Taken by Mistake
by Mary Ann

Characters: Vin, Chris, Martin Fitzgerald

ATF - Without A Trace - is mentioned & is where Martin works.. In this AU, this story follows A Holiday Gift & Little Bit of Revenge – where it is found that Chris, Vin and Martin are brothers. You don’t have to read Little Bit of Revenge, but A Holiday Gift would explain the relationship more so. I think of this AU as Brothers Three J

** head talk between brothers **

Thanks to Rosalee, Melissa and Sue for catching things I goofed up on.

Not my guys, but I would cherish them if they were, so I just had borrowed them for now

Chris Larabee smiled at Buck Wilmington as he told a joke that his roommate JD Dunne had told him the night before. It had been pretty lame. From the back seat of the Ram a snicker was heard just before Buck received a smack to the back of his head.

“Ouch! What’s the matter with you Vin?”

“That was one of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard. You can smack JD for me when he tells you these,” Vin Tanner chuckled from behind him.

“You know what this means don’t you Junior?” Buck replied.

“Yeah, you’re going to smack JD every time he tells them dumb jokes.”

Buck laughed as he looked back at the sharpshooter, “Well maybe that too, but now I owe you one.”

“Gotta catch me first Bucklin.”

“Oh, it’ll be when you least expect it. You’ll never see it coming.”

“We’ll see,” was the laughing reply.

Chris turned the black Dodge into the Denver International Airport’s short term parking lot and parked. Vin, first out of the truck, put coins in the meter as Buck and Chris unloaded their suitcases from the covered backend. The three men walked into the airport and found the airline desk they needed. A short time later they were ready to go through the security lines and Vin had to leave, there was no sense for him to stay, he couldn’t go through the line since he was without a boarding pass.

“Have fun at the meeting, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Vin smiled at Chris and Buck.

Buck laughed and grabbed the slim young man in a bear hug for a moment. “You just be good and get the rest you need so you’ll be back to work full time when we get home, not those few hours you’ve put in lately.”

“Buck!” Vin’s face flared red but Buck had released and with a pat on his shoulder headed for the waiting security people.

Chris grinned and gripped Vin’s forearm in their special warrior handshake.

“Aw hell,” Vin muttered and hugged his brother for a moment. “I’ll see you two Monday afternoon, when ya get back.”

Chris nodded, his gaze taking in his still too pale younger brother. “Don’t overdo it. You’re still getting over that wound and fall.”

“I’ll be fine. Will take it slow and easy and get rested,” grinned Vin.

“See you in five days. And don’t damage my truck.” Chris ordered with a grin as he headed for the gate.

“I’ll treat it like my baby.” Vin called after him.

Chris laughed and waved his hand, Vin’s baby was his beat up old jeep that half the time wouldn’t run.

Vin watched as Chris went through the security gate; it was quick as Chris and Buck had been earlier approved for carrying their weapons. Once he cleared, Chris joined Buck where he waited on the other side and with a last little wave they headed down the concourse to catch their plane.

Vin left the gate and made his way through the terminal and out to the Ram in the nearby lot. Several minutes later he was on the road, heading back towards the ranch, happy that it wasn’t rush hour traffic yet. As he drove he smiled, he knew neither man wanted to go to Miami for this training session, but Travis had insisted, so they went.

Ezra Standish, the team’s undercover agent, had just returned from a two day conference the week before. He had not been happy when he returned, considered it a waste of his precious time. Vin chuckled to himself, thinking of the thunder cloud that had accompanied Ezra into the office. If Travis had been there, Vin was sure he’d have gotten an earful from the angry man for wasting two days of his time.

At the edge of Denver Vin drove through a fast food restaurant. Once loaded up with hamburgers, French fries and a couple of supersized drinks he headed for the ranch.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he turned off the highway onto the county road that led towards Chris’ ranch. The traffic had begun to pick up and there was a steady stream heading out of Denver. Minutes later he turned into the driveway and soon saw the house and outbuildings in the distance. He decided to check the horses before he ate his dinner and parked in back of the house in the small parking area. Unlocking the slider door and he carried his food into the kitchen. After placing his drinks in the refrigerator he headed outside again.

Sensing that the weather was going to stay nice, though a bit colder, for the next few days, Vin decided to leave the horses out in the pasture for the night. He carried a bale of hay out of the barn, feeling the pull of stitches in his side; he dropped it beside the fence.

“Damn! Forgot that,” Vin said to Pony and Peso who were standing on the other side of the fence watching him. Vin pulled his jacket and shirts up and checked the stitches on his left side an inch above his waist band. Not seeing any blood on the bandage he turned back to the hay. All was okay. His sharp knife made short work of the tight hay strings holding the bale of hay together, moments later he was tossing the flakes of hay to the rest of the horses that had arrived. The horses in the other pasture still had plenty of grass to last them a few more weeks, and shelter from the weather if they needed it.

Making sure the hay was tossed far enough that the horses wouldn’t fight over it; he flipped the last flake over the fence then picked up the hay strings. Checking the water trough as he headed for the house, he paused to throw the strings into the string barrel. The horses would be fine and he would take care of them in the morning.

After a quick shower, Vin heated his hamburgers and fries and ate dinner while watching the news. After dinner he finished off the paperwork he’d brought home with him and then watched TV for awhile before calling it a day.

Thursday passed quietly for Vin. Horses were tended and he prepared their stalls for the night. Josiah Sanchez called in the morning to let him know that everything was all right at the office. Nathan Jackson, their team EMT, called before 5PM to make sure he was following doctor’s orders and taking his meds, and not overdoing it.

Vin chuckled as he hung up the phone after talking to Nathan. He took a drink of the iced tea he’d made; the only one who hadn’t called was his twin brother, Martin Fitzgerald in New York City. Chris would call; he looked at the clock, in 2 hours he figured. Shaking his head he put his dinner on to heat.

His brothers, he thought, two by blood, five by choice, worried about him. Buck, Ezra, JD, Josiah and Nathan, his teammates were his friends, but really closer brothers. They all cared for each other and took care of each other when needed. Smiling he thought about Chris. Before they knew they were brothers, they had formed a connection that neither could really explain. From the first meeting in the warehouse it felt like they knew each other when their glances had connected. Over time they could read each other with a glance, which changed and they could ‘hear’ each other in their heads. Several times he woke up in the hospital to find Chris there – daring anyone to make him leave. Chris did that for all of his men, though it seemed that it was mostly Ezra, JD or himself were hospitalized. ‘Trouble Magnets’ the team called them, and Vin had to agree with the moniker.

Vin rubbed his head, there was still a tender spot on the side of it where the last ‘trouble’ had hit him in addition to his side. The bust ended in a shooting match, he had taken out several of the arms dealers’ bodyguards while the others had gotten the rest. Not realizing he’d been shot, he’d come down from his high point. Almost half way down the pain had hit him and the last rungs of the ladder had disappeared in blackness. He’d fallen, knocking his head on the concrete floor, giving himself a large knot on his head. He woke up in the ambulance with Chris beside him.

Vin had been happy when he was told he didn’t have to stay overnight. He’d been stitched up, head checked, and released with pain pills and antibiotics. No concussion this time, just a good headache and a long graze to his side.

After dinner, Vin stabled the horses, rain was forecast for during the night. And it did. He got up the next morning with rain still coming down. Feeding the horses he decided to let them out, the rain wasn’t that bad, and they could exercise themselves.

Friday passed and with Saturday, came another wet day, that Vin grumbled about when he got up. He took his time caring for the horses, then wiled away several hours doing a few barn repairs. Late afternoon turned halfway nice and Vin decided to go for a short ride. It felt good to be riding and he and Peso enjoyed their two hour ride in the freshly washed countryside to the back part of Chris’ property, where they turned around. The ground was rain saturated and slick, Vin kept the feisty horse to a walk not wanting a fall to contend with.

While he rode he checked some of the fence line, looking for any tree limbs or trees across the fence. Everything looked good, though one area would need to be checked again. A creek, usually not more than a couple feet wide ran through a narrow gap and under the bottom wire of the fence, the gap was now filled with the badly swollen creek, covering the wire and flowing almost 10 feet from bank to bank. He would check it again next week, after a few days of decent weather. A little cold weather would shrink the creek quickly.

Once back home, he took care of the team’s horses, getting them settled in their stalls for the night, and checked to make sure the ones in the pasture were all right for the night. Heading into the house his mind was on a hot shower and a meal in that order. Flipping on the lights in the kitchen he got out the left over stew and put it in a pot, placing it on the stove. He’d heat it after his shower, while he cleaned the living room; he decided when he turned on a floor lamp by the couch on his way through.

The guys were coming the next day, if the weather was nice they’d go for a ride in the morning then it was football all afternoon. Vin smiled as the hot water poured down on him, it would be good to see someone other than the horses. Yeah the guys called him daily, he’d talked to Chris this morning and his twin Martin too, but to see and relax with them … he shook his head and admitted that he did like having the guys around. Oh he liked to get away now and then alone to get his ‘balance’ as Josiah called it; he needed the time alone to breathe and become one with the earth and wind, to get away from crowds and people for a short time.

Drying off, Vin pulled his sweat pants on and rubbed his hair until it was partly dry, combed it, then without his shirt and barefoot he opened the door and headed for the kitchen, he was suddenly starved. He’d get dinner cooking then finish dressing as it heated; he snickered to himself, if Chris and Martin could see him now.

A whisper of noise behind him was the only warning he had that someone else was in the hallway. Arms wrapped tightly around his chest pinning his arms to his sides. He glimpsed a figure coming at him from the side as he snapped his head back hoping to catch the man holding him, as he lashed out with his bare feet.

The man holding him was larger than he thought and his head connected with the man’s collarbone as he pulled his head up. Vin’s feet missed the oncoming man’s crotch by an inch landing on the inside of the man’s thigh. A yelp of pain made Vin grin as he twisted and tried to get free as he was moved into the living room. He didn’t see the third man who came up behind and to the other side of him and clamped a thick pad over his mouth and nose.

Lashing out with his feet and twisting as hard as he could, Vin held his breath as he turned his head away from the pad. His legs hit the second man again and knocked him into the end table beside the couch, knocking it over with a crash of the lamp on it.

Finally the chloroform did its work and Vin slumped unconscious in the large man’s grip.

“Damn son of a bitch,” the man growled as he lashed out with his fist. It caught Vin on the stitches in his side, splitting some and opening the wound.

“That’s enough Tom. We have to get out of here. Get his feet tied. Pat, get the car door open. Give me the hood and rope.” The man holding Vin dropped him to the floor and knelt on his back to hold him down as he pulled Vin’s arms behind him and tied his wrists together. A black hood was pulled over Vin’s head and tied around his neck.

“You done Tom?”

“Yeah Cal, he won’t get his feet or legs loose.”

Cal stood and rolled Vin to his back before he picked him up and tossed him over his shoulder.

Minutes later the car was heading down the driveway. Vin was laying on the floor in the back seat, Tom’s booted feet on him.

Two hours later the car stopped at a small private airstrip. A 10 passenger, 2 propeller airplane sat outside the large lit up hanger on the patched concrete runway. Lights poured from the widows that lined the plane’s sides.

Pat parked the car close to the airplane. The doors opened and the three men began to get out, Tom making sure he ‘accidently’ kicked Vin in the side as he scooted across the seat. A low moan came from the bound man.

“He’s waking up,” Tom said as he stretched.

“Won’t be for long. Let’s get him out of there, the plane’s waiting.” Cal nodded at the plane that had started when they pulled up.

Pat got into the back and lifted Vin into a sitting position as Cal reached in the other side and pulled the half naked man to him, until he was clear enough so Cal could lift him and put him over his shoulder. He heard a moan come from his burden as he straightened and walked to the plane.

Pat moved the car to the side of the hanger then hurried to get on the plane that had revved the engines in preparation of moving. Tom helped him pull the door closed behind him and then they moved over to seats near Cal.

Cal had dropped Vin into a seat beside one that had a large backpack on it. As Vin tried to move Cal reached into the pack and pulled out a syringe filled with liquid.

Vin opened his eyes to blackness and he felt something tied around neck, and also realized that he was freezing. He forced himself not to let his teeth chatter as he tried to move his arms only to find he couldn’t. He realized they were tied and his ankles were too. As he began to twist and move the noise of airplane propellers came to him, and while he fought he wondered what was happening, he heard voices then the slamming of a metal door. Voices came closer.

“What’s going on?” Vin asked just as a sharp pain hit his shoulder. Before he could say anything else his thoughts seemed to turn to fuzz and he passed out, slumping to the side.

Cal capped the used needle and dropped it into a plastic sack. “That’ll keep you for awhile,” he told the now unconscious man. He noticed that the young man was shaking and was covered in goose bumps. He shook his head; they hadn’t thought to grab a shirt, coat or shoes for their prisoner. With a sigh he stood and looked around for a blanket. After covering Vin with one he found in another seat, he joined the other two men in the seats just ahead of where Vin laid. The plane lifted off the ground as the three men settled in with some food and drinks that had been thoughtfully provided for their flight; it was going to be a long trip.

+ + + + + + +

Sunday dawned overcast with the sun struggling to break through the grey clouds. At 9am Josiah’s suburban, carrying him and Nathan, turned into the driveway that led to Chris’ house. Behind the long SUV was Ezra’s dark green Jag with JD in the passenger seat, trying to stay still and not touch anything in the expensive car.

They parked beside Vin’s jeep and proceeded to collect various foods before making their way across the deck to the slider door.

From the barn they heard horses kicking their stalls and several nickering. The sliding door was locked. Exchanging glances the men sat their food on the picnic table on the deck.

“I’ll check the front,” Ezra said, his hand going to his concealed weapon.

“JD go with him. Nathan and I’ll check the barn,” Josiah said as he headed across the yard with Nathan behind him.

Ezra paused at the front door seeing that it was open several inches. He and JD flattened themselves beside the door, guns in hand. Ezra pushed the door open slowly and they waited a moment in breathless silence. Not hearing anything, Ezra ducked inside and JD followed staying against the wall on the left. They moved slowly down the entry hall and glanced into the living room. At a nod to JD they made their way through the house checking each room after seeing the tipped over end table with the broken lamp on the floor, the light bulb miraculously still on. The room Vin used was empty, several warm shirts were laid on the bottom of the bed and his slippers were on the floor; they found his muddy and partly dried clothes laying in front of the washing machine. The bathroom light was still on, and several pictures in the hallway were crooked, two lying on the floor.

JD found the kitchen lights on and the pot of stew sitting on the stove. He unlocked the slider and saw the horses coming out of the barn into their pasture where Nathan was tossing hay out for them.

Ezra joined JD on the deck and they carried the food they’d brought into the kitchen and put it all away. Several minutes later Josiah and Nathan joined them in the house.

“Nathan, would you check this out? I didn’t want to touch it,” Ezra headed out of the room and into the living room with the others following. He stopped by the end table that he’d carefully picked up with his fingertips on the underside of it and tipped the hot broken lamp upright so it didn’t start a fire. A thick white pad of cloth lay in the carpet and when Nathan knelt down he spotted blood spots in several places.

“That’s not what was covering Vin’s stitches,” Nathan said as he lifted the pad using one of his knives. He sniffed it and put it away from his face. “Chloroform, faint but still on this. I’m guessing this is Vin’s blood.”

“I found a bandage in the bathroom. It looks as if Mr. Tanner had showered, and was maybe taken just after that.” Ezra told them.

“He didn’t go without a fight. Pictures are messed up and some on the floor in the hallway, and this table was turned over, the lamp broken on the floor and still on,” JD added.

“There’s some clothes on the end of his bed too, he hadn’t finished dressing. If they took Mr. Tanner naked or in just pants, he will freeze in this weather.”

“Don’t touch anything else, we need to get forensics out here,” Josiah nodded at Ezra who pulled his cell phone from his pocket. “Vin was taken, I’d guess sometime last night, before he ate dinner by the looks of the food on the stove. The horses weren’t cared for this morning. What else?”

JD glanced around the room then pointed at the phone, “Looks like there’s a couple of messages on the phone, he’d have answered them.”

Josiah stepped to the phone, using the end of a pen he pressed the answering machine button, and they heard Chris’s voice come through clearly.

“Hey Vin, where are you? We’ll be in tomorrow night instead of Monday. Can you pick us up at 7pm? I’ll call later with the flight information. Later, Brother.” The machine spoke that the time was 8:15 pm. A second message came through, again from Chris, “Hope all is well Vin. Our flight is number 421 from Miami on Southwest, should arrive by 7:22pm tonight. We’ll see you then. Nice they cancelled tomorrow’s meetings. See you tonight.” The machine reported the time as 7:10am.

“Investigators are on the way. I believe we should retire to the outside before we accidently damage any more evidence that might be found,” Ezra said as he led them from the room, through the kitchen and out the door.

When the sheriff and investigators arrived, the four men were waiting on the deck for them. The forensic team began to work the house immediately.

Josiah called their boss, AD Travis to fill him in on what had happened. With a promise to let him know what the investigators found out, he disconnected and looked at Nathan and Ezra. JD, too fired up to stand around and wait had gone to the barn to clean stalls and prepare them for the night.

“Should we call Chris and Buck?” the big man asked.

Nathan shook his head, “What can they do from Miami?”

“Other than worry themselves to no end. Miami is two hours ahead of us. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington would be in their class. Their flight should depart in a few hours, given that they’ll be arriving at seven this evening. I do not believe we should concern them at this point. We have naught to report to them, other than Mr. Larabee’s brother has gone astray.”

Josiah and Nathan looked at Ezra for a moment, letting what he’d said sink in, then nodded.

Nathan glanced at the barn and saw JD making his way to them, his glance went back to his teammates, “What about Martin? Since we haven’t had any calls from him.”

“If he’d heard something from Vin he would be calling,” JD remarked as he stepped up onto the deck, having finished the barn chores. He remembered the last time Vin was injured, Martin was on the phone within minutes having heard through their connection Vin’s yell of pain.

“Yes Mr. Dunne, Mr. Fitzgerald would have been calling Mr. Larabee or trying to reach his twin. Mr. Tanner’s cell phone is on the kitchen counter and the only other calls are from Mr. Larabee.”

“Maybe we should call Martin then?” JD asked.

For a couple of minutes the four worked through their minds whether they should call Martin or wait until Chris was back. Finally with a sigh, Josiah nodded his head.

“I think we better call him. Nothing he can do now, until we get more information or something.” At the looks he was receiving from his friends, Josiah smiled, “I’ll call him,” he stated and moved to the end of the deck.

Josiah pulled his wallet from his pocket and thumbed through several cards until he found Martin Fitzgerald’s, a moment later he was dialing on his cell phone.

+ + + + + + +

Martin Fitzgerald stood and stretched his back working several kinks out of it before sitting down again. His teammate, Danny Taylor smiled at him as he picked up his coffee cup and drained the last of his coffee.

“Well Fitz what are you going to do with the next few days off?”

“Now that the case is done and the paperwork just needs to be checked over, think I’m going to sleep for a day then do washing.” At Danny’s laugh, Martin added, “Hey, I haven’t been home long enough to do more than sleep a couple hours and change clothes. Will be nice to have some time off.”

“Yeah, I’m going to probably do the same thing, though first I’m going to get the largest prime rib steak I can find at Rosaletas for dinner. I’m starved for a good meal. I hope she’s open, forgot it was Sunday and she was going to change her hours.”

Martin laughed, “Had enough fast food huh?”

“I think we all have. I can’t wait to get home and cook a decent meal for my family,” Vivian Johnson said smiling at the two young men. “After I have had a long hot shower.”

“I’m going to soak in a hot tub until the water turns cold, then have the largest plate of spaghetti I can eat for dinner. I’ve been craving some for over a week,” Samantha Spade added..

Amid the laughter Martin felt his cell phone vibrate and quickly pulled it out of his pocket. Seeing the name in the little window he shot a surprised glance at Danny while placing it against his ear.

“Josiah, what’s wrong? What happened?”

As Martin listened his face paled. Danny automatically placed his hand on Martin’s arm in support. The two ladies grew silent as they too listened and watched Martin.

“Anything to …” Martin started to ask. He rubbed his free hand over his head as thoughts raced.

“I can come … Chris? … Tomorrow?”

Finally Martin’s teammates watched him nod, “I’ll call you or Chris as soon as I know. Thanks Josiah,” he closed the phone and looked at it with a dazed expression on his face.

“Martin, what happened?” Danny’s voice cut through Martin’s thoughts.

“Josiah said they got to the ranch and found Vin gone. Some things are broken, blood on the carpet and a cloth that smells like chloroform. It looks like he left with barely any clothes on, just out of the shower last night they think. I only talked to him yesterday morning. I have to go.”

“Calm down Martin. I heard ‘tomorrow’ mentioned, what’s that mean? That you still have time? Check flights out of here? Where’s Chris? What do you want me to do?” Danny calmly asked.

“He and Buck had meetings in Miami. They’ll be home tonight.”

“All right. You’ve got time to find a flight and get some washing done before you leave.”

Martin gazed at Danny for a moment and then smiled, “Dang you are good partner. Guess I better get home.”

“Call me and I’ll take you to the airport, and pick you up,” Danny said as they rose from the table, he knew if Martin was busy getting a flight he wouldn’t dwell all night on his missing twin. Sam handed Martin his report before he could move away.

“You better check this before you go or Jack will have you back here in a heartbeat,” she told him.

Impatiently Martin read through his report. Minutes later he signed it and dated it then carried it into Jack Malone’s office. Jack looked up from his paperwork and knew something was bothering his youngest agent.

“Here’s my report Jack. I need to go to Denver, Vin’s missing. Since we have a few days off …” Martin quickly explained what he had heard to his boss.

“You’re off until Thursday. Keep me informed, and if you need more time, we’ll see what we can arrange.”

“Thanks Jack. I’ll keep you informed of what’s going on. If you can’t reach me on the cell, call me at the ranch, you have the number. I’ll stay in touch.”

“Do you need a ride to the airport?”

“No sir. Danny has it covered. I’ll let you know my flights though.”

“Sounds good. Hope your brother will be quickly found. I’ll talk to you later,” Jack said nodding to the door, knowing his agent was in a hurry to get home.

“Thanks Jack,” Martin replied.

At his apartment, Martin first called airlines and while on hold tossed clothes into the washer. He got a direct flight to Denver leaving at 1pm the next day. Martin called Danny and made arrangements for Danny to pick him up at 10 in the morning. Then he placed a call to Josiah. He learned more about the incident as forensics had finished at Chris’ house; and were analyzing several sets of fingerprints through the FBI database. Martin confirmed that someone would be at the airport waiting for him and then he hung up.

Martin tossed his washing into the dryer and added another load to the washer. He gathered a couple of suits that needed to go to the dry cleaners and hurried down to the shop on the next block. After dropping off his suits, he did a quick shopping trip through the small local grocery store. Back home he spent the rest of the day doing household chores and packing while at the same time checking his computer for any updates from JD.

It was after 11pm when he heard from the young computer expert. Chris and Buck were home and exhausted from the seminars. Obviously they were very upset and Chris was trying to move things faster. AD Travis had already been notified and had a rush on fingerprints and blood samples.

Martin was packed and ready to go. Although sure he wouldn’t sleep, he finally laid down. However, the last few weeks caught up with him and he instantly fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

Chris paced the darkened house in his stocking feet, trying to keep quiet as he sipped on a cold beer. In various rooms his team slept, but he was too wound up to even try. His mind kept reaching out to Vin. He knew his brother would answer if he could; they had reached each other over a thousand miles before. This time, there was nothing. It was as if his call was going into a dark void and it seemed to echo around his head. It scared the hell out of him.

Chris knew Martin would be there in a few hours and he wasn’t sure if he was happy or not about it, he didn’t want anything to happen to Martin, if someone was after Vin and spotted Martin, he could disappear too. He loved Martin as much as his twin Vin. His young brothers were much alike, with; it seemed Martin being a little more even- tempered. Chris smiled, as if any of them were even-tempered, all three of them did have a hot, fast temper. All of them shared the strange connection; they could ‘talk’ to each other in their minds, without having to say a word. A cry of pain brought them together from miles away, whether it be to New York or Denver or anywhere else in the world.

Silence. It was pressing down on him and Chris was scared that Vin might not be alive. He shook that off, he couldn’t think that way. Vin was alive. He would feel differently, he’d know in his heart if Vin … he stopped. Vin was alive, somewhere, they just had to figure out where he was and rescue him.

Chris finished the beer he’d been drinking and went to his room. There was nothing he could do at the moment and he needed some rest. As he laid down his glance at the clock showed it was a little after 3am. He rubbed his eyes then closed them, sure he wouldn’t sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Vin shivered with cold. He tried to think of where he was, what was going on. His fuzzy mind tried to sort out what he was hearing and feeling as a crash of thunder sounded almost on top of him. “Am I outside?” he asked thickly, as a sickening lurch rolled him around.

“Sick, goin’ ta be sick,” Vin blurted out as he felt his stomach start to turn. Before he could think of anything he heard a voice and felt himself lifted to an upright position, his bare feet connecting with a threadbare carpet. Before he could do anything he was propelled along a narrow aisle. He heard a door open and his hands were freed. The black hood over his head was gone. He found he was in a small dimly lit airline bathroom. A shove between his shoulder blades urged him to the toilet just as the plane lurched again. A moment later Vin’s stomach rebelled and he was bent over the metal commode.

Straightening when the dry heaves stopped, Vin flushed the toilet and was washing his mouth out when a voice from the doorway told him to take care of any business he needed to, as he wouldn’t be back again.

Vin turned from the tiny sink and did as he was told automatically. His thoughts were still in turmoil, he wasn’t sure what was going on, he couldn’t string more than one thought through his head. Vin knew he was sick, but not why. He flushed the toilet and washed his hands and face then realized he was wearing just his sweat pants. In surprise he absently looked around the tiny compartment for more clothes, he was freezing.

Before he could turn around two hands grabbed him and jerked him from the room as something black was pulled over his head. Vin lashed out with his fist and connected with someone, but before he could do anymore damage a sharp pain in his upper arm seemed to scream through him. His arms were tightly pinned against him. ‘No’ he thought as darkness descended at the same time the plane lurched.

“Son of a bitch! I can’t wait ‘til we get him to the boss, then Larabee is in for it.” Tom said as he rubbed the red mark on his cheek. “That’s the second time you got me Larabee, I’m going to enjoy beating the shit out of you,” he grinned as Cal put the syringe away and they carried Vin to the seats and laid him down, once more tying his wrists and ankles.

Looking at his watch Cal said, “We’ll be landing in a couple hours, if this storm doesn’t force us down. Get some rest. Agent Larabee isn’t going anywhere,” he finished as another crash of thunder shook the airplane. Rain lashed the plane as it fought its way through the thunder and lightning storm.

“Who can sleep in this storm?” Pat replied as he pulled a blanket around him then covering his head as lightning lit the inside of the plane.

Cal threw a blanket over Vin and took his seat across from the bound prisoner, as he snapped his seatbelt he hoped the pilot knew his job. He didn’t care that much for flying and even less through a storm. A grin crossed his face, for the money they were getting paid to get Larabee, he’d fly through hell.

None of the four men noticed when the storm passed and the balance of the flight was smoother, having fallen asleep. Cal and his men were awakened when the intercom came on and the pilot advised them they’d be landing shortly.

When the plane landed and stopped near a hanger the three men were ready to leave. The steps were unfolded and steadied against the plane. Pat was first out, carrying the backpack, Cal followed, carrying Vin’s limp form over his shoulder. A few words were exchanged between Pat and the man at the base of the steps before he headed across the asphalt to where several vehicles were parked. He opened the door of the closest SUV and slid behind the wheel. Tom opened the back door and waited as Cal laid Vin on the floor of the back seat then climbed in, instantly putting his feet on Vin’s narrow waist. Cal slid into the passenger seat and Pat drove out of the airport.

“I’m starving, is there some place we can drive through to get something to eat?” Tom asked as Pat turned northwest onto the highway.

“I don’t know, if I see something I’ll stop. We’re about an hour and a half from the ranch or lodge or whatever the hell it’s called.” Pat answered.

“There’s some energy bars in the backpack if you’re that hungry. Breakfast will be served when we get there,” Cal informed them as he lifted the backpack.

“I’ll wait. I’d like a hot cup of coffee though, and I’m sure there’s none in that thing,” grumbled Tom.

Pat laughed. “Yeah, sure coffee in the backpack.”

Once the laughter quieted the men watched the passing scenery. The sky was starting to lighten as Pat drove into the sagebrush and pine tree covered hills. Trees were sparse on the lower parts of the hills, but above on the higher ground the forests of pine seemed to take off, with a few small creeks cutting through them. Beyond the hills, mountains could be seen with snow covered tops, heralding that winter was coming even though it wasn’t quite November.

Forty-five minutes later Pat turned off the main highway onto a side road and minutes later onto a well groomed dirt and gravel road that wound up into the hills. Within minutes the sagebrush was mixed with pines and tamarack trees. Barbed wire fences could be seen along the road in places, mostly hidden in the undergrowth. They passed several huge meadows, some with dry creeks snaking through them. One meadow had a couple large pole corrals with a loading chute set up in one corner of it; they could tell it had been recently used from tracks and cut up ground in and around the corrals. They crossed a couple of cattle guards before a wide Y in the road and the left branch sign announced ‘Pine Tree Resort, Private Property, No Hunting, No Trespassing.’

Pat turned left and continued up the road, now lined by a pole fence on both sides. Small meadows flanked by pine, tamarack, and at this height, fir trees. Quaking aspens along wet areas had golden colored leaves while the tamarack needles were changing colors and dropping. A few deer were seen in the early light wandering through the peaceful meadows.

Tom felt movement under his feet and slammed one foot down hard on Vin’s side, smiling at the groan he heard. “Our Mr. Larabee seems to be waking up.”

Cal looked over the back of the seat to where Vin lay on the floor of the SUV. “Good he can walk inside, I won’t have to carry him. You can stop stomping him Tom. The boss won’t like it if he’s damaged too much.”

The two men glared at each other for a moment before Tom nodded and eased his boots a little off Vin. Cal turned back around and Tom glared at Vin before his gaze turned to the countryside outside the window. His feet rested on Vin to hold him down when he began to move more.

The road climbed higher after going around what seemed to be a hilltop, they could look off to the left at the vista laid out below them. A little of the road they were on was visible far below before rounding a curve. The road then dipped into a long shallow valley. The valley appeared to be several miles in length. Ahead was a huge gate that opened to a mowed meadow with a lake to the right.

Beyond the gate, the drive led to a large two story log lodge that sat 100 feet back from the lake. A wide dock with several small boats jutted into the lake. Past the lodge could be seen several barns and corrals, beyond them horses were grazing along the far side of the lake. To the right of the gate, trails meandered into the woods and several log cabins could be seen in the trees near the lake. The lake, in the area closest to the tree line had what looked like steam rising from it, and the edge of the lake was icy looking for several inches out from the shore.

On Cal’s instructions, Pat drove through the gate to the lodge then around to the back entrance. He parked near three long steps that led up to the large wrap around deck with double French doors that were thrown open as they stopped.

A man dressed in jeans and wool shirt with a gun belt around his waist stepped out of the door and waited for the visitors. A hand rested on his holstered revolver.

Cal got out and nodded at the guard as he opened the back door. Tom got out the other side and at Cal’s nod cut the rope that tied Vin’s ankles together. Cal reached in, pulled Vin out of the car and stood him up.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had awakened earlier, but after getting kicked in the side and blacking out for a few minutes he didn’t try to anymore. The heavy boots that rested on his side and hip lightened up a little. He tried to stay still and work through the confusion in his mind. As thoughts rolled through his head, he listened for conversation in hope of picking up what was happening. But all Vin could hear was the sound of the motor, and gravel noise from the tires, the men never said anything useful while he lay there.

The shifting noise of the engine alerted him that they might be at the end of the journey and he wondered what was in store for him now. He had tried to connect with Chris and his twin, Martin, but it was as if his senses were shut down, he had no connection and it worried him. He had a feeling he was a long way from home with no idea where or how far or how much time had passed.

Movement slowed then stopped and Vin felt the boots on him shift, but not before one ground into his injured side. Clamping his lips together to hold back a moan of pain Vin waited as he heard doors open and the boots leave him. A moment later cold air rushed over him and he felt his ankles being cut free. He moved them a little trying to get feeling into his feet.

All at once large hands were under his bound arms and he was dragged across the floor and out the door.

“Stand,” was whispered near his ear as he was hauled upright. Vin struggled for a minute to get his balance on numb feet. He finally could feel icy cold gravel under his bare feet and shivered. Coldness registered, and it swept through him so fast he felt like he was freezing. His arms were grabbed and he was turned and urged forward.

Vin lurched as he took a step. The icy gravel and cold rocks cut into his feet and after a couple of steps he staggered on a step as he was dragged along. At least the ground was smoother Vin thought as he stepped up, he breathed a small sigh of relief as it flattened out. Unconsciously he counted the twelve steps before he stumbled over a door step. An icy cold stone entry was under his feet before he sank into warm plush carpet. He had no idea where he was but he was happy to be inside as the warmth of the room washed over his cold body. He cocked his head trying to hear any kind of noise.

Vin was pulled to a stop and he heard the shuffle of footsteps around him and instinctively knew the men who had taken him were standing around him. His arm was still gripped in a tight hold and he sensed it was the big man who man-handled him earlier. While they waited in silence Vin tried to maintain his composure despite the fact that he was shivering, his head was fuzzy, and pain remained in his side. He realized most of the stitches were gone from the half healed wound; the waistband of his pants were damp, no doubt with blood.

A noise in the room had Vin trying to hear what was happening, the hateful hood over his head making him blind. He felt another hand grasp his other arm as someone fumbled at the back of his neck. He didn’t move, unsure of what was going to happen next.

Charles Holmes entered the room and smiled at the almost naked man slightly swaying between the three hired men. He planted his 6’6” form on the corner of his oak desk and pointed to the hood over Vin’s head, flicking his finger to have it removed. His smile grew seeing the blood on the thin figure and the trembling, as the sweat pants dipped lower on the lean hips.

“Well mister high and mighty, Christopher Larabee, it’s so nice to see you …” Holmes stopped in shock as the lean man’s head was finally uncovered and long golden brown hair fell around the blue eyed man’s shoulders. “What the hell!” he exclaimed coming off the desk and stepping in front of the stranger.

Vin stood still as the hood was pulled from his head and then blinked several times in the brightness. His eyes widened as the huge angry man stood in front of him.

“I’m sure not the ‘high and mighty Christopher Larabee’ at all,” Vin rasped, his voice rusty from disuse and the drugs he’d been given.

Vin didn’t have time to even think of ducking the large hand that flashed out catching him solidly on the side of his head. He flew sideways, crashing into the man beside him. The man shoved him away and before he could fall, one hand on his arm pulled him upright. Vin shook his head trying to get the ringing out of it as he licked the blood from the corner of his mouth. ‘Should keep m’ mouth closed. This guy isn’t happy,’ he thought as he raised his gaze up to face the man again.

“Who the hell are you?”

“He’s Chris Larabee,” Tom answered before Vin could reply.

The backhanded hit this time was with the man’s fist and Tom went flying several feet before falling to the floor from the force of the blow. It took him several moments to get up, and he made sure he wasn’t in Holmes’ reach.

“Who are you?” Holmes growled at Vin.

“Vin Tanner,” Vin quickly replied seeing the hand raising.

“Tanner? Who are you?” Holmes stepped closer to Vin.

“House sitter. A friend of Larabee’s.”

“House sitter? Damn.” Cal gripped Vin’s arm tighter.

“What?” Holmes’ angry gaze went to Cal.

“We watched that house, just like you told us. This was the only man there since Wednesday. There was another guy there but he left Wednesday, this one didn’t. He’s the only one there all the time. How were we to know he wasn’t the right man?” Cal said glaring at Holmes.

“Larabee is blond!” Growled Holmes.

“You did NOT tell us that! All you said was the man who lived on that ranch. And this was the only man there. The blond was the one who left Wednesday. How were we to know?”

Charles Holmes looked at Cal a moment then turned his gaze on Vin.

“Where’s Larabee?”

“Hell if I know.” Vin rasped and moved his head when he saw the hand coming towards him.

Holmes saw the young man duck his head and in a split second his hand curled into a fist and changed directions, striking Vin almost on top of the stitches in his side.

The blow turned Vin halfway around; the pain that erupted pulled a cry from him as blackness and bright spots flashed in his head, his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. Vin tried to protect his side, but it was impossible given his hands were still bound behind his back. Another moan was pulled from him when his upper arms were gripped in what felt like steel vices and he was hauled to his feet.

“Don’t bleed on my carpet,” a harsh voice commanded.

Vin swayed between the two men who’d lifted him; he could feel blood seeping into his pants as he wondered why he didn’t just answer the big man.

+ + + + + + +

“Where’s Larabee?” Vin heard again. Opening his eyes he looked up at the man who towered over him.

“Florida,” Vin finally said.

“Florida? What’s he doing there? How long?” Snarled Holmes.

“Don’t know.”

Vin flinched when the hand rose, but before he could duck or move, the fingers were buried into his long hair, jerking him forward a step.

“How long?”

Grimacing in pain Vin said, “Week or two. Didn’t know for sure,” he lied.

The grip in his hair didn’t lessen, it just got tighter. “When would you know?”

“He’d call me the day before; let me know when to pick him up.”

Vin’s head was shoved back as Holmes released him and stepped away. For a few minutes Holmes’ gaze raked over Vin as he worked several things out in his mind.

Vin was again held between Cal and Tom with Pat a couple steps behind him. He shivered with cold and tried to ignore the pain in his side, sure that he had a couple of cracked ribs from the blow he’d received; he could feel the blood soaking into his pants. At the thought of his blood soaked pants sliding down to the floor in front of this guy, hysteria overtook him and he almost laughed out loud, barely managing to change it to a cough at the last moment. Movement in front of him had him tipping his head up to see what the man was doing. Seeing the look in the dark eyes and on the florid face he decided best not to laugh. Instead he said,

“Since I’m not Larabee just let me go home and get outta’ your hair.” He wasn’t fast enough, Vin tried to turn as the fist flew at him, it was too late and a scream of pain rang through the room when the fist landed on what was left of the stitches and the wound under them. Blackness was descending when the second fist caught him on the left side of his head and Vin collapsed on the kidnappers’ arms.

Cal and Tom held the limp form between them not letting Vin drop to the floor. Cal looked at Holmes who had once again moved back. “What do you want us to do with him?”

“Jason, for now, show them to the room downstairs. Leave him there.”

“Yes sir.”

“When you’re done I want to talk to all of you.”

Cal nodded his head as he and Tom hefted Vin a bit higher and followed the guard out of the room. Pat followed, not wanting to stay alone in the room with the angry man.

The basement was huge and filled with storage areas, some with furniture, one large area with food items on shelves to the ceiling. Several closed doors lined half of one side of the room, one door opened to a large laundry room. Jason led the men to the second door and opened it. Cal and Tom carried Vin to a metal bed set across the back of a small room. In one corner near the door was a toilet, small sink and table, in the center of the room were a covered drain and in the ceiling above it a steel hook. They laid Vin on the bed and started to turn away.

“Turn him loose,” Jason spoke for the first time.

Cal turned back, cutting the ropes that bound Vin’s hands behind his back. As an afterthought he pulled the Army blanket from the foot of the bed and covered the shivering young man.

With a last glance at Tanner, the men left the room, waiting for Jason. Jason secured the room and led the men upstairs. “I’m still starved,” Tom grumbled in a low voice.

“Breakfast after you talk to Mr. Holmes,” Jason said from ahead.

Cal shot a dirty look at Tom who shrugged, he was also hungry, they hadn’t eaten since just before taking the man they’d thought was Larabee, he didn’t count the few snacks on the flight as food.

Vin groaned and opened his eyes. For a minute he lay still wondering why his side hurt so much. With a blink he looked around the dimly lit room and shivered. Slowly he pushed himself up and pulled the blanket around his shoulders. On shaky legs he stood up, swaying for a moment as he waited for things to steady, then moved over to the small sink in the corner of the room. He was surprised to see his accommodations, a small table not more than a foot square, a toilet and a sink. On the edge of the sink a threadbare towel and washcloth lay, on the table was a roll of paper towels and some paper cups, a new roll of toilet paper was sitting there too. Under the table was a tiny wastebasket.

Making use of the facilities, Vin was relieved to find there was running water, both hot and cold. After washing his face he took the washcloth and patted his wound clean. Hissing in pain when he touched the short rib above the wound, he was sure it was broken. Holding his breath he probed it more, and with a moan he pushed it into position, happy that it slid right into place quickly. With his hands and body shaking even harder than before, he gripped the sink and fought nausea and consciousness. With a trembling hand he took a sip of the cool water.

Several minutes later the pain lessened and Vin made his way back to the bed. He carefully eased himself down and pulled the blanket around him as tight as he could get it. His gaze traveled around the small room again and he shivered as the walls seemed to close in on him. He stared at the dim light above the door, taking comfort in the fact that though the light fixture was covered in a kind of a metal ‘cage’ the light was on. He quickly turned his thoughts from the grumble that came from his stomach to wondering if it was Sunday or Monday. The last time he’d eaten had been Saturday lunch.

Pulling the blanket closer, he let his eyes slide close. He thought of Chris and Martin and wondered why he couldn’t connect with them. No answers met his tired brain before he fell asleep.

Charles Holmes paced back and forth behind his desk; even the view out the wall of windows didn’t calm his anger. Larabee was still walking around and he had some house sitter instead. What was he going to do with this man? He wasn’t Larabee. Who was the young man? Was he really just the house sitter? Holmes’ mind flew back and forth almost as fast as he was pacing.

When the three kidnappers walked into the room, Holmes stopped and turned and looked at Calvin Franklin, the man he’d hired.

“Well, how are you going to correct this problem Cal?”

“Mr. Holmes, we’ll go back and get the right man. Now that we know he’s a blond, we should be able to take him at the ranch like we did this Tanner guy.”

“Sir,” Tom injected into the silence that had followed Cal’s words. When Holmes’ gaze turned to him, Tom continued. “If we had an idea what Larabee looks like it could be a lot easier. There are a lot of blond men around, we need to get the right one.”

Silence fell again as Tom and Cal exchanged a quick look, Holmes hadn’t given them any information on Larabee other than where he lived and that he worked in Denver. They wondered for a minute if there was such a man.

“Might help to know if he has another job too, maybe we could pick him up there,” Pat added.

“Yes, good ideas. I didn’t inquire into what he was doing before I sent you off to get him. When I was in Denver he worked for the police department. I’d guess he still does,” Holmes said as he turned to his desk.

The three men standing inside the door exchanged surprised looks, a cop, went through their thoughts at the same time, not a good thing at all. Small frowns formed on their faces.

“Wilson, I’ve heard you’re good on the computer. See if you can pull up Larabee’s info,” Holmes said as he turned his computer on and typed in his password. He wouldn’t admit to these men he had messed up; the chance to get Larabee after all this time had clouded his thoughts. Cal and his men were more interested in what he was paying. That someone else would be living in Larabee’s house had never crossed his mind. But it will work out, he thought, I’ve got Larabee’s friend now, I will have him next. He stepped away from his desk and looked at Wilson.

“Yes sir,” Tom Wilson moved to the chair in front of the computer and monitor. “His name is Chris Larabee?”

“Short for Christopher I believe.”

Within a few minutes Tom had found a Chris Larabee and a little information, he was working his way through the Denver Police Department records he’d hacked. All he found there was Larabee had been a decorated officer but had left over 3 years ago. He Googled the name and minutes later found several listings, clicking on the Denver man he found he worked for the ATF in Denver. Next he went to the Federal website and began working through the maze of directories to get to the Denver agency.

Tom had been working for over a half hour when he finally hacked through and found the different team listings. A smile crossed his lips when he found Team Seven. He looked at the men in the room, one huge impatient man in particular.

“Found him Mr. Holmes, and more.” Tom grinned as Mr. Holmes and the others crowded around him and he pointed to the screen. “Looks like our Tanner isn’t ‘just a house sitter,’ he’s one of Larabee’s team..”

“Good we’ve got the bastard now,” Holmes exclaimed.

“There’s no picture of any of them,” Tom pointed out.

“That’s alright. He’s about 10 years older than Tanner, what I remember of him he is blond and good looking, built similar to Tanner. You men go eat. I’ll think of something to draw Larabee out into the open. Jason, show them to the dining room, we’ll talk later.” Holmes dismissed them all with a wave of his hand. He had plans to make.

The sound of a crashing door opening woke Vin with a jolt. Before he could untangle himself from the blanket wrapped around him he was jerked to his feet. The blanket fell to the floor as he was stood up and held. Two men held his arms but they weren’t close to him, a flash had him looking from Cal on his left to the door.

“What’s going …”

“Shut up.” A voice said from his right and Vin glanced at Tom who gripped his right arm. A moan escaped him as he was struck in his left side. The second blow turned him towards Tom as fire erupted through him. He felt his left arm released and lashed out with it, not aware of a flash of light going off.

Vin’s rock hard fist connected with Tom, who released his right arm and took the blow on his shoulder, having stepped back an instant before it landed.

Tom didn’t wait, his anger that had been boiling since they’d taken Tanner took over and he hit Vin over and over. Until, at last, the smaller man finally went down, unconscious.

Pat stepped closer, snapped another picture as Cal told Tom to back off and then lifted Vin and dumped him on the bed. The three men left the room, Cal locking it behind them.

Upstairs Pat handed the camera to Jason who said, as he took the camera, “Mr. Holmes will talk to you later. You can go to your rooms or the lounge area until you are called.” Jason handed them room keys and walked away.

For a moment the men stood there looking at the keys in their hands, then as one they headed for the lounge area. It was too early to head to bed so with a cup of coffee they decided to relax in front of the picture windows with the wonderful view.

“I know what I’d like to be doing for awhile longer,” Tom said as they walked into the large comfortable room. With a glance around, they got mugs of coffee from a sideboard, and then wandered over to a set of recliners and love seats near the farthest set of windows.

“I have a feeling what you want to do Tom,” Pat smirked, knowing his friends preference of bedmates.

Tom smiled, “Yeah, you probably do. Want to beat that longhaired freak some more and do a few other things to him too.”

“Don’t want him dead yet. Hell, I think I’m going to my room. Didn’t get much sleep last night and who knows what we’ll be doing later today,” Cal said as he tossed back the last of his coffee. With a tired grunt he rose and headed towards the stairway going up to the rooms.

Tom and Pat exchanged looks then followed Cal. It had been a long night and none of them had slept much on the airplane not only from the rough stormy skies but the adrenalin of catching Larabee.

Vin slowly opened his eyes and tried to figure out where he was and why he hurt so much. For long minutes he lay on his side blinking as the room came into focus. Suddenly he remembered where he was and what had happened. Not moving, he took stock of himself as much as he could. His ribs were aching, his left side especially. He moved his left arm as he slid his hand down to feel the wound in his side and found the rib was displaced again. He was sure there was another cracked or broken one above it. Blood was still seeping from the opened wound and Vin wondered if he could get it cleaned up again as he glanced at the sink and table in the corner.

With care he pushed himself to a sitting position and for several minutes he sat on the edge of the bed, again taking inventory of where he hurt the most. His chest, back and ribs seemed to have taken the brunt of the beating Vin figured. ‘I can do this, I’m not that bad off,’ Vin thought and pushed himself up and with stubborn determination he began a swaying walk to the sink. He wasn’t sure how long he stood braced against the sink, but knew some amount of time had passed before he could let go and pick up the cloth and hold it under the water.

Washing the blood off his side took awhile, but finally it was clean. He washed his chest then face and noticed bruises beginning to form on his body. Taking a drink of water he dropped the cloth and turned back towards the bed. He didn’t think he could stand much longer, but he did feel a little better.

As he lay down he concentrated on Chris, trying to get through to him. He wanted to warn his brother, however he couldn’t reach Chris. Vin was also unable to contact his twin, Martin. He tried for what seemed like hours but was really only a few long minutes.

In despair Vin pulled the blanket over him and closed his eyes. He was tired and couldn’t figure out why Chris was wanted by this man; he hoped Chris wouldn’t fall into the trap the man was planning. Vin was sure something was up with the kidnappers, but didn’t understand why he had been beaten. With his stomach rumbling, the aches and pains, and too many unanswered questions, Vin drifted into sleep as he relaxed.

The sun had just dropped behind the western side of the valley flooding the area with long shadows. The air

outside had turned colder, when Cal was summoned to Holmes’ office. Reaching the office he met Tom and Pat at the door and the three entered the room.

“Here’s what you’ll be doing …” Charles Holmes lined out his plan to the three men who listened intently. Finishing, he used a gloved hand to spread out the pictures that had been taken that morning of Vin being beaten. They had been cut down so nothing of the abductors could be seen other than a hand. The last was of Vin laying on the floor making Tom grin happily.

“We’ll have one more go round with Mr. Tanner, for more photos. Once I’ve printed them out, you will be on your way. By tomorrow night you will be in Denver, and within three days these will be delivered to Larabee’s mailbox or house. Do not touch any of these with your bare hands nor the envelope they’ll be in. Fingerprints can be lifted from almost everything these days. All right, be ready to leave tomorrow. Meet me at Tanner’s room at 7AM. Pat, you’ll be taking pictures again. I want several of Tanners face in this packet,” Holmes smiled. “Tanner isn’t going to enjoy what will happen to him in a few hours. I’ll see you all in the morning,” Holmes said and with a wave of his hand he dismissed them.

7AM had the three kidnappers standing outside the locked room that held Vin. They were silent, wondering what Holmes had in mind. Tom rubbed his callused hands together; he wanted more of Tanner’s blood and could hardly wait. Holmes appeared with his bodyguard; both of them carried things in their hands.

Jason handed Pat the camera then unlocked the door and pushed it open as he hit the light dimmer switch, brightening the room.

Holmes entered the room going first to the table where he laid down a short whip and several lengths of leather. Jason followed Cal and his men inside, closing the door behind him.

“Jason, Cal, bind his hands and get him up. Hang him over the hook,” Holmes instructed, nodding to the hook in the ceiling.

Vin’s eyes blinked open when he felt rough hands on him. He was sweaty and cold at the same time. He grimaced when his wrists were grabbed and he was jerked into a sitting position. Confused he watched as leather cuffs were buckled around his wrists with a linked chain between them. When Vin was pulled to his feet he looked up at the big man who towered over him with a smile on his face.

Licking his lips Vin remembered the man and said, “I’m not Larabee,” the words coming out as a raspy whisper.

With a nod, Vin was lifted, his arms stretched above his head. Moments later the chain between his wrists was hooked over the V shaped hook and the two men turned him loose. Vin hung from his wrists, his bare toes barely touching the floor.

Vin raised his sweaty head and looked at the man standing in front of him.

“Why? What’d I do?” he rasped.

Charles Holmes smiled and took Vin’s chin in his one hand and motioned to Jason with the other. “Strip him. You lied to me Tanner.”

“Tol’ya I’s not Larabee …” Vin said feeling his sweat pants being pulled off his legs. “Let me go,” he rasped as he tried to kick the man who moved around his legs.

Jason easily deflected the foot that came at him. He grabbed the ankle and before the hanging man could kick again had a leather cuff snapped around it. The chain was looped under the hook he’d uncovered in the floor drain and the other cuff was tightly snapped around the other slender ankle. Jason rose, patting Vin on his naked butt as he stepped away.

“He’s ready for you now Sir.”

“Thanks Jason. Well Tanner, you didn’t tell me who you were; you aren’t just a house sitter are you? You are something else too. And you didn’t tell me,” Holmes gathered the 3 foot length of thin leather into his hand. With a deft move he had an end wrapped around his fist and before Vin could blink lashed out, striking Vin across his chest.

Vin yelped in surprise as the thin strap hit him. He gritted his teeth together not wanting to react to what Holmes was doing. Three more times he was struck across his chest before Holmes paused. Vin watched the man walk to the corner and pick something up off the table, before he could see what was in the man’s hand he had moved behind him. Vin couldn’t turn his head with his arms tied the way they were, when two more men moved behind him he figured he was in trouble.

The first blow caught Vin totally by surprise, it felt like a white hot brand that extended from his shoulder to his opposite hip. More lashes crisscrossed his back as Vin tried to twist away from the pain, sweat dripped off his face. He clenched his mouth together to prevent moans from escaping, and gasped for breath when the lashing stopped.

“Who are you?” Vin heard over his breathing.

“Vin Tanner,” he gasped.

“Who are you?”

Breathing hard, Vin answered, “Friend of Chris’.”

“Who are you?”


Vin screamed in pain when a heavier lash wrapped across the small of his back and over his wounded side, tearing the fragile scab which had formed over the infected wound. If he hadn’t been hanging like a side of meat he’d have fallen to his knees. He wasn’t aware of the flashes that were going on as he was whipped up and down his back, from shoulders to the back of his knees.

Vin was barely conscious when it stopped and for several minutes all that was heard in the silent room was his agonized gasps for air as he tried to get the pain under control. He didn’t see the big man move in front of him until his wet head was pulled up by his hair and held in place by someone behind him. He blinked the sweat and tears out of his eyes as he continued to gasp painfully.

“Who are you?”

“F … Friend …”

The lash bit him across his chest as the man stepped back away from him. Vin couldn’t hold back the scream of agony. Several more times the lash crossed his chest from hip to shoulder and across his thighs, the last curled around his side. Screams echoed around the room for moments.

“Who are you?”

“Tanner … Agent … Tanner…” Unable to take another blow Vin blurted it out, then in a bit stronger voice, “ATF, freeze .. your under…. arrest…” before blackness took him away from the pain.

Holmes gazed at the unconscious agent for several moments, a smile on his lips before he ran a hand across Tanner’s chest and down over his sides. He could feel a couple lower ribs grate together as he checked Vin over.

He kept his hand away from the open wound on Vin’s side, seeing blood and puss oozing from it. “Get a picture of this,” he ordered as he held his hand on Vin’s hip.

Once Pat had snapped a few more pictures, Holmes moved to Vin’s back and checked it over. Hands on Vin’s buttocks he ordered another picture.

“Alright get him down. Jason I want you to clean that wound and bandage it. We’ll do this again in a few days,” Holmes ordered then watched as Jason and Cal released Vin’s ankles then lifted him off the hook. They laid him on the bed and Jason took the leather cuffs off his wrists. Holmes took them from Jason, gathered up the leg restraints and the leather straps and walked out the door. After a glance at Jason, Cal followed Holmes, with Pat and Tom behind. Tom paused at the door a moment to look back at the limp, naked figure on the bed. With a sigh he followed his partners.

Jason flipped the blanket over Vin and left the room. Several minutes later he was back, a tray with assorted medical items on it. He sat it on the small table and ran the water until it was hot. A clean cloth was soaked and carried to the bed where he removed the blanket and began to clean the wound. Once the infection was cleaned out, he packed the wound with antibiotic cream and then bandaged it. Using another clean cloth he washed over the welts that covered Vin’s back, chest and thighs. He found two broken ribs and manipulated them back into place, for a moment he looked at the ribs, then deciding he put several pieces of tape across the broken ribs. He hoped they would stay in place for now, but he knew Holmes, he didn’t think they would be mending.

Finally rising he laid the blanket over Vin and as soon as he cleaned up he left the room, dimming the light and locking the door behind him He smiled, tough kid, he thought, needs to learn to answer Charles’ questions though instead of smarting off. But he liked the kid’s spunk.

+ + + + + + +

Charles Holmes summoned the men to enter as he spread the new photos out across his desk.

"Well done Pat. You caught some very good pictures of Tanner. I especially like these two of his face," he pointed to one showing Vin screaming and one of his face twisted in pain, teeth clamped together and sweat dripping off his chin. "These others are good too. Can see he's naked, tied, hanging by his wrists, whipped and that wound in his side oozing blood and pus. I am very pleased now," Charles gathered the pictures up and placed them in the large envelope with his gloved hands.

"Cal, here's gloves for you. Wear them when touching this packet. There's a note in here for Larabee, he'll enjoy it. Be sure its Larabee you have this time. The plane is ready and waiting. There's a SUV in Denver for your use when you arrive. Don't disappoint me this time. I'll be waiting to hear from you in a few days. Hopefully Larabee will be back before too long, since someone should have informed him of his missing man." Holmes finished and handed the picture packet to Cal who'd put on the surgical gloves. With the packet in hand the three men left.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee sat at the kitchen table half asleep, a cold cup of coffee in his hand. He'd slept until 5AM, but couldn't any longer, so finally got up, started the coffee and went out to the barn to tend the horses. After feeding and turning the horses out, he'd cleaned the stalls and prepared them for the night. It was raining as he made his way back to the house; a smile crossed his face as he looked up into the dark grey sky. As the rain hit his face Chris thought of how much it reflected how he felt.

Following a hot shower he allowed himself a cup of coffee. Now it was a little past 9AM and the late night with barely any sleep was catching up with him. None of them had gotten to bed before 1AM, it had been a long evening, but he expected the others up and moving soon.

All of a sudden Chris jerked awake as pain flashed through his lower back and side. A small cry escaped him before the pain was gone. He opened his eyes to see Buck and Josiah standing several feet away, watching him in surprise.

"Chris what's wrong?" Buck asked rushing to Chris' side as Josiah looked back over his shoulder hearing Nathan's step coming up behind him. Nathan stepped past Josiah and immediately moved to Chris.

"I'm alright. It's not me. Vin I think, I just felt him."

"You sure?" Buck prompted.

"Something's wrong with him, he's in pain, but I can't get through to him. I don't know where he is or anything else about him."

"Where was the pain Chris?" Nathan questioned watching his boss.

Chris looked at Nathan, and nodded his head, "Lower back and left side. I think the stitches are gone that he had."

"Damn. That wound was beginning to heal."

The phone rang at that moment and Josiah, the closest to it, answered. Finding a piece of paper he began writing as he listened. A couple minutes later he hung up and snatched up the paper.

"We have names and at least one address," Josiah said with a wolfish grin and a silent thanks to having several friends on the police force.

"Let's go. Get JD and Ezra …" Buck started to say and was stopped by Josiah's big hand in front of his chest.

"Wait brother. The cops checked out the address and no one is there. We need a plan," Josiah looked at Chris who nodded.

"Breakfast and plan, then we'll move." Chris stated.

Several hours later, plan in place, and okayed by Travis who was getting a court order for them, they stopped at the office. JD picked up several listening devices; leaving Josiah and Nathan there the others headed to the address Josiah had been given. Josiah would pick up the order and get it to the others.

Chris parked a block from the brick townhouse belonging to Calvin Franklin, after having driven past it to check if there was any activity there. Ezra and JD walked to the house and entered the small lobby and knocked on the numbered door. Silence. They could hear nothing coming from either door. Within seconds they had gloves on and Ezra was working on the two locks on the door. A minute later the door opened and with a last look around they entered, guns drawn.

There was no one in the house and they quickly chose several places to hide the listening devices, kitchen dining room, living room and hall all received the tiny devices that could be heard up to 15 miles. The phones received their own devices that would decipher numbers calling in and out besides listening.

When the two finished, they tested the tiny receivers and heard clicks in their ear mikes. They'd been heard. Making sure nothing was out of place or disturbed they slipped out of the house, making sure the door locked behind them and made their way back to where Chris and Buck waited.

Back at the office JD and Ezra worked on extending the listening signals so they could listen from Chris' ranch. By the time they finished, it was almost time to pick Martin up. JD had loaded the needed equipment into Josiah's suburban and was ready to set it all up in Chris' den when they met there a little later.

On his way to the airport, Chris hoped they would have some luck in finding Vin. He couldn't figure out why he'd been taken and where they had taken him. He was sure Vin was far away, then cursed the traffic as he headed toward the airport. He knew that Martin was as worried as he and the others were, and had there been an earlier flight available, he would have been on it.

"There's a place," JD pointed at a space that just opened in the short term parking area.

Chris started, he'd been so lost in thoughts he'd forgotten the young tech was with him.

"Thanks JD. Now to find Martin," grinned Chris as he pulled into the space.

"Oh we will find him. I think if his flight's on time it should be landing now."

"Yep. Well let's go. We might meet him by the security gates."

Together the two agents made their way into the huge airport and towards the security area. Over the noise of

conversations they heard the arrival announcements and departures of several airlines. They reached the point where they could go no farther when they spotted a familiar face in the oncoming crowd.

Martin Fitzgerald's wide blue gaze swept back and forth looking for Chris, Buck or one of the others from Team Seven as he worked his way past slow moving people. A relieved sigh came from him when he spotted his blond brother Chris, and then the younger agent JD. His and Chris's gazes met and he knew Chris had no idea where his twin was either.

Martin was sure Vin was alive and he felt Chris was sure too, but where? The two brothers hugged and Martin shook JD's hand and then they headed for the luggage pick up area. A bit later, his duffle over his shoulder, Martin walked with Chris to where the truck was parked, JD in front of them.

Once on the road, Chris told Martin of the feeling he'd had that morning, and what the team had accomplished that day. JD filled him in on the electronics that were on the back seat and in Josiah's suburban.

"We're hoping the listening devices will work well for us," JD finished.

"Hope they come back from wherever they took him," Martin muttered. "And talk."

"Would be good. We'll pick them up if they show up too," Chris added.

JD grinned, "They'd talk for sure, between your glare and Josiah going Old Testament on them."

Chris and Martin laughed. For the rest of the trip they were silent; Martin stared out the window at the passing views as Chris maneuvered the truck through the Denver traffic, then on the open highway before turning off and heading to his ranch. The same thoughts kept going through their heads; what had happened to Vin and why they were unable to contact him through their connection. Chris turned into his driveway and drove up to the ranch house. They didn't see any activity around the large house but they knew the others were already there. Chris parked beside the house and they got out, Martin grabbed his duffle while JD and Chris gathered up the equipment from the back seat and floor. As they walked up to the door it opened without anyone showing themselves.

Entering the house Martin shook hands with the rest of Team Seven before taking his pack to Vin's room. When he rejoined the others, the equipment they had brought was being set up in the den. Martin noticed that the window had been carefully covered with a dark blanket, no light would be seen outside in case someone was watching the house.

In the large kitchen more windows were covered; he realized most of them throughout the house were also covered. Standing at the stove, Josiah told him to be seated and he'd dish up some food for the three of them. As dishes of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and salad was placed on the table, Chris slipped into a chair beside Martin and a minute later JD entered the room and sat down. Buck, Nathan and Ezra filed into the room and sat down around the table and having already eaten, they accepted cups of coffee. Josiah put another pot of coffee on and joined them.

Chris told Martin of his feeling of Vin he'd gotten earlier, but had no idea where he could be. For hours they talked, making plans then dismissing them. It all boiled down to where Vin was being held and why; how they were going to find him.

It was after eleven when they all found their beds and settled down for the night. A last check on the equipment

JD had set up showed all was quiet at the townhouse. JD yawned then lay down on the cot that had been set up in the room; he wanted to be close in case something came in over the devices during the night.

No one saw the car drive down the road and stop at Chris' mailbox. After a few moments the car pulled away very slow so as not to throw gravel or leave any kind of tracks. Once on the pavement, it sped and a couple minutes later it turned onto the highway, heading back to Denver.

JD woke to a clicking noise, and then the recorder started turning. Jumping from his bed on the loveseat, he grabbed the headset and listened. He heard:

"Go to bed. We'll talk about it in the morning. I just want to get a good night's sleep before we have to do anything else."

"We'll take turns watching the place. Someone's noticed Tanner's missing by now. Maybe Larabee will be back once he hears his man is gone. Go to bed, we'll discuss this later."

After some grumbling, nothing more was heard and JD relaxed. He was happy the hidden bugs were working so well, he could hear them clearly. Since it wasn't too important, he decided to go back to bed and tell the others in the morning.

Chris was up early, feeding horses and cleaning stalls. Martin found him in the barn and without a word began to help him. Neither man said anything until they finished and headed for the house.

"Thanks Martin, you didn't have to help."

"I'm here, need something to do brother," Martin smiled Vin's smile at Chris.

Chris shook his head and slapped Martin lightly on his shoulder as they went into the house. JD greeted them as they entered the kitchen where Buck and Josiah were making breakfast.

"Chris, Martin, the men are at the townhouse. So far nothing important has been said. Well they are planning to watch here and hope you will be back as soon as you hear Vin is missing. I'm going back to listen, they went to bed around 2AM this morning so they might be up before too long. They were going to talk today," with that JD was headed to the den.

For a moment there was silence after JD left. Buck ran his hand over his face then said, "I guess some of us should head back to town so we won't be stumbling over each other. We can come back and forth; let them believe we're taking care of the place."

"Well we know they aren't out there yet, so some can leave. Since it sounds like they're looking for Chris, its best you aren't seen yet. Maybe we can get more information before you, `show up'," Nathan said, having entered the room while JD had been talking.

"Best not let Martin be seen either," Josiah added. "Buck and JD should stay here, the rest of us can head to our homes. We can come out once a day or whatever we figure out until we hear something."

"Don't think we'd get JD to leave," grinned Buck as he started handing out plates filled with omelet and hash browns.

"We can listen from the office as Mr. Dunne has everything set up there too." Ezra commented as he walked

through the doorway from the living room. "I can fine tune it if need be from the office too."

"Mornin' Ez, here's a plate. Forgot you two set things up in town too. And you all are closer to Franklin's place too; could get there faster than we could," Buck said as he sat down beside Chris with his plate.

"We could watch their place too, now that we know they're back. Might be able to get one of them as they're watching this place. Let them think nothing's happening out here, they'll get sloppy." Josiah added.

Chris nodded but before he could say anything, Martin spoke up, "I haven't seen many places they can watch the ranch from the road. They relax and we could catch one of them, I think."

Chris smiled, "There is a place here where most of the road below can be seen, we can watch the watchers."

"I know the place. I'll take first watch," Buck laughed. "Almost forgot that spot. It's perfect and no one can see us leave the house and go to it, thanks to the trees."

"I'll take a turn too," Martin said.

"We all will, well those of us here," Buck muttered around a mouthful of hash browns.

A plan in place, breakfast was quickly finished and Ezra, Josiah and Nathan headed for the office, leaving the house looking empty with Chris' Ram and Vin's jeep sitting where they had been parked.

The house was put in order after JD had eaten. The young agent was again back in the den listening while Chris and Buck showed Martin where the hidden place was where they'd use to watch the road from. While there they saw a white jeep with a blinking light on top come up the road and stop at Chris' mail box. A moment later it drove away heading for the next mail box. From their vantage point they watched it go almost a mile up the road, stopping only one more time before it disappeared.

"I forgot the mail. Better check with JD then go get it, hopefully before anyone's out there," Chris said as he led the way back to the house through the trees. They were sure no one could see them from the hidden spot in the trees and decided a folding chair would be set under the large fir tree for a little comfort; better than standing or sitting on the ground.

Checking with JD, who said the three men were eating and had said nothing about what they were up to, Chris hurried down the driveway to his mail box, thinking of the warrant Josiah had brought with him. Several days of mail had collected in the box and a large envelope with just his name on it.

A feeling of dread washed over Chris as he looked at the manila envelope. Being careful to touch only a corner he walked back to the house. Buck opened the door for Chris after seeing the look on his face and the way he was handling the mail.

Martin sensing Chris' distress, and following Buck's direction, had found a package of surgical gloves on a shelf in the pantry, and met Chris at the front door with a pair on. Taking the envelope from his brother he went into the kitchen and carefully opened it. Glancing at Chris' pale face, Martin poured the contents our across the table.

Three men gasped at the pictures and JD covered his mouth and hurried back to the den, eyes filled with tears.

In silence the brothers and Buck stared at the twenty odd pictures of Vin being beaten and whipped, his face in agony. Some of the pictures they saw that he had sweat pants on, one side blood soaked. The ones of him hanging and being whipped, he was naked. Every picture showed the pain and torment he was going through.

They could see hands and the whips but no faces or anything identifiable. Nothing was recognized, even the hands were a bit fuzzed. Vin was in a room, but there was nothing to identify it, or give an idea where it was.

Martin lifted the white sheet of folded paper he found under several pictures. Opening it he read what was typed on it. Moist blue eyes blinked as Martin's gaze connected with a furious green gaze.

"It says, `This is supposed to be you Larabee. But since it isn't he'll continue in your place, until I have you where he is. Or … We'll see how long he can last.'"

Disgust, fear and anger crossed the men's faces as they looked at the pictures and note. Drawing a deep breath Chris reached out to touch a picture but stopped short.

"Put everything back in there, we need it all dusted for prints. Though I have a feeling there won't be anything."

"Chris! They're talking," JD yelled from the den.

Chris took off as if shot from a gun with Buck and Martin right behind him. Entering the den they saw JD hunched over the desk, headphones on his head, as he jotted notes down. They could see a tape running, recording everything that was being said.

"They're making plans … to watch the ranch starting tonight. Wondering if someone found the pictures yet, laughing about them and … one guy wants in on …what will happen to this Larabee guy. Hope it's more then what happened to Tanner … Damn … Sounds like Vin's to be … beat more? Holmes was sure mad at Tanner …" JD looked at Chris a moment, "Holmes is a new name, I haven't heard it before, they mentioned a Pat and Tom, but not this one," his gaze slid to Martin then Buck before he turned back to the recording equipment.

Moments later the phone rang and Chris went to answer it. Martin moved to the kitchen and gathered up the picture of his twin and placed them back in the envelope. As he looked around for a large plastic sack Buck, who'd followed him, smiled and grabbed one out of a box in a drawer. They could hear Chris talking and thought it might be Ezra on the other end. Chris told whoever it was about the pictures and that they needed to be checked for prints. After telling the person he'd see them soon, Chris hung up and turned to Buck and Martin.

"Josiah is coming out; he'll pretend to pick up the mail in case someone's in place watching before he gets here. They're looking into my cases for this Holmes guy. I don't remember him, but will look in some old cases I've got here too," he paused at the look Buck gave him. Slapping Buck on his shoulder he added, "You can help me Buck. They're just some names, dates and when I arrested them, nothing that could be used in court for anything. I've had them since we worked in the Denver PD, should have gotten rid of them years ago, but didn't."

"I doubt this guy is that old, well that we or you took in when we were cops, but I'll help you look."

"Thanks Buck. Martin, sorry, if you'd like you can relax or see if JD needs any help. You can use my computer; I think JD's got it connected to ours at the office. Maybe you can get into my files too."

"I'll help JD; we'll see what we come up with Chris."

"Thanks. Josiah should be here in an hour or two. He'll take the pictures back. Damn, we've got to find Vin and

fast," Chris ran a hand through his hair. With a nod to Martin he headed for the spare bedroom with Buck behind him.

The house quieted as Martin and JD worked and listened to Franklin's townhouse. Chris and Buck carried two file boxes to the kitchen table and began working their way through the files that were in them, looking for someone named `Holmes.'

An hour later JD suddenly stiffened and his hands grabbed for the pen and paper and he began writing as the tape started recording. Martin paused, watching JD for a moment as he wrote then got up, moved to the door and called for Chris and Buck.

Martin was seated beside JD when the two hurried into the room. Silently they watched JD as he wrote with a frown on his face. The recorder stopped and a minute later JD pushed the headphones off his ears as he turned his chair around, a excited look on his face.

"No wonder we can't find Vin! He's in Washington state, at a fancy ranch or resort an hour or so from some town named To-nasket. The guys name is Charles Holmes. I got a phone number. This Franklin guy called Holmes to report that the pictures were delivered, no one was there. They're setting up the surveillance on the ranch, the guy named Tom was already on his way here. Pat Adams is taking over at eleven tonight and then Franklin at seven. Holmes didn't say much, told them to get the right man this time and to call when they had him," JD looked at Chris then went on, "He'd have the plane ready when he got the call." JD stopped grabbing a breath.

While JD talked, Martin pulled up a Washington map and found a town named Tonasket and where it was located. He found there were several private runways within a 50 mile radius of the town. There were also small airports at most of the towns in that area. He printed the information and maps off then set to work tracing the phone number.

By the time Josiah arrived, Chris and Buck were going through the last files and Martin was still working on the phone number, JD was listening again, his pen jotting notes.

Just as Josiah walked into the kitchen Buck jumped up, "Got him! Charles Holmes, found him!"

+ + + + + + +

Josiah entered the kitchen with Martin behind him.

“I’ve some news too. Looks like they have their first watcher in place. There’s a brown Escort parked in the trees. Couldn’t see anyone in it, but he could have ducked down when he saw me coming along.”

“And I just found who this Holmes is,” Buck said as he waved a file in the air.

JD entered the room with a smile on his face, “That Tom guy is in place, got his cell number. He just reported to Franklin that an old suburban had picked up the mail and went up to the house. He was told to watch and report when it left. Franklin sounded put out.”

“Well let’s see who Holmes is. They can’t see the barn so won’t know if Josiah is out there or in here. What’s it say Buck?” Chris asked.

“Not very much, but there was an arrest you did almost 8 years ago. His father was running drugs and you arrested him. The son was taken in too. Holmes senior swore his son wasn’t involved, no proof could be found, nothing on the son and he was released. Senior was given 45 years. He should still be in prison, unless he’s the one after you.”

“I remember that case,” Chris said after a couple of minutes thinking and reading the brief report again. “Holmes took the fall for everything, but I was sure his son was involved too. Yeah, nothing could be found to incriminate the son and he was freed. I remember I had to testify two times before they were satisfied. We found a lot of drugs and records, there was quite a few arrests made. Who are we dealing with? Both were named Charles.”

“I’ll see what I can find. I’ve got some experience at getting into prison records, but don’t tell my boss,” Martin grinned as he headed back to the den. JD followed him with the name of the prison Holmes was in.

While Martin worked his magic on the internet, Chris, Buck and Josiah were trying to come up with a plan to provide backup for Chris when they went after Vin. They agreed that Chris would have to be abducted and they would need to plant some sort of homing device on him; they’d get JD and other ATF techs to work on it. Buck commented about Vin being in only sweat pants, Chris told them he’d just have to wear more clothes. There was no doubt that he was going to be taken; they just had to figure out when it would happen.

Martin and JD came back into the kitchen and heard Chris’ last words.

“We can either put a GPS in a button or something like that, or I think we can implant it in your arm.” JD stated

At the look Buck gave them, Martin added, “It’s sort of like the chips they put in horses or pets to ID lost animals, but can also be used for humans. They’ve been using them for awhile, usually on people who have a tendency to leave their homes unknowingly and get lost. They can find the missing person easier and faster, save their lives.”

“We can get it set so we could follow you, well I’m not sure on the distance, but at least a mile I’d think,” JD put in. “We’ll find out more about that though.”

“All right. Get on it; see what you can find out about them. Maybe Travis would know something about them too. Damn, I need to call him and let him know what we got in …”

“Already done, Chris. I talked to him before I came out. He wants to be kept up on this. I think he can get us tickets too, at a moment’s notice, heck maybe he can get a private jet to get us north,” Josiah put in.

“Talk to Travis, I think he’ll have some ideas. We’ve got to get it figured out quickly so we can get to Vin before Holmes kills him,” Chris said as he ran a hand through his already disheveled blond hair.

Josiah placed his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, “We will get Vin back, and you too once we get everything worked out. We will take this Holmes down and he’ll be locked away so far and deep he’ll never get out. I should leave for now or they’ll get suspicious. We’ll get it worked out and maybe by tomorrow or Thursday this show will be on the road. I’ll see you all tomorrow,” Josiah nodded to Buck and with a last pat to Chris’ shoulder he left the house. As he drove out of the driveway he pretended not to see the car parked in the deep shade of the trees as he passed it. A small tight smile crossed his lips as he thought what he’d like to do to the men who had taken his little brother, Vin.

+ + + + + + +

Vin moaned as he tried to roll onto his side; the pain had his eyes opening. A noise in the room drew his gaze to the corner where a man was setting things on the little table. Fever bright eyes opened wider when the man turned towards him, a scissors in one hand, a bucket like container in the other. Vin tried to push away from the man, but could only move a couple of inches before he was against the wall.

Jason saw that Tanner was awake and smiled when the young man tried to move away from him.

“Just stay still Tanner. I need to check your wound. You can make it easy on yourself or hard, I don’t care.”

“N … No … No more please…” Vin tried to push the hand away that reached out and pulled the blanket from his naked body. Too much in pain, Vin decided he couldn’t prevent anything the larger man wanted to do to him and let his hands fall back to the bed.

“That’s better boy. I’m going to check you no matter what you do. Need to change that bandage too. Mr. Holmes doesn’t want you dead, yet,” Jason chuckled as he saw Vin suck in his lean stomach when the scissors got near him. He slid the open scissors into the bandage and cut the cloth loose. Moments later he had the bandage off and was washing the wound with warm antiseptic water. As he worked Jason wondered what Holmes had in store for this young man. At the prospect of what might be planned, he felt a little sorry for him. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what was coming, and he hoped this one’s spirit would get him through the next days. He anticipated Tanner was going to need all his resolve; it was going to be hard to keep Holmes happy if Tanner couldn’t take what Holmes dished out. How much longer would he have to keep repairing the damage Holmes inflicted, before Tanner was killed outright? With a sigh Jason continued with what he was doing, and thought it would be nice if this kid escaped, but he wasn’t going to risk himself helping him.

Vin gritted his teeth and pressed his lips together tightly, his breathing ragged as the man washed the wound. It seemed forever before the cleaning stopped and the man rose from the side of the bed. Vin opened his eyes and looked around as the man moved to the table and gathered some things into his hands then turned back to face the bed. Vin stiffened as the man came back and sat down beside him then laid out the items in his hands.

“Just stay still and this will be done quickly. I’ll check your back when I’m finished with this. I think Mr. Holmes has something for you to do. We’ll see soon.” Jason said as he squeezed antiseptic cream into the wound on Vin’s side. Using some large Steri-strips he pulled the wound closed, added more cream then taped a padded bandage over the wound. He ignored the hiss of pain as he rolled him over onto his side to check the welts on his back. Once he finished he rolled him onto his back and checked the broken ribs and welts on his chest and thighs.

“Well you look pretty good, and should be ready to do some work when Mr. Holmes needs you. We’ll get a shirt and some shoes for you. Lay still and I’ll get your sweat pants on you, if you kick out, you won’t like what happens.” Jason warned as he picked up the discarded pants from the floor where they’d been tossed that morning.

Vin stayed still as Jason talked; he was cold and hot at the same time. His sweat matted hair stuck to his face and shoulders. The words the man said faded in and out and he only caught a few of them. When the man picked up his pants he hoped he could put them on, he was freezing right now. He saw the man pick them up and shake them out then step to the side of his bed. Vin tried to push himself up, he wanted his pants, and would get them one way or the other.

Jason watched the prisoner struggle to sit up, one hand reaching out for the sweat pants. He didn’t want Tanner to

open the wound in his side again so he bent down and helped the young man sit up, letting him lean against the wall. Jason slid one long leg into the sweats and reached for Vin’s other leg. Vin was ready and lifted it himself, then reached down to pull them up.

Halfway up Vin stopped, he needed to get up to finish pulling them on. He edged towards the edge of the bed. When his bare feet touched the cold concrete floor he shivered but holding his breath he pushed himself off the bed.

Jason watched quietly as Tanner struggled to rise to his feet then reached to steady him once he had gained them. The young man didn’t seem to know he was there as he tugged the pants up over his narrow hips. For a moment Jason kept his hand on Tanner’s shoulder then let it drop as Vin turned towards the sink.

Feeling the hand on his shoulder leave him, Vin continued on his way slowly across the small room to the sink. Turning on the cold water he picked up a paper cup, filled it and took a deep drink. His stomach growled loudly but he ignored it, he wasn’t sure when he last had anything to eat, he didn’t know if it was day or night. As he turned towards the bed again, his gaze fell to the table beside the sink. The scissors gleamed in the light and he almost reached for it. He caught himself, looked up and saw the big man watching him, he ignored the scissors and continued moving to the bed. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to take on the man right now. Vin reached down and grabbed the blanket then pulled it around him, over his shoulders before he lowered himself down onto the bed. His stomach growled again and he sucked it in, trying to silence it but he saw the man stiffen at the sound and look at him. Vin felt his face turn colors under the piercing gaze.

“When did you eat?” Jason asked the shivering prisoner.

Vin looked up at Jason as he thought for a minute, then said, “Saturday noon?”

“Damn. I’ll be back in awhile,” Jason replied as he gathered the medical supplies and left. Vin heard the click of the lock and a moment later the light dimmed.

Pulling the blanket closer around him Vin, let himself slide sideways until he was laying down. Over and over again he tried to connect with his brothers but finally gave up. He had no idea where he was, and guessed it was too far to reach them that way. Shivering he turned his thoughts to what Holmes had planned for him, he hoped no more beatings, in his condition he was sure he couldn’t survive another bad one. His stomach reminded him again that it was empty and he tried to ignore it. He was hungry but wouldn’t ask for food, no matter what. He figured it had to be around two days since he’d last eaten. For several minutes Vin let his gaze rest on the sink, table and toilet in the corner of the room. He decided that he’d get up and just drink enough water to quiet his hunger.

Before he could get up Vin fell asleep, the blanket wrapped tightly around him.

Half an hour later the light brightened and the door swung open as Jason entered the room. On the tray in his hands was a large bowl of thick soup and several pieces of fresh made bread toasted. A large mug of coffee also sat on the tray with several packets of cream and sugar. Spotting Vin asleep, Jason placed the tray on the table and moved to the bed and shook Vin’s shoulder until the blue eyes snapped open.

“You need to sit up so you can eat,” Jason said as Vin gazed up at him in confusion. Jason tugged on Vin’s arm and moments later Vin was sitting upright, his back against the wall behind him, the blanket still tucked around him.

“Here,” Jason placed the tray of food on Vin’s lap.

For a moment Vin looked at the food then picked up the spoon and started eating, his stomach growling at the smell of the food.

“Don’t eat too fast, don’t want it to come back up, you’d have to clean the mess up yourself.”

Vin raised his eyes to the man before dropping his gaze back to the bowl again, but he did slow his eating down. The soup was thick with small pieces of meat and vegetables and he thought he could eat another bowl, but didn’t want to overeat and chance losing it. The toast had honey on it and Vin finished it all. He added all of the sugar packets to the coffee and drank it. For the first time in days he felt heat flowing through him and he held the warm coffee mug between both hands savoring the warmth.

Jason had left the room long enough to pick up the sweat shirts, socks and tennis shoes he’d gathered from the belongings left behind by visitors to the resort. With the clothes under his arm he entered the room and saw Tanner had set the tray on the bed bedside him and was holding onto the mug with both hands, head leaned against the wall with his eyes closed. Jason wondered how old the man was, he didn’t really look over 21, barely old enough to be in law enforcement.

“I’s older than I look,” Vin remarked in a quiet Texan drawl.

Jason grinned, “You’d have to be to be an agent. Here’s some clothes for you. Might be a little large, but …”

Brilliant bottomless blue eyes opened and gazed at him. “Thanks. For the food and clothes.” Vin put the empty mug on the tray and touched the clothes where Jason had laid them beside him on the bed. His fingers fumbled with a shirt before he shrugged the blanket off and pulled it over his head. The second, a bit larger, followed. With a sigh Vin ran his hands up and down his arms feeling the warmth of the layers already.

Watching Vin bend a leg up and struggle to get a sock on his foot Jason moved forward. He could tell it was hurting the younger man and he reached out and took the sock from him.

“Sit back. I’ll do this. Don’t want that wound bleeding again,” he gruffly said.

“Th … thanks …” Vin stuttered and leaned back, his side had felt like it was being sliced open with a hot knife, though the rest of his battered body ached from the beatings he’d gotten. With half closed eyes he watched the bigger man swiftly put his socks on his feet and then step away. The blanket was shook out and replaced over him as he slid down on the bed.

“I’ll be back later for you,” Jason said picking up the tray and turning away he left the room

Vin slid into an exhausted sleep, ignoring the aches and pains from his chest down. He felt a bit warmer and let sleep take him from the cold, darkened room.

Sometime later the light flashed on and the door flew open. Vin jumped from the noise and was trying to wake from the deep sleep he’d fallen into. He was pulled upright and tennis shoes were shoved onto his feet. Before he could protest or get his scattered thoughts in line he was half dragged out the door and up the stairs. As he finally got his legs under him they stopped and Vin looked up.

Charles Holmes stood in front of him and Vin tried to stand on his own. The two men holding his arms just gripped them tighter and he knew he’d have more bruises to add to his collection.

“Well Mr. Tanner, I hope you are ready to do some work. No one here gets a free ride, everyone works if they want to eat. If you want to stay alive, you will work today. These men will give you your orders and if they aren’t happy with what you are doing, you will be punished. So have a nice day.” Holmes nodded his head and Vin was taken away.

Vin shivered when they went out a side door and the cold hit him. They were headed towards what he thought was barns. He couldn’t quite make out the buildings in the early dawn. It was dark enough that he thought it was around 6am. The cold cut through him, it ate through his clothes as if he was still naked. He could see his breath and the men’s on each side of him. The corner of Vin’s mouth quirked up for a moment, it was a barn they were heading to, he finally could make out the building in the semi-darkness. It would be warmer in there and he hoped that the work

he was to do was inside, it was too cold for him to work outside.

Turning his head a little Vin spotted a large lake to the right of them, it looked to be covered partly in fog and partly in steam, an indication of how cold it was there. As it got a little lighter he spotted corrals and a fence line disappearing into the woods behind the barns.

It seemed to take forever to get to the outbuildings, but he figured it was because he was so cold and hurting. They stopped in front of a set of large double doors. As one man opened one side, Vin glanced back the way they’d come. He could make out lights coming from the huge log house, they looked warm and inviting.

A jerk on his arm propelled Vin into the barn as lights were turned on. His eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness and he saw a long wide blacktopped aisle through the long building. On each side were stalls with either a solid wall or bars between each one. Horses stirred and many stuck their heads over their stall door to greet the men with a nicker or just to watch them.

“Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re to get the horses out to pasture then clean stalls and prepare them for the night. They all go out the end door and to the gate across the walk. Cleaning tools are over here and you’ll dump the wheelbarrow out that same door and to the left, you’ll see the place for it.”

“There are lead ropes on some of the stalls to use. Don’t leave halters on the horses; hang them on the stall the horse came from. Now get to work.” The second man told Vin pointing to a lead rope on the first stall.

Vin nodded and moved forward, taking the lead rope he snapped it onto the halter of the first horse whose head was hanging over his door. Opening the half door he led the bay horse to the back door, for a moment he fumbled to get the door unlatched then with a shove, rolled it open. He spotted the gate 20 feet away and moments later the horse was freed in the field. Vin closed the gate, and carrying the halter and lead walked back to the barn.

This isn’t too bad. I can do this, the horses are well trained and aren’t pulling on me. Have a feeling cleaning the stalls won’t be so easy,’ Vin thought as he led the 15th horse out of the barn and to the gate.

When Vin entered the barn again the first man called out, “Those last two horses go into the corrals.”

Vin paused, “Where is it?”

“Around the corner, left about 100 feet, you’ll see it. That one goes in the center corral, the bay in the one on the right.”

With a nod, Vin took the lead rope off the last stall and looked over the door at the powerful red bay stallion. With a glance at the men he knew the horse was a problem by the looks on their faces. Glancing back at the horse he saw the flattened ears and swishing tail and sighed, if he didn’t do something he’d get hurt. Standing close to the stall door he began to speak in the tongue he’d learned the year he’d lived with his grandfather after his Mom had died. He kept his voice low as he spoke and soon the horse’s ears flicked forward listening.

It took almost five minutes before the stallion stepped forward and let Vin pet his head and scratch his ears. As he rubbed the horse’s head, Vin hooked the lead to the halter and moments later led the horse out of the stall then out the door.

The two men who normally did the work in this barn exchanged surprised looks. The horse had always been a pain in the ass; it took two leads and two men to lead him in and out of the barn. Here was a slight, thin, battered man who handled him as though they were old buddies. They watched the young man come back into the barn and went to the last stall on the other side, knowing this horse too was a handful. After several minutes the big grey let Tanner lead him from the barn, no sign of aggression or fight. The guards watched in surprise. The grey was one of the meanest horses in the stables and it always took the two of them to get him to his corral.

“Guess he knows horses,” the taller man said.

“I’d say so. Mr. Holmes should keep him on for the barn hand. Well he got the horses all out, now we’ll see how well he does on stall cleaning, if he can get through them all.”

Both men laughed and watched Tanner as he walked into the end of the barn, hung the grey’s halter and lead rope up then walked toward them. The tall man pointed to his left where the wheelbarrow and pitchforks were sitting beside several bales of straw.

Vin nodded and picked up a pitchfork and apple picker and placed them into a wheelbarrow, then headed to the first stall. He worked slow and steadily, his back, chest and legs hurt where he’d been whipped. He tried to protect his side as he worked but he could feel it pulling and hoped it wouldn’t open again.

By the eighth stall Vin was shaking, the pain across his back and chest was a constant burn and his side felt as if a hot poker had sliced into it. He seemed to be burning from the inside out. His hair was plastered to his forehead and neck and the one sweat shirt was soaked in sweat. Vin knew there was no way he’d get all the stalls cleaned in this condition, but he forced himself to go on. As he exited the ninth stall his knees buckled and he dropped to the paved aisle, a pained moan escaped from his tightly closed lips.

The short man nudged his partner, “Pay up Tim. He didn’t get 10 stalls done, and only eight are ready for tonight.”

Tim dug into his jeans pocket and handed over a ten dollar bill. “You got it this time Ross. Let’s get him back to the house. Mr. Holmes will be a bit put out.”

Laughter followed the men as they walked to where Vin lay, eyes half closed, sweat pouring off him and one hand still clutching the filled wheelbarrow’s handle.

“Come on girl, get up and we’ll get you back to your room,” Ross said as he grabbed Vin’s arm and tugged on it.

With the two men’s help, Vin struggled to his feet. With a man gripping each of his arms he was propelled out the barn door and towards the log house. Blinking he realized the sun had gone behind dark clouds and the wind had come up. He wondered if it was going to rain, then remembered he had something worse to look forward to when they reached the house.

+ + + + + + +

Vin stumbled as he was half dragged into a back door of the house. He blinked the sweat out of his eyes and looked around. The room was attached to the kitchen; there were boots lined along one wall with coats, jackets, and rain gear hanging above them. A cabinet covered the other side of the room, some of the doors had locks on them, but most were just latched. The men kicked off their boots then pulled him into the house and through the kitchen where several people were working. The food smells had Vin’s stomach growling and he glanced at the large grill that had steaks cooking on it. He swallowed and quickly looked away, trying to push the smell out of his nose too. He figured he’d be lucky to get a bowl of soup. At the moment all he wanted was to do was collapse.

Vin tried to keep up with the two men as they hustled him through the kitchen and into a hallway. Several times he felt himself lifted as he stumbled along, his sweaty head had fallen forward and his gaze was on the wood floor. He stumbled and almost fell when the wood changed to carpet; the men yanked him upright again. It felt like there was a hot poker in his side; each breath came as a painful gasp when they finally stopped. He wondered where they were, and slowly lifted his head a little bit. He recognized the room; he was in Holmes’ office.

Stiffening his legs under him, Vin lifted his head and watched as the big man rose from behind his desk.

Holmes smiled to himself as he stood up. Tanner looked defiantly at him. He had to admit the young man was giving him the most fun he’d had in ages.

“Is the stable cleaned?” Though he knew there was no way it could be done by the hurting man in front of him, he had to ask.

“No sir. He did get the horses all out, but only nine stalls are cleaned, eight are bedded and ready for tonight.” Tim told him.

“So Tanner, you didn’t finish your chores huh? Well, in that case, I guess I will have to think of something for you. Let’s see.” Holmes walked around the room slowly and stopped at a cabinet. For a couple of minutes he gazed out the window at the grey lake. The cold wind had the lake churning with whitecaps, the trees were moving in the stiff breeze. He saw several people coming up the trail from the rental cabins, it was almost lunch time and he knew that soon they’d have seven or eight people in the lodge.

He glanced down and reached for the knob on one door of the cabinet. Opening the door he smiled at the items that lay on the shelf. He already knew what ‘punishment’ Tanner would have, he’d had it planned out, he was just a little surprised the man had lasted as long as he had. He picked up two things and turned back to the three men standing several feet away.

“Take him to his room, strip him and hang him up,” Holmes handed Tim the handcuffs and shackles they’d used before. Holmes grabbed Vin’s sweat-soaked head and held it so he could look into the blue eyes. “I’ll see you in a little while to give you your punishment for not finishing your work.”

“Go ta hell,” Vin spat out then flinched, wondering why he did that. The man had control of him. He blinked in surprise when the hand released his hair and tapped his cheek.

“So, still full of sass, boy? Hang onto it Tanner, you’ll need it later. Get him out of here before my customers arrive,” Holmes stepped away and watched as Tim and Ross, gripping Vin’s arms tighter turned and hurried out of the room. The big man smiled, he’d seen the surprise in Tanner’s eyes when he’d expected a fist. He laughed as he went out to greet and visit with the guests who were just coming into the lodge’s front door.

Vin tried to keep up with the men who were holding tightly onto his arms. When they reached the basement Vin

tried to break free; he didn’t want to return to the room, much less for whatever ‘punishment’ Holmes had in store for him. Planting his feet he braced himself.

Tim laughed when their prisoner shifted and tried to slow them down. He stopped and before the man could kick out he swung the cuffs and shackles across Tanner’s lower back.

The force of the blow and the erupting agony drove Vin to his knees. Vin clamped his mouth closed before anything could escape his lips as blackness threatened to overtake him. He was dragged to his feet again and half carried towards the room. His vision cleared and he saw the door open in front of him.

“No!” he gasped and he was thrown onto the bed face down. “No, please no mo…” Vin rasped as he felt hands on him.

“Shut up. You should have finished your chores. Now you pay.” Tim said, pressing Vin’s back to hold him down as Ross pulled his shoes and socks off then the sweat pants.

Ross clamped a leg shackle on one thrashing ankle and pressed down on the thigh of Vin’s other leg, over the stripes of bruises and welts. He smiled at the groan of pain from the half naked man as the leg went limp. A moment later the other shackle was clamped on the slender ankle. With Tim’s help they flipped Vin over, and with a few deft movements the sweat shirts were stripped from the sweaty body and handcuffs were snapped tightly in place.

Ross moved to the center of the room and uncovered the hook in the floor drain, then helped Tim get the prisoner up and to the hooks. Tim lifted Vin’s arms and Ross lifted the slim body up so Tim could slip the chain over the ceiling hook. Once the damp body was released he adjusted the shackle chain between the hanging man’s ankles, hooking it over the floor hook. Tim stepped back and looked at the naked young man a moment.

“Something’s wrong,” Tim said as he pulled his pocket knife out and opened it. “I’ll fix it though.” With that he took hold of the bandage around Vin’s waist and cut it off, then pulled the tape over his ribs off, tossing them onto the pile of wet clothes. “There that’s a little better. He did say strip you, so, now you’re totally stripped. Hmmm,” he cocked his head, then walked to the wall and pressed a button beside the door.

With a hum the overhead hook retracted several inches into the ceiling, stretching Vin’s body taut. Only his toes touched the concrete floor.

Tim smiled and nodded to Ross who walked by Vin, his hand brushing over the stretched stomach. “Have a nice day.” Ross patted Vin’s cheek with his free hand. “We’ll see you later.”

With a laugh the two men exited the room, the light dimmed and the door lock engaged. Silence fell over the shivering form hanging in the middle of the small, cold room.

Vin tried to pull his wrists from the tight cuffs that held him up, but after a few minutes stopped. The cuffs were too tight, all he was doing was tearing his wrists up, making them sore again. Sweat dripped off his face and rolled down his chest where it connected with more drops and kept moving down across his stomach and lower. In the cold room the drops felt like cold water flowing down his fever ridden body causing him to shiver more.

Several times Vin tried to call for his brothers, but only silence echoed in his head. His head dropped in despair, he couldn’t contact his brothers, he hurt everywhere, he had no idea where he was, then he laughed out loud. “Buck up man. You’re a Tanner. Chris will be looking for you. Got to hang on until then.” For a moment he doubted he’d survive another beating, and then, all at once knew he would, he was a Tanner, he’d beat Holmes at his own game.

Time passed slowly, Vin thought several hours had gone by, but he wasn’t sure. He could no longer feel his arms from his shoulders up to his fingers. He had lost feeling in his toes, and hoped it was only from standing so long. The constant shivering had initially kept him a little warm, he thought, but now he was cold from head to toe and he couldn’t stop his teeth from chattering together. His broken ribs and wound were throbbing and his back hurt.

Vin jerked awake when a noise came from the door. He felt numb from the cold and was glad that he didn’t hurt right then. His gaze watched the door as he licked his dry lips, he had no idea how long he’d been hanging in the room and didn’t care, he just wished he could lie down. His shoulders were numb and he didn’t know if he was standing or if his knees had given out.

Taking a deep breath as the door opened farther and the light became brighter he struggled to get his knees locked so he was standing. His toes felt like lumps of ice as he shuffled to stand as much as he could.

Holmes walked in with the man who had brought him food. Vin clamped his lips together willing his teeth not to chatter and looked at Holmes.

Charles smiled at the defiant look on the long-haired man’s face. He’d known Tanner wouldn’t like having to be hanging naked for seven hours, but he thought it would mellow the young man. It didn’t and he was going to enjoy himself for the next while. He reached out and ran his hand over the young man’s chest.

“Well Tanner are you enjoying yourself? Hmm you feel a little cold. I wonder why? You were pretty hot earlier,” he said letting his hand roam over the lithe body in front of him.

Vin tried to move away from the hand that brushed over him as the big man slowly walked around him. His face flared red when the huge hand dropped lower and lower as he moved around him again.

“Hmm, not talking much tonight Tanner? I’ve seen men in your position cussing me out and all you can do is,” Holmes used both hands to move over Vin’s groin. “Glare at me? Hate to tell you, that doesn’t work with me. You’re at my mercy; I can do anything I want to do to you.’ His rough hands caressed Vin’s hip, to the small of his back, and like a striking snake his right fist lashed out and struck Vin in his lower back.

Vin arched as far as his bindings let him, a strangled scream on his lips. He managed to stiffen his knees again and tried to stay upright on his toes. The hands began roaming over him again.

“Did that hurt a little? Sorry about that. I’ll try to be more careful. Maybe.” Holmes grinned and eased around Vin again, letting his hands play over the taut figure, all the while knowing the young man hated it. Holmes didn’t care to touch another man like this, but he’d found it worked well to break them down, and he did enjoy their reactions. He stopped in front of Vin and looked into the stormy blue eyes, one hand cupping him below while the other tipped Vin’s head up.

He thrilled at the humiliation he meted-out on others that had been his prisoner for a short time; most weren’t as spirited as this young man though. He was thoroughly enjoying himself this time, and hoped Larabee would be as entertaining as Tanner was. He had some thoughts to make Larabee suffer, and Tanner, if he lived, would play a big part in it. Degrading the two was going to be fun before he killed them; he hadn’t had two men as captives for a long time. His father taught him well, with many ways to take care of his enemies and he had fun adding his own twist to the list. Nothing was beyond him now that his father was gone

“Nothing to say?”

“G … Go … ta hell,” Vin ground out and gathered what moisture he had in his mouth and spit it into the face of the man.

The reaction was slow as Holmes stepped over to the sink and used a paper towel to wipe his face off.

Vin cussed himself, ‘Smart Tanner, really smart move. I’ve lost my mind,’ he thought as he watched the slow deliberate movements of Holmes. He swallowed as the paper towel was tossed into the plastic waste can and the man reached a hand out to the silent man standing near the door. Vin strained trying to see what had been handed over, but Holmes held it in a way nothing was revealed. Vin brought his gaze up to the big man’s face and knew he was in trouble.

“You know that wasn’t very nice Mr. Tanner. I might have left you alone. But now I do have to punish you,” Holmes said as he moved slowly around Vin again.

Swallowing, Vin closed his eyes. There was nothing he could do in the position he was in, and hoped it would be over quickly. He could feel the man’s warm hand on him as Holmes moved around him. A small clinking sound alerted him that something had changed, he opened his eyes and gazed at the man who had brought him food.

Vin screamed when the chain hit him across his back, from right shoulder to his left hip. Before he could catch his breath it struck him again, then again. He couldn’t do anything and tears rolled unbidden down his cheeks and blood from his lip where he’d bitten it to keep from crying out. He couldn’t stop the moans that escaped him either.

Several more blows landed on Vin’s back and he finally cried out in pain. Another lash caught him slightly over his shoulder and down to his right hip, the pain was so intense that it drew a strangled scream from him before he passed out.

Holmes lashed the limp figure one more time before he stopped. Tanner’s back was criss-crossed with the lash marks and blood from the chain links. He smiled as he shook the small links out, he couldn’t believe how well the chain whip worked. He had a four foot length welded onto a metal handle, with the handle covered in leather. It was comfortable in his hand and the links cleaned up easily in warm water.

Holmes paused in front of Tanner and lifted his limp head up a little. The eyes were closed and tear tracks were over his cheeks. He patted the slack face then went to the sink and washed the chain off, drying it with several paper towels. He looked at the hanging man again.

“Should I take him down Mr. Holmes?” Jason asked.

“No, not yet, I like this view. We’ll leave him there for a few hours. Let’s go to dinner, all this exercise has made me hungry.”

Charles Holmes looked at Tanner as he walked to the door, ‘that should teach him to disobey me and not to spit either’, he thought as he went out the door with Jason following him. He left the light on in the room but made sure the door was locked, he didn’t want any of his guests accidently finding his prison.

Hours later Jason and Ross were sent to check on the prisoner. After turning the light up, Jason unlocked the door and he and Ross stepped inside, pulling the door closed behind them.

Ross walked to the hanging man, licking his lips as he ran his hand over the hot flesh. “Damn Jason. I wish Mr. Holmes would give this piece to me for a few hours. He’s so tempting, that tight body’s just asking for attention,” he said.

“Don’t worry Ross, I’m sure he knows, but he isn’t ready for anything like that happening to this one. But,” Jason shrugged. “Maybe before he kills him. Have to wait and see.”

“Well, whenever he wants to get rid of him, I’m available. I would love to have him right now.”

“But you can’t, so get it out of your head. Help me get him down. I need to clean his back,” Jason ordered as he pushed the button to lower the upper hook.

Vin could hear voices in the cold pain filled void he was in. If he wasn’t already cold enough, he shivered when he heard the rough voice that wanted him. He felt himself being lowered and stayed limp, trying to gather his strength so he could fight the man if need be. For all his good intentions, when his cuffed hands were released from the hook and dropped uselessly to his waist, the pull on his lacerated back was too much and he cried out in pain. His arms and shoulders were numb; he couldn’t move them if he wanted to.

Ross held the naked man up by his shoulders, his fingers digging in until he felt bone. The body in front of him was hot, but trembling with cold and pain. Jason freed the shackles from the lower hook and Ross picked the man up and carried him the few feet to the bed and laid him down.

Jason covered the floor hook and followed Ross; he took the handcuffs and shackles off and with Ross’ help rolled the moaning man onto his stomach, arms stretched above his head. He flipped the blanket over Vin and while Ross filled a small bucket with hot soapy water he retrieved the tray of supplies he’d left outside the door.

Once he was beside the bed again, Jason dismissed Ross, “Okay Ross, you can leave. Be sure to shut the door behind you. I’ll take care if this now, thanks,” Jason nodded his head towards the door as he dunked a cloth into the water and began to wring it out. He heard the click of the door as he began to wash Vin’s back.

Vin felt something rubbing his back and moaned as pain was reignited. He could feel warmth where the cloth moved across his back, but the pain was non-stop.

“N... no… no more… please stop … hurts … Don’t do… this,” Vin gasped out as he tried to turn over as pins and needles attacked his arms and shoulders.

A heavy hand on his shoulder stopped him from moving.

“Stay still. I’m trying to clean your back.” Vin heard.

“Hurts .. hurts so much…”

“Can’t help it. Blood is dried here, it needs to be cleaned off. So just stay still,” Jason told the shaking young man.

“Try…” Vin rasped as he tried to relax.

Jason had to scrub some of the cuts hard to get them cleaned of the blood that had dried on Vin’s back. By the time he reached Vin’s lower back he felt Vin stiffen for a moment, a groan came from the man then he went limp. Jason nodded and with the prisoner unconscious he washed as fast as he could. He was glad to see that many of the cuts weren’t too deep, though there were a few that could use a stitch on Tanner’s lower back.

It took awhile, but finally all of the dried, caked blood had been washed away. Jason dumped the soiled water and got the tube of antibiotics and some bandages. A short time later, he straightened up and looked over his handiwork. All of the open cuts on Tanner’s lower back were covered in salve and the worst ones with a bandage. He had managed to clean the wound on his side and wrap a clean bandage around it. He had made sure the broken ribs hadn’t moved and re-taped them for now.

“That should do it for now,” Jason said as he eased Vin to his stomach and covered him with the blanket. The room was cold and he decided he’d turn the heat up a little to keep the young man from catching pneumonia in his weakened condition. “I’ll check on you later,” he said as he walked out of the room, locking the door behind him.

Vin awoke to a pressing need and pain. He turned his head and wondered how he was going to get across the room to the toilet. He couldn’t wait and eased himself onto his right side. Pain took his breath away as he pushed up into a sitting position. For minutes he sat willing the pain to leave. Finally he lifted his head and pushed to his feet. Taking a step Vin leaned against the wall for a moment, his arms and shoulders felt leaded as if they weighed a hundred pounds apiece.

Breathing deeply, Vin staggered to the corner of the room and took care of business, trying not to bend over he washed his face and drank two cups of water. Turning, he slowly made his way back to the bed, while his stomach growled loudly in the silence of the room. Vin kept moving, he had no idea if he’d have food or some sort of heating ever again.

Stopping beside the bed, Vin gritted his teeth and reached for the blanket. Pain flashed over his back as he grabbed the blanket and then without thinking he flipped it over his shoulders covering his back. He groaned as the weight settled over his back, and waited for it to lessen. He wished he had clothes to put on, then shook his head, in the condition he was in, he wouldn’t be able to handle them. Slowly and carefully he worked his way onto the bed and lay down again on his stomach pulling the blanket over his back and legs.

Please Chris, find me soon,” Vin thought as his eyes slid closed and he fell into a troubled but painless sleep.

Vin twisted on the narrow bed as fever built and nightmares overtook his sleep. Visions of a bust gone wrong, as his teammates were cut down one after the other. Each one of them, after accusing him of not being there to watch their backs, died. Chris, lips covered in blood looked up at him from where he cradled him in his arms, his head against his chest. ‘You killed me brother, why?’ Chris asked as blood bubbled out of his mouth, trailed down his chin to drip onto his chest before his sea-green eyes closed for the last time. Vin cried out in pain as his brother went limp in his arms.

‘You weren’t here. We needed you.’ Vin heard over and over in his head as the dream carried him from one to another dream, always with his teammates dying around him, his brother always in his arms.

All of a sudden Martin was kneeling beside him and Chris, Vin smiled through his tears, his twin was there, he would help him. His dream carried him closer to Martin as he held Chris, then he screamed as red blossomed on the white tee shirt and quickly turned the white into red. His screams echoed as Martin looked at him in despair before he crumbled to the concrete next to Chris.

Screaming ‘NO!’ Vin rolled. As pain in his back increased, his eyes flew open. In a daze he looked around the dimly lit room.

‘Dream, it was just a dream, they’re all okay,” Vin thought as he ran his hands over his hot, tear streaked face. He was shivering and still cold, but his face and chest were hot. The pain in his back was constant, but he ignored it as he pushed himself up and sat on the edge of the bed. His blue gaze locked on the small sink, he was thirsty, just thinking of the cool water had him struggling to his feet and staggering across the small room.

After satisfying his thirst, he used several paper towels, soaking them in the cold water and then running them over his face and chest several times. He felt a little cooler as he moved back to the bed. Sitting down he pulled the damp blanket around himself and tried to get his thoughts in order. For several minutes he tried to figure out where he was and what day it was. He had no idea how much time had passed. Was it hours ago he’d been whipped with the chain, or days? His stomach growled and he let his mind move to that, how many days had it been since he’d had that soup?

Shivering he pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders, the damp cloth felt cold on him and he hoped he could get a little warm. A noise at the door had his head lifting as the light got brighter. He barely had time to wonder ‘what now?’ when the door opened and Charles Holmes walked in followed by two other men.

Vin struggled to his feet, holding the blanket around him. His chin rose in disdain as he met Holmes’ gaze.

“So, you’re up and about. Well since you can’t do the chores you were given, I had to think of something else. So I’ve decided since you’re not good to do anything but hang around in here, that’s what you shall be doing. Hang around. Alright boys, let’s do this.” Holmes handed the cuffs and shackles to the two men and before Vin could move, let alone fight, they were holding him. He struggled, but as weak as he was, it took them only minutes to cuff, shackle and hang him from the hooks.

+ + + + + + +

“No, no!” Vin exclaimed as the chain between his ankles was hooked to the floor hook. He twisted trying to move; he couldn’t stand being this way again. Fighting the cuffs around his wrists, blood began to appear and slowly work its way down his arms. His shoulders strained as he pulled and fought them, fever brought out the panic and confusion of being tied. “No, no,” he muttered as he fought the losing battle.

A sharp, painful slap on his bare ass brought Vin’s head up and he twisted, trying to see behind him. Another, harder blow hit him in his lower back and he cried out in pain and tried to curl into himself. Then another blow landed and he gulped back the cry that was on his lips, he knew the way he was stretched between ceiling and cold floor there was nothing he could do but take the blows and try to be silent. His arm’s captured his head between them so he couldn’t look around, just mostly down, straight ahead, and a bit to the sides, he thought at least this time he wasn’t standing on the tips of his toes.

Gathering himself, Vin stilled and raised his head. There was nothing he could do to prevent them from doing anything to him, stretched, hanging, and naked as the day he was born. He had to bide his time and hope his brothers would find him soon. His blue gaze landed on Holmes.

Holmes smiled at the look on Tanner’s face; if that glare could kill he would have been dead, but since glares did nothing to him, he just smiled as the bandages were cut off the man in front of him.

“There you go Tanner. Just relax and enjoy your time here,” his hand patted the side of Vin’s face. “Hang around, because we want you nice and relaxed for when Larabee arrives. You don’t have to be in good condition when he gets here so we’ll be back to take care of you later.” Holmes’ hand caressed over Vin’s cheek, down his neck, across his abdomen and lower. He grinned when the young man stiffened, then pulled his hand away. With a nod to the door he followed his men out. He locked the door and turned the light off; he’d let Tanner hang there and wonder what was in store for him. Holmes made his way upstairs and to his office. It was fun to have someone to ‘play’ with, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on Larabee

The three men didn’t hear the agonized, ‘NO’ from Vin when the light went out. For several minutes Vin fought the panic of being restrained in a small dark room. Minutes later Vin took a deep shuddering breath and then another one, and closed his eyes. His thoughts turned to his brothers and teammates who were as close as brothers. They would come and he’d enjoy taking down Holmes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee stepped out of his house and gazed towards the mountains. The snowy tips were starting to turn pink with the slowly rising sun. It was cold; winter was coming though it was barely November. He went over their plan in his head, it was good he decided. Josiah would arrive shortly and pick him up, and later bring him home. He’d arrive back with Buck and they’d put on a show of carrying things into the house and turning lights on and off.

He rubbed his upper arm where a tiny homing device had been implanted under the skin near his shoulder. The device was in the Navy SEAL tattoo he had. Nathan had inserted it so the tiny lump looked part of the tattoo. No one would notice it.

They had run several tests over several hours; thanks to JD’s expertise it could be picked up 15 miles away. Nathan had followed JD’s directions to make sure it was sterile and had given Chris an antibiotic shot just to be sure nothing would happen.

The sun suddenly poked its head up and pushed through the clouds on the horizon. The mountains were draped in pink and yellow for several minutes before grey clouds cut off the colorful display. Chris shivered and went back inside. This was the time of the day Vin loved and many times they had shared the sunrise together. He wasn’t surprised to find Martin just inside the sliding door.

Chris smiled, Vin’s twin was also an early riser and now in the country he enjoyed the sunrise without the skyscrapers of New York City blocking his view.

A smile crossed Martin’s face as Chris walked in. He handed his brother the cup of coffee he’d poured for him. For a moment the brothers gazes were locked on each other, the same thing going through their thoughts, ‘Vin will be found shortly.’

Buck walked in, with a glance at the silent brothers said, “We’ll find Vin, he’ll be fine.”

Matching grins met Buck as he smiled at them and walked to the stove, “Want breakfast?”

“You cooking Buck?” Martin asked.

“Sure am. Chris isn’t, but I’m good at making breakfast.”

“As long as there are no donuts or cake in the house,” JD commented as he walked into the room.

A towel hit JD as he walked towards the coffee pot.

Buck grinned as he broke eggs into a frying pan; bacon was sizzling in another pan. “Are you packed up?”

“Everything’s set. I’m still able to listen to their conversations on my computer. I have the homing device working and we can follow you, Chris. The jet Travis got us is ready to go with one call. I’ve got the GPS ready to attach to whatever Chris will be wearing; it’ll only take a couple of minutes. It’s good for up to 60 miles. I’m more ready than you are.” JD answered with a grin.

“I think we’re ready squirt. Once Josiah gets here it’s going to happen,” Buck stated as he shoveled eggs and bacon onto dishes. Martin added toast then placed the loaded plates on the table.

Half an hour later the kitchen was cleaned, and the four men watched as Josiah drove up the driveway. It was time to put their plan into motion. Josiah parked behind the house and duffle bags with blankets were loaded into the suburban. JD and his computer got in and hid below the dashboard as Buck and Chris hid under a blanket in the back. Some cardboard cutouts across the back windows and part of the 2nd seat windows made it look like he had boxes of things in the car. With the back seat down the two men were able to stretch out some.

Martin stayed at the house, listening in on Chris’ computer; the men would all be back at the ranch in a couple of hours. They all were sure the watcher wouldn’t come to the house, he hadn’t yet, and so they hoped there weren’t any changes. Martin waited and shortly heard a call go through that the suburban had left.

Two hours later Martin heard the watcher call; there was a dark maroon Blazer turning into the driveway, the suburban and a Jaguar were following it. Martin listened as the observer was told to watch, that Larabee was probably home. Martin grinned as the man grumbled that he was watching and a blond man had been in the first car.

As Martin listened to the running conversation from the man, he heard the cars pull to a stop and the men disembark. He knew Chris and Buck were making a show of getting out, looking around and then pulling out their luggage. Buck horsed around with JD then all of them walked into the house. He heard a report that the blond Larabee was there; he was the only man with light colored hair other than a big older man with grayish hair. They decided the younger man was Larabee, and the man was ordered to, ‘Watch him,’ they would try to take him the next day.

Ezra checked the equipment as JD worked on the waistband of a pair of Chris’ sweat pants. It had been decided

he’d try to be picked up as he ran in the early morning.

They didn’t think Chris would be taken the first morning, but figured the second morning would be the one. Awhile later the men headed home, Martin and Chris did the chores, and a few other things that needed to be done before calling it a day. Chris talked to Travis and then the pilot of the plane that would carry his brother and team to Washington once he was kidnapped. As he was talking, Josiah, Ezra and JD arrived at the plane and the pilot, Jess Clark, told Chris that everything was ready, his men were loading guns and other things on the plane that they might need. Chris hung up feeling relieved that things were under-way.

Early the next morning, Chris jogged down the driveway to the road and ran along it a ways. Martin, listening in on the computer, heard the excited voice to the watching man when he contacted Franklin. Switching over to the listening devices in Franklin’s house he listened to Franklin and Tom Wilson planning to take Larabee one of the next mornings, using the excuse they were broke down on the edge of the road.

Martin heard the phone call informing Franklin that Larabee was back from his run, he’d been gone a half hour, and the sun hadn’t come up yet. Franklin ordered the watcher to wait until Larabee was inside then drive down the road a ways and find a place they could set up to take him.

Chris came into the den and stepped to Martin’s side, where he stood beside the window; a moment later a brown car drove past on the road below.

“Got them, we have a go for tomorrow.” Chris stated as he reached for his ringing cell phone.

“Hey Buck. Yeah Martin got it. They are checking the road out for tomorrow. Sounds to me that they want to get their money as soon as they can. I’ll see you in Washington …” Chris closed the phone and leaving the equipment running, he and Martin headed for the barn.

With Martin’s help the horses were turned out and fed, and the stalls cleaned. A little later they were eating breakfast and listening to the recorded call their watcher had made, about a place they could take Chris, a wide spot along the road where they could pretend to have car problems.

The day passed quickly for the two brothers. Everything was in place. Chris had his neighbor coming the next few days to care for the horses. Yosemite enjoyed working there; he told Chris before, that his barn was well organized and it was a joy to work in it. Chris had shaken his head over the big man’s enthusiasm. Ezra showed up after dark for the night. He would drive Martin to the plane once Chris was picked up.

Three sleepy looking men met in the kitchen at 5 a.m. the next morning. Not sure when he’d eat again, Chris enjoyed a small breakfast of eggs and toast, with his brother and Ezra. None of them had slept much.

At 6 a.m., Chris left the house and jogged down the driveway. Martin and Ezra, ready to leave, listened to the watcher reporting.

“He’s coming. Be ready. I’ll follow behind him, running without lights. He just hit the road, here he comes.”

The line went dead and the two agents shut things down and headed to the Jaguar. They watched and caught a glimpse of the watcher’s car following Chris. As soon as it was out of sight, Ezra gunned the motor and they raced down the drive, slowing a moment to make the turn onto the road.

There wasn’t any traffic on the road and they were on the highway within minutes. Twenty minutes later they pulled into Jess Clark’s private property and parked. Grabbing Martin’s bag they hurried into the jet where the others were seated around JD and his computer. A blip suddenly appeared and followed a road. Nimble fingers pinpointed the roads the blip traveled. It wasn’t that far from where they waited in the plane. The blip weaved around over several roads before it seemed to pick one and then it moved steadily in one direction. For over an hour the men watched the moving spot, all of a sudden it stopped. After several minutes it quickly disappeared off the screen.

Minutes later they were in the air heading north. The blip appeared for a short time on the screen below them then behind them. Thanks to Travis commandeering the ATF jet, they had information on the other airplane’s flight plan from the Denver Airport tower. They would be in the northwest state several hours before the prop plane. The six men settled in for the flight hoping Chris was alright.

+ + + + + + +

Chris jogged down his driveway; it was barely light enough to see 100 feet ahead of him, but he figured the kidnappers would be in place. He was dressed in dark grey sweats, and figuring he needed more, a jacket was wrapped and tied around his waist.

Once on the road he hit his stride and ran along the side of the country road. Three minutes later he saw the curve and trees ahead of him, he glanced over his shoulder and spotted the tan car moving slowly a ways behind him.

‘Well here goes nothing. Hang on Vin, we’re coming,’ Chris thought as he passed the first trees on the curve. Barely 100 feet ahead of him Chris saw the ‘broke down’ SUV on the edge of the road. Movement and beams of light from a flashlight were coming from the front of the parked vehicle. He could barely make out that the hood of the car was up. Taking a deep breath, Chris slowed down to a jog and approached the car. Closer he could hear two men talking about the engine.

The crunching of Chris’ footsteps on the gravel alerted the two men as Chris came to them and paused.

“Morning. Need any help?” Chris innocently asked.

A large man straightened from his position under the car’s hood.

“Damn car stopped. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. We aren’t mechanics, but the tank is almost full and we’ve got plenty of oil,” he said as the second man pushed the oil stick back into place.

“I’m not one either, but have tinkered a little with a couple of my rigs. Are all the wires connected and the battery cables clean?” Chris asked playing along and stepping closer.

“The thing was running fine, so I guess the battery is alright and the cables too. Not sure of all the other connections and wires though,” the second man said bending over the engine again.

“Maybe the cables on the battery came loose, check to be sure they are all hooked up tight,” Chris said as he stepped closer, hoping they’d just get on with it as he pulled his jacket on.

“Could that be it?” Second man asked pointing to something deeper in the engine near him.

Chris moved closer, feeling the hair on his neck begin to rise. As he bent to look, the big man moved; two tree trunk like arms wrapped around his lean figure and jerked him off his feet.

Automatically Chris struggled to get free, feeling as if his ribs and chest were being crushed, his breath was cut off. He saw the second man coming at him, something in his hand and he tried to kick him, narrowly missing the man. The arms tightened around him making him open his mouth to try to pull in air to breath.

Gasping for breath and fighting for his next breath Chris didn’t see the third man arrive as something foul smelling was slammed over his mouth and nose. The arms loosened slightly and he took a needed breath of air, pulling the chloroform into his body.

Chris tried to twist his head away from the cloth covering his lower face, only to have two hands grab his head and hold it still. Moments later blackness overcame him and Chris slumped limply into Cal Franklin’s arms.

Tom Wilson held the cloth to the blonds’ face a minute longer after Pat Adams released his face.

“He’s out,” Tom announced.

“Good let’s get him in the car and get out of here before someone comes along.” Cal lifted the unconscious man and walked to the back door of the SUV. Pat opened the door and helped him get Chris inside. A quick call to Holmes alerted the man and they were assured the plane would be ready. They had no idea six agents were listening to the call.

Tom got back into the tan car and followed Franklin’s vehicle when it pulled back onto the road.

An hour later they arrived at the private airport and saw the airplane was ready and waiting. Within minutes they had their prisoner loaded, they were settled in seats and were in the air.

The flight was almost a repeat of the previous one of several days ago. Chris woke sick to his stomach and was hustled to the small bathroom. When he staggered out they tied his hands again and gave him a shot. When he collapsed they laid him on the seats and settled themselves into their seat.

They landed in Washington in a wind storm that rattled the plane and had resulted in a long delay, hours later than planned. Cal picked Chris up and carried him to the waiting car over his shoulder. Chris was put on the floor between the seats, as Vin had been days before; Tom sat in back with his feet resting on the prisoner.

The cold howling wind surrounding the men left them shivering as they settled into the car. Pat let the car warm up for several minutes before he drove away. It was almost dark when they left the runway; it had taken a long time to get here this day. When the plane landed to fuel up, the pilot had found a problem with one of the engines which took several hours to repair. The three kidnappers stayed away from the door and windows and kept Chris hidden and tranquilized. Being stuck on the plane Cal couldn’t call Holmes to advise him of what was happening, and ended up having the pilot make the call, letting him tell Holmes why they’d be late.

Once in the air the three had breathed sighs of relief; the day had turned into a mess. An hour before they landed they had to drug Chris again as he was beginning to wake up; one more thing they hadn’t planned on. They should have been there, gotten their money and been able to leave by now.

The car was buffeted by the icy wind as it made its way to the resort. The men inside were glad for the good heater that put out waves of warmth.

An hour later the car stopped at the back deck of the huge log resort. Lights were on inside and out and Jason was waiting for them by the door, out of the wind.

Chris was still out from the drug that had been injected into him and Cal carried his limp body over his shoulder again.

Charles Holmes met the men in the living room, his hands rubbing together in glee. He finally had Larabee where he wanted him. He watched as Cal laid him on one of the couches.

“How long’s he been out?” Holmes asked as he gazed at the black-jacketed blond.

“Sorry sir. We had to drug him again about an hour out from here. I’m not sure how long he’ll be out. One time was three hours, another a little less. We’ve used all the drugs you supplied for him,” Pat answered.

“Damn,” Holmes muttered as he leaned over Chris and slapped his face several times. When there was no reaction he straightened and gazed at his new prisoner.

“Take him to the room and tie him to the bed. Take his jacket and shirt off, should wake him quicker. Leave Tanner alone.” Holmes ordered and stepped away from the couch as Jason and Cal lifted Chris by his arms and half dragged him away. Tom and Pat, after a glance at Holmes, followed.

Vin heard a noise at the door as the room was flooded with light. His eyes clamped tightly shut, and he didn’t try to open them when he heard the door open. He let his head remain where it was, his chin on his chest and long hair covering his face and shoulders. At least his face and shoulders were warm, he thought, but he could not feel his arms. His body felt numb with cold and he could barely feel his lower legs; looking down he could just see a bit of his feet. A small smile crossed his lips for an instant as he thought he was fast becoming a human icicle and wondered if someone would soon be chipping ice off him.

The door opened and Vin listened as several people walked in. He tried to stand straight, not wanting to be totally hanging if Holmes was planning to beat him again. When he heard a voice say, “Get his jacket off,” his eyes flew open and he lifted his head a little.

A body bumped hard into him igniting fiery pain throughout his back. Vin moaned as flashes of bright lights blinded him for minutes. Vin was finally able to blink tears away that had filled his eyes, and gulping some air tried to look around. Something was happening behind him and he tried to look over his shoulder. Instead his gaze landed on one of his kidnappers, the one who had beaten him first. The man smiled at him and stepped around to the front of him.

“Well you look a bit worse for wear boy. But still good enough for me,” Tom said as he ran is hands over the chilled body in front of him.

Vin shivered as the kidnapper spoke to him. He was so cold he barely felt the hands on him, he didn’t try to say anything as he gazed a moment at the smiling man. The dark eyes seemed to bore into him and Vin looked away, again trying to see behind him. He ignored the man even as he felt his hands get rougher on him.

“That’ll hold him for now,” someone said behind Vin and another person bumped into his back. Vin gulped to keep from yelling in pain; the man in front of him was laughing. Two men walked past Vin, the big man ignored him while the shorter one grinned at him.

Jason paused and looked at Vin’s trembling back. He could see that some of the marks were bleeding, blood slowly making its way down his back and legs. Several of the deeper cuts looked slightly inflamed and the wound in his side was seeping again. With a shake of his head, Jason moved past Tanner, he couldn’t do anything for him right now. Holmes was fixated on Larabee and once he started in on him, he could take care of Tanner again. He knew Tanner was feverish, but cold too, he hoped the man wasn’t coming down with pneumonia; there was nothing he could do about it.

Frowning, Jason ushered the three kidnappers out of the cold room. Outside the light was dimmed and he turned the heat up, at least the room would be warmer. Jason followed the men upstairs and to Holmes office.

“Well?” Holmes asked as the men walked in.

“Larabee’s tied to the bed and Tanner’s still hanging. We took Larabee’s coat, shirt and shoes off,” Jason answered.

“Good. Now I just have to wait for Larabee to wake up,” Holmes smiled, rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles he looked at the kidnappers. “There’s food for you in the kitchen and the rooms you had earlier are prepared for you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that dismissal, Cal nodded and led his partners from the room. All three wondered what was in store for Larabee and Tanner. Cal shook his head, Tanner didn’t look like he’d last too much longer, his back was messy and he needed a shower badly. ‘Oh well, we’ll be long gone before Holmes is finished with those two,’ he thought. ‘Plenty of places around here to get rid of bodies.’

+ + + + + + +

For several minutes after the men left, Vin tried to see who had been brought in and tied to the bed. No matter how hard he twisted the most he could see was bare feet and the end of the man’s sweatpants-covered legs.

Finally Vin let his head drop; he couldn’t turn his head enough to see who was lying on the bed. Sweat ran off his face; he could feel droplets roll down his back and mix with the seeping blood there. He shivered, no longer sure if he was hot or cold, he had no idea how long he’d been in the room, or how long it had been since he worked in the barn. It could have been hours or days that he had been hanging alone in the room. He was no longer sure when he last ate something, or drank; his stomach had quit growling, asking for food. He mumbled to himself for a little while, so he wouldn’t forget, “I’m Vin Tanner. ATF sharpshooter to Team Seven in Denver.” He said it several times, the last time louder than the first time. He paused, and thought for a minute as he blinked the sweat out of his eyes. “Chris is coming for me.” He startled as a thought occurred to him and he voiced it aloud. “Chris! Is that you? Did they get you too? Oh God! No, it can’t be you. Holmes is crazy, he wants you dead. Please don’t let that be you on the bed!” Vin franticly gasped hoarsely, and tried again to see behind him.

When no sound came to him from the semi-darkness he stopped struggling to see. Mumbling, Vin let his head drop and his eyes closed, he was numb, hot and cold, in pain but no longer alone in the room. He let the blackness swallow him.

Time passed and Vin slept the fevered sleep of an injured man, dreams of cold and fire, his brothers looking for him and not able to find him. Several times he called their names, asking them to find him or Nathan to help him. No one heard him or answered, and his dreams went on.

Noises pulled Vin from his sleep and dreams. He watched as a man came into the room carrying a coil of something over his forearm. Holmes walked in and stopped in front of him a smile on his face.

“You need a little work today boy, we’ll see if we can get your partner awake too,” Holmes ran his hand down Vin’s chest and smiled broadly at the confused look in the blue eyes.

“Poor boy, you are so sweaty and smelly. It’s too bad you didn’t make it to the toilet that I provided you with. We’ll have to take care of that for you now. We’re almost ready.” Holmes told Vin still standing in front of him so he couldn’t see what Jason was doing.

A moment later, Jason stepped to Holmes’ side and handed him the nozzle end of the hose that he had hooked to the faucet in the sink. Jason moved back to the sink and with a last pat to Vin’s sweaty face Holmes stepped around to the back of Vin.

First Holmes stood beside the bed and gazed at the unconscious man tied there. He slapped the pale cheeks, but there was no response. With a sigh he turned back to Tanner and waved at Jason.

The faucet was turned on all the way and Jason watched as Holmes waited a few seconds then twisted the dripping nozzle and aimed it at Tanner’s back.

A narrow hard spray of cold water hit Vin on his shoulders, the shock of it brought a howl of shock and pain from him. As the cold water pounded into his back his screams echoed around the room mixed with Holmes’ laughter.

Holmes ran the spray of water up and down Vin’s back and legs for several minutes. The spray washed the dried blood, but opened closed chain cuts. He moved around to the front of the hanging man and viciously worked the cold spray up and down the front of the traumatized young man. The screams had changed to moans of pain as Holmes sprayed water over Vin’s head. Finally Holmes told Jason to turn off the water. As he rolled the hose up he looked over his hanging prisoner, whose lips were pale with cold. The naked body was shaking hard enough to

rattle the chains between his ankle and wrist cuffs.

Water dripped from Vin’s wet head down his back and chest to the floor. Blood from open whip marks was moving down his back and across his buttocks and down his legs to mingle with the water swirling into the drain under the hook in the floor. A couple of thin trails moved down his arms from his lacerated wrists.

Vin was so cold he couldn’t concentrate on anything. His back felt as if it was on fire as water ran off him to the cold floor, his teeth were chattering and he kept his mouth clamped closed. A warm hand pushed his head up cupping his chin and he blinked at the face in front of him.

“You’re a bit cold Tanner, but cleaned off. Though, you don’t look so good right now. Just hope your boss wakes up soon so he can take your place. I don’t think you can take too much more of this can you?” Holmes laughed and rubbed his hand over Vin’s wet head and with a slap on Vin’s back he headed for the door with Jason behind him.

Sighing, Vin let his head drop. He no longer thought he’d get out of this room alive. The light was dimmed and the lock engaged as he shivered uncontrollably in the cool damp room. For several minutes he let despair go through him, then his thoughts went to his brothers. He tried to smile through gritted teeth, they would find him, he had to stay alive for them, he just wished they were here now; he needed something to help him get out of there, sometimes a Tanner needed a hand.

A low moan sounded from behind him and Vin froze, his heart thudding. He’d totally forgotten the other prisoner in the room, and tried to remember what Holmes had said to him about the other person.

“Hello? Who are you?” He hoarsely asked, then giggled inanely. If his screaming earlier didn’t wake the guy nothing would. A thought struck him, could it be his brother? “Chris? Chris? No, can’t be you can it? Oh God, I hurt so much ... Is that you Chris? I don’t want you here, they don’t know about us. Not Martin either. It can’t be Martin, they don’t know about us. Where are you? Chris, Martin, Buck … Guys? Home, wanta go home. Don’t feel so good. That you Chris? No, don’t be. He’ll hurt you to … Where are you … coming … hurry …” Vin rambled on for several minutes then his head dropped again. Licking his dry lips he wished for some water, he was dry thanks to his fever, though he could feel a few rivulets of blood trail down his back. Blackness drew him and he welcomed it as it took him away from the cold, heat and pain.

The door opened silently and Jason, followed by Cal walked in and closed the door behind them. Jason pointed to a spot on the floor near the bed and Cal laid out several blankets on the floor as Jason placed bandages and antibiotic salve at the top of them. Moving to the sink, Jason grabbed a handful of paper towels and damped them before placing them by the other items he’d brought in. Getting another handful of wet paper towels he moved to Vin and began washing off the dried blood from his arms, back and legs. Once they were all washed and making sure the other ones had stopped bleeding, Cal stepped forward and uncuffed Vin’s ankles and then gripping him below his arms, he lifted the limp body as Jason released Vin’s wrists.

Limp arms dropped and Cal carried the body to the makeshift bed and eased Vin down. Handcuffs and ankle shackles were quickly removed and Cal held Vin up while Jason worked on his wounded side. Cal shook his head feeling how hot the young man was, but he was trembling with chills. Cal hoped he would be alright. He lifted Vin as Jason placed a pad over the wound and at Jason’s nod he eased Vin back down.

“Stomach,” Jason directed as he held the pad in place as Cal turned the limp form.

Moments later Vin was lying on his stomach and Jason went to work cleaning his back. With a few words he directed Cal to clean and bandage the lacerated wrists and ankles. Once Cal finished he began rubbing the limp arms knowing they’d be like stinging needles when feeling came back. For several minutes as he worked, Cal wondered what Larabee had done to Holmes to make the man seek revenge on him. It bothered Cal a little that Holmes was taking it out on an innocent man that wasn’t Larabee. Cal glanced at the bed where Larabee lay, still unconscious, and wondered how close he and Tanner were. His gaze went to Tanner’s back; he’d never heard of, orr seen a man whipped with a chain. He watched Jason clean the marks on Tanner’s thighs and shook his head again. If Tanner lived he’d be lucky, scars but not too many of them, unless they all got infected.

Jason finally rocked back on his heels. “Lift him so I can wrap a couple bandages around him,” he told Cal, who quickly followed Jason’s directions.

Minutes later they had eased Vin back onto the blankets and Jason covered him with another one. Together they gathered soiled paper towels, bandages and antiseptic tubes, Cal picked up the cuffs and shackles and set them by the sink. Once everything was cleaned up, they washed their hands, Jason checked Chris before they left the room. The blond hadn’t moved he noted, the ties still tightly bound the man and Jason left them that way. With a last look at Tanner, Jason and Cal left the room, the bright light dimmed and the lock engaged. Jason thanked Cal as they headed for their rooms for the rest of the night.

In the near darkness Chris moaned and tried to roll over. His head was pounding and he was so dry that his mouth felt like a dust bowl; for a moment he tried to remember how much he’d drank. Finally he opened his eyes as he pulled on his arms again, trying to bring them to his head. Larabee froze as his gaze took in part of the room he was in and realization and memory hit him at the same time. He knew he was wherever Vin had been taken. Turning his head he tried to see if Vin was in the room.

“Vin? Vin are you here?” Chris called with a raspy voice into the silent room as he twisted his wrists trying to free them.

He had no idea how much time passed as he worked to get his wrists free. Chris breathed a sigh of relief when one finally came loose and he was able to bring his arm down to his side, groaning as pins and needles washed through it. For several minutes Chris moved his arm around as feeling came back into his limb and shoulder.

A noise made Chris freeze where he lay. A pain filled moan had him trying to push himself upright so he could see the room better. Another moan sounded as he moved, followed by mumbling.

It was a struggle, but Chris was finally able to prop himself up somewhat on his still tied down arm. His frantic gaze raced around the near-dark room. Spotting a pile of blankets on the floor that seemed to be moving he called out, “Vin, Vin is that you? Hey brother is that you?”

The blankets stilled, and a moment later he heard a husky voice say, “Chris? Help me … No not here. Alone … Can’t find me … Hearing things …”

“Vin, I am here. Look, I’m lying on this bed by you,” Chris said his heart thudding in his chest. “I’m right here Brother, trust me, I am.”

By inches a damp tangled head rose from the blankets. Fever bright eyes blinked and the confused gaze swept around the room. A moment later Vin’s gaze landed on Chris’ intense look.

“Chris? You really here?” Vin’s gravelly voice asked as he blinked and fought the pain in his back and ribs.

“I’m right here brother. They tied me to this bed. I’m trying to get loose. Are you alright?”

“’m fine. I’ll help you. Got to get free before they come back …” Vin mumbled and began to push himself up to his hands and knees.

Chris watched silently, knowing something was wrong with his younger brother. He watched as Vin struggled. When Vin was on his hands and knees he rested, blanket over him and head hanging down. Chris kept trying to work his right wrist free, but the rope was tighter and he couldn’t get it loose.

Vin placed his hand on the cold wall beside him and worked his way up. After several minutes he felt the blanket slide off his shoulders to the floor. Shivering he leaned his forehead against the cool wall a moment. He heard a groan, but wasn’t sure where it came from. Slowly he turned and saw Chris barely four feet away tied to the bed he’d laid on some time or the other. With his right hand pressed hard against the wall for support, Vin made his way carefully towards the bed.

Chris gasped, horrified when the blanket fell off of Vin. Vin was naked and there was massive bruising all over his chest, back, legs. But his back was a mess of cuts and whip marks, some strange shaped marks that looked deep over the top of bruises. A bandage was around his lower ribs and a pad was taped in place across the bullet wound, but neither covered much of the lacerated back and thighs.

“Vin?” Chris tried to calm his voice.

“ ‘m fine. Jest hurtin’ some,” Vin replied as he reached the bed and smiled down at his brother a moment before his gaze went to Chris’ wrist where it was still tied. “I’ll get you lose,” Vin reached for the rope and suddenly found himself falling.

Chris’s free hand grabbed Vin’s arm when he began to wobble. He pulled on the limb and Vin sat heavily down beside him on the bed instead of going to the floor. ‘He’s got cold and hot chills,’ flashed through Chris’ head as he steadied the shaking body next to him. Sweat ran off Vin’s brow when he lifted his head, wet hair clung to his face.

“Vin stay still, you’re hurt.”

“I know. Got to get you lose so …” Confused, Vin looked around the room again. “Got to get free,” he muttered and reached for the rope and Chris’ wrist.

After agonizing minutes, Vin’s fumbling fingers managed to untie the rope and free Chris’ wrist. Chris bolted upright and scooted over as far as he could with his ankles still tied. His hands caught Vin’s shoulders and eased him down onto the bed beside him. Once Vin was laying mostly on the bed, Chris scooted down and untied the ropes on his ankles as fast as he could.

Free at last Chris eased off the bed and straightened Vin out only to have him curl in on himself with a pain filled moan. Taking several steps, Chris picked up some blankets that lay on the floor and shaking them both out he covered his brother, tucking them tightly around the trembling form. He pushed the damp hair under the end of the blanket and stepped away. Before he could move he felt his forearm grabbed.

As Chris’ hand slid into their special warrior’s grip he looked down into glazed blue eyes, “I am here Vin.”

“Shouldn’t be … not safe …Hurt you and me now… “

“I won’t let him hurt you anymore. Help is coming. You rest.”

“Don’t know where we are. Room, barn, office. Leave when you can …”

“We will. Now you rest.”

“Co …Cold.” Vin pulled his hand back under the blanket and Chris stepped to the blanket still on the floor and picking it up shook it then laid it over Vin. He used the facility, slaked his thirst, then eased onto the bed behind Vin and pulled the blankets up over him aways. A hand instantly reached over Vin’s naked shoulder and Chris grasped it in his hand. Fragile and warm, he held it lightly and leaned his head against the wall and concentrated.

*Martin, need you guys to hurry,* he thought.

Chris had no idea what time of day or night it was, but hoped the others had made it safely to the area. He wondered for a minute where he and Vin were and how long it had been since he’d gotten there. His thoughts turned to Holmes and what the man had done to Vin, the man had to be a macho creep for the cruelty he’d inflicted on a helpless man; he’d love to get his hands on him.

*Come on Martin, we need you now,* Chris thought again, wondering if the other twin could hear him as well as Vin could.

Closing his eyes, Chris speculated who had taken care of Vin and when someone would be back into the room. A sudden tingling in his head had him opening his eyes. He looked down at Vin and saw that the trembling and shivers had slowed, but his face was flushed with fever.

*Chris, we’re coming. Little while.* Chris heard in his head and a small smile crossed his lips. Finally. *Hurry* he shot back and relaxed again.

“The guys are coming Vin, hang on. We’ll be out of here soon,” Chris said in a quiet voice.

“I … I’m … Soon …” Vin stammered and pushed closer to Chris to soak in his warmth. Chris laid his arm over Vin, drawing him tight to his side, then closed his eyes as a headache made its appearance.

For awhile Chris dozed in the semi-darkness waiting for whatever was going to happen. Hours, or maybe minutes later, Chris was awakened by the noise of the door being unlocked and the light getting brighter. The crash of the door slamming open had Chris jumping off the bed and Vin jerking awake to struggle to a sitting position.

+ + + + + + +

After landing at the small airport, the six agents were surprised to see a van sitting by the office. A man came out of the office and waited for them to get closer.

“Agent Wilmington?” The grey haired man asked glancing at each man.

“That’d be me,” Buck said as he approached the man.

“Hello, I’m James Layton, Judge Travis had me arrange for a van for you. It’s there, gassed up and ready to go. We’ll make sure your jet is ready when you return. Here is the number of the quarters your pilot will be in. It’s located just behind this building; he’ll be comfortable while he waits for you. Is there anything else you need?” Layton asked as he handed the van keys and phone number to Buck.

Buck passed the keys to Josiah, “Let’s get our stuff loaded and get ready to head out.” He turned to Layton, “Can you direct me to the sheriff’s office, and a restaurant?”

“Sure. I’ve got some city and county maps. I’ll get them for you.” Layton hurried into the building.

Buck glanced at Martin who had stayed beside him. The others were transferring overnight bags and equipment to the dark colored van. Martin shook his head and Buck knew he’d been trying to connect with Vin.

Layton showed Buck several different places on the city and county maps of the area. He marked the road to several different resorts around the county when Buck asked him about them, including the one they were interested in. Also marked were other airports or private runways, along with restaurants in the area and how to find the sheriff’s office.

Buck shook Layton’s hand, thanking him for the information and for taking care of the pilot for them. He told him they’d hopefully see them both the next day. Buck followed Martin to the van and moments later they were heading into town.

It didn’t take them long to find the sheriff’s office and once they found a parking space, Buck and Josiah went in while the others waited in the van. The four were happy to be in the warm van as the wind that was blowing was bitter cold. They were surprised when the two men returned in less than a half an hour.

As Josiah drove to the restaurant they’d picked out, Buck told them that the sheriff would help them when needed. The department was short on man power due to several men at a training session on the other side of the state, and a couple out with the flu. The remaining four would patrol the main road by the resort. Buck didn’t think they would need their help until Chris and Vin had been rescued, then they would turn it over to the locals.

After a quick stop for sandwiches they drove up the highway, finding the next town and the other highway that headed east and followed it out of town. The ranch’s resort sign was found two miles past a small café that was doing a booming business. Deciding to see how far they could travel towards the resort, they turned onto the road and followed its twisted way up into the hills.

Awhile later Josiah pulled off the road and they all gazed into a valley with a lake in it. They could make out some cabins along the closest side and part of a large log house and a barn and other outbuildings.

Using binoculars, they looked over the place. They saw several people moving around the buildings, a couple walking along the lake from the cabins; two more were riding out from the barn. Guests at the resort they figured, enjoying the scenery before winter set in. The hills blocked the wind and made it a pleasant day, though chilly.

“We’ve got to hide the van and get closer to the house, it’s probably where they’re holding Vin,” Buck said, handing the binoculars to Martin.

“I believe we passed an old road a half mile or so back, Mr. Wilmington.” Ezra said looking behind them.

“This map shows a trail or road that dead ends near the ranch,” JD pointed to a spot on the map he had laid out on the front of the van.

Buck and Josiah looked where JD was pointing as Nathan gazed at the ranch. “We need to get off this road before someone comes. We don’t want to be seen by them or someone coming in or out.”

“Yeah. Load up. Let’s find that road,” Buck ordered.

Minutes later they were moving back down the road away from the ranch looking for the old road. Five minutes later JD pointed it out and Josiah turned onto the dim, overgrown road. A hundred feet from the main road it turned into the trees and Josiah stopped. The men hurried back along the trail the van had made and quickly wiped out tracks with branches and some sage brush they’d gathered. Nathan brushed their tracks off the main road where they’d turned off. He raised his head listening a moment then called out, “Car coming,” and rushed off the road and into the brush as the others melted away. Moments later a car went by, dust rising as it headed for the highway, never slowing.

Relieved the men got back into the van and continued on. Several times they had to clear a fallen tree from the road to go around rocks and high brush. After almost an hour they caught a glimpse of the lake ahead and below them.

“Okay, let’s see what we have going on here. JD, get your equipment set up while we check out the area. Martin, would you help JD?” Buck asked as he and the others strapped on their guns.

“Sure. We’ll have the mikes ready for later too.” Martin glared at Buck, “But I’m going in when you do. They are my brothers …”

“Of course. Let’s go, we’ll meet back here in an hour, hour and a half at the latest, its sundown.” Buck led the way from the van pointing out which way he wanted the others to go.

It didn’t take long for JD and Martin to get things set up in the van after a few adjustments. The computer and tracing equipment were on line and the two were now waiting for the others to return. Just after the sun disappeared a blip on the computer had them breathing a sigh of relief. Chris was close and they could now trace his whereabouts. Dark had just fallen when they heard the noise of someone returning to the van, and wondered what they had found.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Nathan were the first to return to the hidden van. Martin used the time to scout around, and he and JD had decided by turning the van around and moving it farther into the trees assured them that if they used the lights inside the van, they wouldn’t be seen by anyone around the lake.

Ezra looked at the area then walked to the van, “You moved the van.”

“Safer over here, no chance to be seen now,” Martin instantly answered, not sure if the man was angry or not.

“Good idea, Mr. Fitzgerald,” Ezra smiled.

“What’s happening?” JD asked from where he had two computers set up and running.

“Well as it got darker we turned back. It is getting cold and darker by the minute. The wind is not helping,” Nathan replied as he pulled his jacket tighter around him.

It was several minutes later before they heard the noise of more footsteps coming their way, above the sound the wind was making in the trees.

“Dark isn’t the word for it, Josiah. Can’t see hand in front of my face, is more like it, and it is getting cold,” Buck’s voice came from the darkness as the two men came towards the van.

“And there’s a cliff between us and them,” Josiah’s voice said. A moment later the two men walked into the dim light that had been turned on in the van.

“A cliff?” JD asked as he quickly typed something into one of the computers.

“Seems we’re on a sort of wide shelf and it drops straight off, maybe 100 feet down, on this side of the ranch,” Buck stated.

“That’s what we ran into, also, Mr. Wilmington. It was steep. I’m not a mountain goat able to climb it in this darkness.” Ezra added.

“Hey guys, it is a cliff. It extends almost two miles. We are about halfway from its ends on this side of the ranch,” JD said minutes later as he looked at the geographic display on his computer. He turned it around so they all could see it. He pointed out where the ranch, road and they were situated. A steady blue light was centered in the ranch house; they all knew it was Chris.

“Well, change of plans. It’s too dangerous to try to go down, it’d take us too long, if not cause someone to get hurt.” Buck stared at the screen a long minute. “Plan B, JD get the ranch layout on here. Let’s see where the outbuildings and everything is located.”

Minutes later the ranch house, outbuildings and cabins were enlarged. Several cars were parked around the area; two at a couple of cabins, the others in back of the house. They could see two stock trailers and trucks beside the largest barn, that could be used as cover when they went in if needed. The blue light was still blinking steadily in the house.

“Can you …” Buck started to say.

“Just a minute,” JD enlarged the ranch house and though not totally accurate, they could see that the light appeared to be located on the lowest level of the three story building and against the west wall.

“There is Chris and I hope Vin is there with him,” JD’s voice held excitement and concern.

“Okay let’s load up. I think the best way to go is to just go in. We need to be as close as we can to the house. Once we get close to the gate, we’ll run without lights. Look around; is there anything in the van to cover the windows with? Blankets or something?” Martin, JD and Ezra began looking through the van as Buck finished. “We really need to be closer. We don’t know what condition they will be in and Vin’s been here awhile.”

Martin found a compartment in the floor and opened it. Inside was several window shaped blackout forms. “Here, I’ve got something.”

Ezra helped him and moments later they had the side and back windows covered. A piece of dark cloth with Velcro strips on it was under the cutouts and they found it fitted over the windshield against the frame.

“Someone’s used this van for undercover work before,” Josiah commented as the men loaded into the dark van. Martin and Ezra uncovered the windshield and a couple windows so they could see out.

In the dark it took them longer to work their way back down the rough road; Josiah maneuvered carefully around obstacles they had easily passed in the daylight. They all breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the gravel road again. Josiah drove slow, not wanting to make any noise or alert anyone of their approach. There was no one on the road and later their headlights flashed on a huge gate with an open area beyond it, the road curved towards the large log house. Josiah instantly shut off the headlights, hoping no one had noticed them.

The van stopped near the gate and waited. When no one came to investigate Josiah eased the van through the gate and towards the back of the house. Several cars were parked in a line like the surveillance map had shown. Josiah parked the van beside the other cars as close to the deck as he could.

The windows were quickly covered and the blackout curtain was in place, the team making short work of disguising their van. The blue light still blinked in the same place, as JD handed each man their microphones. Five men put on Kevlar vests and put the earpieces into their ears.

Buck issued orders in a quiet voice, as guns were handed out. “We need to make sure there are no guards out here. Just because we didn’t see any when we came in doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Sweep around the house and outbuildings. I think the cabins wouldn’t have any, just around here. We’ll make sure before entering the house. Josiah, Ezra, Nathan take the front and head for the large barn. Martin and I will check the back and this side to the barn. Meet back here.”

“All the mics working?” JD asked. He nodded as one by one the men responded. “Okay, go for it.”

Silently the five men disappeared into the darkness.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood in front of the bed, trying to keep Vin from the men who had just walked into the room.

“Well, finally! Mister Larabee, you’ve come to visit me,” Charles Holmes smiled as he halted several feet from Chris. Jason and Cal stood a step back and to each side of Holmes silently watching Chris and Vin who was swaying as he sat on the bed.

“What do you want Holmes? You know kidnapping Federal agents is a crime and you and your men will be in jail a long time.” Chris growled not taking his eyes off the huge man.

Holmes laughed. “I’m so scared. No one knows where you and your long-haired friend are. There’s no trail leading to where you are, you just vanished from Denver to, who knows where. And once I’m done with you, well there’s a lot of country around here. People often go missing, never to be found. As will yours when I get finished with you two.”

Chris felt a cold hand race down his back at Holmes’ words. There was no way he and Vin would get out of this room alive without help. Unconsciously he thought, *Hurry up Martin, guys. We need you now.*

*Martin?* A quicksilver thought came and Chris knew Vin had heard his thought.

*Stay still Vin. Martin and the guys are coming.*

*We’re coming. Hang on.* Chris and Vin heard from Martin.

Holmes noticed the moment of distraction that crossed Chris’ face and struck out. His ham sized fist caught Chris on his side and he went flying back over Vin.

Vin cut his cry of pain off as he was knocked over by Chris’ flying body. He lay on the bed gasping for breath as Chris gained his feet and made his way around the bed to face Holmes, thinking he might have a broken rib or two from the blow.

“Tell me why are you doing this?” Chris asked trying to stall for time.

“You jailed my father. He died in prison, so an eye for an eye, as scriptures tell us. In this case a death for a death,” Holmes’ fist lashed out catching Chris on the side of the head before he could move out of the way.

Chris crashed sideways to the floor.

“Really, two deaths for the one. I got a bonus that I am enjoying.” Holmes snarled and flicked his hand at Chris.

Jason and Cal went quickly to the fallen man as he dazedly tried to get up. Grabbing his arms they pulled him upright to stand between them.

Chris shook his head trying to clear the buzzing in his ears and stars clouding his vision from the punch. He raised his head as blood dripped off his chin onto his chest, one eye already beginning to swell.

“Your father was a big time drug dealer, and got into gun trading. The only reason you weren’t in jail with him, was because we couldn’t prove you were in with him. You should have been though …” Chris tried to duck the fist that flew at him, but it caught him in the side again. He couldn’t cover the ‘oomph’ that escaped him as the two men shifted to hold him up.

“There was no proof. Dad hid my involvement totally from everyone …” Holmes got in close to Chris’ face, his nose almost touching Chris’. “I was involved, up to my eyeballs, but Dad never let on, no one knew. The last laugh is on me.”

Chris leaned back away from the big man as much as he could. Realizing the two men holding him had shifted themselves to balance them all. He leaned back farther and let fly with his right leg, catching Holmes in the groin with his bare foot. The pain in his foot made him wonder if he broke something in it.

Holmes’ eyes bugged from the instant crushing pain and he turned away, his hands going instantly to the fiery pain in his crotch. His face paled as he held himself, trying to work through the intense pain, and breathe at the same time. Tear filled eyes gazed around the room and landed on Vin who was partly sitting up watching, a lip lifted in a tiny smile on his face.

Anger mixed with pain and Holmes lashed out at Vin, knocking the injured man almost off the bed. With a jerk he turned and with all the strength he could muster through the pain he struck Chris, knocking him hard against Cal. Cal staggered and went to his knees before he could catch himself, in a moment he rose to his feet, gripping a limp Chris in his grasp.

Holms was furious. “Get the cuffs on him and hang him up,” he ordered as he leaned against the wall holding himself.

Jason grabbed the cuffs from the small table and instantly had one side clamped onto Larabee’s wrist. He was sure Holmes would kill them all if he didn’t obey. He held the second cuff open while Cal placed Chris’ other wrist into it.

Together the two men lifted Chris’s limp form up and Jason hooked the cuff chain over the ceiling hook. They stepped back as Holmes hobbled to the lean body hanging there. Lightly he slapped Chris on his face to wake him; he hadn’t meant to hit him so hard so early in his playtime. He wanted Larabee hurting and bloody before he let him pass out.

Finally he stopped slapping Chris and looked at Cal, “Get some water, wake him up any way you can.”

Cal moved to the sink and picking up the small bucket Jason had brought, he filled it with cold water. Stepping to Chris he threw the water, covering Chris’ head, face and shoulders with the icy liquid.

Chris coughed then gagged as the cold water brought him out of the darkness he’d been in. Green eyes snapped open and for a moment Chris was confused as to where he was. His gaze landed on Holmes and he knew he was in hell.

“Welcome back Larabee. That was the last move you will ever get. You’re mine to play with for as long as I want to keep you alive. I guess you need to be taught that I’m in charge and only I play, and you will answer to me. Since you got away with that kick, you are due some punishment. What will it be?” Holmes smiled and walked around Chris once before walking to the small table. He picked up a short whip and ran it through his hand. “Yes this will work nicely.” Holmes moved to stand in front of Chris, a smile on his face. “How is this Larabee?”

The whip flashed and struck Chris across his shoulder to his stomach. Chris cut off the surprised yelp as a streak of fire burned across him. The next blow landed across his back then the third and more. A cry escaped his lips when the whip wrapped around his side and across his abdomen drawing blood. More blows fell.

No one noticed that Vin had recovered from the blow Holmes had given him and he had pushed himself up off the bed. Shaking he stood still getting control over his body which wanted to collapse. Another cry from Chris spurred him on and with a loud rebel yell he launched himself at Holmes.

Surprise froze the three men for an instant, long enough to let the frail naked body slam into Holmes’ side, knocking the big man off his feet. Holmes fell before he could catch himself, but his long arms grabbed the body that had crashed into him. With an angry roar as he hit the floor he held tightly onto Tanner, his grip shifted to hold the body across his chest and just above his waist.

The yell had echoed loudly in the small room and extended out into the hallway where five men had been going through the basement rooms. They converged on the one room and with a hard shove Josiah knocked the door open and they surged in, guns drawn, yelling, “ATF Freeze.”

Jason and Cal took one look at the intruders and stepped back to the wall, hands rising above their heads. Holmes had heard the door crash open and gripped Tanner tight to his chest as he pushed himself up to his feet.

Three guns pointed at Holmes. “Turn him loose Holmes,” Buck demanded as two more guns came to bare on the three men.

“I don’t think so. He’s my ticket out of here,” grinned Holmes as his gaze ran over the men, then went back to Martin who stood a bit to his left, revolver aimed at him.

Holmes’ grin widened. “So this one,” he hefted Vin in his arms as his grip changed and tightened, causing Vin to weakly try to move, “has a twin. How nice, it would have been fun to have you both.” Holmes’s hand began to move slowly up Vin’s chest.

“Let him go you bastard, or you’re dead,” Martin seethed as Holmes hand neared Vin’s throat.

“Don’t try it Holmes, he’s an ATF agent, you kill him and you’ll rot in jail for the rest of your life. Probably will anyway for what you’ve already done,” Josiah reasoned.

“I don’t think so. You all will drop your guns or I will kill him.” His hand stopped just under Vin’s jaw.

Vin looked at his twin, he could barely breath the way Holmes was holding him. The lower arm had moved up, just above his lower ribs. The other arm was pressing hard into his chest as the hand had moved towards his throat, and he knew there was no way the man would let him go, fingers were tightening on him already.

*Shoot him, he’s killing me.* Vin thought and saw Martin’s eyes darken.

“Last chance Holmes. Turn him loose.” Martin demanded, calming himself as his gun lifting slightly.

Holmes laughed; his hand around Vin’s throat, tightened. A shot rang out and a third eye appeared in the big man’s forehead. Holmes stared at Martin, his muscles seized and tightened on Vin who cried out in pain. An instant later the huge man dropped to the concrete floor, Vin still held in his grip.

Josiah and Buck were beside the dead man in an instant, their hands working to release Vin. Martin and Nathan moved to Chris as Ezra kept his gun pointed at the other two men.

Nathan held Chris as Martin lifted the chain between the cuffs off the hook. Once his feet touched the floor Chris went to where Vin had been laid on the bed. Nathan went to the door and grabbed his backpack that he’d left in the hallway and rushed to Vin’s side.

Martin found the key to the cuffs and released his brother. He smiled at Ezra and stepped to the two men still standing against the wall with their hands up as they watched the proceedings. He snapped the cuffs on Jason’s wrists and catching the set Ezra tossed to him, snapped them on Cal’s wrists. He pointed to the corner of the room and both men moved to stand in it. Martin then turned to the bed where Nathan was working on his twin.

“Sheriff is on his way. JD called them, should be here in fifteen minutes. How are you Chris?” Martin asked as his gaze traveled over his older brother.

“I’m fine,” Chris answered aware that his friends were listening and more than one was looking at him, he could feel blood slowly moving down his back and abdomen. “Vin stopped Holmes before he really got going, and your arrival helped. I’ll be fine; Vin’s the one needing help.”

“But he used his fist on you first,” Martin grinned having heard Chris’ thoughts when Holmes had struck him.

“Yeah, I might have broken ribs, but I’m not half as bad as Vin. How is he Nathan?”

“He’s got a fever, couple broken ribs, gunshot wound is infected, some of these odd whip marks on him too. Not sure what they are from …”

“From a chain Holmes used on him.” Jason said from the corner. He wasn’t surprised when heads snapped around to look at him. Jason returned their looks, one after the other. “Holmes was a sadistic bastard and mean to the bone. I tried to tend to Tanner but didn’t have the right medical gear to use on him. I’m glad the bastard’s dead.”

Nathan glanced at Jason before continuing to work on Vin as the man talked. He was horrified that someone would whip another with a chain. He cleaned the cuts as much as he could with his limited supplies and hoped the ambulance would be there soon.

Josiah leaned over Nathan and Vin, Nathan handed him a bandage and antiseptic nodding at Chris as he worked.

Chris looked at Josiah when he stepped to his side. For a moment he watched as Josiah tore a piece off the bandage and began to wipe the blood oozing out of the whip slashes on him. Raising his gaze, Chris glared at Jason who involuntarily took a half step back. Unable to go any farther, he tore his gaze from Chris and looked at the man holding the gun on him and Cal, who never once took his green eyes off them.

Chris looked at Martin then back to Vin, willing him to open his eyes. A gasp escaped his lips when Josiah wrapped the bandage around him, pain shot through him from broken ribs and the whip lacerations.

Martin saw Chris’ eyes widen and heard the gasp that was torn from him. He grabbed Chris’ arm as he swayed suddenly. He knew his brother was in pain and eased him to the foot of the bed. Buck was instantly at their side to brace Chris. Both men felt tremors go through the lean body. Buck looked around the room for Chris’ clothes and shoes. As Martin held Chris, Buck found the small pile of clothes and grabbed the shirt and shoes Chris had been wearing earlier and another set of sweats discarded under the table.

Buck carried the clothes to the bed and slipped Chris’ sweat shirt over his head. Once the blond head cleared the shirt’s neck, Buck noticed blood coming from the corner of Chris’ mouth. When Chris looked thankfully up at him, he noticed that his green eyes were glazed with pain.

“Chris?” Buck said.

“Nathan!” Martin and Buck spoke at the same time. Nathan glanced at them and swiftly rose.

“Hold him, let me see,” dark hands pulled the shirt up and began to gently run over Chris’ ribs. It took only moments to find the two broken ribs. Nathan could tell by the angle of one that it had pierced the lower part of Chris’ left lung. Chris was starting to fight for breath and Nathan grabbed his chin forcing Chris to look at him.

“Calm down Chris. You have a punctured lung, breathe slow and take short breaths. Ambulance will be here shortly. Stay calm, we are here.”

Over the men’s mics they heard JD’s voice call to them, “Sheriff is here. Three cars heading in. The ambulance is four minutes out. I’ll bring the EMTs in as soon as they get here.”

“Thanks Kid,” Buck said as he wiped the blood from Chris’ chin. Martin had Chris leaning against him as he rubbed his hands up and down the blonds’ arms trying to keep him calm. *Thanks Brother.* Martin heard and tapped Chris’ arm in reply.

A clatter in the basement hallway alerted the men that help had arrived. Ezra stepped away from the door and into the hall far enough to wave his arm so the deputies could see where they were. His gun never wavered; he had his badge out when the first man stopped beside him. Ezra pointed to the two large men standing in the corner, their hands cuffed behind them. As two deputies took Jason and Cal into custody, Ezra told the third man where they could find several more handcuffed or tied upstairs. Two more plain clothed deputies appeared and went with the one back upstairs to look for the rest of the prisoners.

The sheriff walked in as his men walked out, he nodded to Ezra and stepped deeper into the room.

Seeing Holmes on the floor and men around the bed he paused to look at Holmes before moving to the bed as he called for the coroner to pick up the body. He looked at the naked young man the black man was working on, and paled a little at the sight of the man’s back and thighs. He wondered what had been used on him. Turning his gaze fell onto the blond who was leaning against another man with Agent Wilmington standing protectively beside them.

“Sheriff Thompson thanks for coming. We need that ambulance ASAP,” Buck said to the tall thin man.

“It should be here any minute. What have we got?”

Buck nodded towards Vin, “That’s Agent Vin Tanner. He’s the agent we were looking for. He was whipped with a chain, whip and beaten. This is Agent Chris Larabee our team leader who was kidnapped yesterday, also beaten. We got here as Holmes was whipping him. He’s got a punctured lung and broken ribs from the assault. He need EMT attention now.”

“They’re here, I’m bringing the EMTs down,” JD’s voice sounded in the team’s ears.

Buck sighed in relief, “Help’s here pard. Hang on,” he said to Chris who nodded his head. “Holmes had his men kidnap Vin last Saturday and was going to break his neck when we arrived. FBI Agent Fitzgerald had to take him out; there was no choice in the matter. Holmes wouldn’t release Vin.”

Before the sheriff could say anything a young man appeared in the doorway, closely followed by two EMTs carrying equipment. JD went to stand beside Buck and watched as the men placed their equipment beside the bed. At Nathan’s instructions one moved to check Chris while the other bent over Vin.

With Chris and Vin being cared for Buck, JD and Josiah moved out of the way and gave Sheriff Thompson all the information he needed on what had happened. An EMT took JD and Ezra and hurried back to the ambulance for more equipment. Chris with a mask on was receiving oxygen, finally breathing a bit easier, though blood continued to drip from his mouth.

+ + + + + + +

Once the three men returned to the basement, Vin was wrapped in blankets and placed on a backboard and loaded on a gurney. Buck, Nathan, and Martin helped the EMT carry him out to the ambulance.

Chris insisted he could walk, and rather than fight the distressed blond they let him. Josiah and the other EMT flanked him. Ezra and JD followed close behind, passing the deputies who were securing the room. Without help Chris made it up the stairs, across the large living room and had just stepped out onto the deck when his knees buckled. Josiah and the EMT grabbed his arms and helped him to the ambulance backed up to the deck. Additional room was made in the ambulance and Chris was laid on the second gurney. The EMTs settled both men adjusting their oxygen and starting IVs.

Nathan squeezed into a small space near Vin’s head, while the other EMT sat beside Chris. The EMT driving the unit told Ezra what hospital they were taking the guys. At the last minute Martin slid into the front of the ambulance beside the driver. The ambulance with its precious cargo left.

The rest of Team Seven spoke with the sheriff who had followed them to watch the proceedings. Buck and Josiah answered questions and assured him they would come into his office later in the day for a complete report. Thompson gave the men directions to the hospital so they could be with their injured teammates.

Josiah drove the van as fast as he dared down the dirt road. The others stored equipment and took down the blackout cutouts. Buck groused about the bouncing they were receiving. For the last hour they had not been aware of the wind, but once they turned west onto the highway, they head directly into its force. Josiah had to control the speeding van in a headwind. The rest of the team were seat belted in and quiet as they raced to join their team members

Over an hour later the van pulled into the emergency room parking area beside a new wing of the hospital. As they parked they saw the ambulance that had brought Chris and Vin pull away from the ER doors and drive past them. The four men hurried into the building.

They found Martin at the emergency department’s desk. With two clipboards in front of him, he filled out the medical forms for his brothers. Martin looked helplessly at the team members; he didn’t know all the information that was needed. Buck and Ezra moved to his side and completed the forms and after some maneuvering Martin was allowed to go back with Chris and Vin.

Martin found Nathan and Chris. Nathan explained that the staff was preparing him for surgery to repair the punctured lung, and thought Vin was in the next cubicle. Martin found another scrub-dressed doctor and two nurses working on his twin. He stood out of the way, hurting for his brother as the doctor cleansed the wounds. Martin’s heart clenched at the condition his twin was in and for the umpteenth time wished they could have found him earlier.

Vin groaned, pain was rolling through him in wave after wave. Someone was hurting his back, and though he was laid in a way not to put pressure on his broken ribs they were causing him more pain.

“No … no … more …” he rasped, trying to move away from the pain that was causing him so much agony.

Martin stepped forward and squatted down, his hand going on top of his twin’s head. “Vin, stay still, the doctor’s working on you. I’m here, don’t move.”

Hearing the voice near his head Vin blinked his eyes open. For a moment he looked into his own eyes, then with a blink he saw it was his brother, Martin. He tried to smile at his mirror image; “Martin…” breathlessly the name came out.

“Yep, it’s me brother. Stay still so the doctor can finish. I’m not going anywhere, and your teammates are here too.”

“’kay.” Vin’s eyes slid closed, taking comfort from the hand on his head, his brother was here, wherever here was. He was safe. A grimace of pain creased his fine boned face, then his eyes shot opened as he gazed at Martin again.

“Chris … Chris was with me … I think.”

Martin ran his hand over Vin’s tousled head, “Chris is in the next cubicle, he’s alright. We found you both. Rest now, you’ll see him shortly.”

“He’s … he’s okay?”

“He will be, he’s a little battered, but he is alright.”

Vin nodded and a moment later, thanks to the drug the doctor had ordered, was asleep. Once Vin was unconscious the doctor and nurses worked faster. An IV with antibiotics had been inserted, along with another IV with fluids and one with plasma.

An hour later, all of the chain and whip cuts had been cared for and infections cleaned out. The gunshot wound had been deeply irrigated, stitched, and was covered with antiseptic cream and bandaged. Bruises were checked and a soothing salve was put on the worse ones. Vin’s broken ribs had been manipulated into place and taped for now. X-rays showed no other damage or broken bones, which caused Martin to sigh in relief.

The doctor finally finished, stepped back and covered Vin to his waist with a blanket. He looked at Martin as he pulled off his gloves and scrub top.

“He has a lot of cuts and bruising, but everything is cleaned, debridement has been done, there’s no more infection, and if none sets in, he should be fine soon. He is dehydrated and it looks like he hadn’t had much, if anything, to eat in a while. We have him on some heavy hitting antibiotics that should counteract any infections, and with that his fever should drop. You said you all were out of state and would be leaving shortly? I’d like to keep him a day or so to be sure everything is alright, and to get some nourishment into him before he leaves.”

“Doc, our other brother was injured too. I really don’t see how we can leave for a couple of days, maybe three days even. It all depends on Vin and Chris’ condition, whether they will be able to leave.” Martin ran a hand over his face and looked down at Vin, who the staff was preparing to transfer to a room.

Dr. Johnson looked at the young man standing beside his patient, noting the dark circles under his eyes, the weary look of him. “We’ll have your brother in a room in a few minutes. I suggest you go get some rest too. I have a feeling your friends need rest also, its after 4 a.m.; your brother will sleep for several hours.”

“I have to check on my brother Chris. They need a room together. I’ll rest once they’re both settled.”

“Give me your brother’s name and I’ll see that they are put into the same room. Why don’t you go check on your brother while we get Tanner moved to his room and get him settled. They’ll be in room 133. You can check on him in twenty minutes or so.”

Martin realized that the nurses had finished their preparation for Vin’s transfer. At the doctor’s words he touched Vin once more, gave the doctor Chris’ name then moved out of the cubicle and looked around. The cubicle that Chris had been in was empty; a nurse was cleaning the room. She noticed Martin and pointed down the hall to his left. Martin nodded to her and walked quickly down the hall and found the waiting room and the rest of team seven taking up the small room.

“Martin, how’s Vin?” JD spotted him first. All heads snapped up looking at Martin.

“They’re moving him to room 133. Chris will be placed in there also. Vin’s on antibiotics and all the wounds are cleaned and infection free right now. He’ll be fine if they can keep infections away, he’s got two broken ribs too. They would like to keep him for a few days though.” Martin replied. “What about Chris?” he asked.

“Just got word, the surgery went well, the broken rib didn’t do too much damage, so they were able to repair everything quickly and set the rib. He’s in recovery and as soon as he’s moved we can see him,” Buck answered from his sprawled position in a chair.

“At least we can sit with Mr. Tanner while waiting for our esteemed leader to arrive at the room,” Ezra rose from the chair he was sitting in, brushed his jacket off and looked at his tired friends.

“On further thought, we should get some sustenance so we can be awake when we enter the room.”

“Umm Ezra, if you didn’t notice before, it’s after four in the morning, I don’t think there’s any restaurants open in this town at this time.” Buck replied, stretching once he got out of his chair.

Josiah yawned then rose, placing his big hand on Ezra’s shoulder, “Why don’t we check the hospital out and see if there’s an open cafeteria or some place we can get coffee at least?”

“Good idea Mr. Sanchez.”

“Yes! … Great thought. … Good. … We need something.” For a moment, there was discussion among the men in the room. A minute later Ezra and Josiah were walking down the quiet hallway, looking for a cafeteria or a manned nurses’ station.

The two agents had just returned, carrying trays of coffee and donuts, when a nurse walked into the room. The six men turned to her as one.

“Family for Vin Tanner?”

JD answered, “Yes Ma’am.”

Warily she looked at the handsome but tired looking men, she’d heard they were ATF or FBI agents and for a second she wondered what they were doing here in this area.

“Mr. Tanner is settled into his room now. Mr. Larabee should be there in about 15 minutes. It is room 133.”

A tall mustached man with twinkling blue eyes asked, “How do we find that room, Miss?”

“Left from here, right at the first cross hallway, then left at the next hall. Room is halfway down the hall on the right; a nurses’ station is a door from it.”

“Thank you,” the handsome black man said, looking down at her.

“You’re welcome,” she said with a smile and left the room.

The six men made their way to Vin’s room, drinking their coffee and eating the donuts, enough to tide them over until they could go somewhere for breakfast. They found the room and saw that Vin was in the bed closest to the window, two other beds were in the room, and three hospital chairs.

Martin pulled one chair close to Vin’s bed and sat down. Josiah claimed a chair as Nathan checked Vin, noting the IV’s and feeling his forehead, to judge his fever. Buck, Ezra and JD sat on the spare bed leaving the last chair for Nathan.

They settled in and finished their coffee, and had begun to talk in low voices when a rattle in the hallway alerted

them, a moment later a nurse hurried into the room. A surprised look crossed her face when she saw the six men rise from various places around the room. Undaunted she went to the middle bed and prepared it for occupancy.

Within minutes Chris was ensconced into the bed and made comfortable. His doctor examined him, ensuring that the IVs were correct and nothing had happened during the transfer.

The doctor turned to the men, “I’m Doctor Alex Steele, Mr. Larabee’s doctor. It is after visiting hours and I’m going to have to ask you all to leave.”

“We will doctor, we were waiting to see Chris. How’s he doing?” Martin asked the tall man.

“He’s doing very well. We patched a small hole in his lung and set his broken ribs. He has a few stitches in that lash cut across his abdomen. I checked for any other injuries; he will be fine, though a bit sore until his ribs heal.”

“Thanks Doc,” Buck said and shook the man’s hand. “We’ll get out of here. Would it be alright if Vin and Chris’ brother stayed with them until we leave the area. They are ATF agents and we need to keep them safe.”

Martin blinked in surprise at Buck’s words then looked at the doctor. “I am their brother. I promise not to get in your way,” Martin said sincerely as he gazed at the dark brown eyes.

Steele looked at Vin a moment then at Martin, he could see the resemblance between the two, though the long haired man was sleeping and had bruises on his face. He nodded. “Okay, you can stay. Visiting hours start at 9 a.m..”

“Thanks Dr. Steele; your people won’t know I’m here,” grinned Martin.

“Good,” Steele smiled back and thought the young man had an infectious smile. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“We’ll get some rooms at that Best Western we saw coming in and see you after while. Do you need anything Martin?” Josiah asked.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’ll try to find out when they’ll be released so we can get out of here.”

“We need to hit the sheriff’s office before we come back, but we’ll be back later this morning,” Buck said and ushered the others out the door. “See you later Junior. Take care of our boys.”

“I will. You all get some rest.”

Martin watched the men leave then pulled a chair between his brothers’ beds and made himself as comfortable as he could. His gaze took in the swollen eyes and bruises on Chris’ face. Chris’ head suddenly turned and Martin smiled into the hazy green eyes that were trying to focus on him.

“Hey brother.”

“Martin?” Chris asked as his eyes finally focused and he turned his head a little to look around the room.

“Vin’s right here. He’s sleeping, so should you be.”

The green gaze settled on Vin in the bed on the other side of Martin. Chris could only see IV lines and the top of Vin’s head; he turned his gaze back to Martin.

“Doctor said he’ll be fine. They have him on some massive antibiotics and fluids. He was dehydrated, starved, beaten, whipped and had reopened the old gunshot wound. But his fever is dropping.” Martin thought he hid the anger that raced through him.

“I’m as angry as you are Martin. Holmes died too easy.”

“Yes. I wanted him to suffer too, but not at the cost of my brothers, he was going to kill Vin, then you.”

“I know. Good shooting.”

“Should have taken him down as soon as the door opened.”

“But there was no way. Vin had tackled Holmes and Holmes came up with him.”

“I wondered how Holmes got him like that, but at least you both are now safe and as soon as your doctors release you, we’re getting out of here. Now, go to sleep, I’m staying here.”

“The guys?”

“Motel. They’ll be back later,” Martin told Chris.

Chris glanced at Vin again, then let his tired body relax as his eyes slid closed. Moments later he was asleep.

Martin sat in the quiet room as his brothers slept. He kept going over what had happened in the small basement room. The horror of seeing Vin naked, frail, bruised and battered hit him hard; his twin had barely looked alive. His only thoughts had been to keep Vin and Chris alive, and knowing Holmes was going to kill Vin for sure if someone didn’t interfere. He didn’t like taking a life, but was prepared if he had to, and this time there was no question of doubt. He did what he had to do to save someone’s life, two actually - his brother’s.

Rubbing his eyes Martin leaned back in the chair and closed them.

“ ‘bout time. All that thinkin’s hurting m’ hair,” a soft raspy voice said.

“Vin!” Martin was out of the chair and beside Vin in a blink of an eye.

“Thought I’s dreamin’ Chris n’ you?”

“We’re here brother. So are the rest of your team. You both are safe, so you can rest. Go back to sleep,” Martin smiled.”

“ ‘Kay. Chris?”

“Right here, bed next to you. He’s sleeping, was awake a bit ago.” Martin moved so Vin could see past him.

Slowly Vin’s head turned, his eyes blinking, but he finally saw Chris. “Not a dream. Holmes, he was hurtin’ him…”

“You knocked Holmes down. You don’t have to worry about him ever again.”

“He … he whipped me … Chris…”

“Never again. Vin he’s dead, you and Chris are safe.”

Vin blinked and looked up at his brother, his bright blue gaze noting how tired he was and the truth in the blue eyes looking back at him. Then without a doubt he knew. “You killed him. Took that shot,” he rasped, his voice stronger.

Martin nodded his head. “It was me. It could have been Buck or Ezra or any of the others, too. I had the shot and took it. Now relax and rest. I’m not leaving, the others will be back in a little while.”

Martin watched as Vin’s eyes slid closed. A tiny smile crossed his lips as Vin at the last moment muttered, “Thanks Brother.”

With a shake of his head Martin made himself as comfortable as he could in the chair, and with a glance at his brothers he closed his eyes for a few minutes.

A couple of hours later a nurse walked into the room, spotting the sleeping young man in the chair she quietly checked the patients. Their doctors would be in shortly so she didn’t bother the man in the chair. With a note in the charts about the IVs she left as quietly as she’d entered.

Buck, Nathan and JD arrived an hour later and found Martin in the hallway outside of room 133.

“What’s going on?” Buck asked.

“Doctors are in there checking them out. They both came in almost at the same time and chased me out.”

“Are they awake?” Nathan asked as he looked Martin over.

“I think they were waking up. Vin had been awake earlier for a few minutes, Chris for a couple too, but they are both sleeping now.”

“You need to go get some breakfast and give your report to the sheriff. JD will take you. Josiah and Ezra are at the sheriff’s office right now. We’ve already talked to them. We’re all meeting here when the reports are all done,” Buck looked at the door then Martin.

“Alright. Let’s go, I want to get back here as soon as possible,” Martin replied as he turned to JD.

“Where’s your coat? It’s cold out there,” JD asked.

Martin shrugged and looked at the door, “Can’t get it right now. I’ll be fine, the van has a good heater.”

Buck and Nathan smiled, they’d offer their coats but knew Martin, like Vin, wouldn’t take one, and he’d drown in theirs anyway.

“Go. We’ll hold the fort,” Buck said with a pat on Martin’s shoulder. He watched as the two young men walked quickly down the hall and disappeared around the corner. He and Nathan exchanged a glance as they took up posts on each side of the room’s door, waiting for the doctors to come out.

JD and Martin made their way from the one story hospital to the van. Unlocking it, JD jumped in and got the van started, the heater turned on high. Martin shivered, it was cold out there. He could tell which vehicles had been in the parking lot a long time; a layer of frost covered them. The sky was grey and threatening, a cold wind was still blowing.

Ten minutes later JD was leading Martin to the sheriff’s department; they spotted Josiah sitting in a small alcove. Josiah smiled at Martin; the young man looked tired but determined, a look he’d seen on Vin many times. He explained that Ezra was being interviewed and should be out shortly. JD got them cups of coffee and handed Martin his when Ezra came out of a door down the hallway.

“Good morning Mr. Fitzgerald. How are you and our esteemed leader and sharpshooter this cold morning?”

“I’m fine and the doctors were checking Chris and Vin when I left.”

“Agent Fitzgerald? Would you come with me?” A deputy outside the alcove asked.

Martin nodded to the others as he followed the deputy down the hall. “We’ll be here when you’re done.” Martin heard Josiah call after him.

The deputy led Martin into the office Ezra had come out of. Sheriff Thompson was sitting behind the desk. Taking a seat to the right of the desk, the deputy prepared the recorder. Martin sat down and remembered his revolver, they’d have to check it since it hadn’t been taken earlier. He took it out of his holster, ejected the clip and laid both on the sheriff’s desk.

“I shot Holmes with that.” He stated.

“And you are Agent …?” Thompson asked.

“Martin Fitzgerald. FBI Missing Persons Bureau, New York City,” Martin answered handing him his ID and badge.

“New York City?” Why are you with a Denver ATF Team?” Thompson asked in surprise as he looked over the badge and ID before handing it back.

“When Vin Tanner went missing, they called me. I’m his brother. Team Seven knew I’d want to help find my twin.” Martin didn’t mention that he was Chris’ brother as well, not many knew that, and it wouldn’t make any difference to the sheriff or in the report.

“Oh, I’d want to help hunt for my brother too. All right, can you tell me what happened, what you saw in that room, and what you did. This will all be recorded and I’ll need your signature when its typed up.”

“Fine. Where do you want me to start?”

“We have statements up to finding the room Agents Tanner and Larabee were in. Go from there?”

“We heard a loud, wild yell, and once in the room found Agent Larabee hanging by shackled wrists from a hook in the middle of the room. Holmes had Agent Tanner in his arms, holding him in a way to shield his own body. Agent Wilmington ordered Holmes to release Vin but he tightened his grip. I told him also, and he laughed and started to strangle Vin. I shot him. He went down with Vin still in his arms. That’s about it.”

Thompson gazed at the young man, “When did you get the news about your brother being taken and when did you get here?”

“Sunday, I got the call from Josiah; I arrived in Denver on Monday. We had no idea where Vin was. The kidnappers were sloppy, fingerprints were found and ID’d; we had a place to start. Pictures of Vin being beaten and whipped arrived. We had permission to wire one of the kidnapper’s homes and got Holmes’ name and location. Agent Larabee was the one they wanted and we set it up that he was taken. We followed him and found them here.” Martin stopped, then with a huff said, “I’m not sure even what today is. I think it’s …Friday? Or is it Saturday? It’s been a hell of a week.”

Thompson smiled. “Saturday morning. How did you manage to follow Larabee’s kidnappers?”

“We planted a homing device in Chris’ arm in his tattoo. There’s a GPS bug attached to his sweat pants too. Was easy to follow him and find them.”

“Thank you. This will be typed and ready for you in 10 minutes if you’ll wait. I’ll have everything faxed to Agent Travis in Denver. Thanks for coming in. I hope your brother and Larabee will be able to talk later today or tomorrow. Once that is done you all can leave.” Thompson stood, shook hands with Martin and escorted him out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Martin sat down with the other three agents waiting in the hallway alcove, several doors from the sheriff’s office. Just before the sheriff appeared, Ezra was called away by a deputy; Martin rose as Sheriff Thompson walked up to them.

“Sorry, I almost forgot. We’ll release your gun as soon as ballistics is checked on it. I’ll have someone call you if you’ll tell me where you’ll be.”

“Probably at the hospital.”

“Or at the Best Western, Sheriff. We have several rooms there and are going back and forth,” Josiah said. “Under the name ‘Standish’.”

“Thank you. We’ll catch up with you at one place or the other. Agent Sanchez, would you read over your statement and if it’s correct sign it?” Thompson passed Josiah several sheets of paper as the man stood up. “I will have Agent Standish’s and Fitzgerald’s ready in a few minutes.”

Josiah quickly read over the pages, and placing the last one against the wall he signed it and handed them back to the sheriff. Thompson thanked him and returned to his office.

“Looks like once they get Chris and Vin’s statements we can go home,” JD said as he watched people going in and out the main part of the sheriff’s department.

“Yes, once our brothers are released from the hospital we’ll leave. There’s Ezra,” Josiah nodded to the figure that stepped into the hallway.

Ezra walked towards his friends and quickly sidestepped when the sheriff’s door opened. Thompson said something to him and a smile crossed his face as they walked together to where the others were waiting.

“Agent Fitzgerald, I have your statement.” Thompson handed the papers to Martin when he stood up.

As Martin read the paperwork over, Ezra turned to the sheriff. “Sheriff Thompson, I have signed my statement, Deputy Briggs should have it to you momentarily.”

“Thank you Agent Standish. I appreciate all of your help in getting through these statements so fast. We aren’t used to people being so cooperative so quickly. I hope to be able talk to Agents Larabee and Tanner as soon as possible and get this matter wrapped up. You all mentioned that one of Holmes’ men described Holmes as a sadistic bastard and that the same man had tried to help Tanner. We found out he’s Jason Parker and has been with Holmes for over seven years. He’s still talking. The other men will be interviewed shortly. Thank you,” the sheriff said as Martin handed the signed papers back.

“I appreciate all of you coming in, thank you,” Thompson shook their hands and headed to his office.

“Agent Fitzgerald, I believe you need some breakfast and we could use another cup of coffee before we return to the hospital,” Ezra said as the four men got into the van. “You need a jacket also.”

“I’m fine. Jacket’s at the hospital; couldn’t get it when we left. Is there a drive through? I don’t need a sit-down restaurant for breakfast. I want to get back to the hospital.” Martin answered as Josiah drove away from the courthouse.

“There’s no drive-through in this area, but there’s a restaurant just a block away. We’ll stop there for breakfast. There’s a Subway by the motel, but nothing here.” Josiah stated as he pulled into a parking slot in front of a restaurant with the strange name of Caribou’s Trail Café.

Martin smiled and wondered how a name like that came about in this area of Washington State. The thought quickly evaporated when, as he walked through the caf’s door and the smell of fresh coffee and frying bacon struck him, he realized that he was hungry.

A half hour later the men were back in the van heading for the hospital. Martin covered his yawn, hoping his brothers were awake when they got to the hospital. A sudden tingling in his head had it tilting as he listened.

**Where am I? What’s going on?**

**Vin, you’re safe. Stay still. I’ll be there shortly.** Martin shot back, realizing Vin had awakened and was very confused.

**Martin? Where’s Chris? Got to find him, he’s hurt, got to help him.** Vin’s panicked thoughts hit Martin.

**He’s safe, look around. He’s there with you in the other bed, Buck and Nathan are there too. Don’t get out of that bed!**

**Buck? Yeah Buck’s here..I’m fine.**

**You are not fine. Stay put I’m almost there.**

Ezra watched Martin, having noticed him shivering, then his head tip, and eyes lose focus. With a slight smile, Ezra waited, knowing Martin was ‘talking’ to Vin or Chris. He was still fascinated that the three brothers had this strange connection between them. Raised in totally different environments and circumstances, the only common factor in their lives was their father, Victor Fitzgerald. The man had abandoned both pregnant women, at one time and another. Then, through a strange twist of fate, he had adopted a twin of his own making, unbeknownst to him.

Ezra smiled to himself as Martin blinked and looked around. It had been a shock to the seven men on their Christmas vacation to have Vin literally run into Martin, and befriend him. Within a short time they had found out that not only were Martin and Vin twins, but that Chris was their older brother. On top of that, a sister had appeared a while ago.

The van was parked in the hospital’s parking lot and the men quickly got out and headed into the building. Ezra’s thoughts turned to his injured teammates. He hoped that they could leave before too long; Best Western motel wasn’t up to his exacting standards. Oh it had nice rooms, a pool and limited breakfast, but it wasn’t as luxuriant as he was accustomed to having.

As they entered the room they found Vin awake, and sitting partly upright, his blue-eyed gaze followed each man as he walked in. Martin smiled and stepped to his side, giving the sharpshooter a gentle embrace, not wanting to hurt him. Vin clung to him for a moment, assured that he was really there and alright.

Vin couldn’t believe that Martin and his teammates were there. He knew that Holmes had got Chris; he remembered talking a little to the blond in that room. Vaguely he remembered jumping Holmes and the man’s arms squeezing him tightly, and then Holmes’ hand around his throat. He thought Martin was there, that he’d shot the big man, but he wasn’t sure if it was real or a dream. Until Martin walked into the room and hugged him, he still didn’t remember Martin being there or talking to him about Chris earlier, as Buck insisted had occurred. Seeing his twin eased his mind; Martin was there, it had been him who’d shot Holmes and saved his life. Vin clung to Martin relishing the warmth and calmness that came from him.

**Thanks,** Vin thought. And heard **Welcome Brother,.** back in his head.

Martin released Vin when his arms dropped. “How do you feel Vin?”

Vin thought for a moment before he answered, “Not too bad. Just wanna go home.”

Grins on the men’s faces appeared and Ezra handed $10 to Josiah which caused the men to laugh out loud.

“Least you all could do was be quiet while someone’s trying to sleep,” a raspy voice said and all gazes turned to the bed beside Vin.

Chris eased over onto his back and reached for the bed control. Buck had moved fast and handed it to his friend and watched as Chris pushed the button, raising the head of the bed so he could see all of them better.

Martin moved to Chris’ bed, a smile on his face. “You’re awake finally. Vin’s right here, before you ask.” He moved so the two could see each other across the five feet that separated them.

Blue and green gazes connected and each man knew that the other was alright. Vin shyly smiled at Chris.

“Thanks brother for coming for me. But wish he hadn’t gotten you. Didn’t want anyone else hurt, ‘specially you.”

“We planned it this way,” Chris rubbed his arm where the tiny implant still rested. “Holmes wanted me and we gave him what he wanted, though with a surprise. I came with the whole team.”

Chris looked at Nathan, “Can you get this out of my arm? It’s driving me crazy, almost as much as you guys do on a daily basis,” he said with a smile at the other men standing there.

“Hey stud, what if we want to keep track of you when we get home. This is such an easy way,” Buck’s grin widened.

“Hell you always know where I am, at work, at home or off with this skinny assed Texan. Maybe you need to put it in him.”

“Don’t know what y’all’s talkin’ about, but I don’t want anything ya take outta him,” Vin rasped and pointed at Chris.

JD told him, “It’s a tiny homing device we, well Nathan, planted into Chris’ arm in his tat so we could find him when we got here.”

“Homing device? Ain’t that somethin’ they put inta dogs an horses?”

“Yep, but this is really small,” JD stated.

“We couldn’t find a place to plant one of those GPS ones on Chris, he’s too skinny. Well maybe his ass, but he’d have a strange looking growth on it if we did,” laughed Buck.

For a moment Vin looked at his friends, when his gaze landed on Martin he suddenly smiled. “And old Chris wouldn’t have been able to sit down; between that growth and the tight pants he wears.”

“That is true Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said as everyone laughed.

“Someone might have felt sorry for him and dragged him off to the hospital to have the pants cut off and the growth taken off,” Josiah added with a toothy grin.

“Or arrested his ass for being ugly, and it might have been me, I hate ugly,” Buck declared.

“Would you guys can it? Vin, it’s a tiny implant, just a small bump. It went in sort of easy, and it better come out just as easy, or someone’s going to get shot.” Chris grumbled.

Amid the chuckles, Nathan left the room to find Chris’ doctor to remove the homing device.

Chris turned more towards Vin, his eyes taking in his brother’s appearance and the sheen of fever on his face. Before he could ask, Vin spoke.

“I’ll be fine Chris. Doc said I still had some fever, but it’s been going down. Broken ribs are set, infections are gone, holes glued and stitched closed. I’m ready to go home.”

“Not until that fever is gone Junior,” Buck said.

“Can you tell us what happened? How you got here Vin?” Josiah asked from his seat on the empty bed on the other side of Chris.

“Yeah. But first, where in hell are we? I think I was on a plane and got sick, but not sure if it was a dream or whatever. Though this doesn’t look like Denver.” Vin stated, his voice sounding better as he talked more.

Martin smiled and placed a hand on Vin’s blanket covered shoulder. “We’re in Washington State. I guess they call it north central Washington, near the Canadian border. This is a town called Omak; we found you and Chris an hour outside of some town named Tonasket, about 30 miles north of here then east. From what we found out about the area it’s high desert; sagebrush, pines and some fir trees. Lots of apple orchards are around too.”


“And it’s very cold. I think the wind has been blowing since we arrived,” Nathan added rubbing his arms as he continued. “Your doctor will be here shortly Chris, to remove the chip.” Nathan leaned against the bed next to Josiah.

Chris nodded as he rubbed his arm, his green gaze went to Vin, “What happened when you were kidnapped?”

“Nothing much. I took care of the horses, got outta the shower and was attacked by three men. I couldn’t put them all down. They used something on me, over my mouth and nose. I remember waking up once sick and being taken to a tiny bathroom, thought it was on an airplane. There was a black thing over my head, couldn’t see anything. Woke up cold and dragged into this great big house, I think, felt large. Guy’s office, he thought I was you Chris; when he found out I wasn’t, I got beaten ‘til I told him who I was and that you were out of town…They took me to that room … Took me outside once, had to clean the stables and got horses cared for. Got most done before I collapsed. Got beat and whipped for that … All I can remember; then you were there. Wasn’t sure if it was a dream or not. When that big guy, Holmes? Started in on you I tried to stop him. Remember thinking Martin was there, but wasn’t sure. Woke up here.” Vin stopped and laid his head back on his pillow, he was suddenly exhausted, he hadn't talked that much in a long time.

**Sleep. We’re here.** he heard in his head. Not sure if it was Martin or Chris, he was asleep in moments.

Chris and Martin exchanged a glance before looking at the others.

“Why don’t you all leave for awhile and let Vin and me sleep?” Chris asked, then grinned at the reactions from his team.

After much discussion they agreed to leave Buck there and take Martin to the motel to rest. By the time they left, Chris was asleep and Buck settled into the chair between the beds.

The next day both men were told that in one more day if improving as they were, they would be released. Vin was thrilled; he was tired of laying in bed, tired of hurting. Chris too wanted out. The nurses and doctors were good and willing to bend hospital rules to accommodate the teammates. The men were appreciative of the staff’s care, not unlike the Denver hospitals where the team were known to write their own rules.

Doctor Steele had removed the homing implant the day before and was pleased that it hadn’t caused an infection.

The tiny device was cleaned and given to Buck for safekeeping. The GPS had been taken from Chris’ sweat pants earlier by JD and stored safely away.

Sheriff Thompson arrived with Deputy Olsen who carried a laptop. Thompson first took Vin’s statement and then Chris’.

Vin was tired after answering questions and telling what had happened to him. He lay back with his eyes closed and listened as Chris was questioned. He still couldn’t believe that he was alive and that they had found him. He hadn’t seen much of the countryside, the trip to the barn and corral, then back to the house, gave him the impression it was up in the hills. It had been cold and he hadn’t paid much attention to the view as he moved the horses and cleaned the stalls.

Chris said something about a loud yell and Vin glanced his way. Chris went on with Vin taking down a surprised Holmes only to be held as a shield. Chris wasn’t sure, but he thought it had been Martin who’d shot Holmes.

Thompson shook both men’s hands and told them he’d have the statements printed and sent over for their signatures within the next hour. Chris asked him to send copies of all of their statements to Travis and gave him Travis’ phone number. Once the call to Travis went through, he’d know where to send them. Thompson assured Chris that it would be taken care of as some of his men had already requested him to do that. A moment later the sheriff and deputy were gone.

The rest of the day was taken up with the nurses getting Chris and Vin up, and with IV’s on a movable stand walked them up and down the hall a couple of times. Their nurses or one of the team, walked beside them, watching that they didn’t fall or injure themselves. Their teammates were taking up chairs in their room as well as wandering the hallways with them when they walked.

Despite tiring easily, Vin was determined he was going home, and forced himself to walk. His back and legs hurt from the chain that had been used on him, but he gritted his teeth and kept going. It would be awhile before all of the lacerations would be healed, but he wasn’t going to let it hold him back. Once more he forced himself to walk the hall again, it was almost 8 p.m. and he was determined to get more mobile.

Josiah walked silently beside his thin teammate; he could see sweat on the tired, angled face and knew Vin was almost at the end of his rope. Vin had been forcing himself too much this afternoon and he didn’t need any more injuries when he collapsed.

Vin was almost back to his room when he felt his strength give out. Only twelve feet to go and he put a shaking hand against the wall to hold him up. His free hand brushed across his face wiping the sweat out of his eyes as he stopped.

Before Vin could collapse Josiah reached out and gently wrapped a muscular arm around the narrow waist and held the shaking young man up. Blue eyes turned to him and Josiah smiled.

“Let’s get you to your bed. You need to rest if your doctor is going to release you tomorrow,” Josiah told Vin as he took most of his light weight and eased him towards the room.

“Thanks ‘siah. I am a mite tired taday,” Vin admitted as they walked to the room and entered.

“What’s wrong?” Chris asked instantly.

“Just wore himself out today, pushed once too often going up and down the hall. He might sleep all night now,” grinned Josiah. “He wants to go home.”

“Wants out of here.” Martin and Chris spoke at the same time then smiled. Chris shook his head as he glanced at Vin who had instantly burrowed under his blankets.

“I don’t know how he can sleep under his blankets like that,” Chris said.

“Mr. Tanner is a man of many abilities. That is one of them,” Ezra replied with a smile.

“One of many,” laughed Josiah.

Martin nodded, a smile on his lips. “Hate to say it, but I sleep the same way. I guess when I’m really tired you’d have a hard time seeing the top of my head too,” he shrugged. “It’s easy, you just do it.” His blue gaze locked on Chris. “Do you think you two are really ready to go home?”

Chris, Ezra and Josiah looked at Martin. Chris answered, “Really? I don’t think so. Yes, I feel a lot better, but I know Vin isn’t. He’s still in pain from the whipping and beating. I don’t think we could keep him here. He’d sign himself out if he had to stay much longer. I’m hoping his doctor will give him something for the plane trip. He isn’t good on a plane healthy, I can imagine what he’ll be like in this condition; he feels closed in.”

“Fever’s gone, the wounds are clean, even his side is a lot better, but yes, he’s still in pain,” Martin said thoughtfully. “He will be for awhile.”

“I agree Mr. Fitzgerald. The thrashing and whipping Mr. Tanner lived through at the hands of those miscreants was horrendous. We are fortunate that Mr. Tanner is as healthy as he is.”

Josiah placed his hand on Ezra’s shoulder, “Why not just say we are lucky to have Vin with us, alive?”

The big man smiled when Ezra huffed as he stood up. “Mr. Wilmington will be here in a couple of minutes with the van to take us to our nights lodging. We will leave you and Mr. Tanner to your nightly rest.”

Before anyone could reply Buck walked in, a smile on his lips. Chris grinned, knowing what that meant.

“Josiah would you mind driving to the motel this time?”

“You have a hot date Mr. Wilmington?” Ezra asked, also recognizing the look on his friend’s face.

“As a matter of fact, yes I do. I’m meeting her in a few minutes at the nurses’ station. I have a key to our room so no one has to let me in when I get back.”

Martin laughed and Chris shook his head, “Leave it to you Stud to get a date in the middle of nowhere,” Chris said.

“Wouldn’t be surprised if they change the room lock for the fun of it,” Martin surmised.

“That’s a thought Martin,” Josiah agreed.

“Especially since you and Mr. Dunne are sharing that suite.” Ezra put in.

“All is taken care of with JD, he doesn’t mind and he wouldn’t do that. Anyway, I won’t be late. Here’s the van keys Josiah. I am on my way,” Buck handed Josiah the keys and with a nod to the men he left.

“Well since Buck is gone I guess we can head out before we get kicked out by the staff. Chris, we’ll see you and Vin in the morning,” Josiah’s look gathered in Ezra and Martin and minutes later Chris laid back in his bed in the silent room. A nurse came in and checked Vin’s vitals and his IV. She went out as quietly as she’d entered, dimming the lights as she left.

Cold and frost greeted the men the next morning as they made their way to the hospital after breakfast. They took time to make a quick stop at Wal-Mart, the only store open in the area that time of the day. They picked up some clothes for Vin. Chris had packed a backpack with some of his belongings and it had traveled with them.

Buck talked to Jess Clark, their pilot, and everything was ready for them if the two were released that day.

Arriving at the hospital, they found the room’s door closed, so they waited in the hall. It was fifteen minutes or more before the door opened and Vin’s doctor, followed by a nurse carrying a tray of soiled bandages walked out. Dr. Johnson nodded to the men lining the hallway as he passed.

Entering the room, the men found Chris sitting up in his bed and Vin laying with an arm across his eyes.

“Vin?” Martin went to Vin’s side after glancing at Chris, his hand went to his twins shoulder feeling tremors of pain shooting through the thin body.

“ ‘m fine, doctor was jist here …” Vin answered without moving his arm from over his eyes.

Nathan slipped out the door and hurried after the doctor.

Chris shifted in his bed, and glanced at the men who’d come in. “Doc Johnson changed his bandages, some had become infected again. They cleaned them, but they’re upping Vin’s antibiotics to try to prevent this happening again.”

Vin felt Martin’s hand tighten on him. “I’ll be fine, pain’s goin’ now. I just want outta’ here.”

“Hey Junior, we’re working on that for you and Chris. We were sure you two were going to be released today and brought you some clothes. Chris has some, but we had to buy you something. Sorry but the only thing they had left in your size was a pair of light purple sweat pants and a dark yellow top. We won’t lose you again. Oh, the socks are red and the shoes are blue,” Buck winked at Martin, JD shook his head.

“What!?” Vin’s arm dropped from his face and he glared at Buck. “I ain’t wearin’ nothin’ that looks like that. I’d go naked ‘fore I wore those!” Vin snarled.

Buck laughed. “Turn them blue lasers down Junior, I’m kidding. Don’t hurt yourself trying to come after me. The sweats are really dark grey. So calm down.”

“I was ready to shoot ya Bucklin ifn’ you’d had them.”

Buck’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he laughed at Vin’s mock threat.

“To change this fascinating tête-à-tête, are we yet to establish if you two will be departing these premises today?” Ezra asked before Vin could do something to cause him more pain by going after Buck.

Martin stifled a laugh and his eyebrows rose. “Do you ever say anything in plain English, Ezra?”

Standish paused for thought, then spoke. “Not if I can help it.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris answered before Vin could, “This afternoon, they think. Vin’s doctor wants to check him again around noon to be sure they got all the infection. He’s already given Vin the combination of antibiotic’s that Nathan had assured Vin wasn’t allergic to, to ensure the infection is gone.”

“They’s as big as horse pills,” Vin grumbled.

“The larger they are the better they work son,” Josiah said with a smile.

Vin frowned at Josiah, “Old wives tale ‘siah, doctors like to make things harder for you.”

“Tannerlogic, can’t argue with that Josiah,” laughed Buck as he slapped the big man on the shoulder.

Nathan walked into the room amid the laughter.

“Ah Mr. Jackson, have you found out anything we need to know about our esteemed colleagues who are stuck in this establishment?” Ezra asked.

For a moment Nathan looked at Ezra then nodded his head, “I talked to both doctor Steel and Johnson; they said they plan to release Chris and Vin this afternoon. Since I’m an EMT, I have all kinds of instructions for both. Vin, doctor wants you drinking more, you’re still a little dehydrated, and he also wants to be sure that the infection has cleared up; he will check you again before you leave. And both of you will have your ribs taped for the trip home; I’ll take it off once you’re there. No heavy work for a week, also you both have to see your doctors next week to make sure everything is healing.”

Chris’ gaze shot to Vin, **You are not fine little brother, so don’t even say it.** Vin blinked, closing his mouth as Martin smiled. The others grinned knowing by the look on Vin’s face, Chris had told him something he didn’t care for.

Vin huffed and pulled his blanket higher, “He didn’t say what I had to drink, so I can have a beer when I get outa here.”

Josiah and Buck laughed out loud and Ezra tipped an imaginary hat at the longhaired man. JD frowned and said, “Think with all the medicine you’re on Vin, you can’t have that.”

“We’ll just see when we get home.”

Grinning Martin placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder, but before he could say anything a couple of nurses entered the room. The older one looked at the men in the room and frowned.

“Gentlemen, we need you to leave for awhile, our patients need to be cleaned up. If you’ll excuse us for a bit,” her gaze didn’t leave room for arguments and the men left as Vin pulled the blanket over his head.

That afternoon Chris and Vin were released. Martin and Buck helped them get dressed as the others waited in the hallway, both men were happy that they had been able to take showers that morning. Nathan got their prescriptions and care instructions from each of the doctors. He had assured the doctors neither man would be alone when they got home. Both men had been given some pain meds for the trip home.

Two nurses appeared pushing wheelchairs. The injured men knew they wouldn’t get out of the room without a ride. Without saying a word they each sat in a chair and were pushed out the door and down the hall.

Outside, the van pulled to the curb and with thank you’s to the nurses, they were helped into the van. Josiah, with a wave to the women, drove away.

“Can we get something to eat before we head home?” Vin asked when they stopped at a stop sign.

“Didn’t you just have lunch?” JD asked.

“Ain’t food. Need something filling.”

Chris, Martin and Buck smiled at each other. The food had been fairly good in the hospital and Vin had eaten all of his and some of Chris’.

“Empty legs,” Martin said with a grin at Vin and everyone laughed.

“Well Brother Vin, you have a choice, Arby’s, Burger King, McDonald’s or Subway. They are all on the way to where we turn off to go to the airport. We can use the drive though,” Josiah answered as he turned onto the main street through the town.

“Arby’s. Their Market Chicken sandwich, super sized and one each of their dessert pies,” came the instant reply.

By the time they pulled into Arby’s, Buck had a list of sandwiches and drinks from everyone. It seemed Vin’s hunger had affected everyone. Once the order had been given, the clerk told Josiah where to park and she would send an employee out with the order. Josiah told the clerk that two men would come to pick the order up. After paying he parked in the closest parking space and Ezra and JD headed inside.

Five minutes later the two were back with heavy bags of food. They decided to eat at the airport, or on the plane and Josiah drove away from the restaurant.

Less than ten minutes later they were parking by the office of the small airport. They saw that the jet was waiting for them near the runway. Jess Clark, their pilot, walked towards them, James Layton, the airport manager was with him.

As the men got out of the van, Clark looked at Buck and Josiah, “We can take off as soon as everyone is boarded. The weather is changing and we need to leave as soon as possible to avoid a snow storm coming in over the mountains shortly.”

“Thanks Jess. We’re ready to go home, we’ll be loaded right away,” Buck told him. “It will just take a couple minutes.”

“I take it the trip was a total success,” James Layton said, noting there were now eight men instead of six.

“Yes sir, we got our men back. Little worse for wear but alive,” Buck said as he kept an eye on Vin who was limping slowly to the jet with Martin and Nathan beside him. Chris had Josiah next to him as Ezra and JD carried the food. Jess hurried ahead to drop the steps and open the door.

Buck shook hands and thanked Layton for the use of the airport and letting Jess stay there. He then turned and grabbed several duffle bags holding their guns and vests from the van and followed the others to the plane.

Once Chris and Vin were seated on the plane, the others hurried to the van and quickly emptied it of their belongings and equipment. It didn’t take long to get everything loaded aboard the jet and they were ready for takeoff.

The jet climbed into the sky as Vin ate his sandwich and stared out the window. As they got higher in the air JD pointed out some highlights of the countryside, that he’d Googled. Vin was surprised to see a lot of orchards near a long river that JD said was the Okanogan River from British Columbia’s Okanogan Lake to the north. Sagebrush flats, low hills, and then pine forests covered the higher hills along the river and as far as he could see

Turning more southeast the jet passed over the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the US. From there they were passing over rolling wheat fields, and then into the dark clouds that were crowding in. Chris was already asleep and Vin with a last look at the dark clouds, leaned back and shut his eyes, pulling the blanket high over him, within minutes his medication pulled him into a pain-free sleep.

With Nathan’s help, Martin eased Vin down onto the seats, a pillow under his head, and added another blanket onto the sleeping man. Across the aisle Chris was laid out the same way. Martin and Nathan took the facing seats across from the injured men, while the others were scattered around the comfortable plane. All relaxed and soon fell asleep.

The men were asleep when the jet seemed to drop then bounce back, shaking everyone. Buck and Nathan were on their feet and after a glance at Chris and Vin hurried to the cockpit as lightning flashed.

Going to the cockpit, Buck asked, “Jess, what’s going on?”

“Bad storm over the Rockies. I’m trying to get around it; it’s too high to go over.”

“Where are we now?” Nathan inquired.

“Between Boise and Pocatello, Idaho. We either have to go north and around the top, over Butte and Billings Montana, or south, almost to Santa Fe. Our other choice is land at Pocatello and wait it out. Weather service says a day possibly, though could be up to a day and a half.”

“How close are we to Pocatello? And from Denver?” Buck asked.

“Got six minutes to Pocatello and from there, about three hours to Denver. If we head north, it’s maybe 6 or more hours, and south 8 or 9 hours. You’ve got 4 minutes to decide,” Jess said as he tried to hold the jet steady.

Buck and Nathan hurried back to where the others sat, now all but Vin awake. They quickly explained what was going on and told then they only had a minute to decide.

Chris looked at his men, then his gaze fell on Vin’s pale face a moment. Looking back at Buck and Nathan, he stated, “Land at Pocatello if we can do that. No telling how fast this storm is going, we could run into it anywhere.”

Buck jogged back to the cockpit and slid into the co-pilot seat that was empty. Jess radioed the Pocatello airport and two minutes later he guided the jet down, landing on the rain swept runway. The eight men made their way into the terminal and glanced around. The small airport boasted a sandwich shop with a gift shop along with a couple of ticket counters, a couple of other small businesses that were already closed, and nothing else. It was at least warm and welcoming.

While Chris and Vin were seated where Martin and Ezra could monitor them, the others spread out to see what was available.

Josiah and Nathan returned as Buck and JD completed their survey of the terminal. There was a hotel/motel about a half mile from the terminal, and it offered shuttle service. Buck located a car rental stand but they were already closed. Unwilling to spend who knows how many hours at the airport, Josiah made a call and was able to get a suite and a double room next to it at the hotel. The receptionist assured him a van would be there to pick them up shortly.

Chris and Vin were helped to the main entrance of the airport and they all watched as a large Ford van pulled to the curb, the hotel’s name emblazed on its side. The two injured men walked through the slashing cold rain to the van with Josiah and Buck beside them. They were helped into the seats and the rest of the agents, carrying backpacks quickly found seats.

Less than 20 minutes later the men were in the hotel rooms. Chris, Vin, Martin, Buck and Nathan roomed in the suite, Chris and Vin in the one room that had a king sized bed, the other held two double beds. The double room held a king and queen bed and a fold out couch. The men met in the suite and decided to eat at the restaurant across the parking lot. Most of them were hungry.

Vin was already asleep in the king sized bed and Chris was propped against a couple of pillows, neither one were going anywhere. Chris told Martin what he thought he could eat and they decided on something for Vin before the men left.

Chris was dozing when everyone returned carrying their meals in to-go containers; large drink containers held coffee, tea and Pepsi. Chris started to get out of bed and Nathan told him to stay put, he could eat there as the living room area was full. Martin handed him his meal and plastic ware to eat with before sitting beside the bed in one of the armchairs in the room. Vin stirred but didn’t wake and his food was stored in the small refrigerator, it could be heated later in the microwave.

They watched the news; the storm would pass before noon the following day, though flooding would be likely in lower areas. Relief washed over them all, they could be home before noon the next day. Finishing their meals, they cleaned up the containers and settled in to watch TV for a couple of hours. Vin slept through, never moving even when Chris got up for awhile, returning to bed after taking his medication.

Nathan finally woke Vin enough to give him his pills. Vin took the meds, mumbled a few words and went back to sleep. Shaking his head Nathan checked Vin’s temperature and some of the bandages, finding that everything seemed to be alright. He let the sharpshooter sleep.

Dawn was breaking when Vin’s eyes slowly opened. For several minutes he lay totally still, trying to figure out where he was, knowing he wasn’t in the hospital. A slight noise drew his gaze and he saw bright sea green eyes watching him.

“Oh, we’re in Idaho,” Vin said and grinned at Chris across the bed’s expanse, having been aware of the move from the plane to the hotel.

Chris pushed himself into a sitting position and asked, “You awake now?”

“Talkin’ ain’t I?”

Chris grinned and cocked his head as Vin’s stomach growled loudly.

“’m starved too. No food yesterday.” Vin complained as he slowly sat up.

“You’re dinner’s in the fridge. You wouldn’t wake up last night to eat …”

“No one woke me? Just let me starve.”

“You were snoring so loud we just left you, and you wouldn’t wake up. You can eat now if you want to.”

“Guess I can see what it is. When are we leaving?”

“Not sure, it’s barely 6 a.m., pilot probably wants to make sure the weather has cleared before we leave.”

Vin cocked his head a minute, “Going to be a nice day.”

Chris smiled, “Thanks Mr. Weatherman. That’s what they said on the news last night.”

“Well, let’s get moving then,” Vin replied, throwing the blankets back and sliding his legs over the side.

The partly closed door was pushed open and Martin walked in, a flush of color on his face.

“You two ready to get up?”

“I’m hungry. What’re you doing?”

“Went for a little run. It’s going to be nice today.”

Chris grinned at Martin, “Our twin Mr. Weatherman.”

Martin tossed one of Vin’s pillows at the blond as he turned to his twin.

Vin held out his arm and Martin gripped it and helped him get to his feet. As Vin shuffled to the bathroom they heard him mumbling to himself, “They let me sleep in the only clothes I got, what’s the matter with them?”

Martin held his laugh back as he helped Chris to his feet. Once the bathroom door was closed the two brothers burst out laughing.

Nathan entered the room minutes later with pills for both injured men. After taking the medication the four went into the living area of the suite to find the rest of the team waiting for them. Ezra was complaining about the ungodly time, but he was ready to go home as soon as possible. Together they made their way from the room and to the restaurant next door.

The waitresses welcomed the eight good looking men, though noticed two of them were moving slow and had bruises on their faces. The women watched in surprise as the thin longhaired man put away enough breakfast for three large men, as he was teased by a couple of others. They didn’t complain over the tips left and the thank you’s they received as the men left. The two women watched the men as they crossed the parking lot and then as they got into the hotels van to leave. Wondering who the men were and where they’d come from they went back to work as more customers arrived.

Making their way through the airport terminal a short time later, the men saw their plane waiting for them at the private gate. Jess was going through his pre-flight check as Chris and Vin made their way up the steps. Once everyone was settled, the steps were retracted and the plane took off.

By the time the aircraft leveled off Vin had drifted to sleep. Martin smiled at Chris, they both knew Vin’s feelings regarding flying, his claustrophobia got to him and it was better he slept, or was knocked out for any plane ride. It wasn’t a long time before Chris was dozing as the plane headed a little southeast. The rest of the men talked among themselves or watched the view below as they flew over the snow covered Rockies.

A little over three hours later they were landing in Denver. Relief was written on each man’s face as they left the private airfield in the cars they’d left there a few days before.

Less than a half hour later three vehicles pulled to a stop beside the back deck of Chris’ ranch house. A new maroon BMW was parked there and they wondered who it could be. Smoke was coming from the chimney, whoever it was had a fire going. Only one other man had a house key, Chris wondered when Travis got a new car.

Chris and Vin made their way up the few steps, crossed the deck and entered the sliding glass door into the large kitchen. A large pot of stew was bubbling on the stove and the kitchen smelled of fresh baked bread.

Orin Travis walked into the kitchen as the rest of the men walked in behind the two injured ones, quickly slipping drawn guns back into holsters.

“Welcome home boys. Hope you don’t mind Chris, I heard you were on the way home and Evie insisted on sending food so you didn’t have to wait for lunch. Martin, nice to see you again,” Travis said as he shook the young man’s hand, then the others. “I talked to Jack Malone a couple of hours ago and he wants to talk to you, but you’re okay to stay a couple more days.”

“Thank you Mr. Travis, I appreciate you contacting him. I’ll call him as soon as we get these two settled in.”

“How are you doing, Chris, Vin?”

“I’m fine.”

“’m fine.”

Travis smiled at the two seated men then looked at Nathan who quickly filled him in on Chris then Vin’s injuries and medications.

Josiah and Martin prepared the table for lunch while the others stored some of the duffels for the ones who would be staying.

Once everyone was in the kitchen again Travis told them he’d received all the paperwork from Sheriff Thompson. While they ate he was briefed on the rest of what happened. When silence finally fell, Travis looked first at Chris and then Vin.

“You two are lucky to be alive. I had Keller look into Charles Holmes and we found he was wanted in two states, and under investigation of gun and drug running across state lines and into Canada. We think he was also receiving them from across the Canadian and Mexican border. Your kidnapping and rescue busted it all wide open. Good work.”

For long moments no one spoke, then Ezra replied. “You mean Mr. Travis, that the abusive hell our compatriots had endured and their subsequent rescue and death of Mr. Holmes opened up a large investigation?”

Travis looked at Ezra, “I think I just said that. Sheriff Thompson found records of things that were delivered to Holmes from Mexico and Canada. He contacted the Canadian Mounties and found they had caught a couple of men bringing drugs through the woods along the border. They are still talking. The Mexican police aren’t quite as helpful, but were going to keep an eye out. So Thompson and the Canadians are working together on the Holmes case. It looks like what happened has busted a deep organization wide open. We’ll have a little less contraband coming into the states now.”

“Good. Looks like Charles took over his father’s business, added to it and then moved it all to Washington,” Chris said.

“You knew the guy?” Vin asked, surprise written on his battered face.

Chris shook his head, “Not really. Arrested his father eight years ago. Senior took the fall for everything, son was released. Knew nothing else until several days ago.”

“Oh. Glad it’s over.” Vin said then yawned.

Nathan picked up on that and insisted that Chris and Vin rest for a few hours as he handed their medicine to them. The kitchen was quickly cleaned up and the two brothers made their way to their beds, both feeling drained.

Hours later, when Chris, then Vin made his way to the living room they found that only Martin, Nathan, and Buck were still there. After a light dinner the men visited and discussed what happened and in Vin’s case when he could go back to work. Martin filled them in on what was going on in New York and let them know that he had reservations in three days to fly back, work was calling.


Two days passed quickly, the three brothers enjoying their time together when Chris or Vin didn’t fall asleep from the medication they were on. The night before Martin had to leave the rest of the team showed up for an impromptu dinner party.

Martin and Buck entered the mud room after taking care of the horses and found the counter and table laden with all kinds of food and snacks.

Vin, moving a little slow, but happy that he only had two more days of pills to take, was checking the snacks and tasting the frosting on a large log roll cake. He smiled guiltily as the two men walked into the kitchen. Martin headed straight to his side, his blue eyes twinkling as he reached out to taste the frosting too. Together the twins tasted it in different spots then froze in place when Nathan followed by Josiah, walked into the room.

Pretending to be mad, Nathan said, “You two! Can’t you wait ‘til dinners over? You know ya can have a piece after dinner?”

Martin eased a step behind Vin as Chris came through the door followed by Ezra and JD to see what had riled Nathan. Vin was standing still, his hand halfway to his mouth, chocolate icing and raspberry sauce thick on his fingers. Martin was licking the last of the evidence off his fingers.

**Caught you both huh?** Chris shot at his brothers as he grinned then laughed out loud.

Blushes covered the twins’ faces as both backed away from the table. “Sorry Nathan, we were just trying the frosting out, ta see if it was edible.” Vin said as he backed into Martin.

The men in the room burst out laughing and began to set things out for the meal. “You’re off the hook for now, both of you,” laughed Nathan as he became aware of the twin blue gazes still watching him.

Before long the meal was served and the eight men settled into eating and enjoying each other’s company.

Martin Fitzgerald watched out of the airplane window hours later as Denver fell behind him. The sun had just cleared the horizon and the sky was clear blue for as far east as he could see. His thoughts turned to the past days and all that had happened. The kidnapping of his brothers and the fear and pain they went through. The hunt and take down of Holmes and all that Vin and Chris had gone through at the man’s hands. Leaning his head back he thanked God that his brothers were all right, safe at the ranch and getting better by the day. They would be back at work the next week, though Vin would be confined to desk work for the first few days. He smiled at that thought; Vin hated being tied to a desk as much as he did.

Martin smiled at the quicksilver feel of them in his head. Everything was fine and getting back to normal, well as normal as it could be for them.


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