I've read other stories where the seven were brothers and loved them. They inspired this one.
This story came about when I asked myself what would the boys do if they found out they had a little sister. Someone they didn't even knew existed, not even their own father. I wanted her to be a teenager with a teenager's attitude. At first, I didn't know how I was going to introduce her to the guys. I knew there would have to be a DNA test done to prove she was one of them.
Orin Travis has a major role in the beginning.
Based on the AU created in The Reading of the Will
Orin Travis' best friend, Lincoln Larabee, was a cowboy from his black Stetson cowboy hat to his leather cowboy boots. When Linc was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, he had Orin write up his will. Linc set aside seven million dollars, a million dollars for each of his sons, but there was a catch. They had to live together on the ranch in the same house for a year. Orin sighed as he stood over the grave, remembering the day his friend told him he was dying. Orin didn't think Linc's sons would like being forced to return to the ranch. They were independent men and each had his own life. The only one living on the ranch is John, the youngest. Orin understood Linc's need to have his sons all together, but this was not the way. Linc had been gone for nearly six months now and it wouldn't be long before it starts to snow, Orin thought as he pulled his winter coat closer to his body.
"I found him old friend. Your fifth son is on his way here," Orin smiled. "The reading of your will can finally be read to your sons, I just hope you knew what you were doing when you had me write it up. I'll be reading your will tomorrow in my office. I've got to go, it's getting to cold to stand here any longer," Orin said and slowly walked away.
+ + + + + + +
Orin sat in his office going over his friend's will. His mind wondered over the seven women that bore Linc's seven sons.
The first of which was a Mexican beauty Linc spent the summer between their junior and senior years with. Her name was Isabelle Sanchez. Linc met her while working on a farm in southern California. Isabelle was a migrant worker and was trying to save up the money to become a United States citizen. Linc had told her where he grew up and that's when he found out she loved anything cowboy. Linc didn't know if Isabelle had ever became a citizen or not until he heard from her family that she had given birth to a son in the spring of their senior year. Isabelle was a United States citizen when Josiah was born, Linc was eighteen and wasn't ready to be a father but was willing to take responsibility for his actions but Isabelle had refused his proposal saying she wasn't in love with him and he not in her.
Orin shook his head at the memory at how relieved Linc was but at the same time hurt. Isabelle sent pictures of Josiah to him over the years. A couple of them had Josiah's half sister, Hannah in them.
The next woman to bare a son to Linc was the only woman to marry him, and her name was Colleen Campbell. Linc fell hard for her. Orin remembers when Evie's friend from high school came to town and had called him to cancel their date saying she didn't want to leave her best friend home alone. So Orin set Linc up on a blind date. The rest, as they say, is history. Colleen knew about Isabelle and Josiah. It was Colleen that encourage Isabelle to send Linc the photo's of Josiah. In return, Colleen sent photo's of Chris to her so Josiah would know of his half brother. Colleen even took Chris to visit Isabelle and Josiah a few times. Linc's favorite photo was the one with a seven year old Josiah holding a three month old Chris in his lap feeding him a bottle. Colleen and Isabelle became fast friends. When Colleen had passed away, Isabelle attended the funeral with both of her children and without her husband. Isabelle stayed for a couple of weeks to help Linc through the process but had to return home to California. She kept in touch with Linc for Josiah's and Chris's sake.
Orin remembers how devastated Linc was when Colleen died. Linc's sister, Grace and her friend Nettie made sure Linc and Chris were taken care of. A couple of years after Colleen's death, Linc got word of Isabelle's death. He and Chris went to her funeral. Grace told him to bring his son home with him. Linc did what his sister told him to and brought Josiah home to raise. Josiah had his mother's hair color and complexion, but had Linc's father's blue eyes. Chris had Linc's blond hair and green eyes that changed with his moods. When both men were happy, their eyes were blue, but look the hell out when those eyes turned a hazel green.
After Linc returned home from Isabelle's funeral, he started to go to the bars and that is where he met the next woman to bare him a son. Roselyn Wilmington, Rosie to her friends. She owned and managed the Wild Horse Bar and Grill. Orin had gotten a phone call from Sheriff Palmer when Linc had drank to much and was getting out of hand when Rosie cut him off. The next day, Linc returned and apologized for his behavior and the two of them came to an understanding. Orin liked Rosie because she took no crap from anyone. It took a lot to get her Irish temper up, but when it was, she was a force to be reckoned with. You would think people would know that by her fiery red hair and green eyes. Orin and Linc were present when a large cowboy decided he wanted more then Rosie was willing to serve. Linc started to intervene, but stopped when Rosie laid the man out cold on her bar room floor and turned to him and told him she could handle her own fights and for him to butt out. Orin chuckled to himself at the memory. When Linc learned about Rosie's pregnancy, he asked her to marry him, but she said no, even though she loved the man, she was not willing to live with the ghost of the woman he was still in love with. She did promise Linc that if something were to happen to her, their child would go to him. Rosie gave birth to a son and named him Bucklin James Wilmington. She called him Bucky. Buck stayed with Linc on the weekends because that was Rosie's busiest days. Buck followed his brother's everywhere.
Next came Clara Jackson, a nurse that worked at the hospital and was on duty when Linc came in the emergency room with Chris in his arms. Grace had kept Josiah and Buck so Linc could rush Chris to the hospital when he fell out of a tree after George, Grace's son, dared Chris to climb to the top. Chris made it to the top and started to come back down, but when he got about seven, eight feet off the ground his foot slipped and he fell the rest of the way down. Josiah said he told Chris not to because the bark was still wet, but Chris ignored him. Carla stayed with Chris while Linc dealt with the paper work. Carla loved children and wanted a house full of them. Chris had calmed down when Carla started to rub his back and talked softly to him while the doctor examined Chris's right foot and ankle and found he had broke his ankle and needed a cast. Linc was grateful for Carla's help with Chris. Linc had asked Carla out to diner at the Wild Horse a couple of days later. They dated for four months when Carla told Linc she was pregnant and was moving back to Alabama to be with her family and raise their child there. She told him, like Rosie, she couldn't live with the ghost of his dead wife. She thanked him for his gift and left. Carla sent Lincoln a photograph of a new born Nathan Lincoln Jackson. Linc carried that photograph in his wallet and showed it to anyone who wanted to see it.
It was a couple of years before Linc became interested in anyone again. This time, it was at a Rancher's convention in Las Vegas. Linc never really wanted to go to it. But Orin talked him into it, even went with him. This memory didn't bring a smile to Orin's face. Instead, it brought a frown. If he hadn't meddled in Linc's affairs, he would have had his fifth son with him. Orin was positive Maude Standish was a con artist and tried to pull a fast one on his best friend when she showed up at his office almost a year later, claiming the infant she carried in a car seat was Lincoln's and wanted to know what Linc was going to do about it because she couldn't deal with raising the boy by herself. As it was, Orin insisted a paternity test be done to prove the boy was Linc's. Orin felt bad about the whole situation. Orin didn't tell Lincoln about Maude showing up and claiming Ezra Patrick Standish was his until the tests came back proving the boy was in deed Linc's. When Orin had papers drawn up for Lincoln to take custody, saying Maude wasn't fit to raise the boy, Maude swore Linc would never know his son and he would never find him either. She then took the boy and vanished into thin air. Never to be seen or heard from again. To this day, Orin regrets what he did. Because of his actions, Linc never got to see Ezra or even got to know him.
Orin sighed, Linc ended up with custody of Buck when Rosie was murdered shortly after learning of Ezra's existence one night. Linc was called in the middle of the night to come and get Buck. The sheriff found the boy hiding in the pantry of the bar and grill. He couldn't get the boy to come out from under the shelving, so he did the only thing he could think of, he called the boy's father. When Lincoln got there, Buck ran to him when he heard Linc's voice. Buck was covered in his mother's blood and shaking. When Orin arrived at the bar and grill, he heard Linc tell the officer in charge that they were not going to talk to Buck until his lawyer got there. Orin could tell Buck was shaken up pretty bad and suffering from shock. Orin noticed a strange woman had squatted down next to Rosie's body. The woman wore a brown leather jacket with fringe on the sleeves and the back yoke, faded blue jeans and western style boots. Her brown hair hung to her waist in waves. Orin walked over to Linc who was sitting in a booth with Buck. Orin knew Officer Yancy very well and didn't like the man. Apparently, neither did the strange woman. Yancy was trying to get Linc to let Buck tell him what he'd seen. The woman told Yancy to back off and it didn't take a genius to figure out what happened. The woman joined him and Linc and introduced herself as Cady Tanner from Texas. The woman had the bluest eyes Orin had ever seen. They were the color of a clear blue sky. Cady told Buck he could call her Cady and she promised Buck she would find the man who did this to his mama, and she did. Linc was so impressed with the woman, that he had hired her to find Maude and Ezra. Within weeks, Cady had found Maude's trail. She told Linc Maude had fled to Paris France. In the time Cady searched for Maude, she and Linc became quite close. Cady had returned to Texas and a week after returning, she informed Linc she was pregnant. She told him as with Buck, if anything should happen to her, their child would be sent to him. When Cady had the baby, she called Linc to tell him she had a boy and named him Vincent Cody Tanner.
It was about this time, Linc ended up with custody of Nathan when Nathan's mother was found dead in her bathtub, wrists slashed. It was called a suicide and Carla's family honored her last request for Nathan to be sent to his father in Four Corners Nevada. With four boys, Linc knew he needed a house keeper, so he placed an ad in the paper. Orin screened the applicants. He didn't want Linc to fall to another con artist, besides, Linc had his hands full with the boys. So when Jenna Dunne showed up for her interview, Orin was thorough with his questioning and felt like she was perfect for his friend and his sons. What Orin forgot to factor in was his friend's attractiveness to the opposite sex. Miss Dunne was no exception. Jenna moved back to Boston when she got a phone call from her Uncle of her father's stroke and was needed back home. Jenna had a pretty good idea she was pregnant when she left Linc and the boys and told Linc this the day she left. Jenna phoned Linc the day she had the boy telling him the boy's name, John David Dunne. She named him after his two grandfathers, John Larabee and David Dunne. Jenna's father loved the boy and doted on him as much as he could. It was Jenna's father that started to call John David JD because it was easier for him and his younger brother's name was John.
When Cady Tanner died, it broke Linc's heart when he went down to Texas to get Vincent and was told the boy was already in the foster system and there wasn't anything he could do.
When Jenna died, JD was ten years old. A friend of hers brought the boy to Linc on his way to California. The man said Jenna wanted her son to be raised by his father and had asked him to make sure Linc got JD. Linc thanked the man.
Orin didn't hear his secretary come into his office because he was deep in his memories of the past. He was startled out of his memories when she spoke to him and let him know he had an early visitor.
"Who is it?"
His secretary smiled down at him. "Ezra P. Standish."
"He's here?" The woman nodded. "Well, send him in."
"Yes Sir," The woman chuckled. She knew how long her boss had waited for this man and if she wasn't married and six months pregnant, she would definitely make a play for the man.
Ezra was in the waiting room staring out a window when the secretary entered. "He'll see you now Mr. Standish."
Ezra faced the woman. "Thank you Miss..."
The woman smiled. "It's Mrs. Wakefield. You may call me Tanya if you like."
"Tanya?" Ezra grinned.
"Yeah, my dad was a Tanya Tucker fan," Tanya shrugged.
Tanya lead Ezra to Orin's office. After she shut the door, Tanya took a deep breath and fanned her face as she walked away.
Orin stood to greet Ezra and to shake his hand. "Thanks for coming in early."
Ezra shook the hand offered him. "Not a problem Mr. Travis."
"Please, call me Orin and have a seat."
Orin watched as Ezra sat across from him and thought he saw the young man wince in pain, but it was only a split second so he chucked it up to his imagination.
Ezra sat down across from Orin Travis and felt a sharp pain in his side from the busted ribs from his so called accident prior to his flight here from Kansas City. "Please, excuse mah appearance. Mah plane landed an hour ago in Eagle Bend and Ah didn't have the time to acquirah a room at a hotel to freshen up and be presentable."
"Other then looking exhausted, you look fine."
Ezra looked down at his attire and frowned. "Ah look atrocious."
"I have seen worse," Orin said then came around his desk to take the chair next to Ezra. "When you called the other day, you said you wanted to talk to me about something. What is it you want to talk about?"
Ezra looked over at the man seated next to him. "Mah fathah. Ah have only recently discovered he tried to look for me. Is that true? Did he want me?"
"Yes, he wanted you," Orin sighed. "Don't blame him for something I did."
"Yes, me," Orin said and looked Ezra in the eyes. "I didn't tell him the day your mother came to see me and demanded he do something. She had you in a car seat with her and I told her a paternity test would have to be done. The test proved you were Lincoln's son. So, given your mother's past, I had papers drawn up for Linc to take full custody of you on the grounds of her being a con artist, therefore unfit to raise you. She ripped the papers up in front of me and swore Linc would never see you or find you. She took you and vanished and it was all my fault. Your father had nothing to do with it."
Ezra nodded. "Ah do understand why you did what you did. And knowing mothah like Ah do, Ah would have done the same if Ah was in your position."
"I'm glad you understand and I apologize for my role in what happened. Linc forgave me long ago..."
"But you haven't forgiven yourself," Ezra deadpanned.
"Lincoln got to raise five of you boys on the ranch."
"Five of us? How many of us are there?"
Orin laughed at the look on Ezra's face. "Seven that we know of. Linc was a ladies man. He was only married once, to Chris's mother."
"I don't think you do. Linc offered to marry the rest, except for Maude and as I said before, that's my fault. They all turned him down because Linc was still in love with his wife and they didn't want to live with her ghost."
"You said he raised five on his ranch," Orin nodded. "Other then mahself, who did he not raise?"
"That would be Vincent. Son number six as Lincoln was often heard to say about his boys."
Ezra raised an eyebrow at Orin. "Perchance, was mah fathah a Charlie Chan fan."
Orin laughed at the reference to the Chinese detective of the twenties, thirties and forties. "Actually, yes he was. He did like a good mystery."
"What number am Ah?"
"Five. Ezra? May I ask you a personal question?"
Ezra took a deep breath, wondering what question this man wanted to ask and if he was willing to answer it. "You may ask, but Ah may not answer it."
"Fair enough. When I first found you, and notified you of your father's passing, you were living in Las Vegas and working at the casinos. What happened to make you move to Atlanta. And before you answer, what ever you say will not go beyond these walls."
Ezra leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees. "You'll find out eventually. Ah had found a discrepancy in the books of one of the casinos. Ah went to inform the owner of what Ah had found," Ezra sighed and looked over at Orin. "Ah walked into his office without knocking and witnessed his body guard shooting one of the black jack dealers. Needless to say, Ah ran. Your summons came right after the trial for which Ah was the key witness for the prosecutor."
"Behind bars?" Orin nodded his head. "Yes he is, but he still has his connections on the outside. Ah went to Atlanta to speak with an Aunt. She told me about the private investigator mah fathah had hired when Ah was a toddler and later when Ah was eight and fifteen years of age."
"Yes he did. He never stopped looking for you or Vin. Vin showed up on his door step when he was eighteen. Vin's mother made sure he knew who is father was."
Ezra looked down at the floor. "Mothah nevah told me who mah fathah was. All the moving makes sense now."
Tanya poked her head into Orin's office. "Orin, the rest of them are here for the reading. I put them in the conference room."
"Thanks, Tanya," Tanya left and Orin stood then looked down at Ezra. "Shall we go and read that will and you can meet your six brothers?"
"Yes, just need a couple of minutes."
"Sure, take your time, but not too much time," Orin said and lightly patted Ezra's left shoulder. Orin became alarmed when Ezra wrenched his shoulder away from Orin's touch and hissed in pain. "Ezra?"
"Ah'll be fine," Ezra said through clenched teeth.
"Right," Orin said and went to the door. "Tanya? Get Dr. Jackson."
"Yes Sir, right away."
Orin made his way back to Ezra.
"There is no cause for alarm. Ah wish not to delay the reading for the good doctor to come,"
Orin smiled down at Ezra. "Dr. Jackson is one of your brothers, as is Dr. Sanchez."
With his right elbow on the arm of the chair, Ezra put his head in his hand and mumbled. "Naturally."
Nathan came into the office and saw Orin standing next to a man sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He assumed the man was the lost brother the six of them have been wondering about. Nathan knelt down in front of the man and smiled up at him. "What seems to be the problem?"
"It's his shoulder, Nate."
Nathan nodded to Orin then looked back at his patient. "It's Ezra, right?" Ezra indicated Nathan was correct in his assumption. "Is your shoulder the only thing that's tender?" Nathan waited for Ezra to say something. "I can do an exam right here and now and I will find all the sore spots. So you might as well tell me."
Ezra glared down at Nathan. "Fine. Ah have a dislocated shoulder, a cracked clavicle, cracked and busted ribs, a slight concussion and numerous cuts and bruises."
"Were you in some kind of accident?" Chris asked when he heard Ezra tell Nathan all his injuries.
The three men in the office didn't hear Chris and the others enter the office until Chris spoke.
"That's what the officer called it. It's what happens when ones brakes fail and one is forced to stop by other means," Ezra hated feeling weak in front of people and that's exactly how he felt at the moment. He wanted to get the reading of the will done and over with so he could go and get himself a room at a hotel and take a pain pill and go to sleep and not wake up till sometime tomorrow.
"Where's your sling?" Nathan asked.
Ezra sighed. "In mah carry on."
"Those your bags in the waiting room?" Chris asked.
"JD?" Chris said without looking back at JD.
"Got ya, Chris," JD said and left.
"I think I'll go help 'em," Vin said as he left to follow JD.
JD and Vin returned with Ezra's luggage and sat them in front of him. Ezra winceed in pain when he reached for the carry on.
Nathan stopped him. "Which one?"
Ezra pointed to the duffle bag. Nathan pulled out the sling and helped Ezra to put it on. He then fished out the pain pills.
Ezra shook his head. "No pain pill."
JD looked at all his brothers then back at Ezra. "You need them."
"They make me drowsy. Ah would like to stay awake for the reading of ouah fathah's will."
"You should be in a hospital," Josiah stated.
"The doctor that treated me after mah accident said as much when Ah signed mahself out refusing treatment."
"Why?" Buck asked. He could see how much pain the man was in.
Ezra looked up at Buck. "If Ah had stayed, Ah wouldn't be here."
"When did you have this accident?" Orin asked.
Ezra looked back at Orin. "Yesterday morning. I was on mah way here and nearly made it. The accident occurred just before Kansas City Missouri."
"You were almost here," Orin sighed.
"Wait a minute. I thought you said he lived in Las Vegas?" Chris directed his question to Orin.
Orin sighed. "He was, but he had to move to Atlanta."
Vin noticed a look between Ezra and Orin that sent a warning signal to his brain. "Is there somethin' we all should know about?"
Orin didn't say another word. He had given his word he wouldn't say a thing to anyone.
Ezra sighed and told the others what he told Orin.
"So, yer the one."
"What are you talking about?" Chris asked Vin.
"Those four casinos that were mixed up in that mess down in Vegas where an undercover fed got wasted," Vin answered.
"Yeah, I remember that. It was a bookkeeper that brought that casino owner down," JD informed everyone.
Buck looked down at Ezra. "You're a bookkeeper?"
"Ah think that was just established, and what is wrong with me being a bookkeeper?"
Buck raised his hands in surrender and smiled. "Nothing. I need one for the Wild Horse. I could use an accountant too, know of a good one?"
Ezra smiled. "Ah could possibly take a look at your books and do some accounting. It seems Ah have a knack with numbers."
"And you worked at a casino?" Nathan stated more then asked.
Ezra laughed and winced. "Ah was not permitted to gamble at the casinos Ah worked for."
Orin leaned over his desk to look at his appointment book. "Boys, I know we're supposed to be reading your father's will, but under the circumstances..."
"No Sah, Ah came all this way and Ah intend to hear it."
"Are you sure?" Orin asked.
"Yes. These Gentlemen have waited for this day since the death of ouah fathah this past June. Ah do not wish for them to wait any longer."
Josiah sat in the chair next to Ezra. "We're more concerned about you then dad's will right now," Josiah patted Ezra's knee and saw Ezra wince. "That hurt?"
"As Ah said before, Ah have numerous cuts and bruises."
"We can read the will here in my office," Orin said and went around the desk and sat down in the office chair.
Buck, Vin and JD left and came back with chairs. Tanya followed them with a cart that had a TV and DVD/VHS player and set them up then left after she smiled down at Ezra.
Orin pressed the button on the remote for the DVD/VHS player and Lincoln Larabee's image came onto the screen. After Linc was done, Orin turned off the TV and DVD/VHS player. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. It was Chris who broke the silence.
"Did he know what he was asking? Did he really think I would be okay with this?" Chris glared at Orin.
Josiah shook his head. "It's not right to force Chris back to the ranch. Or any of us for that matter. JD has been doing great in keeping the ranch up and running."
"I ain't quittin'. I done told him that when he's alive," Vin said, a bit angrily.
Orin sighed. "It's only for a year."
"What about Josiah and I?" Nathan asked. "Our practices are in Eagle bend,"
"You still can work out of Eagle Bend, but you must live together under the same roof. All seven of you."
"Ezra don't even know us. What made dad think he would go along with this?" JD asked.
"That I can't answer. What I do know is he wanted his sons to be a family, not scattered."
Buck leaned forward and sighed. "It is only for a year," Buck looked up at Ezra and smiled. "Besides, we have our missing brother to get to know."
Leave it to the peacekeeper of the family Orin thought.
"Yeah, I just wish dad wasn't forcing the issue," Chris said as he stood.
The rest of the guys stood, except for Ezra, who took a deep breath before attempting to get up. When he did, Josiah and Nathan were there to help him when he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Take him home, boys. He needs to rest," Orin said, indicating Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
It's been a month since the will was read and the seven brothers had settled into a routine. They celebrated their first Christmas together. Josiah's son Aaron had called Josiah on Christmas day and wished him a merry Christmas. Chris had liked the changes to the house his father had made like finishing the basement. There were three bedrooms and a full bath. The laundry room had been moved down in the basement. The extra room down in the basement had been turned into a family and game room with a pool table. The guys soon learned not to let Vin and Ezra team up as partners and to NOT let Ezra break. You will lose every time. There was also a poker table down there. They soon learned why Ezra was band from some of the casinos in Vegas and his love of magic.
It's New Year's Eve at the Wild Horse and the guys are having a good time. The only ones drinking are Nathan, Vin and Ezra. Buck is tending bar. Being recovering alcoholics, Chris and Josiah didn't dare take a drink, and JD's only twenty years old.
A young man in his mid twenties took a seat at the bar next to Chris.
"Horace," Chris greeted.
"Chris," Horace returned and took a drink from his mug of beer Buck sat down in front of him. "Hey, can the two of you tell me the secret on how to beat your brothers at pool? Donnie and me can't seem to beat them. We've played five games and they won every one of them."
Chris and Buck laughed.
"If you can figure that one out, tell us," JD said as he sat down on the stool next to Horace.
"Larabee," Chris answered his cell phone. "Shit! On my way."
"Chris?" Buck said in concern when Chris pocketed his phone.
"There's another fire," Chris said and got up to leave.
"Be careful," Buck yelled so he could be heard over the crowd.
"Always," Chris yelled back as he ran out of the bar.
+ + + + + + +
Chris arrived at the burning building. Four Corners didn't have a regular fire department. All it had was volunteers and an old fire engine. Chris jumped out of his truck and ran over to the acting fire chief.
"Hey Myron," Chris greeted.
Myron looked over at Chris. "Sheriff."
"Do you have any clues on what the arsonist used and where it was started?"
Both men looked up to the third story when they heard a blast and a third story window break and rain glass down on everyone below. Chris and Myron ducked away from the exploding window. The next thing they heard was a volunteer as he ran past them and yelled it's going to blow. Volunteers started to run when the explosion hit blowing the side of the building out. What volunteers were close was thrown in mid air while others had gotten thrown back off their feet. Chris and Myron among them. Debris rained down on them. The handful of people that didn't get caught in the blast called for emergency help.
+ + + + + + +
"You know Vin and Ezra hasn't had to pay for one drink?" JD said more then asked Buck.
"Yeah, I know," Buck laughed.
"How's the new girl working out for you?" JD asked.
"She's great. It pisses me off about Luthor though. The man was good at his job," Buck shook his head. "I hated to fire him."
"But Buck, you couldn't have him working here if he was stealing from you and drinking on the job. You were losing your profits."
The phone rang in the office.
"Shoot. Hey Inez honey, would you go get that?"
"Si," Inez answered and put the trey she had in her hands down on the bar and went to answer the phone. "Wild Horse Bar and Grill," Inez said when she answered the phone. "Yes, I will get him," Inez sat the phone receiver on the desk and went to get Buck.
"Who was it?" Buck asked when Inez returned.
"He wouldn't give me his name. All he said was it was urgent that he talked to you."
Buck sighed and handed Inez the towel he had slung over his shoulder. "Okay, thanks."
Buck entered the office and picked up the phone receiver off the desk. "Buck Wilmington."
A few minutes later Buck came out of the office and walked over to Inez. "Inez, start locking up while I'll go and make an announcement."
Inez looked up into Buck's face and saw unshed tears in his eyes and the paleness of his skin and knew not to say a word.
Buck made his way to the stage where the live band was playing. He wiped the tears from his eyes with the heals of his hands as he stepped up on the stage. He stopped the band playing and tapped on the mic. "Ladies and Gentlemen I have an announcement to make. There has been another fire down in the old part of Four Corners," Buck paused and took a deep breath. "While the volunteer Firemen were fighting the blaze, there was an explosion. Three of the firemen are dead," A gasp rode up among the crowd and Buck went on. "The minor injuries are being treated here at Four Corners Mercy," Buck shed a few tears before going on. "The other more serious and life threatening injuries are being taken to Eagle Bend. That's where my brothers and I will be headed after I lock up. I do apologize, but I need for all of you to leave so I can lock up. Thank you for your understanding."
"Buck, go. Me and the others can lock up. You need to go," Inez said when Buck made it back to the bar.
Buck looked down at his new waitress. "You sure?"
"Yes! Now go."
Buck looked up into his brothers' faces. "Let's go guys,"
+ + + + + + +
The six brothers arrived at a chaotic hospital. Nathan made his way to the admittance station, while the rest went to wait in the waiting room for him.
"Hey Dr. Jackson. I thought you had the night off."
"I do Candace. My brother Chris was brought here."
"I got this Candace," another nurse said.
"Okay," Candace said and moved away.
Linda sighed. "Chris is in critical condition. The doctors are trying to stabilize him now so they can take him into surgery. With his rare blood type, it's going to be hard to find a match to stabilize him. I'm sorry Dr. Jackson. I'll keep you up dated."
"Nathan, how is he?" Buck asked when Nathan joined his brothers in the waiting room with other families and sat down in one of the hard plastic chairs
Nathan sighed. "He's in critical condition Buck. They're trying to stabilize him now for surgery, but to do that, he needs blood."
"Damn," Buck said and dropped into one of the chairs beside Nathan.
Ezra was confused and concerned. "Ah understand Chris needs blood, but shouldn't they have plenty on hand for such a crisis?"
Buck sighed. "He doesn't know."
Nathan looked to Ezra. "Chris has a rare blood type like our dad had. Unless it's an exact type like what a parent or sibling would have, they can't give it to him. He can donate to either of us, but we can't donate to him."
"Ah know for a fact, Ah have my muthah's," Ezra sighed. He would have loved to be able to donate.
Josiah sat and preyed for a miracle. Vin stood in front of one of the windows overlooking the parking lot and wondered if Chris was going to make it.
Linda, the head nurse was checking the blood banks on line when Nathan came to the nurses' station to check on Chris's status.
"How soon can you get here?" Nathan over heard Linda talking to someone on the phone.
"Linda?" Nathan said to the head nurse.
Linda looked up at Nathan. "I'm doing my best Dr. Jackson."
Nathan nodded. "I know, but what's wrong?"
Linda sighed. "We have the blood we need for your brother on hand, but the doctors don't know if it's going to be enough to stabilize him and for surgery."
"Wait? You have it?" Buck said when he joined Nathan at the nurses desk.
Linda turned brown eyes toward him. "Yes. I'm on the phone to the donor."
"What's wrong then?" Buck asked.
"She doesn't have a ride here."
"Where does she live?" Ezra asked. "We will pick her up."
"She owns Pete's Salvage Yard just outside of Eagle Bend. You would have passed it when you came into Eagle Bend from Four Corners."
"Tell the young lady that her ride is on the way," Ezra said and headed out to his new BMW. Buck and Vin followed him.
Linda relayed the message to the woman on the other end of the line.
It didn't take long to reach the salvage yard. Buck slowed down when he came to the gate. The woman was standing outside the gate waiting for them. She had the hood of her full length coat up over her head so the guys couldn't see her face. The woman opened the door when Buck stopped in front of her and got into the car behind Ezra.
The woman removed her hood and looked around at the three men. "Hi, I'm Maxine Wright, but call me Max," Max said and held out her hand to Vin.
"Vin Tanner," Vin said and shook her hand. "The man drivin' is Buck Wilmington. The other guy is Ezra Standish."
Both Buck and Ezra greeted Max when Vin introduced them.
Buck kept looking in the rearview mirror at Max.
"Is something wrong Mr. Wilmington?" Max asked.
"No. You look a lot like Chris."
Ezra thought Max looked young. "If you do not mind mah asking, how old are you?"
Max sighed and pulled out her wallet from her coat pocket. She then took out her ID card from her wallet and handed it to Ezra. "I'm almost nineteen."
Ezra looked at the card and smiled. "Ah see you were born on the fourteenth of February."
"Sweet," Buck smiled back at Max. "
Max rolled her eyes when Ezra handed the card back. "I know. It's a curse being born on a holiday."
Breaking the speed limit, Buck drove back to Eagle Bend. Linda was waiting for them when they got there. She took Max with her to the lab to get everything started. Buck, Ezra and Vin joined Nathan, Josiah and JD in the waiting area.
"Nathan said there was a donor. Is that true?" JD asked.
"We had to go and get her, but yeah, there's a possible donor," Buck said, not wanting to get his hopes up as he dropped into one of the chairs.
"That's great," JD said.
"Yes, it is. Miss Wright was gracious enough to come all the way here to donate her blood for our brother."
Josiah smiled. "Miss Wright, huh?"
Buck chuckled. "Yeah, Miss Maxine Wright."
"Yeah, she turns nineteen on the fourteenth of February," Vin commented.
Vin noticed a glass cylinder display and walked over to it. The glass cylinder displayed a metal sculpture inside. The sculpture was easily six feet tall. The case was sitting on a two foot wooden base, which made the sculpture at least eight foot high. Vin had never seen anything like the sculpture before and he liked what he saw. On the base of the case had a plaque that read, Death; freedom from pain and suffering. Created and donated by Max.
A nurse saw Vin get up out of his chair and walk over to the sculpture on display and joined him. "Beautiful isn't it?"
"Yeah it is. I never thought death as being beautiful."
Most people don't. But this sculpture portraits the angel of death as a winged angel from heaven not a black cloaked skeleton demon brandishing a scythe. Here in the trauma unit, this helps the families of patients that pass away to come to terms with their deaths that much easier."
Ezra and Josiah joined Vin when the nurse walked away.
"It's quite beautiful," Ezra stated and Josiah agreed.
"I like that it was made with different kinds of metals," Josiah said as he walked around the case.
A little while later, Linda brought Max out to the lobby to join the guys. Nathan stood to greet the smiling women.
"Thanks, Max," Linda said.
"Well?" Nathan asked.
Linda smiled. "Perfect match," Linda said. "She was such a perfect match, we did a DNA test using Chris's blood. These are the results,"
"What?" Nathan asked in surprise.
Linda had to step back when Nathan shot out of the chair he was in and handed him the results.
Max looked from the nurse to Nathan. "Anything wrong? The doctor said I was a perfect match and there wasn't any reason why they couldn't use my blood."
Nathan's eyes got huge as he read the results. "No way," Nathan snapped his head up and stared at Linda. "This for real?"
"Yes Dr. Jackson," Linda answered.
Buck came to stand next to Nathan. "Nathan?"
The other four joined them.
"Is she a perfect match or isn't she?" Ezra asked.
Nathan shook his head. "Oh, yeah, she's a perfect match alright. She has the same rare blood type as Chris and Dad."
"That's good isn't it?" JD asked.
"They did a DNA test because she was such a perfect match using Chris's blood and all the points are there," Nathan smiled at his brothers. "She's our sister, guys."
"I'm what?" Max asked with a dumb founded look on her face.
"Our sister," Nathan repeated.
"Let me get this straight, you're sayin' we have a little sister and she's her?" Buck asked.
"Yes, yes I am," Nathan answered.
"Oh, this is good. Can't wait to tell Chris we found another sibling," Buck said excitedly.
Max went around the six men and sat down in a near by chair. She put her face in her hands and elbows on her knees.
Buck looked at each of his brothers then went and sat across from Max. "Max? Are you okay?"
Max lifted her face toward Buck, tears in her eyes. "Where is he?"
"Who Darlin'?" Buck asked.
Buck sighed as did the others, then took Max's hands in his. "Darlin', he passed away in June."
Max slouched back into the chair she was sitting in. "Dang it!"
Ezra sat down next to Max. "Ah didn't know the man either."
Max turned her head toward Ezra. "Did he know of you?"
"Yes he did."
"He had no idea I even existed," Max said and wiped the tears that started to flow.
Josiah handed Max a box of tissues. "Where is your mother?" He asked as he sat down on the other side of Max.
Vin and JD sat on either side of Buck while Nathan took a seat next to Josiah. They all wanted to be there for their new sister.
"I don't know and don't care. I left home when I was thirteen. I've been doing for myself since I was ten."
"Since you were ten?" Nathan asked, surprised."
"Yeah," Max answered. "Mom had an accident at work and hurt her back pretty bad. The doctor was a quack. As long as mom was on her pain pills, she could function, so he put her back to work after only three weeks of leave and on top of that, full duty. He then up the dosage. Mom ended up getting addicted to pain pills. When she could no longer get them," Max took a shuddering breath. "She started drinking and when that didn't work, she went to the illegal stuff. My mom never could handle pain that well," Max chuckled. "She would often ask me how I could."
Josiah reached over and started to rub her back. "I am so sorry you had to go through all that alone."
"What made ya want ta come ta Nevada?" Vin asked.
Max looked around at the brothers and smiled. "You guys."
"Huh?" JD said.
Max sighed. "When I was little, my mom told me about the night I was conceived," Max had all their attentions and had to laugh at some of the expressions she was receiving. "Mom had gotten dumped by the guy she was dating for over a year and was feeling down and in need of some company. So, she um, decided to tie one on and do something she never, ever had done before."
"She went bar hopping," Buck nodded.
"Yeah she did," Max agreed. "She went to bars she had never been to before because she didn't want to get recognized. It was the third one I think, any way, it was a western one. She sat at the bar and ordered a drink and looked around the place and that was when she spotted him," Max laughed.
"What's so funny?" JD smiled.
"Mom said it was like he had stepped out of one of those old westerns my grandpa loved so much. From his Stetson right down to his boots. She could tell he wasn't one of those fake cowboys that she had seen in bars before, so she took her drink and walked over to his table and asked if this seat was taken. She said he said yes, by her."
The guys laughed.
"That sounds like something dad would say," Buck laughed.
"She asked where he was from and he told her Nevada. She also remembers him saying something about being a widower with seven sons. She couldn't remember his name. But hey, she was drunk off her butt, there wasn't much she was going to remember," Max sighed. "She never told anyone about that night until she found out I was on the way."
Ezra smiled. "It would have become apparent soon enough, don't you think?"
Max laughed. "Yeah, it would have. He didn't force himself, I do know that, because mom said so. She told him she was on birth control so she couldn't get pregnant. She was so upset on getting dumped that she thought she had taken it."
Buck hung his head then looked up into Max's face and smiled. "She didn't, did she?"
Max shook her head. "Nope, she didn't. She realized that when she went to take it the next day."
"And by then, it was too late," Josiah said.
"I'm glad she did forget," Nathan said. "Because if she hadn't forgotten to take it, she wouldn't have had you and there would be a very good possibility of losing Chris tonight. As it is, there's a good possibility we won't."
"I came here to Nevada because I wanted to find him and get to know my brothers. I know I had very little to go on, but I couldn't stay at home with my mom and her boyfriend."
"Boyfriend?" Josiah asked.
"Did he try anything with you?" Ezra asked in concern.
"Yes, boyfriend and no he didn't. But I wasn't going to give him the chance."
"What ya do?" Vin asked.
A mischievous look came over Max's face. "I sort of blackmailed his ass."
A collective moan could be heard from the six brothers.
"What do you have on him and is there a chance he will retaliate?" Ezra asked.
"Not likely," Max said and pulled a CD from her large coat pocket and held it up. "Not with what's on this. See, I needed to get out here and he didn't like me very much. Well, my attitude anyway. I'm not proud of what I did, so don't go giving me those looks," She then leaned forward and rolled up her left sleeve and showed the scares there. "There's more on my right arm."
Nathan reached over and took her arm. "Those are cigarette burns."
"I told you he didn't like my attitude," Max said and rolled her sleeve back down. "I told him if he would help me to get my money from my bank account and to get a one-way bus ticket to anywhere in Nevada, he and my mom would never have to see or hear from again. He asked what was in Nevada. I told him my father and seven brothers. He laughed and said I had as much of a chance to find them as a snowball does in hell."
"I guess a snowball does have a chance in hell," Ezra smiled. "Are you going to answer mah first question?" Ezra asked and looked Max in the eyes when he asked it.
Max took a deep breath and let it out. "No. The less you all know, the better. Like my grandma would say, I made my bed, now I got to lie in it."
"Why do ya carry it with ya?" Vin asked.
"It's safer with me, what with everything that's been happening around the salvage yard."
"What's been happening around the salvage yard?" Buck asked, alarmed.
"There's been some vandalizing. It's like, someone is looking for something. Deputy Casper Collins doesn't think I should worry about it. This is my business. It may not be much to some people, but for me, it's everything. When Peter died, I thought for sure I would have to find somewhere else to live, but he surprised me by leaving everything he owned to me in his will."
"Everything?" Josiah asked. "What about his family?"
Max shrugged. "His wife died about ten years ago and their son died in Nam and their little girl drowned when she was nine. If he had any siblings, he never said anything to me."
"So, in essence, you were all he had," Ezra stated.
Max nodded her head. "You could say that. I took care of him when his eyes were failing him. He was in his nineties and diabetic, so he had a hard time reading the labels on cans and bottles."
Nathan sighed and stood. "I'm going to go and see how Chris is doing."
"I like your sculpture," Vin said, indicating the sculpture in the glass cylinder case.
"Thanks. With all the metal at the salvage yard, I thought why not make something with it. That was the first one."
"You have more?" Vin asked.
"Yeah. Other then that one here in the trauma unit, there's one up in pediatrics, ICU and over in the cancer wing. I just had one delivered to the cafeteria a couple of days ago. That's my newest one."
"Do you have any in other places?" JD asked.
"A few more. I have orders for more. It's hard keeping up with it all."
"If the others are any where near the beauty of this one, I can see where your art is in so much demand," Josiah said.
Max blushed at the complement. "Thanks."
Nathan rejoined his siblings in the waiting room. "He's finally in surgery."
"That's good. I'm glad I could help and as much as I would love to stay and get to know all of you, I have to get back."
"Yes of course. Buck, Josiah or JD may use the BMW to take you home. Buck has the keys."
JD stood to take the keys and take Max home.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke to a beeping sound and moaned.
"Hey there stud. You going to open them eyes of yours?" Buck asked.
"Come on little brother, open your eyes," Josiah said.
"Yeah, cowboy, we ain't got all day," Vin teased.
Chris opened his eyes and scowled at Buck, Josiah and Vin. "You three know I hate being called stud, little brother and cowboy."
"How you feeling?" Nathan asked.
"Like I had a building fall on me and lived through it. How do you think I feel, Nate?"
"Well, you almost didn't," Buck said
"How many didn't?"
The guys told Chris how many were dead and how many were seriously injured.
"Hey, we do have some good news," JD smiled down at his brother.
"You do? I could use some right about now," Chris said and looked around at his brothers' faces. Each one had a shit eating grin on his face. "Out with it."
"We decided Buck should tell ya," Vin smiled.
"We want to make sure you're awake enough to remember what we have to tell you," Buck said.
"Buck, tell me."
"We've found another sibling. Max has the same rare blood type you have."
Chris mauled this information around in his head. "So, we have another brother."
Chris's brothers laughed.
"Max is short for Maxine. We have a sistah," Ezra grinned down at Chris.
Chris closed his eyes. "You always wanted a little sister, Buck. Now you got one."
Four days later, Chris is waiting for Ezra to pick him up. Papers have been signed so as soon as Ezra gets there, Chris can leave. Ezra showed up a little past ten pushing a wheelchair into Chris room.
"Ah do apologize for mah tardiness. Ah had a flat on mah way to retrieve you from this deplorable excuse for..."
Chris held up his hand. "Ezra, please, just take me home."
"Of course," Ezra said realizing Chris may have a headache and wasn't up to long conversations.
After dropping off the books at the Wild Horse, Ezra left to go get Chris from the hospital. When he got to his car there was a note on his windshield. After Ezra read it, he took it to Orin and show it to him. Orin had it copied and has it on file so if anything should happen to him, the law knows where to look first. Ezra decided to wait on telling Chris about the threatening note he found on his windshield until Chris was feeling better. He didn't want to upset the man so soon after getting out of the hospital. Hence the real reason Ezra was late in picking Chris up from the hospital.
Ezra's BMW was parked in front of the hospital so Chris didn't have to wait for Ezra to bring the car around. With his key ring, Ezra started the car up so it was running when he wheeled Chris out to it. An orderly followed them so when Chris was settled into the car, the orderly took the chair back inside.
Ezra pushed a couple of buttons on the console after he got in and closed the door. "This should help keep the chill out,"
Chris leaned back in the seat and seat belted himself in. By the time Ezra had gotten three blocks, Chris could feel the heat from the heated seat.
"A person could get used to this," Chris smiled over at Ezra.
Ezra laughed. "Yes they could. You can adjust the temperature to suit yourself."
Chris looked out the side window and sighed.
Ezra glanced over at Chris when he heard him sigh. "Is there something on your mind?"
Chris looked over at Ezra. "Yeah there is. The other day when the others were telling me about Max, you didn't say a word, why?"
Ezra took a side road that would take them home and not through Four Corners. "Ah just feel she isn't telling us everything. Ah do not think she's lying, just not telling the whole truth. And Ah know a fake ID when Ah see one."
"How do you know she has a fake ID?"
Ezra grinned and looked over at Chris with a raised eyebrow. "Trust me, Ah know."
Ezra parked as close to the front porch as he could.
Their brothers were inside setting the table for lunch. Nettie had baked a casserole and Josiah was just taking it out of the oven when Chris and Ezra came in the front door.
"You're just in time, Brothers," Josiah said as he placed the casserole in the center of the table.
Chris took his place at the head of the table after he and Ezra removed their coats and boots and shoes. Nettie sat at the other end of the table and said grace. The conversations around the table were about the foot and a half feet of snow that fell over night, Buck's new waitress, Inez and a couple of horses JD's interested in. After lunch, Josiah helped Nettie to clean up while the rest of the guys went to the living room to watch some TV. Buck and Chris sat in the two recliners, Vin, Nathan and Ezra sat on the couch and JD took the ottoman. A news report came on in the middle of their program just when Josiah and Nettie came into the living room, causing groans and words of displeasure. The Reporter was standing next to the Sheriff of Eagle bend but what got everyone's attention, except for Chris and Nettie, was the young woman standing next to the ambulance with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
"That's Max!" JD shouted and pointed to the TV.
Chris squinted at the TV. "That's Deputy Casper Collins she's arguing with."
"Whoa," Buck said as he put his feet down. "She just slapped his face."
"That can not be good," Ezra shook his head.
"It's not," Chris said and picked up his cell off the end table between the two recliners and made a call.
"Hey there Dale."
"Larabee. I can't chat with you right now, I've got a situation on my hands."
"I know, I'm watching it on TV. What the hell is going on?"
Dale sighed. "What's going on? I have an irate salvage yard owner. The vandals stepped up their game by shooting and killing the owner's guard dog and blew up a couple of propane tanks. We're trying to get her to leave the property because it's become unsafe for her to stay here any longer. The only way she's going to leave is if she's forced. If I know her like I think I know her, she'll lock herself in her camper and not come out. She hasn't done anything illegal so I can't arrest her."
"She assaulted your deputy."
"You seen that did you?"
"Yeah, we all did. Look, Dale, she's our little sister. We can come and get her."
There's a pause before Dale spoke. "Maxine Wright is a Larabee?"
"Yeah she is. We just found out a week ago."
"Well damn, it all makes sense now."
"What do you mean it all makes sense now?"
Dale laughed. "She's got the Larabee temper and stubbornness that you have and the magnetism that you all have."
Just then there was a crash and the camera was turned to reveal a pile of cars that looked to have been stacked.
Chris heard Dale yell as did everyone who was watching the TV. "Damnit to hell! Somebody stop her!"
The next scene on the TV was Max running toward the pile of cars and deputies chasing her.
Buck was up out of his chair. "What the hell does she think she's doing?"
"Running to the crash sight," Ezra answered.
"I think that was a rhetorical question, Ez," Josiah said.
"Larabee? Get your ass here and get her and bring a truck. One equipped to haul a thirty foot streamline fifth wheel camper," Dale said and hung up.
Chris got up from his chair and stood next to Buck. "Buck? Get dad's black GMC."
Buck looked over at Chris. "The monster?"
"Yep," Chris answered.
"Why do you need dad's truck?" Josiah asked.
"It has a duel axel and a hemi. We're going to need them to haul a thirty foot fifth wheel back home."
"Hey, what the heck is that?" JD asked as he pointed to the TV.
"A giant magnet, kid," Buck answered and left to go get the monster.
Chris looked to Nettie. "Nettie could you stay a bit longer and get the last room set up. I have a feeling we're going to need your help when we get back."
"Oh my God! Did you see what she did with that car?" JD said. "Cool."
Nathan was the closest to JD so he reached over and smacked JD on the back of the head.
"Hey, why did you do that?"
"She could've hurt somebody, JD," Vin said.
"Nah, there wasn't anyone near the deputy's car when she dropped the old wrecked car on top of it."
"It makes one wonder if ouah sistah has a grudge against Deputy Collins."
"Ya think, Ez?" Vin said more then asked.
"Seeing as that's his car, I would say so," Josiah stated as he and Nettie took the recliners Buck and Chris vacated.
Chris shook his head and left.
+ + + + + + +
The news crew was gone by the time Buck pulled into the salvage yard. He was greeted by a young deputy with the name L. Greyson on the tag on his uniform.
Buck rolled down his window. "Hey there Deputy. We're here to get our sister."
"You'll want to go back out the front gate and drive around the salvage yard to the side road and come in from the back. That's where the fifth wheel is and it'll be easier to get to."
"Thanks," Buck said.
"I'll meet you there," Chris said as he got out of the truck.
"Okay," Buck said and started to back out of the salvage yard.
Chris walked up to Max and Deputy Collins.
"What seems to be the problem?" Chris asked.
Max looked Chris over. "Who are you?"
Chris smiled down at Max. "Your brother, Chris. The one you haven't met."
"You should be home resting."
"So, what's the problem?"
"The Sheriff and his deputies unhooked my camper. They know it can't be moved because I don't have a truck to move it with."
Just then, as if on cue, Buck shows up with the monster.
Sheriff Ferguson was standing next to the camper and guided Buck as he backed up to the fifth wheel.
"What the hell?" Max yelled.
"You are out of here, Maxie," Deputy Collins said with a condescending attitude.
Max glared at Collins and then moved toward her camper.
Collins went to move but Chris stopped him. "I don't ever want to hear you take that attitude with my sister again, you hear me Collins?"
Collins jerked his arm out of Chris's grasp. "I'll take any damn attitude I please. You're not the boss of me remember? You fired me when you became Sheriff."
"Yes I did, but when it comes to me and my family, I don't care who you are, you will treat us with respect."
"That sister of yours is a pain in my ass. When she starts showing me respect, I'll show her some and not before. I'm the law here, not you."
"Collins," Dale called.
"What?" Collins said angrily as he jerk his head toward his boss.
"I am your boss. You will treat Sheriff Larabee with respect," Dale said.
"You should have let me arrest her for assault," Collins said as he pointed to Max. "Look at what she did to my car!" Collins yelled.
Dale joined Chris and Collins. "From what I understand from witness', you deserved the slap to your face. She asked you three times to move your car so she could take care of the pile of cars before anyone got hurt but you didn't, even when you were warned. Levi even volunteered to move it for you, but you refused him. Levi told me she was trying to maneuver around it when you shut the magnet off causing the car she had to fall onto your car. That's all on you."
Collins glared in Deputy Greyson's direction.
"Now get over there and help Mr. Wilmington with the camper."
Collins left in a huff to go do as he was told. Ferguson stood next to Chris and watched Collins. "I should have never hired him after you fired him. Why did you fire him?"
"I didn't like his attitude around the other deputies."
"He does have a condescending attitude toward his fellow officers. And your sister."
"What does he have against Max?"
Dale grinned. "She turned him down flat. I wasn't there, but Greyson was. It was during our annual fund raising. She had made one of her sculptures for the rally drawing. I had sent Casper and Levi to fetch it. The reason I sent Levi was he had the truck to do it. Anyway, Casper got one look at Max and decided to pour on the charm and ask her out, but she said no. He persisted. She finally had enough and backed him off with her cutting torch aimed at his manhood."
Chris winced in sympathy. "Ouch. So, from what I can gather, Collins started this grudge war between them."
"Oh yeah. I try not to get between them. I did that once, not again. Your sister is very capable of fighting her own battles."
Chris and Dale watched the scene in front of them unfold. Buck and Levi were hooking the camper up to the monster while Max and Collins went at it. Max turned and was almost to the camper door when Collins said something about Max's dog. Max whirled around and started toward Collins with something akin to murder in her eyes.
"Damn it, Collins!" Dale yelled.
Before Max reached Collins, Buck had stepped between them and scooped Max up and carried her over his shoulder to the passenger door of the truck and jerked the door open and put Max in the cab and told her to stay and then went and got in Collins face.
"Shit," Chris said and rushed over to Collins just as Buck got to Collins.
"You had no right to say what you said," Buck yelled in Collins face. "She loved that dog."
"If you're looking for an apology from me, it ain't happening. That damn dog was a menace. It should have been shot long ago."
"I didn't have a problem with Petey," Deputy Greyson said.
"Shut up Greyson," Collins snapped.
"Hey, there's no need to be rude," Buck said.
Chris went inside the camper to make sure everything was travel ready. He took down the small flat screen TV after he removed the sofa cushion and put it on the floor and place the TV on it so it wouldn't break. He then tried the back door, but it didn't budge so he went back to the other door he came in through and shut it.
"Max, where's the keys to these doors?" Chris asked. "You're supposed to be in the truck where Buck put you."
"There isn't any. The only time I lock it is when I'm in it," Max answered. "And I want to know why you're doing this. I'm being kidnapped. House and all."
"We're not kidnapping you Max," Buck said.
"Then what do you call it? I don't want to leave. This is my home."
"It's only temporary," Chris said. "This way, Sheriff Ferguson and his deputies can conduct a thorough investigation into the vandalism of your junk yard."
"This is not a junk yard. It's a salvage yard. Get it straight," Max said as she walked up to Chris and glared at him, hands on her hips.
"Just because you slap a fancy name on it doesn't change the fact it's still a junk yard," Chris countered, arms crossed across his chest.
Buck has all he could do not to burst out laughing at the stand off.
"Guys, this isn't getting us anywhere," Buck smiled.
Dale smacked Buck on the arm to get his attention. "Don't stop ''em, Buck. I'm enjoying watching Larabee argue with himself."
Buck couldn't hold it any longer when both Chris and Max glared at Dale with identical glares.
Levi shook his head. "Max, look, your brother is right. We can't do a thorough investigation if we're worrying about your safety. They blew up your extra propane tanks and shot Petey. Next could be your camper with you in it. He did say it was only temporary and you'll be taking your house with you."
"What about my tools? I still have orders to fill. Where else am I going to get scrap metal for my orders?"
"Take your tools with you. We have plenty of scrap metal around the ranch," Buck said taking Levi's lead.
"You do?" Max asked.
"Yes we do. We even have an old barn that we don't use any more," Chris agreed.
"Yeah, not since we built the new one," Buck could see Max caving.
Max faced Levi. "You'll take care of my bug?"
Levi smiled down at Max. "Of course. Let's go and get your tools."
Max and Levi left to go get Max's tools from the salvage yard office.
Chris, Buck and Dale looked over at Collins when they heard him growl.
"Collins, I think we have everything under control here, why don't you head home?" Dale said knowing if Collins stuck around, Buck and or Chris would do or say something Collins would live to regret.
"But..," Collins started before he was interrupted by Chris.
"You heard your boss. Go home."
Collins sighed. "I was going to say, I don't have a car to go home with. Max dropped a car on it."
"Here," Dale tossed Collins the keys to his ford explorer. "I'll catch a ride with Levi."
Collins snatched the keys and left.
"He's jealous," Buck stated when Collins left, spewing gravel and dirt as he did so.
"I know," Dale shook his head. "And Levi's oblivious to it."
"How old is Levi?" Chris asked.
"He turned eighteen August fourteenth. He hasn't been a deputy for long, but he's good at what he does and yes I think he has a thing for your sister."
"And vice versa by the sounds of it," Buck grinned when they heard Levi and Max laughing.
"Ready?" Chris asked when the two joined them.
"Where's Collins?" Levi asked. "I was going to offer him a ride home."
Chris caught a fleeting look in Deputy Greyson's eyes and knew the young man wasn't as oblivious as Ferguson thought he was.
Buck loaded Max's tools as she called them and without a key to lock up the camper's doors, Buck took out a piece of rope and handed it to Chris to tie the doors closed because they didn't want them to fly open while going down the road toward home. Chris didn't bother to tie the rear door because it was jammed and wasn't budging.
"Hey, Chris? Did you lock the other door when you were in there earlier?"
"Nope, it's jammed shut. I don't think it's going to open on the trip home."
Max chuckled. "It ain't jammed Chris. It's welded shut."
"I guess we don't have to worry about it then, do we," Buck said and slammed the tool box shut that's kept in the back, tight against the cab.
Levi had opened the passenger door for Max. "Take care Max."
"Of course. Don't I always?" Max said as she climbed up in the cab.
"Just don't forget to put ice on your ankle okay?"
"I won't," Max sighed.
"We'll make sure she don't," Chris confirmed and climbed up beside Max as Buck climbed in behind the wheel.
"I hope they catch the vandals," Max sighed when Buck pulled away from the salvage yard.
Chris looked over at Max who was wearing a bright neon yellow hoodie and navy blue sweat pants tucked inside a pair of some kind of snow boots with sheep skin lining and no gloves. She had the hood part of the hoodie up over her head preventing Chris from seeing her face. Chris reached over and turned up the heat thinking Max must be cold. Why else would she be huddled in the seat between him and Buck.
Max wiped a tear that threatened to fall from her eye with the back of her hand.
The movement didn't go unnoticed by Chris and Buck.
"You crying?" Buck asked.
"You would to if you had the morning I had."
Chris nodded his head. "We saw it on the TV."
"Well, you didn't see all of it," Max stated.
Chris reached over and started to rub Max's back but stopped when she hissed and squeezed her eyes shut and arched her back away from him.
"Max? What didn't we see?" Chris said, concerned.
Max sighed, and pushed back the hood and faced Chris "You didn't see the explosion, or my best friend and companion getting shot to death right in front of me. You also didn't see me running for my life and having to dive for cover."
"Is that how you injured your ankle?" Buck asked.
Max nodded her head. "Yeah and my back and side."
"Do you have any pain pills?" Chris asked.
"Yes, but I won't take them."
"If you're in pain, you need to take them."
"I can handle the pain," Max sighed at the look Chris gave her. "I just don't want to turn out like my mother."
Chris looked up at Buck when Buck sighed. "I take it you know what's she referring to."
Buck glanced over at Chris then back to the road. "Yeah I do. So does the others. We just didn't think it was our place to tell you."
Chris looked back at Max and waited for her to explain what she meant.
Max told Chris how her mother became an addict, and how she had to take care of herself since she was ten because of it.
"I just don't want to end up that way," Max pleaded.
"Why don't you go ahead and tell him all of it, like how you got out here on your own at thirteen," Buck grinned.
"I already know."
"Not all of it you don't," Buck sighed.
Max looked up at Chris. "Tell me what you know and I'll tell you the rest."
Chris told her what their brothers had told him. He wanted to know what was on the CD ROM that she had blackmailed her way out here with.
"May I see the burn marks on your arm?" Chris asked when it was apparent Max wasn't going to tell him what was on the CD.
Max pulled up both the hoodie and long sleeved t-shirt sleeves on her right arm to show Chris.
"How old are you?" Chris asked after he took a good look at the burn scars.
Max took her arm from Chris and quickly rolled down her sleeves. "According to my ID, I'll be nineteen February fourteenth. Why?"
"That's not what I asked. You say you came out here when you were thirteen. Those burn scars look to be about two and a half, maybe three years old. Unless this Pete person you've been staying with did this to you, the math doesn't add up," Chris glared. "So I'll ask again, how old are you?"
Max groaned and put her face in her hands then looked over a Buck.
"Hey, don't look at me, kiddo. You made this mess."
Max sighed before she turned and looked at Chris. "I'm fifteen. My birthday really is February fourteenth."
"Is Maxine Wright your real name?" Chris asked.
Max hemmed and hawed before she answered with a little pitch in her voice. "Yeah."
Chris raised an eye brow. "Max?"
Max huffed. "Maxine isn't my first name, it's my middle name and Wright is my last name. No one, and I do mean no one alive in these parts knows what my first name is and I want to keep it that way."
"Come on, it can't be that bad," Buck grinned.
"Let's just say, if I could, I would sue my mother."
"Well, we're home," Buck announced as he pulled the rig into the driveway.
"Park up by the barn Buck," Chris directed.
Max's eyes got as big as saucers. "This is where you live?"
Chris and Buck looked at one another then down at the awe struck teenager between them. Buck parked the fifth wheel camper next to the barn where Chris indicated.
"Haven't you ever been on a working ranch before?" Buck asked.
"Are you kidding? I haven't been on a ranch period, working or other wise."
"Come on," Chris said as he got out of the truck. "Let's get you settled in and we'll show you around."
"Cool," Max said and hopped out of the truck.
As soon as Max hit the ground she yelped in pain. Chris was right there to catch her before she fell to the ground. Chris helped Max to steady herself.
"Thanks," Max smiled up at Chris.
Chris nodded his head once and then looked over at Buck when he came around the front of the truck. "Buck, help Max here get what she needs from the camper. Make sure she grabs her pain killers and fake ID," Chris said then left to go inside the house.
"You got it," Buck said then smiled down at Max. "Come on little sister."
Inside the camper, Max went to the bedroom at the front of the camper to gather a few cloths. Buck made his way to the dining table. On his way there, he passed a small waste basket and happened to look down in it and spotted the bottle of pain killer samples and prescription for more. He bent down and picked them up out of the basket and stuck them in his coat pocket. On the counter was Max's fake ID. He grabbed that too and put it in his other coat pocket.
"Got what I need from up here. I just need to get my tooth brush and tooth paste from the bathroom," Max said as she made her way down the steps that lead to the bedroom.
"Where's that?" Buck asked.
Max laughed. "Right here silly."
Buck opened the door that had a full length mirror on it. "That's no bigger then a broom closet. There's no way I could get in there and not feel like the walls are closing in on me."
Max laughed. "I'm not nearly as big as you Buck. It fits me perfectly."
Buck helped Max down out of the camper then they headed for the house.
Inside the house, Chris made his way to the living room and dropped down in one of the recliners and sighed as he let his head fall back against the back of the chair.
The other five brothers look to one another then back to Chris.
"What's wrong Chris?" Josiah asked.
Chris lifted his head up and looked at his brothers. "Max isn't as old as she said she was."
"How old is she?" Ezra asked, fearing the answer.
Chris stared at Ezra. "Fifteen."
Nettie gasped. "She's just a child."
"A child that has been operating her own salvage yard, at a small profit, Ah might add," Ezra said and shook his head.
"How do you know this?" Chris asked.
"Him and JD Googled the salvage yard," Vin answered.
Max and Buck could be heard arguing when they came to the back door.
"I said no, Buck. You're starting to piss me off," Max said as she opened the back door.
"Come on, you can't leave me hangin'," Buck begged as he followed Max into the living room.
"Chris," Max whined. "Please tell Buck to stop badgering me about my name."
"What's wrong with your name?" JD asked.
"Maxine is her middle name and she won't tell me or even give me a hint what her first name is," Buck answered.
"What is your first name?" JD asked.
Max looked over her shoulder at JD. "Seriously?"
Chris sighed. "Did you get the pills and ID?"
Buck handed Chris the pills, prescription and ID.
"May I see that?"Josiah asked, referring to the fake ID.
Chris handed the ID over to Josiah.
After he closely examined the ID, Josiah smiled down at Chris. "I know who made this. We all do, well except for Ezra."
"Who?" Nathan asked.
"Rembrandt," Josiah answered.
Chris took the ID back and looked at it some more. "You're right, it is his work. You know what this means?" Chris grinned at his siblings.
"You can nail his ass to the wall," Vin and JD high fived.
"Did he know you were a minor?" Josiah asked.
"Yeah, he asked to see my birth certificate, so I showed him."
"How much did he charge ya?" Vin asked.
"Not a red cent."
"This is some of his best work, how did you manage that?" Chris said holding up the ID.
"I had something he wanted so we traded," Max crossed her arms in front of her. "He's one of my best customers. He's even sent me some business."
"What was it that you had that he wanted?" Ezra asked.
"Late model muscle cars from the fifties and sixties. They're on the back lot with the other antique cars."
"Really? Any of them pickups?" Buck asked.
"Yeah. You looking for parts for an old truck?"
"As a matter of fact, yes I am. I need them for my 57 Chevy."
"I have four 57 Chevy pickups, I think, on the back lot."
"Great. Now did I hear you say something about a birth certificate?"
"You're back at that again?" Max moaned and smacked her hand to her forehead.
"When will you see the Rembrandt again?" Chris asked.
"I have no idea. He just shows up when he needs a part."
Chris sighed. "With all the TV footage that was filmed at the salvage yard, I doubt he's going to show up any time soon."
"Sorry," Max said and truly meant it.
"Will someone please get me a pair of scissors," Chris asked.
A couple of minutes later, JD handed Chris a pair of scissors. Chris cut the fake ID up in small pieces into an ashtray that sat on the end table.
Chris handed the scissors back to JD, and looked up at Max. "Now young lady, please go take a shower," Chris said, a little more harshly then he intended but Max had the smell of smoke on her and after the death of his wife and son, the smell of smoke upsets his stomach.
"Best if you take a bath. That way you can soak your ankle and it won't hurt as much as it would to stand in the shower," Nathan said.
Max nodded her head. She thought a bath sounded nice.
"Come on, I'll help you get settled in your new room and help you with the bath," Nettie said as she guided Max up stairs.
"JD? Could you go online and check something out for me?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, sure," JD answered. "What do you want me check out for you?"
Chris sighed. "Amber alerts,"
JD nodded and picked up his lap top from the coffee table and sat it on his lap.
Nettie showed Max her room. "Now you get what you need around while I go and draw your bath."
"Thank you," Max said and entered the room.
With her back to the door, Max had the cloths she wanted to put on laid out on the bed and had her hoodie and long-sleeved shirt off and had them draped over the arm of a chair when Nettie came into the room.
Max stiffened when she heard Nettie come into the room.
"Let me help you with that," Nettie said as she watched Max try to pull a strip of surgical tape off her right side.
"No, no. I can get it," Max said.
Max hissed when Nettie accidently touched the huge gauze that covered Max from the waist band of sweat pants to her sport bra and from her right side to just shy of her spine. They all knew Max was hurt, they'd seen it on the TV.
"It's ok Hon," Nettie said as she eased the tape back noticing the red welts from the tape. "You allergic to surgical tape?"
Max nodded her head. "Yes I am. I was hopin' to just loosen the tape a bit and maybe get it off when I got it wet."
Nettie worked the tape loose from Max's side then started at the bottom of the large bandage. When that was loosened, she started at the top. When she was half way done with the top, Nettie sucked in her breath with a gasp and brought a hand to her throat. "Oh my God, child."
Max looked over her shoulder at Nettie. "That bad, huh?"
Nettie took a couple of steps back, turned and ran out of the room.
The seven men heard someone running down the stairs. All their heads turned to the living room entry way when Nettie stopped at the archway.
"Nathan, you're needed upstairs and bring your bag."
"Nettie, we know about the bruises and cuts," Nathan informed.
Nettie placed her fists on her hips and glared at Nathan. "Did you know about the burn? The one that nearly covers half of her back?"
Nettie was barely able to step aside as all seven men rushed to the stairs.
"Didn't think so," Nettie said and followed the seven men to Max's room.
Max was trying to peel the rest of the bandage off when the seven men entered her room with Nettie right behind them.
Nathan stopped long enough in his room to get his medical bag before he entered Max's room.
Josiah rushed over to Max to help her peel the bandage off.
Nathan pushed past his brothers to stand next to Josiah.
"I need some warm water and a wash cloth," Nathan said when he examined the burn.
JD left to get the water and washcloth.
"Max, I want you to lay down on the bed on your stomach," Nathan said and helped Max to do so.
JD came in the room with a pink plastic tub that was used for their dad from when he had cancer and had to have sponge baths, full of water and a washcloth and sat it on the floor.
Max grabbed a pillow and held it to her face when Nathan started to clean the burn.
Max wanted to scream, but instead, she let out a loud growl, when Nathan took tweezers and started to peel off what the others thought was burnt skin.
"How close were you to the explosion?" Chris asked.
Max lifted her head and glared over at Chris. "Close enough for my coat to catch on fire."
"Before or after you dove for cover?" Buck asked.
Max sighed and flinched when Nathan peeled another piece of what ever it was stuck to Max's burn.
Josiah laid a hand on Nathan's shoulder. Nathan looked up into Josiah's concerned face. "I have to remove them Josiah."
"Whoa, them?" Vin said, confused.
"Yeah. She has bits of cloth stuck to the burn."
"The explosion happened before I dove for cover Buck."
Chris couldn't stand there and watch Nathan pick bits of cloth from Max, so left the room.
Buck sighed. He knew why Chris left.
Max looked up at Nathan. "Did I say something wrong?" Max asked and wiped away tears from her eyes.
"No, little sister, you didn't," Josiah answered and patted Max's shoulder.
Nettie and the guys filled Max in on Chris' wife and son."
"Oh. No wonder Chris wanted me to take a shower or bath. I reek of smoke."
"The last one," Nathan said as he peeled the last bit of cloth from the burned skin. "I don't want you to take a shower or bath today."
"I don't want to smell like smoke or fire neither Nathan. Especially if it's going to offend Chris."
"I'll help you get cleaned up after your brothers leave the room," Nettie said as she left the room.
Nathan bandaged the burn but instead of using surgical tape, he used paper tape.
Nettie came into the room with a large bath towel and laid it out on the floor in front of the bed. Buck and Nathan knew what Nettie needed. Buck picked up the plastic tub of water and went to the bathroom and dumped it out and refilled it with fresh water and grabbed cups. Nathan grabbed extra wash cloths and towels to wash and dry Max after Nettie was done washing her up. They didn't have to bring in the soap and shampoo because Max had them in her back pack along with her deodorant and conditioner. After they brought all the stuff Nettie would need, Buck and Nathan left and joined the rest of the brothers in the living room.
"Got it Chris," JD said when Buck and Nathan entered the living room.
"Got what Kid?" Buck asked.
"The Amber alert on Max."
"So there was one?" Chris said. He knew there would be in spite of what Max told them.
"Yeah, but I don't think her mom was the one who reported Max missing," JD answered as he typed some more into his lap top.
"Why do you say that?" Vin asked.
"Yep, I was right. According to the missing person's report, a Miss Tara Gooding reported Max missing."
"Who is this Miss Tara Gooding?" Ezra asked.
"She's, um... Max's God mother," JD read then burst out laughing. "Oh my God, no wonder Max don't want us to know her first name."
"You know her first name?" Buck said as he started to go for the lap top.
JD was quick and was up off the couch with his lap top before Buck could grab it. "Oh yeah," JD teased.
Vin and Ezra stood up behind JD and looked over his shoulder at the missing person's report.
"Ah would sue mah mother after Ah disowned her for shackling me with that name," Ezra shook his head.
JD looked over his shoulder at Ezra. "It is a cute name, Ez."
"He's got ya on that one," Vin smiled.
Ezra looked over at Vin. "Would you give your daughter that name?"
"No," Vin answered then looked over at Buck. "Buck might though."
Ezra had to agree with Vin.
Chris got up out of the recliner he was sitting in. " Let me see that report."
JD showed Chris the report. "The woman couldn't have been in her right mind to name Max that."
"Ok, this is killing me, what's her name?" Buck begged.
Chris looked up at Buck. He wanted to put Buck out of his misery at the same time he was enjoying the teasing. "I'll give you a hint, it relates to her birthday."
"Hey, that's too easy Chris?" JD protested.
"Ya got at make it easy for Buck, JD," Vin smiled down at JD.
"Yes, other wise, he won't get it," Ezra grinned up at Buck.
"When's her birthday?" Josiah asked.
"February fourteenth," Buck answered.
"Valentine's day," Nathan said out loud as he thought about the day and Chris's hint.
"Yeah, the day for lover's," Buck said.
Chris, JD, Vin and Ezra knew exactly when Buck figured it out.
"By George, Ah think he's got it," Ezra said with a British accent.
Max and Nettie came down stairs and into the living room to seven laughing men.
Max wanted in on the joke. "What's so funny?"
The guys all but stopped laughing. The guys were doing everything they could not to laugh or even look at Max.
Nettie watched the seven men, five of which she had a hand in raising, as she put her coat on. "Ok boys, give."
Buck grinned. "Can I call you Val, Valentine? It's a lot prettier then Max."
The smile Max had disappeared instantly at the mentioned of her first name. "Don't you ever call me that again," Max growled as she slowly walked up to Buck.
In a split second, Buck found himself on the receiving end of Max's temper as she shoved him.
Josiah recognized the look in Max's eyes. He'd seen it too many times in Chris'. Josiah had to step in and take a hold of Max before she could really hurt Buck or herself.
"Max," Chris called.
Max looked to Chris as did everyone else. "What?"
"Hey, why'd ya go and shove me?" Buck asked, rubbing his chest where Max shoved him. "Valentine's a pretty name."
Nathan helped Buck up off the floor.
"When you've been teased and tormented because of it, you learn to hate your name."
"I was just asking," Buck said.
Max looked up at Chris.
"Do you know a Miss Tara Gooding?" Chris asked.
"Aunt Tara? Yeah, I know her. She's my God mother," Max answered.
"She filed a missing person's report with the Ohio state police department two and a half years ago," Chris said
JD turned the lap top around so Max could see the report. Max quickly walked over to JD and read the report.
Max slumped her shoulders. "Oh crapola. I've got a phone call to make." Max looked up at Chris. "May I use the phone?"
"Yeah, go ahead," Chris nodded.
Max left to go and make her phone call.
"You headin' home Nettie? Vin asked.
"Yep," Nettie answered. "Now, you boys look after her and keep in mind, she's only fifteen. I'll see you boys in the morning."
"Hey Aunt Tara, it's me, Maxie. Call me at this number when you get in," Max looked to her brothers for the home number. Josiah gave it to her. "Love ya, bye."
Nettie hugged Max after Max hung up the phone.
+ + + + + + +
Max helped to set the table for supper. She explained to the guys what happened to make her hate her name so much.
"It may have been a harmless prank, but I was so humiliated. I felt like Carrie from the horror film Carrie. Instead of a bucket of blood being dumped on me, it was a bucket of heart shaped confetti, not to mention the glitter."
Buck shook his head. "That was mean, Val."
"Buck, don't call her that," Josiah warned when he saw Max curl her toes and scratch the table. "I don't think dad would like the table all scratched up if he were alive."
"I don't think ya want ta end up on yer ass again either," Vin smirked.
"Supper's done," Josiah said as he brought the food into the dining room and sat it in the center of the table.
The dining table sat eight. Chris and Josiah sat at the ends of the table while Max and the rest of the guys sat down at the sides. Josiah said grace and then they all started to pass the food around when the phone rang. Since he was the closest to the phone, Chris got up and answered it.
"Larabee," Chris answered.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number."
"Ma'am, are you Tara Gooding?"
"Yes I am. How do you know me?"
Chris smiled and held the phone out. "Max, it's for you."
Max took the phone. "Thanks Chris."
Chris went back to his chair.
"Hi Aunt Tara," Max greeted.
"Maxie is it really you? Are you okay? Are you hurt and who was that man who answered the phone?"
"Aunt Tara, I'm fine and yes it's really me. I had an accident earlier but I'm doing fine now. And to answer your question, who that man is, he's Chris, one of my brothers."
"Wait, you found them? Where are you?"
"I'm on my dad's ranch just outside of Four Corners Nevada."
"Are you happy?"
Max looked over at the dining room table to her seven brothers and smiled. "Yes I am."
"What's your dad like?"
Max sighed. "He died before I got to meet him but I did get to meet my seven brothers."
"I'm sorry to hear about your dad sweetheart but I am glad to hear you got to meet your brothers. What are their names?"
"Thanks Aunt Tara. Um, the oldest one is Josiah. Then Chris is next, then Buck, next is Nathan and after him is Ezra."
"Ezra? That's a name you don't hear very often."
"I know right?" Max laughed along with her Aunt Tara. "After Ezra is Vin and the youngest one is JD," Max said.
Max went on and told her Aunt all about her brothers and what they did for a living.
"It sounds great. Can I speak with Sheriff Larabee please?"
"Oh sure Aunt Tara," Max took the cordless phone to Chris. "She wants to talk to you Chris."
Chris swallowed the bite of food he had in his mouth then took the phone. "Hello?"
"Yes, what can I do for you?"
"Not so much for me as it is for Maxie. You don't know me, but I want to ask a favor of you."
"Is there any way you or one of your brothers can keep Max out there with you in Nevada? I know it's a lot to ask, but it'll be for the best if Max just stayed out there in Nevada."
Chris got up from the table and walked into his father's office as Tara talked. "We would love to keep her here but her mother is her legal guardian."
"If you had proof Dianna is an unfit mother, would that help you to keep Max with you?"
"Yes it would," Chris said, hopeful that this woman may have what he needed to keep Max with them.
"Good. I'll get you all the information I can. I'll call the state police and let them know Max has been found. Thank you Sheriff Larabee. Oh, don't be surprised if the state police contacts you."
"I won't and thank you," Chris smiled when he hung up the phone.
Chris still had a smile on his face when he rejoined his siblings at the table.
"So, what did Miss Gooding have to say?" Ezra asked.
"She asked me for a favor."
"A favor?" Josiah asked. "What favor would that be?"
Chris looked down at Max then back at Josiah. "She wants me to keep Max here. Become her guardian."
Max's eyes got as big as saucers. "I get to stay here?"
"Looks like it, little sister," Buck said then reached behind JD who was sitting next to him, and ruffled Max's hair.
"Hey! Cut that out," Max said and swatted Buck's hand away.
JD leaned toward Max. "That's big brothers for ya," JD shrugged. "What ya gonna do?"
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