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

Secrets always seem to find a way to surface and carrying those secrets alone only adds unnecessary tension to relationships. Tanner knew he had waited long enough to return home. Putting off an unpleasant task was not his style and neither was hurting someone he loved. However, he knew there was no way to avoid hurting Kelli this evening and just not telling her, was not an option. Relax, Vin, she is strong enough to handle this and if she needs to borrow strength from you, that’s okay. Hell, Tanner, she lived through it, readin’ about it could not be worse than that. Readin’, no, rememberin’, well that could be a completely different problem, Tanner. Dammit, get it over with, Vin, you have made her wait long enough. Vin entered the house and found her in the kitchen making a salad.

“I thought a salad would go well with the spaghetti tonight. Knowin’ how you feel about ‘rabbit food’, I put extra meat in the sauce. Of course, you don’t have to have any if you don’t want to. If you would rather have somethin’ else, I …”

“Stop,” Vin stood behind her and she leaned back into him as he wrapped his arms around her waist. She was talking so much because she was anxious about doing this. It is like waiting for a bad storm. You know it's coming and you know it will eventually be over, you just hope it will not cause a lot of damage while it rages. “We don’t have to do this tonight.”

“Yeah, we do.” She took a deep breath, “However, we can eat first and then have plenty of time to go through it.”

After their meal, they moved to the den and got comfortable. The intimidating files lay on the center table, waiting to be opened. Tanner had some question to ask first and decided to get started. “You want to read ‘em or do you want me to tell you?” Vin hoped she would let him just cover the important parts. Several of the reports had many details that were not relevant, to finding answers.

“Just tell me.”

“What is the first thing you can remember?” Tanner wanted to see if his conclusions fit with her perception of what happened.

“I suppose it was the first place they sent me. Evidently, they decided I needed counselin’ and placed me where I was sure to get it. Of course, I never saw the same therapist more than once. The stay in the hospital and the time before that, I have only read about. The records were destroyed when the hospital closed so I only could get what the police had. There was always some therapist talkin’ to me, until I was thirteen.”

“Why did it stop then?”

“Jake put a stop to it when the psychologist said I would not have any more nightmares. The man had used hypnosis and declared me cured.” She laughed, “Actually, I just quit lettin’ anyone know I still had them and they believed me. By that time I had figured out what they wanted to hear and just went along with them.”

“The records from the hospital were destroyed, but my contact tracked down the doctor that treated you and he had his personal records. In fact, he even wrote a damn paper on your case. You did not say one word the entire time you were there and his evaluation was very detailed.” Vin stopped for a moment, he was sure now the doctor was correct. “The social workers guessed you were five, but the certificate was typed wrong and made you six. They did not see any point to correct it and that is the age listed, when your evaluations started. The doctor that examined you, however, was convinced you were not older than four, which explains why it is so difficult for you to remember. Not many people have total memory from that age.” He stopped and pulled out the doctor’s report for her to look at.

“So, you are tellin’ me I am really two years younger than what my records show. I guess most women would love to lose two years off their age that easily.” She started to read the doctor’s report on her injuries, which was different from the police report. She was relieved to know that all the negative evaluations of performing at age level were not her failure, but the therapist for using the wrong age to make comparisons.

Vin watched as she read the doctor’s information and knew exactly when she got to the part listing her injuries. No one, especially a child deserves to be treated so badly. He kept a tight rein on his anger though, that was not what she needed to see now. He had to give her credit because she gave little outward sign of reacting to the atrocious things she was reading. Her eyes and the slight loss of color to her face, however, said she was hurting. When she finished and set it aside he continued.

“The entire problem you had adjustin’ was due to the incompetence of the caseworkers and havin’ too many shrinks. Instead of considerin’ that they could be wrong, they tried to force you to fit what they thought you should be. All it took was that first wrong assessment, after that, it was written in stone. Two years to an adult is no big deal, but in a child’s development, it can make a world of difference. You lost the chance to go through the normal process of growin’ in stages.”

“Well, this does explain why their damn tests were so hard to pass. It also explains why it was so frustratin’ to try to remember.” Kelli looked at him, “This doctor’s report also helps to bury some of the questions that have haunted me for a long time.” Concern showed on Vin’s face. “There’s more isn’t there?”

“Chris was able to find the investigatin officer on your case and talk to him. His name is Walter and he remembered some things that were not in the official report. In fact, he still worked on the case until he retired three years ago.” Vin needed her to know that not everyone forgot about her. “He faxed his notes over this afternoon and I haven’t had a chance to check out the accuracy of everythin’ he sent. At first glance, some of it is consistent with what Dubois’ investigators found.”

“I hear a ‘but’ in there. What else did he send?” Kelli had an uneasy feeling about what was coming next.

“The police questioned two different suspects and because they had no hard evidence, they did not list them in the official report. He did keep his own notes and faxed over pictures of the two suspects.” Vin pulled the pictures out and showed her the first one.

“I don’t think I have ever seen that man before. You know they could have talked to the wrong suspects.” She prepared herself for the next one or at least she thought she did. When Vin showed it to her she knew there was no way to prepare for this. The face she had seen in her nightmares for twenty years was in front of her. The monster was a real person.

“Tanner, I’m gonna be sick.” That was an understatement. Kelli was reliving every nightmare she ever had and could not control her reaction.

Vin knew, immediately, she was in trouble and got her to the bathroom before she was violently ill. Kelli was finding it hard to breath and shaking so badly she could not stand. All he could do was hold her, but he was almost to the point of taking her to the emergency room or at least calling Nathan. Then he realized, he could not do that without an explanation he did not want to give. “Kel, listen to me, you’re safe.” The Texan tried to soothe her with soft words, but was not sure he was getting through to her. Without letting her go, he reached for his cell phone and called the only person he trusted to help. He called Chris and asked him to dig out his most potent bottle of whiskey. Tanner told him to bring it over, use his key to get in and to come alone. In the meantime, he got her to bed, held onto to her and waited for the storm to pass.

Chris came in with a glass of uncut Wild Turkey and left the bottle. “This is strong and should work quickly.” He went into the other room to wait until Vin could talk to him and then he found the picture on the floor. It did not take long to put together what had happened. Thirty minutes later, Tanner joined him. “Is she okay?”

“She will be, she’s exhausted and sleepin’ now, but dammit, Chris, there had to be a better way.” The Texan was blaming himself for not anticipating this reaction.

“Right and you being able to see the future, should have known that this would happen.” Larabee knew Kelli was not the only one having a problem with this. Maybe he could not help her, but he was sure he could get Tanner to see reason.

“Yes… No … Hell, I don’t know.” Tanner paced the floor. “Dammit, this is not right! That bastard is the one that should be hurtin’, not Kel! Why didn’t they jail that sonofabitch when they had a chance? How many more kids has he hurt since then? What the fuck were they thinkin’? God, Chris …”

“Tanner!” Chris got his attention. “Now that we know who he is we can find the bastard.” He waited for that to cut through Vin’s angry outburst. “When we find him, then maybe we get the answers for the rest of the questions.” He knew that statement registered with the Texan. “Then you both can put all this behind you, where it belongs.” When he saw that Tanner was back in control, he grinned. “Now go retrieve that bottle and grab some cards. Linda’s asleep and I could use some company.”

That had played cards for almost three hours and drank through half the bottle before either man said a word. “I know you’re here for me, but ‘m sure Kelli appreciates it, too.” Vin had not had enough to drink yet, he was still able to think.

“Hell, Tanner, what makes you think I’m here for your ornery hide?” Chris smiled, “I may be in love with a blond, but I have always had a weakness for redheads.”

“Sarah was redheaded, wasn’t she?” Vin had not thought about that in a while.

“Yep and life was never dull.” Chris suddenly had a flash of an old memory. “Did I ever tell you about the gal I met my freshman year in college?” Vin shook his head. “I didn’t think so. She had dark red hair, blue eyes and the cutest backside, you have ever seen. I remember a night after a football game…” Larabee never finished his story. Tanner heard Kelli moving about in the bedroom and all else was forgotten.

See you tomorrow ,Cowboy and thanks.

Anytime, if you need me holler.

Chris let himself out and Tanner went to make sure Kelli was all right. She was coming out of the bathroom and once he got a good look at her, he was glad to see she was not pale anymore. She seemed to be much more relaxed and her eyes said her composure had returned. He led her back to bed, lay with her and drew her close. “I never meant for it to go this way and the last thing I wanted was for you to get hurt.” Vin spoke softly and stroked his fingers through her hair as he talked. “Are you gonna be okay about this?” He needed to hear her voice to reassure him, she was back from hell.

“With you here, ’m better and you did not do anythin’ to cause this. It caught me off-guard and I wasn’t prepared for it all to come rushing at me at once.” The warmth from his body wrapped around her and gave Kelli the comfort she sought. “You gave me more than I ever believed I would find, Tanner and ‘m not talking about those damn files. Just so you know, I love you and I am glad you’re in my life.”

“That’s good because I intend on keepin’ you for a while.” Vin found his first smile, realizing the worst was over and it was now time for the healing to begin.


Larabee finished the morning chores and was on his way back to the house. He wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet while he could. Soon, family would arrive to set up for today’s celebration. Glancing at Tanner’s door, he wondered if Vin and Kelli would feel like being around so many people all day and be able to enjoy the races. As he climbed the steps to his deck, he saw Linda waiting with a cup of coffee ready for him.

“Morning.” She passed him his cup with a kiss and then settled on the deck chair.

“Morning to you, too.” Chris sat next to her, prepared to relax a bit before the activities began, but some things just are not to be. One swallow of coffee and Ben drove in the yard with a trailer full of miniature horses. JD and Casey followed him. Mr. Dunne was interested in the set up to view the races. Mrs. Dunne wanted Linda to help her place a bet. Heaving a sigh, Chris got up to help Ben, with Linda directing where she wanted to put the small steeds. Fortunately Buck showed up and helped set up the portable corral.

“It’s going to be a full-time job watching the girls around these little guys.” Buck shook his head, “What happened to my pretty pony?” Seeing the strange look Chris gave him he explained, “That’s a toy horse, it comes with a brush and comb and their mane...Oh, never mind.”

Chris was even more surprised to see Ezra at this time of the morning. “What’s got you out so early?”

“I received numerous phone calls requesting information on how to place wagers on today’s racing events. Strangely enough, all of the requests were from female members of this family.” Ezra smiled, “It is in my best interest to accommodate their wishes or to be set upon by the ‘matchmakers from hell.’ If you will excuse me, my pupils await.”

By nine, almost the entire family had made their way to the ‘lion’s den’ and the lead lion was restless. Not only was his lover busy with everyone else, she was dressed fit to kill and he wanted to get her alone. Linda was thriving, she was an expert at throwing fun parties and had gone all out on this one. So, maybe she was over indulging the kids just a bit, but it was only one day. Maybe there was enough food to feed a small army and she might have gone overboard on the decorating, but when the day was over everyone would remember this Preakness party.

“Chris, if you don’t get Vin and Kelli out to join us, I will have to do it myself. This is supposed to be their party, after all.” Linda was not sure where Chris went last night, but she was willing to bet it had something to do with Vin and Larabee knew more than he was telling.

“I’ll call, okay?” Chris sighed, but he was anxious to see if he needed to run interference for his best friend this morning.

Meanwhile, at the Tanners’, Vin had his own challenges to deal with. Last night’s crisis, evidently, had sent the demons that had plagued Kelli all these years, back to hell. This morning she was facing the day with a different attitude, one he was not sure, just yet, how to handle. Freedom, had his serious, disciplined wife acting like a wild colt, turned loose for the first time to run.

“Kel, please have a heart and change clothes before we go out there, that outfit will make me crazy by the end of the day,” She was wearing skin tight black jeans and a yellow shirt that tied just below her breast. Vin was convinced she would spill out of it before noon. “Besides, you’ll get cold in that outfit.”

“Can’t, I don’t have a heart, you already took it.” Kelli laughed, actually she felt better than okay today. She was fairly sure the old nightmares were gone forever and she had Vin to thank for that. It was time, however, to stop trying to be so disciplined. She intended to enjoy this new freedom and embrace what life had granted her, starting with the man responsible for giving her the chance to find it. “You would never let me get too cold.”

“If you don’t want the family to find out just how out of control I can be, you need to think about changin’.” Vin growled, but he was sure she would reconsider. What they did in private was one thing, but Kelli was too shy to fool around in view of the others.

“A reckless Tanner, now that’s somethin’, I believe they might like to see.” She grinned, “I do hate to tell you this, darlin’, but I don’t think you’ll surprise them.”

“I might not, but you sure as hell will.” Vin grumbled as he answered the phone. “Tanner! ... Yeah Chris … For better or worse we’ll be out in a minute … Just as soon as Kel finds her shoes.” Yep, she was barefooted again.

Gonna be a long day, Tanner

+ + + + + + +

“Well, are they coming over or not?” Linda was anxious for them to see what she had done to make this a special celebration.

“Yeah…Vin said they would be here in a few minutes.” Chris gave Linda a smile, “Are you sure you want to wear that today? You do know you’ll pay for it tonight, don’t you?”

“I always pay my debts, Cowboy.” She gave him a wicked grin and went off to find the other women.

Gonna be a long day, Larabee.

Ezra had the attention of all the ladies, even Rain, who had been filled in on the racing information by Mallory. He was attempting to explain the different between on track and off track betting and the consequences of placing a bad wager to the ladies. He felt it necessary to let them know what they could lose, not for their sakes, but his. He did not want to face the wrath of his brothers, should their wives lose without being duly warned of the possibility.

“Okay, so you explained. Now will you place our bets?” Casey was excited and could hardy wait for the races to begin.

“Give him a chance. I’m sure Ezra will take care of it for you. The races don’t start until after twelve and the Preakness, not until 5:45.” Linda was pleased to see them so enthusiastic about the horses. “Start planning on what to do with your winnings.”

“Or start planning on what to tell your husbands when you lose your… shirts.” Kelli had joined them, amused by the idea of so many racing fanatics on the loose.

“Kel, I have just about given up on you coming.” Linda turned to her old friend and was surprised by what she saw. This person was not the Kelli she knew, her friend would never dress so boldly and the mischievous smile was not her at all. She gave her a grin and asked, “What has you in such high spirits today?”

Kelli shrugged a shoulder, “Just am. Now tell me how you managed to corrupt these nice women with one day of shopping.” She laughed, “Never mind. I know how you did it! Just be prepared to cover their losses and I won’t have to tell them your record of accomplishment on betting. Remember, I know all your secrets.”

Linda turned to Ezra, “Place their bets and I’ll stand good for any losses.” Addressing her friend quietly, “When did you start resorting to blackmail? You are the quiet one, remember?” Linda tried to be serious, but failed and started to laugh.

The men were finding it hard to accept that their wives suddenly had caught ‘racing fever’ and all of them had answered dozens of questions about the horses and Larabee 7. They were also tying to keep up with three very excited little girls. Maria took off running as fast as her little legs would go and Buck took out after her and then stopped when he saw where she was going. He favorite Uncle was on his way over.

“You lose somethin’, Bucklin?” Maria had latched on to her Uncle Vin and was not ready to let him go, yet. “Found this munchkin runnin’ wild over there.” The baby was now perched on Vin shoulders and it looked like she was not going anywhere for a while.

“My reinforcement has arrived, I think I will take this opportunity to check on Josiah and the BBQ.” Nathan gave little Sarah to Chris and went in search of those ribs he knew were almost done.

“She looks too comfy to move her, Vin, besides Joanne here is keeping me busy just now. Buck laughed as Joanne made another run for the little horses. “See what I mean.” Wilmington took her to see the horses, again.

“You okay, Vin?” Chris watched for any leftover signs of anger and saw none. He did sense something else was disturbing the Texan’s thoughts.

“Yeah, ‘m… okay….just…hell, sorry heck.” Tanner was watching Kelli and Linda head their way and was having trouble concentrating on Chris’ words. Damn.

Chris could not imagine what had Tanner so rattled until he looked in the direction that Vin was watching. Linda had changed. She was now wearing an outfit sexier than the first one, tight black Levi’s and a turquoise shirt that was cut too low and too damn tight. Damn. Kelli, well she was sure to drive Tanner around the bend before the end of the day, if he lasted that long.

“I take it last night worked out, okay.” Chris started to laugh at Vin’s disgruntled expression until he realized he was probably wearing one just like it.

“It looks like everyone’s enjoying themselves.” Linda gave Chris a look that said she knew what he was thinking. “Chris, have you noticed how hot it is today?” All she got in return was a muttered curse. She broke out with laughter in response.

“Turn my back for a minute and find you with another woman, Tanner, you are bad.” Kelli winked at Maria and had a glint of mischief in her eyes for Vin.

“My Vin, not bad,” Maria put her two cents in and was rewarded with a smile from Kelli.

“You are so right, sweetheart. Your Vin is good, very good…especially when he’s bad.” Maria didn’t understand what she meant, but Tanner did and Kelli felt a warm rush when she saw what his eyes were telling her.

“Chris, you and Linda can handle the rug rats. Kel and I need to…check on the foals.” Vin handed Maria to Larabee, who now had both girls in his arms.

+ + + + + + +

Tanner led her to the barn and shut the door behind them, “Dammit, we should have gone home instead of here.”

“We have all night at home, baby.” She tugged on his jeans. “Right now, just let me love you.” Then she did, just as he had taught her. He pulled her to him and kissed her and seeing the warmth and desire in her eyes, he fell in love with her, again.

“Tonight better get here soon,” Vin whispered in her ear. “I want you close to me the rest of the day.” He knew the difference in her today was born out of a lot of pain, but he sensed it was here to stay. They had weathered another storm last night and it had left a gift for both of them.

+ + + + + + +

“What time does it start and which ones did we bet on? Ezra, are you sure, you got it right? How do we keep track of each one? What happens if they come in second or third? I forgot. How long does a race usually last? When will we know the odds?”

“Stop!” Ezra was developing a headache and he did not even know who was asking what anymore because the questions were fast, repetitive and endless. “Ladies, please, I assure you your wishes have been carried out. All you need to do now is relax and enjoy this outstanding sporting event.”

“Wanna bet Ez loses it before this day ends?” Buck nudged Chris and laughed.

“As Ezra would say, I do not place wagers when the outcome is already assured.” Chris was enjoying the entertainment though.

“The first race is starting, find a comfortable spot and listen.” JD had the link working and a clear picture on the big screen.

“Anybody see Vin and Kelly? I’ve lost them again.” Linda did not want them to miss the most exciting events of the day. “Chris, can you find Tanner?”

“I’ll find them.” He kissed her, walked outside and headed for the barn, slowly.

Vin, you had both better be dressed when I get there.


Larabee was on a mission, but not by choice. Linda wanted everything perfect and that meant he had to find the missing young couple. He had a good idea where they were and what they were doing and he really could not blame them. Sometimes, you need to take what life has to offer when you can and not wait until it disappeared, forever. Isn’t that what Buck and Vin have been tellin you, Larabee? Chris met Vin and Kelli coming up from the barn, they were already on their way to watch the races.

Message received, Cowboy.

You live dangerously, Tanner

Maybe, but it is rewarding.

“If you two are through, ‘m starvin’.” Kelli smiled at the two men, who until then, had not realized that she knew about the silent communication between them. “I want to eat and then watch the fun when the other women see their first horse race.”

“What will be more fun is watching Ezra lose his cool. My bet is he won’t last through the sixth race.” Chris had no doubt the women would make him crazy by then.

They grabbed a plate of food on the way to the den where everyone was waiting for the races to start. It looked like it was going to be a wet track by the end of the day. Tanner chose to sit in an armchair with one leg stretched out on each side of Kelli, who sat on the floor in front of him. He had a good view of the big screen and of his wife’s yellow shirt.

“Kelli, you almost missed it. Where have you been?” Linda had raised her voice so her friend could hear her. When she did most everyone stopped talking for a minute to see what the blond said. That is why they all heard Kelli’s answer.

“If you must know, I was in the barn, makin’ out with Tanner.” She laughed at the expression on Linda’s face and when she heard Vin choke on his beer.

“Well, hell, that’s sounds more interesting than any old horse race.” Buck shot a grin at Tanner, who was amazed by his wife’s candid comment.

“Take my word for it, Buck, it is.” Kelli smiled, “Much more interestin’.”

“So, which race does My Texas Lady run in?” Chris thought a change in the conversations was due about now.

Linda read the rundown of the races and times and answered as many questions as she could. The children were exhausted from chasing the little horses. Inez and Mallory put them down for a nap. Kelli took their plates to the kitchen and began to pick up some of the mess. Vin went into the kitchen to pick up a couple more bottles of beer and to find his missing wife. He leaned against the doorframe and studied her movements, something he loved to do. Tanner, you are hopeless! Finally, he had to do more than watch and quietly walking up behind her he encircled her waist with one arm and kissed the back of her neck. She leaned back into him and sighed.

“Did I embarrass you earlier?” She turned to face him. “I suppose I might be behavin’ a little reckless.”

“No, you didn’t embarrass me, surprised me a little, but that’s okay. I like this new attitude and I don’t want you to change a thing. Hell, ‘m even startin’ to like this damn shirt, it has a lot of possibilities.” Vin smiled when she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“I thought you were worried about me falling out.” She gave him a long passionate kiss, which he had no problem returning.

“I’ll just have to be a good catcher, if you do.” In a rasping voice he said, “Keep this up and they can watch the damn race without us.” Hearing her laughter delighted the Texan. “Come on, before they send out another search party.” He grabbed a couple of bottles of beer and they went back to join the others. Vin passed one of the bottles to Chris and settled himself in the chair with Kelli across his lap. He intended to be comfortable and wanted to keep her within his reach the rest of the day.

Every time Chris got Linda to sit with him, she would think of something that needed doing and be off again. She knew that the day was going well, but wanted to make sure the family was pleased with the celebration. This was what she loved to do and hoped that Chris would see that she was good at it. It had been a while since she had thrown a party and she was glad she had not lost her touch.

“Okay, the first three races are over and the Black Eyed Susan will be in thirty minutes. Any last wagers, you need to make, do it in the next fifteen minutes. My brother is there with our horses and he said they are in great shape and ready to run. Texas Lady and her half sister Seventh Heaven are the favorites to win.” Linda was glad Matthew was there to keep an eye on the horses, since she was not. He was the only one she trusted to see that they were cared for properly.

Maria wandered into the room and most of the adults were busy talking. So, she sought out her Uncle and climbed into his lap. Kelli offered to get up so the baby could get comfortable, but Tanner shook his head no. He shifted and soon had both Kelli and Maria situated, the baby quickly went back to sleep.

Just before the race started, Buck elbowed Chris in the ribs and pointed across the room. “Think we should do something about that?” Wilmington had a big smile on his face.

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Chris picked up a quilt and walked across the den shaking his head. In spite of all the noise and excitement in the room, somehow Vin, Kelli and Maria had managed to fall asleep. He then covered the sleeping ‘babies’. Even the screams of happiness when Texas Lady crossed the finish line first, did not wake them. Bad ass Tanner, right! Good thing it’s only family here to witness your demise.

“I cannot believe they missed it. Texas Lady won and they missed it.” Linda was having a hard time accepting that someone could not be excited about horseracing.

“JD recorded it and they can watch later. Now, though it looks like Ezra could use some help.” Chris watched Standish head for the door as four excited women, who had just won money on the race, surrounded him. “Ladies, give the man some room and relax you still have six races to go.” That statement got their attention and they backed off giving Ezra some space.

“Thank you, for your timely intervention. I now believe I would rather face the miscreants we encounter professionally, than to place any more wagers for these charming ladies.” Ezra turned to Linda. “They are all yours for the remainder of the proceedings. I quit!” Standish had not lasted through the sixth race.

Chris looked at her with a 'what did I do' grin. “I guess they are all yours.” He moved closer and whispered. “You do have to stop sometime and when you do its payback time for wearing that sexy outfit all day.” Larabee, I think she knows exactly what she is doing.

Nathan was concerned. “Chris, how anyone could sleep through all this noise and not be sick? Did you check for a fever? Maybe I should…”

“I’m sure they are fine, just had a long night. You do remember those days, don’t you?” Chris did not want more questions asked about why the Tanners did not sleep last night. He supposed he needed to wake Vin and let him handle it.

“What do you mean, remember? Rain and I have many nights like that…sometimes.” Nathan smiled, “Maybe we need more of them.” He went to find his wife.

Chris woke Vin, “Do you plan to explain to everyone why two healthy young people are not sleeping at night? If not, I suggest you at least show some interest in the last race.”

Tanner smiled, “We don’t sleep because we are healthy and young, unlike some old men I know.” Chris growled and Vin hastily added, “Alright, I get your point and …thanks.” Larabee lifted Maria and took her to her waiting Dad.

Vin shook Kelli to wake her and whispered. “Just a reminder, we are not alone at home in our bed.” He had to smile, he was positive he heard her issue a garbled curse. “What was that?” He felt rather than heard her answer when she started to rain kisses on his neck and snuggle closer. “You keep doing that, we fly by reckless and go straight to out of control. Not that I mind, but there are children in the room.”

“Okay, let’s stay at reckless … for now. However, I am looking forward to out of control, later. That is, if you are up to it.” The look Vin gave her promised payback for that teasing remark, but it didn’t faze her in the least. Her soft laughter carried across the room.

Vin, you might as well concede, she has your number.

I suppose you are doing better, Cowboy.

Chris glanced at Linda and knew Vin was right, Well, hell.

“Last race and this is the big one, Fortune Hunter, brother to your own Bounty, is racing. If he places, the value of your horse will increase instantly.” Linda reminded them of how important this could be for Larabee7.

The race began and Fortune stumbled at the starting gate, everyone groaned. He quickly recovered and coming from behind passed each of the other horses until he was in third place. The room exploded with yelling and screaming, mixed in with a prayer or two. Finally, the horse moved into second place, only losing by a neck to the first place winner. When the shouting stopped, Linda broke out the bottles of champagne she had on ice and toasted the winners. After that, they were ready to move on to the next stage of the celebration.

Josiah approached Linda and thanked her for the great day. He was, however, taking Mallory home, she had overdone it just a little, with all the excitement. “Inez is keeping Joanne for the night and Mallory will go straight to sleep, we will see you tomorrow. Enjoy the fireworks for us.”

“Take care of her, Sanchez.” Chris patted him on the shoulder and reminded him to call, if they needed anything.

After another round of food and then the clean up the family moved outside. Buck and JD were in charge of the fireworks and promised a spectacular display. Chris and Linda sat on the ground and little Sara joined them. Vin and Kelli sat next to them. Joanne found her Uncle Ezra and settled in his lap to watch. Inez and Casey entertained Maria, while Uncle Nathan cuddled with Aunt Rain in hopes of a long night of his own.

The fireworks were beautiful and there was only one minor mishap. Buck would recover from the misdirected bottle rocket with no lasting repercussions, though. And when sleep claimed the children after twenty minutes, the Wilmingtons took them home. Nathan made a quick exit with his wife, after letting Linda know how much fun they had, as did JD and Casey.

“Ms. Dubois, an excellent day, however, please advise me before the next one. I planned to be otherwise engaged at that time and whenever it is, I will be out of town.” Standish saluted and went home for a well-deserved rest.

“Linda, you did good, girl. This was one of your best efforts yet and we appreciate the work you put into it.” Kelli put an arm around Linda’s shoulder as they walked toward the house. “We had a great time.”

“How in the hell would you know? You slept through half of it and made out with Vin the other half.” Linda laughed at her friend. “I bet you have plans for the rest of the night, too.”

“Linda, I don’t have plans. I have expectations and I would bet you have some expectations of your own.” The excitement of the long day had both of them acting like kids and the two women broke into laughter.

Chris and Vin shook their heads at the two unruly women. They made their own agreement to ride in the morning, but right now there were more pressing matters that needed tending.

You take yours and I’ll take mine.

See you in the morning, Lar’bee.

Tanner walked his wife home and once inside, they left a trail of discarded clothes that led to the shower. “I think I owe you for earlier and that makes it my turn.” Vin intended to take all the turns tonight and definitely planned on more than one. “Besides, I owe you some payback for that remark you made.” Kelli gave him no argument because in fact, she was looking forward to Tanner’s payback.

Chris went around and locked up the house. Linda was in the bathtub and he hurriedly took a shower in the guest bath. He had plans and wanted to finish before she was through. He started a fire in the fireplace and spread quilts on the floor in front of it. A few pillows, a bucket of ice to hold the last bottle of champagne and some soft music completed the scene.

While he waited for his lover, his thoughts drifted. He saw Linda, again, as she had been this day, the center of the party.

God, she's so different from Sarah, in so many ways, from her looks to what she likes!

He could still picture Sarah and see every detail. She had been a fiery redhead who loved home life and only on occasion liked to party. She loved the ranch, but had never shared Chris' dream of raising horses.

Linda loves horse ranching and she shares my dream of breeding a winner. And today, at the party... she thrived on being in the middle of things. God, she is so unpredictable. Bold, outgoing, impulsive. I just can't stay one-step ahead of her thoughts! Not yet different from Sarah, again.

Sarah had been spontaneous at home with him and Adam, but never in public. She had never wanted to be the center of attention, the way Linda had loved to be today. Her dream had been to raise children and grow old together. Sarah had also kept close watch on their finances and didn't give in to impulse buying, as Linda seemed to be. From what Chris had seen so far, shopping seemed to be a sport to Linda. Something else where her spontaneity could lead to unexpected things.

Chris smiled. He realized he would love to try to find out how to get the hang of this woman. Linda took pleasure in the moment, something Chris knew he didn't do easily himself. It was good to be with someone who did though and made him see the preciousness of those moments too. Like those moments of great sex they had, loving sex like he had known with Sarah, only much more unpredictable and he loved that wild side of Linda as well.

And she has accepted me, I'm still a bit stunned by that fact. She has accepted me, knowing this may be all we have to share. She keeps me in check as well, just as Sarah was able to do. Sarah never let me brood and always managed to set me straight, if I drifted off course. And Linda sure doesn't let me brood either. I love how she looks at life and makes me see reason. Now, all that's left is how she will handle my job, when we go out on real cases.

Sarah had accepted Chris' choice of career as a part of who he was, but her fear for her husband's safety had sparked many an argument. Still, she had stood by his side every step of the way, unlike some partners of his colleagues. In the end, it hadn't been him who had been killed by the job though.

He wasn't going to think about that now. He wasn't going to wonder if Linda could handle the pressure of him having a dangerous job or if he could handle having someone he loved in his life again.

Tonight, we will take every minute we can and savor it.

When Linda walked in the room, at first she did not see him. Turning to go, she saw movement by the fireplace. She sucked in her breath when she realized it was Chris, outlined by the firelight. He was naked and the glow from the fire made the muscles across his back shimmer when he moved. God, he was an incredible sight, he turned and looked at her and his eyes drew her to him. When she reached the edge of the comforter, he lifted his hand and invited her to join him.

“Welcome to my party.”


Tanner had the horses saddled, ready to go by six and tended to the others, while he waited for Larabee. He shook his head, thinking about yesterday when Kel had surprised him, again. Vin knew she had enough inner strength to get past the anguish that the details from her past had produced and he had expected her to rebound. However, he had not anticipated it happening so fast or generating the therapeutic response she had shown. Then again, when he considered all the nightmares she had overcome in her life, he should have foreseen the results. Nevertheless, he was pleased to see the woman that he knew behind closed doors, was now revealing her true nature to the outside world. Vin stopped his musing and realized the sun was already making an appearance.

Where in the hell are you, Larabee?

I am right here and not one word about being late.

Tanner passed Chris the reins to his horse and shot him an amused look as he mounted Peso. “Whatever you say, boss.” The retreating sound of his brother’s laughter spurred Larabee into action. He hastened to catch up with his young friend. Vin was riding slow, waiting for Larabee and when he came up even to him, the Texan picked up the pace. The two men rode hard across open country and their horses, appreciating the run, were reluctant to slow down anytime soon. After forty minutes, they had no choice, the men stopped to give their steeds some rest.

Noticing how gingerly, Chris was walking Vin had to comment. “Movin’ kinda slow this mornin’, Cowboy. Hope you not sick or somethin’.” The look in Tanner’s eyes did not show any concern for Larabee’s health though. Laughter threatened to surface at any moment. “You sleep, okay?” The Texan took on a serious look. “I’d hate to think about you missin’ our first case and…”

“I slept on the floor, alright!” Chris frowned when Tanner’s laughter made its escape. “Actually, I didn’t plan it that way, but after … Hell, what am I telling you for? You probably didn’t sleep any more than I did.” Larabee gave him his best glare, admittedly without much heat behind it.

Unfazed, Vin only laughed more, until he got it out of his system. “Probably not, but it was worth the sacrifice.” Larabee acknowledged that statement with a nod of affirmation. An agreeable silence hung in the air for a few minutes before Chris broke it.

“Are we going to continue to search for answers?” Larabee wanted confirmation before he took the next step. “After this long, the chance of finding enough evidence to convict is next to none, you know that.” He knew his friend would not quit if it were just him involved. However, the other night was hard on Kelli and Vin might be having second thoughts.

“We keep lookin’, maybe we can’t convict the bastard, but we might convince him to give up some information. They didn’t use DNA twenty years ago, but now we can at least find out if…if he’s related to her. If he isn’t, then we make him tell us where he got her. Kel’s DNA is on file with the National Registry for missing children so she won’t have to be involved until we find somethin’ to tell.” Tanner was not sure when it had happened, but Chris was now caught up in this as much as he was.

Shaking his head in agreement he added,” That’s good, but I have to admit, Friday night I was sure she would want to quit.” He chuckled, “Then yesterday, I realized that she is much stronger than I first thought. And that is a good thing to know about the people you work with.”

“It’s good to have you at my back on this. Thanks for being there.” Vin knew no more needed to be said on that subject, “Speakin’ of work, have you finished the partner assignments, yet?”

“Yep, with Pam in the office feeding out information to the team, that leaves us with fourteen field agents seven old and seven new. That is how we will start out, until I see how the newer agents do in the field. Josiah will work well with Anderson and Nathan with Roberts. I decided to put JD and Justin together, as well as Buck and Westin.” Chris noted that Tanner nodded in agreement to each pairing, but still had not asked the question he expected. “Ezra will have a fit about having a partner, but Katrina can handle it. You are the one that is blessed with Reed. Hell, you are the only one with enough patience not to kill him. Kelli will work with me, I reckon I have enough practice on how to deal with a Tanner.”

You figured I was worried about Kel, didn’t you?” The expression on Larabee’s face answered him. “I always will worry about her stayin’ safe, just like she worries about me. However, as far as who she works with, I know she can take care of herself and she is a good agent. Trust me, she knows how to raise hell if necessary and won’t be shy about givin’ her opinion.” Vin smiled, “I speak from personal experience.”

Knowing how protective Tanner could be, Larabee thought his concern might spill over into the workplace and be a challenge. His confidence in Kelli’s abilities was good to hear. Chris was convinced, now, that working together would not be a problem for Vin. With that hurdle taken care of, he knew his team was ready for anything.

Now that the horses are rested, I’ll race your home.

No contest, but you can try, Cowboy

+ + + + + + +

Four frisky foals could be a handful, but Kelli loved every minute she spent with them. The lone female in the group was the rowdiest and was fast becoming her favorite, next to Midnight, of course. She gave the colts a run for their money, if they tried to bully her. They were learning not to mess with the young filly

“I thought I might find you here.” Linda entered the foaling pen. “God, they are growing fast.”

“Yep and if I read the signs right, we will have another one before mornin’.” She pointed to the bay mare on the end row. “I reckon Lady Brianna is next and one of the Larabee mares is foaling’ now.”

“Did Vin mention to you when they would be back?” Linda hated to admit that Chris had not thought to tell her.

“I guess they will be here when they get here.” Kelli had no idea how long they would be out. “Is it important?”

“Well, don’t you like to know where Tanner is?” Linda smiled. At least Vin didn’t tell you, either.

Kelli laughed. “Lord, Linda, he is a grown man, he doesn’t need to keep his schedule posted for me.” She could not resist teasing, “I do let him out once in a while without a chaperon.”

“Now, who is being a smart ass?”

“Linda, I don’t care how much you care about someone, everybody needs their own space at times. I know I do and I respect the fact that Vin does, too. After considering her next remark, Kelli decided to interfere. She knew Linda was worried about Chris having enough time for her, once work became an issue. “I know how you feel about Chris, but what are you gonna to do when he in so involved in a case that he forgets to call or doesn’t have time to see you?”

“I know how the job is. You do remember we worked together for almost a year.” She remembered, but at that time, she was not involved with anyone. This was a completely different situation. Girl, that is how he lives, accept it because you love him.

Kelli sighed. She was thinking that maybe she should have said nothing. “I know you do, but Larabee is not a rookie like we were then, he has many more responsibilities. He is the type of leader that will not leave a job until his agents do. He will be the first one in and the last one to leave, period.”

“The unit has not even had a case yet. How do you know that he will do that?” Linda knew she was right, but that did not mean she had to like it. Lord, this is going to be hard, but you will find a way, Linda

“I suppose because I have worked with enough of the ones that won’t.”

“Won’t what?” Tanner managed to get behind her before she knew he was there. She was surprised when he grabbed her and he knew what her next words would be.

“Dammit, Tanner, you need to quit doing that!” When she saw the smile on Linda’s face, she knew she had been an accomplice. She was also sure Larabee was close, by the look in her friend’s eyes. She spoke to Linda, “He doesn’t need any help, he needs spurs, loud ones!” Just how much did they overhear?

Chris was close and he moved forward to give Linda a kiss wrapping his arms around her waist. “Moving quietly is one of Tanner’s hidden talents.” He smiled, “Buck hates it and he is usually one of Vin’s favorite targets.”

“Did you have a good ride?” Linda was glad they were back, maybe now she could have Chris to herself for a while. Looking at him, her doubts disappeared. You will be fine with this, Linda. This is who he is, the man you are in love with.

“It was great, but we talked and thought maybe you two might like a night out.” Larabee had heard enough to know Linda needed some reassurance and was willing to provide it. It was going to be a challenge when their cases were hot and time was short. Taking her out tonight, would help make up for the time he could not be here during the coming week. “How about it?”

“Do we get to pick the place to go?” Linda already had several ideas in mind. When Chris nodded yes, her mind started to race through the possibilities.

“Why don’t you two go? Lady Brianna will probably foal tonight and someone should be here to keep an eye on the other new one.” Kelli would rather be here and she knew Linda would prefer to be alone with Chris. It seemed to her the best solution, for everyone, was for the Tanners to stay at home.

Vin turned her around to face him. “Bri will foal with or without your help and George is here to keep an eye on things. We can have dinner and go dancing after.” Vin knew she loved to dance, but didn’t do it often. Although, not his favorite form of entertainment, he did not mind going. He leaned in close enough for only her to hear and whispered, “Later we’ll do some private dancin’.”

Together they came to an agreement. The men picked an afternoon movie, Linda the restaurant for dinner and Kelli the place to go dancing. They would meet in two hours, giving them plenty of time to eat lunch before they left. Chris and Vin took the foals back to their mothers and George promised to call if any of the mares had a problem.

The Tanners went home one way, leaving Chris and Linda to go in the other direction. While heading back to the house, Chris’ cell phone rang. ”Larabee …Within the hour… Consider it done.”

“Linda, I am so sorry, but I’ll have to give you a rain check for today. We were just passed a hot case that can not wait.” He watched her reaction carefully and was relieved to see her acceptance of the situation. “I promise to make it up to you.” He drew her close and gave her a long passionate kiss which had to last them for a while.

“I’ll be fine, go do what you have to.” Linda knew this would be a test for their relationship. “Just stay safe.”

Larabee pulled out his cell and punched in a code for his team. Fifteen pagers were beeping within minutes.

MCAT was ready to roll into action.

MCAT Office - Sunday 12:50 p.m. - Day One

Orrin Travis was already waiting on the twelfth floor when Chris Larabee walked in the office. Wasting no time on formalities, they immediately began to discuss business. “This is all I have to give you, the rest you will have to come up with on your own.” Travis shook his head, “I still can not believe … Matthews was a good friend and a fine man. I will run interference with the news media for you. Chris, do whatever you need to, but search out the bastards responsible. If you need anything let me know and it is yours.”

“Thanks, Orrin, we will do our best.” Chris noted the box Travis was holding, “Is that for us?”

“What? … .Yes, of course, I thought they should have these now, instead of waiting until tomorrow.” After handing the box to Larabee he started to leave, “Chris… this is your case, show them what the best is capable of doing.” With Larabee’s acknowledgment, he left, passing other agents coming in on his way out.

“Everyone has answered their page, if they aren’t already here then they are on the way in.” Tanner stood in the doorway of Chris’ office. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he handed the box to Vin. "Get them into the conference room, we need a plan.” Chris grabbed the papers Travis gave him and turned on his copy machine.

1:30 p.m.

Most of the Agents found that waiting was the hardest part of this job. A few grumbled about an interrupted weekend, but one voice was louder than the rest. “This is probably some damn test to see if we show up.” Sam Reed gave his opinion to the others. The senior agents in the room had ignored the complaints until that remark. However, they found it difficult to let that pass, but before they had a chance to respond, Chris entered the room. He passed a folder to Tanner and proceeded to the head of the table. The look on Larabee’s face said this was the real thing and serious, silence descended on the room as instincts kicked in.

“At 10:15 a.m. this morning, Judge Harold Matthews left his home to attend church with his family. Five minutes later, he lay dead in own driveway and two of his children were injured. By 11:00 a.m., a group known as PAL or People’s Army for Liberty took credit for the slaying. They sent their terms to a local newspaper reporter, who contacted the FBI. PAL demands the release of a federal prisoner by the name of Carl Watkins and each day that passes before his release, another judge dies. If he is still in prison by Thursday noon, they threaten to take out a building in downtown Denver with explosives. While the FBI, ATF and several other agencies argued about who has lead on this case, Travis claimed it for MCAT. Before I give you your assignments, take out your badges and lay them on the table along with your ID’s.” Chris sat down and Tanner stood to address the agents.

“Ezra, if you would collect the badges and ID’s, please.” Vin gave Standish a clipboard. “When Agent Standish picks up yours, initial your name on the list I gave him.” As Tanner pulled out the box Travis brought in earlier, he continued to speak. “I have new ID’s and badges for all of you. You’ll see that the badge now shows you to be a MCAT agent. Your ID’s will allow you access to federal law enforcement records from any bureau, that reports to the Justice Department. Your authority will override all other agencies unless they, specifically, invite us to assist. I don’t think they will be askin’ anytime soon. In fact, you probably won’t find many that will welcome you in a friendly way. We do not wanna start a feud with 'em, but we won’t take any gruff from ‘em either. If you have any problems let me or Commander Lar’bee know about it.” Vin assigned the new badges and then waited for Chris to finish writing.

“We have a short time to get to the truth of all this. Pam, you will be in the office to coordinate the information that flows to us in the field. I also want you to update the case board with any information that comes in, no matter how insignificant it might seem to be. Find out everything possible about Carl Watkins, up to and including what he ate for breakfast.” Pam was already out the door headed for the communication base she and JD had set up for the unit.

“JD, you and Justin work on PAL, locate us someone that knows how they operate and drag their butts in here for questioning. Josiah, you and Anderson head to the prison and question Watkins. Nathan, you and Roberts evaluate the security for high profile targets, hospitals, schools and government building. Check for any unusual activities in the last couple of weeks.” Once they had left, Chris gave Standish and Wilmington their orders. “Ezra, I want you and Katrina to start hitting your informants, somebody somewhere, knows what is coming down. Buck, I want you and Westin to take on the Judge’s files see if you can find a connection. We all meet back here by nine tonight, to go over what we have collected.” That covered everything mentioned in their demands, but Larabee felt there was more to it.

“It feels too professional and detailed for a rag tag group of home grown rebels.” Vin made his observations. “Sounds like a well thought-out plan and more personal.” He waited for Larabee to answer.

“I think it’s too convenient to place the blame on a group that did not even exist until three months ago. That’s why you and Reed are going to rattle some cages and see what comes out. Hit your sources, Vin. See what they know.” The Texan had some unconventional resources and good instincts, if it was something else he would find out. Turning to Kelli, “You’re with me, let’s go see what the FBI found out.”

2:45 p.m.

Agent Guy Saunders cringed when he saw ‘badass’ Larabee get out of his truck. The two men had crossed paths more than a few times over the years. Well, not this time, this was his case and he was going to keep it. “Larabee, this is FBI business, not yours. The ATF does not belong here.”

“For once, Saunders, I agree with you.” Chris pulled out his badge, “For that matter, neither do you. This is my case and if you want to work on it then I guess you will have to answer to me.” Larabee took great pleasure seeing the look on the other agent’s face.

“Shit, don’t tell me they tapped you for that fiasco they call a MCAT Task Force.” Saunders laughed. “You of all people should know better. Some hotshot thought this up to get his boss off his ass and it will never last.”

Chris took a step closer to the man. “What I know is, that your full report needs to be in my hands, no later than nine tonight, labs included.” Taking one more step he growled, “If you don’t like it, take it up with the Attorney General. Now, tell me what you already know.”

Agent Saunders sighed because he had read the blasted memo about MCAT and knew that for now, he would have to cooperate. “High powered rifle, the shooter took his shot from somewhere over there. We have not located the exact spot, yet”

Chris saw Kelli head in that direction and decided to see just what she could find. “Walk me thought it.” He kept Saunders busy for the next twenty minutes. When Coulter returned and nodded to him, he abruptly cut off the FBI agent. “Make sure you have your report to my office by nine.” He then walked back to his truck, leaving the man standing alone.

Chris waited until they were down the street before he said a word. “Well?”

“It was a single shooter, waited there for a while by the looks of it. I found three shell casin’s, foreign writin’ on ‘em, not like any that I have seen before, but Vin will probably know what they are." She then placed the evidence bags on the seat of the truck, “I bagged a couple of other things I found for our lab to look at.” She noted the look Larabee shot in her direction. “What? I marked where they came from, I even left Saunders a signed receipt for the evidence that he can put in his report. Of course being FBI, I should have left him a map to find the damned note.”

“Remind me not to put you and Ezra together.” Chris shook his head, "I expected you to look, not collect evidence. What if this goes to court?”

“What if we waste time chasin’ the wrong bad guys and a buildin’ gets blown up?”

“So, you think that is the real target here?” Chris wanted to know how his partner was thinking.

“Jake taught me that the best offense is a damned good diversion.” She smiled, “Kinda like you did keepin’ that idiot busy while I snooped.”

“Sounds like Jake was a good lawman and …a good teacher.” Larabee was satisfied with her answer. “Since you went to the trouble to collect it, let’s get this to the lab.”

7:00 p.m.

“How many places like this do you plan to go to?” Reed was tired of Tanner dragging him into one hellhole after another.

“As many as it takes.” Tanner was tired of hearing Sam complain. “If you wanna get dirt, you haf’ta get dirty.”

This particular bar was the worst one, so far. The occupants looked like rejects for Hell Angels and twice as dangerous. “You stay put and keep you mouth shut.” Tanner warned Reed and moved to the bar to talk to his contact, leaving Sam at a table by the door, alone. It did not take him long to forget the Texan’s warning.

“What do we have here? Hey, Croaker… you smell somethin…. smells like pig to me.”

“Yeah… Dog… strong and it’s coming from his direction.” Croaker pointed to Reed and pulled a knife. “Let’s see if pork bleeds.”

Sam jumped up and pulled his badge. “Back the hell off or you will both be in jail before you can say shit!”

That was all it took for the fight to start. At the bar, Tanner was heard to say, “Aww hell!” Just before a bottle flew by his head. Within minutes, the fight erupted in a full-blown brawl. The two agents were in the middle of it and outnumbered seven to one. A shotgun blast from behind the bar silenced the room. The bartender nodded to Vin, who then pulled Reed out from under a pile of bodies on the floor and hauled him out the door.

“Stupid, dumb, sonofabitch. What in the hell were you thinkin’?” Tanner pushed Sam into the truck and then carefully climbed in the other side while holding his sore ribs.

8:00 p.m.

“Ms Santos, in the future, you will adhere to the old adage which states that children should be seen and not heard!” Standish was incensed. His informants expected a dignified encounter with a gentleman. “You interjections were not appreciated! Especially the comment of, ‘Ez, you gonna shoot the shit all night , sitting there and flapping your jaws’? Truly, Ms Santos, that was not a decorous remark.” Ezra held up his hand to stop her from speaking. “Not one word!”

9:00 p.m. MCAT Office

“Chris, I do not believe Carl Watkins has ever heard of PAL before, much less has any value as a bargaining tool.” Josiah was highlighting the details from their interview at the prison. “The man is serving his second year of a three to five year sentence for breaking and entering.” While Josiah talked, Anderson transcribed his own notes.

“This is what I found on him, so far, there is no connection with that group.” Pam passed a folder to Larabee.

JD and Justin walked in to join the other agents. “PAL is a group of disgruntled rednecks, who think if the south had won the war, this country would be better off. They have no record of violent behavior and hold their meetings at a local watering hole called Rebel’s Place. For the record, Rebel is a woman with no criminal record and running that bar appears to be her only source of income.

Buck placed some folders on the table and Westin sat down to listen. “Judge Matthews never had any case connected to any member of that group. However, these three cases he did preside over.” Opening the folder he continued, “All three of the defendants were charged with inciting a riot and allegedly had connections to a terrorist cell here in Colorado. That was something the prosecutor could not prove though and they were sentence to two years in prison. Watkins is an inmate in the same prison.”

Nathan gave his report. “All of the buildings we checked out have good security procedures. However, three locations have had an abnormal amount of incidents, reported in the last two weeks. Two were downtown buildings and the other one is the federal courthouse. Paul and I can start running them down in the morning.”

Ezra stormed into the room, followed by an unusually quiet Katrina. Chris felt the anger Standish was emitting and decided not to comment on it for now. “What were you able to find out?” Larabee waited for Ezra to compose himself and knew the moment his mask fell into place.

“Rumors are flying on the street, but no one is willing to name names, yet. Most of them address something big happening by the end of the week. I will assuredly pursue the quest for information, but will do so, unaccompanied.” With one look, Standish dared anyone to comment. Larabee acknowledged his statement with the tilt of his head.

When Tanner and Reed finally joined them, Chris felt Kelli tense up at the sight the Texan. If he had not been sitting next to her, he may not have even noticed her reaction. His two agents did not appear to have survived their journey to the wilder side of Denver without injury. “What in the hell happened?

Nathan immediately went into healer mode and started to fuss over the men. “I should have expected this. I knew we could not go into a case without somebody getting hurt, one way or another.” The medic continued to fuss and grumble and attempted to examine the agents.

“Already been to the clinic and “m fine.” Vin made sure to transmit that information to his wife. “Just has a little dust up at one of the local dives. Reed here might need a few days to heal, though.” The Texan brushed off Nathan’s help and handed him the doctor’s report on Sam. Sitting down next to Kelli, he continued, “Most of what’s out there indicated somethin’ explosive is coming, soon.”

“All of you give me a one page rough draft on your findings. Then I want you all to get some rest, either here in the lounge or go home, but be ready to rollout by eight in the morning. Reed, you don’t come back without a release from the doctor.” Chris stood up and released his team.

“Josiah, what about Mallory?” Chris knew the baby was due within the next week or so.

“She and Joanne are staying with Inez, so I think I will just stay here tonight.”

“Justin and I are staying, too.” JD did not see the point in making the long drive home. “I think Buck is going to crash at Westin’s place.”

“Gentlemen, you are most welcome to stay at my townhouse, I have the room and it is more comfortable than the lounge.” Ezra made the offer to all of them, but insisted that Vin and Chris comply. “Chris, we need you in top form and a good night’s rest will help. Vin you look like a hot shower is in order and I am sure someone is anxious to look over your injuries.”

Truthfully, a real bed sounded good to Chris. After last night, the couch in his office did not look too appealing. “Thanks, Ez, appreciate it.”

“I am going home, but Vin, take Ezra’s offer. You may say you are fine, but I know your definition of that word and imagine you are hurting, a bit.” Nathan left after giving his advice to the younger man. Tanner agreed, not because of Nathan’s words, but because he wanted to assure Kelli that he really was okay.

11:15 p.m.

“We’ll see you guys in the morning.” Chris turned out the office lights. Tomorrow they would try to identify the real objective in this mess and with a bit of luck be able to prevent a disaster. However, finding one target in a city this size would be a challenge, even for his team.

Three more days and counting, Larabee, a few prayers could not hurt.