Part of the Larabee Family series.
Summary: Ella Gaines appears to wreak havoc on the brothers Larabee. Will the family ever be the same?
Warnings: M/F sex not graphic. Mild violence, language.
As Chris rode out to meet up with Vin, Ella was in Denver at her hotel fuming.
For the last several days she had tried to meet up with Chris. To her consternation the blond was busy at work. When he wasn't he was trying to talk to that damn brother of his. The final straw was when Chris had told her that until he cleared the air with Vin he couldn't see her. Ella had thrown a colossal temper tantrum. Unfortunately Cletus was in the vicinity when she lost her temper and ended up getting the brunt of it.
The man finally convinced his boss that he would take care of Tanner. She didn't need to worry that bastard was as good as dead.
Meanwhile Buck was getting a very upsetting phone call. The fire department was calling to let him know that the fire at the hotel had been deliberately set and it had been started right outside the ATF agent's room.
Buck's quick mind began to process the information. What if the four wheeling accident had been no accident. Quickly he called and talked to the owner. The man promised to check the four wheeler and get back with him. They had not gotten around to fixing the flat tire yet so no one had bothered it.
Buck was antsy until he got the call. The owner was very agitated. The tire had been shot, luckily the bullet had imbedded itself in the tire. The man said he would have one of his employees drive the evidence to Denver and turn it over to the ATF.
Buck thanked the man; he then headed out to the Larabee ranch. Vin needed to know that someone had tried to kill him twice. There was no doubt in the big man's mind that Vin was the target. If Buck had been the target then it would have been his four wheeler that would have been hit. They both had been in plain sight.
Chris was going to zone when he found out about this.
As Buck was driving out to the ranch Chris was riding out to find his brother.
Sure enough Vin was right where he thought he would be.
Chris knew that Vin heard him ride up. Vin's hearing was excellent. Since his brother wasn't getting up and leaving Chris took that to mean he was ready to talk.
That could be a good sign or a bad sign.
Vin continued to stare straight ahead as Chris sat down next to him. Glancing at Vin out of the corner of his eye Chris was dismayed to see dark circles under Vin's eyes.
Chris also noted that Vin's arm was out of the sling. The sling had been tossed to the ground. Vin never did like to use the things.
Vin nervously pulled at the grass. He had known the time would come when they would have to talk about what had happened. Putting it off had not accomplished anything but make him loose sleep and not want to eat. All of which made their father worry, but Vin couldn't help it, Chris had really upset him.
Upset him enough that he was actually considering moving back to town.
Chris decided the straightforward approach was best. Vin wouldn't appreciate anything else.
"Vin I'm sorry I lied to you. I should have just said an old friend had come to town and I wanted to spend some time with her. I was wrong on so many levels. I know how you admire honesty. I know how you have always trusted me to tell you the truth and I failed you," Chris softly stated.
Vin bowed his head as he thought on his brother's words. There was no doubt that Chris was sincere. The fleeting glance he had sent his brother's way indicated that the blond had not been sleeping any better than he had. In Chris's profession that was not good. Chris needed to be alert at all times.
"Why did you lie to me. Am I so hard to talk to that you felt you couldn't tell me the truth," Vin quietly asked.
Immediately Chris said, "Hell no. You are very easy to talk to. You listen, you don't judge. . .damn it Vin this is my failing not yours. Okay as pathetic as it sounds here is goes. I looked at Ella and imagined her in bed. My God but she was always a wild one in the sack. It's been. . .well it's been a while for me. The way she was looking at me I knew she was envisioning the same damn thing. I was to freaking embarrassed to tell you why I couldn't go with you. It was selfish and petty on my part."
Chris finished his explanation in a rush. He just knew his face was red, he just prayed it was enough to make Vin forgive him.
Vin wasn't one to hold grudges but his brother had hurt him by lying. He certainly didn't expect Chris to come rushing home every night, they were brothers they weren't fucking married.
Vin also knew how much it had taken out of Chris to admit why he had lied. Chris wasn't much for explaining his actions and the mere fact that he had bared all showed Vin how much Chris needed his forgiveness. However Vin also knew there was something else some thing Chris would never give voice to unless it was brought up.
"he also gives you good memories doesn't she? A time before you lost your family, a more relaxed happy time," Vin said for the first time looking right at his brother.
Chris's jaw clenched, he should have known Vin would figure out the other reason. Vin was the most astute person he knew.
"Yeah she does. It was a carefree no holds barred time. Nothing bothered Ella, if it felt good she just did it."
"I understand Chris. I was seriously thinking about moving back to town. If you felt you couldn't talk to me. . .trust me. . .well I just couldn't be around knowing that," Vin flatly admitted.
Chris tentatively reached out putting his hand on Vin's shoulder. Damn it terrified him to realize how close he had been to losing his brother.
"I never intended on hurting you. I was going to admit to you that I lied then Ella blurted it out. She felt bad about that by the way. I won't lie to you again Vin. You have my word on that," Chris vowed.
For several minutes there was silence as Vin pondered his brother's words.
Vin then looked Chris right in the eye.
"Like I said Chris. I understand why you wanted to spend the weekend with her. Hell I get those urges to. But if you ever lie to me again. . .well lets just say I won't be as forgiving," Vin said.
Chris sighed in relief. He wanted hug Vin but figured it was a little to soon for that. Vin might have forgiven him but he hadn't forgotten.
Silence reigned but it was an easier more relaxed silence.
Finally Vin grinned a little he couldn't help but get a little of his own back.
"o was she as wild in bed as you remembered?"
Chris blushed again.
"Damn it Vin. I am not going to discuss my sexual escapades with my kid brother."
"exual escapades. Damn that sounds like something Bucklin would say," Vin commented getting to his feet.
Chris also stood up then bent down and picked up Vin's sling.
Chris frowned at Vin. He realized that to Vin the subject was closed and would never be revisited. He also realized that if he threw Vin's trust away again he might not be so lucky getting it back the next time.
Chris turned the tables.
"o you get those urges to? Just who do you go to get them satisfied?" Chris inquired smiling as Vin blushed the blue eyes dropping away from his.
"Ah. . .I'm not one to brag so I'm not saying," Vin finally said.
Chris wanted to tease some more but didn't want to push to hard even if they were kidding around.
Vin went to climb on Peso but Chris stopped him with a hand on his uninjured arm.
"Let me put the sling back on. Dad is worried you are using it to much."
Vin grimaced but he submitted to having the dratted sling put back on.
Chris then decided to hell with waiting.
Chris stepped into Vin's space and hugged his brother. At first Vin was a little stiff but he soon melted against his brother returning the hug even if it was with only one arm.
"I love you Vin. Thank you for understanding and forgiving your big brother," Chris whispered.
"You're welcome Chris. I love you to, I never stopped," Vin replied.
On the way back to the ranch the two brothers chatted about the last few days catching each other up on what was going on.
Arriving back at the ranch they were surprised to see Buck's car in the driveway.
In record time the two horses were put away Chris doing the heavy work much to Vin's disgust.
However Chris insisted he didn't want his brother using his injured arm.
Walking into the kitchen they found Buck and James talking. From the expressions on their faces it was a serious discussion.
Vin sat down allowing Chris to bring him a beer.
James and Buck exchanged pleased glances. It was apparent that the two brothers had mended fences.
"What's up Bucklin?" Vin asked taking a nice long swallow from the cold beer bottle.
Buck glanced at Chris who immediately tensed up seeing the worry in his old friends blue eyes.
"You remember that little four wheeling accident you had Junior," Buck asked.
Vin chuckled not realizing that Buck was getting at something.
"Hard not to Buck. I still ache in the morning from that tire blowing and throwing me off the damn thing."
"pit it out Buck. What going on?" Chris demanded.
Vin gazed at his brother. Chris's tone of voice was not a good one.
Vin then transferred his gaze to Buck.
"I got a call today from the fire department. That fire at the hotel was deliberately set. It started right outside our room. We weren't supposed to live through it. I then wondered about the wreck so I called. The owner called me back and verified my suspicions. He found a bullet in the tire. Vin that tire didn't blow it was shot out. Someone has tried to kill you twice."
Vin's mouth dropped open he slowly put his beer on the table.
"Oh come on Bucklin. Maybe it was a hunter, the guy got scared and took off after he took the shot."
"What about the fire?" Buck demanded.
"Well. . .well damn it you were with me. Did you ever think they were after you?" Vin asked.
"No because if they had wanted to shoot me they could have. I was in front of you on the four wheeler, they waited until you came into view to shoot."
Chris stood up his face pale. He glanced at James who was gripping his own bottle of beer tightly. Dad was extremely troubled by the news.
"Get the evidence back here. I want the ATF lab to check it out."
"Already done stud."
"Thanks Buck. Vin I don't want you leaving the ranch. . .don't argue with me. . .I need to know you are safe. We will find out who did this. . .please promise me you will stay here," Chris all but begged his brother.
"I'm not a baby. I can take care of myself," Vin loudly proclaimed doing an excellent job of pouting at the way his brother was agitating over him.
Buck exchanged a look with Chris.
Nonchalantly Buck brushed up against Vin's arm. The effect up immediate.
Vin hissed as pain shot through his arm. The burn was better but the arm still hurt a lot at times.
Vin flinched and pulled away from his friend.
"Your arm is killing you Vin. Hell I'm not sure you could even lift a rifle right now," Buck stated.
Vin glared at everyone but he had to admit they were right. His arm did hurt.
"I'm going to have the team take turns staying out here during the day. I will be here in the evening and at night," Chris began making plans for his brother's protection.
Vin glowered at all of them but didn't say a word. Mainly because if someone came after him then dad could get hurt and he didn't want that.
For the next week the team took turns staying at the ranch. Vin was chomping at the bit but he didn't complain too much about the restrictions.
The evidence sent to the crime lab didn't turn up any clues as to who might be after Vin.
In the meantime Ella was missing Chris. Chris refused to spend anytime but lunches with her. The blond headed straight home right after work.
Ella finally came up with a plan. She knew how worried Chris was about his brother well she would use that to her benefit. At the same time she would come out smelling like a rose.
It was Buck's day at the ranch so he stayed for dinner. The four men were around the table when Ella pulled up in her rented Cadillac.
Chris was pleased to see her. James and Buck kept their aversion to the woman well hidden. Vin again got the feeling that there was something not quite right with Ella. However all three men were polite to her for Chris's sake.
Sitting around the living room Ella told the men about her plan to help out.
"I have a ranch in Wyoming. It sits on over a thousand acres. I have been trying to get Chris to come with me to see it but haven't been successful yet. He told me about the attempts to kill you Vin. I am so sorry. I certainly hope they find the culprit soon," Ella gushed at Vin putting her hand on his arm.
Vin smiled a little but didn't say a word. He wanted to yank his arm away but didn't want to do something that was so impolite especially since Chris really liked her.
"I was wondering. . .I mean I think it is a perfect plan. Chris could certainly do with getting away a bit. How about it Vin if you, your dad and Chris come to my ranch. No one would know you were there, you would be safe. It would just be for a week or so. By then hopefully the guy would be caught."
Chris perked up at the invitation. How nice of Ella to think of this.
"ounds great to me. I am sure Travis will let me have some time off. I have plenty of time built up," Chris commented.
Vin didn't want to go, he didn't have a good feeling about this at all. James certainly didn't want to go but he would if his sons went.
Vin looked at Chris who obviously wanted to go. The blond figured that Vin would be safe on Ella's ranch. Besides he could spend more time with Ella. Maybe pursue a deeper relationship with her.
Vin didn't want to disappoint his brother so he softly said, "That sounds nice Ella. I would be happy to accept your invitation."
Ella was thrilled but then Buck threw a wrench in her plans.
"It really does Ella. However I think I should come along. I mean Chris if someone figures out where we are then you could use another man," Buck explained.
When Chris looked at her in question Ella brightly replied, "Of course Buck. You are more than welcome. I have plenty of room at the house."
Ella even went so far as to rent a small plane to fly them to her ranch. After all she reasoned to a beaming Chris that way poor Vin wouldn't have to suffer through a long car ride. It would be easier on him.
Chris gave her a long kiss thanking her for thinking of his brother's welfare.
Buck and James just looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
Vin just sighed, smiled, thanked the woman all the while wondering what the hell his brother saw in the woman. She was too aggressive, wore to much makeup and enough perfume to gag a bear at least in Vin's opinion. However she did have a good figure and must have other talents that he thankfully wasn't aware of. Vin just hoped Chris knew what he was getting into with Ella Gaines.
Just in case he didn't Vin had set some wheels in motion. Contacting an old Army buddy of his that now worked for the CIA Vin was having Ella investigated? Vin had learned a long time ago that when his sixth sense told him that something was wrong it generally was.
There was something wrong with Ella Gaines and he was going to find out what it was.
However after a few days at Ella's ranch Vin was beginning to wonder if his sixth sense had failed him this time. Ella was the perfect hostess. Ella had a cook and maid to take care of the meals and the house. The meals were of the best quality, linens were changed daily on all the beds, anything her guests might want was provided to them almost before they asked for it.
Ella obviously had plenty of money. When the plane had landed at her ranch it was noted that she also had her own helicopter. All the men took turns going up in it looking over her big ranch.
The only thing that was a little strange was that there was a room on the second floor that was kept locked in fact it was padlocked which Chris had commented on. Ella had just laughed saying that it held mementoes from her husband and she wasn't ready to get rid of anything. The men had just shrugged their shoulders figuring there was no understanding women.
Vin noticed that when he left the house either Buck or Chris was with him. When he complained about the hovering they totally ignored him so he decided to just go with it.
Vin's arm was still bothering him so he was very faithful about putting the medicine on the burn. The bandages were changed everyday. Chris made sure to check on the injury making sure that Vin was taking care of the wound.
James was enjoying the extensive library Ella had and spent many hours in the quiet room.
Vin after so many days was bored; he could tell Buck wanted to leave also. The two men had talked about Ella one night. Though they both didn't like her and didn't trust her they had no proof she had done anything wrong.
Buck had finally told Vin that he had even wondered if Ella was behind the attacks on Vin. Vin had laughed but then Buck explained his reasoning which had the former sharpshooter wondering if his friend wasn't right.
Vin then told Buck that he had some friends checking into the woman's background to see if they could find anything out about her.
If Ella wanted Chris for herself the only person standing in her way was Vin. Ella was not a woman to share the man she loved and Chris would never abandon his brother.
Vin waited until dinner one night and broached the fact that he wanted to go home.
Ella made sure she didn't let on how thrilled she was that Vin wanted to leave. She was positive that if she could get the man to leave Chris would finally fall into her lap and never leave her.
"Oh, Vin. We were just getting to know each other. I certainly hope you change your mind and stay for a while," Ella said.
Buck grimaced at the saccharin sweet voice. Damn why couldn't Chris see that the woman was a fake.
Chris looked at his brother shocked. Why would Vin want to leave? Ella was a great hostess besides Vin was safe here.
Vin smiled though it didn't reach his eyes a fact that didn't escape his families notice.
"I just feel it's time to get back home. You've been real nice but Thanksgiving is coming up and I really want to get things ready for the holidays," Vin said.
Chris opened his mouth but decided to talk to Vin later when they were alone.
James glanced between his two sons and realized that something was up.
After dinner Vin was out at the corral watching the horses when Chris walked up to him.
Chris leaned against the corral and stared at his brother.
"Just what is going on Vin? Don't give me that crap about getting ready for the holidays," Chris demanded a hard edge to his voice.
Vin took a deep breath, he knew Chris was worried about him that was what was making his brother so aggressive.
"Okay Chris. Here it is. I had a bad feeling about Ella Gaines from the beginning. In fact the woman makes my skin crawl. I had some of my old buddies check her out. Did you know she has had two former husbands die under mysterious circumstances as well as a stepson? Did you know she has had this ranch for a couple of years? Why didn't she contact you earlier? Don't think it is a little odd that suddenly I have two attempts on my life after Ella Gaines is back in your life? She doesn't strike me as being a woman who likes to share. So I had her phone calls checked out. When I was in western Colorado almost getting killed. . .well she had several phone calls coming from that part of the state. Coincidence. . .maybe. I don't think so."
Chris's face flushed in anger. How dare Vin check up on the woman he was dating? Did Vin think he was so easily duped?
Chris straightened up and faced his brother pinning Vin in place with his lethal glare, a glare that had never before been aimed at his brother.
"I'm going to forget you said anything about Ella. It is ludicrous to think that woman who has been nothing but nice to you wants you dead. If you ever check up on me or anyone around me again. . .well lets just say I won't be happy at all. You want to go home, fine. I'll have someone at the ranch when you get home. I haven't forgotten that someone is trying to kill you and it isn't Ella. I want you protected."
Chris was satisfied when he saw Vin flinch from his words as well as his tone of voice. He loved his brother but damn it this was his private life and he didn't like people messing around in it.
Vin raised his chin and returned the glare.
"I can take care of myself. I'll be heading home tomorrow. When you get your head out of your ass you be sure to let me know," Vin ground out turning his back on the infuriated blond.
Chris clenched his hands into fists but he willed himself to calm down. It wouldn't do to say something that he couldn't take back. Chris reached out to touch Vin's shoulder then jerked his hand back storming off to the house.
Vin heard Chris stalk off and sighed. Damn he could have handled that better but when Chris got his back up there was just no talking to him.
Ella had been watching the altercation from the barn. Ella had inched closer and listened in on the argument. Furious with Vin for having her investigated she was pleased to hear Chris stick up for her. When Chris stormed off she decided to sink her poisonous claws into Vin.
Good it looked like her plan to break the two men up was working. Watching to make sure Chris wasn't heading back outside Ella wandered over to Vin.
Vin tensed up when he saw her. There was a predatory look in her eyes that he had not seen there before. He realized he was seeing the real Ella Gaines.
Vin remained silent waiting for her to make the first move.
"Well Vin it looks like Chris likes me better than you. You should have minded your own business but then I guess with your pathetic childhood you just never learned good manners. I am actually surprised that Chris admits you are his brother. I mean you are not well educated, dress like some cowboy bum and I would imagine a real embarrassment to someone with the class of Chris. It is a good thing you are leaving. With you gone Chris will be happier and we can get on with our lives together. So you run back to Colorado and hide on the ranch like the uncivilized savage you are. I'll keep Chris happy from now on," Ella spitefully said. She was gleeful as she saw Vin pale as some of her nasty barbs hit home.
Vin then raised his chin and hissed, "Well I finally get to see the real Ella Gaines. You're a real bitch aren't you? I bet you have more venom on your tongue than a rattlesnake. Chris isn't stupid; he will wake up and see you for what you are. I plan on being around when he does. Then I will laugh in your fucking face."
Ella growled, "You low life piece of shit don't you speak to me like that."
Vin's head rocked back as Ella slapped him as hard as she could.
Vin watched as the woman ran for the house probably to tell Chris how mean he was to her.
However Ella didn't go to Chris she headed for the basement where she informed Cletus that Vin was leaving the next day and she wanted him dead before he got out of the state. Furthermore she wanted him to die a painful agonizing death.
Vin headed into the house and let his Dad know he was leaving the next morning. James informed his son he would join him. Buck wasn't happy Vin was leaving but he promised Vin to keep an eye on Ella.
The next morning bright and early Vin and James left. In fact only Ella was awake. She had made sure to wear Chris out the night before making wild love to him all night. The blond was still sound asleep. Chris had confided in her that he was going to talk to Vin before he left and try to get him to stay. Ella certainly didn't want that.
Ella watched as Vin drove off in the rented SUV then she smiled as she saw Cletus follow a few minutes later. Cletus had two men with him. Vin and James would be dead in a couple of hours. Of course she would comfort a grieving Chris making herself indispensable to the man.
When Chris woke up he was very upset to find that his family had left. Buck cornered his old friend and lit into him for not listening to Vin.
Ella watched as Buck began to convince Chris to leave and follow his brother.
Hurrying to the bedroom Ella called Cletus and told him to make his move. It was time to eliminate the major obstacles to her marriage to Chris.
Chris and Buck headed upstairs to pack determined to follow the other two men. Chris knew Ella was going to be mad but he figured she would understand. . .or would she?
The blond looked at the padlocked door and found himself walking over to it. Was Vin right. . .was there something more to Ella than met the eye.
Buck was suddenly standing next to the blond holding out a piece of wire. (Don't know if that works or not but it does for this story)
Chris jimmied the lock and stepped into the dark musty room. The lights were flipped on and the two men found themselves immersed in hell.
Chris cried out in pain as he recognized the belongings in the room.
Ella in the other room heard the blond and rushed to the hallway. Seeing the room open she knew Chris would figure out she was to blame for Sarah and Adams death. There was no doubt he would kill her.
Ella ran quietly for the stairs. All she needed was to get some money out of the safe and then leave. There would be a later date to claim the blond as hers. At least she would have the satisfaction of knowing Vin would be dead.
Buck gripped Chris's shoulder as they looked around the room. Sarah's locket and other jewelry lay on a table. Some of Adams toys were spread around the room. Pictures of Chris's dead family were on the wall and dresser however there was an X over Sarah's face. There was no doubt in their minds that Ella was behind their deaths. Only someone who had been there the day they died would have these items.
Chris was devastated. My God he had made love to the very woman who had killed his beloved family. Buck was just as shattered as Chris. While he hated Ella at no time did he think the woman was responsible for Sarah and Adams deaths?
With a shaking hand Chris picked up the locket and opened it. Ella had replaced Sarah's picture with her own.
Chris snarled in absolute fury and stormed out of the room. The two men ran for the stairs when they heard the helicopter start up.
Helplessly they watched as Ella piloted the helicopter away from the ranch escaping their wrath.
Chris rushed back inside to grab his gun but Buck grabbed him.
"he is to far away stud. We will get her. She is a wanted woman now. My God I can't believe she killed Sarah and Adam."
Chris had tears on his cheeks as he sat down on the sofa. Buck quickly called the local authorities and told them to try to pick the woman up on charges of murder.
"he wanted to eliminate anyone who stood in the way of her marrying me. You know she told me last night that being with me was all she wanted," Chris sighed.
Buck had a sense of foreboding. Vin stood between Ella and Chris. Fuck that bitch had tried to kill Junior.
Buck turned to face Chris who was now standing by the window a piece of paper in his hand.
The note was a short one from Ella. It was very apparent she had written it fast.
I did what I had to. We belong together. They were just in the way. Vin will soon be out of the picture and we can be together.
Chris paled his hand shook then he hissed, "We have to get to Vin and dad."
Chris handed Buck the paper and the two men ran for the garage. Thankfully there were plenty of vehicles on the ranch. In seconds they were on the road.
Buck read the note and cursed, "Damn that fucking whore. Junior is smart Chris, he knows how to take care of himself."
Chris was on his cell phone trying to call Vin but there was no answer. Hopefully it was because Vin forgot to turn it on but with the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach Chris was afraid his brother and father were in big trouble. Chris stepped on the gas he couldn't reach his loved ones fast enough.
Meanwhile Vin had grabbed James and pulled him out of the SUV when they had been forced off the road. Thankfully other than a few bumps and bruises they were okay. Of course Vin was still hurting from his sore ribs and the burn on his arm.
Cletus and his men didn't see the two men climb out of the SUV as they were on the other side of the vehicle. Smoke was billowing up in the air from the mangled wreck. Cletus laughed as he fired another bullet into the gas tank. The SUV exploded.
Cletus smiled, Ella wanted Vin to suffer well he figured burning alive was suffering enough.
One of the men saw Vin and James running off in the distance. Thankfully he wasn't a sharpshooter like Vin as he cursed complaining that the men were to far away for a clear shot.
Cletus cursed then ordered them to go after the men, he would remain with the car in case they tried to double back.
Vin headed his father straight for some rocks hoping that they would provide some cover. If he was real lucky he could take out one of the attackers and get a weapon.
"tay here dad. I'll be back," Vin whispered shoving his father into a crevice to hide him from sight.
James wanted to argue but he also didn't want Vin to have to keep one eye on him all the time. His son needed to be focused.
Vin crouched behind one boulder and jumped one of the men as they walked by him. It was swift work to knock the guy unconscious and take his rifle. Unfortunately the second man jumped Vin. During the scuffle Vin lost the rifle. The attacker was much larger than Vin. Vin staggered back and fell to his knees as he was hit in the stomach.
The man laughed raised the rifle and swung it hitting Vin in the back knocking him to the ground.
"Now you die," the man hissed pointing the rifle at Vin.
Vin was struggling to his feet knowing he had to try to save his father.
Just then there was a rifle shot. The man jerked looked totally shocked then fell to the ground. . .dead.
Vin looked up as his father strode towards him. James was holding the rifle that he had just used to kill the man who had been about to shoot his youngest son.
James put his hand on Vin's arm helping his son to his feet.
Vin groaned as pain rippled through his body.
"Vin?" James put his arm around his son's waist.
"I'm fine. Just going to be a little sore for a while," Vin admitted.
"You were already sore," James pointed out.
"Then I guess I'll be a bit more sore than that," Vin replied with a small grin.
Slowly they made their way towards the cars. In the distance Vin and James could see their SUV still burning brightly. Another car was behind it with an armed man standing beside it.
While they were pondering on what to do they saw a truck flying down the road. The truck squealed to a stop and two men dove out of it.
James squinted trying to see who it was. Vin raised the rifle up and used the scope as binoculars to bring the men in closer.
Chris and Buck saw the billowing smoke before they saw the wrecked SUV.
Chris knew, in his heart he knew that was the SUV his brother had been driving. In his refusal to listen to reason he had killed his family.
Chris dove out of the truck and ran for the burning vehicle not paying a bit of attention to the man standing in the road. All his thoughts were on his precious brother and father.
Buck grabbed Chris and held him back experiencing a sense of déjà vu. He remembered holding his friend back when Sarah and Adam had died.
Chris went to his knees sobbing even as he still fought to get loose. If Vin had died in that inferno then he deserved to die the same way. He had failed his family again.
Buck jerked Chris up and shook him. Just as he was about to scream at his friend Cletus took over.
Firing the rifle in the air Cletus made himself known.
"hut the hell up. Now Miss Ella didn't tell me that the two of you were going to show up. This is a wrinkle in my plans."
Buck growled, "You did this?"
Chris shuddered in Buck's arms wondering why the hell it mattered. His life was destroyed, his sole reason for living had died an agonizing death his universe was shattered and he didn't care if he lived or died.
"ure did. Ella wanted that boy dead, hell she wanted him to suffer first. I guess the fire was painful enough. Now though it looks like you all figured out about Ella so I guess I'll just have to kill you both. I'm sure Ella will understand," Cletus said raising the gun to finish the ATF agents off.
Chris didn't move, he wanted to die it was only right that he died next to where his brother and father died.
Buck gripped Chris close if they had to go then at least they would go together. There was no way he could get to the man and disarm him. Looked like it was their time.
Buck whispered, "Been a good ride stud."
Chris just gripped the front Buck's shirt and nodded his head.
The two men flinched as they heard a gunshot fully expecting to feel the impact of the bullet.
To their surprise Cletus fell over dead a bullet hole in the center of his forehead.
For a second the two men froze in place.
What the hell?
Then it registered; the man had been killed from a distance. There was only man who was in the vicinity that they knew of who could shoot like that.
Buck looked in the distance and saw Vin and James walking towards them.
"Chris they're alive."
Chris whirled around saw his family and began running towards them. Buck not far behind.
Vin was walking slowly the blow from the rifle had hurt and he thought it might have broken a rib. Great a broken rib on top of the already sore ones he had. James had his hand on Vin's arm.
James had read all of Chris's letters about how good a sharpshooter Vin was but a part of him had wondered if it was a little exaggerated. Now he knew it wasn't. He had seen first hand how good his youngest son was with a rifle. When he had seen the man point the rifle at his oldest son he had thought Chris was a dead man. Then with a smooth motion Vin had shot the man without hesitation.
It had been damn impressive.
Vin watched as Chris and Buck raced towards them. Vin had seen Chris fall apart thinking his family had been burned alive. He had seen his brother shatter into a million pieces and not even put up a fight to save his own life. . .a life that to Chris Larabee wasn't worth a thing without his beloved brother and father.
Vin was humbled that Chris loved him so much that his death would totally devastate the blond.
James stepped in front of Vin not wanting the boy to be grabbed to roughly, he knew Vin was hurting and wanted to get the boy to a doctor as soon as possible.
Chris reached his father first and hugged him tightly. Buck pulled Vin into a hug he had noted the way Vin was holding himself and knew Vin was hurting somewhere.
Then Chris faced Vin, they stared at each other both men remembering the last words they had said to each other.
Vin saw his brother eyes red rimmed from the tears and knew that Chris regretted the words hell had probably regretted them a second after he said them.
Chris whispered, "Oh God I thought I had lost you."
Chris caught Vin up in a tight embrace; James went to pull Chris back not wanting Vin to be in pain.
Buck stopped James hugging the older man.
"Let them be. They both need this."
James nodded his head and then said, "There are two other men in those rocks. One is unconscious, the other man is dead and probably rotting in hell where he belongs."
Buck went to check on the men leaving the family alone.
Chris took a step back from his brother. Framing the beloved face with his hands he whispered, "I am so sorry Vin. It seems like that is all I've been saying to you. But. . .but I mean it. I did listen to you last night, got my head out of my ass and saw the bitch for what she is. A fucking murderer."
Vin gave his brother a slight smile.
"We're not dead Chris."
Solemnly Chris said, "he was behind Sarah and Adams deaths."
James gasped at the news turning pale at the thought that he had eaten at the same table with the bitch that had killed his grandson and daughter in law.
Vin's eyes widened in shock then they turned hard as steel. Vin turned on his heel and headed for the truck.
Chris hurried after his brother stopped him with a gentle hand on his uninjured arm.
"Where do you think you're going cowboy?"
"I'm going to hunt that bitch down and blow her fucking head off," was the terse comment.
"He's long gone. When she realized that Buck and I knew what she had done she took off in the helicopter. We called the authorities but I figure there is little chance they will catch her."
"I'll find her," Vin vowed pulling away from his brother.
Chris just tightened his grip watching as Vin winced his sore ribs and back beginning to throb.
"No! Right now I am taking care of you. Where are you hurt and don't try to hide anything from me?" Chris insisted.
Vin was going to argue with his brother but just then Buck joined them with the gunman in front of him. The man's hands were tied with his own belt.
Vin glanced at Buck who communicated clearly with the young man with his eyes.
Buck wanted Vin to go along with Chris. Chris needed a diversion from the reality of what had happened. Vin was the perfect diversion. Chris would concentrate on his hurt brother. . .a brother he thought had been burned to death. At least for a while Chris could forget that he had slept with his family's murderer and almost cost his brother and father their lives.
"My ribs hurt a bit," Vin reluctantly admitted.
Chris narrowed his eyes wondering if that was all.
James piped up, "The bastard that I killed hit him across the back with his rifle. Knocked the boy to the ground."
Chris put his arm around Vin's waist and led him over to the truck. There he raised Vin's shirt and checked him out.
Vivid bruising was already coming out on the slim body, Chris knew the younger man had to be in a lot of pain.
"I saw a sign just down the road for a hospital. I am taking you there to be checked out. Then I am checking you and dad into a nearby hotel. Buck and I need to go back to the ranch and collect what we can. I can get Travis to send a plane for us," Chris was already making plans.
Suddenly they could hear sirens in the distance. Everything ground to a halt while the local authorities were dealt with. It took a while since there were two dead men, both shot and a burning vehicle to deal with.
Chris and Buck showed their ATF ID and told the local sheriff to call Orrin Travis he could vouch for them. The sheriff took the gunman into custody promising to send him on to Denver to be questioned down there.
Vin submitted to being taken to the hospital. After being x-rayed and checked over it was determined that he had two busted ribs. The back was badly bruised and would be painful for a while. Vin was given some scrubs to wear as his clothes had been ruined. The burned arm was cleaned and new bandages put on. The doctor gave Vin some more ointment for it as the other had been burned up in the fire.
Vin threw a fit when he was checked into the hotel insisting he wanted to go with his brother.
Chris was about to blow a gasket when his cell phone rang. It was Travis.
Chris clearly wasn't happy at what was being said but he agreed with whatever Travis was telling him.
Everyone was surprised when Chris changed the reservation to four people for the night. Chris then called the sheriff and arranged for his and Buck's belongings to be brought to the hotel.
Travis had informed Chris that he was to stay away from the ranch. The blond didn't like the order but he understood, Travis knew he wouldn't be able to think clearly and might compromise some evidence.
They got two rooms with a connecting door. Knowing how much Chris needed to be near Vin, James said he would share with Buck.
The men could easily afford everyone having their own room but with everything that had happened no one wanted to be on their own just yet.
After they were settled in the room, Buck called room service ordering some food to be sent up.
While Vin and James were showering Chris had called the local department store and talked to the manager. After promising a hefty bonus it was arranged that clothing would be sent over the next day for Vin and James. After living in close proximity for so long Chris had a pretty good idea of his families sizes.
Chris planned on staying around for a couple of days. He wanted to take the personal items that Ella had stolen home with him. Travis would arrive later that day and take control of the investigation. While it was out of ATF jurisdiction the local sheriff agreed to let the ATF take the lead.
Chris knew that if he stayed then so would his family which suited him just fine.
When Vin and James got out of the shower they put on clothes they borrowed from Chris and Buck. The sheriff had quickly sent the clothes to the hotel.
Unfortunately the sheriff also had the bad news that there was no sign of Ella Gaines.
Chris handed Vin his pain pills to take while he was eating. Vin wasn't happy about taking them but his ribs and back were starting to really bother him.
Soon after they finished eating Vin was starting to nod off. Even though it was only the afternoon Vin was soon sound asleep.
Pulling the blanket up around his brother's shoulders Chris placed a soft kiss on Vin's forehead. Chris cushioned his brother's ribs with a pillow for added support.
Going into the other bedroom Chris began to pace the room. James looked at Buck and nodded his head towards the door; he wanted to talk to his son alone.
"I think I'm going to go downstairs and see if I can find out if anyone around here knew Ella." Buck said thinking up the first thing he could to leave the room.
After Buck had left Chris looked at his dad and smiled though the smile didn't reach his eyes.
"I know you told Buck to leave dad. Quit worrying I'm fine," Chris asserted.
James snorted at the comment. Damn if his boys weren't like two peas in a pod.
"Give me a break son. If I had just found out that the woman I had slept with had killed my family I would be ready to commit murder. Then the same woman tries several times to kill my kid brother I would be ready to throw something or at least let go," James said as he approached his son putting his arms around the upset man.
Chris held himself rigid for several seconds refusing to let himself indulge in the emotion. Then as visions of Sarah and Adam flashed before his eyes he broke down in his father's arms.
For the first time in a long time Chris allowed his father to hold him and comfort him. James slowly rocked back and forth as his oldest son sobbed on his shoulder.
A movement at the connecting door got the elder Larabee's attention. To his surprise Vin was standing there. It was obvious that the pain meds were working as the normally vivid blue eyes were glazed and the young man was unsteady on his feet.
However Vin walked right over to his upset brother. That uncanny way the two brothers had of knowing when the other one was in trouble was working overtime.
Vin sat down on the other side of Chris putting a hand on his brother's shoulder.
"Chris. . .it'll be o. . .okay. Come on co. . .cowboy," Vin said his words slurring because of the meds.
Chris had not been aware of his brother's presence until the soft voice reached him.
With a gasp Chris turned around with tears still running down his cheeks he enveloped Vin in a gentle yet firm hug.
"Even drugged you knew I was upset," Chris marveled in a husky voice as he struggled to get control of his wayward emotions.
"Of course. . .ju. . .just like you knew we. . .were in trouble," Vin replied resting his head on Chris's shoulder yet still managing to pat his distraught brother.
Being a father James knew it would be good medicine for both his boys to lie down and get some rest. Last night he figured neither one got any sleep after their argument so they were both due.
James urged both men to their feet and got them into their bedroom. Chris got Vin back under the blankets. While Vin was out like a light he still gripped the blonds shirt in his fist not wanting to let go.
"You climb in with him and go to sleep. Both of you have had a bad two days," James urged.
Chris to his surprise yawned then climbed into bed. When Vin still retained a death grip on his shirt he just pulled his brother close and was soon sound asleep.
James covered Chris up smiling as he looked down on his two sons. Kissing them both on the forehead he went into the other room to lie down himself.
When Buck got back to the room a half hour later all three men were still sound asleep.
Buck wasn't tired so he powered up his laptop and began to do a search of anything to do with one Ella Gaines.
A few hours later Chris stirred and blearily opened his eyes. It took a few seconds to remember where he was and what had happened.
Glancing down he was relieved to see that Vin was still asleep. Slipping quietly from the bed he smiled at the sight.
Vin looked so darn young when he was asleep it made him ache to think of all the years he had missed when Vin had been growing up.
Going into the next room he found his dad and Buck going over the information his old friend had found about Ella.
An hour later Vin woke up. Slowly he sat on the edge of the bed biting his lip to keep the groan of pain from escaping.
However he must have made some sound because Chris was right next to him supporting him as he stood up.
"Where are going? Maybe you should lie down for a bit more," Chris fussed over his brother.
Vin frowned best nip this in the bud right now.
"I've had broken ribs before. I'm going to take another shower to help loosen my muscles up then I'm starved. How long did I sleep?" Vin asked.
At the bathroom door Vin turned to look at his brother.
"I remember earlier. You okay?" worry seeping out of the expressive blue eyes.
Chris smiled, "I will be. It will take time but with you, dad, Buck and the guys I will be."
Vin returned the smile.
"Damn straight. Fucking bitch won't get away. We will take her down," Vin vowed.
Chris nodded his head watching as Vin shuffled into the bathroom.
Whispering Chris said, "I hope so little brother, I sure hope so."
It was a long night as the four men ate, went over anything they found out about Ella and made sure Vin took his meds.
Orrin Travis showed up and filled them in on everything they had uncovered at the ranch. In one hand he held a small suitcase. It had all of Sarah and Adam's belongings in it that Ella had taken. Orrin assured them that pictures and fingerprints had been taken of the articles so they were free to go home with Chris.
Despite the several state manhunt for Ella there was no sign of the woman. It was as though she had disappeared into thin air.
However the four men who had fought her up close and personal knew better. Ella was a viper striking whenever and wherever she chose. No one was safe from her poison.
The men had flown home only to be met at the airport by the rest of team 7.
Chris felt his heart warm at the way his friends didn't ask any questions but clearly let him know they were there for him and his family. It reminded him of a documentary he once saw of a wolf pack. The alpha male wolf had been hurt and the rest of the pack took care of him until he able to get back on his feet. Team 7 knew their leader had been injured mentally and emotionally. While Chris wasn't working at his usual level of expertise the rest of them would pick up the slack.
Nathan took one look at Vin and insisted on hearing where the former Team 7 sharpshooter hurt. Chris relaxed his vigilance on Vin just a bit as Nathan hovered. If anyone was a bigger mother hen than Chris it was Nathan. Of course Buck gave them both a run for their money at times.
As the men piled into two vehicles James marveled at the camaraderie and love that all the men had for each other.
The older man knew in his heart that it was going to take a long time for Chris to recover from this blow. . .but he would. Vin would get better and life would go on.
James grinned as he heard Chris demanding to know if Vin had taken his meds. Vin was snapping back insisting that he wasn't a child and didn't like the meds.
James exchanged a smile with Buck. Things would get back to normal at least what passed for normal with the two stubborn Larabee brothers.
Sighing deeply James shut his eyes. Thanksgiving was just around the corner and they sure had a lot to be thankful for.
It would be their first Thanksgiving as a family and it was something they were all looking forward to.
As silence descended James glanced behind him. Vin had nodded off his head resting against Chris's shoulder. Chris had his head leaning back against the seat and was also snoozing.
James turned back around. Yeah things were going to be just fine.
Brothers and Thanksgiving