It was a relaxed Friday afternoon in late April. Josiah and Nathan were at Ethics Training, having missed the previous two sessions. Chris was reading their reports on the bust the team finished the day before. Three weeks of round the clock surveillance and undercover work, finally paid off. Buck and Ezra were still working on their reports.
"Finished." Buck proclaiming, hitting the print key.
He walked over to the printer and watched the papers slide out. Chris appeared at his shoulder, eyeing the empty desks of the team's two youngest members.
"Where'd they disappear to?"
"Health Fair in the cafeteria."
"Speak of the devil..." Ezra added, as the double glass doors opened and J.D. and Vin entered. "Will wonders never cease." The Conman chuckled at the sight that met his smiling eyes.
Chris followed Ezra's grin and gaze, and smiled in consent. Vin Tanner, world class weapons expert, deadly sniper, read a crime scene better than the best-trained experts and could find the lone needle in a haystack, was wearing a grin flushed with adolescent exuberance.
A long-sleeved red tee shirt from one health care provider was covered by a short-sleeve white Tee Shirt with another's logo emblazoned on the front. A baseball cap sat on his head, with a visor bearing a different logo, perched ontop of the hat. A shoehorn from yet another insurance company rode on the bridge of his aviator sunglasses. He and J.D. each had a plastic bag filled with giveaways.
Bucks loud laughter caused the two younger men to look up. J.D. followed the grinning agent's glances at his friend.
"Hey y'all," Vin grinned, shuffling through his goodie bag.
"You two younguns' have a good time trick-or-treatin'?" Buck inquired, still laughing at Vin's outrageous outfit.
"Mr. Tanner, it's a wonder your not recognized on sight." Ezra chided at the Texan's frequent trips to the Emergency Room.
"You know, Ez," Buck nodded, clapping a hand on the gambler's shoulder, "You might have something there. Vin, you could be poster boy for that outfit you signed up with. Hell, if they kept track of your 'frequent I.V. miles', you'd have about a year's worth of free travel comin'."
"Ah, hell..." Vin complained, pulling out a box which contained an apple. Rummaging further, he discovered a power bar.
"Vin, it's a health fair," Chris chided, "You were expecting candy and cupcakes?" He grabbed the two items from his friend's hand, "Thanks for the donation."
"Get anything good?" Buck asked, sticking his hand in the bag.
"Get the hell away," Vin hollered, slapping the tall agent's hand. "Y'all had the chance to go."
"Didn't ya ever hear it's nice to share." Buck pleaded.
"NO!" J.D. and Vin cried in unison, taking their bounty to Vin's desk.
"You got them younguns spoiled, Pa," Buck complained at Chris. "They ain't got any manners."
"Maybe if you slept in your own bed once in a while, they'd be better disciplined," Chris tossed back, taking Buck's report back to his office.
"Touche..." Ezra tallied an invisible dash in the air in front on him.
Vin appeared at Chris's desk about ten minutes later. He flopped in the chair, took a long gulp of soda and waited. The loud belch finally brought the blond's head up. He shoved the worn boots from next to his arm.
"Get your feet off my desk," He ordered, "I didn't hear you knock," He frowned, knowing Vin should know better.
"Door was open..." Vin protested, but the stone face remained rigid, "Sorry. I got a favor to ask."
"Shoot." Chris said, returning to Buck's report.
"It's almost two o'clock. I'm headin' south fer the weekend, down Mesa Verde way. Some of the roads will be washed out. I was hopin' on gettin' an early start. Okay if a take a couple hours annual leave and head out now?"
"Thought your Jeep needed new hoses?"
"Ain't takin' the Jeep...So can I go?" Vin drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk.
Chris sighed and threw the pen on the folder in front on him. Vin had been stuck for most of the three weeks either in the close confines of a small surveillance van or cooped up in the rafters of the warehouse where the hit went down. He knew Vin felt the walls closing in and needed to feel the wind. But the idea of driving that distance on slick roads on that damn bike didn't agree with him. He looked at Vin's wide-eyed smile and all the paraphernalia draped on him. He smiled despite himself.
"Okay, but be careful. Check on the roads before you head out and..."
Vin shot out of the chair and was across the room before Chris finished. He went to the door and called after the blur. "don't get mixed-up in any trouble." He warned, knowing the drawling agent's penchant for helping strays.
"Yes, Pa..." Vin made a face and waved as he headed out the front doors.
"What's with the 'Pa' thing?" Chris asked, standing between Buck and Ezra's desks.
"One of your more endearing qualities, to be sure, Mr. Larabee." Ezra stated, handing his report to the leader. Buck just laughed outright and winked at Chris, knowing how his oldest friend worried on Vin.
"Shut-up, Buck," Chris growled and took Ezra's report back into his office.
+ + + + + + +
Toni Young shoved the half-eaten salad into the trashcan. The fifty-year-old self-made success story was tired. This week would start a busy four-month run for the modeling agency head. After suffering through a depression at the ripe old age of twenty-one after her own modeling career ended, she vowed to make things different. She went back to college and got a degree in Finance. She worked for several modeling agencies and learned the ropes. Fifteen years ago, she founded Rainbow Dancers, whose target audience was women in the twenty-five and over category. From successful career women through middle class at home mothers, she'd received praise from all corners of the States.
Her high-rise office had a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains. She'd been born and raised in Denver and loved the American Southwest. She glanced at the picture of her and Mark, her husband of twenty years. She'd met Mark at a charity chili cookoff shortly after moving back to Denver. The former chef was now the successful restaurateur. The Firehouse opened ten years before and was an instant hit. It featured open-hearth cooking inside the turn-of-the-century three- story firehouse enhanced by local musicians and a successful coffeehouse in the basement.
She put a small stack of folders in her briefcase and shut the computer off. Glancing at her watch, she discovered it was nearly ten p.m. She had a few hours of work ahead at home, before calling it a night.
"You about ready?"
"Mark..." She kissed her husband, "I wasn't expecting you. I was going to call a cab."
"It was a slow night. Tommy can close up for me. You look tired."
"I'm wiped out. I still have some revisions to do. I can't believe where this week got to."
They reached the car in the garage of the office complex and she climbed into the passenger seat of the Lexus. As they headed for their small ranch, just outside the city, she thought on the four shoots she had to set-up. First thing in the morning she was headed for Mesa Verde. Then onto Santa Fe on Sunday to do a layout with the colorful hot air balloons. Home by Sunday night, with any luck.
"You headed out early?" The forty-eight year old fair-haired man asked, eyeing the clock ticking in her head.
"The flight's at seven. I have next week's layout of the shoot in Rocky Mountain National Park to go over. It doesn't feel right. I'll miss you." She laid her dark head on his strong shoulder.
"You can do your penance on Sunday night," He smiled, kissing the top of her head, "I'll be waiting."
+ + + + + + +
Saturday was a clear day and Vin broke camp early. He was still a few hours from Mesa Verde and had a half-day hike planned. He felt the adrenaline rush as he tooled up the highway with the wind in his hair and the sun basking his face. He was about halfway to his destination, when he spotted a car pulled over. Two women were staring under a steaming hood. He slowed down and pulled in several yards away.
"Two to three hours!" Toni shouted into the cell phone, "I can't afford to waste that much time. Very well, but please hurry."
She snapped the phone shut and threw it back into her large satchel. She glared at her assistant, Jessie Clarke, a long time friend from her early modeling days. The attractive black woman had a flawless complexion and looked a good deal younger than her true age.
"Honey, don't look now, but I think the calvary just rode in," Jessie said, nudging her friend. "Ummm...ummm...that is one fine looking man. Don't crowd me, child." She warned.
"Jessie he's young enough to be your son." Toni appraised of the approaching young man.
"So? I ain't hardly ready for a rocking chair. All my parts still work fine. You hush up..." She eyed the lean young man clan in denim and sporting a brown leather jacket, with a favorable eye.
"Howdy," He smiled, "Want me to have a look?"
"Be my guest," Toni waved her hand.
Vin took his glasses off and hung them onto the neckline of his flannel shirt. He backed up sideways and peeked past the steam. Then he bent down and looked under the car. Toni studied his profile; Jessie studied another part of his anatomy.
"Jessie, get your eyes north!" Toni hissed, spotting the brown eyes drinking in the stranger's backside.
"Take care of your own eyes. The view's fine from here."
Vin straightened up and turned around. "Radiator's busted...leaking all over. Y'all call for a tow?"
"I did, they said it could take up to three hours."
"Where ya headed?" Vin asked the attractive woman, whose short brown hair and dark eyes were a contrast to her pale skin.
"Up to the Cliff dwellings. We're doing a shoot there. I'm already late...damn rental car."
"Maybe I can help. I can give one of y'all a lift. As long as ya don't mind ridin' on a bike."
"You're a Godsend Mr...."
"Tanner, Vin Tanner," He smiled and took her hand, "Pleasure, Ma'am."
"I'm Toni Young, this is my assistant Jessie Clarke."
"Howdy," Vin nodded and shook the pretty dark-skinned woman's hand, "Did ya say y'all were late fer a shoot? Are y'all models or something?"
"Used to be models...we've been 'or something' for several years now." Toni grinned.
"Speak for yourself," Jessie addled up taking Vin's arm, "Honey, you ever think about modeling? I could teach you a thing or two."
"I'm sure ya could Ma'am." Vin grinned.
"Jessie..." Toni warned, slapping the other woman's roaming hand away. "Are you sure you don't mind."
"No Ma'am...It'd be my pleasure. Reckon, it's a good hour or so. Best we get movin, iffen yer already late."
"Jessie, call Mitch and Craig, and fill them in. I'll see you a little later." She said, climbing on the bike behind the lean body. Vin handed her his helmet.
"Make sure ya pull the strap tight," He warned.
"But what about your head?" She eyed the wavy brown hair.
"I'll be fine. Yer a whole lot prettier...best if yer head gets protected. Hold on tight, now."
"Being CEO sure has it's privileges..." Jessie moaned, watching Toni cling to the handsome man as they sped off.
The crew was set up and the three models were waiting. They all looked up as a motorcycle approached and pulled in. They were even more surprised when their boss hopped off the back.
Toni waved to the three models approaching; Terry, a tall blond, Mia, an Asian beauty and Cambria, a perky redhead and her newest acquisition. Three other models were waiting under the catering tent. Mocha, Jessie's attractive niece, Caitlin, a brunette and Morgan a Spanish beauty weren't scheduled to shoot until later in the day
"We were just ready to send out the Calvary," Cambria came forward, eyes drinking in the good-looking man standing by the bike.
"The Calvary found me," Toni said, "Come on over, girls..." She waved and waited until the six attractive females surrounded her. "This would-be-knight is Mr. Vin Tanner. He rescued this damsel when her car got in a big distress. Did Jessie call?"
"She did. Mitch and Craig left right way." Mia said, "So Vin, are you from around here?"
"No Ma'am. Just down fer the weekend fer some campin' and hikin'. I's from Denver"
"Really, so are we." Caitlin oozed, joining Mia and Morgan flanking the shy stranger.
"How come I haven't seen your fine looking self in Denver." Mocha asked, grabbing Vin's arm. "Lord, but you are a vision."
"Oh My God, he's blushing." Terry giggled, "I love that...it's so old fashioned."
"Mocha is Jessie's niece," Toni added, shushing the girls away from the flushed rescuer.
"I should have guessed," Vin grinned, "Well, I won't hold ya up anymore. I got a hike planned."
"Why don't you stick around and watch. We'll be starting in few minutes." Cambria suggested, "Come on, I'll be your personal guide." She slid in and stared up into the azure blue eyes.
"Uh...well..." Vin swallowed, feeling the heat rise up inside. The redhead was more than alluring. "Sure, I'd like that, Miss..."
"Cambria Santanna" She took his hand, "It's right this way."
Cambria explained the set-up, lighting and other facts. Finally, the three models left for their small trek into the cave dwelling. Vin leaned back against his bike, folding his arms against his chest.
When Jessie arrived, she headed for the food tent, where the caterer was busy preparing lunch. "Hey, Sierra," She greeted the pretty auburn caterer, "Where's Toni?"
"Over...." Sierra paused, her blue eyes scanning the area, "There...looks like she's giving that guy the eye."
"He's still here?" Jessie perked up, "I think I'll join her." She walked over to the trailer, where Toni stood eyeing Vin through a camera. The lean man was several yards away and unaware he was being watched.
"I see you finally came to your senses..." Jessie teased, "You little voyeur...Gimme that camera."
"You know the missing piece to our shoot in Rocky Mountain Park next week?" Toni asked.
"I think I'm looking at him." She nodded to Vin. "He'd be perfect, don't you think? He's got the looks, the body...that bike, the jacket...an urban cowboy. Even that hair blowing in the breeze over his shoulder. Put Cambria, Terry and Caitlin or maybe Morgan, around him on the bike. One behind and in front and one kneeling next to him. With the mountains ...near Dream Lake..."
"You know, I think you're right..." Jessie nodded, eyeing the taut body through the camera lens, "But what if he won't do it?"
"We'll have to convince him." Toni said, "Or have the girls do it for us. Let's go talk to him."
The two made their way over to where Vin stood. He looked up and stood straight as they drew near. "Thanks for lettin' me stay. Sure was interestin' to watch. But I think I'll get movin' along now."
"Please let me treat you to lunch." Toni offered, "We're very lucky to have an exceptionally talented caterer. Her chef's salad is really quite good."
"I ain't much for green food." Vin grinned, "Thanks, but I think I'll..."
Toni watched his eyes appraising Sierra McLeod. The twenty-four year old had been her caterer for three years now. She was pretty enough to be a model, but that lifestyle never appealed.
"That's Sierra McLeod, our caterer and a lovely young woman."
"Yes, Ma'am, I can see that," Vin agreed, eyeing the pretty girl whose large eyes seemed to be burning a hole in him, "I reckon I'm a mite hungry after all."
"I'm glad...Sierra," She said as they reached the tent, "This is my young rescuer, Vin Tanner. Mr. Tanner will be joining us for lunch."
"Howdy," Vin smiled, extending his hand, "Smells great..." He eyed the array of tantalizing food.
"Thanks. Help yourself. There's stir-fried chicken, sautéed crab cakes, pepper steak, and a variety of vegetables. Oh, there's chef's salad in the cooler, if you'd prefer..."
"Mr. Tanner doesnt like green food." Toni grinned, "But I'm sure your handiwork won't go unappreciated. Vin, when you're ready, bring your plate over to my trailer, I'd like to talk to you about an idea I have."
"Sure thing," Vin nodded, ducking his head under the canopy. He watched Sierra dish out some food for two of the crew. She was a just a little shorter than him, had a great figure and long, auburn haired pulled back in a braid. But it was those large blue eyes and that smile that left his mouth dry.
"What's your pleasure?" She asked, causing him to blink and blush.
"Huh...Oh, I didn't mean to stare...well, I did but not like that...Aw, hell..." He stumbled, "Can we start over. I ain't hardy as dumb as I sound."
She laughed and gave him a brilliant smile, "No, you're charming and I'm glad you stayed. Are you over at the Lodge?"
"Nah, I'm campin' out not far from here. Nothin' like sleepin' under the stars."
"I agree. My dad took me and my brothers camping all the time. Our family ranch is outside Cheyenne."
"Mighty pretty up that way. How'd ya end up here?" Vin asked, taking some chicken and steak.
"Toni and her company used my Dad's ranch and the horses for a shoot. I happened to cook for them and she offered me a job. I needed a change. For now, it's a great job and I love it. Toni's a terrific lady and a good friend. How about you, Cowboy?"
He laughed and accepted the bottle of Ice Tea she offered, "Sometimes I wish I could go back in time. The idea of ridin' the range, free as the wind is might appealin'. But, fer now, I'm stuck ridin' a Government desk in Denver. Thanks fer lunch. I don't want to keep Toni waitin' on me." He nodded and started to leave.
"Vin.." She called, causing him to turn. "Are you camping out near the Lodge? In that site by the river? She saw the head bob, "You free for dinner?" She smiled and raised her eyes, "I know a good cook..."
He laughed, "I'll have the wine chillin'. Seven o'clock okay?" He asked, heart hammering at the nod of consent. "See y'all then."
Vin had two bottles of Sangria settled nicely in a cluster of rocks in the river. He found a picnic table nearby and cleaned it off. He showered and put on his only clean shirt. He laughed at his jumping stomach. He'd never been so rattled by a girl before. He settled on a rock by the river and pulled out his harmonica.
"How many more hidden talents do you have?"
"Hi," Vin jumped up almost slipping into the river, "Didn't hear ya pull up. Where's yer car?"
"I had Mitch drop me off by the clearing."
She set the picnic basket on the table. She pulled out containers of fried chicken and potato salad. She tossed him a pack of hot dogs. "Time for you to show off your culinary skills, Vin."
"Reckon even I can't screw up a hot dog," He laughed, spearing the links onto two large forks she produced.
The sat side by side in silence for awhile, watching the meat roast. Vin felt like his throat was constricting. She got up briefly, returning with two full plates of food. He took the wine out of the natural cooler and sat beside her.
"Pick yer poison..." He held them out.
"Red, please..." She smiled, and accepted the mug of cold Sangria.
They talked while they ate about the park, camping, the Bronco's and her ranch. She cleared the plates away, just as the sun started to set. The air temperature dropped and she began to shiver. Vin reached over and grabbed his blanket.
"Got somethin' to fix them shivers', iffen ya don't mind sharin'"
"Noble as well as handsome," She bowed, "You're quite the knight..."
He blushed and sat behind her, wrapping the blanket around both of them. She leaned back onto his chest and felt the warmth course through her. The sunset was spectacular and they didn't spoil it with words. She closed her eyes, basking in the fire. She felt his arms draw her close and relaxed in the strong embrace.
"I can't see you behind a desk." She spoke, "You seem like a maverick, riding the wind, without walls to bind you."
"Yer eyes do ya justice," He whispered, "I rode solo fer alotta years, and sometimes I need to ride the wind. But I got somethin' in Denver that's just as powerful. I got six good friends...more like brothers. I's alone fer so long, that it's still hard sometimes. I know they mean well, but I feel like they're crowdin' me. Most times, I don't know what I'd do without 'em. Ain't many can claim six friends who'd take a bullet fer ya."
"I know how you feel. I've got three older brothers and we're very close. But my oldest brother Dan and I...it's like we can talk without words, you know?"
"Better than ya think...It's like that with Chris and me. He's my best friend...hell, he's the only kin I got. I can feel him...sometimes so much it scares me. Ya ever get back to the ranch?"
"As often as I can. My Dad raised me like my brothers. I can rope, ride and shoot with the best of them. My mother died when I was twelve and I sort of took over that role too. You ever been to the Cheyenne Rodeo?"
"Can't say as I have."
"Well, you're hereby formally invited," She offered, "We're all entered, my brothers and I that is. .Do you ride?"
"That steel horse of mine is my only steed. Chris has horses at his ranch and I've been out with him a few times."
Music wafted through the air from a nearby campsite. The soft, strains of the folk music were relaxing. She closed her eyes and felt so warm and safe with his arms wrapped around her. The second bottle of wine was half done. She turned one way to place her mug away and he turned the other. Their lips brushed by accident, then he pulled her close. The first kiss was soft and sweet. The next several were more demanding. Their tongues danced and he pulled her down. His hand tickled up her spine and across her ribcage, until it enfolded her soft flesh.
Vin felt a furnace about to burst inside of him. The kisses left him hungry, insatiable even. He wanted more. The firm flesh under his fingers and the lean limbs entangled with his gave him a rising pain. He groaned and sat up, causing her to frown.
"What's wrong?" She asked, buttoning her shirt.
"It's gettin' late. I best get ya back to the Lodge." He said huskily, taking his shaking limbs off the ground.
"Vin, I don't have to go..." She took his hand and stared into those magnificent eyes of his. The other hand traced the fine cheekbones.
"Sierra...if we don't leave now, I don't think I can let ya go..."
"Okay," She smiled, stealing a soft kiss; "It's nice to see your armor is still in one piece."
He slipped his jacket on her for the short ride back. It felt so good to hold him tight and rest her head on his back, she wished the ride were longer. But all too soon, they pulled up to the darkened Lodge. She lingered, leaning against him, caressing the muscles in his back as they kissed again. Finally, he forced himself away.
"I'll drop the basket off in the mornin'. Y'all checkin' out early?"
"Were leaving around eight. We have a short trip to Albuquerque then home to Denver. Here," She gave him a paper, "That's me in Denver. Call me when you get in tomorrow night."
"How about dinner on Monday?" He asked, watching her nod, "Good. I'll pick ya up at six." One final kiss and he forced himself to leave.
She practically floated to her floor. The kisses and caresses left her totally numb. She never felt so giddy and light. She fingered her bruised lips and smiled. She was fumbling with the keys, when a chorus of voices greeted her.
"Well, how was he?" Mia asked.
"That's a dumb question." Mocha popped her roommate in the head, "Honey, you can tell by lookin' that he is FINE!"
"You didn't forget you drawers, did ya Sierra?" Terry teased.
"You're awful, the whole lot of you." Sierra shook her head, "As if I would kiss and tell."
"Aw, come on...toss us a crumb, huh? Mia pleaded, "I'll bet he was..."
"He was a gentlemen, and that's all you'll get from me. GOOD NIGHT!"
"You're kidding me...You're under the stars alone with a hunk like that and you didn't get any?" Mocha's disappointment was obvious.
Sierra slipped into a deep sleep, dreaming about her blue-eyed knight and those powerful kisses. Several miles away, Vin tossed fitfully. She'd left him shaken to the core. He never felt so moved by a woman. He also thought on Toni's offer. He wanted to tell her no, right off the bat, but then he thought on the Center. The John Kelly Community Center founded by his late foster father was a Godsend to the kids from that urban area. Most came from broken homes, some lived on the streets and the Center became a haven.
Volunteers from the city helped, Rain got some of her fellow physicians to volunteer and the guys all chipped in when they could. Vin converted the spacious top floor into his home. The Center needed a new central air/heating unit. It was an expensive proposition. They'd had some fundraisers, but were still very short of their goal. The check for his one day of work, modeling with the girls, would cover the difference. But they're was a lot of fine print and the contract was several pages long.
He told Toni he would read it over and get back to him. She invited him to be her guest at dinner on Tuesday at her husband's restaurant. He'd read the contract twice and still was stuck. Also, he didn't know if the wage they offered was fair. A face popped into his head and he nodded. Finally, sleep came to him.
It was after six p.m. when she got back to the city. She tossed her keys on the table and grabbed a bottle of Evian out of the fridge. She downed a good bit of it as she padded into the opulent bedroom. A den of iniquity was a more apt description. The large bed rested under a mirrored ceiling and nearby was an armoire full of toys. She tossed her clothes on the bed and pushed the 'play' button on her answering machine. She cocked her head as the lone message spit out.
"Hi Cambria, it's Dennis, your car's ready. I'll drop it off in the morning."
She ran a hot shower and let the rough pulsations massage her flesh. She heard the glass door open and felt the hands pull her back. She turned and kissed him deeply, gasping as his hand parted her thighs.
"I missed you Cara Mia..." He growled, assaulting her lips.
"Roberto...Oh God..." She gasped as the steam rose and enveloped them
+ + + + + + +
Monday morning, early, ATF Office
"Where's the toner for the printer?" J.D. asked.
"Should be in the bottom drawer of the vacant desk." Josiah called out.
"It's empty. I'll send Janice an email." He said of the supply clerk, "We need anything else?"
"White out..." Nathan hollered, "and some butterfly clips."
"Josiah, Buck, you guys need any supplies?"
"No, Kid, I'm okay." Buck replied, deciding between a jelly donut or a cheese danish.
"I'm fine too, J.D." Josiah answered.
"How 'bout you, Vin?" J.D. waited, finger paused on the send command. "Vin?"
Buck had wolfed down half of his donut and paused at the edge of Vin's desk. His dark blue eyes creased in mirth as he observed the young man. Vin's desk suited him, it being at the end of the room, and slightly apart from the rest. A safe outpost where he could keep an eye on all of them. The younger man was lost in thought, a dreamy smile gracing his face. Josiah came by and elbowed Buck.
"I've seen that before," the ex-preacher said seriously, "I'd say the boy's been hit good."
"You got a damn fine eye, Josiah," Buck agreed, eyeing Vin's empty trash can, "No cupcakes or coke cans, dopey grin, starry eyes, slight flush, yup...he's got the fever." Buck grinned, waving a hand in front of the unblinking eyes. "Earth to Vin..."
"Huh?" Vin jumped, reading the two older men's smug grins. "What are y'all starin' at?"
"You Son," Joisah smirked "What's her name?"
"Who?" Vin coughed, trying to figure out how they knew.
"The woman that gave you that shit-eatin' grin you've been wearin' all morning." Buck leaned in, "She work here? I think I might know her."
"Y'all don't know nuthin', shes a real lady," Vin sassed, "Aw, hell..." He smacked Buck, realizing the trap.
"What's that crack supposed to mean?" Buck demanded.
"Guess Brother Vin's lady has a last name..." Josiah smirked.
"...and a real job, probably," Nathan guessed.
"One that don't involve dancing." J.D. chuckled, joining the trio in their laughter.
"You're all jealous of my animal magnetism..." Buck crowed, pulling a chair up next to Vin, "So when do we meet her? I bet she's a real looker..."
"Ain't you got some fly to pull the wings offa?" Vin growled, wheeling Buck in the chair up the aisle.
"You can run, Junior, but you can't hide," Buck's eyebrows wiggled, "I'll find her and then watch out..."
"I daresay you don't dwell in the same arena as Mr. Tanner." Ezra tossed his keys on his desk, and heading for the cantina and some coffee, "The lady in question would see right through you."
Vin jumped on the opportunity of getting Ezra alone. He closed the door to the cantina, and fumbled with the pastry box. Ezra looked up twice and caught him staring.
"Speak up, Mr. Tanner," He asked, pushing the button on the Cappuccino machine, "I can't read your mind from there."
"Damn, Ez..." Vin shuffled, "I got a favor. I's campin' down in Mesa Verde over the weekend and ..."
"Morning Ezra, Vin," Chris greeted, getting a mug from the cupboard. He saw Vin's guarded look and Ezra's smug glance. "Something wrong?"
"No." Vin replied, sliding into a chair and folding his arms on the table.
"Un-huh..." Chris said, reading Vin's face, "I get the hint. I'm leaving."
"You were saying..." Ezra took the chair across from the quiet man and waited.
"There was these women stuck on the highway and I give 'em a ride. Turns out the lady owns some modeling company called Rainbows or somethin'"
"Rainbow Dancers?" Ezra asked, eyes raised at Vin's nod, "Good Stock, a proficient operation and highly successful."
"Anyhow..." Vin paused, drilling the sea green eyes across from him, "Ya gotta promise me ya won't tell any of the guys."
"My Word," Ezra agreed, curious at the puzzle.
"Long story short...They want me to pose with a bunch of them girls at Rocky Mountain National Park on Friday."
"YOU!" Ezra's voice shot up a full octave, which incurred the other man's wrath.
"Ferget I even brought it up. I shouldda kept my mouth shut. I just thought ye'd be a little more understandin' than... Vin threw the chair back and attempted to leave, only to have his arm snagged.
"I'm sorry, Vin. Please continue," Ezra offered sincerely.
"Hell Ez, that ain't me. I hate havin' my picture takin' and people fussin' with me." Vin scowled. "I had the 'No' half outta my mouth." He paused.
"But..." Ezra added.
"The Center really needs a new Central Heating and Air Conditioning System. It's real expensive. We've been tryin' to raise money, but somethin' always comes up and chews up the little we save." Vin drummed his fingers; "This would just about cover it. That's where y'all come in." Vin took out the contract, and slid it over, "I think the money's fair, but I can't made head nor tail of that fine print."
"Would you like me to represent you?"
"Come again?" Vin frowned.
"Speak for you. Make sure that the contract you sign is fair and reasonable. That your best interests are at hand." Ezra paused, lifting an eye, "I'll even wave my normal fee..."
"That's damn considerate," Vin glared, "Iffen ya add up all the times I saved yer sorry ass. Reckon this makes us even."
"Done." Ezra folded the paper and placed it in his pocket, "Rest assured, my lips are sealed. When are you to tell them of your decision?"
"Tomorrow night at six o'clock at The Firehouse. Toni's husband own's it."
"And Toni would be?"
"Toni Young, she's the owner. It was her idea. Some kinda Urban Cowboy nonsense. Me and a bunch of skimpy-dressed girls hanging on the bike."
"Sounds like a real trial..." Ezra rolled his eyes, "I cannot imagine how you'll survive. I'll meet you there."
"Thanks, Ezra," Vin said as they reached the door, "I really appreciate this."
"I'll remember that on some future occasion," Ezra drolled. "when my 'sorry ass' is in need of your unique talents."
+ + + + + + +
Vin was exhausted on Monday. By five p.m. he was dragging. Even the hot shower and change of clothes had no effect. He pulled up to Sierra's address and slid off his bike. He followed the numbers of the units, until he came to her apartment. She answered at his first knock.
"Hi," He smiled, "Ya look great." He noted of the pretty sweater of Native American style and desert colors.
"Thanks," She locked up and saw the weariness on his face. "How about I drive? You look beat."
"It does feel like I'm cartin' around sandbags," He admitted, "Y'all like pizza? Mama Rosa's is good and it ain't far."
"Sounds great. I'm one of Mama's biggest fans."
It wasn't crowded and they shared a quiet table in the corner, near the open heath fireplace. The snapping of the logs and the wood scent added to the atmosphere. The pizza and pitcher of beer went down easily. Vin told Sierra a little about his childhood, leaving out the rough parts. He told her about his work at the center and funny stories involving the kids. He paid the bill and they headed outside. She took his arm and rested her head on his shoulder.
"So just what does Vin Tanner do from nine-to-five that wears you out like this?"
"I ain't normally so wore out," He spoke quietly, "I'm an ATF agent, usually we're in the field. But we got a lot of files to close out. Reviewin' 'em to make sure they're done. They get sent to a warehouse for storin'. Chris, he's the team leader, gave us each a day to read and review. Today Buck and me got the call. Buck can wear ya down on a regular day. Trapped in the files room with no girls to ogle at all day, brought out the bear in him. He ain't a happy desk jockey."
"Neither are you I take it," She unlocked the door, "Being confined anywhere, I think, would turn you into bear." She assessed, rubbing his cheek, "A cute blue-eyed bear, but a bear none the less."
He chuckled and pulled her close, kissing her deeply. She felt so good, and it felt so right. They lingered a little longer, before she slipped by him. It was a short quiet ride, each soaking in the moment. Vin eyed his bike as they pulled up. His weary body dreaded the ride back.
"Nightcap?" She invited, leaning the doorframe of her apartment. Her eyes sent the invite and he swallowed hard.
It was tempting and his eyes said yes, but his body didn't comply. The eight-hour ride back from Mesa Verde got him in past midnight. Combined with eight hours of reading and analyzing data, made him dead on his feet. He wanted it to be special and tonight he was just too wiped out. He leaned in and cupped her face. He traced the outline of her cheek and caressed the nape of her neck. He enveloped her, running his hands up her back as they kissed. He broke away, and kissed her forehead. He eyed the full silver moon staring at them. Her head was nestled next to his neck. His soft voice caressed her ear.
"A silver light will shine so bright, dancing among the stars. Its crystal eyes will bathe the night, and send you to my heart. We'll ride that beam and fly away, racing through the clouds. We'll wear the stars and share one breath, until the night is gone. Then sail home on a violet crest and kiss the face of dawn."
For a moment there was silence, they he heard the soft sobbing. Cupping her face, he brushed the tears away with his finger. "Wasn't the reaction I expected," He chuckled.
"God, Vin, did you just make that up?" She amazed through a salty haze, "For me?" She swallowed and rested her head on his chest at the nod of his head. Then she looked up at him and unbuttoned his shirt; she placed her hand on his bare chest over his heart. "I'm stakin' my claim, Cowboy. You take keep that in mind when you're in the field, okay?"
"Yes, Ma'am" He tipped his imaginary hat, "Time fer me to ride. When can I see ya again?"
"Friday, at the shoot, I guess," She thought aloud, "I'm going home tomorrow for a few days."
"Damn...four days never seemed so long before," He sighed, and flashed her his best smile, "'til Friday then."
She kept that smile locked inside and it was the last image before she feel asleep.
Comments to: DeeShamrock@cs.com