by Winnie

Disclaimer-----Sadly I own no rights to the show or the characters, but I do enjoy playing around with them. No money was made off this story…it is for enjoyment purposes only.

Comments-----This story is written for Kathi and I hope she enjoys it. Thanks to Marti and Antoinette for the great beta job and to Pamela for the wonderful pic to go with this fic.

Chris Larabee had never been so damn tired in his life, yet the kid in the passenger seat was wide awake and yammering excitedly. The last week had been spent at a law enforcement convention for computer personnel and although they weren’t officially part of the Billings Police Department, they did have close ties to several government agencies. Normally it would have been Ezra Standish accompanying JD Dunne, but the southerner was in the midst of a case that had taken several long months to get to the point where the kingpin of the operation trusted him and Vin Tanner.

Josiah, Nathan, and Buck were embroiled in a bitter court case and would remain incommunicado until such time as they testified and the case was over. That left him as the unwilling partner for JD at the convention, but if truth was told he had enjoyed himself more than he cared to admit. Watching the young easterner working with several programmers who had at least twenty years on him had been fun. The programmers had been dealing with a no win situation that had been unsolvable until Dunne had taken a page right out of James T. Kirk’s manual and reprogrammed the simulation so that he could rescue the townspeople and save the world. The programmers had been angered by what they called cheating on Dunne’s part, but the woman in charge of the simulation had told them to ‘put a sock in it’ and gave Dunne an award for artistic merit in rewriting the program.

JD held the award in his hands and had taken great pride in the fact that he’d managed to outmaneuver several other candidates. Chris smiled in spite of the bone weary tiredness that seeped through his bones and made it impossible to think beyond closing his eyes and sleeping for a week. He knew JD had slept through most of today’s drive and sighed heavily before pulling the truck to a stop on the shoulder of the road.

“What’s wrong, Chris?” Dunne asked worriedly. “Nothing, Kid,” Larabee said and opened his door. “It’s time you took the wheel and I grabbed some shut eye.”

“You’re letting me drive your truck?” the Bostonian asked incredulously.

“You do have a license don’t you?”

“Course I do…it’s just you’ve never let me drive before,” Dunne told him.

“Well, I figure anyone who can think like Captain Kirk should be able to handle a truck,” Larabee told him and walked around the truck as Dunne slid into the driver’s seat. Chris could see the surprise on the kid’s face and smiled as he opened the passenger door and climbed inside. He put on his seatbelt and closed the door before crossing his arms and leaning his head against the window. “Just go easy, JD…I heard Buck say you were something of a lead foot.”

“Buck’s full of shit,” Dunne said, relieved when Larabee’s eyes closed. The fact that the blond trusted him enough to allow him to take the wheel made his head spin.

“Wake me in a couple of hours, Kid.”

“Sure, Chris,” the Bostonian said with a grin before pulling out onto the highway again. It felt good to know Larabee trusted him with the truck and he wasn’t going to let him down. He kept within five miles of the speed limit and listened to the station Larabee had tuned in to. He began to hum along, glancing sideways at Larabee as he drove along the narrow stretch of highway that led to Billings. It would take at least another eight hours to reach home, but they’d already decided to drive straight through. Chris dozed off and on, but didn’t speak as JD drove steadily along the highway. He glanced at his watch and noted the younger man had been driving for over an hour and was whistling softly to an Eagles song called Hotel California. It was an old favorite of his and he reached out to turn the volume up slightly before stretching and glancing out the window. The sky had darkened and rain began to fall as JD reached for the bottle of water in the cup holder.

“We’ll need to stop for gas soon,” Dunne said.

“Keep an eye out for service stations,” Larabee told him.

“The last sign said there should be one coming up on our right.”

“Good…maybe we could get coffee and something to eat.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” the Bostonian said with a grin.

“I don’t know who’s worse, Kid…you or Vin,” the blond said. The two youngest members of his team could out eat the other five put together and Ezra had offered to open a betting pool and set up a test. The problem with that was no one wanted to be responsible for the bill once the contest ended. “Turn right here, JD.”

Dunne had seen the sign that proclaimed the town’s name to be Providence as well, and was already turning off the main highway. There were no houses on either side of the dirt road and JD began to wonder if Providence was someone’s sick joke as they rounded a bend and hit a deep rut in the road.

“Go easy, JD, I think maybe someone forgot to maintain the road,” Larabee said, noting the rather large, garish sign proclaiming Providence as the home of Father John. The road narrowed and was barely wide enough for two cars and Chris felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Maybe we should turn around, Chris,” Dunne suggested.

“Need to find a place first, Kid,” Larabee said of the narrow road surrounded by thick strands of trees and brush. They passed several more signs, some showing pictures of young people gathered around a clean-shaven man with a bald head and holding a bible in his hands. “I think there’s a place up ahead,” the Bostonian said. He drove over the low rise and was surprised by the picture perfect town nestled on the banks of a winding river. “Guess maybe it is Providence.”

“Could be,” Larabee said, shaking his head as he noted the signs became more abundant the closer they got to the town. “Good thing Buck’s not with us,” Dunne said when he read the words proclaiming promiscuity and public displays of promiscuous behavior would not be tolerated.

“He’d never survive,” Larabee said with a grin as he thought about the man he’d known most of his life. Buck was gregarious and had a nearly insatiable appetite when it came to sex. Wilmington could charm the ‘sting off a bee’ and that was no idle brag from the other man. “There’s a gas station,” Dunne said, pointing to the lone building at the edge of town. He felt his body jerk as the front tires of the truck struck a deep hole and ground to a halt. “Sonofabitch!”

“Easy, JD, just try backing it up,” Larabee ordered and listened as Dunne tried to get the truck to respond to his touch. “Hang on, let me see how bad it is.”

“All right,” Dunne said, silently berating himself for not paying closer attention to the treacherous road.

“Turn it off, JD,” Larabee ordered with a heavy sigh. “I think we broke an axle.”

“Damn, Chris, I’m sorry,” the Bostonian told him.

“It’s okay, Kid, it’s not like you were trying to hit every pothole,” the blond said with a grin.

“What are we going to do?”

“We check with the gas station and see if there’s a mechanic around,” Larabee said turning when he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle, surprised when he realized it was a police car. He waited for the car to pull alongside and the door opened as a tall man with silvering hair stepped outside.

“Problems, Gentlemen?” the officer asked.

“Busted axle,” Larabee answered and looked around. “Any chance there’s a mechanic at that garage station?”

“Old Burt should be there, but he’s kind of slow so it could take a day or two,” the cop said and reached out his hand. “Name’s Tom Willow and I’m what they call the law around here. Let me get Old Burt and see if his tow truck’s up and running.”


“Just call me Tom, Mr…”

“Chris Larabee and that’s JD Dunne behind the wheel,” Larabee told him.

“Welcome to Providence, Gentlemen, and you picked a mighty fine day to break down. Father John’s giving a sermon in the Town Square. You’ve never heard anyone speak of the Lord the way he does.”

“It’s been a long trip, Tom, and I’d rather just find a hotel and get some sleep,” the blond told him.

“Are you sure…I mean he is a wonderful speaker.”

“I’m sure…could you just point us to a hotel?”

“There’s no hotels in town. Father John believes they are an attraction of evil and prefers that we only have Bed and Breakfast Inns for weary travelers such as yourselves,” Tom told them. “The closest one is run by Sister Mary and is about half a mile down the main street. If you want I can give you a ride there once we take care of your truck.”

“Thanks, Tom, I’d appreciate that,” Larabee said.

“I’ll be right back,” the officer told them as JD joined Larabee.

“Friendly fella,” Dunne observed.

“A bit too friendly,” the blond thought tiredly as he leaned against the truck. He reached into the cab of the truck and took out his cell phone, not that surprised when he found there was no signal. “Check your phone, JD.”

“No signal,” Dunne answered and reached into the back of the truck to retrieve their overnight bags.

“Figures, I’m beginning to think Providence really is someone’s idea of a sick joke,” Larabee said as an old tow truck came toward them.

“You gents need a tow?”

“Sure do,” Dunne answered as a grizzled old man stepped from the cab.

“You fellas really did a job on it. I’m Burt Landry…most folks just call me Old Burt,” the elderly man said and examined the Ford Crew Cab. “Sure looks like you messed up the front axle…could take a few days to get it fixed.”

“Figures,” Larabee said and watched as the cop returned. It didn’t take long to get the Ford hooked up to the tow truck and Old Burt drove it to the gas station. “Tom, where can I find a phone?”

“You won’t find one in Providence. Father John thinks they’re evil,” Tom explained.

“Is there anything Father John doesn’t think is evil?” Larabee asked.

“Plenty,” Tom answered as he motioned for the two men to get into his car. “If you’d come to the Town Square you’d hear all about it.”

“No thanks,” Larabee said as they drove through the town before stopping in front of a well-kept white house surrounded by a white picket fence and a colorful array of sweet smelling flowers.

“Jane is a wonderful lady and she’ll take good care of you,” Tom told them.

“Thanks, Tom,” Larabee said upon exiting the car and grabbing his overnight bag as Dunne grabbed his own.

“You’re welcome, she’ll also show you the way if you change your mind about attending the sermon.”

“Not likely, thanks anyway,” Larabee said and walked toward the open gate. He entered the front yard and walked along the cobblestone pathway toward the house.

“I feel like I stepped back in time,” Dunne offered.

“Me too, Kid,” the blond said as the door opened and an older woman stepped outside to greet them.

“Hello, Gentlemen, can I help you?” she asked, wiping her hands on an apron that was white except for a perfect pink rose at the center. 

“Yes, Ma’am, Tom said you’d have a room for a couple of days,” Larabee told her.

“Well, each room has a single bed so I’m afraid you’d need two rooms.”

“We’ll take them, Mrs…”

“Jane Constantine,” the woman said and shook both their hands as Larabee introduced himself and JD. 


“Please, call me Jane,” the woman said and led them inside. “I have two lovely rooms at the back of the house and I just changed the sheets and blankets so everything is ready for you.”

Chris introduced himself and JD as he stepped inside the first room and again felt as if he’d stepped back in time. A dusty-rose colored wallpaper covered the lower half of the room while the upper half was painted a light gray color. Soft, frilly gray curtains covered in dusty roses fluttered on the wind. The bed was covered in a gray comforter while a tiffany style lamp sat on the night table. A basin and pitcher of water was set on a table in one corner and several towels were next to the basin.

“There is only one bathroom at the end of the hallway, but Father John saw fit to give us an abundance of hot water.”

“I take it Father John is a bit of a preacher?” Dunne said.

“He’s more than a preacher, Son, he’s our savior. You and your friend should come hear him at the Town Square,” the woman told him. “That’s okay, Jane, I’m just going to grab some shut eye and hope the mechanic is able to fix my truck by morning,” Larabee told her.

“I don’t think that’ll happen. Old Burt will be at the sermon with the rest of town,” Jane told them.

“Maybe if we offered him a bonus, Chris?”

“Money is not an object,” Jane told them. “No one misses Father John’s sermon.”

“I am,” Larabee said, smiling as he closed the door and made his way to the bed. He lay down and placed his hands under his head and closed his eyes as he listened to the woman and JD talking just outside the door. The bed was remarkably comfortable and he wanted nothing more than to sleep, but first he wanted a hot shower and maybe a bite to eat. Reluctantly he stood up, walked to the small table and picked up the towels and face cloth. He grabbed his overnight bag and knew there was enough soap and shampoo to last a couple of days. He opened the door to find Jane Constantine closing the door of the room next to his.

“If you change your mind, Mr. Larabee, the Town Square will be well lit…”

“What do you do if it rains?” Larabee asked.

“Then we move inside the main hall, but it never rains on one of Father John’s sermons.”

“I bet he even walks on water,” Larabee mumbled and made his way toward the open door of the bathroom.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” the woman said.

“I just said I’m glad there’s lots of hot water.”

“Oh, yes, because cleanliness is next to Godliness…”

“Indeed it is,” Larabee said and stepped inside. A white claw-foot bathtub was set against one wall while a small shower stall stood next to it. A powder blue mat hung on a towel bar and Chris placed it on the floor before turning on the hot water. He removed his dust-covered clothing, grabbed the musk-scented soap and shampoo and stepped under the water, relaxing as the sharp needle like spray massaged the weariness from his body. He slowly washed his body, removing all traces of sweat and dirt before reluctantly turning off the water and toweling dry.

Chris reached into his bag and took out the last pair of clean blue jeans and a white T-shirt that hugged his body. He knew Buck would say he was tempting the ladies, but that was not what he was going for when he chose this outfit. These were comfort clothing and he pulled on a clean pair of socks before slipping his black Nike runners on and exiting the bathroom. “Hey, Chris, Jane left some ham sandwiches and juice in the kitchen,” Dunne offered as Larabee passed by his open door. “Thanks, Kid, but right now I just feel like sleeping,” the blond told him.

“All right, Chris,” Dunne said and stepped out of his room. “Think I’m just going to have a look around town before I get a shower.”

“Just be careful, JD, watch out for 'fire and brimstone',” Larabee teased.

“Real funny, Chris,” Dunne said.

Chris stepped into his room and closed the door. He knew JD could look after himself and wasn’t worried about the younger man. What kind of trouble could he find in a town that proclaimed no promiscuity? Chris pulled off his shoes and lay back on the bed as church bells echoed through the town.


The sun was just going down as JD made his way toward the sound of church bells ringing. The quicksilver sound had been going on for over an hour and he suddenly realized he’d been following it as he turned onto a street that was lit with candles. He could hear a strong male voice as he entered a large clearing and figured he’d found the Town Square. There were many people present, every one of them wearing a long white robe that covered them from their neck to their feet.

JD walked forward as a chant went up around him and frowned when he spotted the man standing at the front of the gathering. There were over a dozen robed figures seated before him, not one looked to be any older than he was. No one seemed to notice him, but the chanting seemed to get louder as a path opened before him.

“There is a newcomer amongst us…a sinner who has yet to repent for his transgressions…”

Dunne nearly choked as he realized the man was looking directly at him. He tried to speak, but words failed him as the imposing figure lifted his right hand and motioned him forward. He tried to fight the rhythmic chant, but his legs moved forward even as his mind ordered him to turn tail and run.

“Come forward, Young Man, there is still time to save your soul and deliver you to the true path…”

*‘I don’t think so,’*

JD thought, but continued to move toward the raised platform as the chanting intensified.

“Father John will save you…Father John is the true savior…Let him heal your sins and show you the way to true enlightenment….Repent and embrace the true path…repent…”


The words followed him as he reached the stairs leading to the raised stage and he tried to fight the strange, hypnotic mantra that rose on the soft breeze.

“Embrace Father John’s ways…embrace Father John’s ways….Embrace Father John’s ways…”

JD reached the top step and was surrounded by the young people who seemed wholly enamored of the man standing at center stage.

“Come forth and be saved, Young Sinner. I am Father John and I will heal thee.”

“Father John…I don’t…”

“Be quiet and listen to my voice, Young Sinner, for it is your only salvation. Remove the mantle of his sins and drape him in the robe of salvation…you are young and you will serve me well.”

JD felt hands reaching for him and a soft breeze wafted across his skin as his clothing was removed and thrown into a fire that had gone unnoticed during his trek to the platform. He soon felt a soft garment slide down over his body before being forced to kneel in front of the man standing at center stage.

“You have sinned and must be cleansed before you can enter my home,” Father John whispered and cupped the younger man’s chin as a silver chalice was brought forward. He reached for the ceremonial dagger at his right side and made a small cut to the palm of his right hand. A tiny bead, almost a pearl shape formed as he placed his hand in front of the new recruit. He knew Jane Constantine had done her job and the young man had been given the first dose of a drug that would make him easy to ‘recruit'.

“No…” Dunne whispered, but found his mouth opening as the pearl drop of blood was placed in front of his mouth.

“Taste of my divine fire, Young Sinner, and it will help cleanse you.” Father John smiled as the tongue slipped from the open mouth and drank the small offering. A loud chant went up as he raised his hand and showed the others that his hand was healed by Dunne’s acceptance of his blood.

“Father John cleanses our mind and body and takes away all mortal sins…”

JD could hear the voices chanting, but he could no longer make sense of what they were saying. The taste in his mouth was sickly sweet, but he craved more and looked up to find a silver chalice placed in front of his mouth.

“Drink the sanctified blood and feel it cleanse your soul,” Father John said and held the dark head until it tilted enough to drink the offering. He smiled as his followers continued to chant and their bodies swayed to the sound of his voice and the promise of redemption. “You have been chosen to become a true follower of my teachings and will answer only to me. You will do as I say and accept the blood of my body.”

JD tried to fight the hypnotic voice, but whatever he’d been given pulsed through his veins and made him feel like his head would explode. A hand so soft it reminded him of a cloud and he sighed contentedly as he lifted his eyes to meet the sky blue ones of the man who seemed to be seven feet tall cupped his chin.

“Hear my words, John Daniel, and know that you are under my Divine protection and shall remain there as long as you do as I say. You will be taken to my compound for reprogramming and meditation…”

“I can’t…Chris…he’s waiting for me,” Dunne managed, but felt as if his body was dead weight.

“He will not be allowed to interfere…I am your savior and you will abide by my wishes, John Daniel…”

“Name’s JD…”

“Your name is John Daniel and you will not speak unless I allow it,” Father John said and turned to the gathered worshippers. “John Daniel will be taken to the compound and it will be left to you to keep his friend from interfering while he is reprogrammed to believe in all that is true and holy.”

“Yes, Father, John,” the crowd chanted as JD Dunne was lifted and carried from the holy gathering.


Jane Constantine opened the door of her house and listened for any movement from inside, relieved when all she heard was the ticking of the Grandfather clock in the family room. ‘Family,’ she thought and sighed heavily. Since Father John had come to town her family had become believers in everything he said and did.

Jane reached inside and held the silver cross nestled at the top of her breasts. It had been a gift from Father John, one she proudly wore as a symbol of her faith in his words. She knew that every person living in Providence wore the exact same cross and they wore it with the same honor and pride she did, but she knew pride was not the right word because Father John did not believe in pride. He believed in all that was Holy and his followers had grown to include everyone.

“Repent your sins,” she whispered as she passed the closed door where John Daniel’s friend slept. It would be up to her and the other believers to keep him from finding out what had happened to John Daniel. She would remove the youth’s belongings and make sure there was no evidence that he even existed. Burt Landry would do the same with the black truck at his garage. Jane shuddered at the thought of the imposing ‘black’ vehicle and wondered why anyone would choose such an evil color.

The woman stepped into the room she’d assigned to John Daniel and was relieved to see his bag where he’d placed it. There was no sign that he’d unpacked any of his belongings, but she quickly checked the small dresser and closet before carrying the lightweight bag out of the house. She quickly hid it in the shed and knew it would be disposed of before morning. Jane walked back into her house and made her way to her bedroom and prayed Father John would see that she woke before her guest.


JD had no way of knowing how long he was carried before he was placed on his feet and facing a garishly decorated gate that stood well over ten feet tall and was made of iron. He swallowed convulsively as bitter bile rose in his throat and blinked several times in an effort to clear the fog that seemed to have taken up residence inside his skull. He heard voices, but their words didn’t make sense until Father John stood before him.

“Kneel, John Daniel.”

JD stared at the tall man as his knees bent and his head bowed. There was no way he could resist that soft, lilting voice and he felt tears in his eyes as the man placed a finger beneath his chin and lifted his head.

“Look into my eyes and see the truth, John Daniel.”

“I am…I am unworthy…”

“Yes, you are, but through the ritualistic cleansing you will join your brethren in the service of your one true savior.”

“True Savior?” JD repeated and tried to fight the captivating presence.

“Father John is the true savior. We live to serve Father John. All that was ours belongs to him for through him we will find salvation and peace.”

JD shook his head and fought the hypnotic words spoken from the people surrounding him. His head was spinning and his gut churned as he fought to remember what was happening. Where was he? Where was Chris? Chris would know what was going on…he’d know what to do.

“Chris…where’s…where’s Chris?”

“Chris is a sinner, John Daniel, and you must relinquish all ties with sinners. He will try to stop you from believing and chain your soul to hell. I will not allow him to do that to one of my children, John Daniel.”

“Who are…are you?”

“I am Father John. I am your savior…you will follow my teachings and denounce all that is unworthy of my beliefs.”

“No…I don’t…”

“Bring him.”

“Yes, Father John.”

JD felt himself lifted and carried through the gates. He tried to fight, but his arms and legs felt leaden and he could do nothing as the gate closed behind them. There were no lights, but there seemed to be several buildings inside the fenced area and Dunne tried to keep track of where they were taking him. They carried him past several structures until they came to a single building made of stone. The door was opened and he was carried inside and placed on a cold metal table.

“What the hell...let me go!” Dunne cried as his mind cleared. He fought, but his arms and legs were quickly encircled with metal clamps and several straps were fastened across his chest and legs. His head was captured between two large hands as a final strap was fastened across his forehead.

“John Daniel, here you will learn the true path to enlightenment. You will soon denounce the outside world for the peace and serenity of my teachings.”

“No, damn it!” Dunne spat, but his words were cut off as a thick leather strap was fastened across his mouth. He tried to speak, but the gag was tightened until he was forced to breathe through his nose.

“I will return in the morning and perhaps you will be ready to listen and learn what is expected of true followers…of true believers.”

JD struggled with his bindings, but there was no give to them as the lights were extinguished and he was left in darkness. *‘Fire and Brimstone’* he thought of Chris’ words as he struggled to breathe past the fears that surrounded his heart.


Chris sat up on the edge of the bed and yawned tiredly before standing and stretching the kinks from his back. The bed had been amazingly comfortable and once he’d fallen asleep he hadn’t heard a sound. The smell of coffee and bacon made his stomach rumble appreciatively and he realized he’d slept in his clothes.

“Must’ve been tired,” he whispered as a knock sounded on the door.

“Breakfast is ready, Mr. Larabee.”

“I’ll be right there,” the blond said and ran his fingers through his disheveled hair before reminding himself it was past time for a haircut. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and opened the door to find an empty hallway. He walked past JD’s door and noted that it was still closed. ‘Kid must have been out late,’ he thought as he made his way to the bathroom. He washed up and made his way to the kitchen and smiled at the woman standing at the old fashioned wood stove.

“Good morning, Mr. Larabee, I hope you slept well,” Jane said as she placed a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice in front of him.

“Thanks,” Larabee said and drank half the juice as she brought over a tray of bacon and a bowl of scrambled eggs. He helped himself to the food and finished the coffee and juice.

“So what are your plans for today?” Jane asked.

“I figured I’d check with Burt to see how the truck repairs are coming along,” the blond answered and looked over his shoulder. “Guess JD must’ve been tired. Look when he wakes up tell him I’ll be back once I check with the garage.”

“Certainly, Mr. Larabee,” Jane Constantine said and watched the man leave. She knew the drug in the juice would kick in soon and hoped Tom Willow was in position to take care of things.

Chris stepped out into the early morning sunshine and reached for the sunglasses in his pocket. He placed them on and curiously glanced around the residential street. He knew it would take some time to walk to the gas station, but if Old Burt was correct there was no hurry anyway.

Larabee stayed on the sidewalk and noted how every house and yard looked almost exactly the same and shook his head as he noticed an elderly couple seated on a porch swing with a bible between them. He didn’t consider himself a highly religious man, but these people seemed to be taking things way beyond belief. 

He nodded to the people he passed and received exactly the same greeting from each one.

“Father John blesses you.”

God, he was tired of hearing that by the time he reached the gas station and hoped the people had retired inside before he started back to the B and B. He saw his truck parked at the back of the parking lot and hurried toward it just as Burt Landry came around the corner.

“Father John blesses you, Mr. Larabee,” Landry said by way of a greeting.

“I don’t need his blessings unless he knows how to fix my truck,” Larabee stated.

“Well, now that could be a problem, but if Father John wills it I’ll be able to get the parts and get you on your way,” Landry told him, watching as Larabee’s face paled and he grabbed the truck. “Hey, have you been drinking? Father John doesn’t allow drinking in Providence.”

“It’s none of Father John’s business if I’ve been drinking, but it doesn’t matter since the answer is no,” Larabee said, fighting the nauseating feeling that washed over him.

“Sure looks like you’re drunk…I’m going to call Tom and have him come pick you up. Maybe a night or two in the jail will make you abide by Father John’s teachings.”

“I don’t give a damn about Father John!” Larabee snapped, as the world around him seemed to be spinning wildly. “Damn it!”

“That kind of language is frowned upon…”

“What the hell is this!” the blond shouted and staggered away from the truck.

“You just stay where you are until Tom gets here!” Landry warned and grabbed Larabee’s arm. He landed hard on the ground and looked up into fierce green eyes set in a face that shone with anger.

“Don’t touch me again!” Larabee warned and started back down the street. He shaded his eyes and cursed whatever was affecting his mind and body and hoped JD was okay. He heard the sound of bells in the distance and held his head, as the sound seemed to intensify with each step he took.

Chris had no idea how long it went on, but the sun beating down on him caused sweat to run down his cheeks and soaked the shirt until it clung to his back. He glanced up at the bright orb, blinking the sweat from his eyes even as he stumbled and fell to his knees.

“Father John blesses you…Father John blesses you…Father John blesses you…”

“Fuck Father John!” Larabee snarled as the words continued around him. He managed to climb to his feet and was surprised to find he was standing outside the gate of the B and B he was staying at.

“Mr. Larabee, are you all right?” Jane Constantine asked.

“Where’s JD?” Larabee snarled and pushed past her.


“Look, Lady, I don’t know what you people are doing, but I’ve seen the movie Stepford Wives and I’m not playing this game with you,” Larabee spat and grabbed the handle of Dunne’s door. He pushed it open and looked inside, recoiling when he found it empty. “JD, where are you?”

“Mr. Larabee…”

“Get the hell out of my way!”

“Father John…”

“I don’t give a damn about Father John! Where’s JD?”

“I’m afraid I have no idea who you’re talking about!”

“JD…the kid I came in with. Where the hell is he?”

“You came in alone…have you been drinking?”

“Jane, Old Burt says you got troubles.”

“Tom, praise be to Father John for sending you. I believe Mr. Larabee is drunk…”

“Lady I’m not drunk,” Larabee said, cursing as his legs threatened to give out.

“Mr. Larabee, you need to come with me and sleep this off!” the cop ordered.

“Look, I’m looking for JD Dunne…”

“Who?” Willow asked seriously.

“The kid I came in with last night. You dropped us both off here.”

“I dropped you off…only you!”

“I really don’t give a damn for games and right now I just want to get JD and leave this fucking place!”

“Watch your mouth!”

“Look, if you’re not going to help me then stay the fuck out of my way!”

“All right, that’s enough!” Tom Willow said and drew his gun. “Put your hands behind your back…”

“Not a chance!” Larabee snarled and glared at the other man.

“Mr. Larabee, calm down. All I’m asking is for you to allow me to cuff you and bring you down to the station so you can sleep it off. Old Burt says he’ll have your truck fixed by tonight and you’ll be able to leave as long as you don’t drink anything else that against Father John’s…”

“I don’t give a damn about anything Father John has to say. I mean to find JD and walk out of here if I have to!” the blond spat, crying out as something connected with the back of his head and he dropped to his knees.

“Forgive me,” Jane Constantine said and touched the cross at her neck. “Father John frowns upon the use of violence, but I will do my penance as he orders.”

Chris’ arms were pulled behind him and he felt the cuffs locked into place. He struggled, but there didn’t seem to be any strength left in his body as the cop dragged him from the house. There were over a dozen people standing outside the house and Chris tried to block out the words they were chanting.

“Father John blesses you…Father John forgives you…Father John will heal you and show you the path to true salvation…”

“Father John can go to hell!” Larabee spat as the door was slammed and Tom Willow sat behind the wheel of his car. Chris relaxed as the voices were silenced with the closing of the door, but his relief was short lived as Tom Willow loaded a CD into the car stereo and a strong voice played over the speakers.

“Repent and listen to my words, Children, for I will not allow the evil of the outside world to touch us in Providence…”

“Oh give me a break…”

“Be quiet, Mr. Larabee, and listen to the words of our savior,” Willow warned.

Chris laid his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, wondering why he felt as if he’d been on a week long drinking binge and hoping that this was just someone’s sick idea of a bad dream. “Where the hell are you, Kid?”

“Did you say something, Mr. Larabee?”

“Not a fucking thing,” Larabee said and stared out at the homes as they passed. It suddenly dawned on him that there didn’t seem to be anyone below the age of thirty, a fact that chilled him to the bone. “Where are the children?”

“They are studying the word of Father John as it has been ordained,” Willow answered and glanced at the man in the rearview mirror. Larabee’s face was dark with anger and his eyes flashed before looking out the window once more.

“JD,” Larabee whispered and knew wherever this Father John was, JD Dunne was with him. The kid seemed to be just the right age to attract the self-proclaimed savior’s attention, but the man would soon find out that he’d chosen the wrong people to screw with. He closed his eyes as they turned down another tree lined street and he saw nothing, but more of the same.

“Here we are, Mr. Larabee, now don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be on your way in no time,” Willow warned and climbed out of the car. He pulled the back door open and stood away from the car as his prisoner exited and leaned drunkenly against the car. He knew the drug Father John had supplied Jane Constantine with would make the man feel as if he was punch drunk, but he was smart enough not to take any chances.

“You won’t get away with this,” Larabee vowed, his voice cold with anger.

“There is nothing to get away with, Mr. Larabee. You’ve simply had too much to drink and Father John has deemed it necessary to let you sleep it off before letting you be on your way,” Willow explained. “Only true believers are allowed to stay in Providence.”

“Then help me find JD and we’ll leave you and Father John to each other,” the blond yelled. “I have no idea who this JD person is,” the cop told him and motioned him toward the open door of the police station.

Chris knew he had no choice, but to obey because right now his body was not reacting the way it should. He felt cold and weak as he stumbled toward the door. He entered a well-kept office with a single desk against the back wall. A door stood to the right of the desk and Chris watched through blurred vision as Willow opened the door.

“Inside, Larabee, Father John has provided a soft bed for you to sober up on,” Willow explained. Chris had little choice, but to obey as his eyes refused to focus and the room seemed to twist in ways that made his head spin. There was no doubt in his mind that someone had slipped him something and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Jane Constantine.

Chris lay back on the bed and closed his eyes as he thought about the trouble they were in. JD was missing, he had no idea how long, but the fact that this man refused to acknowledge the Bostonian’s existence told him he’d get no help from the people of Providence. He heard the cop leave and rubbed at his temples in an effort to clear his mind, but sleep reached out for him and he lost consciousness.


JD had no sense of time as he opened his eyes and stared up into a bright white light that threatened to blind him. He swallowed painfully and tried to loosen the strap across his mouth, but nothing seemed to work. His arms and legs were numb, and his head ached, but he could do nothing to stop the discomfort as the sound of footsteps reached him.

“Father John sends his blessings…”

“Let me go!” Dunne snarled once the tiny hands removed the strap from his mouth.

“Father John wishes to speak with you…it is an honor and a blessing to be chosen as a devout follower.”

“Where’s Chris?” JD spat.

“Blessings, John Daniel, it is time to learn what is true and holy in this world.”

“Who are you people?”

“I am Father John and these are my followers. They know that true salvation rests in my hands and that God speaks to me and sends me those he believes are worthy of salvation.”

“Yeah right…and I’m Santa Claus so where’s the Easter Bunny?” Dunne snapped.

“Do not mock me, John Daniel,” Father John said and nodded to someone JD couldn’t see. “It is time to rid your mind and body of the sins of this world.”

“What the hell is that?” Dunne asked when someone handed Father John a syringe filled with a clear liquid.

“It is something that will help you relax and allow you to truly listen to my words and know that I speak the gospel truth. I will show you that everything you have been told up to this point is a lie. You will repent and be forgiven your sins…”

“I don’t need your forgiveness…”

“Father John is your savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings for they are the one true calling…”

“Don’t…no…” Dunne said as someone tapped at his exposed arm. He felt the tip of the needle enter his arm and swallowed several times as the helplessness of the situation made him angry. “Let me go, damn you!”

“Father John is the savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings for they are the one true calling…”

JD felt as if his head was swimming as the man known as Father John injected the unknown drug into his arm. He knew he was in trouble when his heart began to beat faster and it felt like blood was rushing to his head.

“Father John is the savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings for they are the one true calling…”

The words got louder as new bodies joined Father John around his bed. They leaned in over him constantly chanting the same words, their lips moving in perfect synchronicity and JD screamed as something touched against his groin.

“Father John is the savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings for they are the one true calling…”

JD didn’t know how long it went on or when things had changed for him, but the words were in his mind and his mouth began to move forming the words that continued to grow louder. “Father John is the savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings…”

“Yes, my son, repent…deny the devil and his sins and embrace my teachings,” Father John said and watched as Dunne’s glazed eyes began to close. He knew this was only the beginning and that it would take several days to reprogram the young man, but he had the time and the patience to do what was needed. He looked at the others, dressed in white robes tied with a sash at the waist and thought about the wealth they’d brought him. The money was divided into several overseas accounts and would be there when he was ready to leave this behind him.

“Father John is the savior…Father John will show you the way…repent and embrace his teachings for they are the one true calling…”

“Yes, My Children, embrace the new order and live in the glory of my teachings and you will bask in the warmth of Divine Love,” Father John said and reached for a dagger on the red velvet cushion held out to him by a young female follower. “We must spill the blood so that John Daniel’s sins will be cleansed from his body.”

“Cleanse our sins, Father John; cleanse our souls so that we will bask in your light…” 

JD Dunne screamed as something sharp was pressed against his right side. His eyes shot open as blood flowed freely from the wound. He tried to turn his head, but it was held in place, and he gasped as the sharp-toothed blade sawed into his flesh.

“This is the cleansing rite, John Daniel, it must be carried out if you are to truly be cleansed of your sins,” Father John said as the others continued with the new chant. “Cleanse our sins, Father John; cleanse our souls so that we will bask in your light…” 


“Do not speak of God now, John Daniel, for you are full of the darkness and possessed of the devil’s cravings,” Father John told him and continued to press the blade deeper as blood pooled on the table. He knew exactly what he was doing and thought of the medical degree hanging on the wall of his office in LA. It must be covered in layers of dust by now and his wife had to be cursing him for taking everything and leaving her with nothing but the bills. Oh, he’d loved her at one time, but he enjoyed his freedom even more and had emptied what little savings they had before faking his own death and taking off. How he’d wound up in Providence he didn’t know, but it hadn’t taken him long to learn how to use his charismatic charm to make the young people look up to him and give him anything he wanted. “Pl…please…stop…”

“You are a sinner, John Daniel…say it…”

“No…please…I’m not…”

“Sinners go to hell and feed the spawn of Satan…repent and allow Father John’s teaching to warm you…”

“Let me go!” Dunne screamed, his body arching in spite of the restraints as Father John put more pressure on the dagger.

“Be still, My Son, for you will soon feel the warm rush of love flowing through your body along with your blood,” Father John whispered.

JD found the tone hauntingly comforting and frowned when something was placed at his lips and he drank the sickly sweet liquid as if he’d been without water for days on end. “This is my blood, John Daniel, and the fire burning through your veins is a sign that it is cleansing your sins…”

“Father John blesses you…”

“Father John blesses…you…” Dunne repeated weakly as darkness surrounded him and the voices continued to chant.

Father John moved away from the ‘bed’ and looked at one of his helpers, a man he’d known for years and who had gladly followed him on his new calling. “Don’t let him sleep long…keep him confused and make sure you don’t overdose him with the drug.”

“I know what I’m doing, Jean Claud…”

“I told you not to call me that…it confuses my children,” Father John warned.

“Sorry, Father John,” Tyler Grodin said. He was well paid for this job, but there were times when he hated what he was doing.

“Keep him confused…”

“What if he asks about his friend?”

“Tell him he came here alone…but don’t let him focus on that,” Father John said as he watched his followers chanting over the semi-conscious JD Dunn.

“What made you decide to take him?” Grodin asked.

“He is young and unknown to anyone in Providence. I believe he will be a true test of my skills…if I can reprogram him then I can use this to program anyone I want to…”

“Including those in high places?” Grodin asked.

“Of course,” Father John explained. “His friend is in jail?”

“As per your instructions.”

“Good, see that he’s kept there until I am ready for the final stage,” Father John said before hurrying away. He knew Grodin would see that his orders were carried out, but for now his presence was not needed and there was a young woman waiting for him in his quarters.


Chris licked at dry lips, coughed and turned on his side before sitting up. He didn’t remember drinking, but he sure as hell felt like he had a hell of a hangover. Sunlight streamed in through the window, making his head hurt, but he fought the urge to lay back down and sleep. There was something he needed to do, someone he needed to find and Chris frowned when he realized he was in a jail cell.

“What the hell!” Larabee spat as he stood up and walked to the door. “Hey, what the hell is this?”

“Mr. Larabee, you were warned that Father John…”

“Sonofabitch…where the hell is JD?”

“There is no JD, Mr. Larabee…”

“Like hell there isn’t! Open this damn door!”

“Father John wants you detained until he is ready for you.”

“I don’t give a fuck what Father John wants. Give me the fucking phone and…”

“You were warned about that kind of language…”

“Tom, is there a problem?”

“Yes, Father John,” Tom Willow explained as the ‘holy man’ entered the room. “Mr. Larabee seems to enjoy using words that you have forbidden…”

“I don’t know who the hell you are or what you’re up to, but you won’t get away with it!” Larabee snarled.

“Mr. Larabee, I am Father John and the town of Providence has seen the light. The people here understand what sins are and have chosen to stay in the light…”

“I don’t give a damn what the people here do, but I will tell you this…JD Dunne came here with me…”

“Who is JD Dunne? I thought you said Mr. Larabee was alone, Tom.”

“He was, Father John, but he was also drinking…”

“I see…drinking is prohibited in Providence, Mr. Larabee…”

“I wasn’t drinking…”

“You were staggering and it sure smelled like the devil’s juice on your breath,” Willow spat..

“How did you get here, Mr. Larabee?”

“I drove here…with JD Dunne,” the irate blond answered.

“I think he’s still drunk,” the cop said.

“How long has he been in here, Tom?” Father John asked.

“Since this morning…he was at the garage and Old Burt called me to say he thought he was drunk. I caught up with him at Jane Constantine’s house and he was acting like he’d been on a real bender,” Tom explained.

“Jane Constantine has a lot to answer for,” Larabee snarled.

“Jane answers to me, Mr. Larabee, not to outsiders who bring only the devil’s temptations,” Father John warned softly. “Why was he at the garage?”

“His truck broke down and Old Burt was going to take a look at it.”

“Can he fix it?”

“He’s working on it, but it could be a few days before he gets it running,” Willow answered.

“See that Mr. Larabee is treated well during his stay, but I do not want him influencing my people, so keep him locked…”

“You have no right…”

“I have every right, Mr. Larabee, this town believes in the power of good and does not need your kind ruining what we have strived to achieve,” Father John said and turned to leave.

“I don’t give a damn about your town, John…”

“Father John!” Willow declared.

“I do care about JD Dunne and I know he’s here. I don’t have a clue why you’re keeping him from me, but I will find him and when I do I’ll come after you and show you what hell is!” Larabee warned.

“Keep him locked up and away from my followers,” Father John ordered.

“Open the fucking door!” the blond snarled, but the man had already escaped through the door. “Father John is a forgiving man, Mr. Larabee, but you might want to pray for his help in absolving you of your sins…”

“That’s what God is for, not some pompous ass…” Chris cursed when Tom brought his nightstick down across his knuckles. “Sonofabitch!”

“I’ll bring you your meals, but other than that you’ll be on your own. I don’t need, nor will I listen to that language.”

“You people can’t…” Larabee grew quiet as the cop left and closed the door behind him. Chris grabbed at the bars and cursed in frustration when he was met by nothing but silence.  

He looked at his injured hand, working his fingers until he was sure nothing was broken.

Chris Larabee had never been a patient man, and his anger intensified at the hopelessness of the situation he found himself in. JD was missing, he was locked in jail, and there was a self-proclaimed savior who seemed to have the town wrapped around his finger. Then there was the mystery of the missing young people and the town people’s indifference to it.

Chris moved to the cot and sat down wondering how long it would be before the rest of the team decided to search for him and JD. They’d left the conference early and weren’t due back for another two days, but if he knew his team they would be calling him for something, anything, just to make sure things were running smoothly. 

“All right, Vin, let’s hope that weird science thing you and I have going doesn’t fail me now,” Larabee whispered, rubbing at his temples as the headache returned with a vengeance.


Buck paced the confines of the small living room and silently cursed the case they were supposed to testify in. The judge was a stickler for details and wanted them kept away from the media and anything that could influence their testimonies. Nathan and Josiah were also being kept apart, leaving them with only a few books and several used DVD movies to watch.

Buck had quickly gotten bored with the same old movies and sleep was something he never did in a strange bed…unless he was well sated and had a warm body curled up against him. There was no indication that anything was moving with the case and Buck had a feeling he could be stuck here until he was old and gray.

The only good thing about this stay was the food. He could order anything he wanted and so far he hadn’t been disappointed in his choice. The steak he’d had for dinner was seared to perfection and served with baked potato and corn on the cob slathered in butter. He could hear Nathan complaining about clogging his arteries, but Buck had never been a man to worry about stuff like that when there was the real threat of a bullet out there with his name on it.

Wilmington thought about Chris Larabee and JD Dunne and wondered if the blond had used duct tape to keep the enthusiastic Bostonian quiet for a while. He knew the youngest member of the team had a tendency to tell jokes that made them all cringe, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t earned their respect. Dunne was one hell of a genius where computers were concerned and with Ezra Standish as his partner there wasn’t a computer around that they couldn’t get into. 

Buck moved to the sofa and lay down as he flicked on the TV and began watching the remake of King Kong. He closed his eyes and tried to forget where he was and that he was a virtual prisoner and silently wished he could change places with Chris Larabee or JD Dunne.


“Do you remember what you have to do, Vin?” Ezra Standish asked of the man who looked out of place in the Armani suit, yet it looked perfectly tailored for his lean body. 

“Hate these damn monkey suits!” Tanner said and tried to adjust the tie.

“These monkey suits are worth more money than you make in a month,” Standish said.

“What gives ya that idea?” Tanner asked with a grin.

“Come now, Vin, we both know Travis is generous, but he’s not that generous.”

“Maybe not ta you, but he likes me,” the Texan teased before growing serious once more. “What time do we meet with Nicholson?”

“He’s expecting us at eight tonight at his home. Once he confirms that you and I are indeed who we claim to be then the next step is arranging for the transfer of funds into his account and absconding with the weapons before Nicholson realizes he’s been duped.”

“He ain’t gonna be happy…”

“Since when has that stopped us?” Standish asked and adjusted his partner’s tie. “As Mothah would say, ‘appearances are everything’.”

“Yer mother says a lot of things that don’t make a lick of sense,” Tanner said as they exited the house and made their way to the rented silver BMW. “My turn ta drive, Ez.”

“Bite your tongue, Vin…”

“Hey, you’re supposed ta be the big buyer…makes me the chauffeur…fancy dress code we got,” Tanner said and climbed into the driver’s seat.

“You get one scratch on this car and it comes out of your salary.”

“Long’s it ain’t comin’ out of my hide,” the Texan said and happily slid the keys into the ignition. “I doubt that would come close to compensation,” Standish blustered and made sure his seat belt was fastened as the Texan literally put the pedal to the medal. 


JD had lost track of how many times a needle was pushed into his arm, but each time he opened his eyes a man dressed in a white robe with soft blue eyes spoke to him. The words were spoken in the same tone while around him there were others who chanted softly, promising peace and joy should he simply embrace Father John’s promise of a holy life filled with warmth and love.

“Father John is the one true savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“Father John will show us the way,” Dunne whispered softly, frowning when he realized the words had come from him.

“Hello, John Daniel, how do you feel?”

“Father John is my savior…”

“That is correct, John Daniel, I am your savior and I will keep you safe from the evil that surrounds us and tries to draw us into its evil.”

“Father John is the one true savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“Show me the way…Please, Father John…show me the way…”

“I will, John Daniel, but first you must denounce everything you were taught by Satan’s followers for they will try to take you back. Will you go with them, John Daniel?”

“I don’t know…please…please no more,” Dunne whimpered as a needle was jabbed into his arm and his body shook convulsively.

“Father John is the one true Savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“You must stop fighting me, John Daniel…”

“Please it hurts…”

“Father John is the one true Savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“I can make the pain stop, John Daniel, but not until you surrender yourself to me and join us…”

“Where…where’s Chris…he’ll help me…”

“Father John is the one true Savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“Chris is one of Satan’s demons, John Daniel. He will try to make you follow him into hell! You do not want that do you, John Daniel?”

“No…Chris wouldn’t…Chris is…”

“Chris is not who you believe he is, John Daniel…until you admit that the pain will continue. Embrace my teachings and come into the light of salvation…”

“Father John is the one true Savior…Father John will show us the way…”

“No!” Dunne shook his head as the chanting grew louder and faces floated above him. He was cold, so damn cold and every breath he took felt like ice water in his lungs. Father John moved away from the bed and looked at his watch. Things were going according to plan, but JD Dunne was proving stronger than he thought possible. The drugs in his system would continue to cause him pain and bring some frightening hallucinations, but they would also keep him from thinking clearly until the time was right. He thought about the man in the jail and realized he would be JD Dunne’s test. It would all come to a chilling conclusion if he could program the young man into killing Chris Larabee.

“Tyler, see that he is kept disoriented.”

“Yes, Jean…Father John,” Grodin corrected quickly.

“We may need to get rid of the truck and eventually I want Chris Larabee brought here and all traces of his and John Daniel’s presence erased,” the older man explained, smiling as two young men walked past him. “Bright blessings, My Children.”

“Bright Blessings, Father John,” they said as one, eyes glassy as if under the influence of heavy drugs. “We don’t even know who they are,” Grodin said.

“It does not matter…John Daniel will be my final test. If this works then there are people who will pay for my services,” Father John told him.

“What about these people?”

“What about them?” Father John asked. “They are but a means to an end…nothing else. Oh, believe me I am very pleased with the gifts they have given me, but the money is the only thing that means anything to me. We should have everything we need to prove the success of our project within a couple of weeks and then we will leave.”

“Do we just leave these people here?”

“No, I’m afraid a lot of people will die by ritualistic suicide,” Father John told him before leaving the room.


Nathan knew he was getting nowhere as he read the page for the fifth time and still had no idea what was written there. He closed his eyes and thought about Rain Goines and wished he was wrapped in her loving arms. That would not happen until he testified at the trial, and from the way things were going that could be days or worse, weeks.

Nathan stood up and walked toward the door leading out onto the balcony overlooking the city and breathed deeply of the cool night air. The lights were slowly going off as people retired for the night, but for him, sleep was a fleeting thing whenever he stayed in a strange room.

Jackson thought about the case and the grueling days leading up to the arrest of a monster in the form of a man. The man had murdered several girls from the local college and although their testimony would put the man away, he had friends who wanted him to be cleared of the charges.

Jackson knew the case was clear cut, but the judge had wanted them secure and unable to speak with anyone about what they knew and how they’d gathered the evidence. There’d also been several threats against, his, Buck, and Josiah’s lives and that meant being incommunicado until further notice.

Nathan wondered how things were going in the case that Vin and Ezra were working on. The last time he’d spoken with them they were getting ready to meet with Nicholson for the first time. That was nearly two weeks ago and since then he’d been in solitary confinement, although this place was a lot more comfortable than the prison’s solitary confinement. That was where the murderer was sitting while waiting his time in court.

With a reluctant sigh, Nathan made his way back inside and lay down on the bed. He let his mind drift and hoped sleep would come because otherwise it was going to be a long frustrating night.


Josiah reached for the dog-eared Bible he’d brought with him and opened it to his favorite scripture. He’d made several notations on small pieces of papers and each one marked a special place in the Book once owned by his father. The patriarch of his family had been a bible-toting missionary in South Africa and Josiah remembered accompanying him on several missions of mercy as a young man of 16.

His father had a strong voice that carried the threat of ‘Fire and Brimstone’ to new heights and Josiah remembered seeing many a frightened face at the meetings held in an open field. There’d been many people there, most of them not understanding a word his father said, yet there was very real fear in their eyes when the talk turned to ‘Satan’ and ‘Hell’.

Josiah thought about the ways his life had changed since his father’s death. It had hurt, but not as badly as he thought it would because by then their relationship had deteriorated so badly they weren’t on speaking terms. He loved his father, but what the man had done to Hannah had been the last straw and had opened a chasm so deep it was impossible to cross. Hannah would never be the same and it was getting harder and harder to see her at the convent.

Josiah thought about the choice he’d made and whether it would have been better to lock her in a sanitarium, but the convent had offered a chance for her to have some freedom and be allowed to walk in gardens filled with flowers and even help plant and seed the gardens surrounding the ornate stone building. The last time he’d visited with her she’d actually smiled at him, but he knew she didn’t really know who he was or why he’d come to see her.

Josiah sighed and thought about the men he worked with and how they’d become a surrogate family to him. A band of seven brothers, so different, yet so alike that they fought for justice side by side and showed a united front that could be bent, but never broken. Chris Larabee had chosen his team well, and together they’d solved cases that had perplexed the law for many years.

Josiah thought about the man they were testifying against. There was no way Adam Rider would go free, not if his, Buck, and Nathan’s testimonies were allowed. The man deserved the death penalty, and although Josiah knew only God could forgive the man’s actions, he silently said a prayer for those who’d suffered from Rider’s murder spree.

Josiah closed the Bible and wondered how Chris Larabee was handling himself with JD Dunne as his only companion. The Firm’s leader had been pressed into attending a computer ‘geek’ conference with the youngest member of the team. Although Chris was not well known for tact and diplomacy or patience, he’d always managed to make an exception where his team was concerned.

Sanchez reached for the empty cup of coffee and glanced at the clock over the television. It was too early to go to bed, but there was very little else to do so he grabbed the deck of cards Ezra had given him and shuffled them.

“The name of the game is…solitaire,” he whispered.


Vin pulled the BMW to a stop in a parking spot next to a dark blue Jaguar and exited the car with a heavy sigh as he glanced at the other vehicles. Each one was an expensive piece of hardware that was way out of his price range and he leaned against Ezra’s BMW as he straightened his tie.

“Are you ready, Vin?”

“No, but let’s get this over with,” Tanner said and walked alongside the Southerner until they reached the door of the upscale mansion located on the west side of Billings. He reached out and pressed the doorbell, not surprised when an older man dressed in a monkey suit similar to the one he wore answered it.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

“Mr. Nicholson is expecting us,” Standish said.

“Your names?”

“My name is Peter Germaine and this is my associate Alex Purcell,” Standish answered.

“Please come in…Mr. Nicholson and his associates are waiting for you…this way,” Giles Brodie explained.

Vin looked around as they made their way through the open foyer and quickly made their way along a hallway, bypassing several rooms furnished with expensive antiques. There were pictures on the wall and Vin smiled at the way Ezra seemed to be awestruck by the paintings that were unfamiliar to him.

Giles Brodie knocked on the door and pushed it open when his employer bade him to enter. “Mr. Germaine and Mr. Purcell have arrived.”

“Show them in, Giles,” Donald Nicholson ordered as he handed a second man a glass of Scotch.

“I must say I admire your taste in artwork, Mr. Nicholson,” Standish said upon shaking hands with the man.

“Thank you, Mr. Germaine…that seems so formal…would it be all right if we were on a first name basis? After all we have a lot of business to discuss,” Nicholson said.

“Of course, Donald,” Standish said.

“Very well, I’d like you to meet a couple of my associates. This is Carl and Joan Oberon and they are here to help facilitate our arrangements,” Nicholson explained and waited until they shook hands before motioning the newcomers to vacant chairs. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Whatever you’re having is fine, but my associate would prefer a Heineken,” Standish told him and knew Vin was fighting to keep from blurting out what he really wanted.

“Is your friend always so talkative,” Joan Oberon asked.

“He can be when he’s got something to say, but mostly he allows me to handle our business dealings,” Standish answered.

“Yes, well Donald tells us you’re interested in making a substantial purchase,” Carl Oberon said.

“I am hoping you can supply what I desire,” the Southerner said.

“Weapons and explosive are our specialty,” Joan told him.

“Donald assured me you only deal in the best,” Standish said.

“He speaks the truth…exactly how much money are you willing to spend?” Carl asked.

“It depends on what you have to offer,” Ezra answered.

“Barrett REC7- M468 -Assault Rifle for starters,” Joan said and motioned toward the crate on a table in the corner.

“Could my associate take a look?” Standish asked.

“Certainly,” Joan answered and moved to open the sealed crate.

“Alex has forgotten more about weapons than I’ll ever know,” Ezra explained as the crate was opened and the Texan reached in to take one. He watched Vin’s face for any sign that would tell him what he wanted to know, but Tanner’s face was unreadable as he checked out the rifle.

“I’m sure he will be pleased with these weapons,” Nicholson said as he refilled the empty glasses before returning to his seat. He watched as Oberon and Purcell examined the weapons before Joan closed and locked the crate once more.

“Alex, how do they look?” Standish asked.

“Top of the line,” Tanner answered simply and drank from the bottle of Heineken.

“Excellent, how many can you deliver?” Standish asked.

“How many do you want?” Nicholson asked.

“As many as you can get me. I have several clients who are willing to pay top dollar for merchandise of this caliber,” the Southerner explained.

“No pun intended I’m sure,” Joan offered with a grin.

“We can deliver fifty by tomorrow night…probably a hundred more by the end of the week,” Carl offered.

“I guess that leaves us with only one pressing matter,” Standish said.

“What would that be?” Nicholson asked with a grin.

“The price…”

“The usual…your soul,” Joan Oberon offered.

“I’m afraid my soul was lost a long time ago, but if that’s what you want then it is yours for the rifles and any future products you can get your hands on,” Standish assured her.

“I’ll take it, but I’m afraid my clients would not be satisfied with just your soul…they have affixed a certain monetary value to the rifles,” Joan explained.

Vin sat back and listened as Ezra haggled with Nicholson and his associates about the price of the stolen weaponry. It was something he had little interest in and he wondered whether Chris and JD would make it back to town before the final phase of this deal went down. He trusted Ezra, but right now there was just the two of them because Buck, Nathan, and Josiah were all out of commission until the trial was over.

Ezra knew Vin was listening to everything that was being said, but he also understood the Texan was worried that they were on their own this time. With the others out of commission, it was a dangerous undertaking to go after this organization, but they couldn’t wait for backup if they wanted to bring Nicholson and the Oberons down. With a silent prayer that nothing would go wrong, Ezra smiled and joined in the conversation while Vin simply watched them and kept silent unless specifically asked a question.


Chris looked at the food disinterestedly and stood up. He had no way of knowing how much time had passed since he and JD had arrived in Providence, but he figured it had to be at least two, possibly three days. During that time someone had managed to take his watch, wallet, and anything else that could identify him as Chris Larabee. The only ones he’d spoken to since being thrown in this cell were Father John and Tom Willow.

Father John had only been in once and Chris remembered the man denying the existence of JD Dunne. That angered him, because with the passing of time something was happening to the youngest member of his team and he had no way of knowing what that was. They’d denied ever having seen JD and refused to allow him access to a phone and no amount of cursing or anger could get them to change their minds.

Time had no meaning for him, except that he woke periodically to stabbing pain in his head and a bitter dryness in his throat. It hadn’t taken long for him to realize either the food or water or possibly both were being drugged and the last few meals had gone untouched. Chris longed for a shot of whiskey or an ice cold beer, but that too would be drugged and he had to keep his wits about him.

“Is there a problem with the food, Mr. Larabee?” Willow asked, keeping a safe distance from the cell as the blond turned toward him.

“Not with the food…”

“Then why don’t you eat? You must be hungry by now?”

“The problem is whatever you’re using to flavor it…seems to have quite the kick to it,” the blond snapped.

“It’s just a local spice…”

“I bet…and I’m betting it’s only for special guests.”

“Would you like some water?”

“Only if it’s bottled and unopened,” Larabee answered.

“I’m sorry, but Father John does not allow anything that’s been manufactured…”

“Father John’s an idiot and you people are stupid to let him tell you what you can and can’t do!”

“I am sorry you feel that way…slide the tray through the slot, Mr. Larabee.”

“Come and get it…”

“Move away from the door,” Willow ordered and turned as a second man entered.

“Problems, Tom?”

“Not at all, Joseph,” Willow said and motioned with his gun. “Mr. Larabee isn’t hungry, but he’s being stubborn about sliding his tray out.”

“Move back from the door, Mr. Larabee,” Joseph Boudreau ordered.

“Go to hell!” the blond snapped.

“Father John has assured us of our place in Heaven while sinners like you burn in hell!” Boudreau vowed.

“Father John is Satan…”

“Watch what you say, Mr. Larabee, or you’ll find yourself exposed to hell!”

“Easy, Joseph, just leave him alone and he can keep the tray until he decides to eat it. In this heat it won’t take long for it to go bad,” Willow said and turned away form the cell.

Chris could only watch the two men, but he grabbed the tray and threw it against the bars, spilling food and coffee across the floor. He saw Willow turn toward him and couldn’t help, but smile at the anger in the man’s face.

“You’ll clean that up, Larabee,” Willow warned, angered when the prisoner went back to the cot and lay back with a smug look on his face. “I said clean it up!”

“Leave him alone, Tom, Father John doesn’t want anything happening to him until the time is right,” Joseph warned and led the other man away from the cell.

Chris tried to make sense out of what he had heard, but there was nothing that made any sense in this town. He closed his eyes and hoped the other members of The Firm would be searching for him and JD.


“John Daniel…”

“Please, no m…more,” JD cried as horrific images plagued him. He had no idea where he was or who these people were, but he knew he was in pain and only one man could ease that. Only one man could save him from his sins. “Please…I need t…to see h…him…”

“See who, John Daniel?”

JD cried out as the face swam before him, swimming in a sea of crimson red that smelled of blood and caused his stomach to churn. He knew this man…this creature had a name, and when it appeared to him, JD felt pain. “Please…Father John…where…where is he?”

“Father John does not speak with sinners, John Daniel…” Grodin said, pleased with the effects of the mask and lighting on the drugged young man. He knew the last few days were a continual nightmare for JD Dunne and that it would continue until he denounced everything he’d seen and felt before being ‘saved’ by Father John.  

“Please…not…not a sinner…Father John…please hear me…please…” There was a sharp pain in his arm and he cried out as the images swirled in an eerie array of kaleidoscopic displays that jolted his already tumultuous stomach and left him gasping for air.

“Sinners are everywhere, John Daniel, and you must denounce them and everything they represent. You must follow what is in your heart and embrace my teachings as your own. You must never do anything to disgrace my followers or me. You must rid yourself of all worldly goods and live the life you were meant to have. Do you understand, John Daniel?”

“Yes, Father John…I under…understand…please stop the p…pain…please st…stop them…”

“I will, My Son, when you have proved yourself as a true believer, but for now I’m afraid there are still sins to repent…I will leave you with a prayer that your soul is well and truly purified in the sanctity of the true follower…”

“No, please….don’t go…don’t let them…don’t let them hurt me any…anymore!” JD screamed as a needle entered his arm and his body arched upward as the hallucinogenic drug raced through his system.

“Father John is the one true savior…Father John will set you free…Chris Larabee is…”

“Where? God…where is Chris…he’ll help m…me…”

“Only Father John can help you, John Daniel, but you have to want it and you have to prove your loyalty to him when the time comes,” Grodin said and continued to keep the young man from the rest his body and mind craved. He saw tears escape from Dunne’s eyes and knew it wouldn’t be long before John Daniel was a true believer and follower of Father John.


Orin Travis looked up as Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish joined him in his office. The two men had called to arrange a meeting to update him on the case they were working on. The former judge was not happy with having these two agents working a case without backup, but there was no choice if they wanted to bring Nicholson and the Oberons down.

“Have a seat,” Travis offered and wondered how much sleep the two men had gotten during the last few weeks. He knew how hard it was to work cases like this where they had to pretend they were as bad as the lowlifes they were in business with. Without a word he opened the top drawer and pulled out a bottle of the finest Scotch and poured a shot in three glasses before handing one to each man.

“Orin has there been any word from Chris or JD?” Tanner asked.

“They were taking the scenic route home,” Travis explained. Larabee knew they were working the Nicholson case, but he had no idea the Oberons were involved or he would have pulled the plug on it until the others were available for backup. “I didn’t tell them about the Oberons, Vin.”

“Good, Larabee needs some down time.”

“He’ll probably need a vacation after this trip with JD,” Standish said.

“The kid’s probably talked his ears off,” the Texan said. “Any idea when they’ll be back?”

“I guess it depends…”

“I tried callin’ ‘em, but it says their cell phones…”

“Vin, if they’re driving through the mountains they wouldn’t have cell phone reception,” Standish reminded him.

“I know,” Tanner said and sighed heavily.

“Vin, we need you to concentrate on this case,” Travis explained.

“I’m in, Orin,” the Texan said seriously.

“Glad to hear it, so tell me what’s happening,” Travis ordered.

“There’s a meet set up for tomorrow evening at a warehouse owned by Nicholson,” Standish told him. “If all goes according to plan the Oberons will deliver fifty Barrett REC7- M468 -Assault Rifles…”

“Fifty…that’s a hell of a lot of hardware,” Travis said.

“With a promise for a hundred more by the end of the week,” the gambler explained.

“Sonofabitch!” Travis spat. “We need to find out who their supplier is and stop them!”

“It’s possible that the Oberons have inside help or they could be finding other ways of appropriating the weapons before they’ve been inventoried by the military,” Standish observed.

“Military security measures are supposed to be…”

“What they are supposed to be and what they are is a completely different story,” Standish offered. “I know of several militia groups who have infiltrated the military and absconded with several highly developed military secrets. Most have been discovered, but I am sure there are several organizations that managed to stay in operation.”

“We need to see that they are shut down,” Travis told them.

“If Nicholson and the Oberons are shut down it could send a warning to the other groups that we will not back down,” the gambler explained.

“Just make damn sure it’s not at the cost of your lives,” the former judge warned.

“We shall do our best,” Standish assured him.

“I don’t like having to send you two in without back up…”

“Ain’t got much choice,” Tanner told him.

“I’ve spoken with Captain Miller and he assures me he will have his men ready to move in as soon as you give the signal,” Travis told them. 

“Ain’t gonna wear wires…Nicholson will check for ‘em,” Tanner said.

“I know and I agreed to that, but I’m sure you two will find a way to get word out if you run into problems,” the former judge said. “Make sure I have updated information before the final buy tomorrow night.”

“We will, Orin,” Standish said and silently wished the rest of the team was there to back them up.


Chris stood by the door of his cell and checked his pockets for anything he could use to pick the lock, but gave up when he found them empty. He knew Willow must have removed everything during the time he’d been drugged and vowed he’d find a way out of this mess. His thoughts turned to JD Dunne and he wondered what they were doing to him. He knew whatever it was it was not good and hoped he could get to the younger man before Father John had a chance to hurt him. Something told him it was already too late and that JD was suffering at the hands of the self-proclaimed cultist.

Chris’ frustration and anger grew with each tick of the clock and he hoped the guys were already searching for them. He knew that was probably not the case because Buck, Josiah, and Nathan were involved in a rough court case, while Ezra and Vin were working on bringing down Donald Nicholson.

Larabee returned to the bed and lay down with his fingers laced behind his head. He tried to think of a way out of this mess, but so far there was no way. He hoped wherever JD was he would be able to escape and go for help. Deep down he knew this was not the case because Father John did not strike him as the type to allow his ‘followers’ to escape. Chris wondered why this town had fallen into Father John’s trap and knew whatever it was they’d all need help once they were out from under his influence.

Chris heard movement outside his cell, but refused to acknowledge whoever it was. He knew they were bringing him food, but it would remain untouched because experience told him it was laced with some kind of drug. Whatever was happening, Chris knew he needed to keep his mind clear and watch for an opportunity to escape. 


Father John knew it would soon be time to push JD Dunne across the final plateau and make him see the ‘light’. The hours of chanting by his ‘sacred followers’ and the use of drugs and sleep deprivation would go a long way to reaching his goal for the young man. There were several open wounds that would need tending, but none of them were detrimental to his health. John Daniel would live and worship the ground his ‘savior’ walked on.

Chris Larabee would be the final catalyst that would prove his teachings were just and true. It would prove to his clients, both old and new that his theories would work beyond anything they’d ever imagined. It was time to see just how close they were to that final act of violence that would push JD Dunne across the threshold.


JD had never felt so lost and alone in his life and craved the touch of anything familiar as his body convulsed on the bed. The restraints held him in place, insuring that he could not escape as Father John reached out and placed a hand on his forehead and began to speak softly.

“John Daniel, it will soon be time to complete your cleansing and show you how to embrace everything that is good. Do you wish to be cleansed?”

“Yes…please, Father John…please…”

Father John smiled as he watched bloodied spittle escape the corners of his new convert’s mouth and reached for a soft tissue before wiping it away. He gently massaged the young man’s temples while signaling for Grodin to inject the drugs into his arm.

“Please…you said you’d help m…me…”

“I am going to help you, John Daniel, but first you must help me.”

“How…anything…please just make it…make it stop.”

“Only you can make it stop, John Daniel…”


“You need to prove that you are a true believer, that you are as devout as my other followers. That you are ready and willing to do anything for me and what I represent,” Father John said as he pressed a scalpel against his victim’s abdomen with enough force to bring blood to the surface. He knew the drugs and lack of sleep would go a long way toward enhancing the pain until JD Dunne would promise to say and do anything to make it stop.

“Please…no more…no more.”

Father John smiled as Dunne fought against the restraints and his body shook convulsively. They were so close now and he knew it would not be long before John Daniel would stand with the other followers and obey his every command. “Soon, John Daniel, very soon I will make it all stop and you will be given the opportunity to show your loyalty.”

“Please…I can’t…I’m tired…so tired…”

“You will be allowed to sleep soon, John Daniel, but not yet…not until the time is right,” Father John said and moved away as Grodin took over and continued to torture the young man’s mind and body. He smiled as Dunne’s screams echoed through the hollow chamber as the chanting continued outside the room. It was time to bring Chris Larabee to the commune and force his newest student over the edge.


Buck sighed tiredly and hoped his testimony today was the final nail in Adam Rider’s coffin. He wondered how much longer he’d be kept separated from the other witnesses and wished he could talk to someone beside himself. He was growing tired of looking at the four walls and watching the same old movies over and over.

The way things were going he’d be stuck in here until hell froze over with nothing but his own voice to keep him company. The hour spent in the courtroom giving his testimony had simply brought home the fact that he was just as much a prisoner as Rider. It pissed him off because at least Rider had other criminals to talk to which was more than he had.

Buck reached for one of the well-read books on the shelf, but had no real interest in reading. He leafed through the pages of a week old magazine and threw it disinterestedly across the room before standing and striding to the window. He knew if this kept up much longer he would go stir crazy and prayed the trial would be over soon.

Buck thought about Chris Larabee and JD Dunne and hoped the younger man had not driven Larabee crazy with his stupid one liners. The kid had a habit of talking his ear off and Chris had a reputation of speaking maybe three words on a good day. Buck smiled at that description, because the truth was Larabee could fire both barrels when he thought it was needed. How many times had the Firm’s leader lambasted someone who thought the team had done something wrong?


Chris knew he must have dozed off and opened his eyes when he heard a sound outside his cell. He spotted the man who had the town under his control and stood up. Anger flared in his green eyes as a smile formed on Father John’s face. “Where’s JD?”

“It is time, Mr. Larabee,” Father John told him.

“Time for what?” the blond snarled.

“Time to prove that sinners receive their punishment before God and his children.”

“You know nothing about God,” Larabee said as Willow stepped toward the cell door and a second man pointed a gun at him.

“Now, Mr. Larabee, I dislike violence and the sight of blood makes me queasy so please don’t do anything that will get you shot…”

“That wouldn’t look good with the people of this town would it, John…”

“That’s Father John, Mr. Larabee!” Willow warned.

“What’s he done to you people…”

“He has shown us the way to salvation,” the unknown man answered.

“How much money is he charging you for ‘salvation’?” Larabee spat the final word in disgust.

“Father John has not asked for our money. He only wishes to teach our children…”

“Teach? I don’t think that’s the right word.”

“What would you call it?” Father John asked.

“Brainwashing comes to mind,” Larabee answered. “You’ve done something to these people to keep them in line…”

“I have simply shown them that God’s light shines through me…”

“A self-proclaimed maniac with delusions of Godhood,” the blond said.

“Turn around, Mr. Larabee,” Willow ordered.

“Go to hell!”

“Hell is for sinners like you,” Father John said and motioned for Willow to open the door as he took the gun and pointed it at the prisoner. “Now, you will do exactly as I say or in spite of how distasteful I find it I will put a bullet in your leg. If you cooperate then perhaps you will get to see John Daniel…”

“Where the hell is JD? What did you do to him?”

“He is learning to accept me and through me he will be wrapped in God’s embrace.”

“You know nothing about God,” Larabee said as Willow stepped into the cell and pulled his arms behind his back before securing a set of handcuffs around his wrists. He fought the urge to lash out because he needed to keep his wits about him and find JD before it was too late. He thought about the youngest member of his team and silently prayed Dunne was all right, but something about Father John chilled him to the bone.

“All right, Mr. Larabee, it’s time to go,” Willow said and motioned for the captive to follow him out. Father John had returned the gun to Joseph Boudreau and Willow knew what was expected of him.

Chris followed the ‘cop’ out, his eyes raking over the gun in the other man’s hand, before turning his attention to Father John. Something about the man set his nerves on edge, but he had no time to act as Boudreau kicked the back of his leg and he stumbled forward. Willow grabbed him and shoved him down as the cult leader knelt at his side. Chris caught sight of a needle and renewed his efforts to escape, but it was too little…too late as Father John shoved the needle into his arm.

Larabee fought, but soon felt whatever drug he’d been given take effect. His vision blurred and he tried to fight the lethargy creeping along his nerves, but darkness reached for him as Willow and the other man released him.

“Put him in my car.”

“Yes, Father John,” Willow said. He grabbed Larabee’s right arm while Boudreau grabbed his left and they dragged the semi-conscious captive from the station.

“Good afternoon, Sister Veronica,” Father John greeted the elderly woman who stood watching them. The woman had been against everything he was doing, but her daughter and son-in-law had been keeping her in hand.

“What are you doing with that man?” Veronica Parkinson asked.

“He is not feeling well and we are bringing him to visit my personal physician,” Father John explained.

“Sure you are….where are my grandchildren, John?”

“Mrs. Parkinson, Father John has already explained where the children are and he is teaching them the word of God,” Willow said while helping Boudreau put Larabee in the back seat.  

“Father John, what have you done with the children?” the elderly woman asked, disgust evident in her tone.

“The children are safe and learning the secrets of the Bible…”

“The Bible has no secrets…it does not need to hide anything unlike you…”

“Mrs. Parkinson…”

“You will not get away with it…someone is bound to realize what you’re really doing here,” Veronica said and turned her back on the men. There had to be some way for her to get word out, but the phones no longer worked and no one seemed willing to drive her beyond the town.

“Make sure she does not leave,” Father John warned and got behind the wheel.


Veronica Parkinson heard the car drive away and glanced over her shoulder at the two men who stood outside the police station. She laughed at what a joke that was now because the only law in Providence came from ‘Father John’. The town had once been a place she was proud to call home, but in the last two years ‘Father John’ had reshaped everything that she’d once loved. She knew she was not alone, but what could she and the others her age do to change things? They could not fight, not when the young people were prisoners in the commune outside Providence.

Veronica leaned heavily on her cane and walked away from the two men who’d fallen into ‘Father John’s’ trap. Perhaps if she and the others her age could convince even one member of the town that this was wrong they could get outside help. There had to be something they could do to help the children ‘Father John’ held captive in his commune.

Veronica remembered going to the meetings and seeing the children who ranged in age from 5 to 25, but there was no sign of children under the age of five and that worried her. What had the cultists, for that’s what they were, done to them? Were they being held somewhere in the commune as a way of keeping their parents and siblings in line? Or did the lack of younger children mean something more insidious? God, she hoped not because it would mean the loss of her own precious granddaughter. Tears filled her eyes, but she fought them back and knew she would fight for what was right…fight for her granddaughter.


Nathan looked up when a knock sounded on his door. Normally it only happened when it was time for meals or he was needed in the courtroom. He glanced at his watch and noted the time as a little after four in the afternoon and that was too early for dinner and too late for court. He took a deep breath, walked over and opened the door to find the assistant district attorney standing there with the bailiff from the court.

“Nathan, how would you like to go home tomorrow morning?” Janet Lakefield said with a smile.

“What’s happened?” Jackson asked.

“After hearing your testimony and those of several other witnesses the jury brought down a guilty verdict on all counts. The official word will come down tomorrow morning, so until then you, Buck, and Josiah are still guests of the city. I arranged for a bottle of Champagne to accompany dinner. I believe Buck and Josiah will be joining you unless you’d rather eat alone?”

“No, I’d rather have some company that actually talks back. I was getting tired of winning all the arguments against myself,” Jackson teased.

“I’m sure the others feel the same way,” Janet said with a grin. “I’ll see you tomorrow when the judge passes sentence.”

“I’m glad the sonofabitch will be off the streets for good,” the medic told her.

“I’m sure a lot of people will breathe easier knowing he’s locked up,” Lakefield agreed, shaking the man’s hand before following the bailiff from the room.

Nathan walked to the window and looked out over the city and knew there were still dangerous predators on the streets, but at least one animal would not be walking in darkness in search of prey. He thought of Rain Goines and the attack that had nearly taken her from him, but she’d proven herself stronger than any of them realized when she’d faced down her would be rapist and helped send him to prison.

Nathan could almost feel her arms around him and knew it wouldn’t be long before he held her and made love slowly, provocatively as they had so many times in the past. God, he loved Rain beyond anything he’d ever known before and knew it was time to take things a step further. It was time to set a date and marry the woman who owned his heart, now and forever.


“How is he?” Father John asked upon entering the room and hearing the weak cries from his newest subject. At least a dozen of his followers were in the room, circling the bed and chanting in a hypnotic tone with no change in the words or the inflection. JD Dunne’s mouth moved, but the words were garbled as he forced them past an arid throat and dry, cracked lips.

“He’s weak, but I believe he’s ready for the next stage,” Grodin answered.

“I brought Chris Larabee from town. He is in the chamber and will be John Daniel’s first test,” Father John said.

“Do you think that is wise this early in the game?”

“We have kept John Daniel awake for more than 72 hours while feeding him the drugs to reshape his mind and with pain as his constant companion. He is ready, Tyler, and he will be my greatest success. Listen to his voice…”

“He’s not making any sense,” Grodin told him.

“Listen closely…the words may be garbled, but they are exactly what my devout followers are chanting,” Father John said.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“He is ready. Clean him up and bring him to the Temple,” Father John ordered.

“As you wish, Father John,” Grodin agreed.


Vin glanced sideways at Ezra as he pulled the BMW to a stop in front of the warehouse they knew belonged to Donald Nicholson. There were several cars parked in the lot, and he’d already spotted several snipers hidden in areas he would have chosen if asked to watch over the premises.

“Wish the guys were here,” Tanner said.

“You and me both, but since they are otherwise engaged it falls to you and I to bring these hoodlums to their knees. I just hope Captain Miller’s men understand what is expected of them,” Standish observed. The fact that neither one of them was wearing a wire went against everything they’d been trained to do, but they’d rigged a wire in the trunk that could be activated when he retrieved the briefcase with the money. That was the signal for Robert Miller and his men to move in.

“Guess there’s no point in puttin’ it off any longer,” the Texan growled and shoved open the door. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for the job at hand. His hand felt the weapon nestled at his side and he knew Nicholson would check them for wires.

“Are you ready for this?”

“No, but let’s do it anyway,” Tanner told him and walked toward the door where light spilled out from the tempered glass window. He reached out and knocked loudly, standing back when the door was opened by one of Nicholson’s men. 

“Mr. Nicholson is expecting us,” Standish told the man.

“Search them,” Carl Oberon said from inside the warehouse.

Vin showed the man his gun and replaced it as a second man ran an electronic detector over his body and repeated the procedure with Standish. These people were cautious, and he knew that could also make them nervous with itchy trigger fingers.

“No wires, Mr. Oberon,” the man called over his shoulder.

“Show them in,” Nicholson ordered.

Vin entered first and kept his hand near his weapon as Ezra entered the warehouse and strode purposefully toward the table where several weapons were laid out.

“I’m sure you’ll find these are up to standard, Peter,” Nicholson said.

“Again, I am not an expert and will leave it to my associate to examine the weapons,” Standish told them, moving to join the Oberons as Tanner checked several of the guns laid out before him.

“Would you like something to drink while Alex checks the hardware?” Jane Oberon asked.

“Scotch, neat,” Standish answered simply and accepted the glass, swirling the liquid before taking a drink. He could see Vin was taking his time and examining each weapon as if born to the task.

“They’re top of the line,” Tanner said and moved to join Standish.

“Would you like a drink, Alex?” Jane asked.

“No, thank ya,” the Texan answered.

“Did you bring the money?” Carl Oberon asked.

“It’s in the car,” Standish told him.

“Surely you trust us, Peter?” Nicholson said.

“This is business, Donald, and as such I leave nothing to chance,” Standish answered with a tip of his glass.

“Touché,” Jane Oberon said and clinked her glass against Standish’s.

“Alex, would you bring in the briefcase,” the gambler said and allowed Jane Oberon to refill his glass.

“A toast…too many more business dealings,” Donald Nicholson said with a smile.

Vin exited the door and knew Nicholson’s men were watching him as he made his way toward the BMW. He reached into his pocket, found the keys, and quickly opened the trunk. He reached inside, pulling the briefcase from the corner and hitting the button to signal Miller that the deal had gone down and it was time to move in. Miller and his men understood that Ezra and Vin would be in the line of fire and that they should move as quickly and silently as possible.

Vin let his fingers lightly touch against the weapon in his pocket before walking back into the warehouse. He made his way to the table where the weapons had been put back in their crates and placed the briefcase at the center.

“Open it,” Jane Oberon ordered softly. She stood to the Texan’s right and tapped her fingers on the table.

Vin took it as a sign that she was nervous and wanted to finish the deal and leave before nerves turned into a shooting match that could get them all killed. Using the keys he entered the password and moved back when it popped open revealing the money Orin Travis had supplied.

Jane Oberon lifted a stack of bills and shuffled them beside her ear, smiling as she took a deep breath and put it back in the case. “I must say it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Peter.”

“I assure you the pleasure is all mine,” Standish told her. “Now, all that re mains is where you are to deliver the weapons.”

“Delivery was not part of the deal, Peter,” Nicholson told him.

“Then perhaps you could hold them until my associate returns with his vehicle,” Standish asked.

“My men will stay here for one hour…otherwise the weapons go back and we do have a no refund policy as I’m sure you know,” Nicholson said as Jane Oberon locked the case and walked toward the exit.

“I’m sure Alex and I will be back in plenty of time,” Standish said with a smile as they strode to the door. He could feel the tension in Tanner’s body as they stepped outside and spotted Jane and Carl Oberon leaning against the BMW.

“Nice car, Peter,” Jane said seductively.

“Thank you,” Standish said and moved to the passenger side as Vin moved to the driver’s side. He reached for the handle, but something caught his attention and he saw a gun appear in Nicholson’s hand as he pointed it toward Standish. “Ezra, get down!”

The gambler barely had time to register the warning when several shots were fired at once. He shoved Jane Oberon away even as he felt something tear through his right side. He gasped, but managed to get the car door open and used it as a shield as more gunshots rang out. He reached into the glove box and grabbed the gun he kept there as he heard a gasp from the other side of the car.


Robert Miller cursed as sporadic gunfire sounded at the warehouse. He knew there was no point in staying where they were and ordered his men to move in. He raced to the corner of the building and spotted the BMW parked beneath a light. There were two people on either side of the car, but he couldn’t tell if it was Standish and Tanner.

Miller signaled for two officers to move in and covered them until they found shelter behind one of the cars. He spotted a woman carrying a briefcase running toward a second car while a man fired several gunshots over his shoulder. He shouted a warning to the duo, but neither one slowed in their attempt to escape.


Vin had seen Ezra go down, but he didn’t have time to check on him as a sound above him caught his attention just before his body was thrown back with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. He closed his eyes, opening them again when he realized he was in the open and needed to find cover.     

Tanner knew he was running on adrenaline and that as soon as the police had control of the situation he’d find out exactly where the bullet hit him. He turned on his right side and fired at Donald Nicholson, relieved when the man was thrown backward against a dumpster and lay still.

Vin crawled to the front of the car in time to see Jane Oberon drop the case and raise her hands. It dawned on him that he no longer heard gunshots and cursed when he tried to sit up. The pain hit him hard and fast and he fought to stay conscious as he dropped his gun to the ground.


“Ez…you hit?”

“I believe I am sporting a new hole in my su…suit,” Standish stammered as he sat beside his friend.

“We git ‘em?”

“Think so…Miller’s coming this way and he looks…”

“Pissed,” the Texan ground out.

“Paramedics are on the way,” Miller said and knelt in front of the two men. “I thought you two were supposed to lie low when this went down?”

“It seems something alerted Nicholson to your presence,” Standish answered, closing his eyes as he pressed his hand against his right side.

Miller moved out of the way as two officers arrived with the first aid kit. There wasn’t much they could do for the two men except basic first aid until the ambulances arrived. He turned and surveyed the area, making sure the Oberons, and Donald Nicholson were not going to make an escape attempt. One look at Nicholson told him the bastard wouldn’t be going anywhere except to the morgue. Miller turned as Barry White pressed a bandage against the left side of Tanner’s chest and listened for the sound of sirens that would signal help would soon be there.


“God, it’s good to have something new to watch,” Wilmington observed as he flipped through the channels. Josiah and Nathan were finishing their meal and he knew they were as anxious as he was to get home. Buck stopped when he found a channel with the national and the local news and settled back to listen to the broadcast.

“Tell me about it,” Jackson readily agreed. They listened as the newscaster ran through the national news before cutting to the local anchorwoman. He took three beers from the refrigerator and handed one to Wilmington and Sanchez before settling on the sofa beside Buck while Josiah took the recliner.

“So, do you think the kid’s still alive?” Wilmington asked as he twisted off the cap and took a drink.

“A better question would be whether Chris is still sane,” Jackson answered.

“JD knows when to quit…although if he gets started on those stupid one liners Chris is liable to hogtie him and throw him in the back of the truck for the duration,” Sanchez observed with a grin.

“Isn’t that…sonofabitch! That’s Ezra!” Wilmington cursed of the man being loaded into the back of an ambulance. He quickly turned up the volume as the reporter began describing the events that led up to the shooting.

Sanchez reached for his phone and quickly hit Travis’ number, not all that surprised when the older man picked it up on the second ring. “Orin, are you watching the news?”

*“I am….I have no idea what’s happened yet, Josiah…I’ve got Miller on the other line and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve got the story from him.”

“All right, Orin,” Sanchez said and hung up. “Orin’s getting the story from Miller and will call back.”

“We need to get over there,” Wilmington said.

“We can’t leave, Buck…if we do it could screw up the entire case against Rider,” Jackson said and heard the muffled curse from the rogue. They listened to the reporter, but didn’t get very much as an ambulance pulled away from the warehouse.


Vin held his breath as one paramedic peeled back the bandage covering the left side of his chest while a second one started an IV in his right hand. He’d seen Ezra being treated and loaded into the back of an ambulance and knew he wouldn’t be far behind him. The pain had slammed home with a vengeance now and he swallowed convulsively as nausea rolled through his gut.

“Vin, I’m going to give you a shot of morphine,” the paramedic said.

Tanner could only nod as the man injected the medication and tried to make sense of how things had gone bad so fast. Had he or Ezra made a mistake to tip their hand or was it just a case of bad luck that Nicholson had reached for his gun. It didn’t matter now, the arms dealer was dead and that meant one less asshole on the streets. He frowned when he realized it was becoming increasingly more difficult to breathe and opened his eyes as the two paramedics strapped him onto the stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance.


Hank Davis looked toward the ER doors as they opened and hurried to join the nurse and paramedic. He had heard stories about the men who were being brought in, but had yet to meet any of the operatives who worked for Orin Travis. So far all he knew was that they were dealing with two victims with gunshot wounds and that this was the first patient. He listened as the medic rattled off vital signs and treatment given so far.

“Trauma One is set up for him,” Pamela Wallace said and held the doors for the stretcher to be wheeled inside the room. She helped transfer the patient from the stretcher to the hospital bed and hooked the patient up to the hospital monitors.

“Let’s get him typed and cross matched,” Davis ordered and knew they’d need a second IV as he peeled back the eyelids to reveal green eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Ezra P. Standish,” the injured man answered, desperately fighting the nausea and pain as the nurse inserted an IV in his left arm.

“Any allergies, Ezra,” Davis asked. He knew the paramedics had already asked the questions on the scene, but he liked to gauge the patient’s reactions for himself.

“No…unless you c…count a bad reaction to los…losing,” Standish grumbled.

“I don’t like to lose either, so I guess we’re both going to fight to have a winning hand here,” Davis said and checked the wound. “Well, we’re going to give you something to help manage the pain and then send you up to the OR to get that bullet out…”

“Did they bring Vin in yet?” Standish asked tiredly as the medication was injected into his IV line.

“Vin?” Davis asked.

“He was shot…”

“I think they were a couple of minutes behind you,” Pamela answered. “I’ll check on him in a minute.”

“Thank you, Pam…Pamela,” Standish said tiredly. He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting as the medication began to take effect.

“Is he always this stubborn?” Davis asked.

“This is mild, Doctor, wait until the others arrive and take over the ER,” the nurse explained and continued working with the physician.


Roy Simmons looked up as the ER doors opened and a stretcher was pushed inside. He knew who it was and pointed to Trauma Two as one nurse moved to hold the door and a second helped push the gurney inside. They quickly transferred Tanner onto the hospital bed and began exchanging the mobile equipment for the hospitals’.

Simmons listened while the paramedic rattled off the vital signs and the treatment given at the scene and during transit. He knew the Texan had lost a lot of blood and would need a transfusion, but his type was very rare. “Find out if Larabee is out there and tell him…”

“Chris ain’t h…here,” Tanner said weakly.

“Well, Hell, don’t tell me he’s on his way in another ambulance?”

“No…out of t…town with JD…”

“Damn, I don’t know who to feel sorry for,” Simmons teased. “Are you and Larabee in some kind of competition to see whose book has more pages?”

“Guess I’m one up on ‘im,” Tanner said, gritting his teeth as the nurse pulled back the bandage and revealed the ragged hole in his chest.

“You’re getting there, but I’m afraid Larabee has a couple of chapters on you yet,” Simmons said and turned to the nurse. “Set up another IV and give him a shot of morphine.”

“Yes, Doctor,” the nurse said and quickly worked to take blood samples before hooking up another IV and injecting the prescribed dosage of morphine that would help augment the amount given at the scene.

“Ez…ra…he o…okay?”

“Ezra’s not the one…”

“Shot too,” Tanner managed as his eyelids grew heavy and his breathing grew labored.

“Mr. Standish came in around twenty minutes ago,” a nurse told him.

“Damn, Larabee’s team doesn’t like to go solo on anything do they?” Simmons observed.

“They never have,” the nurse agreed.

“Doc,” the Texan began, but found he could no longer think straight. He heard Simmons as if through a thick layer of fog and silently cursed when he heard something about a chest tube and intubation.

“Are any of Larabee’s team out there?” Simmons asked.

“Just Ezra Standish and he’s on his way to the OR,” the nurse answered and knew Simmons would do everything for his patient as she left to deliver the blood samples. She wasn’t surprised to see Orin Travis standing at the main desk and stopped long enough to tell him Simmons was in with Tanner.

Orin didn’t want to keep the nurse from doing her job, but he wanted to know what was happening with Standish and Tanner. What little information he had was not enough to appease the minds of the three men waiting for his call. He spotted a stretcher being wheeled from a room and recognized the occupant as Ezra Standish. He hurried over and walked beside it while speaking to the surgeon.

“How is he?” Travis asked.

“He’d be a lot better without the bullet in his side,” Davis answered. “Dr. Silverman is meeting us upstairs. You can wait in the SICU waiting rooms and he’ll come find you there.”

“Thank you…I will,” Travis said and took a deep breath before returning to the desk and waiting for word on the second injured man.


Chris struggled toward full consciousness and licked at dry lips as he struggled to free his hands, but they were tied tightly behind his back. His ankles were similarly bound and he was lying on a cold floor with only the sound of his breathing as a reminder that he was still alive.

The darkness was absolute, which meant there were no windows to admit even a little light. Chris shifted and finally managed to sit up and knew he needed to do something about his predicament if he was going to help JD. The kid had him worried, because Dunne’s absence meant something bad had happened to him.

Larabee maneuvered his body back to the floor and bent his legs before pulling them tight to his chest. The last time he’d done this he’d been a young man and Chris hoped he was still flexible enough to succeed. It was several long minutes and countless muffled curses before he managed to thread his legs through his cuffed arms and lay back to catch his breath.

The cuffs encircling his wrists were tight and Chris knew there was no way he could slip out of them, but his legs were a different matter. He reached down and with numbed fingers searched for the knot, silently praying that it wasn’t too tight as he fought to free his legs.

“Sonofabitch,” Larabee whispered when his fingers slipped off the rope, but he didn’t let that stop him. JD Dunne was out there at the mercy of a madman and God only knew what ‘Father John’ had done to him. Chris renewed his efforts to get free and finally felt the knot loosening and finally pulled the rope from his legs.

*‘All right…now where the hell is the door?’ he thought.

Chris put his arms out in front of him and using both his feet and hands as a guide found the wall without mishap. He felt around and began moving to the right until he reached a corner and began moving along that wall. He soon found a frame and ran his fingers along the edge, feeling for the handle.

Larabee knew it was a long shot, but he tried to open the door. When it didn’t open he searched for the lock and found there was no way of opening it from this side. He tried hitting it several times, but all that got him was a sore shoulder and the realization that he was still a prisoner.

Chris knew he could not quit, not when JD’s life could depend on his escaping and getting help. He thought about the town and what little he knew about it and its residents. ‘Father John’ seemed to have a stranglehold on the people and Chris wondered if the maniac was holding the missing children. If that was the case, then Chris understood why the people would do whatever the cult leader ordered. That did not bode well for JD or for him, and it meant he had to find a way to get help before it was too late.


“John Daniel, do you want me to take the pain away?”

“Please…make it stop, Father John.”

“I will, but you have to disown your worldly goods and denounce everyone who belongs to Satan and bends to his will.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

JD could hear the chanting above the painful ringing in his ears. His body was a mass of agony and he trembled as the clamps around his arms were tightened even further. God, he wanted it to stop. He needed the pain to go away as he listened to the chanting voices echoing through his mind. He cried out as his body shook with enough force that he bit his tongue and tasted blood. He felt a needle enter his arm and screamed as the agony intensified.

“John Daniel, all you have to do is denounce…”

“God, yes, I’ll do any…anything you say,” JD cried as his body arched upward in spite of the restraints. It felt like his body was an inferno of strangled nerves that burned from the inside out.

“Who is your savior, John Daniel? Who will you follow? Who will you denounce?”

“Father John is my Savior. I will follow him…only him…Please make it stop!”

Father John smiled as blood seeped from the corners of the young man’s mouth, and reached for a tissue to wipe it clean before continuing. “Who will you denounce, John Daniel?”

“I denounce everyone who belongs to Sa…Satan.”

“Chris Larabee worships Satan…”

“No…not Chris…he’s…he’s…” JD screamed as something clamped down on his abdomen. It felt like something was crushing his insides and he gasped for air.

“Now, John Daniel, do you want the pain to stop?”

“Yes…God, yes,” JD whimpered when the pressure was removed and he could breathe through gritted teeth.

“Chris Larabee…”

“Please…no…not Chris…”

“He is one of Satan’s minions, John Daniel, and if you do not prove your loyalty he will continue to cause you pain,” Father John said. “You must denounce him and then prove that he does not have a hold on what is in your heart.”


“Do you want to burn in Hell with Chris Larabee, John Daniel?”

“No…I can’t…”

“Do you feel the fire in your stomach, John Daniel?”


“I can make it stop, but you must embrace my teachings. You must accept the cleansing that will keep Satan and Hell at bay,” Father John said.

“I can’t…”

“Then the fires will consume you,” Father John said and signaled for Grodin to bring the torch closer.

JD’s eyes locked onto the flames and he tried to twist away as it neared his face. The heat was intense and he could feel his skin burning as terror wrapped itself around his mind.

“You can stop this, John Daniel…”

“Help me, Father John…”

“You know what you must do…you must prove that you are willing to embrace my teachings. It is the only way to save yourself, John Daniel.”

“I will…I do…just make it stop…please make it stop.”

“I will,” Father John said and smiled as the torch was removed and JD Dunne turned glazed eyes in his direction. “Tonight you will prove your loyalty to me, John Daniel…”

“Tell me…tell me what to do,” JD said as tears slipped from his eyes.

“Tonight you will denounce the final bond you have with Satan. You will rid yourself of the final influence Satan has over you.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…I pledge my soul to Father John…”

“I pledge my soul to Fath…Father John…”

“Very good, John Daniel, the pain will ease now, but be warned it will return if you do not complete the task I set for you.”

“Father John is my Savior,” JD whispered, his voice joining the others who chanted and helped ease the pain from his body and mind as the restraints were slowly removed. He felt a sharp jab to his right shoulder and smiled as the other followers helped him sit up. They touched his naked body and slowly eased him to the floor as Father John moved to stand in front of his newest convert.

“You will grow strong now, John Daniel. Penny will show you around the commune and help assign your tasks. For now you will be given the robes of glory and be given food and drink before being allowed to rest. Tonight you will do what must be done to free you of Satan’s influence. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father John,” JD whispered and felt himself embraced by the savior’s strong arms. Tears ran from his eyes and his body shook weakly as the older man embraced him and filled him with warmth.

“You will be freed tonight, John Daniel. Your heart will no longer be poisoned by Satan’s minions.”

“Thank you, Father John,” Dunne said as a white robe was wrapped around his trembling body and his fellow followers led him out into the bright sunlight.


Wilmington, Jackson, and Sanchez had spent a sleepless night worrying about the injured men and watching the clock as it slowly ticked toward morning. They knew Orin Travis would be working to get them released as soon as possible, but waiting had never been one of their finer points.

Travis had called several times to update them on Tanner and Standish’s condition, but all he could tell them was both men had been shot and were at Saint Vincents. His last call had been at three in the morning to let them know they were both in surgery.

Buck stood up and strode into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee and glanced at the clock over the sink. It was slowly ticking toward seven am and silently cursed the slowly moving second hand. The sound of the phone ringing made him jump, but he grabbed for it before the second ring.


*“Buck, it’s Orin…”

“Thank God. How are they?” Wilmington asked and signaled for Jackson and Sanchez to be quiet.

*“Ezra’s in recovery, but he lost a lot of blood so he’ll be headed for the SICU once he’s stable.”


“He’s still in surgery. The bullet damaged his lung and they need to put in a chest tube. He’s also lost a lot of blood and they had some difficulty finding his type, but they managed to get a couple of units. Hang on a minute…Simmons just came in.”

“Buck, how are they?” Jackson asked and listened as Wilmington relayed the information he’d been given.

*“Buck, are you there?”

“I’m here, Orin,” Wilmington answered.

*“Vin’s out of surgery and in recovery. He’s listed as critical, but stable and will be joining Ezra in SICU.”

“Damn…we’ll be there as soon as we can,” Buck told him.

*“Just hold on until the judge releases you, Buck, otherwise all of this was for nothing.”

“We know, Orin…did you call Chris?”

*“I tried, but his service says he’s unavailable. I’ll keep trying.”

“Thanks, Orin, they’re probably on their way back and if they’re anywhere near the mountains it’s hard to get service,” Wilmington said and hung up. He quickly relayed what Travis had told him and glanced at the clock. It felt like the hands hadn’t moved and he reached for the cup of coffee Sanchez handed him. The older man must have set it up while he’d been talking to Travis.

“Might as well relax until we hear from the judge,” Jackson said and moved back into the living room.


JD smiled at the young woman who walked beside him. He had no idea why it felt so right to be with her, but for the first time he felt pain free and he knew he owed that to Father John. His name was John Daniel, and for once he felt free because he had embraced the teachings of their savior.

“John Daniel, it is good to see you basking in the glorious sunshine. Penny is a wonderful guide and she will show you where you are supposed to be and what is expected of you.”

“Father John is my savior,” JD said in a soft voice filled with worship as Father John placed a hand on his right shoulder.

“Yes, I am, John Daniel, but it will soon be time for you to prove that you are a true convert…”

“I will do anything you ask of me, Father John,” JD whispered, awed by the man’s very presence.

“There is a man you once knew and he is trying to take you away from us. We cannot allow that to happen because he embraces Satan’s teachings. You must not allow him to take you from us or the pain will come back…”

“No…please no more pain,” JD whimpered as ‘Father John’s’ fingers dug into his shoulder. “I will do whatever you tell me too…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Yes, I will, John Daniel. There is no pain now and I have several things I have to see to before tonight’s initiation. Penny, make sure John Daniel is prepared for tonight.”

“Yes, Father John,” Penny said and took JD’s hand in her own.

“Blessings to you both,” Father John said and watched them move away. JD Dunne was ready, of that he was sure, but tonight he would have the proof he needed to show potential clients that he knew what he was doing and could make or break anyone depending on what was needed.


Chris had tried everything to open the door without success. He remained locked in the cloying darkness with nothing to show for it, but the sweat sliding down his chest. He sat down and leaned wearily against the wall as his mind worked to figure another way out. His head pounded and he knew it had a lot to do with whatever ‘Father John’ had given him. He closed his eyes and thought about his team and prayed they would realize something was wrong.

Larabee had no idea how long he sat without moving, but it dawned on him that someone was outside the door. If he stood to the side he might be able to overpower whoever it was and make good his escape. He moved without thinking and silently prayed there would only be one person checking on the prisoner.

Chris held his breath and lifted his arms above his head as the door opened and a bright light was shone through the open doorway. He waited for the person to enter and brought both arms down with enough force that the man was driven to his knees. There wasn’t enough time to react as something slammed into his lower back and sent him across the floor.

“Well that was stupid, Mr. Larabee,” Grodin said. Tyler moved to the downed man, kicked him in the ribs, and chuckled softly when the captive tried to curl into a ball.

“Bas…tard,” the blond managed.

“Such vile language, but I’m sure Father John will curb your tongue,” Grodin said as the other man climbed to his feet. “Are you all right, Brother Donald?”

“I am fine, Brother Tyler,” Donald Johansson answered.

“Very well, help me with Mr. Larabee,” Grodin said.

Chris tried to breathe past the near crippling pain that spoke of cracked or broken ribs as Grodin unlocked the manacles and pulled his arms behind his back once more. He felt the metal encircling his wrists and winced when they were tightened to the point of cutting off circulation.

The two men dragged Chris to his feet and laughed when they heard the sharply uttered curse that escaped his tightly clenched teeth.

Larabee blinked as a bright light shone in his eyes. Instincts kicked in and he tried to fight his captors, but he was quickly subdued and dragged across the dark compound. A sound reached his ears before the door was opened and he silently cursed when he heard the chanting from within.

Chris struggled with his captors, but the two men easily dragged him into the room and forced him into a chair. His hands were released, but before he could do anything they were gripped solidly and leather strips were used to secure his arms and legs to the chair.

Chris tried to pull free, but the restraints were tight and it was a waste of time and energy as the chanting increased around him. It grew louder as the cult followers moved back and Chris spotted ‘Father John’ dressed in a long white robe with a golden sash across the middle walking toward him. The man had a serene look on his face and his ‘followers’ reached out to touch him as if his very presence gave them a reason to live.

“Children, we have a sinner amongst us…”

“You’re a real piece of work, John…”

“Watch your mouth, Mr. Larabee…”

“It is okay, Children, Mr Larabee is a sinner and our newest member will teach him the proper way to speak to those who are chosen…”

“Like hell…”

“Hell is open to sinners and that is where you will be sent once you have sealed John Daniel’s fate. He is…”

“Where’s JD? What the fuck did you do to him?”

“I do not know who this JD is, but John Daniel will be here shortly and he will show his devotion to me…”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…”

“You’ve really blinded these people to what you really are haven’t you, John?”

“Do not listen to this sinner, Children, for he wishes to take you to Hell with him,” Father John said and smiled as a soft chime signaled that his newest recruit was ready. JD Dunne had been given a drug that would make him see things that weren’t real and he would be susceptible to whatever he was told or the pain would return.

Chris could hear the change in the chanting and tried to see past the cult leader. He caught sight of JD and cursed at the difference in the young man. The Bostonian was paler than Chris thought possible; his hair soaked with sweat, his eyes glazed showing signs of heavy drugs. He wore a long white robe, tied at the waist with a black sash, his hands clasped together in front of him.

“John Daniel…”

“JD, fight the bastard!” Larabee ordered and saw the kid jump as if he’d been burned.


“Remember, John Daniel, the pain will return if you do not denounce him,” Father John warned and stood in front of the newest recruit. He placed his hands on Dunne’s arms and nodded to the man behind him.

Chris fought against his restraints as JD screamed and knew whatever was happening did not bode well for the kid. Chris had been a victim of ‘brainwashing’ and knew pain, drugs, and no sleep were an integral part of the conditioning. He had no idea how long they’d been in Providence, but if ‘Father John’ had the right ‘tools’ he could easily manipulate a young, untrained mind.

“JD…fight him…”

“John Daniel, look at me,” Father John said and smiled when the young man looked into his eyes. “You know I can take the pain away, but you have to believe in me and…”

“Father John is…is my…my savior…”

“Yes, I am, and I will not let sinners take away my children. You must not listen to his words for he will use them to lead you astray,” Father John said. “Do you see the monsters, John Daniel? Do you know what they are?” Can you defeat them and embrace my teachings?”

“Father John will show me the way…”

Chris heard the difference in JD’s voice and renewed his efforts to get free, but the leather restraints remained in place. “JD, don’t listen to him…”

“Hear my voice and those of your brothers and sisters, John Daniel; are you ready to show you are a true believer?”


“Remember the pain, John Daniel, for it will only release you when you complete your training and follow in my footsteps,” Father John said and smiled when Grodin continued to cause the young man pain.

“Father John is my sa…savior…Father John will show me the wa…way…”

Yes, John Daniel, I will,” the cult leader said and led Dunne to the chair. “The monster before you has hurt many before his capture, but you can give them peace, John Daniel. You can send this sinner to hell and restore the faith of those he has touched with his evil.”

“JD, don’t listen to him…”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

The chanting drowned out his voice, but Chris did not give up as he stared into the Bostonian’s glazed eyes. “JD, fight them…”

“Father John…”

“Is a sick bastard and he’s not…”

“Do not listen to his evil words, John Daniel…”

The pain threatened to overwhelm him with a burning fire that would consume his mind and body as if it was some kind of dry kindling. JD could hear a single voice above the chanting and sought out the owner as if it could save him from the evil surrounding him. He blinked constantly in an effort to rid himself of the horrific images gyrating before his eyes, but succeeded in only making himself dizzy.

“John Daniel, you must teach the sinner that we will never embrace Satan…”

“Please…make them go a…away.”

“I will, John Daniel, but you must do your part. Are you willing to denounce Satan and embrace all that is good?”

“JD, don’t…”

“Yes, Father John,” Dunne said as tears escaped his eyes.

“Kneel, Child, and I will tell you how to heal your soul.”

JD dropped to his knees, crying out as the movement set off another round of nauseating images that haunted him. He felt hands on his shoulders and lifted his head until he looked into the face of his savior. “Father John is my Savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“John Daniel, it is time.”

“Tell me what to do, Father John.”

“You must use your hands to do my work for me, John Daniel; you must release the sinner so that he might embrace my teachings.”

“Tell me how?”

“Make fists for me, John Daniel, and I will bless them with my power for that is the only way to save the sinner,” the cult leader told him and smiled when the chanting around them increased, effectively drowning out Chris Larabee’s angry protests.

Father John knew the time was right and that his newest conquest would listen to his words and do whatever was asked of him. He glanced at Chris Larabee and enjoyed the fierce anger that festered in the man’s eyes. If there’d ever been such a thing as green fire, he was seeing it now.

“What do I do, Father John?” JD asked, his voice dripping with reverence as he looked into the face of his savior.

“Use your fists, John Daniel, for I have blessed them and they will be His vessel to drive Satan from this sinner.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“That is correct, John Daniel,” the cult leader said as the others in the room picked up the chant. He turned JD toward the man tied to the chair and smiled when he spoke. “Behold the face of Satan and drive him back to hell, John Daniel.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

Chris could hear the word escaping JD’s throat. He knew he had to reach the younger man, but before he could speak someone slapped duct tape over his mouth. He glared at the cultist standing with the Bostonian, before looking into Dunne’s eyes, imploring him to realize what he was being forced to do.

“Now, John Daniel, it is time to show your loyalty…beat Satan out of this sinner and save his soul,” Father John ordered in a soft tone.


Father John moved closer and searing pain raged through JD’s mind and body. He screamed and dropped to his knees as the chant continued around him. There was no escaping the mind-blowing agony that twisted through his mind as horrific images assaulted his senses. His gut churned and bitter bile rose in his throat until he knew nothing, and heard only the chant and Father John’s promise to rid him of the pain.

“You know what you must do, John Daniel,” Father John whispered.

“Please…ma…make it st…stop…”

“I will, but only if you take that step and do as is required of you.”

“Any…thing…Please, I’ll do…do any…thing.”

“Very well,” Father John said and helped his new convert to stand. He waited until Dunne’s eyes locked on his own and saw the fear in them as he spoke. “It is better for him if you rid him of Satan’s influence, John Daniel. It will also prove to your brothers and sisters that you are one of us…one with us. Can you be strong enough to save Chris Larabee’s soul?”

“Yes…I can…I have to be,” Dunne answered, his voice a simple monotone without inflection or emotion as he turned to look at the man tied the chair. “I have to save your soul…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

Chris lifted his head until he stared into JD’s eyes, but there was something missing now…something that usually shone bright and vibrant. Dunne’s eyes were blank as if he didn’t see anything or anyone as he drew back his right fist and brought it forward into Chris’ face. Larabee tasted blood inside his mouth and had time to realize his tooth must have cut into his cheek before a second fist slammed into his gut.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

The constant chanting grated on his nerves, but he tried to block it out as JD struck him again and again. Solid fists connected with his face, chest, and abdomen, and he tried to see the youngest member of his team. Was that tears he saw streaking down his cheeks, or sweat as he fought like his life depended on it.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

The words sounded strange to Chris as he stared at Dunne’s mouth, and could barely hear the words spoke by the Bostonian. Whatever Father John had done to the kid, Chris hoped and prayed someone would be able to break the control. As another fist struck his cheek, Chris knew it wouldn’t be him, not when each breath he took felt like fiery daggers sticking into his lungs. Something struck against his legs and he gasped and tried again to draw air into his lungs.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…” JD said the words with astounding strength as he struck the sinner again and again unaware of the blood dripping from his own damaged knuckles. His eyes were blank as he kicked the sinner in the shin and thought he heard bone break as he repeated the attack against the man’s left leg. No longer did he see Chris Larabee, instead he saw the sinner who would take him away from Father John and his new family. There was no pain for him now as he did the work of his savior and continually struck the defenseless man until a hand landed on his arm.

“It is time to stop, John Daniel, you have done well and proven that you are a devout follower.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“That is correct, My Son, now it is time to let Sister Penny take care of your wounds…”

“No more pain?”

“The pain will not return as long as you follow my teachings, John Daniel,” Father John said as Penny came forward and gently took him by the hands. “Take care of your new brother, Penny, for he has done well today.”

“Yes, Father John…the sinner will not hurt him any more?”

“No, he will not,” Father John said and watched as Penny led the young man away. He released the others and knew they would return to the chapel and continue with their daily prayers. He moved to stand in front of Chris Larabee and knew the man was in bad shape, but he would keep him alive until he was sure JD Dunne was truly under his influence.

“John Daniel did one hell of a job on him,” Tyler Grodin offered.

“Yes, he did…see that he has medical attention…”

“I thought you wanted him dead?”

“I do, but I want to be sure John Daniel is truly turned before Chris Larabee dies. Put him in one of the cells and see that he cannot escape,” Father John ordered, surprised to find Chris Larabee was awake and staring at him through swollen eyes that were dark with anger. He reached out and pulled the duct tape from the man’s mouth and cursed when the blond managed to hit him with a mass of bloodied spittle that ran down his face. Without thinking he struck Larabee across the face and rocked his head backward.

“I’ll k…kill you f…for what you…you’ve done to…h…him,” Larabee managed.

“Somehow I don’t think that is going to happen, Larabee,” Father John said and turned back to Grodin. “Get him out of here and clean him up before you throw him into a cell.”

“Yes, Father John,” Grodin agreed and released the injured man’s arms and legs.

Chris tried to gather the strength to fight, but his left leg was all but useless and his heart was pounding against his ribs. There didn’t seem to be enough air as Grodin lifted him over his shoulders and easily carried him from the room. Darkness swam at the edge of his vision and he lost the ability to think as he gave into the welcoming, pain free void.


Josiah pulled the SUV into a visitor’s spot near the main entrance to Saint Vincents Hospital. He shook his head at how quickly Buck Wilmington exited the vehicle and hurried toward the doors. It was nearly 10 AM, and they’d left the hotel as soon as the DA had given them the clearance to leave.

“Damn fool didn’t even check the traffic,” Jackson said and closed the door before checking both ways and crossing to the doors with Sanchez right behind him. They knew exactly where to go and headed for the elevators to find Buck none to gently hitting the button impatiently.

“Won’t do you any good to break it, Buck,” Sanchez told him.

“Damn elevators are slower than the second coming,” Wilmington spat, relieved when the door finally opened. He pushed past a young couple, apologizing briefly before hitting the button for the fourth floor.

“Take it easy, Buck,” Jackson said, but he knew Wilmington wouldn’t calm down until he saw for himself that Vin and Ezra were going to be okay. They exited onto the busy fourth floor and hurried toward the SICU desk located at the center of the units where critical patients were cared for by the trained medical staff.

“Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish,” Wilmington told the nurse, but turned as a familiar voice sounded from behind him.

“Buck, come with me,” Travis said and nodded for Josiah and Nathan to come along as well. He led them to the visitors lounge at the end of the corridor and motioned for the trio to sit down.

“Orin, how are they?” Jackson asked.

“Ezra’s been awake, but he lost a lot of blood and is very weak and running a fever. You can see him as soon as the nurse is done with him,” Travis answered.

“Vin?” Sanchez asked.

“He’s still unconscious. Simmons inserted a chest tube and wants him kept intubated for at least twenty four hours,” Travis answered tiredly.

“Will they be all right?” Wilmington asked.

“They should be as long as we can keep them from doing anything stupid,” Travis said.

“Vin and Ezra…do something stupid?” Jackson snapped sarcastically.

“Were you able to contact Chris and JD?” Sanchez asked.

“No, they left the conference on schedule, but they could have stopped off somewhere…”

“Orin, you’re talking Chris Larabee and JD Dunne…there’s no way in hell Chris could last this long with just the kid to keep him company,” Wilmington offered.

“You never know…maybe Chris needed some time away from your bawdy stories, Buck,” Sanchez said with a grin.

“Yeah right, Josiah, and I’m going to become a monk,” Wilmington said and pulled out his cell phone. He hit speed dial and listened as Chris’ service told him the user was either out of the service area or his cell phone was shut off. He tried Dunne’s cell and received the same message before shoving it back in his pocket. “Says the user is unavailable.”


“They could be in the mountains, Buck, you know how bad the service is there,” Travis explained.

“I hope so, but Chris’ll be pissed if we don’t keep trying,” the rogue told them as he door opened and a young nurse looked in.

“Mr. Travis, you can see Mr. Standish now.”

“Thank you, Lorene,” Travis said and stood up. “All right, Nathan, why don’t you come with me and you two go check on Vin.”

The three agents followed Travis out of the waiting room and soon found them selves splitting up to check on their injured friends. Nathan stepped into the SICU and found Ezra awake, but not fully aware as a nurse offered him a sip of water.

“Nathan, I thought you were still involved in the Rider case,” Standish said, his voice raspy as he accepted another sip of cold water.

“Rider was convicted yesterday. All that remains is the sentence and that won’t happen for a couple of weeks. Looks like you could have used more back up last night.”

“We could have…is there any word on Vin?” Standish asked tiredly.

“He’s here and you’ll both be okay as long as you listen to the staff,” Jackson told him.

“Something set Nicholson off…don’t know what,” the gambler said.

“It doesn’t matter, Ezra, it’s over now. You and Vin did a damn good job,” Travis assured him.

“As long as those bastards can’t hurt anyone any more,” Standish whispered as his eyes closed and he drifted toward sleep.

“They can’t…thanks to you and Vin,” Jackson said and looked at the monitoring equipment before pulling a chair close to the bed and sitting down to watch over the injured man.

“I need to get to the office, Nathan,” Travis said. “Let me know if you hear from Chris or JD.”

“I will, Orin. We’ll be in the office this afternoon,” the medic assured him.

“Good, I’d like an update on the Rider case and what kind of sentence you think the judge will hand down,” the older man said before leaving the room.


Josiah spotted the judge leaving just as the nurse signaled that he and buck could come into the room where Vin Tanner was being monitored. He walked over to the bed and looked down at the injured Texan. Vin’s hair was matted to his forehead by sweat and he looked whiter than the sheets he lay on. A thin blanket covered him to the chest, but he could see the tube protruding from beneath it and winced sympathetically before saying a silent prayer for both injured men.

“How is he?” Wilmington asked the nurse.

“He’s running a fever, but the medications are helping,” Julia answered, but continued to do everything to make her patient as comfortable as possible.

“Has Dr. Midland been in to see him yet?” Sanchez asked.

“I’m right behind you, Josiah,” Stacey Midland said with a hint of a smile.

“Hey, Doc, just curious as to how long you’re going to keep him out?” the ex-preacher said.

“Well, I just gave orders to ease off on the sedation so he should be waking up later this afternoon,” Midland answered and reached for Tanner’s chart.

“That’s good news right, Doc?” Wilmington asked.

“I would hope so,” Midland told him and looked around. “I see Nathan’s in with Ezra and you two are here with Vin, but that leaves two missing. Where are Chris and JD?”

“They were at a conference…”

“Together? God, don’t tell me they killed each other?” Midland quipped. She knew how JD Dunne could drive the others crazy with his one liners, but to have Chris and JD together at a conference could be a disaster in the making.

“Far as we know they left the conference in one piece,” Sanchez offered and saw a hint of worry in Wilmington’s face. “They left to drive back a few days ago as far as we know.”

“Wherever they are there’s no cell phone reception,” the rogue told her.

“So they don’t know about Vin and Ezra?” the physician asked.

“Not yet,” Sanchez answered.

“No wonder my phone’s not ringing off the hook,” Midland told them before making several notations on Tanner’s chart. “Look, it’s going to be hours before Vin and Ezra are awake enough to know you’re here…”

“We’re staying…”

“Have you looked in a mirror this morning, Josiah? You look wiped out so go home grab a couple of hours sleep and come back here when these two really need you.”

“You’ll call…”

“Yes, Buck, I’ll call if they need anything,” Midland assured the two men. “Go get Nathan and get out of here.”

Buck took one last look at the injured Texan before leaving the room. He stopped at the next unit and knew Standish was sleeping and motioned for Nathan to join him. He quickly told them what Midland had said as Josiah said a soft prayer for both injured men. By unspoken agreement the trio knew exactly where they were going and what the next few hours would be spent doing. Hopefully it wouldn’t take long to find JD and Chris, but things were never that easy with this team.


John Daniel watched as Penny bathed his hands and applied something to them. His knuckles were bruised and bleeding, but he could not remember what caused it. The golden haired beauty wore an angelic smile as she wrapped his hands in several layers of bandages and John Daniel felt at peace with himself.

“Does it hurt?” Penny asked softly as she held his hands.

“Not really…Father John took the pain away.”

“Father John always takes the pain away,” Penny told him. “Would you like to rest?”

“I would rather go for a walk…if you come with me,” John Daniel answered.

“I would like that too,” Penny assured him and helped him stand. “Father John said I am to show you around and explain what your duties will be once your hands are healed.”

“What kind of duties?”

“We grow our own fruits and vegetables and also keep a few chickens for eggs. We go into town and trade for the things we cannot grow on our own. Perhaps you can accompany us on our next visit, but only if Father John allows it.”

“Father John is my savior,” John Daniel said, his eyes lit with unshed moisture.

“Yes, he is…he will show us the way, John Daniel, and he will never let anyone hurt us or interfere with his teachings,” Penny said and smiled as he stood beside her. She linked her arm through his and walked out into the bright morning sunshine.


Chris breathed through tightly clenched teeth and swallowed convulsively as pain erupted through his body. He shifted on the bed and gasped when the movement pulled on his left leg. The agony was enough to make him vomit and he quickly realized his ankles were chained to hooks at the end of the narrow bed he lay on.

Chris tried to adjust his position, but his arms were chained to the wrought iron rungs of the bed and allowed very little movement of any kind. He blinked several times in an effort to clear his vision, but the room seemed to go in and out of focus with each move he made.

Chris tried to remember what had happened as bits and pieces matted together to form disjointed images that left him confused. He knew he’d been at a conference, but couldn’t remember leaving or where he’d gone when he left…if he’d actually left. Who had been with him and where were they?

Chris frowned and fought the creeping lethargy that often accompanied the use of drugs and wondered what he’d been given. Whatever it was left him weak and sick and did nothing to ease the pain running rampant through his body. He laid still, eyes closed, breathing slowly in an effort to alleviate the agony in his chest. Darkness swam at the edge of his vision and this time Chris had no choice, but to follow it into the darkness of his mind.


Tyler Grodin stood on the balcony overlooking the compound’s grounds and watched as the young couple made their way toward the fields on the east side of the commune. He heard footsteps behind him and turned as Father John stepped out of the room and handed him a glass of Sherry.

“They make a lovely couple,” Father John observed.

“Yes, they do, but what do you intend to do when we’re finished here?”

“I will leave them to find their own way…except for Penny and John Daniel. I believe they are my greatest success and will go a long way toward proving that I can play with the big guys,” Father John answered.

“What about Larabee?”

“John Daniel will kill him as final proof that he is programmed to carry out my orders.”

“What about the people of Providence?”

“What about them?”

“They will be angry at you for lying to them.”

“Maybe, but I believe they will be happy to have their children back,” Father John said, smiling as the couple looked up at him.


Buck sat in Chris Larabee’s seat and silently cursed the cell phone company even though he knew it was not their fault. Wherever Chris and JD were there was no way of finding them through that technology. The GPS tracker on Chris’ truck was also useless and Josiah was already speaking to the people who ran the conference Larabee and Dunne had attended.

Two hours had passed since they’d left the hospital and they had nothing to show for their work. He’d called the hospital twice to check on Tanner and Standish and was glad to find out the two men were doing better than expected. Travis had stopped by the office and updated them on the Nicholson case and asked if there’d been any word from Larabee and Dunne.

Buck looked at the files on Chris’ desk and slowly started going through them as if working on automatic. It was a way to keep his mind occupied until Sanchez finished checking with the conference people. He looked up to find Jackson watching him closely and smiled when the medic brought him a cup of coffee. “Thanks, Nate.”

“You’re welcome…anything pressing in there?”

“Not really…just a few old files that Chris never got around to updating. Guess it came down to a choice between these and going with JD.”

“Talk about a tough choice,” Jackson teased.

“Tell me about it. Did Josiah get any answers yet?”

“Not yet…he’s talked to Danielle Carmichael…”

“Who is she?”

“She’s from the Denver ATF office and is an expert on computer technology. JD said she’s a class act and he’s followed her from the first day he took an interest in computer science,” Jackson explained.

“I think I remember JD talking about her…and if that’s the case he was following her even while he was in his mother’s womb,” Wilmington explained. 

“Probably,” Jackson said as Sanchez joined them.

“Tell me you have something, Josiah,” the rogue asked worriedly.

“According to Danielle, Chris and JD left on schedule, but they did mention something about taking the scenic route home,” Sanchez explained.

“That just doesn’t sound like Chris…not when it comes to driving with JD,” Wilmington said.

“Danielle said Chris and JD were getting along very well and she was surprised when I told her the kid likes to tell these stupid jokes. She said Chris actually seemed proud of JD’s accomplishments. It took some doing, but I explained to her that was the case and that Chris was the one who chose JD as part of our team.”

“Guess she’d be shocked if she knew about the rest of us,” Wilmington said.

“Actually she does and she asked Chris if he’d be interested in taking part in some training exercises in conjunction with the ATF offices,” Sanchez explained.

“Damn, what did Chris tell her?” Jackson asked.

“She said he wouldn’t commit, but he seemed genuinely interested,” the ex-preacher answered.

“I think it’s time we put a stop to Chris and JD accompanying each other without one of us chaperoning them,” Wilmington observed before growing serious. “Did Chris happen to tell her what route they’d be taking?”

“Not exactly, but I don’t think it’ll be that hard to figure out,” Sanchez answered “We check the map and hopefully there won’t be too many roads leading from point A to point B.”

“Josiah, when is it ever that easy?” Wilmington asked and returned his attention to the files as Sanchez and Jackson went back to work and hopefully figure out where Larabee and Dunne were.


Veronica Parkinson watched as her daughter and son-in-law made their way to the town square. She could hear their soft voices chanting the praises of Father John, but she was one of the few who hadn’t fallen into his trap. The man didn’t have a holy bone in his body and his words were not those of any Deity known to man. He certainly wasn’t a man of God and somehow she would find a way to prove that.

Veronica took a deep breath and reached for her cane when her family disappeared. She knew what she had to do and thought of her granddaughter and found the strength she needed. The walk along the darkened street did not scare her for she believed in what she was doing. It took nearly an hour for her to reach Burt Landry’s gas station and it surprised her to see the black truck parked at the edge of the empty lot.

Veronica knew the truck belonged to the man Father John was holding because she’d overheard Old Burt telling her daughter about the strangers. The young man, she didn’t know his name and hadn’t seen his face, but she knew Father John was holding him at his commune outside the city limits.

Veronica made her way toward the truck and was surprised to find the driver’s window was open. She reached inside and unlocked the door before moving onto the seat. The keys were in the ignition and she wondered if she could remember how to drive the vehicle, but right now she didn’t have a choice.

“Lord, if you’re listening to me I could really use Your help right now. There’s no way my old bones can walk out of this town, but if You can see Your way to letting me drive this big truck I’ll never say another bad word as long as I live,” Parkinson said and closed her eyes before turning the keys.

“Well I’ll be damned,” she thought as the engine caught and started on the first try. “Sorry, Lord, forgive an old woman for not keeping her promise.”

Veronica took a deep breath and slowly turned the steering wheel before putting her foot on the gas. The truck started forward, making a jerking, spasmodic movement until she finally remembered the lessons her husband had given her so long ago. She silently said another prayer as her foot slipped off the gas pedal and the truck lurched to a stop before she corrected herself and drove out into the darkened road.


Father John looked out over the gathered crowd and smiled as the familiar chant rose above the sound of the wind that seemed to be picking up. Lightning flashed in the distance, but it was not close enough to be a danger yet. He smiled at the young man who knelt on his right and knew John Daniel was completely under his control as Penny reached for his hand. 

“Welcome, Children, tonight we have brought home another son who was once under the influence of Satan’s teachings. John Daniel has joined us and his eyes shine with a holy light that will not be displaced by the teachings of false prophets. He has turned his back on those who are the devil’s disciples and embraced the teachings of truth and love that can only come with complete denouncement of those who walked on the path leading to hell. Is that correct, John Daniel?”

“Yes, Father John, I believe in you…I believe you have shown me the way. All that I am…all that I have I give to you.”

“John Daniel, you are a true child of my teachings and I am proud of you, My Son,” Father John said and heard the chant rising above the treetops as thunder rolled through the mountains.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

Jean Claud Rousseau smiled as he raised his hands and listened to the people gathered in the square. They would do as he said, would believe anything he told them, because to do otherwise would mean the loss of their children. They believed he was teaching them the Gospel, but in truth the youngest ones were being kept in one of the buildings at his commune and cared for by the young people he’d taken under his wing.

Jean Claud knew he had them under his ‘spell’ and would continue that way until he released them by returning their children, and giving the word that would break through the wall he’d built up. The use of hypnosis through constant teachings and the drinking of the ceremonial ‘wines’ he’d laced with drugs had brought these people under his control. It had taken over a year to put Providence in a strangle hold and he wished he could stay around to see the fallout of what he had done.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

The rain began to fall, but the people of Providence remained where they were as if entranced by Jean Claud Rousseau’s very presence. They continued to chant until the cult leader led his followers away from the square.


Chris shifted slightly, but cried out when all that did was set off shockwaves through his body. He opened his eyes, snapping them shut when a wave of dizzying nausea washed over him. He waited until his mind and body adjusted to the tremors that racked his body before testing the restraints once more.

Chris silently cursed when all he managed to do was set off the fireworks in his skull, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. A new sound reached his ears and he turned his head slightly as the door opened and bright light danced slowly across the floor until it illuminated the cot he lay on.

“So, you’re awake, Larabee? You know John Daniel really did a number on you. Father John is very proud of his newest protégé.”

“Father John’s an asshole,” Larabee spat.

“That’s not a nice thing to say about a man who is so devoted to his followers…”

“What did he do to JD?”

“I don’t know JD, but John Daniel was simply given the word of God…”

“God has nothing to do with what…what you’ve done to these people…”

“These people have simply seen the light.”

“Light…my ass. You people have done something…drugs maybe…hypnosis…mass hypnosis maybe,” Larabee tried, crying out as the man struck him across the face.

“What’s the matter, Larabee, you don’t seem to be enjoying yourself?” Grodin spat.

“You’re an asshole,” the blond snapped.

“Father John has plans for John Daniel…”

“JD will fight him…”

“Not likely, Larabee. You saw what he made John Daniel do to you when Father John told him you were a sinner. Just think what he could get John Daniel to do to someone he doesn’t know. The kid could be a real killer if Father John is given the time to really program him.”

“He won’t…I won’t let it hap…happen.”

“You’re in no position to stop him, Larabee…as a matter of fact I’m pretty sure you’ll be dead before the end of the week.”

“Take a look…look in the mirror…you’re the fucking dead man,” Larabee snapped and cried out when the man struck him several times before leaving him to the darkness again. He had no choice, but to close his eyes and give in to the exhaustion and pain warring for dominance as he silently prayed Buck, Vin and the others were searching for them.


Buck, Josiah, and Nathan had a late dinner before making their way back to the hospital. They weren’t surprised to find Nettie and Casey Wells visiting the injured men and hugged both women before Josiah spoke.

“Have they been awake at all?”

“Not since they moved Ezra into a semi private room this afternoon,” Nettie explained. “Vin’s been unconscious the whole time, but Stacey says he’s going to be fine.”

“Vin’s a tough nut to crack, Nettie,” Wilmington offered.

“Is there any word on JD and Chris?” Casey asked.

“Not yet,” the worried rogue answered.

“Shouldn’t they have called by now?” Nettie asked.

“They should have, Nettie, but from what we’ve gathered they were taking the scenic route home through the mountains. There’s no cell phone reception and…”

“What about the GPS on Chris’ truck? Can’t you use that to locate them?” Casey asked.

“We tried, but it’s either turned off or not working,” Jackson answered.

“JD was supposed to call me…he called every day since he left…I’m worried, Buck.”

“I know you are, Casey,” Wilmington said and hugged the young woman.

“Something’s wrong, Buck…I feel like he’s in trouble,” Casey told him.

“We’ll find them, Casey, you have my word on that,” the rogue assured her.

“Thank you,” Casey said.

“Casey, it’s time we went home,” Nettie said and turned to Buck. “Do whatever you have to.”

“We will, Nettie,” Wilmington said tiredly.

“Buck, Ezra’s on the second floor,” Sanchez advised. “Nathan and I will meet you there.”

“Sounds good, Josiah,” Wilmington said and moved toward Tanner’s room. He hated seeing the tubes and IVs, but understood they were necessary to keep the injured man alive and hopefully as pain free as possible considering the trauma his body sustained.

“Buck…look…look like hell.”

“Nice to see you too, Tanner. Thought I told you and Ezra to be careful?” Wilmington teased.

“Thought that was Chris’ job,” the Texan answered and looked around. “Where’s Larabee?”

“Him and JD are not back yet,” Buck answered truthfully and explained the story Danielle had given Josiah. Tanner’s face creased in a frown and Wilmington knew exactly what he was thinking.

“Ya ain’t talked ta Chris?”

“Not yet…you know the mountains can make a mess of cell phones and GPS,” Wilmington tried.

“Larabee would’ve called ta check on us…knew we’d be movin’ in on Nicholson,” the Texan said and tried to sit up.

“Easy, Vin, in case you haven’t noticed you have a few accessories that tie you to that bed,” the rogue advised.

“Damn…how long?”

“You and Ezra were brought in last night…a little over 24 hours…”

“How is Ez?”

“He’s in a little better shape than you are right now, but it looks like you and him are going to be roommates by tomorrow or the next day,” Wilmington told him.

“Damn…he’ll talk my damned head off.”

“Not if they give him the good stuff…it’ll knock him out…”

“Make sure they give him mine too…save us both a headache,” Tanner said and grew serious. “Buck…”

“We’ll find them, Vin, but right now you and Ezra are out of the equation.”

“I know…just be careful…somethin’ tells me ya ain’t gonna find ‘em campin’ out somewhere pretty,” Tanner said and sighed heavily as the heavy drugs dragged him under.

“I know, Pard, but I will…we will find them,” Wilmington vowed. He looked at the numbers on the monitors and realized he’d gotten so damn used to seeing them he actually understood what some of it meant. Tanner was down, but he definitely wasn’t out and he had a feeling there’d be a fight to keep him and Standish down if they found out something had happened to Larabee and Dunne.


Ezra heard the door open, but kept his eyes closed because as late as it was it could only be a member of the nursing staff. He knew they were only doing their job, but the old adage about them waking a patient up to ask if they needed a sleeping pill kept going through his mind.

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” Jackson said and smiled when the gambler opened his eyes.

“Sorry, I though you were a nurse offering sleeping aids,” Standish said.

“No, but if you need one…”

“No, I believe the medications they are giving me are strong enough to help me sleep.”

“Good, you need it,” Jackson offered.

“How did the Rider case conclude?” Standish asked seriously.

“The jury brought in a guilty verdict,” Sanchez assured him.

“Good, that’s one less bastard we have to worry about,” the gambler said. “Have you seen Vin?”

“Buck’s with him now, but he should be down shortly since visiting hours are over,” Jackson explained. “Orin told us what happened with the Nicholson case…that’s a few more chalked up to the good guys, but you and Vin need to learn to duck.”

“Believe me we tried,” Standish told them tiredly as a nurse entered the room and gave Nathan and Josiah a look that told them they should leave.

“Ezra, we’ll be here in the morning,” Jackson said.

“Wait, what about Chris and JD…do they know what transpired?”

“Not yet…they’re taking the scenic route home,” Sanchez offered and hoped the younger man would not ask for an explanation.

“Visiting hours ended half an hour ago, Gentlemen,” the nurse scolded and began taking the conman’s vitals.

“We’ll see you in the morning, Ezra, get some rest,” Jackson said.

“That is not possible, Nathan, not while I am a guest in this facility,” Ezra said, sighing heavily as his eyes closed.

“How’s Ezra?” Wilmington asked when they exited the room.

“He’s better than I expected,” Jackson answered. “He was asking about Chris and JD.”

“So was Vin…he knows something is wrong,” the worried rogue explained.

“Damn Texan’s internal radar is working even with the heavy meds,” the medic observed as they moved toward the stairs.

“Well, there’s not much we can do tonight so we might as well head home and get a fresh start first thing in the morning,” Sanchez offered.

“Sounds good, Josiah,” Wilmington agreed, yet he knew he wouldn’t be getting much sleep until they heard form Chris and JD. His own radar was screaming that something wasn’t right and he needed to find out what had happened to the two men.


Veronica Parkinson cursed her aged body as she drove slowly along the road leading away from Providence. She knew she’d been driving for at least two hours and prayed Old Burt had gone straight home after the gathering instead of going to his station. There was no way she could stop yet, not when she was driving so slowly that anyone could catch up to her if they walked fast. She’d thought about driving faster, but her reaction time was not what it used to be and a quick trip out of the mountains by going down a cliff would not help her grandchild.

“Slow, but steady,” Veronica whispered and pushed her glasses back up before squinting into the darkness at the sides of the road. She thanked God for giving her a cloudless night and a full-bodied moon, and hopefully her faculties were intact enough that she could complete the tasks she’d set for herself.

Veronica drove for several miles before realizing she really needed to stop and rest or she could very easily end up at the bottom of a ravine with only the animals to mourn her passing. She searched both sides of the road, hoping and praying she would find a safe haven for a few hours. That was all she needed because she’d never been one to need eight straight hours of sleep and had often walked the streets of Providence while the town slept peacefully around her.

“I know I’m asking a lot lately, Lord, but if You could find it in your heart to show me a safe place to rest these weary bones…” Before she could finish her eyes grew wide with surprise at the sight before her. She turned onto the highway, feeling as if her prayers had been answered as she drove away from her home. She would find help and set her family free. With God’s help her town would be back to normal and filled with renewed hope of the future.


A soft moan escaped from Chris Larabee as he struggled to full consciousness and immediately wished for the pain free dreams he’d just left. The room was as dark as the storms raging inside him at the thought of what was happening to JD Dunne. Chris knew he needed to find a way to escape if he was going to help the young Bostonian, but right now he barely had the strength to keep his eyes open.

Larabee thought about the rest of his team and wondered if Ezra and Vin had been successful in taking Nicholson’s bunch down. He knew they could handle themselves, but things sometimes went wrong no matter how hard they planned for every contingency. The Rider case Buck, Nathan and Josiah were testifying in was proof of that.

Chris hoped the case wasn’t dragging out and for once they would be lucky, but more often than not they had either bad luck or no luck at all. If the judge allowed the trio’s testimony then Rider would spend the rest of his life behind bars, if not the bastard just might go free. A shudder ran through his body at the thought of that happening and he knew the team would go after Rider until he was off the streets for good.

Larabee tried to pull his hands free, but all that did was remind him of the lack of success he’d had with earlier attempts. His left leg made movement impossible and he knew now it was broken. Breathing was another futile test of his determination to free himself and save JD Dunne before it was too late.

Chris knew no matter what happened JD would have one hell of a fight ahead of him. 

He needed help to deal with what ‘Father John’ had put him through. There was only one man he trusted to help Dunne and Chris knew Peter Wellington would do everything he could to bring JD out from under the cult leader’s programming.

*‘Just hang on, Kid, he won’t win,’*

Larabee thought as darkness closed in around him.


John Daniel smiled as he spotted the pretty young woman walking toward him and felt something cold before her hand touched his. His mind was no longer clear, yet there were visions of another young woman, one who he’d given his heart to, but he couldn’t go there because that would bring back the pain. Father John was the only one who could make the pain stop and he did not want to go through that again. It was safer, easier to just 

believe in Father John’s teachings and forget the other woman as Penny stopped beside him.

“Father John’s blessings, John Daniel.”

“Father John’s blessings, Penny,” John Daniel said and took her hand in his own.

“It is a glorious day is it not?”

“Yes, it is,” John Daniel agreed. The sun had risen above the horizon while birds sang in the nearby trees and the scent of wildflowers gave him a heady feeling. He rubbed at a spot on the inner part of his forearm and frowned when he looked at his bruised knuckles. Why did his hands hurt?

“John Daniel, is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure…what happened to my hands?”

“Bright blessings, John Daniel…bright blessings, Penny.”

“Bright blessings, Father John,” Penny said and bowed her head slightly.

“John Daniel, is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure,” JD said, eyes closing as flashes of images shot across his mind leaving him angry and sad at the same time.

“Come, John Daniel, we have neglected your meditation this morning,” Father John said sharply.

“No…please, I am all right…Father John is my Savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Yes, I will, John Daniel, but before that can happen you must be freed of your sins and of those around you,” Father John said and motioned for Tyler Grodin to take the young man for further training.

“Father John, what will happen to John Daniel?” Penny asked as the young man was lead from the clearing.

“Do you trust me, Child?”

“Yes, Father John.”

“Then trust in me to do what must be done to cleanse John Daniel’s soul. He will learn to meditate and ask forgiveness and I shall grant it. You shall see your young man at tonight’s gathering, Child. For now I want you to go to the gardens and help Brother Zachariah.”

“Yes, Father John,” Penny said, eyes sparkling as he touched her cheek before turning away.


John Daniel felt tears in his eyes as Tyler Grodin strapped him to the familiar table and locked the restraints in place. He knew he’d done something to displease Father John, but could not quite grasp what it was. He trembled uncontrollably as he felt something sharp enter his forearm and knew why his arm had been sore earlier.

“John Daniel…”

“Father John is my Savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Yes, I will, Child, but you must believe in me or the pain will grow,” Father John warned and watched as the young convert’s body arched up in spite of the restraints. The muscles of his chest, arms, neck, and legs grew taught and seemed on the verge of bursting as Grodin injected the cocktail that would help him bring JD Dunne back under his control.

John Daniel screamed through tightly clenched teeth as Father John placed a hand on his right cheek.

“Would you like me to take the pain away, Child?”


“I am here, John Daniel, all you have to do is ask.”

“Please…no more pain…Father J…John is my Sa…Savior…Father John will…will show me…me the way…”

“Very well…feel the pain leaving you through my touch, John Daniel, and know that I can and will protect you from the sinners who threaten to take you from us,” Father John said, smiling as the young man’s body dropped down on the table. He knew Grodin had given him the medication to help him sleep and he would not wake up for several hours. By that time he would remember the pain, but more importantly he would remember who had saved him once more.  

“It doesn’t take as long to bring him back,” Grodin observed.

“There will come a time when we will not have to resort to drugs to bring him back under control, Tyler, but for now we must continue to stay on top of these episodes,” Jean Claud Rousseau observed. “Stay with him and let me know if he wakes.”

“I will,” Grodin said and watched the young man’s face as it shone with conflicting emotions even while he slept.


Marilyn Bellows knocked gently on the door to her mother’s room and frowned when there was still no sound from inside. Veronica Parkinson had never been a late sleeper and usually awoke before the roosters crowed. She turned when she heard footsteps and was not surprised to find her husband of twelve years standing there.

“William, mother is not answering.”

“Maybe she’s just tired, Marilyn.”

“Mother never sleeps late…you could set the clock by her.”

“Did you try the door?” William asked.

“I did not want to go in without Mother’s permission,” Marilyn said.

“Let me,” William said and opened the door. The air held a hint of mothballs as dust bunnies danced in the shimmering sunlight. “She’s not here.”

“Mother,” Marilyn called upon entering the room to find the bed looked as if it hadn’t been slept in. “Where could she be?”

“Probably still out on one of her late night vigils,” William answered. He didn’t dislike his mother-in-law, but he would have preferred it if she’d kept her own home instead of moving in with them.

“She’s always back before we get up, William…what if something’s happened to her?”

“Father John will protect her,” William said.

“Will he…what about Millie? God, William, I want her back…”

“She is safe with Father John…”

“Is she? How can we be sure when he doesn’t allow us to see her?”

“He is protecting her from sinners, Marilyn…”

“You and I are not sinners, William. We love our daughter and I want her home,” Marilyn snapped.

“I know and he has promised the children will be returned once it is safe for them. We have to listen to him, Marilyn, or he could believe we are sinners and keep her from us.”

“We can’t let him do that! We have to get outside help, William, especially now that mother is missing…what if…what if he’s taken her too?”

“Your mother is strong, Marilyn, she won’t let him take her…”

“I hope she’s okay…God help me we’ve been so blind,” Marilyn said.

“Yes, we have, but…”


“We have to be careful or we could lose Millie…”

“No, we can’t…not when it took us so long to have her,” Marilyn Bellows cried against his shoulder while praying for the strength they’d need for the road ahead.


Veronica coughed and rubbed at her eyes and knew she’d fallen asleep as soon as she’d pulled off the highway. She hadn’t expected to sleep so long, but the events leading up to her escape form Providence had finally caught up to her. She massaged her neck and straightened her back, wincing when she heard her bones creak as she reached for the keys she’d left in the ignition.

Veronica thought about her daughter and wondered if she was as blinded by ‘Father John’ as she seemed. She prayed Marilyn would come to her senses before it cost her the most precious gift God gave her. Marilyn had been her only child and she’d only conceived after she’d given up on the doctors and specialists.

Veronica thought about her deceased husband, Gerard Parkinson, and the joy on his face after she’d taken the home pregnancy test. At age 40 she’d given birth to a beautiful baby girl who’d quickly become the apple of her father’s eye. She smiled at the picture it conjured up in her mind…a father so proud as he held his baby girl in his arms and kissed her forehead.

“Oh, Gerard, please keep them safe until I get help,” Veronica said as she drove out onto the deserted highway and hoped someone would find her before she ran out of gas.


Ezra shifted on the bed and sat up as the lab tech finished taking the blood from his right arm. His side ached, but the medication they were giving him worked to make him fairly comfortable. He glanced at the clock over the door and slid his legs over the edge of the bed.

Ezra grabbed onto the IV pole and stood on shaky legs, disgusted with the fact that he was wearing nothing but a skimpy hospital issue gown. He glanced around until he spotted a second gown hanging over the back of a chair and shuffled toward it. He had plenty of experience with ‘escaping’ from a hospital room even with an IV as an accessory. He fed the bag of IV solution through the sleeve of the second gown before putting it on backwards.  

Once he was done he re-hung the bag and looked for something he could put on his feet. He checked the drawers in the closet and found a pair of paper slippers and put them on. Satisfied that he was somewhat presentable, Ezra made his way to the door, pushed it open and glancing out into the hallway. There were several nurses delivering medications and signing charts, but most of the staff was in the morning meetings where the night shift would be updating the day staff about their patients.

Ezra shuffled toward the elevator across from the nurse’s desk, relieved to find it unmanned as he pushed the button and entered the elevator as soon as the door opened. He knew he should not be doing this, but he needed to see that Vin was really okay. He exited the elevator on the SICU floor and made his way along the corridor until he reached the main desk.

“Excuse me, but I could have sworn they moved you to a regular floor yesterday.”

Ezra turned at the sound of the stern voice and forced a smile to his face when the nurse stood her ground. “I’m sorry, Nurse Hardisty, I was looking for the bathroom…”

“Don’t give me that, Ezra Standish,” Norma Hardisty scolded. “I know damn well you know exactly why you’re here.”

“I am…”

“I’m not a hard ass,” Ezra,” Norma told him, but kept her arms folded across her chest as she spoke. “I know you’re worried about your friend, but he is getting the best care possible, meanwhile you should be resting in your own bed. I will give you two minutes with Vin Tanner and then I’ll be back with a wheelchair and personally escort you back to your room. Understood?”

“Yes, Nurse Hardisty,” Standish said, shocked at how easily she saw through him.

“Go on…time is wasting,” Norma ordered and watched as the injured man made his way toward Tanner’s cubicle.

Ezra entered to find Vin wearing a hint of a smile and knew he must have overheard the nurse reading him the riot act. The Texan looked far paler than the pillow he lay on, yet he was very much alive and that was enough for Ezra. “I am pleased to see you are so amused this morning, My Friend.”

“Ain’t often someone reads you the riot act and gets the last word,” Tanner observed and pushed the button to raise the head of his bed. “Ya know that color suits ya although them legs could use a shave.”

“Very funny, Mr. Tanner, but shaving my legs is not…”

“Don’t tell me ya prefer waxin’?”

“Oh, God, that would be pure torture,” Standish grumbled and sank onto the chair next to the Texan’s bed. “Nicholson panicked.”

“Seemed like it,” Tanner agreed. “I don’t think we did anythin’ ta set him off.”

“We did everything by the book…at least he’s not going to be dealing in weapons or drugs any more,” Standish agreed.

“And the Oberons are out of it…”

“There is that…perhaps when we are released from this facility we can celebrate in style.”

“Sounds like a plan ta me…hell, looks like yer ride’s here.”

“Has it been two minutes already?” Standish muttered.

“Two minutes and nineteen seconds, but who’s keeping track,” Hardisty asked with a smile as she helped Standish into the wheelchair.

“I will be up…”

“Not a chance, Ezra, not on my watch anyway,” Norma warned and covered his legs with a thin blanket.

“Say goodnight, Ezra…”

“Goodnight, Ezra,” Standish grumbled as the nurse wheeled him from the room.

Vin lay back on the bed and tried to think past the ache in his chest. He unconsciously rubbed at the tube leading into his side, and thought about Chris Larabee. During the last few years he’d come to think of Larabee as the brother he didn’t have, and a strong connection had grown between them. There were times when he could sense something was bothering the blond, and other times when he knew there was something seriously wrong with Chris Larabee.

Tanner closed his eyes, but did not sleep. Instead he worried that something had happened to Larabee and Dunne. How many times had his instincts kicked in and warned him something bad had happened? How many times had those instincts been right? Too many to count on both hands was the answer that came to mind and it terrified him that he was stuck in the hospital and unable to go looking for answers.

“Vin, how are you feeling?” Stacey Midland asked upon entering the room to find Tanner’s face twisted in a grimace that spoke of pain.

“Hi, Doc, not feelin’ much of anythin’ right now.”

“Strange, I could have sworn you look like hell.”

“Just thinkin’, Doc, stuff yer givin’ me is strong,” Tanner told her.

“Good, that’s what it’s there for,” Midland said and checked the notations on his chart. “I believe we can move you in with Ezra this afternoon.”

“Thanks, Doc, what about this damn tube?”

“Sorry, you’re stuck with that for a few more days,” Midland said. “Vin, I know you hate being here, but right now there really is no choice in the matter.”

“I know, Doc,” Tanner said tiredly.

“Get some sleep, Vin, I’ll check on you later,” the physician told him and knew the Texan wouldn’t sleep until the drugs took hold and he had no choice.


Buck looked at his watch as Nathan and Josiah walked into the office. He woke early and knew there was no point in trying to sleep, so he’d made straight for the office. 

So far he’d been unable to find any trace of Larabee or Dunne since they’d left the convention. Even when they’d stopped for gas they must have used cash instead of a credit card.

“Thanks,” Wilmington said when Jackson handed him an extra large coffee from Delvecchio’s.

“Did you get any sleep, Buck?” Sanchez asked.

“Couple of hours…gave up around three and figured I might as well come in and finish those files for Chris,” the rogue answered.

“Did you find anything?” Jackson asked.

“No, still no cell phone reception and the GPS doesn’t seem to be working,” Wilmington told them and touched the keys on his laptop, surprised when the screen lit up.

“Buck, what’s wrong?” Sanchez asked.

“Nothing…something’s right,” Wilmington said and grabbed his cell phone. “The GPS is working…looks like Chris and JD are out of the ‘dead zone’.”

“Thank God,” Jackson said.

“Still no cell phone service,” Wilmington told them.

“Could still be some kind of interference? See if you correlate their location with a map search of the area,” Sanchez ordered.

“This could take a while,” Buck told them.

“Well, visiting hours don’t start for another hour,” Jackson said of the two men in the hospital.

“Maybe we’ll have some good news by then,” Sanchez offered and pulled a chair closer to the desk as the phone rang. “Sanchez.”

*“Josiah, it’s Orin…has there been any word from Chris?”

“Not yet, Orin, but it looks like the GPS locater is working,” the ex-preacher explained.

*“Where are they? Have you tried their cell phones?”

“Buck is working on location, but there’s still no cell phone reception,” Sanchez answered.

*“Keep me in the loop on this, okay?”

“You know we will, Orin,” Sanchez assured him. >

*“Good, I’m going to be tied up in meetings all afternoon, but tell Peggy to put you through if you find them.”

“I will, Orin, good luck with those meetings,” Sanchez said and hung up the phone.


Chris knew he was no longer alone and blinked his eyes several times when a bright light shone in his eyes. He couldn’t protect himself as a strong hand grabbed his chin and forced his head up.

“Welcome back, Larabee,” Jean Claud Rousseau said, slapping his captive to make sure he knew he was there. “I must say John Daniel did a good job on you.”

“JD’ll fight you…”

“Yes, you’re right he will…he already has, but rest assured I have the means and know how to bring him under control. His next test will be to kill you and I assure you he will do that before long. Pain is a wonderful incentive and since I am the only one who can alleviate his, he will do as I say.”


“His name is John Daniel,” Jean Claud said and pressed on the prisoner’s broken leg. “Would JD do this to you, Larabee?”

“JD will fight you…you won’t…won’t win…”

“I already have,” Jean Claud told him.

“Don’t…don’t bet on it,” the blond managed between haggard breaths.

“I don’t bet, Larabee, I play to win and leave nothing to chance,” Rousseau vowed. “When I leave you will already be dead and John Daniel will no longer remember what it meant to be JD Dunne.”

“Not…not going to hap…happen.” Larabee spat.

“You won’t be alive long enough to see it, but mark my words…while you’re in hell John Daniel will be a killing machine…and I will be his manager.”

Chris tried to ignore the agony in his leg as ‘Father John’ took pleasure in causing pain by pressing on the broken bone. His stomach churned and bitter bile rose in his throat as consciousness left him.

“John Daniel is mine now, Chris Larabee, and death will be calling for you at his hands,” Rousseau said before leaving the injured man to the darkness.


Burt Landry knew he would be in trouble if Father John found out he’d been imbibing in the devil’s liquor. He’d found the bottle hidden at the back of his closet and spent the night drinking and enjoying the heady sense of giddiness it gave him. Now though, as the bright sunlight stabbed at his skull, Burt knew he should never have indulged in the liquor.

Landry walked toward his station, frowning when he searched the lot for the black truck belonging to Chris Larabee. He knew it was parked at the back of his lot, but no matter how hard he tried or how many times he said a soft prayer, the truck did not reappear.

‘What the hell,’

he thought, silently cursing the drummer in his skull. He had no idea what he should do, but he knew if he went to Father John he would be in trouble. Maybe, if he chose to ignore the missing truck until someone asked about it he could come up with a plausible story.

Taking a deep breath, Landry made his way to the gas station and entered, wishing he’d had air conditioning installed. The heat inside was oppressive, but at least he could open the window and let the soft breeze blow through.


John Daniel sighed happily as he walked beside the young woman who seemed to be the perfect fit for him. He no longer thought of anyone else, erasing the memory of another young woman who only brought him pain. Penny didn’t do that, she simply stood at his side, smiling as if she belonged there.

John Daniel greeted the others with the same tone they greeted him, smiling and bowing slightly to the elders and especially to his savior. Father John had blessed him personally and John Daniel understood that he had been chosen to enter the commune and someday he would be given more duties.

“Bright blessings, John Daniel and Penny,” a young man said as they walked up to him.

“Bright blessings, Michael,” the happy couple returned.

“Father John has something special planned for tonight,” Michael told them.

“You are not to speak of Father John’s plans, Michael,” Penny scolded softly.

“I am sorry, Penny, I did not mean anything by that…I will not repeat it again.”

“Very well…see that you do not or Father John will be angry,” Penny warned before linking her arm with John Daniel’s and steering him away from Michael. She would make sure Father John knew that Michael was saying things that he was not supposed to and perhaps he would give his blessings to her and John Daniel for their loyalty.

“Penny, do you know what Father John has planned for tonight?”

“Sh, John Daniel, we do not question Father John, nor do we speak out of turn for he will hear of it. Michael has to learn his place or he will be taken from the commune. Come, let us enjoy the morning meal together,” Penny suggested.

“I am hungry,” John Daniel told her and smiled as they walked toward the building where meals were served.



“Hold on a second…I think I’ve figured this damn thing out,” Wilmington snapped. Jackson had gone to the hospital to check on Vin and Ezra, leaving him and Josiah to figure out where Larabee’s truck was on the map. They would pick the medic up once they knew where they were going and hopefully escape before Vin and Ezra found out what was happening. “Jesus, the kid makes this look so fucking easy.”

“JD was born with a keyboard in his hands and a mouse…”

“Up his ass,” Wilmington finished with a grin. “I think that’s got it.”

“You sure?”

“No, but we could ask Ezra to take a look…”

“And risk him and Vin pulling a disappearing act?”

“Oh, hell, guess we’ll just have to rely on our own instincts,” Wilmington said and took the laptop from the desk. “We should be able to intercept the truck by this evening.”

“Unless you’re reading it wrong…”

“Josiah, you can be a real pessimist you know that?”

“I always was the ‘glass is half empty’ kind of guy, Buck,” the older man said and heard Wilmington chuckle as he locked up the main door of the office.


Veronica didn’t know whether she should be happy or irate that there had only been one other vehicle on the road. She wasn’t sure she should stop someone or continue driving until she reached some kind of civilization. It had been several years since she’d had any reason to leave Providence, and so far the area still looked desolate.

Veronica hoped there would be a police car in the area, but so far the only car that passed her was going in the same direction she was at a speed that quickly left her far behind. She chuckled softly when she realized a snail could probably leave her in the dust, but she refused to let the speedometer go above the twenty mile an hour line.

The sun had risen above the mountains, and she blinked before pulling down the sun visor. It didn’t help much, but at least it helped keep the glare from her eyes. At least if she’d gone in the other direction the sun wouldn’t have been much of a problem, then again with her luck it could be raining cats and dogs. Shrugging her shoulders in an effort to ease the stiffness, Veronica concentrated on the road ahead silently praying she would soon find the help she needed.


Ezra looked at the man standing beside the bed and wondered why Nathan looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. “If I did not know better I would gladly wager you were the one confined to this facility.”

“Good morning to you too, Ezra,” Jackson said. “How are you feeling?”

“I have been better, but at least they brought what passes for real food this morning,” Standish answered.

“I’m sure Vin would have happily traded with you,” Jackson offered.

“I believe he would have jumped at the chance,” the injured man said. “Nathan, has there been any word from Chris and JD?”

“Nothing yet, but we’re working on it,” the medic answered vaguely.

“Have you checked the GPS tracker on Chris’ truck?”

“Yes, but we’re not getting a signal. You know the mountains can interfere in those types of signals,” Jackson said.

“I would have thought Chris would call to check on the Nicholson and Rider cases.”

“Again their cell phones…”

“They would have used payphones,” Standish interrupted.

“If they found one,” Jackson said. “Look, Ezra, there’s no point in worrying. Chris and JD could easily have forgotten to call…I’m sure they’re both fine…”

“You don’t sound sure, Nathan,” Standish told him. “If I am reading you right there is more going on than what you’re telling me.”


“Nathan, you should know that you can’t con a conman. What is really going on?”

Jackson sighed heavily before pulling over a chair and sitting down. “We don’t know much of anything, Ezra. Chris and JD could very well be in a dead zone where there’s no signal…”

“You don’t believe that anymore than I do,” Standish said, awkwardly crossing his arms over his chest.

“Even if I don’t there’s nothing you can do from here,” the medic told him.

“We could…”

“We - meaning you and Vin? Right now you’re both out of the equation,” Jackson said seriously.

“Have you checked my computer to see if you could…”

“Buck and Josiah are working on it,” the medic answered. “I hear Vin will be joining you this afternoon.”

“Nathan, is everything okay?” Sanchez asked from the open doorway.

“Everything’s fine, Josiah,” Jackson assured him. “Did you and Buck figure it out?”

“We know where they are,” the ex-preacher answered. “Buck’s waiting downstairs.”

“Ezra, I’m leaving it to you to make sure Vin doesn’t do anything stupid,” Jackson said.

“Why would Vin do anything stupid? I thought you said it was a dead zone problem?” Standish asked.

“I did and it could very well be, but if Vin starts over thinking things he’ll wind up busting open his stitches. Maybe I should talk to Doc. Midland and have her put you both out for 24 hours.”

“Nathan, just do me a favor.”

“Name it, Ezra,” Jackson said.

“Call us as soon as you know anything,” the gambler ordered.

“We will…try not to worry,” the medic said and knew that was not likely to happen until they found the missing men. “Maybe we’ll all have a good laugh over this before visiting hours end tonight.”

“Maybe,” Standish said and watched the two men leave. He wanted to go after them, but right now he could barely walk across the room without losing his balance.


Buck kept checking the laptop, while glancing at the speedometer on Josiah’s SUV. The man was already doing ten miles over the recommended speed limit, yet Buck felt as if they were crawling along. He knew it was dangerous to drive any faster, especially since they’d reached the foothills leading into the mountains. The roads, although well maintained could still be treacherous.

Buck knew they would all feel foolish if they reached the truck and Chris or JD was driving. The problem was with each passing mile, he felt sure something had happened. Instincts were something the whole team had and sometimes they kicked and screamed while other times they just nagged at you until you had no choice, but to give in to them.

Buck glanced at the laptop and knew it would still be a couple of hours before they intercepted the truck. He sighed heavily as he heard Jackson take out his cell phone. He knew he was trying Larabee and Dunne’s cell numbers and silently prayed one of them would answer.

“Anything?” Sanchez asked.

“No…still no signal,” Jackson answered.

“Buck, anything new with the GPS?”

“No, we’re still on the correct course, but it’ll take a couple of hours to reach them,” Wilmington answered and shifted impatiently in his seat. The trio grew silent, hoping that when they met the truck they would all get a good laugh out of this. 


Vin hated being confined to bed, but the tube in his chest made it impossible for him to escape whether he had the energy to do it or not. Right now he didn’t think he had the strength to lift his head, let alone walk the few feet to the doorway. Midland had already been in and he knew an orderly and nurse would be there shortly to transfer him, and his accessories to Ezra’s room.

The Texan closed his eyes and thought about Chris Larabee and JD Dunne. He knew Buck, Josiah, and Nathan had left to search for the missing men, and hoped they would find them before the day was over. The problem was his radar was playing havoc with his senses and he knew the two missing members of the team were in trouble.

Tanner silently cursed being stuck in the damn bed when there was trouble, especially when it revolved around the men he considered family. There was nothing he could do, but wait until Buck called, even then the only thing he could offer was advice.

“Vin, we’re going to move you in with Ezra now,” Thelma Murphy explained upon entering the SICU.

“Thanks, Thelma,” Tanner said and relaxed in the bed as they unhooked some of the SICU accessories and shifted his bed toward the open door. He closed his eyes and drifted toward sleep, but opened them again when he heard a new voice speaking to him.

“Hello, Mr. Tanner, my name is Sherry and I’ll be one of the nurses looking after you today,” the pretty brunette told him as she adjusted the head of his bed. He’d been asleep when they’d brought him down and re-connected the extra equipment and made sure he was comfortable.

“Thanks, Sherry…name’s Vin,” Tanner told her.

“Your call button is right by your hand here. If you need anything just push it,” Sherry told him and finished checking his vitals before turning to the second man. “How are you feeling, Ezra?”

“I am fine,” Standish answered honestly.

“Well then I’ll leave you alone, but I’ll be back with dinner in about half an hour,” the nurse said before leaving the two men alone.

“Any word from Buck?” Tanner asked without opening his eyes.

“Not since they left this morning,” Standish told him.

“Damn, I was hoping they’d have found something by now,” the Texan said.

“Yes, well, I am sure they are hot on the trail,” the gambler explained. “Do you honestly believe something has happened to Chris and JD?”

“Don’t know…just don’t feel right them not callin’ ta check on the case. Ya know Chris…he’d be on our asses if’n he could.”

“I believe I just heard Mr. Travis complaining about the insurance premiums going through the roof,” Standish offered.

“Hell, Ezra, thought that happened a week after the agency opened,” Tanner said softly. He turned sideways and looked into the conman’s eyes…the worry he saw there mirrored his own, yet there was nothing he could say or do to ease it until they heard from Wilmington.


Veronica Parkinson sighed heavily as she pulled the truck to a stop at the edge of the highway. She felt like she’d been driving for days, yet all combined it wasn’t that long because she’d been forced to pull over several times due to stiffness and pain in her back and hips. She glanced at the fuel gauge and realized she would probably run out of gas before long, and then she’d be forced to start walking.

Veronica had never been a quitter, but the task she’d set for herself seemed an insurmountable one as she tried to drive a vehicle on an unfamiliar road. She silently prayed for the strength she needed to complete the job she’d set out to do, but as the sun slowly dipped below the mountains, taking with it the hope that had built throughout the day.

Parkinson had seen several vehicles pass her throughout the day, but no one had stopped even when she blinked her emergency flashers at them. Tired beyond belief, Veronica felt tears of frustration fill her eyes. She hit the steering wheel and fought the fear that spread through her as she thought of her granddaughter.

Veronica let her head rest against the seat, and felt herself drifting toward sleep, but was startled awake when a man tapped on the driver’s side window. There was something frightening in the clear blue eyes, but there was something else there that screamed for her to trust him. She lowered the window a fraction of an inch, but shook her head when he signaled for her to open the door.

“Lady, you have some explaining to do!” Buck snapped until he saw the fear in her moisture-laden eyes.

“I need help…would you call the police for me…”

“Where did you get the truck?” Wilmington asked softly.

“Please, they have my granddaughter…I need you to call the police,” Parkinson told him.

“Josiah, call the police,” the worried rogue ordered and returned his attention to the woman. “Ma’am, this truck belongs to a friend of ours…”

“A man…with blond hair?” Veronica asked, remembering the man she’d seen put in Father John’s car.

“Yes, Ma’am, his name is Chris Larabee and he and JD were supposed to be home a couple of days ago…”

“They came to Providence…and that SOB got them. I saw him take your friend and I’m betting he already got the other one,” Veronica told him.

“Do you know where they are, Ma’am?” Wilmington asked.

“He probably took them to the commune…I can show you…”

“What about the police?” Jackson asked.

“Oh, please, the police in Providence are a joke. They work for Father John…”

“Father John?” Wilmington asked as she opened the door.

“The self proclaimed bastard who took your friend. He’s pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes and those who don’t do as he says simply disappear. I know he took my granddaughter and all the young children, but he only lets us see the older ones and they all seem to be under some kind of control. The police there won’t help you…he probably has a member of their family at his commune too.”

“All right, Ma’am,” Jackson said. “We’ll get outside police, but we need to find Chris and JD right away.”

“I can take you to the commune, but if it’s all right with you boys I’d rather not have to drive any more,” Parkinson told them.

“Josiah, I’m going with Mrs…”

“Parkinson…please call me Veronica,” the woman said and moved into the passenger seat as Wilmington climbed in behind the wheel.

“Veronica, my name is Buck Wilmington and the gentlemen following us are Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez. Now I know you’re worried about your granddaughter, but I promise we’ll do everything we can to get her away from…”

“Father John,” Parkinson spat as Wilmington turned the truck around and drove toward the cutoff for Providence.


Chris cried out as his body was dragged from the cot and pain registered in his mind even as laughter reached his ears. He breathed through tightly clenched teeth, fighting the churning nausea that rolled through his gut. He managed to get his eyes open and blinked several times until his vision cleared.

Larabee felt his chin gripped tightly and his head forced back until he stared into the face of evil. Father John was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes, as he made sure Chris could see his eyes.

“Death is coming for you, Larabee, but instead of riding a white horse he’s walking on two legs. John Daniel will put the final nail in your coffin tonight and JD Dunne will cease to exist,” Rousseau vowed.

“Bas…bastard,” Larabee spat, crying out as two men lifted him and dragged him from the room. He fought to stay conscious, but the edges of his vision blurred as his injured leg was dragged across the floor. It was already growing dark when they exited the building, but candles glowed across the compound, as the familiar, hated chant grew louder.

“Father John is my Savior…Father john will show me the way…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“My children are waiting for you, Larabee…John Daniel is waiting for you,” Rousseau said as they reached the clearing. The cult leader smiled and motioned for his ‘children’ to move back and allow them room to bring the ‘sinner’ to the altar of his redemption. John Daniel was not present, but he would be led to the gathering once Larabee was stripped down and placed on the white stone slab.

“Behold the sinner!” Father John said as his two helpers dragged Larabee toward the altar.

“Don’t listen…don’t listen to him…Father…John is not your savior…” the blond managed before they forced him down on the cold slab. He cried out as a metal band encircled his ankle and a hand pressed against the broken bone.

“Be silent, Sinner!” Father John ordered and turned toward his followers. He had specifically denied the townspeople access to the compound tonight because plans were already in place and a helicopter would be waiting to take him, John Daniel, Penny, and Grodin to a small airstrip in the mountains. From there they would head to South America where he would finish programming the perfect killing machine named John Daniel.

“This m…man is a fraud!” Larabee spat, but his voice was raspy and weak as the chant continued around him. He looked at ‘Father John’ and knew the man had these people right where he wanted them, the smile on his tormentor’s face told Chris, he knew it too.

“John Daniel has been chosen to save this sinner…with my guidance and John Daniel’s hand the sinner’s blood shall be cleansed and his heart delivered into the holy light!”

Chris struggled to pull free, but his wrists were quickly locked to the edge of the slab and what remained of his clothing was cut from his body. A two-foot section of white cloth was placed across his groin and Chris lifted his head as Father John poured something onto his chest. The liquid was hot, not enough to burn him, but enough to cause discomfort and the blond bit his lip in an effort to keep him from crying out.

“The sanctified oils will help clean the sinner’s flesh so that John Daniel does not have to fear the evil spreading to him through the touch.”

“Father John is…”

“A sadistic bas…bastard…”

“Silence, Sinner,” Father John warned and watched as Penny and John Daniel made their way along the human pathway of chanters. “John Daniel, are you ready to finish the worthy task I have set for you?”

“I am ready, Father John,” John Daniel said and bowed his head.

“JD, fight the bas…bastard!” Larabee tried, but Dunne seemed to only hear ‘Father John’. The young man’s eyes were glazed and the candlelight flashed across them sending a shiver down Chris’ spine as the cult leader lifted a ceremonial dagger above his head.

“John Daniel, you have been blessed with the holy task of saving this sinner…”

“JD! Look at me!” the injured blond tried and silently cursed when duct tape was forced across his mouth.

“John Daniel, the cries of the wicked are silenced until you have received the full blessing that only the pure of heart can receive. Are you pure of heart, John Daniel, or do the sins of this disciple of Satan still hold some part of you?”

“He does not mean anything to em, Father John,” John Daniel whispered, awed by the man whose face seemed to be bathed in a golden hue. 

“This dagger is special, John Daniel, it will be your weapon…no not your weapon, but your tool. A special tool that will help you cleanse this sinner. Do you accept this dagger and the task I have set for you?”

“Yes, Father John,” John Daniel whispered and knelt as the chanting intensified and Father John blessed the ceremonial dagger.


William and Marilyn Bellows knew what they were doing was right, but it scared them knowing what Father John could do to their daughter. William drove away from the town along the back road and prayed the access point in the east side of the commune was left unlocked and unmanned. Father John had become complacent where the townspeople were concerned and they hoped their luck would hold out.

Marilyn let the tears slide down her cheeks as she thought about the last time she’d been allowed to see Millie. The little girl had cried to go with them, but they’d refused to go against Father John and the entire town. Her mother had seen through the man from the very beginning, but he’d slowly taken the children and with them he’d stolen the souls of their parents.

Marilyn wondered if any of the others were thinking the way she was. Did they come to grips with the choices they made or were they finally realizing they’d sold their souls to a self proclaimed ‘God’? What if they went back for help? Would it be too late? Could they do this on their own or were they sealing their daughter’s fate?

“Keep an eye out, Marilyn,” William ordered and placed his hand on her arm as if to steady her.

“What if we’re doing the wrong thing?”

“You know we’re not…we’ll get Millie and any other children and leave. Father John is not the man we thought he was when he first arrived,” William told her.

“I know that, but can we do it alone?”

“If we believe and have fate then we will get through this. We have to,” he finished and pulled the battered Dodge Durango to a stop at the edge of the narrow lane. He opened the door and stepped outside, a cold shiver running down his spine as the familiar chanting rose above the trees. “They should all be together…”

“If we go now we should be able to find Millie.”

“Not should…will. We will find her and get her away from him.”

Marilyn nodded and ducked behind the car when they heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. “William…”

“Sh, could be just kids looking for a…Damn, I’m sorry,” he said when he realized what he’d said. The kids who were old enough to drive or even think about ‘parking’ were in the commune and under Father John’s influence.


Nathan knew it was late as they drove through the deserted streets of Providence and knew he had to phone Ezra and Vin or the two men would find a way to make the nursing staff’s schedule a living hell. He looked at his cell phone and wondered if his call would even get through the hospital’s switchboard.

“Try Orin, Brother, maybe he can keep Vin and Ezra from doing anything stupid,” Sanchez offered.

“Maybe…but I’d feel better if we had some good news to tell them,” Jackson said.

“They’ll be waiting to hear from us…there’s no way of keeping this from them. At least by getting Orin over there he can ride herd on those two,” the older man explained and saw his friend nod as Wilmington turned onto a dark road leading away from the town.

Nathan quickly hit speed dial, shocked when his phone actually worked. He listened as the connection was made and heard Travis’ gruff voice on the other end. “Orin, it’s Nathan.”

*“Thank God, did you find them?”

“Not yet, but we’ve got a lead on them. We called in help from outside police agencies, but it might help if you had Miller call the towns near Providence and fill them in on what’s happening here.”

*“What is happening there?”

“Near as we can tell there’s some kind of cult with a man named Father John at the head. He’s got the town’s kids and is using them to keep the adults in line.”

*“The whole damn town?”

“I know it sounds incredible, Orin, but we’ve heard about it happening before. We’re headed for the commune now…”

*“What about Chris and JD?”

“We’re pretty sure they’re at the compound…”

*“You need to wait for back up.”

“There’s no time, Orin. We met this woman…she was driving Chris’ truck and told us what’s going on here and from what she said Chris is in rough shape. We need to get in there and get them out.”

*“All right…do what you have to do, but be careful. I don’t want to see anyone else in the hospital or Simmons will read me the riot act…be careful, Nathan.”

“We will, Orin…”

*“I’ll believe that when I see it. I’m going to head over to the hospital. I’ll call Miller and request his help in getting the police involved, but if this is a cult I think I’d better call in the Feds.”

“Probably…we’ll call as soon as we can.”

*“I’ll be here.”

“What did he have to say?” Sanchez asked when Nathan placed his cell phone inside his pocket and checked his weapon.

“He’s calling Miller and getting the Feds involved.”

“Understandable,” Sanchez offered and continued to follow Wilmington.


John Daniel felt Father John’s approval as he bowed his head and chanted with the others. He could feel the strength of the man’s touch, and knew he would do anything for his savior. He lifted his head and gazed into the man’s eyes as Father John placed the dagger in his hands.

“You are strong, John Daniel, and you will not allow anyone to stop you from saving this sinner.”

“I will save him in your name, Father John.”

“That is correct, John Daniel, for when his blood flows freely from his mortal body his soul will be set free. The dagger you hold has been blessed and will not be taken from you until you finish your duty.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

John Daniel’s mouth moved, but the words were silent as he stood and moved toward the altar. He took a deep breath and smiled as he heard Father John speaking to him and knew what he had to do.


Buck pulled the truck to a stop and looked at the woman seated beside him. “I want you to stay put…”

“Like hell I will…”

“Veronica, you got us here and this is something we’re trained for…”

“I thought you weren’t the police?”

“We’re not, but we work for an agency that sometimes gets us involved with acts of terrorism…”

“You’re SEALS?”

“No, Ma’am, not exactly, but some of us used to be,” Wilmington smiled before continuing. “But you know SEALS don’t exist.”

“Right…I forgot. Get my Granddaughter, Buck.”

“I will, Veronica,” Wilmington said as he exited the truck and was joined by Jackson and Sanchez. He heard movement nearby and turned to see the elderly woman coming around the front of the truck.


“Marilyn, what are you doing here?” Veronica asked.

“We’ve been stupid, Mother, William and I came to get Millie and the other children away from Father John.”

“It’s about time!”

“Who are they?” William asked of the trio who seemed to be with his mother-in-law.

“They’re going to help. I couldn’t stand what was happening and you were so blind I thought I’d bring in outside help. They called the police…”

“They’re not the police?” Marilyn asked.

“They’re better…they’re SEALS, and Father John has two of their friends,” Veronica said with a smile.

“What do you want us to do?” William asked once the introductions were finished.

“Stay here,” Sanchez said.

“No, my daughter is in there and I’m not staying here,” William told them.

“I’m going…”

“No, Marilyn, you stay here with your mother,” William said.

“The police and the Feds should be on their way,” Jackson offered and glanced toward the light coming from inside the commune as the chanting intensified. “We need to get in there.”

“I know where the children are,” Bellows said.

“William and I could get the little ones and bring them out while you find your friends,” Marilyn offered.

“Mrs. Bellows, it could get ugly in there,” Wilmington explained.

“All the more reason we should get the little ones out of the way,” William told him.

“Buck, they have a point,” Sanchez observed.

“I guess…just be careful and keep the kids safe,” the worried rogue asked.

“We will,” Marilyn said. “Mother, wait here and watch for us.”

“Be careful, Marilyn, you and William need to be there for Millie.”

“We will, Mother,” Marilyn said and followed her husband to the entrance.

An eccentric man who wanted to be alone after his family was murdered had built the commune. The buildings were fifty years old and kept in good repair, and that had been the main reason Father John had taken over the abandoned home. She hoped and prayed he was still unaware of this access road as they reached the narrow opening that was grown over with wild brush and flowers. 

“Father John gathers his followers in the clearing near the main building. You should be able to find it easily once we’re inside,” William explained.

“Just follow the chanting,” Jackson offered and pushed aside the heavy brush. He could see candle light flickering and knew that was where they would find Chris and JD. They hurried through and split up just inside the compound.


Orin Travis eased open the door and shook his head when he saw the two men. They should have been sleeping, but instead they seemed deep in conversation that stopped as soon as he opened the door.

“Orin, did ya hear from Buck?” Tanner asked.

“You boys are supposed to be resting,” Travis said.

“Who can sleep?” Standish asked. “Look, Orin, we need to know what is happening…”

“I know you do and that’s why I’m here. Nathan called to say they found Chris’ truck. A woman was driving it,” Orin continued with the story Jackson had told him and could see both men were itching to get out of their beds. “Look, there’s absolutely nothing you two can do so just sit back and ride this one out. Miller’s got several people involved and the Feds are on their way to Providence as we speak.”

“And that’s supposed ta make it easier being stuck in this fuckin’ place!” Tanner snarled impatiently.

“I know, but you won’t be doing anyone any good right now, Vin. You and Ezra need to allow yourselves time to heal,” Travis told them.

“Easier said than done,” Standish offered and sat forward, arm braced against his side as he tried to make himself comfortable.

“Going somewhere, Ezra?” Travis asked.

“Guess not,” the gambler said and lay back against the pillows.


Buck, Josiah, and Nathan made their way along the edges of the building and could hear the chanting grow closer. The glow of flickering candlelight sent eerie shadows across the compound’s grounds. They used hand signals to make sure they were all on the same page and hoped the Bellows could get the younger children to safety before all hell broke loose.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find once we get to the clearing so be on your toes,” Wilmington ordered softly.

“How do you want to play this one, Buck?” Jackson asked.

“Depends on what we find…if it’s just a revival meeting then we wait it out until the Feds get here,” the ladies’ man explained. “If he’s got Chris and JD then we take him out if possible.”

“You really think it’ll be that easy?” Sanchez asked.

“No, but one can always hope,” Wilmington answered. “You two take the sides and I’ll see if I can get close enough to figure out what’s happening.”

“All right…just be careful. Remember what we know about cults and their followers,” Jackson advised before they moved out.


Chris had known fear before and had faced it head on, but the look on JD’s face sent a shockwave of fear through his heart. The kid looked as if he wasn’t seeing anything and was completely under ‘Father John’s’ control. Dunne’s face was peaceful, with a smile that didn’t quite touch his eyes as the candle’s soft glow sent shadows dancing across his body.

“Now, John Daniel, it is time to save this sinner and prove that you are a true believer in all that is good and holy!”

Chris heard the man’s voice and realized this was it…this was where his life would end. It didn’t really bother him that he was going to die. Hell, he’d come to terms with that a long time ago, what bothered him was how and why he was going to die. JD Dunne held the dagger above his head as if ready to strike a fatal blow and Chris breathed through his nose as the chanting grew louder and faster, but there was something else too.

A voice, Chris could hear a voice…a single one at first, but it was soon joined by a second and third voice. They were familiar, even above the heady rays of hope rushing through his brain.

“John Daniel, the sinners are here…Kill him now!”

Chris could only watch helplessly as the dagger arced down toward his body.

“JD, No!”

Buck’s voice registered at the same time pain exploded through his abdomen and screams of the angry followers reached his ears. Chris struggled to breathe through the flashes of fire that burned through his gut. He had no idea how he had survived or why he still breathed, but suddenly someone was standing beside him, speaking to him in hushed tones that were filled with fear.

“Just hang on, Chris, help is coming!”

That was Buck’s voice; yet Chris could never remember hearing the man so distressed. He fought to speak, feeling as if every breath he took was filling his lungs with liquid and the coppery taste of blood filled his mouth. “Ge…get…Well…Well….”

“Don’t try to talk, Chris…Nathan, I need you! Chris needs you!”

“B…Buck…no…lis…listen…get Wellington…tell him JD…JD nee…needs him…”


“I’m here, Buck, get those things off him!” Jackson ordered as Josiah began removing the metal clamps holding the injured blond in place. There were Feds swarming all over the place now and he knew the Bellows had managed to get the small children out of harms way, but the older ones, like JD and Penny were being herded into a central holding area. God help him, but he could not believe what he’d seen…could not fathom what had driven Dunne to drive the knife into Larabee.

“Wellington…get…get him here…help…help JD,” Larabee managed.

“Chris, don’t try to talk right now, okay? I need to get the bleeding stopped,” Jackson said as someone handed him a first aid kit that seemed wholly inadequate right now. “Josiah, find out if the Feds called for an ambulance!”

“I’m on it!” Sanchez said once they’d released the restraints. “You better not go any where, Boss, you owe me a double sawbuck.”

“Buck, hold this for me!” Jackson ordered and placed Wilmington’s hand over the layers of gauze pads he’d placed on the wound to Larabee’s abdomen. He knew Wilmington was a mess, he’d barely kept himself from attacking JD Dunne, but the youngest member of the team was a victim in all this.

“Jesus, Nathan, how could he?”

“Not…not his fau…fault, Buck…please…call…call Wellington…re…remember…”

“Nathan, this is Agent Lawrence…she’s had extensive medical training in the corps before becoming a Fed,” Sanchez said as shouts of anger rose with the chanting of the cult members.

“Mr. Jackson, I called for a Medivac…they should be in the air already. Tell me what you need me to do,” Donna Lawrence said.

“Do you have anything better equipped than this first aid kit?” Jackson asked.

“I’ll see what I can find,” Lawrence said and hurried to find another operative.

“Nathan, he’s going to make it isn’t he?” Wilmington asked.

“I don’t know, Buck, but I’m going to do everything I can to see that he does,” Jackson answered as Lawrence returned with a new kit. It still didn’t have what he needed, but at least it was more than the bare necessities in the first one he’d been given.

Chris could hear the worry and fear in their voices, but it seemed to be coming from a distance as the darkness reached up to claim him. He sighed heavily and silently prayed Buck understood his message and would get JD the help he needed.

“He’s out,” Jackson said. “Damn it…Buck, hold that still and keep the pressure on it!”

“I’m trying, Nathan…Jesus, he’s bleeding badly,” Wilmington cursed.

“I know…that chopper better get here soon.”

“Nathan, I’m going to check on JD,” Sanchez said.

“Better keep that sonofabitch away from me!” the worried rogue spat.

“Easy, Buck, we don’t know what’s wrong with him…”

“I don’t really give a damn…he’s not bleeding and I saw him…saw him stab Chris like he didn’t even…he didn’t know him,” Wilmington said as Lawrence took over for him. He ran his fingers through his hair and thought about the events of the last hour. Had it been that long since they’d reached the compound and found Dunne with a knife ready to plunge it into the helpless Larabee?


“Nathan…I need to make a call…I know what Chris was saying. I know what he wants me to do.”

“All right, Buck, but I need your help with Chris right now,” Jackson said as he took stock of Larabee’s injuries.

“Tell me what to do, Nate,” Wilmington said tiredly.


John Daniel huddled with the others, holding Penny’s arm as they sat cross-legged on the ground. They continued the chant in spite of the armed men surrounding them and sought Father John’s approval. The man seemed to have disappeared, but that was right because he needed to be kept safe from the sinners now obstructing his will.

“John Daniel, do you think the sinner is dead?” Penny asked softly.

“I believe he is…Father John’s will is strong and I did what was right. I made sure the sinner could not obstruct Father John’s wishes.” John Daniel looked up as a tall figure stood over him.


“I am not your son…”


“My name is John Daniel…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Father John left all of you here to pay for his sins…”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”


“I am John Daniel!”

“No, you are JD Dunne. Whatever they’ve done to you we’ll find a way to make it right,” Sanchez vowed.

“No…you can do nothing to me. You are a sinner and I will not allow you…”


“John Daniel, do not listen to him. Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Father John…”

Josiah knew there was nothing he could do for JD Dunne right now, and turned to find Veronica Parkinson standing with several federal agents. He nodded to one man he’d worked with before and spoke to the elderly woman. “Is your granddaughter safe?”

“She’s with her mother and father, but she’s safe thanks to you and your friends. We will never be able to repay what you’ve done for us, Josiah.”

“Yes, you can by making sure William and Marilyn don’t make the same mistake again. Are the other little ones safe?”

“Yes, Marilyn and William are helping the FBI contact their parents. They all have things to answer for, but at least the children are free.”

“Not all of them,” Sanchez said and looked at the group sitting cross-legged at the center of the compound. “We’ll do everything we can to bring them all home, Veronica.”

“I’m sure you will…but what of your friends? Did you find them?”

“Yes, we did. JD is among those under Father John’s influence, but Chris…Chris is hurt and God help JD if he does not make it…”

“You can’t blame the young man for what he does in the name of Father John.”

“I won’t, but when we bring him home JD will blame himself. It is in his nature,” Sanchez explained as he watched several agents signaling to the arriving chopper.

“I will pray for them both, Josiah.”

“Thank you, Veronica,” Sanchez said and hurried toward the altar as the chopper landed, whipping up dust and debris until the rotary blades slowed and two medics hurried to join Jackson.

Nathan quickly told the newcomers what he knew of Larabee’s injuries and what he’d done to stop the bleeding. The medics worked quickly to stabilize the injured man for transport to the nearest trauma center in Billings. Saint Vincents had already been contacted and would be ready for their arrival.

Jackson moved back as the two men hooked up the monitors and started two IVs. He knew there was nothing more he could do for Larabee, but welcomed the invite to accompany them in the chopper once the medics realized he was one of their own.

“Go, Nathan, we’ll handle things here,” Sanchez said as Wilmington joined him.

“Buck, go easy on JD,” Jackson ordered and raced after the stretcher carrying Chris Larabee.

“Josiah, I need to make a call.”

“Anyone I know?” Sanchez asked.

“No, don’t think so,” Wilmington said and pulled out his cell phone, amazed that he still remembered the number and hoped it was unchanged. The call went through and was picked up on the second ring although the voice sounded sleepy.

*“Wellington…you know what time it is?”

“Pete…it’s Buck...”


“Buck Wilmington…”

*“Sonofabitch…Wilmington as in ‘beat your meat’ Wilmington?’

“Same one,” the rogue said and couldn’t help but smile.

*“How long’s it been…ten years?”

“Close to it…I need a favor, Pete.”

*“Name it, Buck…you know I owe you and Chris…”

“How is Peter?” Wilmington asked of the man’s son.

*“He’s in university, Buck…studying to be a doctor. A psychiatrist and hopes to help kids who’ve been through the same hell he went through. He’s a good kid and he’ll succeed because of you and Chris.”

“I’m glad, Pete…look, we got a situation here and a friend who needs your help. Hell, there are around 30 of them.”

*“A cult?”

“Yes, a bad one. Looks like the bastard’s been doing this for at least a year…maybe longer.”


“A little place in the mountains near Billings called Providence…”

*“Sounds like a nice place to visit.”

“It might have been before Father John…”

*Father John?”

“That’s all we know about him right now. The Feds are here and they’re searching the town and surrounding area for him, but he seems to have escaped and left his followers to take the blame for his crimes.”

*“Is Chris there with you?”

“No, he’s on his way to the hospital, Pete…he’s hurt bad.”

*“Damn, look, I’ll clear it through the office and should be there by morning.”

“Thanks, Pete, I’ll be here,” Wilmington said and hung up before turning to Sanchez. “Wellington’s a friend from way back. Chris and I helped get his kid away from a cult in Texas…no, not Waco, but just as bad. Pete took up working with kids like his son and has been ‘breaking’ the hold people like Father John has on them.”

“It’ll be hard on JD.”

“Better than leaving him the way he is,” Wilmington spat and took a step toward the chanters.

“Not a good idea in your frame of mind, Buck,” Sanchez warned.

“How could he do that to Chris, Josiah? How the fuck did Father John program him that quickly?”

“You know what they do, Buck…they use drugs and pain and anything else they can to ‘brainwash’ the kids.”

“JD could have killed Chris…”

“Not JD…John Daniel…that’s who he believes himself to be right now. I hope your friend is able to help bring JD back,” Sanchez said.

“If anyone can it’s Peter Wellington,” Wilmington offered, accepting a cup of coffee from William Bellows. He knew there was nothing he could do until Wellington arrived, but his eyes strayed to the group of chanters and he quickly spotted JD Dunne whose eyes seemed to be filled with hatred.


Jackson exited the chopper and moved out of the way as Midland and Simmons, followed by two nurses moved toward the Medivac. He could hear the medics giving the vitals and treatment Larabee had received during the flight. He’d helped when they’d been forced to intubate in order to keep the injured blond breathing and knew the blond’s life was now in the physician’s hands.

Nathan raced along behind them as the stretcher was pushed toward the main ER doors and took a deep breath as they disappeared into Trauma One. He knew there was nothing he could do now, but fill out the chart and wait. Jackson moved to the desk and waited for the nurse to finish talking with another patient before giving her the info she needed on Chris Larabee and the insurance numbers she would need.

Nathan completed the paper work and turned to find the medics leaving the room with the equipment they’d used during the flight. He thanked the man and watched him leave, before returning his attention to the trauma room door. Jackson willed it open, but he knew it would be some time before they’d have any news.

“Nathan, it could be a while before there’s any news. Why don’t you go on up and let Vin and Nathan know you’re back. I know they’ve been worried about Chris and JD and Orin Travis is up there with them,” Melanie Stewart said.

“I guess…tell the docs where I am.”

“I will…I know you’re worried, Nathan, but you’ve all been here before and you know Chris is a fighter…you all are,” Melanie told him and watched him leave before turning her attention to a new patient whose mother had brought her in.


Orin Travis knew the two men were feigning sleep and wished there was something he could say or do to ease their minds. The problem was there’d been no news since Jackson had called several hours ago. He took out his cell phone, not surprised to find there were no new calls and walked to the window.


The name was said softly, but it was enough to alert both injured men that they were no longer alone. Vin and Ezra were both awake and raising the heads of their beds as Jackson entered the room.

“Tell me ya found ‘em,” Tanner said, rubbing at the area around the chest tube.

“We found them, Vin, but Chris is hurt…”

“Where the hell is he?”

“He’s downstairs, Vin, and right now there’s nothing you can do to help him. Dr. Midland and Dr. Simmons are in there with him and they’re doing everything they can for him,” Jackson explained.

“What the hell happened to him and where’s JD?” Tanner asked, moaning as the quick move set off a spark of agony in his chest.

“Vin, you need to calm down…”

“I am calm, Orin…”

“Vin, Chris and JD took a slight detour and wound up in a little town called Providence. The place is so small it’s not even on the maps, but it caught the attention of a cultist named Father John,” Jackson explained.

“Do go on, Nathan,” Standish said.

“I don’t know how long Father John’s been in Providence, but he managed to gather all the young people and ‘brainwashed them into believing he was the second coming,” Jackson spat. “The Feds are there now and they’re trying to make sense of the whole thing. Buck and Josiah stayed behind to see if they could help get the kids back to their families.”

“Ya still ain’t said shit ‘bout JD,” Tanner snarled.

“JD was the right age, Vin…somehow he fell under Father John’s spell. We haven’t figured it all out yet,” Jackson said deliberately leaving out Dunne’s role in Larabee’s injuries.

“How was Chris injured?” Travis asked.

“We don’t know the whole story, but I’d expect it was because he didn’t fit into Father John’s view of the perfect followers. He wasn’t in the right age demographic…”

“Now you sound like those stupid TV executives who think they should go after a certain age group,” Standish griped.

“How bad?” Tanner asked.

“Broken leg…knife wound. Probably more, but we won’t know until the docs are done with him. I’m heading back, but I’ll let you know as soon as there’s any news,” Jackson assured them.

“We’ll be here,” Travis said and turned with arms folded across his chest as Vin and Ezra lay back on their beds. He knew they were frustrated and angry at being confined to their beds, and silently prayed the nursing staff would not have to resort to giving them something to keep them from doing anything stupid. It was his job to make sure they stayed put and he’d damn well do that if it meant sitting on them.


The people of Providence looked shell-shocked when the authorities had sent people door to door to find out who had family at the compound. Most of the parents were now gathered outside the main entrance, but they were not allowed access to the children while the agents continued to investigate exactly what they were dealing with. Veronica Parkinson was with her granddaughter while Marilyn and William Bellows were giving their statements to the agents who had set up office in the main building.

Buck and Josiah were unable to speak with any of Father John’s followers and could only stand by and watch as the chanting began anew. Buck slammed one fist into the other as he watched JD Dunne stand and shout about the so-called ‘savior’.

“Easy, Buck, there’s nothing we can do until your friend gets here.”

“I know…I just…it’s hard to see JD like that. Jesus when he realizes what he’s done…when he’s back to himself…God help me, Josiah, but right now I’d like to ram my fist down his throat and knock some sense into his fool head!”

“I feel the same way, Buck, but it wouldn’t do any good. We need to wait and make sure we’re there to support him when Wellington starts to deprogram him.”

“That’s going to be hell in itself. I’ve seen him work and it’s damn hard and Pete walks a hard line, but he’s got an excellent success rate. JD’s strong and he hasn’t been here long so maybe it won’t be as hard on him as it’ll be on some of these kids.”

“Maybe…the whole damn town is going to have to face the ugly truth here. They’re guilty of letting Father John…”

“Josiah, we got an ID on Father John,” Donna Lawrence said handing the two men a picture she’d printed from the mobile unit. They were using officers from nearby towns to help control the crowds and watch over the chanting cult followers.

“Jean Claud Rousseau…never heard of him,” Wilmington told her.

“Not surprising. He’s kept a low profile and probably found this place by accident. He does have a record, but was never convicted of anything serious. The sonofabitch usually has kids begging for money on street corners so this is a step up for him,” Lawrence explained. “We’ve got an APB out for him and another man named Tyler Grodin.”

“I hope you catch the bastard,” Wilmington offered.

“We will, Buck,” Lawrence vowed. “There’s coffee and sandwiches if you’re hungry.”

“Come on, Buck, might as well grab something to eat while we wait,” Sanchez said.

“I’m not hungry…”

“Neither am I, but at least it’s something to do until we hear from Nathan,” the ex-preacher ordered and led the man away from JD Dunne.


Stacey Midland looked at the monitors and wished the numbers were better. Larabee’s blood pressure remained dangerously low even with the blood transfusion and the liquids being pumped into him. She knew they were dealing with internal injuries and Brandon Silverman was already prepping for emergency surgery.

“Roy, I’m going to speak with Nathan and let him know what’s happening.”

“All right, Stacey, I’ll get Larabee ready for Brandon,” Simmons assured her.

“Thanks, Roy,” Midland said and exited the room to find Jackson leaning against the wall near the desk. She hurried toward him and smiled thinly before speaking. You look like five miles of bad road, Nathan.

“Funny, Doc, that’s usually Buck’s line. How’s Chris?”

“Critical, but you came in with him so you already knew that.”

“Yeah, I did,” Jackson told her sadly.

“Brandon Silverman is prepping for surgery, Nathan. The knife did some serious internal damage including a lacerated liver. He’s bleeding into his abdominal cavity and there’s probably more, but we won’t know until we get in there.”

“What about his leg?”

“It’s a bad break and once we’ve got him stable David Frost will decide what needs to be done,” Midland explained. “Nathan, this could take some time…”

“I know, Doc, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be with Vin and Ezra…”

“Just make damn sure they don’t try anything stupid…tell them I’ve laid in a new supply of blunt needles that pack quite the punch and I’ll use them myself if they force my hand!”

“I’ll tell them, but you know…”

“I know all of you, Nathan, and I know how worried you are, but we’re going to do everything we know how to give Chris a fighting chance,” Midland vowed.

“I know you will, Doc, hell, that’s why you’re the best there is,” Jackson told her. “Can I see him?”

“For a minute,” the physician said and led Jackson to the trauma room. She pushed open the door and knew Jackson understood just how bad things were for Chris Larabee.

Nathan walked up to the bed and took a deep breath when he noted how pale the blond was. There were tubes and leads everywhere and he swallowed convulsively before whispering a silent prayer before looking at Midland.

“You’ll have to go now, Nathan, and I promise I’ll come find you as soon as he’s out of surgery,” Midland said as the nursing staff began connecting the mobile equipment before pushing the stretcher from the room.

Nathan reluctantly left the room and waited outside the door until Larabee was wheeled out and taken toward the elevators. He took a deep breath, but knew there was no point in following so he quickly made his way back to Tanner and Standish’s room. He wasn’t surprised to find the trio waiting expectantly for him and quickly ran through what Midland had told him.

“Hell,” Tanner said when Jackson told them of the physician’s threat.

“Yes, I believe that’s exactly what she’ll make your lives if you do anything stupid,” Travis told them.

“Look, Vin, you and Ezra need to get some sleep…”

“Do you really think that’s possible right now, Nathan?” Standish asked.

“Maybe not, but I’m sure the nurse can give you something to help you sleep. You’re not doing Chris any good by neglecting your own needs right now because it could be hours before we know anything,” Jackson said and knew there was no way either man would rest until they knew Larabee was out of surgery. “Orin, I need to call Buck and Josiah.”

“Go ahead, Nathan…I’m going to that all night deli for coffee…”


“Not a chance, Ezra,” Travis said and hurried from the room as Jackson quickly made the call.


Jean Claud Rousseau cursed his luck at having to leave his two best converts, but at least now he knew his methods worked. All he had to do now was get to the old airstrip and wait for pick up. Just how he was going to do that with so many Feds in the town and the roadblocks set up, he wasn’t sure.

Rousseau thought about John Daniel and toyed with the idea of going back for him. The kid had proven he would do anything he was told, but with so many cops around it was going to be next to impossible for him to get close enough to talk to John Daniel. Jean Claud searched the darkened streets and kept to the alleys between the buildings as he made his way toward the residential area.

Jane Constantine had no children, but she’d been easy to convince that his teachings were the true teachings and had been helping him since he’d come to town. There were times when she questioned him, but it was easy to make her see things the way he did. She would help him, mainly because he scared her. He ducked behind a dumpster and waited for several people to walk past the opening. It would be daylight soon and that meant it would be harder to hide from the cops.

Rousseau hurried away from his hiding place and made it to the end of the street, not far from Jane’s bed and breakfast. He checked both ways to make sure no one was watching him before running toward the gate and pushing it open. He made his way along the pebbled walkway and reached the door just as it was pulled open.

“What’s happening, Father John? The police were here asking questions about you,” Jane asked as the man pushed past her.

“They are all sinners, Sister Jane,” Rousseau told her and quickly closed the heavy drapes that covered the bay window. “You have to help me before they catch me…”

“What can I do?”

“I need to hide until tonight…”

“What happens tonight?”

“I must leave Providence…”

“Leave? But you promised you would keep our town clean and safe from sinners like Mr. Larabee.”

“I have done everything I can, but the sinners have taken control and I must start fresh or the world will perish in a hail of Fire and Brimstone! You are pure of heart, Sister, and I know you understand what is happening in the world today. You have been chosen to protect me until I can escape the sinners. Please, Sister, you know how hard this is for me, but I am needed in the world to protect the children from the horrors Satan will heap upon them.”

“Why me?”

“It is not for us to question why we are chosen…we simply must fulfill what is expected of us.” Jean Claud Rousseau reached out and touched her cheek as he sighed heavily. “Look into your heart, Sister, you know what I say is true.”

“I will do whatever I can, Father John, but what of the children of Providence? What will happen to them when you leave?”

“They will be returned to their families until I send for them. Have no fear for you too shall be among the chosen when the time is right,” Rousseau assured her with a warm smile as she nodded her head.

“You will be safe here until it is time for you to leave,” Jane Constantine said, yet there was something about this man that suddenly chilled her to the bone. Was he really what he proclaimed himself to be or had they all fallen prey to a false prophet? She silently prayed it was not the latter for the sake of the people of her hometown.


Josiah reached into his pocket when his cell began to ring and was only slightly relieved to see Jackson’s name. “Nathan, how are they?”

“Vin and Ezra are being stubborn, but Doc Midland threatened them in her usual way. They’re both glaring at me right now.”

“Tell them not to do anything stupid.”

“Easier said than done…they’re worried Josiah.”

“We all are, Brother,” Sanchez said watching Buck as he stared at JD Dunne. “Any news on Chris?”

“Nothing good I’m afraid. He’s in surgery and we probably won’t know anything for a while yet.”

Josiah listened as Nathan updated him on what he knew about Larabee’s condition and held up his hand when Buck looked like he was about to speak. “JD’s the same, Nathan, but Buck got in touch with an old friend of his and Chris’. He should be here sometime this morning.”

“It’s going to be a hard road bringing JD back.”

“Yes, it is, but we’ll do whatever we have to in order to break whatever control Rousseau…”


“Father John…his real name is Jean Claud Rousseau. The police and Feds are searching the town for him, but so far no luck.”

“Figures, look I’ll let you know if anything changes here, but keep an eye on Buck…you know he’s torn between Chris and JD right now.”

“I hear you, Nathan,” Sanchez said and hung up.

“How’s Chris?”

“Critical, but we knew that when they left, Buck,” Sanchez said and went on to relay everything Jackson had told him.

“I hope they catch that bastard, Josiah,” Wilmington said.

“They will, Buck,” Sanchez said tiredly. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m pissed…God help me I know it’s not JD’s fault, but I’d like to kick his ass and knock some sense into him.”

“It wouldn’t do any good…not right now, but in a week or so you might just find JD will be kicking his own ass.”

“I hope he’s got steel toed boots,” Wilmington said and looked toward the main building where the Feds had set up a command center. “Come on and I’ll buy you a coffee.”

“Sounds good to me…maybe they’ve got some donuts. I don’t remember when I ate last.”

“Me either…come on then coffee and donuts…a staple in our line of work,” the rogue said with a hint of humor.


Nathan and Orin watched over the two men who’d finally fallen asleep just as dawn’s glorious cloak spread over the city. There was still no word on Chris Larabee, but in a way that was good news because it meant the surgeons were still at work. That meant the blond was still fighting for his life and the medical staff were doing everything in their power to keep him alive.

Nathan turned as the door slowly opened and Stacey Midland motioned for them to join her in the hallway. It didn’t surprise him when a soft Texas drawl broke through the silence.

“Doc, how’s Chris?” Tanner asked.

“Well, Vin, I can safely say you guys are right about Chris being a fighter. He gave Brandon, Tom, and Roy a scare or two, but he made it through surgery and is being settled in SICU and no, you’re not in any shape to see him right now,” Midland answered the question before he had a chance to ask it.

“Is he…will he be all right?” Standish asked worriedly.

“Right now his chances are 70/30, but he’s got the best team of doctors in the country working on him. There was more damage than we expected, but Brandon and Tom were able to repair most of it and he was given four units of blood during the procedure. Once he’s stabilized David Frost will take care of his leg, but right now he’d rather wait until Chris has a chance to recover from this surgery,” Midland explained tiredly.

“Doc, can I see him?” Jackson asked.

“Give the staff an hour to set things up and then you and Orin can see him, just remember he’s heavily sedated and on a ventilator. Keep your visit short for today and make sure these two don’t go prowling around the SICU,” the physician ordered.

“We will, Doc…thanks,” Jackson told her.

“You’re welcome. I’m heading home in a few minutes and it looks like you should do the same,” Midland ordered.

“I’ll see that he goes home, Stacey,” Travis assured her and realized he probably looked as bad as Jackson did. “I’ll drop him off at Rain’s on my way home.”

“Now that sounds like a plan,” the physician said and looked at her two patients. “The nurses have orders to put you two in lockdown if you try anything. Understood?”

“I hear ya, Doc,” Tanner said and smiled innocently.

“Don’t try that on me, Vin…Hardisty has been given your cases for the day and I thought I heard her say something about a sponge bath…”

“Orin, would you mind if Vin and I accompanied you and Nathan…”

“Sorry, Ezra, you two are on your own,” Travis told him and heard Midland chuckle softly before she left.


Buck took a deep breath as he watched a familiar figure striding toward him. Josiah was talking to several Federal agents about the townspeople who were waiting for word on whether or not they could take their children home. He held out his hand and felt it gripped tightly.

“Good to see you again, Buck,” Peter Wellington offered.

“You too, Pete, I just wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Me too…any word on Chris?”

“He made it through surgery, but right now the odds are stacked against him,” Wilmington answered angrily.

“If I remember correctly the odds were stacked against Chris the last time we met too. He made it through that hell hole and he’ll make it through this, besides remember what I told you boys the last time we met?”

“Only the good die young…never was a truer statement.”

“Shit, Buck, I didn’t mean to…”

“I know and it’s okay. He…we still miss them,” Wilmington said of Larabee’s deceased wife and son.

“Where’s the kid you told me about?”

“The Feds are holding him with the rest of the cult members. Looks like you’ll have your work cut out for you because some of these kids have been under Rousseau’s influence for at least a year…maybe longer.”

“How the fuck did that bastard keep the whole town under wraps?”

“We’ve pieced some of it together, but let’s just say the bastard took the little kids away from the parents and then told them he was teaching them the proper way to live. If the parents wanted to see their children they had to attend his gatherings. I’m thinking they’re probably all under some kind of drug use or mass hypnosis,” Wilmington explained.

“Could be a combination of both. How big is the town?”

“Between five and six hundred,” Wilmington answered. “I don’t remember ever seeing it on this scale.”

“I’ve seen it…or at least something like it,” Wellington told him.

“Tell me you can help them…help JD?”

“I’ll do my best, Buck, but you know you’ll have to stay out of it until I’m ready for you.”

“Yeah, I know how it works,” Wilmington said as Sanchez joined them. “Josiah, this is Peter Wellington…he specializes in cases like this. He’s the best there is.”

“Not by a long shot,” Wellington said shaking Sanchez’s hand.

“Buck says you’re the best, I believe him,” Sanchez said. “I hope you’ve got help.”

“I do…they’re setting up a base for us in town,” Wellington assured him. “The rest of my team should be here before the day is over,” Wellington told him. “You know this could take some time and it’s not going to be easy on any of them.”

“I know,” Sanchez said.

“Has he shown any sign that he recognizes you, Buck?” Wellington asked.

“No, he just sits there chanting about that sonofabitch!” Wilmington spat.

“That’s normal, Buck, but he hasn’t been here as long as the others and it shouldn’t take long to reverse the programming.”

“He almost killed Chris, Pete.”

“No, Buck, that wasn’t JD and that’s something you’re going to have to remember if you’re going to help JD once you get him back. It’ll do him no damn good if you blame him for something he was programmed to do,” Wellington explained.

“I know, but every time I look at him I’ll see that knife and the blood…God there was so much blood.”

“Easy, Buck, Chris is alive so just hold on to that. Maybe you should head home…”

“No, Josiah, I’m staying…”

“Buck, it’ll be a while before you’ll be able to talk to JD so you and Josiah might as well head on home. I’ll call you as soon as things start to change and he needs you,” Wellington vowed.

“Right now Chris, Vin, and Ezra need us, Buck…they’ll be worried about JD,” Sanchez said and saw the look of utter defeat cross Wilmington’s face.

“Get him back for us, Pete,” Wilmington said.

“I’ll do my best, Buck, you know that,” Wellington promised and shook his friend’s hand before walking toward the area where the cult members were being held.


Nathan and Orin waited for the nurse to finish whatever she was doing in Larabee’s SICU. They were told upon arrival that Larabee was not quite ready for visitors and that his nurse would let them know when she was finished. Buck had called to let them know that he and Josiah were on their way back, but JD would not be with them.

Buck had explained that an old friend who specialized in cults and cult activities had arrived and taken over the case. The man was more than qualified and had worked a lot of cases involving cults such as the one Jean Claud Rousseau had started. The people of Providence had a lot to answer for and it would be months before everything was cleared up, especially where the children were concerned.

Child welfare agencies had been called in and although the children would eventually be returned to their parents, the agencies would be keeping an eye on things.

“Mr. Travis, Mr. Jackson, you can come in now,” Kathi Jorgensen said once she’d opened the curtain.

Having been in this position before, neither man was shocked by what they saw, but they were both angry that it had happened to one of their own. Nathan automatically looked at the monitors and understood what the numbers meant, and silently cursed the fact that he’d been trained as a paramedic. Sometimes he wished he was as in the dark as the others, but he did not regret taking the courses since there were several times he’d used that knowledge to save someone’s life, including members of the team.

“How bad, Nathan?” Travis asked softly.

“About like the doc told us. He’s running a fever and his blood pressure’s low, but it looks like they’re giving him fluids and meds for that,” Jackson said.

“That’s correct, Mr. Jackson,” Kathi said.

“Call me Nathan,” Jackson told the newcomer to Saint Vincents’ staff. He’d met her the day she started when he’d picked up Rain Goines.

“Nathan, I know you understand what the numbers mean, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming to work here it’s that your friends are all fighters…”

“Yes, they are,” Jackson agreed, sighing tiredly.

“Nathan, come on and I’ll drive you home,” Travis said.

“Buck and Josiah…”

“It’ll take them four or five hours to get here, Nathan,” Travis advised. “The hospital will call if they need us.”

“All right,” Jackson said and followed the older man out of the room. “Damn, I should have called Nettie Wells.”

“I did and she’ll be in later today. Come on, Nathan, everything’s been taken care of and Chris, Vin and Ezra are in good hands,” the former judge advised.


Rain heard the door open and hurried out of the kitchen. Her fiancé stood framed in the doorway and she hurried toward him before wrapping her arms around him and letting him hold her. She felt him tremble, and knew it was a combination of worry and exhaustion and took his right hand in her left.

Without a word she led him toward the bedroom they shared and gently helped him out of his clothes. She placed her finger against his lips when he started to speak and shook her head. “Don’t say anything, Nathan, just lie down and let me take care of you for a change.”

Nathan lay back against the pillows, drinking in the sight and scent of her as she gently massaged the tension from his shoulders and neck. He loved this woman with every breath he took and prayed they would always feel that way about each other. He closed his eyes as she began humming a soft tune that eased him toward the sleep his mind and body craved.

Rain knew he was asleep and gently kissed his lips before easing the blankets up over him. She sat on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers across his chest and felt her heart beat faster at the thought of how much this man meant to her. She loved him so much it hurt, but this kind of pain was something she would gladly live with because it wasn’t like a physical blow. It was more an emotional blow whenever she was apart from him for any length of time.

Rain stood to leave, but a strong hand pulled her back and she lay down beside the strong body she’d explored in more ways than one. She felt the blankets lifted up over her as Nathan spooned up against her back. She didn’t sleep, but lay content in the arms of her lover as the hands slowly ticked away on the clock beside their bed.


Peter Wellington had watched the two men drive away from the commune before speaking with the agent in charge. He knew his office had cleared it through channels and that Special Agent Gerry Hallowell would be working closely with him. He’d heard of Hallowell and the man’s reputation preceded him.

“Agent Wellington, it’s good to finally meet you.”

“Well, Agent Hallowell it looks like we’ll be working closely for a while so why don’t we forget formality and work on a first name basis?”

“Sounds good, Peter, are you ready to talk to the kids?”

“Is there anything I should know before we go over there?”

“There’s not much I can tell you except whoever this Father John guy is he’s done a hell of a fucking number on these kids,” Hallowell spat.

“I guess we’ll have our work cut out for us, but I believe we’ll be able to bring them back…”

“Given the time and manpower we will,” Hallowell agreed.

“We’ll have whatever we need, Gerry, the governor’s behind this program and I’ve already been in contact with his office,” Wellington advised.

“Then I guess now’s as good a time as any to get started.”

“Sounds good…any chance we can separate a kid named JD Dunne from the others?”

“Is he a special case? Related to the Governor or something?”

“No, but he’s a friend of a friend and it would mean a lot to me if you can let me handle him personally.”

“You owe me one.”

“Understood,” Wellington said.

“Come on then, let’s see which one is JD Dunne,” Hallowell offered and headed for the group of chanting young people.

“Father John Is my Savior…Father John will set me free…”

“Yeah, yeah, we know all about Father John and what a coward he is…running out and leaving you to…”

“Father John must live…we are only his children and our lives should be forfeit to insure his survival.”

“What’s your name, Kid?” Hallowell asked the young woman.

“Father John is…”

“Gone, the sonofabitch ran out on you remember?” Hallowell asked.

“You are all sinners and Father John teaches us not to listen to sinners. It is time for us to leave, John Daniel…”

“Ah, so you’re JD Dunne,” Wellington said.

“I am John Daniel…JD was a sinner and he is…”

“Out to lunch right now, but I’m betting he’s still in there and just waiting to kick Father John’s ass all the way to hell where he belongs,” Wellington told him with a smile.

“Do not listen to him, John Daniel, he is speaking the devil’s words and Father John does not wish for us to hear the sinners speak. Father John is my savior…”

“Father John will show me the way…” John Daniel and the others picked up the chant as Wellington and Hallowell talked about the best place to start the re-programming.


Nettie Wells swallowed convulsively when she stepped into the SICU that housed the unconscious form of Chris Larabee. She knew the extent of his injuries and understood the staff was doing everything in their power to make sure he survived. She’d spoken with Orin Travis and knew JD Dunne was partially responsible for what happened, but she also understood that he’d been used, drugged and beaten, by the bastard who’d taken control of Providence.

Nettie laughed, but there was no humor in the sound when she thought of the name of the town and the stupidity of the people who lived there. How could they have been so blinded by the teachings of a self-proclaimed prophet? How could they subject their children to the lies and deceit of such a man? How could they allow him to torture children and make young people like JD do something that went against who they were?

Nettie placed her hand on her nephew-in-law’s arm and could see the vivid array of bruises peeking out from beneath the white blanket. There were tubes and IV lines everywhere she looked and the soft sound of the ventilator did little to ease her fears.

“You know, Chris, I could take a page out of Buck’s book here and tell you I’m getting too many grey hairs, but I guess that comes with age,” Nettie said and turned when a voice spoke behind her.

“He does have that effect on people, Nettie,” Wilmington told her.

“Oh, Buck, I didn’t know you were there…I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be…we just got in. How’s he doing?”

“They tell me he’s doing about as well as could be expected,” Nettie said as he hugged her. “How is JD? Casey is worried sick about him.”

“Right now he’s not JD, Nettie…right now he’s a puppet named John Daniel, but we’ll get him back,” Wilmington assured her.

“Does he know…know about Chris?”

“Probably, but right now he doesn’t give a damn about Chris or anyone else except Father John. The bas…the man did a hell of a job on him. He…and the other young people keep chanting and believing he is their savior and a prophet of God or something. Where is Casey?”

“She had a project due and is at the library with several friends. I told her there was nothing she could do right now and that her studies are important.”

“You’re right, Nettie…she’s good at what she does and there’s always a need for good doctors,” Wilmington explained and looked at Larabee. “God, what a mess.”

“Yes, it is, but God didn’t make it,” Nettie told him. “I’ll leave you to visit with Chris and go check on Vin and Ezra.”

“Josiah’s with them...”

“Good, maybe I won’t have to sit on them to keep them away from here,” Nettie said and hugged Wilmington before leaving the room. She knew exactly where Vin and Ezra were and took the elevator to their floor. She greeted several people she knew, but did not stop to talk. She strode toward the room and pushed open the door, surprised to find Josiah holding a finger against his mouth.

“Josiah, how are they?” she asked when he eased the door closed and joined her in the hallway.

“They were asleep when I got here,” Sanchez explained.

“That’s probably because we had to resort to drastic measures,” Norma Hardisty explained from the main nursing station.

“Drastic measures?” Nettie asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Wells. It seems Vin and Ezra have a reputation and when we found them trying to find an escape route that would make it easy with Vin’s extra tubes and wires…”

“Hell,” Sanchez said with a slight grin.

“Yes, for the staff as well as for the patients. We had to give them both medications because they’d overtaxed themselves and were in a lot of pain. It seems someone gave them a little something that is helping them sleep.”

“Sneaky and smart,” Nettie told her.

“Thank you,” Hardisty said and pushed open the door. “You can sit with them, but please let them sleep.”

“We will,” Nettie said and stepped inside. Ezra Standish was in the bed closest to the door. His head was turned slightly toward her and Nettie could tell he was sleeping deeply. There was a flush to his cheeks that spoke of a fever, but she knew that was normal when bullet wounds were involved.

Nettie moved to the second bed and smiled at the way Vin Tanner was turned toward the window so that the sun seemed to dance across his face. Even in sleep she could see the lines of worry and wished there was some way to ease his fears. How often had she seen him like this since she’d met him? How many times had she witnessed the seemingly impossible connection he had with Chris Larabee?

A hand on her shoulder told her she wasn’t alone and she covered the heavily calloused one with her own.

“They’ll be fine, Nettie.”

“I know, Josiah, but it seems as if the evil of this world is winning…”

“Not a chance, Nettie, not while we still have breath in our bodies,” Sanchez vowed and pulled over a chair so she could sit down.


Peter Wellington knew what had to be done and watched as the kids were separated and placed in rooms away from each other. It had taken several hours to arrange for several buildings to be set up in the compound for what his team needed. There were 32 young people, ranging in age from 15 to 25, the oldest being JD Dunne.

Wellington knew they had their job cut out for them, but with the arrival of his team he knew they had a chance to ‘rescue’ those Father John had been manipulating with pain and drugs. He’d seen it before, way too many times, and yet it still affected him each time he started the overwhelming task of bringing people like JD Dunne back to their normal lives.

“How many are we dealing with this time, Pete?” Charles Seagrove asked.

“Thirty-two…18 girls and 14 boys.”

“Any idea how long they’ve been under Rousseau’s control?”

“Thirty-one of them since he came to the town over a year ago,” Wellington answered.

“Didn’t you say there were 32?”

“Yes, I did. The last one is a young man named JD Dunne and near as I can figure he’s been here about a week and underwent some severe training by Rousseau. He wasn’t alone when he came to town.”

“You sound like there’s something personal in this.”

“There is, but I won’t let that interfere in what we have to do,” Wellington vowed.

“Pete, we both know that’s not possible. You should back away from this one.”

“I can’t…I promised someone I’d take a personal interest in bringing the kid back. I know it goes against everything we’ve been taught, Charles, but this is one time I am not backing away.”


“Look, Charles, I don’t know the kid personally…”

“You just said…”

“I said I was asked to help this kid. I know his boss and friend and I owe them…big time. Give me a chance to work with JD Dunne and if you see me doing anything I shouldn’t then I’ll bow out, but for now let me work with him.”

“Normally I’d say no, but we both know you’re the best in the business, Charles, so I’ll turn a blind eye for now. Tell me what you need and I’ll make damn sure you get it,” Seagrove vowed and walked beside the older man as they headed into the building.



Veronica Parkinson watched as her granddaughter played beside her. The little girl was subdued and nervous as if afraid someone would take her away again. Veronica had spent the night with the child in her arms, rocking her while humming softly as tears slipped silently from her eyes.

Millicent, called after her grandmother, had quickly been shortened to Millie and the nickname had stuck because it suited the child perfectly.

“Grammie…will the bad man come back?”

The question didn’t really shock her, but it spoke of the fears the child had and that was something very real. “No, Honey, Grammie won’t let him come back.”

“What about Mommy and Daddy…will they come home soon ‘cause I misses them.”

“I know you do, and I’m sure they miss you too, Millie. They need to fix some things and then they’ll come home. They love you very much…”

“Why did they let the bad man take me?”

“I don’t know, Honey, but sometimes big people make mistakes too. Your mommy and daddy are sorry for what they did and they’ll make sure no one ever takes you from them again.”

“I love you, Grammie,” Millie said and quickly hugged the elderly woman.

“I love you too, Millie,” Veronica said and lifted the child onto her knee. “Grammie will keep you safe because Grammie loves you very much.”


Tyler Grodin knew he was alone and that Jean Claud Rousseau had taken what money they had and escaped before the Feds arrived. He’d barely made it out before the compound had been overrun and now understood that he was on his own. He knew where Rousseau would head as soon as it grew dark and he planned to get there before his former partner.

Turning away from the compound he followed the stream north away from the town and hoped the Feds were too busy with the kids to pay attention to him. He would hide out at the old airstrip and wait for Rousseau, kill the sonofabitch and then take the private plane anywhere he wanted.


Vin slowly opened his eyes and licked at dry lips as he smiled at the woman seated next to his bed. She seemed to be lost in her knitting and hadn’t noticed he was awake and he took the time to study her face. She looked worried and he knew some of the lines were there because of him. He shifted on the bed, biting his lip when he remembered too late that there was more than one accessory to make him uncomfortable.

“Let that be a lesson to you, Vin Tanner,” Nettie mock scolded and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She held the cup of ice water and waited for him to drink his fill and smiled when he looked at her innocently.

“Thanks, Miss Nettie, seems I’s a mite thirsty.”

“I can tell, now what’s this I hear about you and Ezra trying to make an escape attempt?”

“Just wanted ta see Chris,” Tanner said softly as Standish continued to sleep.

“I know you do, Son, and I know you’re worried about him, but right now you need to be thinking ‘bout your own health. You were shot a couple of days ago and if the pain when you move is not enough of a reminder then maybe those extra tubes you have should be,” the elderly woman advised.

“Hate this…”

“I know you do, but so help me if I have to sit on you two I will,” Nettie said when she noticed the other man shifting on his bed.

“No point in playin’ possum, Ez, Miss Nettie’s a sly ol’…”

“Old?” the woman said, eyebrows rising in amusement.

“Ah hell…”

“And now the language…”

“Shi…ah shoot,” Tanner said and smiled when Nettie placed a kiss on his cheek.

“I do love it when you blush, Vin,” the woman said.

“Have you seen Chris?”

“I have,” Nettie told him and filled the two men in on what was happening with their friend. She knew they were worried, truth was so was she, but if there was one thing she’d learned about Chris Larabee it was that he had a resiliency that went further than most men she knew.


“Don’t even go there, Vin, you and Ezra are not going anywhere until Dr. Midland or Dr. Simmons give you the okay,” the woman said as the door opened and a nurse brought in a tray of food. “It looks like dinner has arrived.”

“Is that what they’re calling it now?” Standish grumbled and sat up in the bed.

“If you both behave I might be convinced to visit Delvecchio’s before I come in tomorrow morning.”

“I would be forever in your debt,” Standish vowed.

“Very well, but…”

“I knew there had to be a but in there somewhere,” Tanner said.

“Always is,” Nettie said with a grin before continuing. “If I hear tell of any late night excursions then I’ll just stop by the doctors’ lounge and offer them what I bring.”

“That’s cruel…”

“And unusual punishment,” Standish finished for Tanner.

“Yes, well you boys are unusual,” Nettie told them as the nurse brought in the second tray and placed it on Tanner’s table. “You boys eat that and I’m sure Mama Delvecchio will have something special for you tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks, Miss Nettie,” Tanner said.

“Don’t thank me …you haven’t eaten any yet,” Nettie said and picked up the fork before handing it to the Texan. She moved to the second bed and repeated the gesture with Standish as Sanchez returned to the room. “I’ll leave you boys to talk, but remember what I said.”

“We will, Mrs. Wells,” Standish told her and watched her leave before replacing the fork on the table. “Josiah, how is Chris?”

“Still the same. Buck’s with him and Nathan will be here shortly.”

“What about JD…any word on how he’s doing?”

“Nothing yet, but we knew it would take some time. They have to set up a base and then bring in the specialists,” Sanchez said and pointed to the fork on Standish’s tray. “Don’t make me call Nettie back.”

“You would too,” Standish said and began eating the stir fry sent up by the kitchen, surprised when it didn’t taste half as bad as he expected.


Buck sat watching over his unconscious friend and rubbed at the tense muscles at the back of his neck. He thought about his roommate and how much they’d changed since moving in together. JD Dunne had grown into a fine young man, one his mother would have been proud of. One Buck wanted to tear apart right now as he watched Chris Larabee fight for his life.

Buck knew in his heart that JD was not to blame, but that didn’t make this situation any easier.

*‘God, Chris, did he do all this to you? What the hell did Rousseau do to him? He looked like shit and that fucking chanting was enough to turn my stomach,’*

he thought as he ran his fingers through disheveled hair. He sighed tiredly and wondered if Wellington was getting anywhere with JD.

“Pete’s a good guy, Chris…I know he’ll do everything to bring JD back. I just wish there was some way to save you and JD a lot of hardship, but the kids going to have a shit load of guilt when he straightens up and sees what he did. Did he do all this to you or just what I saw him do? God help me, but I wish the hell I could be there when Pete starts on him,” Wilmington said tiredly.

“Buck,” Pamela said softly.

“Is it that time already?” Wilmington asked the nurse.

“I’m afraid so…you should really go home and get some rest. I promise with the heavy sedatives we’re giving him he won’t be waking up for some time,” Pamela explained.

Buck knew she was probably right, but he wasn’t sure he could leave the hospital knowing there was a distinct possibility that Chris Larabee wouldn’t be there when he returned. He took a deep breath before leaving the room, but turned toward the waiting room instead of the stairs. This was where he belonged until he knew Larabee would survive, and silently prayed Peter Wellington could help JD and the other members of ‘Father John’s’ cult.


Jean Claud Rousseau knew he should be careful, but he needed to escape before the Feds showed up at the door. Jane Constantine was getting nervous and it was just a matter of time before she turned him over to the police. He was quickly losing ground with the people of Providence as the children were returned to their families, but he would salvage whatever he could before leaving.

Rousseau wondered what had happened to Tyler Grodin and knew if the man had escaped he would head for the abandoned airstrip. That was fine by him because Grodin would make a good scapegoat should the Feds find them. As soon as it was dark he’d left the bed and breakfast in search of a car he could use to escape the town.

Jean Claud found what he needed outside a small house near the edge of town and quickly hotwired it before driving along a back alley. He knew the Feds would be looking for him, but he knew his way around Providence and quickly left the town behind. He knew it would take 40 minutes to reach the airfield and wished he had a weapon, but Jane had no guns in her home. He knew he had to get to the meeting place before his pilot decided there was no reason to wait any longer.


Tyler Grodin waited for the small plane to come to a complete stop and watched as the pilot exited the small craft and lit a cigarette. The man was big; his shoulders broad reminding Grodin of a linebacker, but the gun he kept hidden would make sure the man cooperated when the time came.

Grodin waited until the pilot leaned against the plane as if he didn’t have a care in the world before leaving his sanctuary and striding toward him.

“Who the hell are you?” Francis Jacobs asked.

“Tyler Grodin…now I know you’re supposed to be meeting my boss, but we ran into some trouble and I’m the one you’ll be flying out of here.”

“Only if you have the right price,” Jacobs offered.

“I have this,” Grodin said and produced the gun.

“Now wait a minute…I’m not…”

“I know Rousseau paid you upfront so you’re going to fly me out of here or I’ll kill you where you stand,” Grodin warned.

“Do that and you’re stuck without a pilot,” Jacobs told him with a grin. “Look, it makes no difference to me who I fly out of here…but…”


“It might just matter to him,” Jacobs said.

Grodin turned, but realized his mistake too late as something slammed into his arm and sent the gun flying into the underbrush. His fingers were already numb as he brought his right arm up in an effort to protect his head, and barely registered the metal crowbar before it struck with enough force to break the bone in his forearm.

Rousseau had heard enough upon entering the clearing and was glad he’d decided to park the car and grab the crowbar from the trunk. Years of self-preservation kicked in and he’d recognized Grodin’s voice and knew it was time to dissolve their partnership. He brought the crowbar down again and again until there was nothing but an unrecognizable lump on the ground covered in blood and gore.

“You need to get cleaned up,” Jacobs said with a grin.

“No shit,” Rousseau said and dropped the crowbar beside the dead man.

“So, are we heading for Rio?”

“No, not yet,” Rousseau answered. “I have some unfinished business and need to pick up my greatest achievement before we leave.”

“Are you sure that’s wise? I’ve seen the news broadcasts and you’re on the Feds most wanted list.”

“Isn’t it great to be famous,” Rousseau said with a grin. “Let’s get the hell out of here before the Feds show up although we both know how stupid they are.”

“I’ve got water onboard and a change of clothes for you,” Jacobs offered and reached behind the passenger seat for the backpack he’d stashed there.

“Good, be ready to leave in five minutes,” Rousseau ordered.

“Where are we going?”

“Somewhere we can hide out until the heat’s off,” the cult leader advised.

“I know just the place,” Jacobs told him and waited for the man to clean up before climbing into the small plane and readying for take off.


Peter Wellington looked at the young man seated on the chair at the center of the room. JD Dunne still chanted the words that were drilled into his skull by ‘Father John’ and his followers, but sooner or later he would stop, or his voice would give out. His team, and that of Charles Seagrove, had worked to take blood samples and would also need to do a physical examination of each member of the cult.

Wellington moved into the room and pulled a chair in front of the young man. He turned it around and placed his hands on the back, leaning his chin on his hands.

“Father John is my savior…”

“Is he, JD?” Wellington asked softly.

“My name is John Daniel…Father John will show me the way…”

“If that’s true then why isn’t he here with you? Why did he run…”

“You people have no idea…”

“Don’t we? Do you know what ‘Father John’s’ name really is? It’s Jean Claud Rousseau and he’s a con…”

“No! No he’s not…Father John will show me the way…Father John is my savior…”

Wellington watched the young man who began rocking back and forth on the chair. He knew there were drugs involved and from the amount of bruises, both faded and livid, Peter knew he’d been beaten during his time in the cult. His own experiences with Cults shone in his eyes and he knew this one had far reaching connotations because of the town of Providence. The people had either been blinded by the ‘light’ or turned a blind eye to what was really happening. Either way they had one hell of a task ahead of them and the cult leader was still free to start again.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will…”

“Run like a scared rabbit and leave you and his other kids to hold the bag. Snap out of it, JD, and see the man for what he is.”

“My name is John Daniel! Father John is my savior…”

“Is he…”

“Father John will show me the way…”

“Maybe…if he stuck around long enough, but he’s not here, JD,” Wellington said, purposely using the name Dunne was known to his friends as.  

“Father John is…Father John…”

“You know deep down what Father John is JD. He’s not a prophet and he’s definitely not a God…”

“How do you know?” John Daniel spat, rocking violently on the chair as he struggled against the binding around his wrists.

“I’ve seen men like Jean Claud Rousseau and I know how they work, Kid…”

“I’m not a kid and my name is John Daniel! Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“Sure he will, Kid. What about your friends? What about the people who care about you? Are you so far gone that you don’t remember how close you are to Buck Wilmington?” Wellington said smiling as he got the reaction he was looking for.

“Sinners…all of them…you’re a sinner…kill you…”

“So ‘Father John’ believes he should kill all sinners? What if the sin is a small one? Should the sinner be put to death?”

“Father John says all sinners must be punished,” John Daniel said as the fight left him exhausted. His mouth was dry and he wanted to ask for water, but that would be taking something from a sinner and he could not do that. Father John would punish him if he did and the pain would come back. No, he needed to stay strong and glared at the man seated in front of him. “FATHER JOHN IS MY SAVIOR…”

“Sure he is, Kid, I’ll be back when you’ve had a little time to reflect on what ‘Father John’ has done to you and Chris Larabee…”

“Chris,” John Daniel whispered the name, but his hatred flared as the man exited the room. He’d done what Father John had told him and rid the world of a sinner.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

Wellington stood outside the door and listened to the young man’s voice through the barrier. He could hear a woman crying from the next cell and the raging screams of another follower further down the hall. This was only the beginning, and he knew it would get worse before it got better. With a heavy heart, Peter made his way toward the room set up as a makeshift cafeteria.


Vin hadn’t slept much during the night and silently cursed the fact that he was stuck in the bed and because of the tubes he could not visit Chris Larabee. Ezra was lucky, well as lucky as a man could be considering he’d been shot. Vin looked at the TV disinterestedly and slammed his fists on the mattress as Ezra exited the bathroom.

“Are you all right, Vin?” Standish asked, holding the IV pole as he made his way toward his bed.

“Hell no…I’m stuck in this fucking bed and no one will tell me how Chris is doing!”

“Hmm, perhaps I could go check on our illustrious leader,” Standish offered.

“You’re risking the doc…”

“I believe I can handle them…I’ll just use a little of the Tanner secret and have them volunteering to feed me or bathe me or…”

“Hell, I ain’t half as bad’s all that,” the Texan said.

“No, you’re worse,” Standish said and reached for the hospital issue slippers. Josiah was supposed to bring him supplies from his penthouse, but for now these would have to do. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Vin.”

“Thanks, Ez,” Tanner said and closed his eyes. He knew the blond was alive, but the strange connection they shared was nonexistent and that scared the hell out of him. Since meeting Chris Larabee that connection had grown stronger with only a few instances where he could not feel him.

No matter how hard he sought out the gossamer strands of subconscious thought he came up blank. Vin knew it could simply be the meds they were both getting, especially considering that Chris Larabee was under heavy sedation in the SICU. He shifted on the bed and opened his eyes when footsteps sounded outside the door.

“Hello, Vin, where’s your roommate?”

“Morning, Doc, he’s just…”

“Let me guess…he’s gone to check on Chris?” Midland asked with a smile.

“Hell, Doc, can’t get nothin’ past you.”

“No, you can’t, but that doesn’t seem to stop you from trying.”

“Gotta keep ya on yer toes,” Tanner quipped.

“Look, Vin, I know you’re worried about Chris, but right now you need to realize you’re a patient here and it will take time before you’re able to move around under your own steam. That tube is there for a reason and I’m telling you right now that without it your lung will collapse and…”

“I got it, Doc,” Tanner griped.

“Do you, Vin, because right now I’d lay odds that you’re thinking of a way to escape from this room and go see Chris. Don’t bother denying it, but you should realize that your life has just as much value as Chris’ does and as your doctor I will make sure you stay right where you are even if it means five point restraints…”

“You’re getting’ as bad as Larabee with that glare, Doc.”

“Good, maybe I’m beginning to realize just what you boys put him through and why his glare is legendary,” Midland offered and glanced at the monitors.

“How long before I can see him, Doc?” the Texan asked hopefully.

“Well, things are improving and we may be able to get rid of the tube tomorrow, but until then I want your word that you’ll stay put.”

“Ain’t like I got a lot of choice,” Tanner told her as she checked the wound in his chest.

“True, but you’re worse than Houdini when it comes to escaping locked boxes,” Midland said and smiled as she sat on the edge of the bed. “Look, Vin, I know how close you and Chris are and I know how worried you are about him, but right now you need to worry about yourself too. The nursing staff in the SICU are…”

“The best in the country,” Tanner said seriously.

“Yes, they are and that’s what I want you to remember. He’s got someone with him at all times and we know if there’s a problem. Then there’s the rest of your team…Buck, Josiah, and Nathan have all spent time with him…so has Nettie Wells, so he’s not alone, Vin…none of you are.”

“Thanks, Doc, just wish we knew more about what happened.”

“So do I, but for now we need to get you better and out of here so I can use this bed for someone who appreciates my bedside manner,” Midland teased.

“Hell, Doc, I appreciate it…much better than Simmons…least yer a looker…”

“Well, thank you, Vin, but flirting won’t get you out of that bed any sooner,” Midland teased and watched the hint of a blush come to the Texan’s face before she left the room. 


Buck looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and smiled as Ezra Standish entered Larabee’s SICU. Without a word he stood up and allowed the injured man to take his seat.

“How is he?” Standish asked softly.

“Doc says he’s about as they expected right now. Simmons and Parker were in earlier and checked his numbers. They’re going to keep him sedated for at least another day and then Frost will decide if he’s strong enough for him to fix his leg,” Wilmington answered. “Does Midland know you’re here?”

“No, but it was either I come check on him or Vin would find a way to get here no matter how many accessories he was carrying,” the gambler explained. “If you don’t mind me saying, you look like you should be in bed yourself.”

“So I’ve been told,” Wilmington answered. “I’ll head on home as soon as Nathan or Josiah get here.”

“Has there been any word on JD?” Standish asked.

“Nothing new. Wellington and his team are working with all the cult’s followers, but it could be some time before we get any news.”

“You do realize JD is not to blame for what happened?”

“I know,” the ladies man agreed. He knew Nathan had told the two men what was happening in Providence and wished he didn’t feel as if Dunne had betrayed them all. The problem was every time he looked at Chris Larabee he saw the Bostonian bringing the knife down into the blond’s exposed abdomen. 

“Buck, JD will need to know you don’t blame him.”

“Yeah…but right now he’s damn lucky I can’t reach him,” Wilmington said honestly.

“Perhaps you are also lucky,” Standish offered and saw the frown on the dark haired man’s face. “I don’t believe you could live with what you would do if JD was close to you now.”

“You’re right about that, Ezra…God, what a mess,” the rogue told him.

“Yes, it is, but as is always the case we shall weather the storm together,” the conman explained, sighing tiredly.

“Come on, Ez, let’s get you back to your room,” Wilmington said. He helped Standish to his feet and walked beside him, ready should the gambler need his help. 


Vin knew he’d dozed while waiting for Ezra’s return and opened his eyes to find Buck helping Standish back to his bed. He waited until Ezra was settled before speaking. “How’s Chris?”

“Doc’s say he’s doing okay, Vin…”

“What do you say, Buck?” Tanner asked, trusting the ladies’ man to tell him the truth.

“Honestly, Vin, there’s not much I can tell you. The Docs are keeping him sedated and let’s just say he’s got even more accessories than you do,” Wilmington explained. “They did quite a number on him and it’ll take a while for him to get back on his feet.”

“Any word on JD?” the Texan asked.

“No, Pete will call if there’s any change, but right now I’m guessing he’s trying to undo what Rousseau did to him and the rest of the kids,” the rogue spat.

“Pete?” Tanner asked.

“Peter Wellington. Chris and I have known him for years and he specializes in cults and deprogramming those who’ve been fooled into believing whatever they’re told.”

“You trust him?” the Texan asked softly.

“Yes, I do,” Wilmington answered.

“Do you think he’ll be able to get through to JD?” Standish asked.

“I think so…God, I hope so, but I’ll tell you something right now,” the angry rogue snapped. “JD’s gonna have a lot to answer for…”

“Buck, it’s not his fault…people like Rousseau feed on anyone they can sink their teeth into. He probably used drugs and pain and anything else he could think of to make JD do what he wanted,” Standish explained. “JD’s the one who will need our help to deal with the repercussions of what he’s done.”

“I know…and I know I keep saying that, but I’m pissed, Ezra, and I don’t feel anything but anger toward JD right now,” Wilmington told them.

“You look like hell, Buck…go home and get some sleep,” Tanner said.

“You looked in a mirror lately, Vin, because from where I stand you look like five…”

“Miles of bad road…already heard that,” the Texan said.

“Must be true then. I’ll see you guys later,” Wilmington said before leaving the two men alone. He made his way back to Larabee’s room to wait for Sanchez or Jackson’s arrival.


Jane Constantine knew she should call Tom Willow, but did not trust the man any more than she trusted herself right now. She knew the Feds had taken control of the commune and was glad it would all be over soon. The problem was she knew she was as guilty as everyone else in being duped by Father John. Now she was guilty of helping the man escape and that could end badly with her going to jail.

Jane stood staring out at the flowers in her front yard and knew she had to do whatever she could to make things right. Sighing heavily, as tears slipped from her eyes, the distraught woman left her home in search of anyone who would help her.


John Daniel continued to chant even as his voice grew ragged and hoarse. He rocked back and forth on the chair and knew that Father John would come for him. He would not leave him to face so many sinners on his own. He heard the door open, but did not look at his visitor as he forced the words from his throat.

“Father John is my savior…”

“Are we still doing this, Kid?” Wellington asked. Two hours had passed since he last spoke with the young man, yet JD Dunne continued the chant that had been drilled into his head.

“Father John will show me the way…”

“That’s kind of hard for him to do considering he’s left all of you holding the bag so to speak,” Wellington said and sat backward on the chair once more with his arms folded across the back. “JD, think about what I’m saying and you’ll see I’m right. ‘Father John’s’ real name is Jean Claud Rousseau and he’s nothing but a two bit conman. He’s been doing this for years and leaves behind kids like you…”

“I’m not a kid! My name is John Daniel. Father John…”

“Yeah, I know. ‘Father John’ is my savior and all that crap, but if he was really your savior and was going to show you the way, why isn’t he here to help you right now?”

“He’ll come back for me and Penny,” John Daniel said and looked around. “Where’s Penny? What did you do to her?”

“Penny is in another room. Rousseau left you all behind and he’s not coming back,” Wellington explained, rubbing his hands on his arms as he watched the young man. “JD, your friends are worried about you…”

“What friends?” John Daniel asked.

“Buck Wilmington…”

“He’s a sinner!”

“Josiah Sanchez…”


“Nathan Jackson...”

“Sinners! All of them and so are you!”

“Chris Larabee…”

“Father John is…is my savior…Father John…Father John…”

“What’s wrong JD? Why are you stumbling over those words now? Is it because of what you did?”

“I did nothing wrong…Father John will set me free…”

“Rousseau has put a rope around you and is dragging you to hell with him, Son. He’s not a savior. If anything he’s the sinner and what he made you do will send him to prison.”

“I did nothing wrong. I…I followed…Father John is my sa…savior.”

“No, Jean Claud Rousseau is a murderer with delusions of godhood. He is not here because he doesn’t give a damn what happens to you. Come on, JD, think about it. Think about what happened to you! Think about what he made you do to Chris Larabee!”

“He made me see what he was,” John Daniel whispered, but his voice faltered as tears formed in his eyes.

“What was he, JD?”

“Chris Larabee is a sinner and I did Father John’s work. I…I…”

“Easy, Son,” Wellington said when the young man seemed unable to continue and began rocking back and forth shaking the chair violently as he struggled with his thoughts. “It’s going to be all right.”

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way.”

“No, Son, ‘Father John’ is an animal and he’ll be locked in a cage for what he did to you and the others,” Wellington said and left the room to find his friend waiting for him.

“How’s it going, Pete?” Seagrove asked.

“He seems to be responding, but it’s too early to tell yet. How are the others?”

“It’s rough going. I hate seeing kids locked into shit like this, but it seems people like Rousseau are a dime a dozen.”

“It sure as hell feels that way. JD keeps asking about someone named Penny. How is she doing?”

“You know, she’s been in the cult from the beginning, yet she’s one of the few that seems to be coming out of it. She’s a smart girl and once she realized Father John left them behind she’s fighting everything he taught them.”

“That’s good news,” Wellington said thoughtfully.

“What are you thinking about, Pete?”

“I’m wondering if maybe she can help me get through to JD.”

“It’s too early to even think about that, maybe when she’s ready, but not yet. Not until I know JD won’t influence her the wrong way.”

“I know you’re right,” Wellington told him.

“Have you made any progress with Dunne?”

“A little, but whatever Rousseau did to him…whatever program he used it really affected the kid.”

“Probably used drugs and pain. It’s not pretty, but it works when you know how to use them in the right combination.”

“I hope they catch the bastard before he starts up again in some other unsuspecting town. Jesus, some providence this place turned out to be,” Wellington told him.

“We both know how easy it is to make people believe you’re their savior when you use family against them. I know it should be the other way around and people should realize what they are giving up when they give in to these bastards. If it ever happens I’ll happily give up this damn job,” Seagrove told him.

“You and me both,” Wellington agreed softly and walked away from the room.


John Daniel closed his eyes and thought about what the man had told him. Was it possible Father John had run out on them or was he simply waiting for his chance to return and rid the town of sinners like Chris Larabee? Was Chris really a sinner? God help him, but he wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Father John had taken away the pain…but hadn’t he also been the one to cause it.

What about Chris? Was he really a sinner? Wasn’t Chris the one who gave him a chance to prove he could do the job?

“God, help me,” John Daniel cried as his body shook and he struggled against the restraints holding him to the chair. Pain stabbed at his skull, making him dizzy while nausea churned through his gut. Tears fell from his eyes, but he could not stop them, didn’t want to stop them as guilt gnawed at his mind.

“I’m sorry….God, Chris I’m so sorry,” John Daniel cried, screaming as he felt invisible hands touching him, hurting him, torturing him as if they were real.

*‘I can stop the pain, John Daniel…all you have to do is believe. I can stop the pain…’

The words sounded loud in the room as if spoken in front of him and John Daniel screamed as he twisted against the restraints and the familiar chant escaped tightly clenched teeth.

“Father John is my savior…”


Nathan kissed Rain before they exited the car. The hospital parking lot was nearly full, but Rain had her own space reserved in the doctor’s parking area. They’d spent the day together, but both were anxious to get to the hospital and check on the injured men and run roughshod over Buck Wilmington. The rogue had yet to leave even after Midland and Simmons threatened to ‘put him down’.

“Nathan, I need to see a couple of patients. Are you all right to go take on Buck by yourself?”

“I can handle him, besides Inez said she’ll meet me there,” Jackson told her. Josiah was helping Father Thomas at the church because the storm the day before had caused major damage to the rectory. Sanchez had been the one riding herd on Wilmington, but even he got tired of trying to get the man to leave Larabee’s side.

“All right…I’ll come get you when I’m done with my rounds and maybe we can grab a bite to eat.”

“Sounds good, Rain,” Nathan said before they went their separate ways. Nathan made his way toward the SICU and wondered if the nursing staff had managed to keep Vin tied to his bed. The Texan wanted to see Larabee, but it wasn’t possible while the chest tube was in place. Simmons had told him it would probably be removed tomorrow morning, but Tanner was not known for his patience.

Ezra was another problem and as stubborn as the day is long. He’d spent more time in Larabee’s room than he should have and made the trip several times already before Midland had decided to put a stop to it by knocking him out with a shot for several hours. Ezra would probably be as cranky as Vin when he finally woke up.

Nathan made his way to Larabee’s cubical and sighed heavily when he spotted Buck seated beside Chris’ bed. The blond was being kept heavily sedated, but they were finally easing off on the meds and would keep an eye on his vitals during that time. Dr. Frost had spoken with the specialist working on Larabee’s case and had him scheduled for surgery on his leg early the next morning, unless there were complications during the next 16 hours.

“Buck, you need to get some rest before those bags under your eyes become hot air balloons,” Jackson said.

“Slept some…”

“Sure you did. Mind telling me what century that was?”

“I thought you were with Rain.”

“I was, but she has to work so I figured it’d be a good time for you to get some rest while I stay with Chris. How’s he doing?”

“The doc’s say his fever’s still bad and that drain they got in his gut’s still heavy with blood. They think they might have missed something and have to go back in if it doesn’t improve soon,” Wilmington explained worriedly.

“Don’t go thinking the bad stuff, Buck, until they come right out and tell you they’re going back in.”

“I know you’re right, Nathan, but I just can’t help thinking about this and I’d like to catch hold of JD and…”

“It’s not his fault, Buck…”

“I know,” Wilmington said honestly. “I just wish he’d been strong enough to fight Rousseau.”

“We all do, but you know what people like Rousseau do. The town of Providence is proof of that.”

“Those people need a good ass kicking letting that bastard take their kids like that. I mean some of those children were less than two years old. The parents need to be taught one hell of a lesson…Damn it they make you get a license to drive yet any idiot can have a child…”

“Makes you wonder doesn’t it?”

“Damn right it does,” Buck said tiredly.

“Well, there’s nothing more you can do here and I believe your ride just arrived,” Jackson said with a grin.

“My what?” Wilmington asked and turned to see the pretty dark haired woman standing in the doorway. “Inez.”

“Hello, Buck, are you ready to go?”

“Go where?”

“Don’t ask, just go,” Jackson lightly scolded.

“What about Chris?”

“I’m here, Buck, and Nettie will be here shortly,” Jackson answered.

“Come on, Buck, and don’t let me hear you say nunca,” Recillos teased as she linked her arm through his and led him from the SICU.

Nathan turned back to the bed with a hint of a smile. Buck and Inez had no idea that everyone else could see the growing attraction between them. It was like watching two forbidden lovers pussyfooting around each other and Ezra had set up a betting pool on how long it would continue before the couple finally admitted the truth.

Nathan’s smile slipped when he looked at the overhead monitors and realized Buck wasn’t kidding when he said Larabee’s fever was high. He knew Midland and Simmons had specialists involved and hoped they were as good as their reputations suggested. The problem with that was their egos were usually as big as their reputations and they didn’t take the time to explain things properly to a patient’s family and friends.

Nathan moved to sit in the chair; relieved that he’d managed to get Buck to leave and hoped the stubborn man would not fight whatever Inez had planned.


Vin kicked until the twisted blankets released their hold on his legs and slammed his fists on the bed in frustration. His eyes shot open when he heard a soft chuckle from the doorway and couldn’t help, but smile at the elderly lady standing there. “Hi, Nettie.”

“Hello, Vin, what did that bed do to you to deserve the beating you’re giving it?” Nettie Wells asked.

“Feel like I’s stuck in a fu…a cocoon,” Tanner told her.

“I’m sure you do,” Nettie said and moved to fix the blankets. “Where’s Ezra?”

“They took him down for some tests ‘bout an hour ago. Doc’s ticked at him.”

“Let me guess Ezra’s been spending too much time in Chris’ room?”

“Yeah, ain’t his fault…asked ‘im to.”

“I doubt that makes a difference, Vin, I’m pretty sure he’d go up there with or without your influence,” Wells told him.

“Ain’t gonna argue with ya,” Tanner said.

“Good, now how do you feel and I don’t want to hear I’m fine!”

“Hell, Nettie, I ain’t fine, but I ain’t half as bad as they say. This damn tube is comin’ out soon and…”

“They’ll find you in Chris’ room.”

“Ain’t gonna lie ta ya,” the Texan said with a grin.

“Better not or Santa won’t bring you any of them sweet treats you like.”

“Hell, Nettie, you wouldn’t do that to a sick man who’s…”

“Cut the crap, Vin, or I’ll get my Spencer Carbine,” Nettie said, pleased that the old joke still made the young man laugh.

“That old thing don’t got a firin’ pin,” Tanner said.

“Then I’ll beat you with it.”

“Thanks, Nettie,” the Texan said.

“For what?”

“Ya always know just what ta say.”

“I also know just what you need,” Nettie said and placed a bag on the table.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Chocolate chip muffins, I made them this morning,” Nettie said and leaned in conspiratorially. “Just don’t let anyone see them.”

“You didn’t clear them with Doc. Midland did you?” Tanner said with a smile.

“No, and I brought some for Ezra too so don’t go thinking they’re all for you,” the elderly woman warned.

“What Ezra don’t know ‘bout he ain’t gonna miss.”

“Maybe not, but you go eating all of them and you’ll be sick and that means you’ll be cut off any more treats.”

“Ah, hell, ya sure took the wind outta my sails,” Tanner griped.

“Good, ‘cause you’re in no shape to go sailing anyway,” Nettie told him and watched as he took a bite of the muffin and a smile formed on his pale face.

“Thanks, Nettie,” Tanner said. “Ya been up ta see Chris?”

“I just came from there. Nathan’s with him, but there’s no change,” Wells said sadly.

“How’s Casey?”

“She’s taking it hard…wants to go to Providence and make sure JD’s okay, but I told her there’s no point in doing that until Josiah hears from the people working with him,” Nettie answered. Her niece had cried herself to sleep the night before and was broken hearted about not being with JD when he needed her. Josiah had explained that the special team working with the town’s young people would not allow anyone inside.

“Hate bein’ stuck in here…”

“I know you do, Son, but Chris would kick your ass if he knew you were worryin’ over him instead of concentrating on getting better,” Nettie said, turning as Ezra was wheeled into the room by an orderly. “Hello, Ezra?”

“Good morning, Mrs. Wells,” Standish said and eased out of the chair. His side was throbbing as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Why don’t you lie back and I’ll get the nurse for you?” Wells suggested.

“I assure you I’m…”

“Paler than a ghost and ya even got them dark circles…make ya look like a ghoul” Tanner said. “If yer real good Nettie brought me a treat and I’m willin’ ta share with ya.”

“Don’t you mind him, Ezra, there’s plenty for both of you,” Nettie said and left the room in search of a nurse.

“Ya okay, Ez?”

“Not really, but I am well enough to advise you not to indulge in my half of the bounty you hold,” Standish told him.

“Hell, Ez, there’s only ‘nough fer one and splittin’ it would jest be a tease…”

“Then I shall abscond with the whole…”

“Naw, I’ll share with ya,” Tanner interrupted with a grin.

“I thought you would see things my way,” Ezra said and reached for a muffin as Nettie returned with a nurse.

“Mr. Standish, I have your medication right here,” Thelma Lewis said and uncapped a syringe. She quickly injected the contents and hung a bag of antibiotics before doing the same for the second patient.

“Thanks, Thelma,” Tanner said before she left.

“Mrs. Wells, your culinary talents are by far the best in the country.”

“Thank you, Ezra, I’m glad you’re enjoying the muffin,” Nettie told him. She could tell both men were tired and settled back to watch over them once they finished the muffins and closed their eyes. Her thoughts turned to the injured blond in SICU and she silently prayed that he would make a complete recovery or JD Dunne would never forgive himself.


Peter Wellington knew he was making strides with JD Dunne, and hardened himself to the task before him. The young man would have to face everything he’d done before he could start to heal; even then it would be a hard road back.

Men like Jean Claud Rousseau knew how to tear people apart, especially young people who’d only just begun to live their lives. Rousseau’s influence was evident in his victims and although some like Penny and JD were showing signs of breaking out, others were fighting every step of the process.

Wellington pushed open the door and entered to find the chair on its side and the arms broken. He glanced to his right and spotted Dunne huddled in the corner, shaking uncontrollably. He moved to the young man’s side as JD covered his face with his hands. The evidence of the beatings he’d received during his ‘reprogramming’ by Rousseau stood out visibly and Wellington wished they had the sonofabitch handy.

“JD, look at me,” Wellington said.

“No,” Dunne told him.

“What’s wrong, JD?” Wellington asked, purposefully using the name each time he spoke.

“I’m so fucked.”

“How, JD?”

“Buck’s going to kill…kill me.”

“Buck’s your friend.”

“Buck’s a sinner…no, no he’s not. Buck’s not a sinner and neither is…neither was Chris.”

“That’s right they’re not…”

“But I am…”

“No, JD, you’re not. You’re just a young man who fell under a madman’s spell, but you’re coming out of it now and you’re going to be fine.”

“I killed…I killed him and I can’t face Buck. I can’t…”

“You didn’t kill anyone, JD,” Wellington said softly, hoping he could get through to the distressed young man.

“Don’t lie to me! I know what I did. God, I can’t stop it! I’ve got blood on my hands that won’t wash off! I killed him and it should have been me that died!”

“JD, Chris isn’t dead…”

“God help me…I’m so sorry, Chris, I didn’t mean to. I should…”

“JD, Chris is alive. He’s in rough shape, but he’s alive and he won’t blame you for what happened. He’ll blame the bastard for hurting you. Rousseau…”

“Is a dead man!” Dunne snapped, turning toward the door when it opened and someone new stepped into the room and motioned to the man talking to him.

“JD, I’ll be right back,” Wellington assured the young man before leaving him alone.

JD swallowed convulsively as nausea churned through his gut. Images flashed across his mind, pictures that revealed everything he’d done. How could he have been so blinded? How could he have let Rousseau get to him? How could he have done that to Chris Larabee?

JD closed his eyes tightly as his hand came up and made a sweeping downward arc as if he still held the knife that cut deeply into Chris’ body. He opened his eyes and stared at his hands, seeing the blood as if it still stained them in a crimson tide. His body shook with rage and fear, fear that he’d done something he could never forgive himself. Worse still, something Buck would never forgive him for.

“I’m sorry, Buck…I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

“JD, Buck doesn’t blame you for what happened. No one does,” Wellington said once Seagrove had given him the news that Jane Constantine had given them Rousseau’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the clearing, they’d found only one body and signs of a small aircraft having recently been there. Rousseau was nowhere to be found. 

“He should. I should have been able to fight that bastard.”

“Maybe…if you were on even ground, Kid, but Rousseau used drugs and from the looks of you I’d say he used fists…”

“Said he would make the pain stop,” Dunne said, turning watery eyes toward the man kneeling in front of him. “I tried to fight him. I knew he was wrong about Chris, but they kept chanting and he kept hurting me and he promised to make the pain stop and I needed the pain to stop.”

“I know you did, JD, and Rousseau used that. He used drugs to make the pain worse and then gave you other drugs to make you feel better and then told you the pain would come back if you didn’t do as you were told,” Wellington told him. “We probably should have taken you to get checked, but I figured it would be best if we broke Rousseau’s control over you first since nothing seemed to be broken…nothing physical anyway.”

“I’m okay,” Dunne whispered softly.

“No, you’re not, but you will be. I don’t think Rousseau had you as far gone as he hoped and that made my job a little easier. I’m going to call Buck and have him arrange for someone to pick you up and bring you back to Billings.”

“I don’t think they’ll come for me.”

“You might just be surprised about that, Son,” Wellington told him. “Come on, there’s a bed with your name on it in the next room.”

“What if I try to escape?”

“You’re not a prisoner, besides where would you go, Kid?” Wellington said and reached out to help the younger man to his feet. He supported him until they reached the bed and eased Dunne onto the small cot. “Go ahead and lie back. No one’s going to hurt you here.”

“Am kind of tired,” the Bostonian said and laid back as Wellington pulled a warm blanket up over him.

“Sleep’s the best thing for you right now, Son,” the agent said before leaving the room and easing the door shut behind him. He knew JD had a rough road ahead of him, but with the help of his friends he would come out on top.


Buck stretched out on the bed and smiled at the woman standing in the open doorway. She hadn’t noticed he was awake and he studied her with a heart that ached to hold her. Through the years since their first meeting he’d played the game of chase with Inez Recillos, but in recent months he’d been thinking seriously about the future. He briefly wondered what the others would say if they knew where his mind was going. Would they believe he was really ready to settle down with one woman? Did it really matter?

“Good afternoon, Senor,” Recillos said, turning and moving to the bed with a Cheshire-like grin on her face. She’d spent the morning making love with this virile man and had stayed beside him until he’d finally given in to his need for rest.

“My God, Inez, you’re beautiful,” Wilmington managed and pulled her down beside him. He kissed her full lips, heady with the excitement that flowed through his body.

“You are not so bad yourself, Senor…”

“Don’t you think Senor is a bit too formal?”

“Yes, it is, but it is so damn sexy,” Recillos told him seductively, reaching for his cell phone when the familiar tone sounded in the room.

Buck took it, flipped it open, but refused to release his hold on her as he answered. “Wilmington.”

“Buck, it’s Pete.”

“Pete, how’s JD?” Wilmington asked, and felt Inez’s grip on his arm tighten expectantly.

“That’s why I’m calling, Buck. JD is coming out of it. He knows what happened and he needs to be with you guys.”

“I’m afraid of what I’ll do if I see him right now, Pete.”

“I understand, but he needs help, Buck. Perhaps he could stay with one of the others until your head’s on straight.”

“I’ll talk to Josiah and Nathan,” Wilmington said. “How soon can he be picked up?”

“The sooner the better. He should also be seen by a doctor, but I figured it’d be better if he see someone he knows.”

“What kind of doctor?”

“Medical and psychiatric. The kid’s been through hell, Buck, and no matter how angry you are you need to remember he’s a victim in this too.”

“So everyone keeps telling me,” Wilmington said softly. “I’ll call you as soon as I know who’s coming for JD.”

“All right. How’s Chris?”

“No change. Fever’s still high and he’s on a damn respirator, but if I know Chris he’ll be fighting to get the damn thing out before he’s even awake,” the wary rogue explained.

“Keep me updated.”

“You got it…thanks, Pete,” Wilmington said and hung up before returning his attention to the woman lying beside him.

“Buck, I know how hard this is on you, but JD needs you.”

“No, not right now he doesn’t, Inez, not in the mood I’m in,” Wilmington said and hit the number he had keyed into his phone.


Nathan looked up from the book he’d been reading and stretched as Josiah entered the room. “You’re early.”

“I just got a call from Buck.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, but Peter Wellington called to say JD was ready to come home.”

“Already,” Jackson asked worriedly.

“It seems JD realizes what he did was wrong. He’s a mess both physically and emotionally and Pete thinks he’d be better off being treated by people he knows. I spoke with Midland and she’s arranging for him to see her in the ER as soon as I get back.”

“You’re going to get him?”

“That’s why I’m here. Buck’s in no shape to go get JD…”

“No, he’s not,” Jackson agreed.

“It’ll take me a while to get back, but I wanted to make sure you knew where I was if anything comes up,” Sanchez explained.

“I’ll call,” Jackson said and returned his attention to Larabee once his friend had left. Chris’ temperature had come down some and it looked as if the surgery to repair his leg would go ahead the next morning. The nurse continued to care for her patient and Nathan knew it was time for him to leave the room when she turned saddened eyes in his direction. He reached for his book and left the room as the woman pulled the heavy drapes and closed off the room from onlookers.  

Nathan made his way toward the stairs and hurried down the two flights, exiting on the floor where Vin and Ezra were patients. He entered the room to find both men awake and talking quietly.

“Nathan, is everything all right?” Standish asked.

“Yeah, the nurse needed some time with Chris,” Jackson explained simply. “Any word on when you two are getting out?”

“Dr. Simmons seems to think I can have my discharge papers tomorrow morning,” Standish explained.

“Guess that means he likes my comp’ny more’n yours,” Tanner griped. “They’re taking the tube out in the morning…be a few more days b’for they’ll let me outta here.”

“I am not going to argue about whose company the medical staff prefers because I am willing to celebrate my escape from this facility…”

“Shut up, Ez,” Tanner snapped.

“I was simply…”

“Rubbin’ it in,” the Texan said and turned to Jackson. “Anythin’ new on JD?”

“Wellington called to say they got through to JD. Josiah’s gone to get him,” Jackson answered and saw the anger in Tanner’s blue eyes. “What happened was not JD’s fault, Vin.”

“I know, Nathan, but…”

“No buts…they don’t work in this one. JD’s got enough to deal with and he’ll need help to fight the demons on his back. Buck’s gonna be hard enough on JD, Vin, he doesn’t need anyone else coming down on him.”

“I ain’t gonna come down on ‘im, Nate, just hope the kid is strong enough to face what he did.”

“JD’s not perfect, Vin, if he was he wouldn’t be one of us,” Standish said.

“Seems to me I heard Chris say that a while ago,” Tanner sighed heavily and knew the team had some rough patches to get through, but none more so than Chris and JD.


The drive to Providence had been a solemn one for Josiah Sanchez as he thought about the young man he would be picking up. JD had always been feisty and had proven his worth on more than one occasion during his time with the agency. Josiah pulled the SUV into a spot near the main building and exited the vehicle under a dark sky that was speckled throughout with stars.

Sanchez took a deep breath of the cool mountain air before striding toward the structure now under the FBI’s control. He stepped up to the door and knocked loudly before turning and looking out over the compound. There were several armed agents walking the perimeter as if they expected Rousseau’s return.

Josiah wished the cult leader would show up because he’d give the man a lesson in the meaning of going ‘old testament’. Sanchez didn’t consider himself a wholly religious man, but at one time he’d been a full-fledged priest. That was until he’d fallen on hard times when his fate had not only been tested, but pushed to the limits of trust until it snapped and he could no longer justify the existence of a God who seemed to have turned his back on his children. That time was in the past now and his faith had been restored to a certain degree and he knew, deep down, God existed and watched over them all.

“Can I help you?” a man asked when the door opened.

“I’m looking for Peter Wellington or Charles Seagrove.”

“They’re in a meeting right now,” Miles Carter explained.

“I’m supposed to pick up JD Dunne.”

“You’ll have to wait until they’re out of the meeting,”

“Can I wait for them inside?” Sanchez asked.

“Miles, who is it?”

“Some guy who says he’s here to see you or Agent Wellington,” Carter answered.

“You must be Josiah Sanchez.”

“In the flesh,” the ex-preacher answered.

“I’m Charles Seagrove. Peter just went to check on JD so you might as well follow me,” Seagrove ordered and moved deeper into the building.

“How is JD?” Sanchez asked.

“Considering what that bastard did to him…and made him do to Larabee I’d say the kid is in rough shape,” Seagrove said and stopped in front of a closed door. “Peter has done a damn good job of bringing JD back, but it’s going to take a long time for him to face what happened and realize he’s as much a victim as Larabee is. Tell me you don’t blame JD.”

“I don’t,” the older man answered honestly.

“Good, because JD needs friends at his side right now and he doesn’t need to be a martyr.”

“He won’t be,” Sanchez said as the door was opened and he had his first good look at the youngest member of the agency.


“Hello, son,” Sanchez said as he moved into the room.

“Oh God, Josiah I didn’t…I didn’t mean to…I fucked up I…”

“Easy, JD, no one blames you for what happened…”

“Yes, you do, Josiah. I can see it in your eyes. You think I’m guilty and you’re right! I wanted to kill him…I wanted to do what Father John…what that bastard wanted me to do!” Dunne snapped and grabbed the chair. He threw it at the wall and searched for anything else he could throw, but the room was designed to keep him safe. “I killed him…I…”

“JD, Chris is not dead,” Sanchez said and reached for the younger man who tried to pull away. “JD, I want to help…we all do.”

“I don’t want your help, Josiah…I just want…”

“Tell me what you want,” Sanchez said and knew Seagrove and Wellington had left the room and closed the door.

“I want…God, Josiah, I want this to be a bad dream, but it’s not.”

“No, son, it’s not,” Sanchez said and felt the young man’s body tremble. Dunne was no longer looking at him, but at his own hands as if they were something he had never seen before.

“I can still see his blood on my hands, Josiah. I can’t make it go away…I’ll never be clean again…always have Chris’ blood on my hands.”

“No, you won’t, JD, not if you let us help you,” Sanchez said, sinking to the floor as Dunne’s body seemed to go limp. He held the youngest member of the team as his body trembled and helpless screams escaped his throat.

“I didn’t mean to, Josiah…God help me I didn’t mean to do that, but Father John…he told me he’d make the pain stop…he told me Chris was a sinner…”

“I know, JD,” Sanchez said and gently rocked the distraught Bostonian.

“Buck…God, Buck will ne…never believe me…”

“Don’t sell Buck short…he knows the truth and he’ll help you through this,” the ex-preacher explained and held the young man until the trembling stopped. He stayed where he was until Dunne lifted his head from his chest and looked at him. “Are you ready to go home?”

“No, but I guess I don’t have a choice.”

“We always have a choice, Son, it’s just a matter of making the right one,” Sanchez said and helped Dunne stand. “Come on…Doc Midland’s waiting to take a look at you.”

“And Doc James?”

“Probably,” Sanchez said and opened the door.

“Is everything okay?” Wellington asked.

“I think so,” the ex-preacher answered.

“JD,” Wellington said and waited for the young man to look at him. “You’ve got friends, Son, lean on them and let them help you.”

“I will…thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the man said and handed Dunne a card. “You ever need to talk my number’s on that card and I promise I’ll always take your call.”

Dunne nodded and shook the man’s hand before following Sanchez outside and getting into the car. He fastened his seatbelt and leaned back against the seat as he closed his eyes. It was going to be a long ride home, but he wasn’t in the mood for small talk and hoped Sanchez understood his need for silence, his need to face his own guilt.


Vin watched as Ezra pushed aside the curtain and sat on a chair next to his bed. Standish had been given his discharge orders, but Vin knew the conman would not leave until they had word on Larabee’s condition. The blond had been taken to surgery to repair the damage to his left leg.

“Chris will come through this in true Larabee fashion,” Standish said, and hoped he was right. He knew how frustrated the Texan was and wished there was some way to ease his fears. Unfortunately when it came to Chris Larabee, Vin’s emotional control usually slipped.

Vin simply closed his eyes and silently cursed the tube in his side. He knew Midland was doing her rounds and hopefully she’d take the damn thing out so he could be there when Chris came out of surgery. Deep down Vin knew Chris probably wouldn’t even know he was there, but he would and right now he needed that touch to assure himself Larabee was okay.

“Josiah went to get JD,” Standish said.

“So I heard,” Tanner observed softly.

“He’s going to need our help.”

“I know, but right now I don’t think it’s a good idea fer me ta see him.”

“I feel the same way, but I have seen what people like Rousseau can do to impressionable young people, especially when he uses drugs and pain,” Standish offered, but grew silent as the door opened.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Midland said with a smile as a nurse followed her inside. “Ezra, I thought I signed your discharge papers.”

“Indeed you did, Dr. Midland.”

“Then what are you doing here?”


“Easy, Ezra, I figured you’d stay around long enough to find out about Chris and, no, right now there’s nothing new to report,” Midland said.

“Doc, did Josiah get here with JD?” Tanner asked.

“Not yet. They should be arriving shortly,” Midland answered.

“Is JD all right?” Standish asked.

“I doubt that very much after everything he’s been through, but Susan is available and she’s going to be there when JD arrives,” the physician explained.

“Dr. James will know how to treat JD,” the gambler said.

“Yes, she will and since I have several other patients to see before JD gets here I’m going to take care of that tube you’re so fond of, Vin.”

“Thank God,” Tanner said and eased back on the blankets.

“Do I need to go over the procedure?”

“No,” Tanner said and took a deep breath as Midland pulled the tube out. He cried out and gasped for breath as a hand was placed on his shoulder. “Sonofabitch…for…forgot about that part. Can’t they figure out a better way ta torture patients, Doc?”

“Unfortunately no one’s found a better way yet,” Midland offered and allowed the nurse to place a bandage over the area. She made several notations on his chart before closing it and sitting on the edge of the bed. “Vin, I know you’re worried about Chris, but you need to take care of yourself…that goes for you as well, Ezra.”

“I assure you…”

“You assure me nothing. Need I remind you how many times you went up to Chris’ room when you were supposed to be resting?”

“Hell, Ez, I think she’s got spies everywhere,” Tanner said.

“Didn’t I tell you I joined the spy of the month club?” Midland quipped before growing serious once more. “I know there’s no point in telling you not to worry or in telling you to go home and rest, Ezra, but I do want your word that you’ll take it easy and won’t do anything stupid!”

“How long will Chris be in surgery?” Standish asked.

“It depends on what Dr. Frost finds,” Midland answered. “Buck and Nathan are in the SICU waiting room and I’m sure they’ll come fill you in as soon as they know anything. Try not to worry…David is damn good at what he does.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Tanner said.

“Vin, I’ll have the nurse bring you a wheelchair,” Midland said. “Make sure you use it and Ezra, don’t let me see you pushing him around.”

Vin didn’t bother to protest because the woman knew him well enough to know that once the tube was out he’d find a way up to the SICU. He closed his eyes and thought about Larabee and how much the man’s friendship and brotherhood meant to him. He silently prayed that things would work out and that Chris and JD would find a way to put this in the past.


Jean Claud Rousseau knew he could not stay here indefinitely, but for now he was safe. Jacobs had found him a motel, cheap, but clean on the outskirts of Billings and had even rented a car for his use. He knew Jacobs would do anything if the price was right and he had the money to see that it stayed that way.

Rousseau had given Jacobs the money to get him a new laptop, one that was capable of a wireless connection. Now was the time when he could sit back and do a little research on his newest conquest. JD Dunne was young and impressionable and even if the FBI agents were able to reverse his teachings, Dunne would be an easy target. Chris Larabee was a problem, but he could also be dealt with if he recovered from the injuries inflicted by a member of his own team.

It was funny how that had worked so well once JD had fallen under his spell, and perhaps it was something he could incorporate in his programming techniques. It would be a simple matter to make sure a close friend or family member was on hand in order to prove the new converts loyalty.

Rousseau clicked on the button and waited for the TV to warm up. It took nearly a minute, but once it was tuned in the picture was pretty clear. He tuned into the local news channel and wasn’t surprised to find Chris Larabee and JD Dunne were the top news story of the day. His own picture was also shown, but it was from several years ago and he’d changed during that time.

‘Father John’ might be at his lowest right now, but he was far from finished and as soon as he had everything in position he would make his move. He would leave the country with JD Dunne at his side and Chris Larabee buried deep in the ground.


Josiah pulled his vehicle to a stop in the parking area and turned to the young man seated beside him. JD hadn’t said a word during the trip and pretended he was asleep the whole time. Josiah knew Dunne wouldn’t talk until he was ready, but until that time came he needed to know he wasn’t alone.

“Are you ready to go in, Son?”

“I’d rather just go ho…home.”

“You need to let Dr. Midland check you over, JD.”

“I’m fine, Josiah…”

“No, no you’re not, Son, but you will be if you let your friends stand by you.”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Son, you have friends who will stand by you and won’t let you down,” Sanchez vowed and hoped the younger man believed him. He could only watch as Dunne released his seatbelt and climbed shakily from the car. Josiah felt tired, but he knew the Bostonian would need someone at his side, and he’d make damn sure he was there. He took the keys from the ignition and exited the SUV.

“I don’t know if I…if I can do this, Josiah.”

“You can, Son, as long as you let us help you,” Sanchez assured him.

“Is Chris…is he alive?”

“He’s alive, JD, and he’ll stay that way. We all know how stubborn Chris Larabee can be,” Sanchez observed. “Come on, son, let’s go see Dr. Midland.”

“Guess I don’t have much choice,” Dunne said.

“We always have a choice, Son, but sometimes we have to let others show us the right one,” the ex-preacher said as they walked toward the ER doors.

“Will you…will you stay with me, Josiah?”

“For as long as you want, JD,” Sanchez vowed and held the door for the younger man. He glanced around and spotted Stacey Midland and Susan James standing at the desk and felt Dunne stop beside him. “It’s okay, JD, I’m here.”

“JD, come with me,” Donna Oliver said.

“If it’s okay I’d like to stay with him,” Sanchez said.

“That’s fine, Donna, let him stay with JD,” Midland answered and joined them as they entered a cubicle. “JD, we’re going to run some tests and make sure whatever drugs he used are out of your system. I’ll need you to change into a gown so I can take a look at those bruises.”

“The bruises are nothing, Doc.”

“Let me be the judge of that or else someone might decide my job is obsolete and let patients self diagnose themselves,” Midland teased.

“Doc, how is…how is Chris?” Dunne managed, hands fisted in the gown he’d been handed.


“Please, Doc, I need to know.”

“He’s in surgery to repair the damage to his left leg,” Midland explained.

“God…Josiah, I’m sorry…I didn’t. I didn’t mean to do it! I should have been able to…able to stop, but I couldn’t. He said he’d stop the pain if I did it.”

“I know, Son, it’s not your fault,” Sanchez said and wished he could do something to ease the guilt he saw in the young man’s face. “Why don’t I help you get changed so the doc can take a look at you?”

“Guess so,” Dunne said as the nurse closed the curtain and he began to undress.

“What happened to your side, JD?” Sanchez asked and saw the frown on Dunne’s face.

“I don’t know…don’t remember,” the Bostonian answered and stared at the bandage on his right side. He seemed to remember someone looking at it and asking him when it happened, but that was all he could remember.

“Dr. Midland will take care of it,” Sanchez told him and helped him out of his clothing.


Buck glanced sideways at the man seated in the wheelchair and wondered if he should return Vin to his room. Ezra was half asleep in the chair next to the Texan and he knew both men belonged in bed, but neither man would leave until they had word on Chris Larabee.

Buck looked into the empty cup and tossed it into the trash before running his hands through his hair. His thoughts turned to the young man who’d been his roommate since Larabee had formed the agency. JD was impressionable and enthusiastic and could be damned annoying at times, but the kid was damn good at what he did. Hell, there was no one who could even come close to Dunne when it came to computers and programming and hacking into impossible sites.

“Buck, any word yet?”

“Nothing yet, Nettie,” Wilmington answered softly and hoped Tanner and Standish stayed asleep.

“You look like you haven’t slept in days,” the elderly woman observed as she sat across from him.

“To tell you the truth sleep’s been something of a rare commodity lately,” the rogue answered.

“It comes with the territory,” Nettie said and reached for his hands. “Everything’s going to be all right, Buck. It will just take time.”

“I know, Nettie, but God help me I’m so angry at JD right now I’d probably tear him apart with my bare hands if he was here.”

“That’s understandable…anger is normal especially when it comes to the two people you consider yourself closest to. You and Chris go back a long way and JD’s friendship might be new, but it’s deep. I know you blame JD…”

“Not really…”

“Yes, Buck, you do, but you’ll soon realize he was not in control,” Nettie explained. “He is going to need someone to lean on and I know you’ll be there for him.”

“I will, Nettie, but not right now,” Wilmington said, standing as a familiar figure entered the waiting room. “Doc, how’s Chris?”

“Sit down before someone mistakes you for a patient, Buck,” David Frost ordered and took the seat next to Nettie Wells. He looked at the three members of Larabee’s team and took a deep breath before speaking. “Chris is as stubborn and resilient as you boys give him credit for and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d opened his eyes and tried to give me a lecture on what I was doing.”

“Sounds like Larabee,” Tanner said.

“He’s being settled in SICU and the staff there will be keeping an eye on things, but he seems to be responding to treatment although his temperature is still high,” Frost explained.

“Do you know what’s causing it?” Nettie asked.

“No, but we think it could be a secondary infection and Dr. Samantha Grady will be checking his file. She’s a specialist and she knows what she’s doing,” Frost said and stood up. “Now I know you’ll want to see Chris, but the nurses need time to get him settled so wait here and someone will come get you when he’s ready for visitors.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Wilmington said as Jackson entered. He’d overheard what Frost had to say and sat down tiredly.

“Nathan, did you see JD?” Nettie asked.

“Not yet, Josiah’s with him and they’re running tests on him now. Susan James is going to speak with him as well. Hopefully she can convince him that none of this is his fault,” Jackson said and looked pointedly at Wilmington. “He needs you…”

“Not right now he doesn’t, Nathan,” Wilmington snapped and strode out of the room. He made his way along the corridor, his feet taking him where his mind wanted to be. He knew where Larabee’s SICU was and stopped in front of it, but the curtains were closed and he knew the staff was doing their job.

Buck leaned heavily against the wall and knew he was being hard on JD, but God help him he wanted to kick the younger man’s ass right now. There was no way in hell he could even look at Dunne without tearing him a new hole, so it was better that he just stay clear of him until he knew he could control the anger surging through him. He stood and turned as he heard the curtains being drawn back and smiled at the woman standing there.

“Can I see him, Kathi?”

“I was just coming to tell you Chris was ready for visitors, but he is still heavily sedated and on a ventilator.”

“How long before you take him off the ventilator?”

“Probably later today,” Kathi answered and moved aside so Wilmington could enter.

Buck entered the room and listened to the clicks and beeps that told him Chris was still fighting. He had no idea what most of the equipment was for, but at least it meant Larabee was alive. He moved to the bed and stared down at the pale face and hoped the doctors found out what was causing the fever and did something about it.

“Damn, Stud, you’d better keep fighting because I don’t know what I’ll do about JD if anything happens to you,” Wilmington said and pulled a chair closer to the bed. He ran his fingers through his hair and silently prayed for the strength and guidance he would need when the time came to face JD Dunne.


JD laid back on the pillows and felt the emotional turmoil of the last week rolling through him in a tidal wave of pain and fear. How could he have let Father John control him? How could he let the bastard turn him against his friends…against Chris?

“JD, take it easy,” Sanchez said and placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. He felt a small tremor course through Dunne and knew the Bostonian was having a hard time dealing with what he’d been forced to do. He knew he could do nothing to help JD, not until he’d faced things and understood that he wasn’t to blame for what Rousseau had forced him to do.

Dunne turned away from the ex-preacher and closed his eyes as images continued to haunt him. He saw Chris, tied down, helpless, fighting against the restraints, cursing ‘Father John’ while trying to get through to him, but he was too far gone to hear Chris. He could picture the knife in his hands, could hear the others chanting, and could feel the excitement as he lifted his hand.

“I’m sorry, Chris…God help me I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right, JD, everything will be okay.”

“No it won’t Josiah!” Dunne snapped, anger at himself making his eyes fill with rage. “I tried to kill Chris and he still might die and I don’t blame Buck if he wants me out of his life!’ I don’t blame you if you tell me to leave because I am as guilty as the fucking scum we help arrest!”

Josiah tried to hold on to the raging tiger who did everything he could to escape the strong arms that held him. JD latched onto anything within reach and threw it across the room. Sanchez looked up to see Stacy Midland and Susan James hurry toward them.


“Let go of me, Josiah!”

“JD, I need you to listen to me,” Midland said.

“No, I need to get out of here. I need to…”

“You need to let us help you,” Susan told him.

“I don’t need your help!” Dunne spat.

“Yes, you do, Son,” Sanchez said, barely able to contain the youngest member of the team. He heard Susan James speaking with a nurse, but had to concentrate on the man he held. “John Daniel…”

“Don’t you call me that, Josiah! Don’t you ever call me that name again!”

“Okay, JD, I won’t, but you need to calm down now,” Sanchez said.

“No, I don’t! I need to get away from here! What the hell is that, Doc?”

“It’s something to help you, JD,” Susan James explained.

“I don’t want it!” Dunne said and struggled to get free of Sanchez’s restraining arms, but soon felt the sharp tip of the needle in his arm. “Damn you…I said I don’t want it!”

Sanchez held onto the younger man until he felt him go limp in his arms. He eased him back on the bed and saw moisture trails on his cheeks, evidence of the sorrow and pain JD Dunne was feeling.

“Josiah, I’m sorry.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Son,” Sanchez assured him.

“JD, I’m going to take a look at you now,” Midland said softly.

“Doc, he’s got a bandage on his right side,” Sanchez told her.

“Thank you, Josiah, if you would step outside…”

“No…stay, Josiah…please stay,” Dunne said and grabbed the older man’s arm.


“JD, Josiah can stay, but I need him to stand back so we can take a look at you,” Midland told him.

“I’ll be right over there if you need me, JD.”

“Okay…thanks, Josiah,” Dunne said and closed his eyes. He sighed heavily as the medication and exhaustion finally lulled him toward sleep.

“Stacey, I have a patient to see, but I’ll be in the hospital until three and I’d like to speak with JD when he’s ready,” James explained.

“Thanks, Susan, I’ll let you know when I’m finished and have the test results,” Midland answered as a nurse entered and she ordered blood work and other tests to be performed. She eased back on the bandage and looked at the wound to the young man’s side. It didn’t look recent, but it also showed signs of infection and she knew it would have to be drained and cleaned so that it could heal properly.

“That doesn’t look good,” Sanchez observed.

“It’s infected,” Midland said. “Monica, start an IV and I’m ordering antibiotics every six hours.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Monica Winslow said as Midland began writing orders on his chart.

Josiah watched as the medical staff continued to treat JD and silently prayed that the whole team would find the strength they needed to get past the hurt and betrayal.

“Josiah, I am admitting him for observation,” Midland advised.

“I’ll let the others know,” Sanchez said. “Are you going to put him in with Vin?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.”

“Vin doesn’t hold what happened against JD.”

“I know he doesn’t, but right now I don’t think JD’s in any shape to answer questions or face the rest of the team. It’s going to take a lot of work on everyone’s part to make your team whole again.”

“I know,” Sanchez agreed and glanced at the sleeping patient. “JD’s strong and once Chris is awake and on the mend things will be easier for him.”

“He’ll need your strength, Josiah, they all will,” Midland said.

“I’ll be there for all of them, Doc,” Sanchez vowed and suddenly realized just how tired he was.

“You should go home and rest,” the physician advised.

“Told JD I’d be here for him,” Sanchez said.

“He’ll probably sleep most of the day and I’ve ordered several tests to make sure we’re not going to have to deal with any damn surprises,” Midland told him.

“He needs to know he’s not alone,” the ex-preacher said.

“Yes, he does, Josiah. I’ll see if there are any private rooms available and have a cot placed in there for you,” Midland offered.

“Thanks, Doc.”

“You’re welcome, now go get something to eat and update the others on JD’s condition. By the time you get back we should have him moved upstairs and you can check with the information desk to find out his room number,” Midland advised, relieved when the man finally left the room. Larabee’s team had been through hell and back and it looked like that trip was going to be repeated.


Vin knew it was late and that any time someone would be kicking him out of Chris’ room, but for now he was where he wanted to be. There was pain in his chest, but nothing compared to what it had been like with the tube buried inside him. He ran his fingers through his hair and vowed that he’d be taking a real shower come morning.

Vin leaned forward and placed his head in his hands as he leaned on the bedrail. “Hell of a mess, Cowboy. Yer messed up, JD’s in a room upstairs and he’s fucked up, and then there’s Buck. He’s blaming JD for what happened ta ya, Chris, and I hate ta say it, but he’s got a point.”

Vin leaned back in the chair and rubbed at his lower back before glancing up at the monitors. He wished he knew whether the numbers he saw were good or bad, but that was Nathan’s department and he’d gone home with Rain a little after nine. Buck had taken Ezra home and would be staying at Standish’s penthouse until further notice or Standish kicked him out. He smiled at the thought of Buck and Ezra being roommates.

“I can jest see it, Chris. Buck stayin’ at Ezra’s place. I’m bettin’ Ez is gonna have the place fumigated and sandblasted when Buck goes home. If’n he goes home. Right now he’s so damn pissed at JD I ain’t so sure they’s gonna work it out. Yer ‘bout the only one who can fix things, Cowboy, so don’t’cha go checkin’ out ‘cause ya gotta help us fix this,” Tanner said and looked up when footsteps sounded outside the door.

“I could have sworn you were a patient, Tanner.”

“Keep it down, Simmons, don’t you know patients are supposed to be sleeping,” the Texan grumbled.

“You’re one to talk, but I should warn you that even your unusual chatter is not going to wake him right now. He’s still heavily sedated, but we are easing off on those meds and if you get some rest you just might be awake when he is,” Simmons said and looked at the chart.

“How’s it look, Doc?”

“Well, his numbers are better than expected, except for his temperature, but it has come down some since his surgery this morning,” Simmons answered. “He’s fighting, Vin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that famous glare of his when he wakes up. Now, I know you boys think you’re supermen, but you’re not and I should tell you that one of the nurses on your floor is a bit upset that one of her patients seems to be missing.”

“Damn, guess I should’ve told her where I’s headed,” Tanner said and eased his aching body out of the chair.

“That might have saved you a lecture,” Simmons said. “Come on and I’ll walk you to your room.”

“I’s gonna check in on JD…”

“You could do that, but I should warn you that Lynn is threatening to find my supply of dull needles,” Simmons warned.

“One of these days someone’s gonna call ya on them things,” Tanner groused, but shuffled toward the door. He turned and looked back at the unconscious blond.

“He won’t wake until tomorrow, Vin, so go get some shuteye yourself so you can help us corral him when he wakes up,” Simmons said and walked beside the Texan. It wasn’t long before he turned the younger man over to the nursing staff on his floor and he headed for the ER.


JD opened his eyes and tried to figure out where he was and why he wasn’t at home, in his own bed, snuggled under his own blankets. The light was tuned down, but it didn’t take long to realize where he was when he spotted the IV line leading into his left hand. He shifted onto his side and spotted a familiar figure stretched out on a cot that was too small for his large frame. 

JD’s hand strayed toward the bandage on his side and memory returned with the touch. The wound was a painful reminder of what had happened, and what he’d done. They kept telling him it wasn’t his fault, but in his heart he knew he should have been able to stop Father John.

Silent tears escaped his eyes as he clenched them tightly and he fought the bitter acidic taste of bile that rose in his throat. He used the blanket to muffle the sound of sobs that he could not control, but soon felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned slightly and looked up at Josiah Sanchez, whose face and eyes were filled with sympathy and JD knew he could trust this man.

“JD, do you feel like talking?” Sanchez asked and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t know, Josiah. God I feel like I’ve lost my best friend.”

“Why would you think that, Son?”

“Buck…he hasn’t come to see me. He blames me for what I did, doesn’t he?”

“Buck is not thinking straight right now…”

“Yes, he is…him and Chris have been friends for a long time and just because we share an apartment don’t mean he’ll forgive me for what I did.”

“There’s nothing for him to forgive, JD.”

“I nearly killed Chris.”

“No, that was someone else. Someone under the influence of drugs and pain,” Sanchez said and filled up a glass with water. “Rousseau…”


“Jean Claud Rousseau – known to you as Father John, has been doing this for a long time, JD, and he knew exactly what to do to make you believe in him. He has a reputation for using drugs and pain and the promise of relief from that pain as a way of brainwashing people into following him. He targets people between the ages of 16 and 25, but he sometimes works outside that range.”

“Chris knew something was wrong in that town, but we had to stop there ‘cause something was wrong with the truck. They had all these fucking pictures up and called the town Providence…if that was Providence I’ll take my chances in hell,” Dunne said.

“JD, things will work out. Just give Buck some time.”

“I’m not sure time will fix this, Josiah…God, I’m so damn tired.”

“Then go ahead and rest, Son, I’ll stay right here and make sure you’re safe,” Sanchez vowed.

“Thanks, Josiah,” the Bostonian said and turned to face the window as tears formed in his eyes. He knew he should sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he saw the knife descending toward Chris’ restrained body and blood stained his fingers the same way guilt stained his soul.


Ezra opened his eyes and glanced at the clock beside his bed before easing his legs over the edge and sitting up. He could hear voices from the outer rooms, but realized they were coming from the television. It took him several seconds to remember he wasn’t alone and he grabbed his robe, pulled it on and made his way toward the partially open door. 

Ezra eased the door all the way open and made his way into the living room area to find Buck Wilmington asleep on the sofa. He knew the man hadn’t slept much since they’d found out about Chris and JD and he reached for the blanket hanging over the back of the sofa. He covered the sleeping man and turned off the TV and lamp.

“I’m supposed to be taking care of you,” Wilmington said softly.

“Indeed, but it seemed prudent to allow you to sleep. I am sorry if I woke you.”

“You didn’t Ez…did you need anything?”

“I was just going to get a glass of water and head back to bed.”

“I’ll get it for you.”

“No, you stay where you are and get some sleep. I assure you that is exactly where I plan to go as soon as I quench my thirst.”

“You need your pills?”

“No, but I know where they are should I have need of them. Sleep, My Friend, you look worse than I feel.”

“I’ll take your word for that, Ez…sleep well…I’ll be here if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Buck,” Standish said and made his way into the kitchen. He grabbed a glass and quickly filled it with ice from the dispenser and filled it with water before heading for his bedroom. He glanced at the man on the sofa and realized he was finally asleep as the soft sound of snoring reached his ears. “Sleep well, Buck, and just maybe things will look better come morning.”


Peter Wellington and Charles Seagrove stood outside the compound and watched as several families were reunited with their loved ones. Half the kids Rousseau had programmed had responded far better than they’d thought and the parents were finally being allowed to visit them. It would still be several weeks before they were released to their parents, but at least they were able to reconnect with their loved ones.

The younger ones were being cared for by the Children’s Protective Services under the direct guidance of Wellington and Seagrove. The two men had allowed several of the youngest children to go home including Millicent Bellows who was back with her mother, father and grandmother. Veronica Parkinson had proven to be her granddaughter’s champion and had already proven that she would not allow any harm to come to the child.

“Some day people will smarten up and realize their children are the greatest gift of all,” Seagrove observed.

“I’d like to see that day come sooner than later, but I can’t help thinking Rousseau is already starting up somewhere else. The bastard is slipperier than an eel,” Wellington said.

“We’ll catch him, Peter,” Seagrove vowed.

“I hope so, Charlie, because JD and all Rousseau’s victims need closure if they are going to move on.”

“You’re thinking of JD Dunne and Chris Larabee aren’t you?”

“Am I that easy to read?”

“Only to the people who know you,” Seagrove answered. “Have you heard anything from Wilmington?”

“Not since Josiah picked up JD. He’s probably too busy, but if I don’t hear from him today I’ll give him a call and see how Chris and JD are doing,” Wellington assured him. He looked at the families, kids and parents alike, who were fighting back the tears that were a mixture of both joy and pain. He hoped the tears were a sign that the people of Providence were finally ready to start the healing process.


There were voices and sounds, some familiar and some not, but for Chris Larabee they signaled the renewal of pain as a hand touched his shoulder and he knew he was no longer sleeping. He forced his eyes open and gasped when he realized there was something down his throat. He knew what it was, hell he’d been in this position before, but waking was never an easy process.

“Chris, it’s all right. You’re in Saint Vincents and you have a tube down your throat…”

“Chris shook his head and tried to pull away, but that same voice was strong and soon had him staring up at her.

“Do you want the tube out?”

Chris nodded and did as she instructed, crying out as the doctor pulled the tube from his throat. He cried out as his stomach churned and dry heaves wracked his body. He felt someone touching him and fought to stay conscious, but his eyes closed as he lost consciousness.


“He’s okay, Nathan, you know how hard it is waking up with a tube in your throat. It causes even the strongest person to panic, but it’s out now and he should be all right,” Stacey Midland explained.

“I know, Doc, it just doesn’t make it any easier to watch,” Jackson said. “How long before you move him into a regular room?”

“It depends on how well he reacts to treatment. Hopefully we’ll move him in with Vin later today or early tomorrow morning,” Midland explained

“That’s good news.”

“Did you tell your nurse where she could find you this time, Vin?” Midland asked.

“I told her…how’s he doin’?”

“Better than we expected at this point, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be running any marathons in the near future,” the physician answered and made several notations on Larabee’s chart. “The same can be said for you, Vin, and since Chris will probably be sleeping most of the day then you need to take advantage of it and get some rest.”

“I’ll see that he goes back to his room in a few minutes,” Jackson vowed.

“I’ll hold you to that, Nathan,” Midland said before checking the monitors and leaving the room.


“Like the doc said, Vin, he’s doing better than expected considering everything he’s been through and the fact that they’ve taken him off the ventilator is a good sign,” Jackson answered.

“I’s gonna check on JD,” Tanner said.

“Might be a good idea…as long as you take it easy on him, Vin. Josiah stayed with him last night and he’s hurting. He’s blaming himself for what happened and really doesn’t need us doing that.”

“I ain’t the one blamin’ ‘im, Nate,” the Texan said.

“Buck will come around, Vin. He just needs time to get his head on straight.”

“Tell me something, Nate.”


“When ya first found out what JD did…did ya…were ya angry with him?”

“Honestly, I was mad as hell, and I wanted to tear him a new hole, but then I saw what Rousseau had done and I knew it wasn’t JD’s fault. He’s as much a victim here as Chris is.”

“I know. Is there anythin’ new on Rousseau?”

“Nothing, the bastard seems to have disappeared. Orin’s spoken to the FBI and was told that they discovered a body at an abandoned airstrip. They haven’t confirmed his identity, but it’s probably one of Rousseau’s men,” Jackson answered.

They’d best catch the bastard ’fore I do,” Tanner vowed.

“Easy, Vin, I know how you feel…we all do, but going vigilante is not the answer. We need to let the FBI catch him and hopefully give JD and Chris some closure on what was done to them,” Jackson explained.

“I ain’t makin’ no promises.”

“Right now I don’t think you’d be able to do much anyway,” the medic observed.

“Probably not, but that never stopped me b’fore,” the Texan said.

“Come on, Vin, you look like hell and you should be resting. I’ll walk you back to your room.”

“Rather stop off and check on JD…don’t worry…I ain’t gonna say anythin’ ‘bout what happened,” Tanner vowed.

“You better not because I don’t think either of you is in any shape for a spitting contest let alone a knock down drag out fight…”

“Hell, Nate, if’n we did we’s already in the hospital so ain’t gonna be no extra paperwork fer ya,” the Texan said as he followed the medic out of the room. It didn’t take long to reach Dunne’s room on the second floor and Nathan eased the door open and allowed Vin to enter.

Vin nodded to Sanchez who was seated on a chair near the window with a magazine in his hands. He glanced toward the bed and noted the tense set of the shoulders and the tiny beads of sweat on Dunne’s forehead. He knew the Bostonian was awake, and also understood why he would be reluctant to have visitors.

“How is he, Josiah?” Jackson asked softly.

“He’s hurting, but he’s not really saying much,” Sanchez observed. Josiah studied the pale faced Texan and hoped he was reading the younger man right. Vin’s friendship with Chris was something they’d all been witness too, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Tanner could control his own anger. His eyes locked onto the sky blues and he nodded once before standing. “Nathan, come on and I’ll let you buy me a coffee.”

“You’re all heart, Josiah,” Jackson said, but left the room once Vin was settled in the chair Sanchez had vacated.

Vin kept quiet, waiting for JD Dunne to look in his direction. He hoped the youngest member of the team trusted him enough to know he didn’t blame him for what happened. The problem was Vin couldn’t really bring himself to believe that no matter how hard he tried. JD’s dark hair was sweat soaked and Vin watched as he slowly turned toward him.

“Ain’t yer fault, JD.”

“Tell that to Buck.”

“He knows.”

“Does he? Then why can’t he face me?”

“How long have ya known Buck, JD?” Tanner asked.

“I don’t know…’bout the same as you I guess…why?”

“Well, Chris and Buck have been friends a hell of a lot longer than the rest of us. Buck might not say it, but Chris is like a brother to him and sometimes he feels the need to protect him even when Chris don’t want ‘im too,” Tanner answered. “Ya gotta see things the way Buck would right now…he feels like…”

“I betrayed him,” Dunne said.

“No, ya didn’t, JD,” Tanner said and looked at the open door. “Ya never betrayed anyone…ain’t that right, Bucklin?”

“Vin’s right, JD, but I may get angry at you anyway. I don’t blame you for what happened to you and to Chris, but that don’t mean I can get that picture out of my head,” Wilmington said and moved closer to the bed.

“I need ta go back ta my room b’fore they send out a search party. Buck, kin ya stay with JD ‘til Josiah gets back?”

“I’ll be here,” the rogue said and moved to take the chair Tanner vacated. He leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands for several long minutes. When he finally lifted his head there were tears in his eyes and he found it hard to keep his emotions in check.

“Buck, I’m sorry…”

“I know, Kid, but it’s not your fault. None of this is your fault and I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you, but I kept seeing…kept seeing that knife…”

“I know…that’s all I see…that and the blood…Chris’ blood, Buck, it’s on my hands and I’ll never be able to wash it off. I see it every time I look at them…every time I close my eyes I hear Chris’ voice pleading with me not to do it, but he…Father John…Rousseau is in my head and he’s telling me only he can stop the pain. He said I had to prove myself by killing the sinner, but Chris…” Dunne’s head came up and he stared into Wilmington’s moisture laden eyes. “…Chris isn’t a sinner, Buck, but I am.”

“No, Son, you’re not. Rousseau is the only sinner in all this. The bastard needs to pay for what he’s done to you and all those kids in Providence. There’s a nation wide alert out for him and sooner or later he’ll be caught. When he is maybe we’ll have some closure on this, but for now I want you to know it’s not your fault. Chris won’t blame you and neither will I, but I’m telling you right now it’s not going to be easy, JD. I know it’s not your fault, but there’ll be times when I get angry and I’ll probably throw this up in your face, but God help me I don’t blame you, JD, I really don’t.”

Dunne sat up and slid his legs over the edge of the bed, and winced when the move tugged on the wound in his side. He moved to Wilmington and placed his hand on the older man’s shoulder and waited for Wilmington to look at him. “I got this friend who has big shoulders and it’s time I told him he can lean on me when he needs to also.”

“Thanks, JD,” Wilmington said and took a deep breath before standing. “What’d you do to your side?”

“Father…Rousseau did it as part of his programming. He said he could stop the pain, Buck, and I wanted it to stop so bad because it hurt so much.”

“I know, JD,” the rogue said. “Look, Kid, everything will work out…just going to be rough at times.”

“Can I…come home?”

“What?” Wilmington snapped and frowned as he saw the look on the pale face. He took a deep breath and sank back down on the chair. “JD, it’s our home and no matter what happens we’ll get through it. When the doc’s sign the discharge papers I’ll be here to pick you up. Deal?”

“Thanks, Buck,” Dunne said and moved back to the bed. He sat down and looked at his hands, closing his eyes as again he saw the blood staining his hands. A tremor ran through his body as Wilmington helped him lie back. “Buck, how’s Chris?”

“I haven’t been up to see him yet, JD, but that’s where I’m headed as soon as Josiah gets back.”

“Can I…I need to see him,” Dunne said.

“I know you do, but right now you need to rest. If Stacey agrees to let you go then I’ll come back and take you up there myself. Okay?”

“I guess,” JD said as Wilmington covered him with the blankets and closed the curtains. “So damn tired.”

“I know, so go ahead and sleep, Son, you’re not alone,” the rogue vowed and heard the soft sigh as Dunne relaxed and let sleep claim him.


Jean Claud Rousseau tuned the television to the afternoon newsbreak and watched for anything that might give him information on Chris Larabee and JD Dunne. He knew he should also be interested in what was happening in Providence, but had already decided to leave well enough alone where those people were concerned.

All he wanted now was his masterpiece. JD Dunne had been so easy to program and if he was given the time the kid had such potential. If he was given the time, Dunne could be turned into a regular killing machine and with youth on his side JD would have many years ahead of him.

Rousseau turned up the volume as a picture of Chris Larabee formed in the upper right corner and JD Dunne in the upper left corner.

“Chris Larabee is listed in critical but stable condition, and is expected to make a full recovery. John Daniel Dunne is listed in fair condition, but is being kept for observation. Jean Claud Rousseau, the man responsible for their injuries has not been apprehended and the police ask for your assistance in finding him…”

“Fat chance of that happening,” Rousseau said and reached for the glass of wine. He rolled the glass between his fingers and looked at the blood red liquid inside as he thought of making Dunne finish the job he started. It would be the culmination of all the hard work he’d put into this program.


Buck looked up as Josiah and Nathan returned and glanced at the bed to be sure Dunne was sleeping.

“Is everything okay?” Sanchez asked.

“I think so, Josiah, kid’s dealing with enough guilt without me making it worse.”

“You talked?” Jackson observed.

“We did…he knows I don’t blame him, but I did warn him there could be times when I get angry because of what was done to Chris and to him,” Wilmington offered.

“I’m glad to hear that, Buck, because JD thought you’d hold this against him,” Sanchez said.

“I know and I did…right up until I looked in here and saw how much this has cost him. He needs to know we’re behind him and I know Chris would kick my ass to hell and back if he thought I was making a jerk of myself. Look, he’s sleeping and I want to go see Chris…”

“All right,” Jackson said and looked around. “Where’s Ezra?”

“I left him at his place, but I made sure he had his phone and that he wouldn’t do anything more strenuous than going to the bathroom,” Wilmington assured him.

“And you believed him?” the medic asked.

“I checked…there were no poker games written in his little black book,” the rogue explained.

“Don’t worry, Nate, I’ll check on him on my way into the office,” Sanchez said.

“Thanks, Josiah. Nate tell JD I’ll be back to check on him later,” Wilmington said before leaving the room. He made his way toward the SICU and wasn’t surprised to find Vin Tanner already there. “Thought you were heading for your room?”

“Tanner, remember my threat about those dull needles?” Roy Simmons asked with a hint of angry impatience. 

“Hell, Doc, I got bored sittin in my room twiddlin’ my thumbs,” the Texan griped.

“Maybe I could schedule a few invasive tests like a colonoscopy,” the grizzled physician snapped.


“That’s the right end, Tanner…”


“Hey, Chris, how do ya feel?”

“Like stir fried shit,” Larabee answered and saw the smile on Tanner’s face.

“Now you know how he feels so get back to your own room before you fall on your ass and break that delicate behind of yours,” Simmons ordered.

“Hell, Doc…”

“Better do as he says, Vin, he’s got that look in his eyes and I’d hate to be on your end…no pun intended,” Wilmington said with a slight smile.

“I’ll be back later, Chris,” Tanner said.

“Much later, Tanner, or I’ll be glad to do that colonoscopy myself,” Simmons said and turned to his other patient. “Stir fried shit…that’s a new one, but an apt description of your coloring right now.”

“Thanks, Simmons, just borrowed it from Vin,” Larabee said as the man checked his eyes and the various tubes and leads. “When can I lose some of these?”

“You’ve only just had surgery on your leg and the drains in your abdomen still have blood in them so I’d say it’ll be at least 12 to 24 hours before we can entertain the idea of losing your accessories,” Simmons answered and leaned on the bedrail. “Now, Larabee, how do you feel and none of that crap about being fine.”

“Hell, Doc, he told you he felt like stir fried shit and I’m thinking that’s just how he looks too.”

“Thanks, Buck, you’re all heart,” Larabee managed.

“Any pain?” Simmons asked.

“No,” the blond answered.

“Good, now why don’t you go on back to sleep…”

“Seems like that’s all I’ve been doing,” Larabee griped.

“Believe me that’s a good thing right now because once we ease off on the heavy drugs you’ll be bitching…”

“No, I don’t think so,” the blond said and sighed tiredly before closing his eyes.

“Wilmington, go flirt with the nurses and let him sleep,” Simmons ordered.

“Ah, Hell, Doc, I haven’t been flirting with the nurses…”

“Damn, it must be snowing outside,” the physician said and turned to the nurse. “Jenny, let me know if his temp doesn’t come down.”

“I will, Doctor,” Jenny Glover answered.

“If Tanner shows up here again tell him I found my supply of needles and restraints,” Simmons said before hurrying out of the room.

“I wonder what rock his folks found him under,” Wilmington said.

“Dr. Simmons may be gruff, but he knows what he’s doing,” the nurse told him.

“I know that, Jenny, but I swear he must be part grizzly,” the rogue said and fought the anger building inside him at the damage done to his friend’s body. Rousseau had a lot to answer for and if Buck had his way the bastard would pay with his life.


Casey Wells took a deep breath before pushing the door open and stepping into the room. Nathan Jackson was seated near the window and smiled when he spotted her. He held his finger against his mouth and moved toward her. “How is he?”

“He’s hurting, Casey.”

“Has Buck been in to see him yet?”

“He was here this morning and I think they talked things through. JD seems to be sleeping a little easier,” Jackson answered.

“That’s good…JD needs to know Buck doesn’t blame him,” Casey said.

“Are you staying for a while?”

“I was going to,” Casey answered.

“Then I’m going to go see if Rain wants to grab an early dinner,” Jackson said and left the room.

Casey moved closer to the bed and knew JD was awake. Without a word she sat on the edge of the bed and reached for his left hand. Casey lifted it to her lips and kissed it, closing her eyes as tears slipped silently from them.

“Casey, why are you crying?” Dunne asked softly.

“I thought I was going to lose you, JD,” the young woman told him, sighing when he wiped the tears away with his thumb. “When Nettie told me what happened to you and Chris I wanted to go to Providence and kill that bastard myself!”

“It’s okay, Casey,” the Bostonian told her. “Rousseau will pay for what he did. The police will catch up with him.”

“I know they will, JD, but right now I need to know that you’re okay.”

“I’m not okay, Casey, but I will be. Can you get me a pair of slippers and maybe another one of these things?”

“Where do you want to go?” Casey asked with a frown.

“I need to see Chris…”


“Please, Casey, everyone keeps telling me he’s going to be all right, but I need to see for myself. We don’t need to stay long, but I…I need to do this,” Dunne said.

“I’ll go speak to your nurse…”

“No, Casey, please don’t do that,” Dunne said, holding her hand and preventing her from leaving. “I just need to see him…I won’t do anything else or go anywhere else and we’ll only stay as long as you say.”

“All right, JD, but we only look in on him and that’s it.”

“That’s all I’m asking, Casey,” Dunne vowed.

“Stay here and I’ll be right back,” Casey said and hurried from the room. She returned with the items they’d need and slipped the paper slippers on his feet before helping him into the extra gown.  

“Should I get a wheelchair?”

“No, I’m okay,” Dunne said and held onto the IV pole. He knew he shouldn’t be putting this on Casey and felt guilty because there was no way in hell he could’ve convinced any of the boys to do this for him. He’d make it up to her no matter what it took and hoped she would understand why he’d asked her to take him to see Chris Larabee.

Casey held his arm as they exited the room and made their way toward the elevators across from the nurse’s desk. She knew she would not lie if they asked where they were going, but the staff seemed to be busy with their patients. She kept glancing at JD and wished she could convince him to go back to his room, but deep down she knew he needed to do this.

JD kept silent until they reached Larabee’s SICU room. Once there he couldn’t hold his guilt in any longer as a soft sob escaped his throat. He felt Casey’s hand on his arm, but couldn’t meet her eyes as he saw the damage done to his mentor.

“JD, look at me,” Casey tried, but Dunne’s attention seemed locked on the scene in the room. She moved to stand in front of him, but didn’t release her grip on his arm. “JD, come on, let’s go back to your room.”

“I did that to him, Casey…God help me…”

“JD, it wasn’t your fault. You wouldn’t have done this if Rousseau hadn’t used drugs and pain and yes, I know all about what happened to you and I know Chris would never hold this against you…”

“Listen to her, JD, she’s telling you the truth,” Wilmington said. He’d heard Casey’s voice and had turned to see her and JD standing in the doorway.


“JD, come here,” Larabee’s voice was weak, but there was no doubt that it was a command, not a request.

Dunne took a deep breath and shook off the terror he felt at facing this man after everything he’d done. The distance between the door and the bed was only about ten feet, but it seemed to take forever for him to inch his way across the floor. He kept his eyes down until he reached the bed and Larabee’s voice reached him again.

“Get that head up, JD, I don’t like looking down on a man…especially one who doesn’t deserve it.”

“Don’t I, Chris? Look at what I did to you! Look at my hands…they’re covered in blood…your blood.”

“No, they’re not, JD, your hands are clean and always have been. Don’t let Rousseau win because he does if the team loses you and I lose a damn good agent and friend,” Larabee said honestly.

“Chris, I’m sorry…”

“JD, don’t make me get off this bed! Get your head up and keep it that way,” the blond warned.

“I’m trying, Chris, but it’s…it’s hard to…to…”

“Look at me,” Larabee finished and saw the truth of his words in the slumped shoulders. “JD, look at me!”

“I…Chris…” Dunne said, but managed to lift his head until he was looking into Larabee’s sea green orbs.

“I know about guilt, Kid, I wrote the damn book on it and you’re too damn young to have the weight of the world on your shoulders. I know a hundred different ways to say I’m sorry, but it’s not the words that make forgiveness possible, JD, it’s what’s in your heart. Keep your head up and make damn sure that guilt is placed where it belongs,” the blond ordered and fought to stay awake, but was finding it increasingly hard to speak. “Buck, make sure…make sure he knows he’s not…not to blame.”

“I’ll see to it, Chris, now go on and sleep while Casey and I bring JD back to his room.”

“Sounds….sounds like a plan,” Larabee agreed and was soon sleeping with the help of the heavy medication being fed through the IV.

“You heard him, JD,” Wilmington said.

“Is he all right, Buck?” Dunne asked, sinking onto the chair beside Larabee’s bed.

“No, JD, he’s not, but he will be and so will you as long as you let us help you. Let’s get you back to your room…”


“Is going to sleep for a few hours and you look like you could do the same,” Wilmington said and took the younger man’s arm. “JD, he doesn’t blame you and neither do I. You need to listen to what he said and lay the blame at Rousseau’s feet where it belongs.”

“I’ll try, Buck.”

“There is no try, JD, but for now it’ll do,” the rogue said and smiled as Casey placed a gentle kiss on Chris’ forehead before helping him with the Bostonian.

“I got him, Buck, you stay here with Chris,” Casey said and smiled as she linked her arm through JD’s before leading him out of the room.

Buck sighed heavily and sat down as the nurse cared for the sleeping man. He knew JD’s guilt would continue until Larabee was back on his feet and Jean Claud Rousseau was in jail where he belonged. Buck rubbed his cheeks with both hands and reached for the cup of cold coffee with a grimace of distaste.


Vin Tanner looked at the doctor standing next to his bed with her arms folded across her chest. He knew Midland well enough to realize he was in deep shit with her. He knew she was right, but it wasn’t like he’d set out to do it on purpose. He simply couldn’t sleep and had decided to see how Chris was doing. Hell he’d done it several times since Larabee had been brought in, but then again he hadn’t fallen asleep and had the staff on his floor searching for him.

“Vin, you know better…”

“Hell, Doc, ya told me ta get some sleep and I’s doin’ just that ‘til that cleaner spooked me,” Tanner tried to look contrite, but one look at Midland told him she saw right through him.

“Vin, sitting in a chair in the waiting area with your eyes closed and an IV in your arm is not what I’d call sleeping,” Midland scolded as she checked his blood pressure.

“I was visiting Chris…”

“At three in the morning?” the physician said.

“Well Simmons kicked me out, and then the nurses said they had to do something to Chris so I figured I’d wait in the waitin’ room. Didn’t mean ta fall asleep,” Tanner explained.

“That should be a warning to you, Vin, you need your rest,” Midland said and smiled at the Texan. “I want your word that you’ll stay put or do I have to call Nettie and tell her…”

“Shit, Doc, she needs her rest seein’ as how old…”

“Oh, I bet she’d love to hear what you think about her.”

“That’s not what I meant…it’s jest…”

“I know what you meant, Vin,” Midland said and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Look, I was just going over Chris’ latest test results and we should be able to move Chris in with you sometime tomorrow.”

“He’s doin’ that good?” Tanner asked.

“He’s doing better, Vin, but like you he needs to know his limitations.”

“I hear ya, Doc.”

“Good, so do I have your word that you’ll stay put?”

“I’ll stay put fer now,” Tanner said.

“Good, now get some sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow evening and don’t bitch about having the room all to yourself because once Chris is moved in here I’m sure you’ll both use up those three words a day you’re allotted,” Midland said of the running joke with Larabee’s team, although as far as she was concerned they could get downright talkative when under the influence of heavy pain medication.


Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…

“No!” the word escaped from the dry throat as the nightmare receded, but Chris could barely contain the panic that surged through him as the knife was driven into his gut.

“Easy, Pard, you’re okay…you’re safe,” Wilmington said and placed his hand on Larabee’s shoulder until the sea green eyes cleared and finally focused on him.

“Jesus,” the blond said and accepted the glass of water. He drank several mouthfuls before pushing Wilmington away.

“Want to talk about it?”

“I keep hearing that fucking chant,” Larabee told him and closed his eyes. Images formed and dissipated quickly, but they seemed to be superimposed on his mind as JD lifted the knife and brought it down into his body. “I’m guessing I probably asked this before, but did they get that bastard?”

“Not yet, but there’s an APB out on him and several of his known associates…he’ll be caught, Chris,” Wilmington assured him.

“Damn,” Larabee said and ran his fingers through his hair. “How’s JD?”

“He’s a mess, Chris. Blames himself for what happened and well so did I…”

“Shit, Buck, it wasn’t…”

“I know that and we’ve already talked it through,” Wilmington said and saw the relief on Larabee’s face. “Do you need anything, Chris?”

“No…just hate feeling so damn tired all the time.”

“The meds will do that to you, Mr. Larabee,” the nurse said as she adjusted the flow of the IV. 

“Go ahead and sleep, Chris, I got your back.”

“Always do, Buck,” Larabee said and closed his eyes. It wasn’t long before sleep claimed him and the chanting voices echoed through his dreams.


Ezra Standish leaned his head back against the headrest as Sanchez drove along the streets toward Saint Vincents. He knew he probably should have stayed in bed, but right now he needed to see that the others were healing. A hint of a smile formed when he thought about the team…his team and what they meant to him. These six men had become the family he’d always wanted and when they hurt, he hurt.

Ezra thought about his mother and how hard she’d tried to get him to follow in her footsteps, but that first meeting with Chris Larabee had proven to him that he had a choice in this world. He didn’t need to con people out of their life savings in order to line his own pockets. Sure, he had already done that and had even stashed away a rather large sum of money, but most of it had come from one of the many men Maude had paraded through their home or homes. Chris Larabee was the first man to ever face down Maude Standish and get the upper hand. That day would mark Ezra Standish’s personal Independence Day and each year he marked that day by indulging in a glass of champagne and a toast to his new family.

“Ezra, we’re here,” Sanchez said and looked at the pale young man. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

“I’m okay, Josiah,” Standish assured the ex-preacher before exiting the car. He stood waiting for Sanchez to lock the car and then headed toward the visitor’s entrance.


JD jolted awake and shook with the memories of the dreams he’d been having. Each time he closed his eyes he saw his hands holding the dagger and bringing it down toward Chris’ body. There was no escaping the reality of the nightmares, because they had a basis in fact.

The IV had been removed and JD slid his legs over the edge of the bed and crossed the short distance to the window. He stood there, not really seeing anything beyond his dreams and leaned his head against the window. The air conditioner was on and the pane of glass was cool to the touch, and yet the room felt too warm for him and he wanted to escape.

“JD, are you all right?”

Dunne turned to find Ezra Standish standing in the doorway and sighed heavily before moving to the chair and sitting down. “I’m okay, Ez. Have you seen Chris?”

“Not yet, but that is my next priority,” Standish told him.

“He doesn’t blame me for what happened,” Dunne said softly.

“I would hope not,” the gambler said. “I know you’re probably tired of hearing this, but no one blames you for what happened. I also realize that it will take time for the truth of that sentence to sink in.”

“How could I let that bastard…”

“Program you…because that is precisely what he did. Rousseau is a pro, JD, and he knew exactly what he was doing. I am ever so grateful that the FBI has a number of agents who can undo the damage these cultist cause. They cannot fix it so that it never happened and their victims have to live with that, but they do not have to do it on their own. You have a special family, JD, and you will find even I have shoulders that are broad enough for you to lean on.”

“Thanks, Ezra, I might just take you up on that,” Dunne told him

You’re welcome, JD…”

“You look like hell, Ezra,” the Bostonian said of the pale-faced man beside him.

“Yes, well, our bodies are not meant to take such punishment,” Standish said and sat on the edge of Dunne’s bed. “Have you spoken with Dr. James?”

“She was in earlier and we talked,” Dunne answered.

“Did you tell her how you’re feeling?”

“Yes,” the younger man told him. “She wants to see me in her office once I’m out of here.”

“Any idea when that will be?”

“Tomorrow if everything’s okay,” Dunne answered.

“Well, if you want to take some time to yourself my penthouse has an extra room,” Standish offered.

“Thanks, Ez, but things are okay with me and Buck. He’s going to pick me up and Casey said she’d stay with me…”

“Ah, I believe I would also prefer the company of a soft female body,” Standish said with a hint of a teasing smile.

“Casey’s not soft she’s been working out and…”

“Mr. Dunne, someday you will realize a woman’s body is always soft when there’s nothing separating you,” Standish observed.

“Damn, Ez, I know that…I’m not a kid.”

“No, Mr. Dunne, you’re not,” Standish said simply and stood up. “I believe it is time to check on our injured team mates…care to join me?”

“Yes,” Dunne answered and grabbed the robe and slippers Buck had brought in for him.


Chris opened his eyes when he heard voices and spotted Simmons speaking with the nurse who’d been helping with his care. He shifted slightly, silently cursing the leads and tubes attached to his body as he leveled a glare in the physician’s direction.

“There’s not much power behind that one, Larabee,” Simmons said once he handed the nurse the chart.

“What do you expect with all this shit you’ve got running in and out of me?” Larabee said, irritated when the older man simply smiled at him.

“Well, I’m guessing you must be feeling better if your dander is up,” the physician quipped.

“I feel like hell, Simmons, but a lot of it is because of the stuff you guys do. I don’t need the damn monitors and I’d like to tell you where to put the catheter…”

“You could tell me, but the problem is that’s another end and you rarely…”

“Ha-ha-ha, and they say JD needs a new repertoire,” Larabee groused and saw the twinkle in the physician’s eyes. He lay back against the pillows in defeat as Simmons finished checking him out.

“Well, Larabee, maybe we can get rid of that gnarly bear inside you…”

“You think this is gnarly, Simmons?”

“I was going to give you some good news, but I guess I can come back…”

“What good news?” Larabee asked.

“We can get rid of a few of those accessories and maybe move you down with Tanner,” Simmons offered and saw a slight smile appear on his patient’s face. “I see that got your attention.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“I figured I’d let you make an ass of…”

“Doc, those puns are just not funny.”

“Hell, sorry, wasn’t thinking,” the physician said.

“When do I get out of here?”

“As soon as Paula removes some of your accessories,” Simmons told him. “I’ll come see you and Tanner once you’re settled.”

“Sounds good,” Larabee said and relaxed as the nurse removed one of the IVs, the leads monitoring his vital signs, and finally the catheter he hated with a passion.

“Mr. Larabee, we’re going to be moving you to your new room now,” the nurse said.

“Sounds good,” the blond said as the bed was moved away from the wall. He kept his eyes closed during the trip, but opened them when he heard a nurse asking Josiah if he could leave the room. Tanner’s bed was moved back so that his could be moved to the window and he briefly wondered why the Texan hadn’t been given the window bed.

“Mr. Larabee, my name is Kate and I’m one of the nurses who’ll be looking after you today. I’m going to take a set of vitals and then I’ll get your meds. If you need anything at all just use your call button,” Kate Morrow explained.

“I will,” Larabee said as she finished checking his vitals before giving him the prescribed medications and leaving the room with a warning to the visitors not to over stay their welcome. He turned toward the door when footsteps sounded and wasn’t surprised to see the other members of the team enter the room. “Ezra, JD, sit down before you fall down.”

“Thank you, Mr. Larabee…”

“Cut the crap, Ez, we’re way past that stage,” Larabee said with a grin. “So, would you boys care to explain how you ended up on the wrong end of a gun?”

“I would wager it had something to with our chosen profession,” Standish offered.

“What happened?” Larabee asked and listened as Ezra and Vin went over the case that had ended with them being shot. He watched JD through it all, but the young man refused to meet his gaze and Chris understood the reason for it. “What about Nicholson?”

“Nicholson’s dead. The Oberons are waiting trial without bail,” Sanchez offered.

“The Oberons…as in Carl and Jane?” Larabee asked.

“It appears Nicholson has always had an association with the couple,” Standish said.

“And when did you find that out?” the blond snapped.

“Not until it was too late ta back outta the deal, Chris,” Tanner answered.

“You know they’re associated with Al-Qaeda?” Larabee asked. “If they decide to take you two down they have the ability to do so.”

“That’s a chance we take every day in this job, Boss,” Sanchez said.

“I know, but there are times when we need to back away and come at it from a different angle. Josiah, see if you can find out if the Oberons have had any contact with any of the terrorist cells we know are active in the area. I don’t want those bastards coming after Vin and Ezra without us being prepared,” Larabee said.

“I’ll look into it,” Sanchez agreed and could tell the injured men needed to rest. “Nathan, perhaps we should take Ezra and Buck home…”

“Hell, I’m not injured!” Wilmington snapped.

“Maybe not, but you look worse than the rest of us,” Dunne said softly.

“Watch it, Kid, or I’ll put starch in your shorts,” the rogue teased. “Boys, I guess I’ll escort JD back to his room and meet you downstairs.”

“Go easy on him, Bucklin,” Tanner said.

“Hell, Vin, I always go easy on him seeing as he’s a kid…”

“I’m not a kid, Buck, but you’re an old coot,” Dunne said, relaxing in the familiarity of the friendship he had with these men and especially with Buck Wilmington.

“Chris, don’t go trying to get out of that bed…”

“Hard to do with a cast on my leg,” Nathan,” Larabee said.

“It never stopped you from trying,” Jackson said. “Come on, Ezra, before the staff figures out you should be in a bed right next to these two.”

“I assure you…”

“Assure me you’ll cut the crap. Now, get your ass moving or I’ll call Simmons,” Jackson warned.

“You would too,” the gambler said.

“Better go, Ezra, I’d hate to think what Simmons would do if’n he saw ya now,” Tanner said.

“I shall see you gentlemen later,” Standish said and found himself sandwiched between Nathan and Josiah.

Chris and Vin could hear the conman grumbling all the way to the elevator and smiled at the thought of how well this team seemed to fit.

“How’re ya feelin’, Cowboy?”

“Honestly, Vin, I feel about the same as I look,” Larabee answered of his bruised and battered body.

“Hell, sorry ‘bout that…anythin’ I can get ya?”

“A damn good escape plan,” Larabee said seriously.

“Yeah, well, if’n ya get one let me in on it,” Tanner told him and eased himself out of the bed. He reached for the jug of ice water and filled Larabee’s cup for him before doing the same with his own.

“Thanks,” Larabee said and closed his eyes as exhaustion finally won out.

Vin watched the blond for a few minutes, relieved that although injured, he didn’t look like death warmed over anymore. He didn’t look great, but it didn’t scare the hell out of him to look at Larabee. He made his way back to his bed and sat down on the edge before lying back. Within minutes he too was sleeping soundly.


Jean Claud Rousseau looked through the peephole before opening the door and allowing his visitor inside. He knew he could trust Jacobs not to tell anyone where he was, but with his face plastered all over the news it would be foolish to tempt fate. Jacobs had agreed to bring him meals and newspapers and had paid for the room for three weeks with the stipulation that nobody intrude on the occupant. The maids would simply leave fresh towels and linen outside the door and he would collect them when there was no chance of being seen.

“I hope Chinese is good,” Jacobs said and placed several cartons on the table.

“Chinese is fine…is there any word on Dunne?”

“He’s being released from the hospital today, but it’ll be hard to get him alone for a while. I know Larabee’s team has a reputation for taking care of their own and word on the street says they’re not going to stop until you’re caught.”

“I guess I’ll have to stay low until they figure I’ve left town,” Rousseau said.

“Maybe you should…”

“Should what? Leave town? Not likely, Francis. Not when I finally found the perfect subject. JD Dunne was an amazing conquest…”

“But he’s been deprogrammed.”

“I know, but it will be a simple matter of adjusting the drugs and pain stimulation so that he is brought back to me. I have no doubt at all that Dunne would make the perfect killing machine. He could use his looks and youth to get close to almost anyone and I even have his first mark lined up,” Rousseau explained.


“Former Judge Orin Travis,” the cult leader answered.

“Doesn’t he own the agency Dunne works with?”

“Of course, and that’s what will make this the perfect parting shot. Travis once handled a case that was very close to me and I figure this is the perfect way to make him pay for my sister’s death…”

“You had a sister? A real one?” Jacobs asked incredulously.

“I did…and a mother and father too,” Rousseau answered sarcastically.

“That’s not what I meant,” the pilot said.

“I know, but I did have a sister and Travis made sure she’d be spending the rest of her life in jail. She died in there last year while I was out of the country,” Rousseau explained.

“How can you be sure you can program Dunne again?”

“Let’s just say I know how to manipulate the young,” Rousseau answered and reached for the bottle of wine his friend had bought to accompany the meal.


JD could hear Buck whistling a well-known tune while he prepared dinner and wished he could relax in familiarity of the scene. The problem was he could not shake the anger and disgust he had in himself. Buck and the others had assured him that they did not blame him for what happened, but he blamed himself and nothing they could say or do would ease that guilt.

“JD, would you get that?”

“What?” Dunne asked and realized someone was knocking at the door. “I got it!”


“I said I got it,” Dunne answered and opened the door, surprised to find two women standing there.

“Hello, JD, aren’t you going to invite us in or do you plan on serving us out here?” Casey Wells asked.

“What are you doing here?”

“Senor Buck invited us to join you for dinner,” Inez Recillos answered, stepping past the pale-faced young man and moving toward the kitchen.

“JD, are you all right?” Casey asked once he’d closed the door and followed her to the living room.

“I think so…Buck…he didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Would you rather I left?”

“No…no I wouldn’t, Casey,” Dunne said and wrapped his arms around her. A tremor ran through his body and a soft sound escaped his throat as he found himself unable to control the feelings coursing through him.

In the kitchen Buck heard the sound and wanted to check on the younger man, but felt Inez’s hand on his arm. “Casey is with him. She knows what to do, Buck.”

“I know…I just hate seeing him like this.”

“I know you do,” Inez said and hugged the worried man. “You are a good friend, Buck, and you are just what he needs now…just not right at this moment…”

“You mean not while Casey’s with him?” Wilmington asked softly.

“Exactly. Let her help him while I help you with dinner? Madre de Dios, what is that smell?”


“Please, don’t tell me it’s dinner.”


“Sit down, Buck and let me see what I can do to fix this,” Inez ordered.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Wilmington said and swatted her behind suggestively.

“You will pay for that later?”

“IS that a promise or a threat?”

“Perhaps a little of both,” the woman said saucily and pulled something that only slightly resembled a chicken from the oven.

Buck glanced toward the living room just as Casey led JD out onto the balcony and silently prayed she could get through to him.


Jane Oberon paced up and down in the narrow confines of her cell and cursed Donald Nicholson for being the stupidest sonofabitch ever born. She now knew that Peter Germaine and Alex Purcell’s real names were Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner. The bastards would pay for what they’d done, but it would have to be without help from her contacts with Al-Qaeda. Her lawyer had made it perfectly clear that if she or Carl tried to contact them they would not live to find out their sentence.  

She had not seen Carl since their incarceration and knew it would be some time before they could speak and only then with their lawyer present. Nicholson was dead, and that meant she would only need to put a contract out on Standish and Tanner, but even that would have to wait until she was able to contact the man who held her funds in trust. She trusted him implicitly, and knew he had the contacts to do as she asked.

Jane heard the cell door opening and knew it was time for dinner, but she didn’t look forward to spending time with the other inmates. Several of the long time inmates had shown an interest in her, and she knew it was only a matter of time before she’d be forced to protect herself. That didn’t scare her, not when she had several black belts in different martial arts programs, but that could only go so far if they decided to gang up on her.

“Come on, Oberon, chow’s getting cold,” a female guard warned and stood back until the newest inmate joined the line of prisoners.


Casey knew Buck would be spending the night with Inez, leaving her and JD the apartment once they’d cleared away the dishes. She watched JD as he stared out over the city as the lights began to come on, driving away the darkness. She reached for the sweater she’d left on the sofa and pulled it on before joining Dunne on the balcony.

JD heard her coming, but didn’t speak as he wrapped his arms around her. It felt so good, so right to hold her like this, but a hint of guilt still clung to him when he thought about the young woman he’d met at Rousseau’s compound. He briefly wondered what had happened to Penny and hoped Wellington had been able to help her.

“What are you thinking about, JD?” Casey asked softly.

“The compound…all the people there. Kids mostly, Casey, some of them so young they looked like they should still be nursing,” Dunne answered.

“The FBI will help them,” Casey told him.

“I know and I’d like to find out if they’re okay. There was…a young woman named Penny. She…she and I were friends, Casey. Father John assigned her to help me and show me around the compound. God, Casey, I hope she’s okay…she doesn’t deserve to be treated like a criminal.”

“None of you did, JD,” Casey said and turned so that she could see his face bathed in the white light from inside the apartment. She could see the sadness in his eyes and wished she could wipe the last few weeks from his memory, but that was not to be. All she could do was prove to JD that she didn’t blame him, no one did and that they would stand by him for however long it took to put this behind him.

“Can you…will you stay tonight?”

“I was hoping you’d ask me to,” Casey said and kissed him. They stood there, holding each other and renewing the love that had grown since that first meeting at Nettie’s ranch.


Nettie Wells looked at the young man who was now dressed and ready to leave, but she could see his reluctance to do so. It amazed her how easy it was to read Vin Tanner when it concerned Chris Larabee and vice versa. They shared something rare, a friendship that often transcended the normal parameters. Some people thought the two men shared a romantic interest in each other, but Nettie knew that was far from the truth.

“Nettie, if Vin’s not ready to go then take me,” Larabee said with a hint of a smile.

“That would be hard to do with the IV in your arm and that cast on your leg. Not too mention that strip of bandage across your abdomen and I wouldn’t even attempt to keep track of your meds,” Nettie told him.

“Damn,” Larabee said with a teasing smile. “Vin, get out of here and enjoy Nettie’s cooking.”

“Always do,” Tanner said.

“I know and that’s why I’m hoping you can bring me something a lot more edible than what they serve in here.”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with the grub here,” the Texan said.

“Fine, bring me what Nettie makes and I’ll give you what the nutritionists send up for me.”

“Sorry, Cowboy, no deal,” Tanner grinned and reached for his jacket.

“Don’t worry, Chris,” Nettie said and kissed his cheek. “I’ll bring you lunch tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Nettie, I’d appreciate that,” Larabee said. He settled back against the pillows and watched the duo leave, fighting the urge to climb out of the bed and follow them. He reached for the controls for the television and tuned it to the news channel while putting on the headphones.

“Well, now there’s something I doubt anyone’s ever seen before.”

“What the hell do you want, Simmons?” Larabee asked of the man standing at the foot of his bed. It was strange how he and Simmons seemed to be at each other’s throats, yet there was no doubt of the respect they had for each other.

“I just came in to see how my favorite patient with the sunny disposition is feeling before I left,” Simmons said with a hint of a sarcastic smile.

“I’m fine…are you ready to sign those discharge papers?”

“Not likely, but keep trying, Larabee, you might just get lucky in a week or so.”

“No thanks…you’re not my type,” Larabee snapped.

“Damn good thing or I’d be forced to shave and make myself presentable to the future in laws,” Simmons said.

“In your dreams, Simmons,” the blond said.

“Dreams, no…nightmares…most definitely,” Simmons told him and placed the chart at the end of the bed. “All kidding aside, Larabee, how do you feel?”

“Not great, Simmons, but I’m getting there,” Larabee answered honestly.

“Glad to hear it. I just wanted to check up on you before I go away for a few days of R&R,” Simmons said.

“Going somewhere special?”

“You could say that and maybe I’ll tell you about them when I get back, but for now…rest and do what Stacey and David tell you to do or I’ll be wearing my stomping shoes when I get back. Understood?”

“Understood, Doc, have fun,” Larabee said and smiled when the older man left. Simmons portrayed himself as having a gruff exterior, but that’s about as far as it went. Chris and the other members of the team had seen right through the man and understood it to be his way of keeping a little distance between himself and his patients. It didn’t work as well as Simmons thought it did and someday Chris just might call him on it.

“You look like hell, Chris.”

“Thanks, Pete, you don’t look so hot yourself. Rough time?” Larabee asked and shook hands with the man who’d helped bring JD home.

“Always is when we’re trying to bring them home,” Wellington answered and pulled a chair closer to the bed. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, although the docs seem to think otherwise,” the blond told him. “How are things in Providence?”

“Most of the kids are back with their families, but there are some that are being removed until the Children’s Protective Services are sure it’s in the best interest of the child to go home.”

“Those kids deserve to have someone in their corner.”

“They do. Charles is making damn sure the children’s welfare is first and foremost on the list of priorities,” Wellington said.

“Good,” Larabee said and offered the other man his hand once more and smiled when his friend shook it with a frown. “We owe you, Pete.”

“What for?”

“For what you did for JD and the others. I don’t think I would have trusted him to anyone else,” Larabee answered seriously. 

“It’s my job, Chris.”

“No, your job is to de-program these kids, but you go that much further and make sure they have a good shot of getting back home. I know you, Pete, and I know how close you get to these kids. I’ve seen you come back from your own hell,” the blond said.

“I nearly lost him, Chris, and I didn’t want others to go through what I did.”

“How is John?”

“He’s doing well, but he still talks about the cult and what they did to him. The drugs are still something he fights, but that kind of addiction doesn’t go away,” Wellington answered.

“He’s got you and Rose behind him and that’s what will keep him from sliding back on that path.”

“I know,” Wellington said. “He’s talking about becoming a councilor and an advocate for others like him.”

“He’ll do it and make you proud.”

“I already am. Is JD…”

“He’s standing right behind you,” Larabee said and motioned for the younger man to join them. “JD, you remember Peter Wellington.”

“Yes, I do…thank you, Mr. Wellington.”

“JD, it’s Pete, especially after everything we’ve been through. How are you doing?”

“I’m not great, Pete, but I’m getting there. They won’t let me fuck up…”

“JD, you never fucked up,” Larabee said.

“Chris is right, son, you didn’t fuck up…people like Rousseau know how to prey on people and what he put you through was hell. You’ve got who care about you and if you lean on them you’ll find the nightmares that much easier to get through. Take it from me…I’ve seen the hell and I know how hard it is to wake up each morning and know you’ve hurt the people you care about. What you need to remember is people like Rousseau are leeches and once they latch onto you they try and suck the life from you. Don’t let it happen, JD, don’t let that bastard win.”

“I’m trying, Pete, but…”

“No buts, JD,” Larabee said. “Lean on me and Buck and everyone else because that’s what family is for.”

“I wish I could, Chris, but…but I keep seeing my hands…covered in your blood and I…I…”

“JD, I won’t lie to you, but I will tell you that image will go away with time,” Wellington explained. “Right now the blood and wounds are fresh, but that too will go away.”

“Pete’s right, JD, I don’t blame you for what happened…”

“You should…”

“We’ve already been through this, JD, and I’m too damn tired to repeat myself,” Larabee said sighing heavily.

“I’m sorry…”

“JD, stop apologizing. I’m okay…or I will be once I get out of here,” the blond said and shifted on the bed.

“Chris, I need to get home, but I wanted you both to know if you need anything…anything at all don’t hesitate to call me,” Wellington offered.

“Thanks, Pete, you might be sorry you offered,” Larabee said.

“Never happen…JD, take care,” Wellington said and shook hands with the younger man before leaving the room.

JD took a deep breath and made his way to the window. He stood watching the street below until Larabee’s voice reached him.

“JD, I’m okay.”

“No, Chris, you’re not,” Dunne said, fighting to keep the lump in his throat form choking him as he turned and looked at the battered man. “God, I did that to you! I could have killed you…”

“But you didn’t…I’m here and I’m going to be all right.” Larabee felt bone tired and cursed the fact that the medications and his injuries kept him from having a clear head when he needed it the most.

“God, Chris, I stabbed you…I called you a sinner…I nearly killed you!””

“JD, that wasn’t you. That was someone Rousseau tried to create in his own damn image, but you know what?”

“What?” Dunne asked sorrowfully.

“It didn’t work because you’re here and so am I,” Larabee said tiredly. “I’m going to need someone to stay with me when I get out of here, JD.”

“I’m sure Vin…”

“Vin’s in no shape to help me right now,” the blond said.

“Maybe Buck could…”

“Buck, Josiah, and Nathan are needed at the office to keep the cases up to date. Ezra and Vin are both on medical leave because of their injuries…that leaves, you, Kid, but if you’d rather not then I’ll have to hire someone.”

“I’ll do it…if that’s what you really want,” Dunne said.

“It is,” Larabee said and allowed his eyes to close as sleep beckoned to him. He didn’t see the anger on the Bostonian’s face, nor did he hear the half choked cry of anguish that escaped the younger man.

JD felt what little food he’d eaten come up in his throat and barely made it to the washroom before the contents came back up. He leaned against the basin and looked into the mirror as his body trembled with anger. The face that stared back at him was one he was beginning to hate because it was a painful reminder of what he’d one. With an ache that wouldn’t let up, JD felt the tears slip from his eyes and angrily reached for the cloth before roughly wiping his face.


The hands were framed in the glow cast by a flickering candle that sparkled off the deadly blade whose shadow was elongated and distorted on the white tiles above his head. He struggled to move away, but the hands continued to bring the knife down as if in slow motion. He cried out as the pointed tip pushed against his skin, pressing forward until blood pooled around the sharp edge. He could hear chanting, but his eyes were fixed on the blade as it slowly disappeared into his body.

“No!” Chris cried out and sat forward, holding his arm tight against his abdomen as wave after wave of nauseating pain washed over him. Someone was calling to him, touching him and his eyes shot open until they focused on the face hovering over him.


“No!” Larabee snarled and shoved the young man away as he struggled to clear the images ingrained on his mind. He heard the door open and struggled to breathe, but it felt like someone had shoved a hot poker into his gut.

“JD, what happened?” the nurse asked of the pale faced young man even as a second nurse joined her and tried to get the injured blond to lie down.

“I…he…I think he was dreaming,” Dunne said, suddenly aware of the pain in his side. He held his hand against it and tried to bring his own breathing under control as he stared at the struggling blond.

“Chris, you’re okay…you’re in the hospital,” Daniela McPherson explained and grabbed for his arm when it looked like the IV would be pulled loose.

Chris fought the hands that held him down and swallowed convulsively until his body dropped heavily onto the bed. He lay with his eyes closed and his breath forced through tightly clenched teeth as pain wracked his body. He turned his head, opening his eyes slightly as the nurses spoke to him. His vision cleared and he could see the pale Bostonian, with his arm held tight against his side and remembered he was not the only one plagued by nightmares. He tried to speak, but no sound escaped as JD turned toward the door.

“Chris, what happened?”

“JD…stay,” Larabee said as the nurses began checking his vitals even as Midland entered the room.

“JD, are you all right?” the physician asked of the pale faced Bostonian.

“I’m fine,” Dunne said and watched as Midland moved to the bed. He watched as she examined Larabee and was relieved when she said he would be fine as long as he rested.

“JD, let me take a look at you,” Midland said.

“I don’t need…”

“It wasn’t a request, JD,” the physician warned. “Take off your shirt.”

Dunne did as she told him and felt her fingers touching the wound and was glad when she told him it would be fine as long as he kept it clean and took it easy. JD put his shirt back on and felt someone staring at him as the medical staff left the room.

“JD, did I hurt you?”

“That’s pretty funny, Chris, considering what I did to you,” the Bostonian said.

“We’ve been through that already…you’re not to blame for what happened in Providence. 

Hell, if we’d filled up on gas and checked the truck earlier we wouldn’t have stopped in that town. I guess there’s a JD joke in there.”

“What?” Dunne asked as Larabee’s eyes closed.

“Must have been providence that we stopped in Providence…oh, wait, that’s a pun…sorry, Kid, think I’ll get some sleep now.”

“Go ahead and sleep, Chris,” the Bostonian said.

“Hmm…don’t forget you’re stay…ing at the ranch,” Larabee told him before sleep reached for him.

JD watched over the man who’d chosen him to be part of an agency that fought people like Jean Claud Rousseau and felt a lump form in his throat. “I’m going to kill that bastard, Chris,” he whispered before leaving the room.


Jane Oberon glared at the man seated across from her and slammed her fists on the table even as the door opened and the guard stepped inside. She pulled at the chain linking her cuffs to the leg of the table, but stopped when the guard moved closer.

“That’s enough, Oberon, or you’ll lose privileges,” the female guard vowed.


“Not yet, but it could be. On your feet!”

“It’s okay, Ms. Shelby, Jane was just letting me know how badly she wanted out of here,” the lawyer offered.

“I bet,” Shelby said and pressed the baton against Oberon’s chest. “Behave yourself or…”

“Yeah, yeah, I lose privileges…” Oberon said and glared at the guard’s back as she left her alone with her lawyer.

“Jane, I’m doing everything I can, but…”

“There are no buts, Stefan, you get this done before the end of the week or I swear you’ll find out exactly what I can do even from in here,” Oberon warned.

“Do not threaten me, Jane,” Stefan Oppenheimer ordered softly. “I may be your lawyer, but I have contacts in Al-Qaeda…”

“Those bastards turned their backs on Carl and me. You should watch your back.”

“I’m not the one in here, Jane. You should be spending your time finding out who your friends are.”

“I don’t need any friends in here, Stefan, but I do have friends out there and I swear if you try to fuck me over I will make damn sure you…”

Stefan was used to Jane Oberon and understood that the woman and her husband were marked for death because of the screw up with Standish and Tanner. Al-Qaeda didn’t like it when their people took things into their own hands and now this woman was threatening him. “Jane, relax…but watch your back…”

“Is that a threat, Stefan?”

“Perhaps, but you won’t know until it is too late,” Oppenheimer said, smiling before he shoved the papers back in his briefcase and signaled to the guard that he was ready to leave.

Jane Oberon had seen something in the man’s eyes and understood she’d really fucked up. So much so that she needed to keep her back against the wall or she might just find a knife sticking out of it. Somehow she doubted she would ever see the world outside prison walls again.


Chris woke to the sound of the door opening and stared at the woman who entered. He knew it was early and silently cursed the fact that hospitals preferred to do blood tests before sunup.

“Mr. Larabee, I need to take some of that precious red stuff,” the woman explained.

“I thought they said I’d already given my quota,” the blond said with a hint of a smile.

“Yes, I’m sure you have,” the tech said and quickly took several vials of blood before leaving the room.

Chris ran his fingers through his hair and tried to find a comfortable spot, but that seemed an impossible feat considering the bulky cast on his left leg. He hadn’t slept very well and continued to fight the dreams, nightmares images of JD with the knife ready to strike, as the chanting grew louder around them.

“Chris, how are you feeling this morning?”

“Hi, Rain,” Larabee said. “If I told you I was fine would you believe me?”

“Fine…no, but getting there…yes,” the pretty woman answered. “I know you don’t like being in here, Chris, but for now it’s where you need to be. Has Stacey given you any idea how long you’ll be in here?”

“Not really. My guess is a week, but I’m not the one making that decision,” Larabee told her.

“Glad to hear you say that,” Goines told him. “I have rounds in a couple of minutes, but if you need anything just have me paged.”

“Thanks, Rain, I could go for one of those pepper omelets you make.”

“I’ll see what I can do about bringing you one for breakfast tomorrow morning.”

“Sounds good to me,” the blond said and settled back against the pillows as she left. He knew he must have drifted off because when he opened his eyes again he found Nettie Wells watching him.

“Good Morning,” Nettie said and placed a container and a coffee cup on the table before pushing it toward him.

“Morning, Nettie, what time is it?”

“A little after nine,” the woman answered and plumped his pillows once he’d raised the head of the bed. “I believe I promised you lunch, but I made tea biscuits and thought you would like a fresh coffee as well.”

“Thanks, Nettie,” Larabee said and opened the container and smiled when he took out the warm biscuit. “How’s Vin?”

“He’s feeling better, but Nathan’s sitting on him and making sure he stays put while I brought you breakfast,” the elderly woman explained.

“This is good,” Larabee told her.

“Thank you…have they told you when you’re getting out of here?”

“Not yet, but…”

“Chris, don’t go fighting your doctors,” Nettie warned.

“I won’t.”

“Yeah, right, this is me you’re talking to, son, and we both know you’ve probably already decided when you’re getting out.”

“Well, I was hoping to be home by the weekend. JD is going to stay with me.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I think so, Nettie. JD’s been through a lot and I’m hoping staying with me will show him I trust him,” Larabee said.

“What about you, Chris?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you sure having JD stay with you is what’s best for you? I know you think you’re okay with what JD did, but you’re not fooling me, Chris.”

“I never could,” Larabee said and took a deep breath. “I think this is what I need as much as JD, Nettie. I need to know I can trust him and this is the best way to prove that to both of us.”

“I hope so, but if you change your mind the spare room at my house has clean sheets on it,” Nettie told him.

“Thanks, Nettie, but I really believe this is the right way to go,” Larabee said.

“Okay, but if it’s too much I’m only a phone call away.”

“I’ll remember that,” the blond said.

“Good, now I have a few things to do today so I’d best get these old bones…”

“Old, Nettie…”

“Okay, maybe ancient is more like it.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever be old, Nettie,” Larabee said and smiled when she kissed his cheek.

“That’s what I love about you, Chris, you know how to make an old lady feel young,” Nettie said and hurried from the room.

Chris smiled and lay back against the pillows and was soon drifting toward sleep, but the sound of the door opening brought him fully awake. He smiled thinly at the woman who now stood beside his bed. “Morning, Doc.”

“Good morning, Chris, how do you feel?”

“Probably as bad as I look,” the blond answered honestly.

“Yes, well, that’s what happens when you don’t ask for the medication we prescribed for pain. It’s there for a reason, Chris, and not using it just makes you feel miserable and uncomfortable and that translates into making the staff’s job that much harder,” Midland explained. 

“You know me, Doc, I hate feeling like my head’s stuffed with cotton.”

“I know, but it’s better than being in misery. Now, how do you feel?”

“Like someone beat the hell out of me,” Larabee answered honestly. 

“I bet,” Midland said and studied the morning’s test results.

“How does it look?”

“Better than I expected…”

“So I can go home?”

“I said better, not cured, Chris. Your temperature is still a little high and your blood pressure is a little low, but all things considered I’d say you’re on the mend.”

“How long before I can get out of here?” Larabee asked hopefully.

“Give it a couple of days and ask me again, but if you continue to improve you might just be out of here by the weekend,” Midland said.

“By the weekend,” Larabee repeated.

“If you do what you’re supposed to.”

“I’ve been doing everything the nurses tell me.”

“I know…that makes me wonder if there’s something going on we’re not seeing,” Midland teased.

“Hell, Doc…”

“You’re so easy, Chris,” the physician said as the nurse entered the room.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Midland, I didn’t know you were here.”

“That’s okay, Kathi, we were done,” Midland said, closing the chart and leaving the injured man to his nurse.

“Chris, how would you feel about a sponge bath?” Kathi asked.

“I’d rather get a shower,” Larabee asked hopefully.

“Well, we might be able to arrange something, but are you sure you feel up to being out of that bed?”

“Hell, yes,” the blond told her.

“Okay, let me see if I can arrange a few things and get a wheelchair for you,” Kathi told him.

“Thanks, Kathi,” Larabee said. He closed his eyes and listened as she moved around the room and blinked awake when a hand touched against his shoulder.

“Are you ready for that shower, Chris?”

“Yes,” Larabee answered and allowed the woman and the orderly to help him into the wheelchair. It took some doing, but his leg was soon covered and the wound to his abdomen sported a waterproof bandage. The shower was designed with a special chair and he allowed his helpers to guide him onto it.

“How about we start with your hair,” Kathi asked.

“God, that sounds like heaven,” Larabee told her. Twenty minutes later, sporting clean pajamas, Chris was helped back into his bed and asked for something to help manage the pain. It wasn’t long before he slept and Kathi smiled when she looked in on him half an hour later.


Two days later Chris looked up from reading a sports magazine to find Ezra and Vin standing in the doorway of his room. Both men had been under orders to stay home and rest and had been unable to fight their ‘jailers’, but today they’d managed to escape and headed straight for the hospital.

“Hey, Cowboy, ya look like shit.”

“Thanks, Vin, but have you looked in a mirror lately?” Larabee asked of the pale man.

“I believe he’s had an aversion to such devices,” Standish said.

“Ya ain’t been lookin’ so suave and deb’nair yerself lately, Ezra,” Tanner griped.

“Yes, well, we have been under constant surveillance lately,” the conman explained.

“Has there been any news about the Oberons?” Larabee asked seriously.

“It seems the Oberons were not as tight with Al-Qaeda as they believed,” Standish said and sat on the chair by the window while Vin sat on the edge of Larabee’s bed.

“What happened?” the blond inquired.

“They’s dead…both of ‘em were found strung up in the showers. Ain’t no witnesses, but if’n I was a bettin’ man I’d say they ain’t ones ta commit suicide,” Tanner explained.

“No, but if Al-Qaeda decided they were no longer of use it would be simple for them to find a way to get rid of the Oberons,” Standish said.

“They could still come after you and Vin,” Larabee observed.

“Why? I doubt they believe we are any threat to them now that the Oberons are out of the picture,” Standish observed.

“Word on the street is there’s no new contracts put out,” Tanner offered.

“That’s a good sign, but you and Ezra should be careful and keep your eyes and ears open,” the blond said.

“Careful is my middle name,” Standish said.

“I thought it was persnickety,” Tanner teased.

“Very funny,” the gambler griped. “Is there anything new on your release, Chris?”

“Hopefully tomorrow…Nathan said he’d pick me up as soon as Midland signed the release papers,” Larabee said.

“Ya sure havin’ JD stay with ya is a good thing?” Tanner asked.

“I think so, Vin, besides you’re only a phone call away if there’s trouble,” Larabee answered.

“Ezra’s stayin’ with me fer a few days,” the Texan said.

“You’re kidding…Ezra staying in your guest room when he has a feather mattress at the penthouse,” the blond said with a grin.

“It was either that or I stay at his place and ya know how fussy he is ‘bout puttin’ my boots on his table,” Tanner said.

“I am still trying to buff out the scratches…”

“Don’t ya mean yer maid’s still tryin’ to buff out the scratches?” the Texan observed.

Chris relaxed in the company of the two men and was relieved to know the Oberons were no longer a threat where they were concerned. He closed his eyes and listened to the two men talking softly and allowed himself the sleep his body and mind needed.


Stacey Midland knew there’d be no keeping Chris Larabee in the hospital and took a deep breath before opening the door. She entered to find Chris seated in the chair beside the window and waited for him to realize he was no longer alone.

“Morning, Doc, do you have my walking papers?” Larabee asked with a grin.

“As a matter of fact I do, but you do realize this is against my better judgment?”

“I hear you, but you said yourself that the fever is gone and my blood pressure is normal,” Larabee told her. “Besides, you need this bed for someone who is really sick.”

“Actually, we’ve had a few discharges this morning so we have a…”

“Hell, Doc, don’t keep me in here,” Larabee groused.

“I won’t, but I want your word that if you notice any changes you’ll get back here. That means any pain in your abdomen, Chris, because that was a serious wound and the danger of infection is still present,” Midland warned.

“I will, Doc. Hell, Nathan will be hovering like a mother hen when he’s not at the office,” Larabee told her as the door opened.

“So, is he getting out of here or do I have to work today?”

“Hello, Josiah, he’s ready to go, but there are several scripts and discharge instructions at the desk,” Midland said and turned back to her patient. “You take it easy, Chris, and don’t be afraid to call if you have any questions or concerns.”

“I will, Doc,” Larabee said, relieved that he was finally being released. He waited for Midland to leave and reached for the clothes on the bed before looking at the older man.

“Need some help, Chris?”

“Wouldn’t mind,” the blond said and was soon dressed in the lightweight tracksuit Wilmington had dropped off for him the day before.

“Your chariot awaits,” Sanchez said when JD and an orderly entered the room.

“I got your scripts and discharge papers, Chris,” Dunne said.

“Thanks, JD, are you ready for babysitting duties?” Larabee asked.

“No, but I’m ready to help you,” the Bostonian offered.

“Lead on,” Larabee said once he was settled in the chair. He knew the others would gladly stay with him, but right now this was something him and JD both needed.  


Francis Jacobs smiled as the door was opened and he was motioned inside. He knew Jean Claud Rousseau would welcome the news he was about to impart and that things were about to heat up for JD Dunne and Chris Larabee. He placed the pizza on the table and pulled out a bottle of champagne.

“What are we celebrating, Francis?” Rousseau asked.

“I believe your freedom and maybe a little redemption.”

“My freedom means nothing until Chris Larabee is dead and John Daniel and I are safely out of this country.”

“That may happen sooner than expected, Jean Claud.”

“You have news?”

“Larabee was released from the hospital this morning and I believe John Daniel will be staying with him at his ranch.”

“Are you sure?”

“That’s what I understood from the cleaner. She overheard the nurses talking and it didn’t take much to get her to talk about Larabee. It seems the man is well known for his stays in the hospital.”

“Here’s hoping this was his last stay and that the next visit is a more permanent one in the morgue,” Rousseau explained.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this, Jean Claud? Wouldn’t it be better to forget Larabee and Dunne…”

“No, JD Dunne is one of my greatest achievements and I am not willing to let him go. We need to make plans to pay a visit to Larabee’s ranch.”

“What about his team? They will not give up on finding us once Larabee is dead and you take Dunne with you?”

“His team won’t know where to look if we play our cards right. I have several identities set up and as long as you have the plane fueled and ready we can leave as soon as Larabee is dead.”

“Are you sure you can convince John Daniel to kill Larabee?”

“Of course…if it hadn’t been for those bastards in Providence, John Daniel would have killed Larabee and we could have left the country with him and Penny. I wish there was some way to bring her along, but for now I am content with John Daniel. He will be my greatest success.”

“I hope you’re right, but I still think Larabee’s team could be a problem.”

“If they are then we will take care of them,” Rousseau vowed.

“When do we move on the ranch?”

“Tonight…I want you to have the plane ready for takeoff first thing in the morning,” Rousseau said.

“You’re taking a big chance,” Jacobs said.

“Not when you weigh the possibilities, Francis. I need to prove to my former clients that I can still provide the service I promised. It is a matter of honor now,” Rousseau snapped.

“Sometimes honor is not what it’s cracked up to be, my friend,” Jacobs said.

“Sometimes honor is all we have,” Rousseau said. “Pick me up around nine and we’ll move on the Larabee ranch tonight. Make sure you bring my supplies since young John Daniel might need a little cocktail to make him susceptible to my whims again.”

“I’ll bring it…the plane is ready and we can leave as soon as you give the word,” Jacobs said and knew there was no changing this man’s mind.


Chris relaxed in the comfort of his home, settled against the pillows on the comfortable sofa with his leg elevated. JD was in the kitchen and Chris knew the younger man was trying to avoid him, but that was not possible when they’d be spending the next few days together. Chris wore a loose pair of sweat pants that tied at the waist and an oversized flannel shirt Tanner had given him when he complained about being cold.


“Do you need something, Chris?”

“No, but you’ve been in that kitchen for an hour and I know there wasn’t that much to do in there.”

“I’m just cleaning up the…”

“JD, grab a beer and come sit down. Maybe there’s something on TV,” Larabee said.

“All right,” Dunne said.

Chris could hear the despair in the young man’s voice and knew Dunne still had a ways to go before he forgave himself for something that wasn’t his fault. He wished Rousseau had been caught, but the bastard was still out there and until he was caught and JD could face him down, there was nothing they could do.

“Chris, are you hungry? I could make sandwiches,” Dunne offered and placed his beer on the table as far away from Larabee as he could.

“No, JD, I’m not hungry. Sit down and relax…maybe we can find a game or movie to watch,” Larabee said. He watched as JD sat in the chair and realized the Bostonian was trying to distance himself by sitting as far away from him as he could. “JD, could you pass me the remote?”

“Sure, Chris,” Dunne said and handed the blond the remote before quickly retreating once more.

“What do you want to watch?”

“Anything’s fine by me,” Dunne answered softly.

Larabee surfed through the channels, not really seeing what was on as he watched the youngest member of his team. JD had always been an emotional young man and right now he wore the look of a man who’d lost his best friend. Chris knew Buck and JD had made peace, but he also knew Wilmington was still angry, although he knew Dunne wasn’t to blame for what happened.

“Chris,” Dunne’s voice broke even as he spoke the single name.

“I’m here, JD,” Larabee said simply.

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be…it wasn’t your fault,” Larabee reiterated what he’d already told the young man. “Rousseau used you and the others. He’s had years to perfect his technique and he knew what to do to push you to the limit. From what I was told the drugs he used would also help him control you.”

“I should have…”

“Should have what? Fought something you couldn’t fight. Those drugs were used to help mess with your mind and no man can fight something that affects the mind and body no matter how hard he tries. I was a SEAL, JD, and I’ve had drugs used on me…some of them haven’t even been identified yet, and I know the pain they can cause. You had no choice once they used the drugs and pain to strip away who you are inside.”

“How did you deal with it?”

“I had a friend to lean on,” the blond answered simply.

“Buck?” Dunne asked.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, but there’s no one else I know who can be pissed as hell at you one minute and joking with you in the next. Buck and I have been friends so long I can’t even remember when he wasn’t in my life,” Larabee said and stared at Dunne before breaking the silence. “Lean on him, JD, he’s about the best friend a man can have even when he’s angry at you.”

Dunne nodded and leaned back in the chair with the bottle of beer cradled in his hands. He closed his eyes and thought about what Chris had said and knew he was right, but there would be no closure for him until ‘Father John’ was taken care of for good. He heard Larabee flicking through the channels and opened his eyes when the sound of a car pulling up outside reached his ears.

“Sounds like we have company.”

“Buck said he might drop by tonight,” Dunne said and stood up. “I’ll be right back, Chris.”

“Okay,” Larabee said and shifted slightly in an effort to get comfortable.


Francis Jacobs pulled the car to a stop behind the black truck and exited the car with his gun tucked inside his jacket. The plan was a simple one with him knocking on Larabee’s door and asking for directions. Once Dunne was at ease he would pull his weapon and signal for Jean Claud that it was safe for him to come forward. The kid had never seen him so he shouldn’t be suspicious when he knocked on the door, but was surprised when it opened before he had the chance.

“Can I help you?” Dunne asked of the stranger standing framed in the light spilling through the open doorway.

“I hope so…I’m looking for a friend’s house, but it seems I took a wrong turn. Can you tell me how to find 897 Old Pear Tree Road?”

“I’m not really sure. Hang on and I’ll find out,” Dunne said and turned away. He took a breath and opened his mouth to ask Larabee, but something connected with the back of his head and he slumped forward. 

“JD, who is it?” Larabee called and shifted his body as he eased his injured leg to the floor. “JD!”

“I’m afraid JD is a little indisposed at the moment,” Jacobs said and pointed his gun at the injured man.

“Who the hell are you?”

“I’m afraid you don’t know him, Larabee,” Rousseau said as he shoved a dazed JD Dunne across the floor.

“You bastard!” Larabee spat and tried to stand up, but Jacobs easily shoved him back on the sofa.

“Stay put, Larabee or I’ll kill you before John Daniel is ready,” Rousseau warned.

“I won’t,” Dunne managed as he sank to his knees.

“Now, John Daniel, you know he is a sinner and all sinners must be cleansed by death,” Rousseau said.


“I am Father John, John Daniel, and I am here to show you the way to enlightenment. Sinners must be cleansed so that the pure such as you, Francis, and I can return the world to the way it was meant to be,” Rousseau said.

“Don’t listen to him, JD,” Larabee said and received a backhand from Jacobs that rocked his head back.


“Chris Larabee is a sinner, John Daniel. It is your right to take his life, but I know you have been blinded by his presence in your life. If you try anything, Francis will shoot him, not to kill, but he will suffer. We know sinners should suffer, but not until you are ready to sacrifice him. Do not move, John Daniel,” Rousseau said and stared into the young man’s eyes. He reached out and touched Dunne’s side where he’d cut him and pressed against the newly formed scab. It did not take long to make the wound bleed and Rousseau was pleased by the pain in the young man’s eyes.  


“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…” Rousseau chanted as he pressed against the wound and felt blood drip down his hand.

“Leave him alone!” Larabee tried, but Jacobs’ hand pressed against his abdomen and elicited a cry of pain that brought Dunne’s head up.


“Is beyond your help, John Daniel. You must turn your back on the sinners and follow my teachings,” Rousseau ordered, but the tone of his voice didn’t change as he locked eyes with the younger man. “Father John is…”

“…my savior...Father John will show me the way…” Dunne picked up the chant and stared into the other man’s eyes as pain erupted through his side.

“I can make the pain go away, John Daniel, but you must heed my words and do as I say.”

“Father John is my Savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“No, JD!”

“Be quiet, Larabee!” Jacobs snapped and struck the blond several times.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“That is correct, John Daniel…you must believe in me…Francis go bring in my case,” Rousseau said softly.

“What about Larabee?” Jacobs asked.

“”I doubt he’ll be able to do anything…John Daniel is where he belongs and I have control,” Rousseau said. “Father John is my…”

“…Savior…Father John will show me the way…”

Jacobs struck the injured blond in the abdomen and smiled as Chris doubled over gasping for breath, before he hurried outside.

Chris fought the agony that twisted through his gut and managed to stay in a sitting position as he tried to ride out the nauseating waves of pain that washed over him. He could hear Rousseau and JD and watched as the cult leader helped Dunne stand, but did not stop the hypnotizing chant that seemed to have locked the Bostonian in a trance.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way,” Dunne said.

“Sinners must pay, John Daniel…Chris Larabee is a sinner…”

“Sinner…Chris Larabee is a sinner…Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way.”

“JD,” Larabee tried, but the young man seemed to be zoned in on Rousseau’s chanting voice. Chris could see blood on the Bostonian’s shirt and hoped the cultist hadn’t done too much damage as he slowly reached beneath the pillow.


Francis Jacobs enjoyed hurting Larabee and thought about what he would do before Rousseau had Dunne kill the blond. He hurried to the car and pulled the door open, shocked when he felt something pressed against the back of his neck.

“Drop the gun or I’ll kill you where you stand!” Wilmington warned, but didn’t give the man a chance to comply as he struck him with the butt of his gun. He didn’t have much time with Rousseau already in the house and knew he’d take the time to thank God he’d decided to check on Chris and JD. He hadn’t known who the man was, but the fact that he’d been holding a gun in his hand was enough to make Buck act on his instincts. He hurried toward the house and listened at the door, hoping the man was acting alone.


“JD, snap out of it!” Larabee tried as Rousseau continued to hold the younger man enthralled. He saw something in the cult leader’s hand as they neared the couch even as his finger closed on the weapon he’d placed beneath the pillow.

“Father John is my savior…Father John will show me the way…”

“That’s correct, John Daniel and now you must rid the world of another sinner,” Rousseau said and placed the dagger in Dunne’s hand. “It is time to prove your loyalty to me, John Daniel!”

“Go to hell!” Dunne said and quickly drove the blade into Rousseau’s shoulder.

“John Daniel, you…” Rousseau quickly realized his mistake and knew the younger man had fooled him. He stumbled backward and reached for the gun he’d placed inside his jacket. “Francis, get in here!”

“The bastard’s out for the count!” Wilmington said as he hurried into Larabee’s living room.

“JD!” Larabee called when he spotted the weapon in Rousseau’s hands. He sat forward and leveled his gun at the man, firing on instincts and watched as the force of the bullet that entered through his chest threw the cult leader backward. He sat back as pain erupted through his body and watched as Wilmington checked the intruder.

“Bastard’s dead,” Wilmington offered.

“Good…you did good, JD,” Larabee said and smiled at the youngest member of his team.

“I’m sorry, Chris…I had to make him think I was going to…I was going to kill you,” Dunne stammered and sank wearily onto the couch beside Larabee and sat forward when he noticed the blood on Larabee’s shirt. “Buck, Chris’ is hurt!”

“Chris?” Wilmington asked and knelt in front of the two men.

“Bastard was a little heavy handed,” the blond said as his friend opened the shirt.

“Looks like a trip to the ER…”

“Just get Nathan out here,” Larabee said.

“Sorry, Pard, but I’m packing you both off to Saint Vincents or else I call an ambulance,” Wilmington said and grabbed a couple of clean white towels from the bathroom.

“Damn it, Buck, I’m all right,” Dunne said.

“JD, if I have to go then so do you,” Larabee said. “We need to wait for the police.”

“They’re on the way,” Wilmington said and shook his head. “Good thing I came along when I did.”

“JD and I had things under control,” Larabee said tiredly.

“Sure you did…”

“We did, Buck, Rousseau tangled with the wrong people, right Chris?” Dunne asked.

“Right, JD,” the blond agreed. “I need a drink.”

“Hang on and I’ll get you some water…”

“Water won’t cut it, Buck,” Larabee snapped.

“Well, it’s all you’re getting right now so sit tight and hold that towel in place while I go check on the bastard I left outside,” Wilmington ordered and left the two men alone.

“Think we could convince him we’re fine,” Dunne asked.

“Not likely, Buck’s in mother hen mode and you and I are his chicks,” Larabee said.

“Damn, I was afraid you’d say that,” Dunne said and rubbed the back of his head.

“Are you okay?” the blond asked.

“Got hit, but it’s not bad,” Dunne said.

“Jesus, JD, you’re picking up everyone’s bad habits,” Larabee teased and saw a real smile on Dunne’s face. “You did good, Kid.”

“Thanks, Chris, you saved my life.”

“Just returning the favor,” Larabee said tiredly.

“There’s a couple of officers outside and the coroner is on the way. Johnny Purcell said he’d lock up and get our statements at the hospital,” Wilmington offered.

“Guess we don’t have a choice,” Dunne said.

“You got that right, Kid,” Wilmington said and looked at the two men. “You boys look like hell.”

“Your timing stinks, Buck,” Larabee said as Wilmington helped him stand.

“I thought my timing was spot on. If I’d been any later you’d both be dead,” the rogue said.

“If you’d been earlier you could have stopped them before they made a trip to the hospital necessary for me and Chris,” Dunne snapped.

“Well, hell, son, next time I’ll try not to have any pressing engagements…”

“Who were you pressing up against, Stud?” Larabee asked.

“That’s for me to know…”

“He got his new playboy magazine and probably used his…”

“JD, I’d advise you not to finish that statement or I’ll…”

“What’s the matter, Buck? Truth hurts?” Larabee asked.

“You two are a real barrel of laughs tonight…should have shot you both when I had the chance,” Wilmington griped.

“I seem to remember saying that a time or two,” the blond said, nodding to the police officer who opened the door of Wilmington’s car for him.

“Don’t worry about the house, Chris, we’ll lock up once the coroner is done…although you might want to spend a day or two elsewhere until CSI is finished here.”

“Thanks, Johnny, guess Buck’s going to have a guest for a few days,” Larabee said.

“Oh joy,” Wilmington said and drove out of the yard once Dunne and Larabee fastened their seat belts.


Roy Simmons shook his head when he entered the curtained off area to find two men waiting for him. “I swear I should have stayed on vacation.”

“I thought you were going for some R&R?” Larabee asked.

“I was…and believe me I did, but I get the feeling things didn’t go well for you and Dunne,” Simmons asked and looked at Larabee’s chart. “Well, at least that’s something.”

“What?” the blond asked.

“No new holes…just need to repair the old one. I’ll have the nurse give you a shot and then we’ll freeze the area and put a few stitches in there.”

“Hell, that’s an easy one for you, Chris,” Wilmington said from the opposite side of the bed.

“Wilmington, quit harassing my patients and make yourself useful.”

“Buck’s never been useful,” Dunne quipped.

“Real funny, Kid,” the rogue said.

“This is going to take a while, Wilmington, so how about taking a run down to that all night coffee shop and bring me back an extra large Latte?”

“Latte?” Larabee said with a grin.

“It’s an indulgence of mine, Larabee, just like you enjoy one of those little cheroots every now and then,” Simmons told him and picked up JD’s chart. “How do you feel, Dunne?”

“I’m fine…”

“Oh, hell, now they got you doing it,” Simmons said, shaking his head as he checked JD’s eyes. “Any dizziness or blurred vision?”

“No,” Dunne answered.

“He’s got a hard head, Doc,” Wilmington said.

“I thought I told you to make yourself useful,” Simmons said and motioned for the man to leave.

“Buck, bring me back…”

“Nothing, Larabee, not until I make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, although with you lot that’s hard to figure out,” Simmons said.

“I’ll be back shortly,” Wilmington said and knew he’d have to call the others before they heard about it on the news.

“Well, it looks like you’ll need a couple of stitches to close this back up,” Simmons observed after looking at the reddened area around the wound in JD’s side. “I’ll send the nurse right in with something for pain and then we’ll get you both fixed up so I can have these beds for patients who really need them.”

“You’re all heart, Simmons,” Larabee said. He turned to look at the Bostonian who stared back at him and this time Chris saw something that had been missing since this ordeal had begun. The death of Jean Claud Rousseau seemed to be the catalyst that released the guilt that had gnawed at the younger man’s soul. “Welcome back, JD.”

“Thanks, Chris,” Dunne said and smiled as he felt the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders and he knew he was back where he belonged.

The End!