once, they made it home before six and quickly took care of the evening chores. After checking on the new additions in the barn, Vin and Kelli went home. Chris had arranged to meet Linda for dinner in a nearby restaurant.

“What do you say we skip dinner and go straight to bed?” Vin grabbed Kelli by the waist as she headed for the kitchen. He was delighted to hear her laughter. Kelli looked at Vin and felt a sudden surge of emotion she could not identify. Not passion or desire, but what was it...regret ...sadness?...She wasn’t sure. She took her hand, brushed her fingers through his hair and down his cheek. Vin saw the change of emotions in her eyes.

“Talk to me, Texas. What do you see?” He led her to the rocking chair and pulled her onto his lap.

"I’m not sure…in case you hadn’t notice, my emotions seem to be getting’ even with me. I believe they are seekin’ revenge for being locked away so long.” She wanted to laugh, but seeing the concern on Vin’s face stopped her. “I know I don’t tell you enough about how I feel…it’s just I not sure how to sometimes. Saying I love you, does not seem to cover the emotions that surface when I’m with you. It is so much more than that, but you should hear it more often anyway and all those honey, sweetheart, darlin’ words too. They just are not the right expressions and for the life of me, I don’t know which ones are.”

“Do you know how many ways you say ‘Tanner’?” He saw the confusion on her face and chuckled, “I know your moods and your feelin’s with the way you say my name. Sometimes, you say it with passion, sometimes with annoyance or anger. Most of the time though, it’s said with love and concern. I would not trade that for any of those other words that are often overused and said from habit.” He drew her closer, “You tell me all the time how you feel and you don’t need all those words to do it.”

“I hope so, because you deserve to know how important you are to me.” Kelli sighed.

“I do know. Now, what stirred up this emotional storm in the first place?” Vin knew something had set this in motion.

“I suppose it started when I talked to Chris. I wanted him to know how much his offer to help was appreciated. Then the package from Texas came and I know what you are doing for me on that. The rest is just you, every time you get that warm look in your eyes. I feel it tug at my heart and my stomach has butterflies dancin’ around inside. How do I tell you that with just an expression, Tanner?”

“You just did.” The time for words was past, Vin was feeling emotional himself. Tomorrow they would talk about the package and the past. Tonight, though, he knew their lovemaking would be special and memorable. Vin lifted her and took her to their bed. He took his time undressing her and did not let any part of her body escape his touch. When she tried to hurry him, he stopped her.

“Let me show you what words can’t say.” His voice was barely above a whisper. It was almost eleven before the Tanners sat down and ate sandwiches for supper, but neither one complained. They spent the next hour with the unopened wedding presents. Vin opened and put them up, Kelli wrote the thank-you notes until finally they were finished.

“About tomorrow, since I am released…”

“No, classes are closed, next time.” Vin grinned, “Besides, you are so good at answerin’ phones, we need you in the office.” He kissed her and headed for the bedroom. “Goodnight.”

“Tanner!” She could not believe he would go to bed without her and went to investigate. Just as she entered the door, he seized her around the waist, catching her off guard. She yelped. “You really need to stop doing that.”

“How about I do this, instead?” He picked her up and carried her to their waiting bed. As they drifted off to sleep, Vin heard her whisper.

“Goodnight ,Tanner.”

“Goodnight, Texas.”


Linda did contact Inez and between the two of them, quickly had plans in motion for Saturday. Rain had to work, but Casey and Mallory joined in the fun. They set out early to accomplish their goals. It did not take long to discover that Linda was a natural born shop-a-holic and loved spending money. Fortunately, she could afford her obsession, since the Dubois family had been very successful in the horseracing business.

A pony party for the children was arranged with real ponies from Linda’s ranch. By noon, half the things on their list had been achieved and the women decided to break for lunch.

“How did you arrange a live satellite feed from the racetrack?” Casey wanted to know and knew JD would be interested.

“An old friend of my Dad’s helped me set it up. We will be able to watch all twelve races, if we want.” Linda clarified.

“I’m not sure I understand how it works. Buck has tried to explain it, but I’m not sure he knows all about it either.” Inez smiled, “Which horses do we watch for?”

“In the Black-eyed Susan Race you look for My Texas Lady, that’s Vin and Kelli’s horse. In addition, My Seventh Heaven is her half sister, same sire for both. In the Preakness, one of our horses, Fortune Hunter is running. He is the brother to Bounty Hunter from Larabee 7. If any of those horses win, place or show, it will increase the value of the Larabee horses.” Linda explained while Casey took notes.

“So, you mean Larabee 7 horses can increase in value without even being there?” Mallory was starting to take a real interest in horseracing.

“Linda, why doesn’t Kelli get more excited about thoroughbreds? All of her mares are quarter horses aren’t they?” Inez was curious.

“Kelli is a good friend and I love her like a sister. However, she does not care for all the hoop-la that goes with racing and raises her horses out of love, not for money. The only reason she accepted my gift of a racehorse was that she knew how much I wanted her to have it. She hates it when I spend money on her and I have to drag her to go shopping with me. I have failed to get her to see how much fun it can be making money on the horses and then spending it.” Linda sighed, “I love her anyway though and I’ll just have to shop enough for both of us.”

“What if their horse wins a lot of money?” Casey asked. “What do you think they would do with it?”

“You will have to ask her or Vin about that. I have no idea,” Linda looked at her watch. “You ladies ready to finish our list?”


The agents had returned from their morning classes and the top four had been selected for the match this afternoon. Two new agents, Sam and Mark and two senior agents, Ezra and Nathan would take on Tanner and Wilmington in a friendly match at four. At least, friendly for three of them, Reed was the unknown and he would be watched carefully.

“We are having lunch with Ezra, look over this list Josiah put together and meet us at the Italian place down the street in thirty minutes.” Vin slipped Kelli a piece of paper and with a wink was off to his office.

Thirty minutes later, she watched the two men enter the restaurant. She did not miss the admiring eyes cast in their direction by the other women patrons. Ezra and Vin appeared not to notice the attention they had gained, simply by walking in the room. Kelli was pleased when Vin placed a hand on her shoulders and gave her a kiss before he sat down next to her. Making it clear, he was not available.

After ordering, Ezra began to speak. “I hold documents which require signatures from both of you. I have communicated with your attorney, Kelli. I implemented your request, as well as yours, Vin.” Standish stopped and passed them some documents. “I am confident we have adhered to your wishes and I trust you will find this agreeable.”

“Ez, you put a lot of work into this, thanks.” Vin signed his will and while Kelli read hers, he explained to Standish what they needed him to do next. He told him what they planned to do with Texas Lady’s winnings and about the gift from Linda’s dad.

“This can be accomplished easily, however, are you certain you wish to surrender all monetary gains from this horse?” Ezra waited for confirmation.

“We are sure. Josiah made some recommendations for us to consider. After looking them over, we each chose one. My choice I initialed and Vin circled his.” Kelli handed him the list. “Do what you need to set it up and then let us know what we have to do.”

“I will, of course, defer to your wishes and your choices are excellent. However, as to the matter of investing into Larabee 7, I do have some suggestions.” With their urging, he continued. “Use half of the gift for yourselves. Put it toward building your home, eliminating the need for a mortgage. The remainder will take the form of a loan to Larabee7’s breeding programs, to be paid back with interest over a period of twenty years. This way everyone benefits and you still have the original funds invested for future use.”

Vin looked at Kelli and she nodded. “Set it up, Ez, we appreciate it. I know you could do more with it and probably make us a small fortune, but this is what we want.”

“The only stipulation is that no one is to know where the money came from.” Kelli insisted.

“Rest assured that this conversation is confidential.” Ezra finished the paperwork just as their lunch arrived. They enjoyed their meal and walked back to work.


Once back on the twelfth floor, time moved quickly. Larabee had Tanner in his office for almost an hour before Vin came out and announced they could leave for the training center. Even those not actually involved in the match wanted to watch.

The first round had Ezra challenging Vin. Everyone was sure Tanner would win and he probably would have if Ezra had played fair. It looked as if Standish was about to lose and suddenly Vin lost his concentration. Ezra took advantage and won the match.

“Vin, what happened?" Buck was concerned he might be hurt.

“Forget it, Buck, I’m fine.” Ez won, let’s move on. He left in a hurry, to set up the next match and would say nothing more.

“Standish, what did you do to Vin?” Wilmington now had his curiosity aroused.

“Moi? I only made some unexpected, yet complimentary, observations about his wife’s …natural physical attributes.” Ezra smiled and walked away. Buck’s laughter followed him.

Then, rookie Mark Westin challenged his mentor. Buck was pleased to see the young man had paid attention in class. Alas, he was not yet a match for Wilmington. “You did good kid, with some seasoning you will be even better.” Buck beamed like a proud father.

“Thanks, Buck, the next time you won’t find it so easy to beat me.” Mark walked off wearing a smile and left Buck standing with Chris.

“Be careful, Buck, our new assignments will have many additional risks involved. Don’t get too attached to the younger ones.” Chris knew with fifteen agents, the risk of injury to any one of them had doubled. He wanted Buck to realize it, too.

“I hear you, but with Bucklin on the job, that is one kid I know will make it fine.” Buck planned to watch Westin closely.

Nathan took on Wilmington, just for the helluva it and kept the other agents entertained with their sparing. “Buck, you know for an old guy, you’re not doing bad.” Nathan knew Buck would react to that remark and he did. “Who in the hell are you calling old?” That short lapse of concentration was all Nathan needed. He took advantage of it and had the match won within two minutes. “Better luck next time, Buck.” Jackson slapped him on the back and walked off with a smile on his face, as he heard Wilmington’s vow of payback, in the background.

As expected, Reed challenged Tanner and actually thought he could beat the Texan. “I thought you were tough, hell, you let fancy pants over there beat you.” Reed sneered, “You are going down, boss man.” The return silence from Tanner did prick his confidence, just a little. Sam then fell into his old military training and prepared himself to win. Unfortunately, for Reed, Vin had other plans for the outcome.

Tanner did not play games with the ex-SEAL, he played fair and precise, but had ever intention of winning this match. Within five minutes, Sam realized he had underestimated the skills of his opponent. Eight minutes after they started, it was over. Vin offered his hand to the defeated man and Reed, reluctantly, allowed the Texan to help him off the floor.

“Next time, Tanner.”

“Looking forward to it, Reed.”

+ + + + + + +

That evening, Chris found Linda in the kitchen when he came home. The table was set and the smell of fried chicken filled the room. “Welcome home, cowboy.” Linda gave him a warm kiss.

“Hi, yourself.” Chris wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back.

“I left a note on Tanner’s door and told them to come over and join us.” Linda smiled.

“I believe they had other plans for tonight, so it is just you and me.” Chris grinned, “Disappointed?”

“No, I like having you to myself, but Kelli didn’t mention plans. I was hoping to go over the agenda for tomorrow with her. Maybe…”

“They’re newlyweds, remember? You can talk to her in the morning and tonight we make our own plans.” Chris knew what Tanner was going to do, but did not intend to share the information.

“That sounds good to me.” Linda gave him a playful smile, “They might be newlyweds, but I bet they could not keep up with us.”

“Tell you what, I’ll change and take care of the horses, you finish up here. Then we will have the rest of the night together.”

Chris went to change into his ranch clothes and then headed for the barn. Surprisingly, he found Tanner already there. “I did not expect to see you out here tonight.” Larabee was curious. “What about your plans?”

“We are still gonna talk, but Kel had a few messages to return first.” Vin laughed, “It seems Linda got the other women interested in horse racing today and they have all called to ask questions about Texas Lady.”

“You are kidding.” Chris just could not see Inez, Casey and Mallory interested in horseracing. Hell, they did not even know the ranch was a business or if they did, they had showed no interest in it.

“Nope, once they found out how much money could be made racing, they developed a sudden interest in Larabee 7.”

“I don’t suppose Linda told them you can also lose your ass in the racing business.” Chris shook his head. “Lord, I hope they don’t start placing bets, Ezra would have heart failure.”

“I don’t mind the diversion.” Vin sighed, “Showing Kelli that report is somethin’ I wouldn’t mind puttin’ off, if I could.” He hated, to even think about it.

“She deserves to know what you found, Vin. The report, I gave you, isn’t going to make it easier, but you will both get through it.” Chris patted him on the back. “It’s not enough, but it’s a start and if you need me, I’m here.”