Christmas Angel
by Winnie

Disclaimer: I own no rights to the Mag 7 characters, but I enjoy trying to keep them alive in fanfic.

Comments: This is for Pamela’s birthday. She asked for Chris to be trapped and injured and for Buck and Vin to come to his rescue. I’m hoping this fits the bill. Thanks to Marti and Antoinette for the wonderful beta. Thanks to Jordan for the wonderful pic that goes with it.

Chris Larabee knew he should have found a motel long ago, but on this lonely stretch of highway there hadn’t been anything remotely resembling a tent, let alone a motel. He knew he would have to pull off the road somewhere very soon and grab a couple of hours sleep, but the snow made him want to be home. The detour through White Sulphur Springs was one he’d made on several occasions when the bridge on the main road was out. The officer had told him the detour road had been plowed and Chris decided not to wait several hours for this area to be cleared.

Chris reached out and turned on the radio and smiled when he heard the soft strains of Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Christmas Eve was less than two days away and while he had once looked upon it with sadness and pain, he now saw it as the celebration it was meant to be. He knew he owed that to the six men he called brothers and two in particular that were even closer than that.

Billings was still a three-hour drive and then his ranch was nearly half an hour north of that. With a weary sigh, Chris began searching for a place to grab a couple of hour’s shuteye before continuing home. The snow that had started to fall earlier in the afternoon had grown worse, making it increasingly more difficult to see the road ahead even with the high beams on.

Chris listened as Walking in a Winter Wonderland changed to Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow and wondered if it was some kind of conspiracy. He chuckled softly and began singing along in his off key voice as he searched the side of the road for a likely place to pull in.

Larabee slammed on the brakes as a large animal appeared in the road front of him; his mind registered the shape as being a deer, even as he fought to keep the truck on the road. The newly fallen snow covered a thin patch of ice that spread across the highway and Chris knew there was no stopping the skid as the Ford slid toward the edge of the road and slammed into the guardrail. He thought it was strong enough to stop his vehicle from going through, but years of harsh weather and earlier accidents had weakened the barrier. The screeching sound echoed through the night as the truck continued over the edge and slid toward the valley below.

Chris felt himself thrown forward and then back against the seat as the airbags deployed on the initial impact with the guardrail. He saw nothing except the airbag, but the truck did a three-sixty before sliding down the snow embankment. He felt it stop for several seconds, but the downward motion began again as the truck did a nose dive and tumbled several times before coming to rest at the bottom of the cliff face.

The snow continued to fall, hissing as it struck the motor that had been exposed when the front end came up against a tree with thick snow covered branches. The snow seemed to hang in midair for several second before being dumped on top of the truck, covering most of the cab and partially obscuring the bed.


Vin Tanner stood at the patio window and watched as the snow continued to fall, glad Orin had told them to take the week off while he was out of town visiting Mary and Billy. Mary had married a man who earned the respect of every member of Larabee’s team during a hostage crisis the year before. The man had been a cop for eight years and knew how to negotiate with criminals and had managed to talk the hostage takers down.

Vin walked into the living room and sat down in the recliner. It was an older model, one that belonged to his uncle, but he refused to get rid of it because it was comfortable. He once told Chris that the damn thing was part of him and that its dents and bulges were simply the shape of his body.

Tanner stared at the beautiful Scotch pine that stood in the corner next to the bay window and hit the button that would turn on the lights. The branches were heavily laden with handmade decorations that he’d either made or collected since he was a child. At the top sat a star, its points lit up with red and green twinkling lights. Beneath it was a pair of angels crocheted by his mother and preserved by his foster mom until he had a place to call his own. There were some made by Nettie Wells and the women of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

There were several that held him enthralled, those were the ones carved by Chris Larabee’s hands. They included a horse, a wagon, a cowboy hat, an old model train, a building with the word Saloon above a swinging door, and several people. The detail was so amazing you could pick out the layers of the women’s dresses and petticoats. Chris had tried to teach his team how to carve figures by hand, but no one had come close to the masterpieces he created.

Beneath the tree were a variety of gifts wrapped in brightly colored paper and bows. Nettie had helped him wrap the gifts before leaving for Texas to spend Christmas with her cousins. Vin hoped the guys would like their gifts, but even more important was the fact that this year’s Christmas celebrations would be at his place because Chris had been out of town for the last week.

Vin heard the door open and frowned, but it quickly turned to a grin when he heard a familiar voice.

“It’s colder than a witch’s teat,” Wilmington complained.

“What the hell are ya doin’ drivin’ in this storm?” Tanner asked.

“Figured with everything closed down in town and Casey staying over while Nettie’s in Texas I’d come visit you,” Wilmington said and held up a bag from Delvecchio’s. “I brought sandwiches and cookies.”

“I thought everything was shut down,” Tanner observed as Wilmington shook off the snow and hung up his coat.

“You know Mama can’t resist my charm,” the rogue said.

“Ya told her they’s fer me,” the Texan said.

“There is that, but I charmed her into giving me some extras,” Wilmington said and reached for the spare slippers Tanner kept in the closet. “You know there’s a good foot of snow down and looks like more to come. You might just be stuck with me for the next few days.”

“Ain’t I the lucky fucker?” Tanner quipped as they walked into the kitchen. “Ya heard anythin’ from Chris?”

“Just that he was leaving last night. If he ran into this storm he’s probably holed up in some hotel.”

“Damn, hope he makes it home for Christmas.”

“Me too…so what did you get me?”

“A lump of coal and a pack of condoms,” Tanner answered with a grin.

“Real funny,” Wilmington said and handed the Texan a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and extra mayo. “The tree looks great.”

“Thanks…appreciate ya comin’ out yesterday and helpin’ me put it up,” the Texan said and quickly poured two mugs of extra strong coffee. “Do ya want sugar?”

“No thanks, Honey, but I’d like a knife to cut it with.”

“My coffee ain’t half as bad as ya say,” Tanner said.

“No, it’s worse,” Buck advised. He took his sandwich and coffee and headed toward the living room as the snow continued to fall.

M7 M7 M7

‘Chris, you need to wake up and call Buck.’


‘Yes, Love, it’s me. I need you to open your eyes and look at me.’

“Cccold,” Larabee managed.

‘I know you are, and that’s why I need you to call Buck and let him know where you are, Chris. Please, open your eyes for me.’

Chris had never been able to deny Sarah anything in life and could not do so now, even in death. He fought to open his eyes, crying out as his body came alive with pain. His legs were pinned beneath the dash; his right arm throbbed, his chest burned, while blood trickled from a wound above his right eye.

‘I know you’re hurt, Chris, but it’s important that you get help. Buck will come, but they won’t know where you are if you don’t tell them.’

“Try…hard to breathe,” Larabee told her.

‘You hurt your ribs, but you can do this, Love. Do this for me.’

Chris shifted slightly and gasped as he tried to reach inside his jacket. He knew he’d placed his cell phone there and hoped it hadn’t been dislodged during…during what? God, he couldn’t remember why he hurt so much, but Sarah’s presence gave him hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe he would soon be with her and Adam and…

‘No, Chris, it is not your time. You have so much work to do before Our Father calls you home.’

“But, Sarah, I…”

‘Sh, call Buck, Chris, hurry, time is short and the storm grows worse.’

“Stay with me.”

‘I will stay as long as I can, Love, but you really need to call Buck.’

“I’ll try,” Larabee said, shaking as he finally managed to grip his phone and pull it out. His vision blurred and his eyes refused to focus on the numbers as pain stabbed at his skull. He felt soft lips brush against his and felt the warmth spread throughout his body and reached for the touch.

‘I know you’re cold, Chris, but you need to stay awake and call Buck.’

Chris felt her move away and was felt the chill returning as he touched the button on his cell and waited for the call to go through. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, but did not give in to the darkness waiting at the edge of his vision.

M7 M7 M7

Buck loved the Christmas cartoons and was not surprised to find that Vin had a collection that included an old Donald Duck cartoon where he was wrapping presents and all sorts of antics ensued. He chuckled softly as Donald was soon wrapped in paper and messing up the assembly line.

Wilmington reached for his cell phone when the familiar Christmas jingle sounded and smiled when he saw the ID. He hit the button and answered with a grin. “Ho, ho, ho, Stud, where are you?”

= “Buck…help…he…”

“Chris, what’s wrong?” Wilmington was instantly serious as he sat forward.


“Hold on, Vin,” the rogue said and listened to the weak cry for help. “Where are you?”

“Don’t…don’t know…truck…hit deer…over rail…”

“How bad are you hurt? Where are you?” Wilmington asked.


“Where? Come on, Chris, I can’t hear you,” the worried rogue said.

“Hurt…Sarah’s he…ccccold…”

“Sarah’s there?” Wilmington said and knew his friend was in danger if he was already seeing the woman who’d been part of his life for too short a time.


“Are you in the truck, Chris?”


“Can you reach the emergency kit behind you?”

“Maybe…think so…don’t know…legs…”

“What about your legs?” Wilmington asked.

“Can’t move ‘em…trapped…blood…so cold…tired…”

“Listen to me, Chris, don’t go to sleep right now! Me and Vin are coming to get you, but we need you to stay awake and keep talking to me!”

“Try…where…where’s Sarah…”

“Chris, can you reach the emergency kit?”


“I’ll get the jeep!” Tanner said.

“I have Josiah’s SUV, Vin, it’s got a plow on the front!” Wilmington said and tossed the Texan the keys to the four-wheel drive vehicle.

M7 M7 M7

Chris could not hold on to the phone and reach behind him at the same time so he released his hold on the cell and twisted his body as best he could. He gritted his teeth, crying out as the movement pulled on his trapped legs, but he did not give up. His fingertips brushed against the emergency kit, but it took several attempts before he was able to latch onto the handle and pull it into the front of the truck. Chris closed his eyes and felt himself drifting, but there was something he needed to do…something important, but what the hell was it?

“Chris, can you hear me…damn it, Chris, answer me!”

Larabee heard the familiar voice and opened his eyes, slamming them shut for a few seconds until he was sure he could open them without his head exploding. He glanced at the cell phone and willed his arm to move, but he wasn’t sure he had the strength to lift it until Wilmington’s voice cut through the pain.

“Chris, where are you?”

“Buck…truck,” Larabee chuckled at the way the two words sounded, but gasped as the laughter wreaked havoc with his ribs.

“You’re in your truck…that’s good, Chris. Now where exactly are you?”

“Not sure…Wh…White Sul…Springs.”

“White Sulphur Springs?”


“Can you tell me where on White Sulphur Springs?”

“Not sure…couple of miles outside…bridge was out…took the detour…snow cleared…ccccold,” Larabee explained.

“Open up the emergency kit and get the thermal blanket. You need to stay warm, Chris, we’re on the way.”

“Snow…dangerous driving.”

“I know, but we have Josiah’s SUV and he’s already put the snowplow on the front so you just stay with me and we’ll have you out of there in no time.”

“Try…Buck…need to put the p…phone down and g…get the b…blanket,” Larabee managed.

“All right, Stud, but don’t hang up.”

“O…okay,” the blond said and reached for the zipper several times before he finally managed to grab it. He pulled it open and reached inside until he found the emergency blanket. It took several minutes to get it spread out over him, but he managed to cover most of his upper body and reached for the set of thermal gloves nestled inside the kit. He lanced at the phone then the gloves and back again, reluctantly picking up the cell phone.

“Chris, you still with me?”

“I’m h…here, Buck.”

“Thank God. Did you get the blanket?”

“Yeah…warmer,” Larabee said and heard a beep. He looked at the cell phone and frowned when he noticed the warning that the battery was low.

“That’s good, Pard…”

“Gotta hang…hang up, Buck…battery’s low.”

“What did you say, Chris…hard to hear you.”

“Battery’s low…need to save it…sleep…sleepy…”

M7 M7 M7

“Chris!” Wilmington snapped and stared at his phone as Tanner drove south away from his ranch. “His battery is low and he shut it off to conserve it. We need to head south toward White Sulphur Springs.”

“Did he say where he was?” Tanner asked.

“No, just that he had to detour through White Sulphur Springs because the bridge was out. I’m going to call the guys…”

“What good’ll that do, Buck. We got the only rig with a plow. No point in gettin’ the others worried when there ain’t a damn thing they can do.”

“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and maybe JD can get his signal on the GPS tracker,” Wilmington said and held onto his phone.

“No, Chris’ GPS ain’t workin’ and he’s got an appointment ta get it fixed after Christmas,” Tanner said.

“Damn it!”

“Did I hear ya say Sarah was with him?”

“Yeah, he sees her sometimes…seems to be when he needs her most,” the worried rogue offered. “Usually life or death situations.”

“We’ll find him, Buck.”

“I know we will, just hope it’s not too late,” the rogue offered.

M7 M7 M7

Chris slowly opened his eyes and looked around as he pulled the blanket up around him once more. He had no idea how long he was out, but the blanket had slipped off his shoulders and his hands were ice cold. He glanced at the phone and frowned, wondering if he’d imagined calling Buck and silently praying that it hadn’t been his imagination.

There was so much snow piled up around the windows that he could no longer see anything, not even the tree he’d struck on the way down. He licked at his lips and realized he was thirsty and turned to see the bottle of water on the seat beside him. Reluctantly pushing back the blanket, Chris picked it up; sighing tiredly when he noticed it was nearly frozen solid. He tried to open the bottle, but his fingers were numb from the cold and it slipped from his grasp.

Chris looked at the phone and fought the urge to turn it on. He felt alone, isolated from everyone in a blizzard that left him trapped and blind. He wondered how long he’d been out, but there was no way of telling without turning on his cell phone because his watch had been shattered somewhere in his wild ride. He shifted and tried to move his legs, but stopped when he felt something wet soaking through his right pant leg.

M7 M7 M7

Vin fought the urge to press down on the gas pedal as he drove the SUV south along the highway. They’d passed several snow plows that were doing their best to keep the main roads clear, but the snow continued to fall, covering the world in a blanket of white. It was something he normally enjoyed, but not today, not when his best friend was out there, lost and alone and probably injured. He knew Buck was also worried and heard the man try Larabee’s cell phone number again. The soft curse told him he’d been unsuccessful.

“Damn it! How the hell do we find him in this?” Wilmington snapped.

“We have an idea where he is, Buck…”

“Sure…somewhere along a detour near White Sulphur Springs. Do you have any idea how big an area that is?”

“I know, but…”

“Is that psychic thing you have with Chris working?”

“It ain’t a psychic thing, Buck, it’s just a gut feeling…”

“That gut feeling has saved you two on more than one occasion, Vin. Hell I’ve seen you two carry on a whole conversation without making a damn sound. It gives me a headache what with you two thinking so loud and all.”

“I don’t feel anythin’ right now, Buck,” Tanner offered and knew those words did not ease the ladies’ man’s worries. The few times he’d been unable to read Larabee had been times when Chris was either in a coma or hurt so badly he was unconscious and that miraculous gossamer thread was lost to him.

“You don’t think…”

“He ain’t dead…I’d feel it if’n he was,” the Texan vowed.

Buck tried again to reach Larabee’s cell, but his server said the client was unavailable. He thought about Sarah Larabee and the few times Chris had seen her since she’d been murdered. It usually happened when Chris was hurt so badly that his mind sought out the person who’d been his soul mate. Sarah and Adam’s death had left a hole in Chris, but the man had surprised them all by fighting his way back from the brink of hell. That had been made possible by the close friendship of the man sitting next to him.

Buck understood that it wasn’t just Vin who’d been instrumental in saving Chris from drowning himself in alcohol and sorrow, but the Texan had been monumental in seeing him through it. Vin had talked Chris out of a death wish that might have ended with the blond being consumed in a fire set by Ella and her cronies. Wilmington again tried Larabee’s number without success and leaned his head back against the seat.


“I’m okay, Vin, just thinking about Sarah and Adam…Chris could’ve died when they did, but he didn’t and you want to know why?” Wilmington asked, but didn’t give the other man a chance to answer. “You, Vin, you knew what he needed and you weren’t afraid to give it to him. I envy you the friendship…no, that’s not right…I envy you the brother you found in Chris. I wish I could have done what you did…”

“Ya did that and more, Buck. Hell, do ya realize how long ya’ve known Chris and the history ya have? You two went through SEAL training together. Ya were there when he met Sarah…wait - ain’t you the one introduced ‘im to her? Ya were there when Adam was born and they asked ya ta be his Godfather. That’s somethin’ special…somethin’ the rest of us don’t have, Buck.” Tanner told him and slowed down as they reached a turn that was dangerous without being covered in snow.

“Thanks, Vin,” Wilmington said softly.

“Did Chris always believe in fighting for what’s right?”

“Yes, and he always put himself out there when he thought someone was in danger. Hell, I’ve seen him face down half a dozen idiots who underestimated his anger. Three of them wound up in the hospital,” Wilmington answered.

“Chris is…what the hell’s that word Ezra uses…tenasses?”

“Tenacious,” Wilmington corrected.

“That’s it…Chris is a tenacious bastard.”

“He’s not the only one,” the rogue agreed and tried the phone again with the same result.

M7 M7 M7

Chris jerked awake, crying out as the movement reminded him he wasn’t tucked away in his warm bed with Sarah. It had been a dream, one that had kept him warm, but now the cold was very real and not the imaginary warmth he’d had in his wife’s arms. Tears formed in his eyes as he remembered the words she’d spoken just before he’d opened his eyes to this life-size freezer.

‘They’re coming, Chris, just hold on for them.’

“I’ll try, Sarah,” he whispered aloud and reached for the cell phone that had slipped from his cold fingers. His breath was visible and he frowned when he saw the keys were still in the ignition. He knew it was a long shot, but it was that time of year when miracles happened and people believed. Maybe, just maybe he could turn the key and see if the heater would work and maybe charge his cell phone.

“You’re still dreaming,” his teeth chattered as he spoke, but his numb fingers reached out for the keys. He closed his eyes and whispered. “Please, God, just for a little while.”

Chris turned the key and heard a low sound that didn’t bode well for the truck, but it showed there was still some power in the battery. He tried a second time and nearly cried out with relief as the noise from the engine increased. Next he turned the heat up to full blast and opened his window a crack. He knew it was dangerous to run the truck, but right now he needed to warm up. Next he reached for the end of the charger and plugged the cell phone in. It would not take long to charge it, then he’d be able to talk to Buck and tell them he was waiting for them, and that he wouldn’t give up no matter how cold it got.

Chris closed his eyes, but jerked awake as a soft voice spoke to him. “Sarah?”

“I’m right here, Love.”

“So tired.”

“I know you are, but you have to turn off the truck and call Buck first. He’s worried about you, Chris, and he needs to know you’re waiting for him.”

“The battery is nearly…nearly dead.”

“Not anymore…you charged it, Chris, and I know you don’t like the cold, but you must turn off the truck and close the window.”

“I love you, Sarah.”

“I know you do, Chris, and that’s why you have to listen to me. Turn off the truck…”

“O…okay,” the blond whispered and reached for the key. His fingers slipped several times before he managed to get a grip and turn the key in the ignition.

“Now you must call Buck.”

“T…try,” Larabee told her and managed to grip the cell phone on the first try. “Sarah stay-“

“I’ll be right here for as long as you need me, Chris.”

“Always need you,” the blond said.

“Then I’ll always be in your heart, Chris.”

Chris smiled and hit speed dial before leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

M7 M7 M7

Buck stared out the window as the snow continued to fall softly. Normally he loved this time of year with the blanket of white covering everything. As a child he’d spent many nights standing at the window and wishing he could go outside to play, but most of the time he didn’t have the proper clothing needed to stay warm.

His mother had done everything she could to provide for him and there’d been many times when he’d worn second or even third hand clothes. Hell, there’d been times when he’d gone outside to play wearing socks on his hands because he had no gloves. He’d felt no shame in that and it never impeded his snowball or snowman artistry. Many times he’d play on his own, but even as a kid he was easy going and laid back and most of the children in the neighborhood played with him. There were a few exceptions including two bullies who thought they were better than everyone else.

Buck was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of his cell phone and was surprised when he looked at the number. “Chris, are you okay?”

“Buck…you coming?”

“We’re on the way…don’t hang up on me, Pard.”

“Won’t…charged the phone.”

“You did? How’d you manage that…God, Chris, don’t let the truck run too long!”

“I won’t…Sarah woke me and I turned it off…getting ccccold again.”

“I know it is, but it won’t be for long. Vin and I are coming,” Wilmington said.


“Listen, Chris, can you see anything that’ll help us find you?”

“Snow…lots of snow-“

“Is it still snowing where you are?”

“Not sure…think so…truck seems to be buried.”

“Damn…okay, what about before your accident? Did you see anything…a landmark or something like that?”

“No…was too busy trying not to h…hit the deer.”

“You hit a deer?”

“Don’t think so…hit the guard rail and went over-“

“You hit a guard rail…that’s something, Chris,” Wilmington said although it wasn’t much considering how many guardrails were in the vicinity of White Sulphur Springs. “Chris, you still with me…Chris?”

“Buck, what’s goin’ on?”

“I think he dropped the phone.”

“Did he turn off the truck?”


“Thank God.”

“Already did,” Wilmington answered and tried to reconnect with Larabee, but the line was deathly quiet once more. “He said he went over a guardrail, Vin.”

Tanner nodded his head and continued to drive along the highway, relieved that Josiah kept the SUV’s tank filled at all times. It burned more gas than most vehicles its size, but with the addition of the plow it performed like a tank and bulldozed through the worst of the drifts as if they weren’t there.

“Sarah’s still with him…made him turn off the truck,” Wilmington said a few minutes later.

“Ma always said we have a guardian angel…guess she’s his,” Tanner said and the duo grew quiet as Wilmington pulled out a map of the area and began going over it. Josiah kept several maps in the glove box and they’d come in handy over the last couple of years.

M7 M7 M7

Chris felt the blanket slip off his shoulders and reached out to fix it, but cried out as he shifted his legs. His breath caught in his throat and his hands fisted at his side while he slowly regained control of his breathing. He knew it was cold, evidenced by the ice that had formed on the window and began to wonder whether this would be his tomb. His final resting place, so cold that he didn’t feel anything, but Sarah’s voice came through and he knew he could not let her down.

Chris felt around as best he could and spotted his cell phone on the floor on the passenger’s side. He gritted his teeth and leaned forward, fingers outstretched in an effort to reach the object that could very well be his only link to life. His fingertips scraped along the floor, but the phone was just out of reach and he leaned back on the seat while trying to ignore the fiery pain in his legs.

Chris knew he could not give up, to do so would indeed turn his truck into an icy tomb, and that was something he would fight to his dying breath. He did not want to lie here until the spring thaw revealed his body to anyone who might still be looking. Larabee turned his body slightly, a harsh moan escaping as he glanced at the emergency kit on the seat beside him. There had to be something he could use to reach the damn phone.

Chris began moving the items around until he found a flat piece of board that would probably be used as a splint, but would be used for something completely different right now. He took it out of the sterile package and held it in his hand as the world around him seemed to fade out of focus. He blinked his eyes several times until he was sure he wouldn’t pass out and concentrated on using the board to bring the phone close enough for him to grab with numbed fingers.

It took several attempts, but he was finally able to reach the cell phone with his fingers and breathed shallowly until the pain in his chest eased. He coughed several times, and groaned, but fought the darkness that threatened to pull him into the waiting abyss. With numb fingers he tried to hit speed dial, but missed on the first and second attempt.

Frustrated, tired, and in misery, Chris laid his head back against the seat, and started when he realized he’d nearly given in to the darkness. He looked at the phone and with an anger born of desperation, managed to hit the correct button. With tears of relief in his eyes he listened as the call went through and the familiar voice sounded in his ear.

“Chris, are you with me, Man?”

“Buck…so ccccold-”

“I know, but don’t you go giving up on us.”

“Trying…going to turn on the truck…see if I can get warm for a little while.”

“All right, Chris, but not for too long okay?”

“O…okay,” Larabee agreed and turned the key in the ignition. The move was met with an eerie silence as if the snow muffled everything and he tried to start it a second time with the same result.


“Not work…working, Buck,” the blond said, his teeth chattering as he tried to speak.

“Damn, all right, Pard, just keep that blanket wrapped around you. Do you have any gloves and a hat?”

“Gloves are…here somewhere…thought I brought a cap…don’t know where…where it is,” Larabee answered.

“Think you can put on your gloves and maybe find your hat. Nathan says we lose most of our body heat through our head so that should help keep you warm?”

“O…okay,” the injured man said and managed to get the gloves on his hands, relieved to find he could still use them to hold the phone. He looked behind the emergency kit and spotted a familiar hat, one he seldom wore unless it was really cold. It looked like something they’d wear in the Antarctic, but right now it looked like heaven and he quickly put it on and pulled down the ear flap on the right side, leaving the left so that he could hear Wilmington.

“Did you find your hat, Chris?”

“Found it…do…don’t laugh-”

“Why would I laugh…oh hell, don’t tell me it’s that funny one Sarah bought as a joke?”

“Damn thing’s…warm,” Larabee managed and slowly succumbed to exhaustion and the chill that invaded his bones.

M7 M7 M7

“Chris…come on, Pard, answer me!” Wilmington tried to keep the fear out of his voice, but Larabee’s silence scared the hell out of him.

“How is he?”

“He found his hat and gloves and managed to put them on. Truck’s not working anymore,” the rogue answered.

“Keep an eye out for a broken guardrail,” Tanner told him.

“How the hell do we see it in this weather?” Wilmington asked.

“We’ll find him, Buck, Larabee’s too damn stubborn ta let the weather get one up on ‘im,” the Texan vowed and grew quiet when the familiar sound of Buck’s phone began again.

“What’s up, JD?” Wilmington asked upon noting who was calling.

“Just wondering if you were staying at Vin’s or coming home?”

“I’ll probably say at Vin’s place,” the rogue lied.

“Where is he? I tried calling his home number, but he’s not answering.”

“We’re out in the barn making sure Peso’s warm enough,” Wilmington told him and hoped the Bostonian believed him.

“Nettie called and asked if Chris made it home yet, but I told her I didn’t know. Do you have any idea when he’s getting back?”

“Not sure, Kid, but I’ll see if he’s left a message on my voicemail. Are you and Casey staying warm?”

“Me and Casey know how to keep warm without turning up the heat, Buck.”

“I bet you do, but if you go into my room and look in my closet you might just find a little something to make it even warmer?”

“Rather not see your collection of sex toys, Buck.”

“Ha, ha, Kid, maybe I shouldn’t tell you it’s a bottle of Sambuca…the good stuff,” Wilmington told him.

“Your private stash? Wow, Buck, thanks.”

“You’re welcome…just make sure you don’t drink so much you don’t remember how to treat a lady.”

“I’d never do anything to hurt Casey.”

“I know, Kid, I’ll talk to you later okay?”

“Maybe…but if I don’t answer the phone it’s not because I’m talking to the porcelain god.”

“I hear you, Kid,” Wilmington said and hung up. “That boy’s growing up.”

“That boy’s 25, Buck,” Tanner said with a grin before returning his attention to the road ahead. They drove in silence for half an hour, slowly pressing onward through the softly falling snow. It seemed to be easing up the further south they got and Vin suddenly stopped the truck and turned onto a gravel road.

“Vin, where are you going?”

“Chris is down here somewhere,” the Texan said and continued to drive, using the plow to clear a trail through the six inches of snow that had already fallen.

“Chris said he was on White Sulphur Springs. That turnoff’s another mile…mile and a half,” Wilmington observed.

“Trust me, Buck,” Tanner said.

“I do, Vin,” the rogue said and realized he truly did trust this man, especially when it involved Chris Larabee. “Any idea how much further?”

“Not far…keep your eyes peeled for that broken guardrail,” the Texan said and silently prayed his gut instinct was right.

M7 M7 M7

This time when Chris woke he could barely feel his toes and tried moving them in spite of his trapped legs. He had no idea how long he’d been out this time, but it felt colder than before. He knew time was running out and that if Buck and Vin didn’t find him soon it might not matter anyway.

Chris looked at his cell and wondered how he’d managed to hold onto it. He hit speed dial and was not surprised when Wilmington answered before the first ring was completed. He coughed several times and held tightly to his ribs even as Buck’s worried voice sounded across the miles.

“Chris, just hang on…we’re nearly there!”

“Buck…can’t…don’t know if I can-”

“Don’t you dare say that, Chris! You’ve hung on this long and we’re almost there. The snow’s stopped and it won’t be long before we find you. Just promise me you’ll hold on!”

“Try, Buck, but if…if…”

“No ifs, Chris, you’ll be fine and warm real soon.”

“Always were an optimist, Buck,” Larabee said and tried to smile, but it felt like nothing worked properly anymore, not even his muscles.

“Vin and I are close, Chris…I can…I know we’re close so you just need to hold on a little longer.”

“Trying to,” the blond said and tried to control his chattering teeth as he let his eyes slide closed.

“Chris, damn it you listen to me-”

M7 M7 M7

“Jesus, Vin, we need to find him fast,” Wilmington said when the there was nothing else from Larabee. He frowned as a shiver raced down his spine and stared out the window at something ahead. “Vin…”

“I know,” Tanner said and pulled off the road. He exited the SUV and moved to the damaged guardrail that stood out like a sore thumb amidst the wondrous backdrop of snow. “He’s down there.”

“We need to get down to him,” Wilmington said, rubbing his hands and blowing into them as he looked at the valley below.

“Josiah keeps a rope and pulley system in the back of the SUV,” Tanner explained and opened the rear doors, relieved to see the ex-preacher had put winter supplies inside and said a silent prayer that they could get Larabee out of this.

“Vin, I’m going down,” the rogue said.

“Just give me a second to set this up, Buck,” the Texan said and set up the portable winch and the harness Sanchez had gotten somewhere.

“Remind me to thank Josiah for thinking of everything,” Wilmington said as he slipped into the harness.

“Buck, I’ll be right behind ya,” Tanner told him.

“Wait until I tell you what I find, Vin. I won’t know what we’ll need to get him free until I get down there,” the rogue observed and saw the head nod once as he readied himself to go over the side.

“Take this,” the Texan ordered and handed the worried man a heavy duty brush and shovel combination for removing snow. The truck was nearly covered with snow and he knew it would take Buck a while to dig out the cab.

“I’ll get to him, Vin,” Wilmington vowed as Tanner used the controls to feed out the line and make it easier for him to go down the steep, snow covered embankment. The going was treacherous and he slipped several times, but managed to hold on to the shovel as he glanced up at the Texan.

“You okay, Buck?” Tanner asked.

“I’m okay, Vin, give me a little more rope,” the rogue answered. Buck started down again, carefully choosing his footing in the loose snow until his feet struck something solid.


“I’m down, Vin,” Wilmington shouted and quickly released the harness before climbing into the back of the truck. He pushed his way through the snow and found himself at the rear cab of Larabee’s vehicle. He quickly climbed onto the roof and began brushing the snow away from the windshield, silently cursing when he saw the unmoving body inside.

“Can you see anythin’?”

“Give me a minute!” Wilmington shouted, surprised when he noticed movement from the injured man. “Hey, Chris, you know if you wanted a new truck for Christmas you could have asked Santa.”

M7 M7 M7

Chris knew that voice and smiled weakly as Wilmington’s face appeared next to his window. “Thought it was Christmas, not Halloween.”

“Ha ha, real funny, besides I’m not the one who’s paler than a corpse,” the rogue offered.

“You alone?”

“No, Vin’s up top. We got Josiah’s SUV and should have you out of here in a few minutes,” Wilmington shouted. “Can you put the window down?”

“No power,” Larabee answered.

“Damn, all right just hang on and I’ll dig my way down to the door.”

“Okay…I’m going to rest my eyes,” the blond said, but watched as his friend used the small shovel to try and clear away the snow from the door. Each time he removed snow, more fell into the small hole he made. Chris wasn’t surprised when he saw a blur of dark blue on the windshield and Vin’s worried face watched him closely.

M7 M7 M7

“You look like shit, Cowboy,’ the Texan said with a slight nod of his head before moving to help Wilmington.

“Thought you were going to stay topside,” the rogue said.

“Figured that little spade ain’t gonna cut it,” Tanner said and handed over one of the two shovels he’d brought down with him.

“Thanks,” Wilmington said and bent his back to the job.

The snow was powdery and light, but as the day wore on the temperature began to drop and both men felt chilled to the bone. Every once in a while Larabee would open his eyes and look at them with eyes that were filled with pain. He’d tried to get his legs free on several occasions without success. He watched the two men through hooded eyes and knew they were not only fighting the snow, but the cold as well. Both men stopped only long enough to blow into their hands and wipe the snow from their bodies before turning to the backbreaking job at hand.

“You boys need to get warm,” Larabee managed, surprised when Buck and Vin stopped and looked at him.

“Hell, Chris, we’s jest workin’ up a good sweat,” Tanner assured him.

“Vin needs a bath,” Wilmington joked and made a show of waving his hands in front of his face.

“Chris, we’s nearly done here…yer cell still workin’?” the Texan asked.

“Think so,” Larabee said and lifted his phone, shaking his head when it showed no power. “Sorry, it’s dead.”

“Ya got yours, Buck?”

“No, left it on the seat,” Wilmington answered.

“Lost mine comin’ down,” Tanner said.

“Damn,” the rogue said and looked up. He knew they’d need to get Larabee out and topside, but that also meant one of them would have to make the trip up using only the rope to pull himself up. “Let’s see if we can get him free before we think about the next move.”

“Go get warm,” Larabee ordered, teeth chattering with each word.

“We’ll all get warm as soon as we get you free, Chris,” Wilmington vowed.


“Do you hear something, Vin?”

“Just the wind and it ain’t makin’ much sense,” the Texan answered and smiled before returning to the last of the snow piled against the door.

Chris knew there was no point in arguing with his friends and closed his eyes. He no longer felt anything in his legs, but his arm and chest area throbbed with each beat of his heart. His head ached and he jumped when he felt something shift and opened his eyes to find Buck’s face close to his own.

“Hey, Stud, you’re not looking so hot right now,” Wilmington said.

“Feel better when we’re topside,” Larabee told him.

“So, your legs are trapped?” Wilmington asked.

“Think the seat was jammed when the truck hit the guardrail,” the blond answered.

“Did ya try puttin’ the seat back?” Tanner asked.

“Think so, but couldn’t reach it,” Larabee said.

“Hang on,” Wilmington said and searched for the release, but couldn’t get it to move. “Think maybe it’s jammed.”

Vin watched Larabee’s face and knew the man was fighting to stay conscious. The wound above his eyes had bled some, but it had stopped, probably because of the cold. While Buck continued to search for a way to free Larabee’s legs, Vin checked him for injuries. Besides the head wound he could see blood on Larabee’s right arm and wished he knew exactly how bad it was, but right now it seemed to have stopped bleeding and he didn’t want to chance disturbing it.

“Vin, see if you can feel under his legs…find out exactly what’s trapping him,” Wilmington ordered and moved back to give the Texan room to work. “How are you doing, Chris?”

“Be better if I had a shot,” Larabee vowed.

“Tell you what - I’ll buy you one as soon as the docs say it’s okay,” the rogue said.

“Damn, was hoping we’d just head for my place and open that bottle you bought me.”

“That’ll have to wait…hey, have you been peeking?” Wilmington asked.

“No, but thanks for letting me know I’m right,” Larabee said with a smile.

“I could return it.”

“Not a chance,” Larabee said, wincing when Tanner’s hand touched against his right leg.

“Sorry,” Tanner mumbled and felt around before standing and looking at Wilmington. “The dash is pressed against his legs, Buck.”

“Figured as much,” the rogue said. “Are they broken?”

“Don’t think so,” Larabee said. “I can move them, but I think maybe there’s a cut on the right one.”

“Yeah, it ain’t bleedin’ right now, but we’re gonna have ta be careful once we get him out,” Tanner said and looked up toward the road.

“Let me try the release again,” Wilmington said. “If I can get the seat to go back, maybe you can help Chris get his legs out.”

“All right,” Tanner agreed. He waited for Wilmington to reach beneath the seat. “Ya ready fer this, Pard?”

“No, but let’s do it anyway,” Larabee answered. He felt Tanner reach beneath the dash and held his breath as the Texan gripped both legs. He could hear Wilmington grunt and suddenly felt the seat move back.

Vin moved quickly, ignoring the muffled cry from his friend as he pulled both legs to the side and the seat seemed to slam back in place. Vin reacted instantly and held Larabee as his body shook with the onset of pain caused by the flow of blood back to his legs. He knew they had to move quickly and get the man topside before they could do anything more and silently prayed there were no hidden injuries that could end with Chris being paralyzed for life.

“Vin, we’re gonna need something to carry him on,” Wilmington said as the sun dipped below the horizon.

“There’s a tarp rolled up in the back of the SUV,” Tanner told him.

“Hold on to him and I’ll get it…”

“Call for help,” the Texan ordered as Larabee’s head rested on his shoulder. He knew the blond was trying to maintain control and reached for the blanket. He adjusted it and covered the injured man as best he could and hoped Wilmington could find the tarp and send it down without having to come back.

“Damn,” Larabee mumbled and lifted his head.

“Easy, Chris, try not to move around too much.”

“Good plan - where’s Buck?”

“He’s headed up. Josiah’s got a tarp in the SUV and if we can we’ll use it ta pull ya up,” Tanner said as the snow began to fall once more. “Nice hat.”

“Good…means you’ll like your Christmas gift,” Larabee groaned and lifted his head.

“Just rest easy, Chris, gonna take Buck a while ta get up there,” the Texan said and watched as the green eyes closed and the blond head came to rest on his shoulder once more.

M7 M7 M7

Wilmington slipped several times, but managed to stay on his feet as he used the rope to pull himself up. He had no idea how much time had passed since they first found Chris, but he knew he had to get him out of this mess. He glanced below and saw Vin standing next to the driver’s door and knew that would not last long as snow fell and darkness advanced quickly once the sun disappeared.

In spite of the gloves, Buck’s fingers were numb, but he kept moving upward, hand over hand until he gripped the handrail. Using what little energy he had left, Wilmington pulled himself up and over the edge. He lay still for several seconds before climbing to his feet and looking down, but could barely make out the shape of the truck.

“Vin, I made it!”

“Thank God,” Tanner’s voice echoed in the coldness.

“Give me a few minutes and I’ll get this thing set up,” Wilmington shouted and moved to the SUV. So far there’d been no traffic on the road and he silently cursed the weather that kept people home. Buck reached for the cell phone he’d left on the seat and flipped it open, cursing when the words ‘No Signal’ were scrawled across the screen.

“Damn it!” Buck cursed and looked up at the dark sky that seemed to be dumping another storm in their laps. “Can’t You give us a break?”

Wilmington dropped the phone back on the seat, and slammed the door closed before going to the back of the SUV. He spotted the tarp and pulled it out before finding a heavy-duty flashlight tucked in one corner. He grabbed it and several flares, tucking them inside the tarp before using the winch to pull the rope back up. Buck knew he could take the items down himself, but then they’d be left with no one to operate the winch and right now it appeared to be the only way of bringing the injured blond back up.

M7 M7 M7

Vin didn’t really hate the cold, but that didn’t mean he liked standing in several feet of snow with the wind picking up and snow blowing all around him. He knew the cold was dangerous for Larabee and when the man lost consciousness he’d placed him on the seat of the truck, covered him with the blanket and closed the door to wait for Buck. He slapped at his arms in an effort to keep warm and looked up when he heard a motor kick in.

“Vin, I’m sending down the tarp, a flashlight and some flares. Think you can get Chris wrapped up in it by yourself or do you need me to come down?”

“Ya’d best stay put and handle the winch. I’ll handle Larabee,” Tanner answered and watched as the tarp slid down the snowy embankment toward him. Once it landed beside the truck he quickly opened the tarp and lit the two flares, sinking them into the snow before grabbing the flashlight. He flipped the switch and placed it on the hood of the truck so the light shone inside, revealing a pale-faced blond watching him.

“Where’s Buck?”

“Up above…got yer ride ready fer ya,” Tanner said and opened the door.

“My ride?”

“Yer goin’ up in style,” the Texan said with a grin. “I need ya ta move ta the edge of the seat and I’ll help ya outta that truck.”

“O…okay,” the blond said and slid closer to the Texan, his hands fisted at his side as the movement jarred his injuries.

“Steady, Cowboy, won’t be much longer and ya’ll be safely tucked up in yer own bed!”

“I’ll take your word on that, Vin,” Larabee said as he was helped from the truck and leaned heavily on the other man.

“My word on what?” Tanner asked.

“Tucked up in my own bed…”

“Hell, okay, that could take a few days, but ya’ll be in a warm bed somewhere,” the Texan said and took most of the blond’s weight before lowering him onto the tarp before reaching for the blanket and covering his friend with it. “Chris, I’m gonna wrap ya up in this and make sure ya stay put.”

“Don’t seem to have much choice,” Larabee muttered, shivering as the cold wind blew across his body. The snow continued to fall and he blinked his eyes when several flakes landed on his lids. He felt Vin securing the tarp with ropes he’d taken from beneath the seats of the truck.

“Ya hang on, Chris, we’ll be topside in no time,” Tanner told him and used the harness to secure himself to the rope before looking up. “Take us up, Buck!”

“On it, Vin, gonna be a slow ride, but I’ll have you both up in no time.”

Vin grabbed the flashlight and placed it beside Larabee’s head as the winch began the work of pulling them up and clear of the truck. The darkness surrounded them, while snow continued to fall and the wind whistled through the trees and lifted the flaps of the tarp. It was rough going, with the blustery weather forcing Vin to hike his collar up around his neck.

Vin kept glancing at Larabee, the only thing visible were his eyes and those glistened with pain as they continued the trip. He checked the ropes and made sure the tarp was not unraveling, relieved to find there were no tears in it.

M7 M7 M7

Buck could just make out the dark shape in the snow below him as the winch continued to draw the ropes upward. So far the machinery was working fine, but Wilmington would not rest easy until the two men were on the ground beside him. A sound from behind him made him jump and he turned to see smoke and fire coming from the Winch and heard a sharp cry from below.

“Hang on, Vin!” Wilmington shouted and grabbed the fire extinguisher from the emergency pack. He had the flames out quickly, but there was no way they’d be able to use it to pull Larabee up.


“Hold on, Vin!” Wilmington shouted and grabbed the rope as it began to slip. He desperately searched for anything he could use to help brace himself, but felt his feet sliding with the snow. In a desperate attempt to stop the tarp from slipping back to the bottom, Buck looped the rope over the hitch and used his teeth to pull first one glove and then the second one off, before tying it off and racing the short distance to the rail.

“Buck, what’s happenin’?”

“Damn thing caught fire. Looks like I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way!” Wilmington said and suddenly realized there was an easier way.


“I know. I’m going to use the SUV to pull you both up so just hang on,” the rogue said and hurried to the driver’s side, relieved to see the keys in the ignition.

M7 M7 M7

The tarp had slipped back maybe thirty feet and Vin had grabbed hold of it in an effort to steady Larabee, but his ankle had struck something more solid than snow. He realized he’d probably broken it, but right now the important thing was getting Chris to safety.

“Vin, wh…what happened?”

“Hey, Pard, just a little hiccup with the winch,” Tanner answered. “Buck’s gonna pull us up with the SUV.”

“Tell him to turn on the h…heat,” Larabee ordered as they began to move toward the guardrail once more. He didn’t feel much pain anymore and realized it was probably because he was too numb from prolonged exposure to the frigid temperatures. His teeth no longer chattered and he wondered if it was possible that he was beyond feeling the cold because hypothermia had set in.

“Almost there, Chris,” Tanner said, his ankle throbbing with the effort to stay on his feet. The guardrail was in sight now, maybe twenty feet above them, and yet Vin would not relax until Chris was safe inside the SUV.

M7 M7 M7

Buck drove slowly away from the edge of the road with the windshield wipers working overtime to keep the snow from blocking his vision. He kept glancing in the rearview mirror, but could see nothing in the blizzard like conditions. He knew he had to get the others to safety before the weather got so bad they wouldn’t be able to drive back to the city.

“Thank you, Josiah,” he whispered as the four-wheel drive vehicle handled beautifully on the icy road. He stopped the SUV and applied the emergency brake before exiting the rig and hurrying toward the edge of the road. He looked down, but couldn’t make out anything in the blinding storm. “Vin!”


Tanner’s voice was so close Buck swore he felt the warm breath on his face. Wilmington reached out and grabbed the younger man’s arm. “Thank God!”

“Help me get Chris over the rail!” Tanner ordered. He knew he wouldn’t be much good once the adrenalin rush wore off, but for now he could move, and he did. He grabbed the edge of the tarp while Wilmington took the other side and carefully guided the injured man up and over the guardrail.

“Damn storm’s getting worse!” Wilmington said once they had the injured blond safely topside. “We need to get moving before we’re snowed in!”

“Let’s go!” Tanner said and gripped the edge of the tarp. “Where the hell’s the SUV?”

“This way,” Wilmington said, blinking the snow from his eyes. He noticed Tanner’s limp, but now was not the time to ask about it. They needed to get inside and warmed up before things got any worse. It was a struggle, but they managed to get to the SUV and Buck pulled open the back passenger side door.

“We need to get him out of the tarp!” Tanner shouted and reached down to untie the ropes he’d used to secure the tarp, but the gloves made it impossible and he removed them. His fingertips were numb, but he knew he had to get Larabee out of the tarp and into the vehicle.


“Got it,” Tanner said and helped Wilmington remove the material and helped him get Larabee inside the vehicle.

Chris cried out as he was lifted and placed on the seat. God, it felt so damn good to be out of there. The warmth hit him like a ton of bricks and he swore it burned his lungs with each breath as Tanner closed the door. He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing as the door opened and a blast of frigid air made him shiver.

“Buck, get us moving!” Tanner ordered and slammed the door closed as Wilmington took the steering wheel.

“Put on your seatbelts, boys, ‘cause this is going to be one hell of a ride,” the rogue said.


Larabee turned his head and swallowed convulsively as he looked into his friend’s worried face. He closed his eyes and soon felt the pins and needles as feeling returned to his fingertips.

“Chris, drink this,” Tanner said and handed the blond a bottle of water.

“Thanks,” Larabee whispered and took several small sips before the bottle began to slip from his fingers. The Texan’s reflexes stopped it from spilling all over him, and Chris laid his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.

“This is going to be a long ride, Vin,” Wilmington said and watched as Tanner pulled the first aid kit from under the back seat.

“Take it slow, Buck, I’d rather not spend another night in a snow bank,” Larabee said without opening his eyes.

“You got it, Pard,” the rogue said with a relieved smile, and kept his eyes on the road.

“Buck, did you call ahead?” Tanner asked and taped a bandage to the wound above Larabee’s right eye.

“I tried, but there was no signal. Damn storm’s messing with everything,” Wilmington answered. “How’s Chris?”

“Not good,” the Texan answered seriously. Larabee seemed to have lost consciousness, but his hands and face were still ice cold. He needed warm fluids to kick-start his body, but right now they had nothing that could help warm him from the inside out. He knew some of the signs of hypothermia and the fact that Larabee was still shivering meant he wasn’t in danger from that yet. Knowing he needed to check the other wounds, Vin pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind and eased the injured man out of his jacket.


“What’s wrong?”

“He’s got a bad wound on his arm…gonna need stitches,” Tanner answered.

“Wrap it up as best you can. Is he bleeding?”

“A little,” the Texan answered and removed a sterile pressure bandage from the package. He wrapped it around the raw wound and place the arm inside Larabee’s shirt creating a makeshift sling that would do for now. He glanced at the blond’s right leg and used the scissors from the kit to cut through the material.

Whatever had done the damage had cut a jagged tear from the knee up toward Larabee’s groin. The wound would need stitching and Vin silently prayed he could control the bleeding until they reached the hospital. Again he grabbed a pressure bandage and wrapped it tightly around the leg before reaching for the blanket on the back seat.

“Vin, you okay?”

“I’m fine, Buck,” Tanner answered once he’d finished the task of making Larabee as comfortable as possible.

“Saw you limping,” Wilmington told him.

“Struck my ankle when we were sliding down,” Tanner answered.

“How bad?”

“Don’t know…’sides ain’t much we can do fer it now,” the Texan answered.

The SUV moved along at a snail’s pace and Wilmington reached down to turn on the radio, smiling as the soft strains of Silent Night sounded from the speakers. Buck needed to stay alert and the music would help him do that as he drove along the snow-covered road.

Vin reached around and pulled Larabee’s seatbelt around his body and secured it before doing the same to his own. He felt Larabee slide toward him and put an arm around him until the blond head rested against his shoulder. The blond’s cheeks were flushed; a sign that he was warming up and Vin hoped it was a good sign. He closed his eyes and dozed on and off, waking whenever he moved his left leg and cursed the throbbing pain that told him the ankle was probably broken.

“Vin, there’s lights ahead…think maybe we’re almost home,” Wilmington said.

“Ya sure it’s not just another car?”

“I’m sure, the snow stopped a few miles back,” the rogue answered as he turned onto the main street and saw a flashing light ahead. He pulled to a stop as an officer hurried toward the car and smiled when he recognized JD’s friend. He rolled down the window, his breath visible in the bright light from the cop’s car.

“Hey, Buck, does JD know you’re out…hell, what happened?” Tyler Rendell asked

“Chris’ truck went off the road. We need to get him to the hospital,” Wilmington answered.

“You’re going to have to take a detour. There’s a semi blocking the road about a quarter mile ahead,” Rendell said.


“The road’s not cleared yet, but you shouldn’t have any trouble with this rig. Could even make a few bucks once you drop Mr. Larabee off,” the cop said.

“I don’t think so, Tyler,” Wilmington said and closed the window once the officer moved away. He turned onto the next road and drove along, piling the snow at the side of the road as he went. There were several people out clearing their driveways and sidewalks, but Buck knew they’d have more snow before the night was over. It took another 45 minutes to reach the main intersection where he turned onto the street leading to Saint Vincents.

“We’re almost there, Chris,” Tanner said when Larabee moaned softly and opened his eyes.

“Home?” Larabee asked.

“Not exactly. Although if’n ya listen ta the docs it’s probably yer second home,” Tanner explained.

“Seems to me they say the same damn thing about you, Vin,” Wilmington said, relieved when he saw that the parking area around the ER was fairly empty at this late hour. “You two stay put and I’ll get a gurney out here…and a wheelchair.”

Buck didn’t wait for an acknowledgment and hurried along the cleared path to the Saint Vincents Emergency Department. There were several stretchers near the doorway and a wheelchair and Buck hurried toward the main desk, relieved to see a familiar face there.

“Buck, what brings you here this late…or should I say early on Christmas Eve?”

“Maybe it was the thought of seeing you,” Wilmington said and quickly grew serious. “Chris’ truck went over an embankment…”

“Hell, and here I thought we were in for a quiet night!” Sandy said. “The ambulances have been busy, but tell me where and I’ll have someone…”

“No, he’s outside. Vin and I got him, but he’s banged up some.”

“All right, just hold on and we’ll get a gurney and a backboard!” Sandy said and spotted an orderly talking with a cleaner. “Jack, I need a gurney!”

“On it, Sandy,” Jack Mulligan said and grabbed the end of one of the mobile beds near the door. “Where to?”

“Follow me,” Wilmington said and grabbed a wheelchair.

“Damn, Buck, who else is hurt?” Sandy asked.

“Vin hurt his leg, but I don’t know how bad,” the rogue said and followed the orderly outside. He pushed past the stretcher and headed toward the SUV.

“I swear you boys should just reserve rooms,” Simmons said upon joining the trio with a nurse in tow.

“Hey, Doc, thought you were off for the next week,” Wilmington said.

“I was until Dr. Carter got hit with H1N1,” Simmons said as Wilmington opened the passenger door. “Hell of a night to be out for a joyride.”

“Come on, Vin, let’s get you inside,” Wilmington said from the opposite side of the SUV.

“I can walk,” Tanner said.

“You probably could, but humor me,” the rogue ordered with a grin.

Roy Simmons knew these men since becoming a partner in Stacey Midland’s practice. The woman could probably retire on the money she made from the seven men who made up Orin Travis’ specialized team called The Firm, but known to most people as The Magnificent Seven.

Simmons checked Larabee’s eyes and wished the man would find a safer line of work, but if Sandy was right this injury had nothing to do with how he made a living. This trip was made necessary because Mother Nature had decided to drop a snow bomb on the city and surrounding area. The fact that the blond was unconscious worried him, and he’d have to speak with Wilmington and Tanner once they were inside the hospital.

With the help of the nurse they got a C-collar on the patient and a backboard in place before moving Larabee to the gurney. They rushed him inside and into the first trauma room where a second nurse joined them.

“Buck said he was trapped in his truck and buried in snow,” Sandy explained.

“Let’s get his core temperature and set up two IVs,” Simmons ordered and watched as Carolyn Lambert cut away the excess clothing. He pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the man’s heart and lungs, silently cursing when he heard the telltale sounds of pneumonia. Sandy finished hooking up the monitoring equipment and he shook his head when he saw the readouts. “Let’s get him started on oxygen.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Carolyn said as she started to get rid of the clothing.

Simmons turned his attention to the head wound and knew by the bruising the patient had received a hard blow. “Clean up the wounds and I’ll be right back.”

Simmons hurried out of the room and found Wilmington standing at the desk with Tanner sitting in a wheelchair with the boot off his left foot.

“Doc, how’s Chris?” Tanner asked.

“I haven’t had time to examine him yet.”

“Then why the hell are you out here?” Wilmington asked.

“Easy, Buck,” the Texan said.

“Sorry, Doc, I’m just tired.”

“No shit,” Simmons said gruffly. “I just need to know if he’s been conscious at all?”

“He’s awake fer a while, just passed out when we made it back here,” Tanner answered.

“Any idea how long ago this happened?”

“Early yesterday, not sure of the exact time, but Chris called me and told me he was in trouble and that the truck went over the guardrail. Vin and I found him this afternoon,” Wilmington answered.

“Tanner, get that leg checked out,” Simmons said and headed back to the trauma room. “I’ll be back when I know what we’re dealing with.”

“Vin, you’re going to need an X-ray,” Joan Sandburg said and motioned for Wilmington to follow her with the reluctant patient.

“Buck, ya’d best call Nate and the others,” Tanner said once he was seated on a gurney and a young resident hurried toward him.

“I’ll be right back, Vin,” Wilmington said, glad he’d taken the time to plug his phone into Sanchez’s charger during the trip back.

M7 M7 M7

Nathan Jackson looked at the woman sleeping beside him. Her hair was splayed across the pillow, her face relaxed, her breathing even and knew that this was what he would find if he looked up the word perfection in the dictionary. God, he could spend the rest of his life loving this woman and never grow tired of looking at her. He was the luckiest man in the world and would gladly shout it to the world if Rain Goines wanted him to.

Nathan eased out of the bed and headed toward the kitchen to grab a glass of water. He walked into the living room where a large spruce took up the corner near the Bay window. The top was taken up by a five pointed star that belonged to Rain’s great Grandmother and Jackson stood beside the tree as a sound reached him and made him smile.

“Nathan, are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Love, just getting a drink,” Jackson answered and turned to see her standing in the hallway wearing a soft white sheer negligee. “God, Rain, you are beautiful.”

“Be careful, or my lover might just take offense to you saying that.”

“Your lover is the luckiest SOB that ever lived.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jackson answered and pulled her into his arms. “I love you, Rain, will you marry me?”


“I asked you if you’d marry me?” Jackson asked as the moonlight shone through the open curtained window and the tinsel sparkled as if moved by an unseen breeze. He had planned to wait until tonight to ask her, but this felt right and he reached for the satin box that hung just below the star.

Rain’s eyes filled with tears as Nathan opened the box and revealed a single perfect diamond set between two hearts. She felt her heart skip a beat as he took it from the box. Her stomach churned and she knew she was going to be sick even as she nodded her head and he slipped the ring on her finger.

“Rain, I love you so…”

Rain could hold it no longer and raced to the bathroom where she closed the door and emptied whatever she’d eaten the night before. She could hear Nathan outside the door as tears slipped from her eyes. It took several minutes before she had her rebellious stomach under control and she opened the door before reaching for a cloth and washing her face.

“Rain, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you sick,” Jackson said and frowned when she laughed and reached for him. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Nathan, but you should get used to this because it could last for several weeks yet.”

“What could last?”

“Morning sickness,” Rain answered.

“Morning sickness at three am…morning sickness? Rain, are you…are we?”

“Yes, we’re going to have a baby, Nathan,” Rain answered.

“Why didn’t you say something before?”

“I was planning to tell you at dinner tomorrow. I even bought baby carrots, baby beef…oh, God, let’s not even think about that one,” Rain said with a smile as Nathan lifted her into his arms and kissed her.

“Thank you, Rain,” Jackson whispered against her lips. “When?”

“When what?”

“When will you marry me and when is the baby due?”

“The baby is due around June,” Goines answered.

“Okay, so how fast can we get married? Think we can get it set up for next week?”

“Nathan, we need to get the church and send out invitations and plan a reception and…”

“We could elope,” Jackson suggested and saw tears in her eyes. “Hey, now, why the tears?”

“Get used to seeing them, Nathan, my mama always cried at the drop of a hat when she was pregnant and it looks like I’m going to be the same way.”

“Rain, I love you no matter what and I want you to have the wedding of your dreams.”

“Our dreams, Nathan, and as long as you’re at my side I’ll happily get married in a barn.”

“That’s not a bad idea. We could get married in a barn…maybe at Chris or Vin’s place. It’d be like going back to where Baby Jesus was born,” Jackson said.

“It’d be cold.”

“No, not at Chris’ place, he’s got the barn heated remember?”

“Are you serious about this, Nathan?”

“I’ve never been more serious in my life. We could get the blood tests done and make the arrangements…unless you’d rather have a big church wedding.”

“No, I like the idea of getting married in a special place like that,” Goines assured him.

“I’ll call Chris later today.”

“Josiah can marry us can’t he?”

“Yes, I believe he can,” Jackson said, frowning when his cell phone sounded from the bedroom.

“You’d better get it,” Goines said. Since moving in with Jackson she’d grown used to these late night calls. She watched him walk toward the bedroom, admiring the way his muscles rippled as he moved. She followed him and sat down on the bed beside him as he answered the call.


“Nate, it’s Buck, is Rain with you?”

“It’s three am, Buck, of course she’s with me. Where are you?”

“I’m at Saint Vincents?”

“What did you and JD get into now?”

“It’s not me or JD, Nate, it’s Chris.”

“What happened?” Jackson asked, suddenly serious as Rain moved closer.

“Chris’ truck went over an embankment. Vin and I got him out, but he’s in rough shape.”

“Are you at Saint Vincents?”

“Yes, but there’s no point in you coming over in this weather. I’ll call as soon as I know anything.”

“All right,” Jackson agreed. “Do the others know?”

“Not yet. I was just going to call them.”

“I’ll do it,” the medic said.

“Thanks, Nate, tell them not to chance the roads.”

“I will,” Jackson said and hung up.

“I’ll get your clothes ready,” Goines offered.

“Buck said he’d call.”

“I’m sure he did, but I don’t think you’ll rest until you see that he’s okay for yourself,” Rain said and hugged him.

“You know me too well,” Jackson said with a grin before activating the cell phone again.

M7 M7 M7

Buck glanced at his watch and realized it had been nearly two hours since they had arrived at the hospital and still had no real word on Larabee’s condition. Vin had been down to the X-ray department and was waiting on the doctor to let him know whether the ankle was broken or just sprained.

Buck moved to the cubicle where Tanner rested and found the younger man dozing as a result of the shot he’d been given for pain. Buck knew Simmons would come here to update them on Larabee’s condition and reached for the well-read magazine on the small counter.

“Any word on Chris yet, Buck?”

“I thought you were sleeping,” Wilmington said.

“I was, but yer not exac’ly quiet,” Tanner said and sat up in the bed.

“Nothing since the last time,” the rogue said and turned at the sound of a gruff voice.

“Well, Tanner, you’re going to need a cast and crutches so you might as well relax until that department opens,” Simmons said.

“It’s broken?” Wilmington asked.

“No flies on you, Wilmington,” Simmons answered.

“Maybe not, but ya can see where they’ve been,” Tanner quipped.

“That you can, son, that you can,” the older man said and grew serious. “I’m sure you’re both worried about Chris.”

“How is he, Doc?” the rogue asked.

“Well, he’s banged up some and he was pretty cold when you brought him in, but with warmed fluids we were able to get his core temperature up. He’s got some broken ribs, but there appears to be no internal bleeding and that’s a good thing. He’s got stitches in his forehead, arm, and leg and will probably be complaining about a headache once he wakes up. He’s also got some congestion in his lungs, but hopefully the antibiotics will help stop it from becoming full blown pneumonia.”

“Can we see him?” Wilmington asked.

“As long as Tanner goes in a wheelchair,” Simmons ordered. “I’ve admitted Larabee and he’ll be moved upstairs as soon as they have a bed for him.”

“Think he’ll be out in time for Christmas dinner tomorrow?” Tanner asked.

“Don’t bank on it,” Simmons said. “It all depends on how things go over the next 24 hours. Now, Vin, since you’ll be seen by an orthopedic surgeon first thing in the morning you might as well take advantage of a bed and get some rest.”

“Ain’t much chance of that in ‘ere,” Tanner said. He saw a hint of a smile on Simmons face before the man left and waited for Wilmington to grab a wheelchair. Once he was settled with his left leg elevated, Buck pushed him toward the trauma room where Larabee had been taken earlier.

“Buck, what the hell happened to Vin?” Jackson was the first to spot the two men and hurried toward them, with Josiah, JD, and Nathan behind him.

“Thought I said to stay home and I’d call you,” Wilmington said and realized he’d have done the same thing if the roles were reversed. “Sorry, guess I was kidding myself. Vin and I were just going to see Chris.”

“Go ahead, Buck, I’ll tell ‘em what happened,” Tanner said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” the Texan said.

Buck nodded and hurried into the trauma room, relieved when he saw none of the heavy-duty medical equipment that spoke of an extended stay in the hospital. Oh, there was no doubt that Larabee would be staying for a while, but Buck had a feeling Simmons would be in for a fight if he thought he’d keep Larabee over the Christmas Holidays.

“Well, Pard, you look better than you did last time I saw you,” Wilmington said, surprised when the lids lifted to reveal glazed sea green eyes.

“Buck…owe you…thanks,” Larabee said and coughed several times, groaning as the motion wreaked havoc with his ribs.

“Anytime. How do you feel?”

“Warm,” Larabee said with a weak smile and reached for the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.

“I wouldn’t do that unless you want Simmons on your ass,” Wilmington said.

“Damn, is that old bastard here?”

“Even old coots like him…”

“Old coot like who, Wilmington?”

“Hell, Doc, give a man a heart attack why don’t you?” the rogue said and grabbed his chest.

“If I did you’re in the right place,” Simmons observed. “Now get out of my way and let me take a look at Larabee. Have to make sure he didn’t scramble what little brains he does have.”

“Real funny, Doc,” Larabee said and again reached for the mask.

“That stays put,” Simmons warned and checked the blond’s eyes before listening to his lungs. “The nurse should be in shortly to get you ready for the move upstairs.”


“I don’t want to hear how you’ll sleep better in your own bed, Larabee, right now you’re in no shape to argue with me so you might as well relax and enjoy the extra attention,” Simmons lightly scolded. “Look, I know you’d like to be home for Christmas, but right now we need to keep an eye on things. If, and this is a big if, you behave yourself and let us take care of you then you might just get home in time to open your presents tomorrow.”

“He’s not getting much, Doc, I heard Santa’s bringing him a big lump of coal,” Wilmington teased.

“Buck, yours is going back!” Larabee warned.

“We’re ready to take him upstairs,” Sandy said from the doorway.

“Larabee, I’m heading home so please take it easy on the nursing staff and don’t go pulling any escape attempts that could ruin my neat stitching job…and stay off your feet!”

“Goodnight, Doc!” the blond said as Wilmington helped guide the gurney out of the room. He wasn’t surprised to see the others waiting outside and waited for them to catch up.

“You look like hell, Chris,” Jackson said, relieved to see the man was conscious.

“What happened to you?” Larabee asked the Texan.

“He zigged when he should have zagged,” Wilmington said with a grin.

“Broken?” the blond asked.

“That’s what they tell me,” Tanner answered.

“Chris, we need to get you upstairs before the staff sends out a search party,” Sandy offered and turned to Tanner. “It’s a semi-private room, Vin, and right now the other bed isn’t being used so you might as well take advantage of it until you see Dr. Frost later this morning. The rest of you say goodnight and go home or I’ll call security.”

“Thanks, Sandy,” Larabee said and closed his eyes. “Go home, boys, I’ll see you after I take a nice long nap.”

M7 M7 M7

Vin lay awake in the dark and listened to the steady, even breathing of his best friend. Buck had finally agreed to go home with JD, but had sworn he would be back by lunchtime. It was Christmas Eve and it looked like their plans for a dinner at The Saloon wasn’t going to happen, not with Larabee in the hospital.

“What’s got you so damn quiet, Vin?” Larabee asked softly.

“Didn’t want to wake you,” Tanner answered and eased off the bed before reaching for his crutches.

“What did they say about your ankle?”

“Frost said it was a clean break and didn’t need surgery as long as I use these damn things,” the Texan griped.

“So why are you still here?” Larabee asked.

“Figured ya could use some company.”

“Me? I think I slept since they put me in here,” the blond said. “It’s Christmas Eve, Vin, and there’s no point in you being stuck in here. Call Buck and tell him to come get you.”

“Already did. He’ll be here in a few minutes,” Tanner answered. “No.”

“No, what?” Larabee asked.

“No, I’m not going to help you escape, Chris…”


“Simmons is even scarier than you are right now and he’s not flat on his back,” the Texan said with a grin. The truth was Larabee looked like death warmed over, but he was alive and with any luck he’d be released in time to enjoy dinner Christmas Day with their own makeshift family.

“Simmons is enough to scare anyone,” Larabee said. “Are you going to The Saloon tonight?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Tanner said.

“Vin, just because I’m stuck in here is no reason to cancel the plans for tonight. You boys go and have a drink on me,” the blond told him.

“We’ll see,” the sharpshooter said and turned to find Wilmington standing in the doorway. “Hey, Buck.”

“Looks like you’re ready to go,” the rogue said and turned to his long time friend. “How are you feeling this morning, Chris?”

“Better, Buck, thanks to you two,” Larabee said. “Now do me a favor and get Vin out of here. Make sure he goes to The Saloon, but if he’s taking any pain meds then don’t let him drink.”

“Chris, I don’t know if any of us…”

“Buck, don’t even go there. We had this planned for weeks and I don’t want you guys to cancel just because I can’t be there. Just think about Inez and your plans to woo her tonight.”

“Like that’s gonna end any different than the last 100 times she said Nunca ta him,” Tanner quipped.

“Oh I don’t know…Buck’s planning on being a naughty Santa tonight,” Larabee said with a grin.

“You boys know she’s just pretending to be hard to get,” Wilmington said.

“She’s been pretendin’ a long time, Bucklin,” the Texan teased.

“You’re a laugh and a half there, Vin, but I’m wearing her down,” the rogue said.

“Vin, tell Ezra to put me down for ten bucks on Buck,” Larabee said.

“Thanks, Pard, you’re betting on me is a sure thing.”

“I know it is. Now get the hell out of here and go have some fun,” the blond said.

“Hey, Chris, should I tell Buck the real reason yer bettin’ on ‘im?” Tanner asked softly.

“He’s betting on me because he knows Inez can’t resist my charm,” Wilmington said.

“No, he’s betting on you being the only one without a date tonight,” the Texan teased.

“Now that’s just low,” the rogue said. “Inez is working so there’s no one available.”

“No one you want to be with you mean?” Larabee stated and saw the truth in the man’s eyes. He knew Wilmington and Inez were secretly seeing each other, but he wouldn’t tell anyone until they were ready to do so themselves.

“Chris, we could stay,” Wilmington offered.

“It’s okay, Buck, I’m just going to close my eyes and sleep anyway,” Larabee said and closed his eyes. He heard the two men whispering and the sound of Tanner moving away on crutches. It wasn’t long before the day nurse came to check on him and changed the IV and antibiotics before giving him a shot to ease any lingering pain. It wasn’t long before he drifted toward sleep, his dreams filled with the warmth and love of his wife as she softly caressed his cheek.

M7 M7 M7

Buck and Vin were the last to arrive at The Saloon, and it seemed like a subdued group seated at the table. Nathan and Rain smiled and waved at them as they joined the partygoers.

“Hello, Buck, Vin, would you like something to drink?”

“Just coffee, Inez, I’m driving and Vin’s not supposed to drink right now,” Wilmington answered and sat next to Ezra while Vin sat at the end of the table.

“Vin, would you like a coffee or a cherry Coke?” Inez asked.

“Cherry Coke,” Tanner answered.

“How is your leg, Vin?” Rain asked.

“It ain’t that bad,” the Texan told her and heard a chuckle from the ladies’ man.

“You should have heard him grumbling when I woke him,” Wilmington said with a grin.

“Doesn’t he always grumble?” Dunne asked and put his arm around Casey before she could elbow him.

“Indeed he does, JD, but I assume Buck is relating the fact that he is a grizzly bear when he is injured,” Standish commented.

Vin sat back, watching the others and knew they all felt as if the celebration could not be complete while Chris Larabee was absent. He sipped at the Cherry Coke Inez brought him and glanced at his watch. It was nearly six and Inez would be closing The Saloon, as the Seven had come to call Buck’s Bar and Grill, early. An idea formed in his mind as he looked at the others and knew exactly what they should do.

“Vin, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tanner answered Josiah’s question. “I was just thinkin’ we should move the party.”

“Move the party?” Dunne said. “We always celebrate Christmas Eve here.”

“I know, but it ain’t the same,” the Texan said.

“Chris isn’t here,” Wilmington offered by way of explanation

“We can’t break him out of the hospital. Simmons would shoot us,” Dunne explained.

“He’s not the only one,” Jackson said sternly.

“Wait a minute, Nathan, maybe there’s something we can do.”

“Rain, there’s no way in hell we’re breaking Chris out,” the medic said.

“No, but since Chris can’t come to the party why don’t we bring the party to Chris,” Rain observed.

“Rain, it’s late and…”

“Of course it’s late, but I can call the hospital and make arrangements to use the doctor’s lounge for a little gathering. We’ve already ordered food and we could pick up drinks on the way. There’s a supermarket open until eight and we can get whatever we need there,” Goines explained and looked around. The place was empty except for them and she turned to see the owner join them. “Inez, you were planning on closing early right?”

“Yes, I was.”

“How long before the food is ready?” Rain asked.

“Ten minutes,” Recillos answered.

“Can we get it to go?”

“Of course, but I will not close down while you are here,” Inez said.

“Inez, darlin’, we’re moving the party to the hospital,” Wilmington said and took her hand while Rain called someone at the hospital. “Why don’t you close down now and come with us?”

“Okay, the doctor’s lounge on Chris’ floor is available and a couple of off duty nurses are going to set it up for us, but we have to keep it down,” Rain explained.

“We can do that,” Dunne said.

“JD, by keeping it down she means the noise level not the food and drinks,” Jackson lightly scolded.

“Well, Ezra, why don’t you and I head to the supermarket and pick up a few things,” Sanchez suggested and the groups split off in an effort to get things rolling.

M7 M7 M7

Chris had spent most of the day sleeping thanks to the medications he’d been given. Simmons had stopped in to check on him and no amount of cajoling on his part could get the man to sign his release papers. The man had left with the promise that if things continued to improve then Chris might just be lucky enough to be home in time to open his presents if Santa broke down and brought him some.

Chris glanced at the TV, dozing on and off as George Bailey struggled with the season. A slight smile formed when he thought about watching this movie with Sarah. She’d loved the whole movie and had cried during some of the scenes while snuggling up against him. God, he could almost feel her now, but he knew that was impossible because the devil’s spawn had torn his wife and son from him.

Chris turned his head and stared out the window at the softly falling snow, and unconsciously pulled the blankets up over his body. He knew the nurse would be in shortly to take his vitals and change the IV antibiotics. The IV itself had been removed because he was eating and drinking and everything was staying put. The problem was his oxygen level had Simmons worried because it was a little on the low side even with the nasal canulas.

Chris heard the door open, but kept his eyes on the snow even when the nurse moved to stand next to his bed.

“Chris, Dr. Simmons ordered a chest X-ray to see how your lungs are doing.”

“My lungs are fine, Pamela.”

“He’s worried about pneumonia, Chris, and I know you’re hoping to enjoy Christmas in your own home so we might as well humor him. Now would you like to go in a wheelchair or a gurney?”

“Wheelchair,” Larabee answered in frustration.

“I’ll be right back,” Pamela told him.

“I’ll be here,” Larabee snapped and knew he was overreacting. The nurse was simply doing her job and it wasn’t her fault if Chris hated being in a hospital while his friends were celebrating Christmas in The Saloon. Sighing heavily he sat forward and slid his legs over the edge of the bed.

“Your chariot awaits, Chris,” Pamela said upon returning.

“Thanks, Pamela, sorry for being such a bear,” Larabee said.

“I understand how you feel, Chris,” Pamela said and helped him into a robe before moving him to the wheelchair and covering his legs with a blanket.

Chris closed his eyes and waited for her to hang the IV antibiotics above his head and opened them when she pushed him from the room. He glanced at the clock and realized he must have slept through dinner as his stomach rumbled.

“You really are a bear, Chris, or at least you’re hungry enough to eat like one. I’ll call down to the kitchen and see if they can send you up a tray,” the nurse offered.

“Thanks, Pamela, guess I missed dinner,” Larabee said.

“Sounds like it,” Pamela said and turned down the hallway that led away from the elevators.

“Thought we were going downstairs,” the blond said.

“We are, but those elevators are being serviced so you get the scenic tour,” Pamela explained.

“As long as there’s no damn snow,” Larabee griped, and frowned when she stopped in front of a door at the end of a long corridor. “Why are we here?”

“I just need to get Dr. Simmons to sign off on a couple of things, Chris. It won’t take long and perhaps there’s something in the fridge you could eat until you get back from X-ray.”

Chris nodded and rubbed at his temples, wincing when his fingers touched against the wound above his right eye. “Damn!”


“What the hell…”

“Hey, Cowboy, come on in,” Tanner said as the nurse pushed the wheelchair toward the table.

“Hello, Chris,” Rain greeted and kissed his cheek. “We figured since you couldn’t come to the party then the party would come to you.”

“Hi, Chris,” Casey said once Rain moved away. She kissed him as well before moving back and Inez pressed a quick kiss against his lips.

“I am so sorry you were injured, Senor, but have no fear I made sure the food is not too spicy.”

“Thanks, Inez,” Larabee said with a smile.

“Chris, I’ll be back in an hour to check on you,” Pamela explained.

“Thanks, Pamela,” the blond said and smiled at the six men who stood beside the table. “Thanks, Boys.”

“Hell, Pard, there’s no way we could have celebrated knowing you’re stuck in here,” Wilmington said and leaned in conspiratorially. “I was going to sneak in a bottle, but I think Nate would have cut my balls off.”

“And then some,” Jackson said and handed Larabee a bottle of Ginger Ale. “Are you feeling up to this, Chris?”

“As opposed to lying in bed and watching George Bailey…hell yes,” Larabee said.

“Good,” Tanner said as Inez, Rain, and Casey opened up the trays of food. “I’m starved…good thing I get yers since yer in the hospital and all.”

“Try it, Tanner, and you’ll have an arm to match that leg,” Larabee warned and smiled as Sanchez placed a plate of food in front of him. The smell was intoxicating and Chris picked up a fry and dipped it in the ketchup before putting it in his mouth and sighing contentedly.

“Chris, just go easy, okay?” Rain said.

“I hear you, Rain,” Larabee said and saw the way she looked at Nathan. There was something in that look, something he’d seen before and he smiled as she sat next to him. “Rain, does he know?”

“Does who know what?” Rain asked softly as the others continued to load their plates.

“You have that special glow…saw it on Sarah when she told me she was pregnant,” Larabee told her.

“He knows…I told him after he asked me to marry him,” Rain explained and felt Jackson’s hand on her shoulder.

“What are you two whispering about?” the medic asked.

“Chris knows our secret,” Goines explained.

“I thought we were going to wait,” Jackson said.

“Not her fault, Nate, I know that look,” Larabee said.

“Okay, what’s going on over there?” Wilmington asked.

“We might as well tell them. Go ahead Nathan?” Rain said with a smile.

“You guys know that movie It’s a Wonderful Life?” Jackson asked.

“You mean that black and white show they play over and over and over?” Dunne asked.

“JD, it’s a great movie. Aunt Nettie and I watch it every year,” Casey said.

“Nathan Jackson lassoed stork,” Rain said simply.

“Oh my God, you’re pregnant!” Casey squealed in delight and hurried to hug her.

“Congratulations, Nathan,” Wilmington said as the others moved close and shook the medic’s hand.

“Guess we might as well make it official, Rain,” Jackson said.

“Make what official?” Dunne asked.

Rain reached inside her jacket and pulled out the box that held the ring Nathan had given her. “Nathan asked me to marry him and I said…”

“She said yes,” Jackson said with a big grin.

“So when’s the big day?” Wilmington asked.

“We were going to get married on New Year’s Eve, but with Chris and Vin injured…”

“Nathan, don’t go there,” Larabee warned. “I’ll be out of here tomorrow and if you and Rain want to get married on New Year’s Eve we have some plans to make.”

“We need to find a place to celebrate the nuptials, but most establishments are booked solid,” Standish said.

“We had thoughts about that too,” Jackson said and felt an elbow in his gut. “What?”

“We’ll find an alternate plan,” Rain said.

“Hold on,” Larabee said and looked at the happy couple. “What did you have in mind?”

“We were going to go for something simple,” Rain said.

“How simple?” Sanchez asked.

“Well, since it is the Christmas season and Mary was happy to give birth to Baby Jesus in a stable we were thinking…”

“You want to get married in a stable?” Wilmington asked.

“We were hoping Chris would allow us to use his barn,” Rain said.

“It’s yours, but are you sure?” Larabee asked.

“We’re sure,” Jackson said. “We figured it’s heated and we could clean it up and maybe have a hay ride around the property instead of a Limo ride, but that was before, Chris, and we don’t expect you to…”

“Nathan, the barn’s yours,” Larabee said with a smile and then looked at the others. “Boys, it looks like we have plans to make.”

“Chris, you need to rest,” Rain warned.

“I can rest while we talk plans,” the blond assured her. “Now, how many guests are we looking at?”

“I don’t know - we never got that far,” Rain answered.

“There’s all of you, Orin and Evie, Miss Nettie, but we need to arrange for blood tests and a marriage license and flowers.”

“Nathan, take a deep breath,” Rain ordered and smiled when Nathan sat down next to her.

“We’re really gonna do this?” Jackson asked.

“Unless you’ve changed your mind.”

“Hell no, just can’t figure out how I got so damn lucky,” the medic told her.

“You just have good taste, Senor,” Recillos told him. “Casey, you and I are in charge of the bridal shower.”

“Inez, you don’t have to…”

“We’ll have it at The Saloon, but because Rain is pregnant we’ll only serve Shirley Temples,” Inez said and smiled as she and Casey discussed the plans for Rain’s shower.

“I’ll need to call Mom and Dad in Toronto,” Rain said as tears flowed from her eyes.

“Rain, what’s wrong?” Jackson asked.

“Get used to it, Nate, it’s called hormones,” Larabee warned with a grin as everyone took their seats around the table. He relaxed as they talked of the coming Christmas celebration and the upcoming nuptials and was disappointed when the evening ended and Buck took control of his wheelchair and returned him to his room.

“Nate’s a lucky man,” Wilmington said.

“He’s not the only one.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Chris.”

“I saw you and Inez tonight, Stud, and I believe she’s finally realizing what a catch you are,” Larabee said seriously as he was helped back into the bed.

“I’m not ready to settle down yet,” Wilmington lied.

“Cut the crap, Buck, I know the signs and you’re flashing every damn one of them. Maybe I should talk to Ez about setting up a betting pool.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Hell, yes, I would,” Larabee said tiredly.

“Chris, the nurse will be right in with your meds and I told her you’d need something for pain,” Jackson said upon joining the two men in the room.

“Thanks, Nathan,” Larabee said and didn’t bother to protest.

“Rain and I…we owe you, Chris.”

“No, you don’t, Nate,” Larabee stated. “Just keep her smiling and hold her when those tears come and you’ll be just fine. Now get out of here and go spend the night wrapped in her arms.”

“Good night, Chris,” Jackson said.

“It is, isn’t it,” Larabee said with a grin as he turned his gaze back on the rogue. “You spending the night with Inez?”

“Would you believe me if I said no?”

“Not a chance,” Larabee said. “Where’s Vin spending the night?”

“Not with me and Inez,” Wilmington vowed. “Josiah’s taking him tonight and if you get out of here tomorrow we’ll all head out to your place for turkey and all the trimmings.”

“Just as long as you’re not cooking,” Larabee said.

“Hell, Chris, what could go wrong?”

“Two words…foul fowl,” the blond quipped.

“I hate it when you’re right. See you in the morning, Chris,” Wilmington said and left the blond alone.

Chris lay back against the pillows and knew he’d overdone things when the nurse came in and tapped his shoulder. He opened his eyes and smiled at the woman as she injected the medication that would ease his discomfort and help him sleep. “Thanks, Pamela.”

“You’re welcome, Chris, would you like me to turn out the light?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Larabee said as she lifted the blankets over him.

“Would you like another blanket?”

“Got any of those warmed ones?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Pamela told him leaving the room and returning with a warmed blanket that she quickly placed over the injured man. “Merry Christmas, Chris.”

“Merry Christmas, Pamela, thanks again for tonight,” Larabee said and sighed as the medication lulled him toward sleep.

M7 M7 M7

Roy Simmons knew there was no point in trying to curtail the injured blond when he’d already admitted that his vital signs were much better. Chris Larabee was a stubborn man, but he wasn’t stupid and sooner or later he would have to give in to his body’s demand for rest. He signed the chart and the discharge papers before filling out a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication.

“So, Doc, am I taking him home this morning?”

“Merry Christmas to you too, Wilmington,” Simmons said.

“Sorry, Doc, Merry Christmas.”

“In answer to your question, yes, I just signed his discharge papers,” the physician said.

“Bet he’s glad.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“You haven’t told him yet?”

“I wanted to check this morning’s test results before I spoke to him. Come on, let’s go see the bear,” Simmons said and made his way toward Larabee’s room. He pushed open the door and stepped inside; surprised to see the patient was still sleeping. “Maybe we should come back later.”

“I’m not sleeping, Simmons, do you have my walking papers ready?” Larabee asked.

“Well, I don’t think they’ll be called walking papers in your case, but yes, you can go home.”

“Buck, get my clothes!”

“Hold on a minute, Larabee, there are some ground rules you need to know.”

“The usual, right? Rest, take the meds, and stay off my feet,” Larabee said.

“Close, but you forgot about seeing me or Stacey in a week. I’ve already made the appointment and Wilmington is going to be held accountable if you don’t show up.”

“Hey, Doc, I didn’t agree to that,” the ladies’ man complained.

“That’s the condition of his release,” Simmons said.

“He’ll do it, Simmons,” Larabee said.

“All right. Now get dressed and get the hell out of here so someone who needs and appreciates fine care and manners…”

“Simmons, you keep lying like that and you’ll find a lump of coal in your stocking,” Larabee said.

“Hell, I’ve always gotten a lump of coal in my stocking and it hasn’t killed me yet,” the physician said. “Chris, go home and enjoy Christmas dinner, but don’t overdo things and for God’s sake don’t go drinking anything harder than coffee and no, not Irish coffee either.”

“He won’t, Doc, I’ll see to that!”

“Traitor,” the blond griped, but he knew the dangers of drinking while taking medications and had learned that lesson a long time ago. “Merry Christmas, Doc.”

“Merry Christmas, Chris,” Simmons said and shook hands with both men. “Tell the boys I said thanks for the bottle.”

“I will,” Larabee said and reached for the clothes Wilmington brought with him. Once Simmons was out of the room, Buck helped him into the loose fitting clothing and put a pair of moccasin style slippers on his feet.

“You ready,” Wilmington asked of the pale-faced man seated on the edge of the bed.

“Hell yes,” Larabee answered as the nurse entered with a wheelchair.

M7 M7 M7

Nathan Jackson opened his eyes and stared at the woman who would soon be his wife. She stood at the window, looking out at the world with eyes bright with wonder and excitement. They’d spent the night talking and planning for their wedding and fallen asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. She turned toward him and he saw the thin trail that could only have been caused by tears. He was at her side and holding her as soft sobs made her body tremble. He held her until the trembling stopped and then waited until she lifted her head and looked at him.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Rain said softly.

“If waking up every morning means looking at you then I’ll happily take you as my personal alarm clock,” Jackson teased, relieved when he saw a smile being born.

“I love you, Nathan,” Rain said as he led her back to the bed.

“I love you too,” Jackson said and waited for her to tell him what was bothering her.

“Can we really pull this together in a week?”

“I think so. Inez is supplying the food. Buck and Josiah are taking care of the liquor. JD and Ezra are handling the flowers…you still want white Roses?”

“I think so…I mean, yes I do, but if they can’t find them…”

“They’ll find them, Honey,” Jackson said.

“Dad and Mom are so happy and they said they’ll be here as soon as they can get a flight out,” Rain explained.

“I’m glad they’re going to be here.”

“Me too. Have you decided who you’re going to ask to be your best man?”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, but it’s hard to choose. What about you?”

“Inez,” Goines said of the woman who’d become not only a friend, but confidant as well. “You know she and Buck are a lot closer than they let on?”

“I know. It’s fun watching the two of them pretend they’re playing hard to get,” Jackson said. “It’d be fun if I asked Buck to be my best man just so they’ll have an excuse to be together.”

“They’ll have no choice, but to dance together too,” Goines said with a grin.

“Then I guess Buck’s the right man for the job,” Jackson said.

“We better get ready and head out to Chris’ place if we’re going to get the turkey in the oven in time for dinner,” Rain said.

“All right, let’s go!” Jackson said and took her hand.



“We need to get dressed first!”

“Hmm, I’d rather not, but since I don’t want anyone else getting jealous of how lucky I am then we better get some clothes on,” Jackson said and hugged her once more before heading to the closet and choosing the clothes he’d wear.

M7 M7 M7

Chris smiled when they reached his ranch and found the others already there. It felt good to be home and he opened his door and eased his leg out before reaching for the cane. He spotted Vin Tanner standing in the doorway and slowly made his way toward him. Once inside the house a silent signal passed between them as they made their way toward Larabee’s living room.

“Welcome home, Chris,” Casey said and passed around a tray of Christmas punch.

“Thanks, Casey,” Larabee said and looked at the Christmas tree. The lights were on and soft music played on the Bose Stereo System. The tree was laden with gifts and everyone’s stockings surrounded the mound of gifts. The smell of turkey permeated the air and Chris was reminded of the Christmas’ he’d had with Sarah and Adam. Sarah loved to have a crowd on the special days, especially at Christmas. She’d start baking the first week of December; the tree would go up on the fifteenth and the music played while Sarah sang along with it.

“You okay, Chris?” Wilmington asked and saw the hint of a smile on Larabee’s face as he glanced around the room.

“I’m fine, Buck, just thinking how much Sarah would have loved this,” the blond offered.

“She did love Christmas and never turned anyone away. Remember that night the young couple showed up at your door? Sarah took them in and made sure they had a good meal before they left.”

“What happened?” Dunne asked

“The guy didn’t know how to change a flat tire,” Larabee answered. “So Christmas Eve with more than a foot of snow on the ground, Buck and I walked nearly a mile and changed his tire while Sarah gave them both a hot meal and a box of her home made cookies.”

“Didn’t the guy go with you?” Casey asked.

“Are you kidding? He would have slowed us down,” Wilmington answered. “We changed the tire and drove the car back to the house. I wonder what happened to them?”

“Hopefully he took lessons on car care,” the blond observed.

“Dinner’s served,” Rain called and smiled as her fiancé wrapped his arms around her and placed his hand on her stomach.

“I love you,” Nathan whispered in her ear.

“Get a room!” Wilmington teased and amended immediately. “I forgot you already had one and that’s why there’s going to be a little Rain or a little Nate running around before we know it.”

“Buck, sit down!” Inez scolded as the others took their places around the table.

“Josiah, would you do the honors?” Larabee asked.

“My pleasure,” Sanchez answered and closed his eyes. “Lord we thank You for the wonderful meal You’ve set before us and for the friends to share it with. Thank you for sending Your son to us and for the joy of a new babe that will soon be born. May the happiness and joy of Christmas continue into the New Year. Amen”

“Amen,” sounded around the table as the friends settled down to enjoy the meal.

M7 M7 M7

Nathan and Rain knew there would never be a better time to ask Inez and Buck to stand with them and followed the couple into the kitchen.

“Nathan, you’re one lucky SOB you know that?” Wilmington asked as he placed the left over turnkey in the fridge.

“I know,” Jackson said. “Rain and I have a favor to ask of you two.”

“Name it,” Wilmington said.

“We would like you both to stand with us on our wedding day,” Rain said.

“Us…me and Inez?” Wilmington asked incredulously.

“Yes, Buck, you and Inez,” Jackson said.

“But what about Josiah?” Buck asked of the man’s long-standing friendship with Sanchez.

“We’re going to ask Josiah to perform the ceremony,” Nathan answered.

“I don’t know what to say,” Wilmington told him.

“Say yes, Buck,” Inez said.

“Yes, Buck…I mean, yes, Nathan, it’d be my pleasure,” Buck assured the happy couple.

“Thank you,” Rain said as Inez hugged her.

“I am so happy for you both, Rain,” Inez said as Josiah and Ezra entered the kitchen.

“Are we interrupting something?” Standish asked.

“Not really, Buck and Inez have agreed to stand with us,” Jackson said and turned to Sanchez. “Josiah, would you do us the honor of marrying us?”

“It would be my pleasure, Brother,” Sanchez told him and shook hands with Jackson before hugging Rain. It wasn’t long before the kitchen was clean and the group returned to the living room where JD and Casey began handing out the gifts.

M7 M7 M7

Chris sat back with his leg elevated and watched as Vin nodded off on the sofa while Buck made coffee in the kitchen. The others had left around seven, but not until they’d cleaned everything up and placed the now opened gifts under the tree. Buck and Vin would be spending the night and no amount of protest would change their minds.

“Looks like Vin’s had it,” Wilmington said and passed Larabee a cup of strong black coffee.

“Thanks,” the blond said and stifled a yawn.


“A little,” Larabee answered.

“Need your meds?”

“I took the antibiotic.”

“What about the pain meds?”

“Don’t need them right now, maybe before I go to bed,” the blond told him as Wilmington sat on the floor beside the recliner. “Thanks, Buck.”

“You already said that,” the rogue said.

“No, no I haven’t. Not really. I don’t mean just for getting me out of the truck, I mean for always being here. It’s hard sometimes…especially around the holidays because you were always a part of them. The early ones before our family got so big,” Larabee told him. “Merry Christmas, Buck.”

“Right back at you, Chris,” Wilmington said, and patted his friend’s good leg before taking the remote and searching through the channels. It wasn’t long before Larabee dozed in the chair and Buck covered him with the black and white afghan Nettie crocheted for him.

Buck leaned against the sofa and thought about the woman who’d captured his friend’s heart and given him such a zest for life. Somehow he knew she’d really been there, in the truck, not in body, but in spirit and she’d kept Chris alive until he and Vin got to him. He glanced at the family portrait hanging above the fireplace and smiled as he whispered. “Thank you, Sarah.”

‘Take care of him, Buck.’

The words were soft, as if spoken on a breeze and Buck smiled as he settled in to watch over both injured men. He thought about Sarah Larabee and how she had become Chris’ angel who showed up whenever he needed her too. A Christmas angel whose love had transcended time and space so that she could be there to help Chris when times got bad.

M7 M7 M7

New Years Eve dawned bright and clear with the sun shining down on the blanket of white that covered the landscape as far as the eye could see. The driveway had been plowed and the path had been cleared to the barn where last minute preparations for the Goines and Jackson wedding were underway.

Chris wanted to help, but right now he’d only be in the way and he silently cursed his injuries before sitting in the chair and watching Buck and Ezra walk toward him. The patio doors were closed, but unlocked as the two men opened the door and stepped inside.

“How does it look?” Larabee asked worriedly.

“Everything’s great, Chris,” Wilmington answered. “Look, I know you want to help, but right now you…”

“I’d get in the way,” Larabee griped. “Maybe I could supervise…”

“I assure you we already have a sufficient number of supervisors,” Ezra said. “Buck, did you call JD about the flowers?”

“He’s on the way, Ez,” Wilmington answered and hurried into the kitchen. Inez and Rain were at Vin’s ranch and would arrive in a horse drawn carriage with Vin as their chauffeur. He looked at Larabee and realized the man was feeling left out and knew they could probably use an extra pair of hands in the barn.

“Good, we need to make sure the flowers survive the trip,” Standish said.

“He should be pulling up outside any minute so why don’t you give him a hand,” Wilmington said and turned to Larabee. “Come on, Chris, I’m sure there’s something you can help us with.”

Larabee reached for his heavy sweater and glared at Buck when the man handed him the cane. “I don’t…”

“Chris, the stitches may have come out yesterday, but the doc said you still need to use the cane!” Wilmington scolded.

“Damn,” the blond softly cursed, but took the item and followed the man outside. The sun was warm and the sound of the birds added to the picturesque beauty of the day. The sky was blue and clear with a soft breeze wafting through the trees. Chris smiled at the thought of the ceremony that would happen in a couple of hours and hoped Nathan and Rain would be as happy as he and Sarah had been.

Chris leaned on the cane as he made his way along the path that had been decorated with holly and mistletoe and entered the barn to find Rafael, Josiah, and several others making last minute preparations for the wedding. Pony had been taken to Vin’s ranch and the stall cleared out. The scent of cinnamon and spice overlaid the normal smell of a barn, and Chris was shocked to see just how much work had been done to prepare for the celebration.

“Looks great, doesn’t it?” Wilmington asked.

“Smells a lot better than it did yesterday too,” Larabee agreed.

“That was Casey’s doing. She called Nettie and learned a few tricks. Nettie said to tell you to do what the docs tell you or she’ll kick your behind when she gets back,” the rogue told him.

“She would too,” the blond said.

“Hey, Chris, how’re you doing?” Rafael asked.

“Better,” Larabee answered and moved to sit in one of the chairs. His leg still ached when he moved around, but at least it was healing. “How much time do we have to get this finished?”

“Two hours,” Wilmington answered.

“Then you’d better get moving!” Larabee ordered and began giving orders that were quickly obeyed.

M7 M7 M7

Nathan stood in the barn, amazed at the transformation and wondered if maybe this was how Mary and Joseph had felt on the day Baby Jesus was born. It was warm inside the barn with clean hay spread around the walls. Holly and mistletoe adorned the walls and ceiling, while large vases overflowed with sprays of white roses and baby’s breath. Incense burned at intervals around the barn, giving off the fragrance of cinnamon and spice that reminded him of his mother’s kitchen when she did her baking for Christmas. They’d invited maybe thirty people and most were family and several close friends and insisted that it was a casual wedding and that anyone wearing a tie would promptly have it cut off at the door.

Rain’s mother sat next to Chris Larabee with a vacant chair on her right for Rain’s father. JD, Casey, and Ezra were seated on the opposite side with a chair saved for Vin Tanner. The Texan would arrive any minute in the horse drawn carriage with Rain, her father, and Inez.

“Where are they?” Jackson asked and glanced at his watch.

“Easy, Nate, they’ll be here. It’s customary for the bride to be late for her wedding. Gives the groom a chance to see what the future holds,” Wilmington teased.

“Buck, you’re not helping,” Larabee scolded from the front row.

“Sure I am…”

“They’re coming,” Rafael said from the door at the front of the barn.

“Oh, God,” Jackson said softly.

“It’s normal to be a little nervous, Nate,” Wilmington teased and turned toward the front as people took their seats.

M7 M7 M7

Rain took a deep breath as Vin drove the carriage onto the driveway leading up to Larabee’s home. Someone had plowed a path wide enough for the carriage to make it to the barn. White ribbons were tied to the doors and the reins of the horse with sprigs of holly and mistletoe attached to the seats.

“Rain, are you sure about this?”

“Yes, Daddy, I love him more than life itself,” Rain answered.

“I hope you’re as happy as your mom and I,” the elderly man told her once Tanner stopped the carriage. His daughter wore a white suit and a matching cape with fur around the sleeves and collar. Inez wore a similar outfit with a blue cape that would match the shirt worn by Buck Wilmington.

“Thank you, Daddy,” Rain said and hugged her father before he helped her and Inez from the carriage.

Vin used his crutches and made his way into the barn and signaled that they were ready. He moved to the front of the barn and sat down next to Ezra Standish. He smiled at the look of rapture on Nathan’s face once Inez entered followed quickly by Rain who held tightly to her father’s arm.

Chris knew the feelings that were coursing through Nathan Jackson as the man waited for his bride. His heart ached with the memories of his own wedding to Sarah and how happy they’d been when the priest had pronounced them man and wife. Buck had been his best man, and had stood by them through the few short years of happiness they had. Rain looked beautiful as her father handed her off to her future husband

“She’s so beautiful.”

“Yes, she is, Mrs. Goines, and I can see where she gets it from,” Larabee said.

“Better watch it, young man, I’m already spoken for,” the woman said as her husband sat next to her.

Chris smiled at the obvious love between the older couple as they watched their daughter take the hand of her future husband. He listened as Josiah performed the ceremony and the happy couple exchanged vows and rings before being pronounced husband and wife. There was no doubt in his mind that they would be happy, and God had already granted them the greatest gift of all.

M7 M7 M7

Once the ceremony was over they moved the party into Larabee’s house where the living room had been set up with two large buffet tables and a head table where Nathan, Rain, Buck, and Inez would be seated. Several people who worked at a catering company Inez often used would serve the food.

Ezra had been asked to be master of ceremonies and raised his glass in a toast to the bride and groom. “Nathan, Rain, may the joy evident on your faces continue through every day of your joined lives.”

They drank to the happy couple and Ezra called on Chris to say Grace.

“Lord, we thank you for the food and for the friends and family to share it with. Amen,” Larabee said and smiled when the others repeated the word. Food was served amidst clanging of spoons on stems of wine glasses bringing cheers from the gathered friends as the newly married couple stood up and kissed.

As the afternoon wore on the tables were moved back and a small dance floor was made. Nathan and Rain took to the floor as ‘You Take My Breath Away’ played on the Bose system. At the appropriate time Rain’s parents and Buck and Inez joined the couple who only had eyes for each other.

“They look happy,” Larabee said and looked at the man seated next to him. Neither he nor Vin would be doing much dancing, but they were content to make sure the right songs were played at the right time.

“It’s time to throw the bouquet, Rain,” her mother said and handed her daughter the simple, yet elegant bouquet of white roses. “All you single ladies in the center please.”

“That means you too, Inez,” Larabee teased of the woman who’d spent most of the afternoon wrapped in Wilmington’s arms.

Inez, Casey, and Ezra’s date were the only trio on the floor when Rain threw the bouquet. Inez was the lucky woman who caught it and turned to smile at Buck before returning to her seat.

“Hey, Buck, maybe she won’t say Nunca if you ask her now,” Tanner teased.

“Now, Vin, you know I’m not ready to tie myself down to one lady…just think of all the ones who have yet to sample my charms.”

“Don’t you mean bullshit, Stud,” Larabee said and watched as Nathan and Rain cut the cake and fed each other a small piece. “I think that’s our signal, boys.”

“Where’d ya put the envelope, Cowboy?” Tanner asked.

“Right here in my pocket,” Larabee answered and stood up, leaning heavily on his cane as he spoke. “Nathan, Rain, the boys and I want to wish you both…I guess that should be the three of you the best and we figured with so much going on you probably didn’t have time to plan for a honeymoon…”

“We’re going back to our house,” Rain answered.

“No, actually you’re not,” Larabee said.

“We’re not?” Jackson asked.

“Well, only long enough to pack a bag each and then head to the airport. Orin sent his best and told me to tell you the agency’s jet is fueled and ready for take off as soon as you’re ready.”

“The jet?” Jackson asked.

“You know, Nathan, the big thing with wings that flies,” Dunne quipped.

“Funny, JD,” Nathan said and turned back to Larabee. “Just where are we supposed to go in the jet?”

“Well, we figured you and Rain might like some fun in the sun so you have reservations at a nice little private resort in Hawaii,” Larabee answered.

“Hawaii,” Jackson whispered and Rain’s face lit up as she turned to her new husband.

“Hawaii,” Rain repeated.

“Chris we can’t…”

“Nathan, there’s no refund with this so you either go or it’s wasted and well just think of seeing Rain in a bikini on the beach…”

“Chris, that’s my daughter you’re talking about.”

“And my wife,” Nathan interrupted his father-in-law.

“Yes, and I’m betting she’s looking forward to being alone with you already, Nate. Now I know you’ve got a lot to do to get ready so I’m guessing Mr. and Mrs. Goines will drive you home,” Larabee said.

“You hear him, Rain, get your husband and let’s get rolling,” Camilla Goines ordered.

“What about work?” Rain asked.

“It’s already been taken care of,” Larabee said. “Get moving and have fun.”

“What about cleaning…”

“Go, Nathan, we’ll take care of this,” Sanchez said.

Nathan and Rain hugged their friends and were soon waving goodbye as rice was tossed at them. Nathan held the papers in his hands and excitedly hugged his wife ad his in laws climbed into the front seat of the car.

M7 M7 M7

Chris looked around the room and sighed as he moved to the recliner. It was nearly midnight and everything had been put back where it belonged and the leftovers were in the fridge. He turned on the television and tuned into the channel that was carrying the countdown to the New Year.

There was a knock on the door and Chris reached for the cane before heading toward the door. He unlocked it and wasn’t all that surprised to find Vin and Buck standing there. “I thought you two went home.”

“We figured you could use a little company,” Wilmington said and entered, brandishing a bottle of Malt Whiskey. “You’re not taking any more medications are you?”

“No, I stopped taking the pain meds after the stitches came out and the antibiotics were finished a couple of days ago,” Larabee answered as the trio moved into the living room. “Looks like you’d better pour that fast, Buck.”

“It’s not Champagne, but what the hell,” Wilmington said and handed Larabee and Tanner a glass as the countdown began.

“Five…four…three…two…one, Happy New Year,” the trio said, clinking glasses before downing the single shot in one gulp.

Chris sat down in the recliner while Vin took a seat on the sofa and Buck refilled their glasses. They sat in silence, each one reflecting on the old year and how it could have ended with Larabee’s death, but instead had ended on a happy note with the marriage of Nathan Jackson and Rain Goines.

“Here’s to another year ended and a new one just begun,” Larabee said and raised his glass. “And to the friends a man can count on.”

“Right back at you, Stud,” Wilmington said, glad he’d taken Inez’s advice and driven back out to the ranch. He settled in with the two men as the clock slowly ticked into the New Year and knew no matter what it brought he could always count on his friends, this band of brothers.

The End