by Wendymypooh

This is my foundation story in The Young Riders MCAT AU. This AU came about from a brainstorming session between myself and Tannertexaslady. When she decided the 'units' in her MCAT AU needed to expand. Gen

MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is the brainchild of my friend ‘TannerTexasLady’ in the Magnificent Seven fandom. The idea for the TYR MCAT AU came when ‘TannerTexasLady’ decided to expand the elite government unit into three units. One of those companies, ‘Charlie’ will be based in San Antonio, Texas.

“Evolutions’ Parts 1-3 (#1 The Players Assemble, #2 The Team Rises and #3 Charlie Team is Formed) will include excerpts from MCAT: Strengths of Solidarity Story # 3: Turn the Page. These excerpts include important information leading to the set-up of the San Antonio MCAT unit. The Mag 7 Characters, along with originals, created specifically for Tanner Texas Lady’s MCAT AU, will make appearances in this story.

Without Tanner Texas Lady’s amazing creativity, her brain storming ideas, friendship, and extensive help on the last chapters, this story and AU would never have come into fruition.

Asterisk/Italics are used to indicate a character’s thought process or comments.


Three Years Ago

It was a dark and dreary day. Aloysius ‘Teaspoon’ Hunter, Texas Ranger, found it a befitting atmosphere for his dark frame of mind. His wife and helpmate of more than thirty years, was dead. He didn’t know how he was going to go on without his precious Maria Elena. A shuddering sigh escaped his lips as he gazed at the elegant oak casket which held his wife’s remains. He tried to listen as Father Arturo Riaz spoke solemnly, reading from the eulogy that the priest had prepared with information he and his children had provided, but his heart really wasn’t in it. He couldn’t think, eat, or sleep, now that his beloved wife was gone. Ever since he’d received the heartbreaking phone call a week earlier telling him his precious Maria Elena was killed in a plane crash on her trip home to her native Mexico, to visit relatives, he had been on autopilot.

“I’d like to close with us all reciting one of Maria Elena’s favorite scriptures, the Twenty-Third Psalms.” Father Riaz suggested.

“The Lord is my Shepherd…”


A chorus of somber voices echoed the priest’s sentiment. Other funeral attendees rose to their feet around him, bringing Teaspoon out of his reverie. He had not realized Father Riaz had closed the eulogy with a prayer. He quickly muttered an “Amen” and rose to his feet. Stepping forward, he laid the bouquet of red and yellow roses he held onto the top of the casket, one roughened hand caressing the polished wood for a moment, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him, before he got a handle on them.

“You’ve taken my heart and soul with you darlin’. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get on without you here by my side. I’ll love you forever, Maria Elena, and I cannot say goodbye, because you’ll always be with me. So instead, I’ll say Vaya con Dias, and I’ll see you soon.”

He lifted one hand to swipe at the moisture welling up in his eyes, only to see a white handkerchief come into his blurry view. Teaspoon lifted his head and looked into the sorrowful dark brown eyes of his son, Ramirez. Ramon, as family and friends called him, was finding it hard to control his own emotions. Seeing his son in such an emotional upheaval helped Teaspoon to put aside his sorrow, and prompted him to embrace his child. The two men held each other tightly, grieving for the loss of the special woman who was taken from them.

“Pop, how are we goin’ to get along without her?” Ramon choked out as the embrace ended.

Teaspoon used the back of his hand to wipe the tears from his blue eyes. “I don’t know, Son.”

“We’ll do it because it’s what Mama would have wanted,” a female voice said close to them.

Emma Hunter Cain stood a few feet away from them, her soft brown eyes filled with tears, and a wobbly smile on her face. Her husband, Sam, stood directly behind her, one supportive hand on his wife’s shoulder, and the other holding onto their three-year-old son, Austin. Six-year-old Melinda Cain stood solemnly beside her mother, one small hand clutching at the skirt of the dark suit Emma was wearing.

“C’mere darlin’,”

His daughter didn’t need any further prodding to close the distance between them. Teaspoon held open his arms and Emma gratefully stepped into his embrace. Ramon hovered close, one hand stayed firm on his father’s shoulder, while the other gently rubbed his older sister’s back.

Sam crowded close, wanting to offer whatever support he could to his grieving family. His heart ached at the loss of his mother-in-law. Maria Elena Hunter had been a remarkable woman indeed, strong willed, feisty, and with a heart of gold. She had a capacity to love that rivaled his own mother, and he would truly miss her.

“Samuel, let me take the children to the car.”

He turned to see his mother, Marian Cain, standing directly behind him. Marian was silver haired, with blue eyes, and a rounded figure clothed in a conservative dark suit and white lace blouse. She was holding a lace handkerchief in one hand and her eyes were red rimmed from crying. She had been close to Maria Elena, too. Sam used to marvel at how well the two women got along, even though they were as different as night and day.

“Alright,” Sam agreed. He set Austin on the ground next to his sister, and crouched down before his children. “You two go with Grandma.”

“Why is Poppa crying?” Melinda asked solemnly.

Sam swallowed. “Do you remember what your mom and I told you about Nana?”

“She went to heaven to be with God.” Melinda said.

“That’s right. God decided it was time for her to go live with him.”

“Will we see her again?” Austin asked, his blue eyes troubled.

Sam choked up, and it was then Marian decided to step in. She placed a comforting hand on her son’s shoulder as she said, “We’ll all get to see your Nana again when it is time for us to go to Heaven. Now, you two, come along with me. Your Mom and Dad will be along directly.”

Austin and Melinda each took one of their grandmother’s offered hands and allowed her to lead them away. Sam stood and watched them go for a moment, before turning back to the small grieving group, which consisted of his wife, her brother, and her father. Other mourners, including Emma’s friends and co-workers from the Criminal Intelligence Unit, his and Teaspoon’s fellow Texas Rangers and their spouses, Ramon’s partner and his wife, and members of the SAPD, and more offered their condolences as they passed the family and headed toward their individual cars.

Soon only the Hunters and Cains stood around the new grave. Each remembered the warm, vibrant woman who had gone ahead to light a path for them to follow when their lives were over.

An aristocratic man with graying brown hair and dark eyes, dressed in a crisp black pinstriped suit, stood a short distance away observing the Hunter family in their time of sadness, hesitant to intrude upon them. On his arm was a matronly woman wearing a conservative black dress, who periodically dabbed at the corners of her blue eyes with a lace handkerchief, and sniffled occasionally.

Orrin Travis was a man of action, who made informed decisions, and carried them out in a decisive manner. He was used to issuing orders and having them obeyed. Not since his earliest days as a new rookie in uniform had he ever felt so hesitant. He had met Teaspoon Hunter back in their earlier days at a law enforcement seminar, and they became fast friends and colleagues. The years were busy ones for both and kept them from spending as much time with one another as they would have liked. The availability of modern technology allowed the two friends to remain in touch via telephone calls and assorted emails. Many letters and packages traveled back and forth between Hunter’s ranch in Pearsall, Texas, and Travis’s home in Denver, Colorado. They shared day-to-day news, family growth, and celebrated a multitude of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other celebrations with one another. There were more than a few vacations shared between the two couples, as Evie Travis and Maria Elena Hunter had bonded the first time they met, and the foursome shared strong, lasting friendships.

It was only two years ago, when the four of them had last shared some relaxing moments together, at a law enforcement convention held in Washington, DC, where both men were scheduled to give speeches. Since the convention was around the Hunters’ anniversary, plans changed so that their wives could accompany them to DC, and once the convention was over, the two couples shared many special moments together. None of them had the slightest idea it would be the last event the four would spend together.


He turned his head toward his wife, “Yes, my love.”

Evie smiled at her husband, “It’s not so much what you say to him that matters, just that you are here to support him.”

“I know.” Her words gave him the courage he needed to approach Teaspoon.

As he and Evie made their way toward the grave site, they saw Sam and Emma move away arm-in-arm. After another moment, Ramon, too, headed toward the location of the few remaining parked cars, leaving Teaspoon alone at his wife’s grave.

He did not want to leave her alone in the cold, dark ground. Maria Elena had always craved the light; she enjoyed soaking in the sunshine as she worked in the garden or taking long walks with him. Her final resting place needed to be more appropriate. Full of the warmth and sunshine she loved so much, instead her earthly body would be covered with dirt and darkness. It was wrong; just plain wrong that such a beautiful person was taken too early from the ones she loved so much. He did not know how he was going to go on without her.


The familiar voice interrupted Teaspoon’s dark thoughts, and after swiping a hand across his moist eyes, he turned to face his long time friend and law enforcement colleague.

“Orrin, Evie, I appreciate you comin’. Maria Elena adored you both very much and she would have loved to have been here to see you.”

“We loved her too,” Evie said in a shaky voice, as her eyes filled with tears once again, over the loss of her dear friend.

Teaspoon stepped forward and took Evie into his arms. He felt Orrin place a hand upon his shoulder in silent support and he appreciated the gesture. The threesome stayed that way for a few moments, sharing their grief for the loss of their fourth.

“The days ahead are going to be hard ones for you, Aloysius, but you don’t have to spend them alone. Embrace the support of your children, lean on them as much as they lean on you through this difficult time. Reach out to your friends and let them be your sounding board, your strength,” Orrin told his friend, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Day or night, you call me if you need to talk.”

His eyes were watering again, but Teaspoon did not care. He was a man smart enough to take the help and support he needed, and while he did not think anyone could possibly help him through the lonely, sad days ahead for him at that moment, he would do as Orrin asked. “I will. I promise, old friend.”

Together the three friends walked away from Maria Elena’s grave and toward Teaspoon’s waiting family.

Texas Rangers Headquarters

Teaspoon picked up a picture frame from his desk and wrapped it carefully in newspaper, before placing it on top of the rest of his personal items he had gathered in a cardboard box. He was surprised to find out how much stuff there really was to pack away. Citations from his years in law enforcement. First as a uniformed officer, and then as a Texas Ranger, drawings from his grandchildren, his favorite coffee mug, pictures of Maria Elena and his kids, and assorted other things.

When he was done packing, he glanced around the office to make sure there wasn’t anything else he had overlooked, before he headed out to his truck. Sam chose that moment to appear in the doorway leading into his office.

“You sure you really want to do this?”

Teaspoon glanced up at his son-in-law, the new Captain for ‘D’ division of the San Antonio Texas Rangers Unit. “It’s a done deal, Son. It is time for this old Ranger to turn in his shield and gun. I’ll let firebrands like you take over bringin’ in the bad guys.”

“This place isn’t goin’ to be the same without you.” Sam said. “If you change your mind, I’m sure Archer will be more than willin’ to give you your job back.”

“I’m not goin’ to change my mind,” Teaspoon said as he picked up the box of his belongings and started for the door. “The squad is now yours to lead. Run with it, Son.”

Sam lowered his head, his own emotions getting the best of him. He greatly respected the man before him, both as a father figure, and as one of the best damn Texas Rangers, he had ever known. To know Teaspoon thought so highly of him, and his skills, meant the world to him. “I’ll do my best to make you proud.”

“You already do,” Teaspoon said firmly.

Sam raised his head and locked eyes with Teaspoon for a moment before saying, “Is there anythin’ I can help you with?”

“You can grab that other box and walk me out to my truck.”


Sam grabbed the aforementioned box off the oak desk and followed Teaspoon out of his office.

Teaspoon stopped in his tracks the moment he walked out into the bullpen, as the Rangers under him lined up around their desks, and saluted him military style. Emotion welled up inside of him at their show of deep respect and honor. He had made it abundantly clear to his people that he did not want a party to celebrate his retirement. He reckoned he should have been suspicious when they had all amicably agreed to his request. Another thought crossed his mind and he turned to look at his son-in-law.

“Disobeyin’orders already?”

Sam grinned, “Nope, just makin’ decisive ones.”

The older man chuckled before turning his attention back onto the crowded room. He shifted the box he held into one arm and raised his own hand in a return salute. “You are the best damn Rangers I’ve ever worked with and I’m proud to have been your captain. I know that you will all continue to be an invaluable asset to the department, under Captain Cain’s supervision.”

Amid well wishes and a chorus of ‘Jolly Good Fellow” , Teaspoon made his way down the aisle of Rangers to the door, with Sam following behind him. He did not look back, but felt the sensation of several eyes upon him as he circled the building and stepped into the parking lot, and walked to his truck. He placed the box he held into the back, and unlocked the driver’s door, while Sam put the box he carried into the truck bed as well.

“Tell Emma supper’s on me tonight.” He told Sam as he slid in behind the wheel and started the engine.

“I will.”

“See you later,” Teaspoon pulled out of the parking lot and headed the truck toward the Hunter ranch.

Chapter One

Present day
Hunter Ranch- Cain House-7 o’clock in the morning

Emma Cain stared out the living room window watching her father heft several large fence posts into the back of his beat-up old Ford. In the three years since Maria Elena had died, Teaspoon had worked non-stop around the ranch. From the moment the sun broke free from its evening resting place, Teaspoon was up and running. If he was not out in the stables helping Raul Gonzales, the ranch foreman take care of the livestock, he was putting the horses through their paces, or doing the necessary repairs around the ranch. Both Sam and Ramon had offered to aide him on the days they were off from work, but Teaspoon had dismissed their assistance. Since his retirement from the Texas Rangers, Emma knew keeping busy was important to her father; but she feared he was going to work himself into an early grave.

She could not bear the thought of losing her father so soon after her mother died. She and Ramon had tried to talk to their father about lightening up his workload, but he laughingly waved off their concerns, assuring them both, he was not leaving them any time soon. That had ended the discussion in Teaspoon’s eyes; but neither she nor Ramon was satisfied with how the conversation ended. As she continued to watch her father load the fence posts, Emma mused over a way to brooch the subject with her father again.

She was still standing at the window musing, when Sam came into the living room looking for her. He stood in the doorway of the living room watching his wife gaze out the window. Sam loved how the sunlight, pooling in through the open curtains, cast her red hair in a fiery glow. The long, curly strands drawn back by silver clips exposed her graceful neck, and profiled the classic lines of her exquisite face. He could tell by the set of her pursed lips that she was thinking hard, and he did not need to look out the window to know on whom her thoughts rested.

Teaspoon was a constant source of worry for Emma, regardless of the fact that she knew just how capable her father was in taking care of himself. Ever since his mother-in-law, Maria Elena had passed away, Emma fretted over her father’s emotional and physical well-being. The fact Teaspoon was a highly trained ex-Texas Ranger, who had lived and loved hard all his life, and was in excellent physical health for a man of his age, seemed to have totally slipped his wife’s mind. She was letting her own personal fears affect her relationship with her father. Sam hoped she got a handle on them before she drove a permanent wedge between herself and Teaspoon.

Crossing the space between them, Sam wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist. Emma leaned back into the embrace and let out a sigh. He gave her a gentle squeeze, placing a tender kiss on her temple. “You’ve got to let him lead his own life Emma.”

“I know…” Emma replied, turning in his arms to look up at him with troubled brown eyes. “I just worry about him so much.”

“You don’t think that he doesn’t worry about you or Ramon or me?” Sam queried. “Our line of work isn’t exactly known to be high on personal safety Emma, but you don’t see Teaspoon tryin’ to tell us how to live our lives. He trusts us to use the skills we have acquired and our common sense to make the right decisions to keep ourselves safe, and you have to give him the same courtesy. What happened to Maria Elena was a tragic accident that none of us could have foreseen, and all of us have to work through our grief over losin’ her in our own way. Don’t let your fear of losin’ him cause permanent damage between the two of you.”

“If I promise to try harder to not worry ‘bout him, will you do me a favor?” Emma asked.

“Depends on what the favor is?”

Emma chuckled at the suspicious tone in her husband’s voice. He knew her far too well. “Will you talk to him and see if you can convince him to slow down a little or allow someone to help him with some of the more strenuous work around the ranch?”

“Emma,” Sam began, but Emma reached up and placed a finger against his lips.

“Please, Sam, for me?” She gave him her most beguiling smile and Sam felt his resistance begin to melt. He had always been a sucker for her smiles and if talking to Teaspoon again would help ease some of her fear, who was he to deny her request?

“Alright, but this is the last time,” Sam reluctantly agreed. “I mean it.”

“Thank you.” Emma cemented her appreciation by giving her husband a kiss.

Sam reciprocated by deepening the kiss, prodding her lips open so his tongue could begin an intimate dance with hers, eliciting a moan from Emma, which set his libido racing. He took a step forward, pressing Emma back against the window as the kiss continued, one hand reaching up to cup the back of her neck, the other to caress her breast.

Emma’s hands wandered over his shoulders and backside, slowly caressing downward until she cupped his firm bottom, eliciting a growl from within him.

“Samuel, don’t forget to…” Marian Cain’s voice preceded her appearance into the living room by only a few seconds, but it was enough to jog Emma and Sam out of the intimate moment they were enjoying. Her words trailed off as she took in the cozy embrace her son and daughter-in-law were sharing. “Oh my,”

Emma hurriedly dropped her hands from her husband’s rear, while Sam reluctantly pulled his arms from around her waist. He grinned sheepishly at Emma, as embarrassment flooded through both of them. His wife’s eyes were shiny with passion and mischievousness, too. He quietly warned her that she had better not make the situation even more awkward. Like the Hunter men, his wife had a wicked sense of humor, and he could practically see the wheels inside her head spinning around, as she considered just how physically uncomfortable he was at that precise moment, and how she could play it up to her best advantage.

She moved out from behind Sam, as he turned around, so that both faced Marion, but with Emma now standing in front of her husband. She smiled at her mother-in-law, shifting from one foot to the other, her bottom rubbing against the front of him, making Sam draw in a sharp intake of breath. He heard her giggle under her breath and vowed revenge once they were alone again.

“Was there somethin’ that you wanted Mom?” Sam asked resting his chin on Emma’s head.

“I was just goin’ to remind you not to forget that you were goin’ to meet me at the mechanics on your lunch hour,” Marian said, her blue eyes twinkling with amusement. She turned to leave the room, calling over her shoulder, “I enjoy havin’ spontaneous sex as much as you do son, but next time try doin’ it in a more appropriate place than in front of the windows or out in the open.”

“Mother!” Sam felt his face flush hotter at his mother’s scandalous declaration. His mother was a beautiful, vivacious woman who did not want for male companionship. Knowing his mother dated frequently was easy enough for him to accept, but being privy to any part of her sexual exploits was another thing entirely. There were just some things that should not be shared between a mother and son, and anything regarding sex was at the top of the list.

Emma snickered as she turned around to face Sam. There was more than one reason why she and her mother-in-law got along so well. Besides the devotion they each shared for Sam and their two children, Marian had a sense of humor as wicked as her own, among other similar characteristic traits. Sam had certainly had the tables turned on him when they got married, and she and Marian had become fast friends.

Sam glanced down as Emma’s laughter reached his ears, frowning into her upturned face. “Keep it up Mrs. Cain and I’ll turn you over my knee and give you a spankin’ for misbehavin’.”

“Promises, promises,” She grinned up at him, her brown eyes twinkling with humor. “Unfortunately, us doin’ anymore playin’ is goin’ to have to wait until tonight. I’ve got to go make sure the kids are up and gettin’ ready for school, and you have to go talk to my Pop.”

“Emma, can’t the talk wait until tonight?” Sam asked, dreading the conversation with his father-in-law. He did not much like people telling him how to run his life, so how could he go and butt into the way Teaspoon was leading his?

“Sam,” His wife’s voice held a pleading tone to it he hated to hear. Emma was a strong, independent woman who seldom used emotional strings to get him to do what she wanted, but this matter of him talking to her father was obviously important to her. Hell, even he had some concerns about the way Teaspoon had kept himself running at such a fast pace ever since Maria Elena had died, but on his own accord he wouldn’t intrude on personal territory. For Emma, he would do almost anything, and talking to Teaspoon seemed to fall under that heading.

“Alright, I’ll go try and talk to him,” Sam said, kissing her on the forehead and starting toward the front door.

“Thank you,” Emma called after him and turned to watch out of the window as her husband headed down the steps of their front porch and headed across their yard toward where Teaspoon was still loading fence posts into the back of his truck.

Her attention was drawn away from the window at the sounds of small feet pattering through the house, accompanied by her son and daughter’s voices greeting their grandmother in the kitchen. She headed off to oversee their getting ready for school, hoping that her husband found the right words to say to her father.


Teaspoon filled his mug with coffee and added a dollop of French vanilla creamer to it, stirred the dark liquid, and took a sip of the strong brew. Most of the time he drank his coffee black, but every now and again, he added some of the flavored creamer Emma stored at his house for when she, Sam, and the kids came over for breakfast on the weekends. He yawned, took another sip of his coffee, then set it down on the counter and moved over to the pantry.

As soon as he opened the door and filled the coffee can full of kibble, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie left their patches of floor in the living room and came running. Teaspoon outsmarted their attempts to beat each other to the food bowls as he filled them, by setting them onto the counter. Once they were full and he had placed them back onto their stands, Teaspoon emptied their water dishes in the sink, and then gave them some more.

He had just finished with his task and settled into a chair at the kitchen table to enjoy his coffee and read his newspaper when someone knocked on the door. He rose and went to answer it. Raul Gonzalez, his foreman, stood on the porch.

“C’mon in, Raul, and help yourself to some coffee.” Teaspoon led the way back into the kitchen.

“Rosaria wanted me to ask you if you wanted some more of her salsa. She just made another batch last night.” Raul poured himself a cup of coffee and joined Teaspoon at the table.

“Of course, I do,” Teaspoon, declared. “She should make it a standin’ order. Rosaria makes the best salsa this side of the border.”

“Si, she does.” Raul agreed. “Are you going to work on the fencing again today?”

Teaspoon nodded. “Yes, replacin’ all the damaged fence posts and securin’ the lines should take me another couple of days.”

“Want some help?” Raul took a sip of his coffee.

“No. Between workin’ your land and carin’ for our stock, you’ve got enough on your plate right now.”

Raul drank the rest of his coffee. “Manny almost has the black stallion saddle broken. He’s going to fetch mucho dinero at auction.”

“That he will,” Teaspoon took another sip of his coffee. Both your sons have remarkable gifts when it comes to the horses, but Manny’s got somethin’ very special. I have no doubt he’ll get that stallion broke no time at all.”

“Manny’ll be pleased you find his abilities with animals pleasing.” Raul stood up. “I need to head home. Rosaria should have breakfast ready by now.”

Teaspoon bid him goodbye and then set to work on fixing his own breakfast. By seven o’clock, he was finished eating and heading outside to help Raul and his sons do the morning chores.

Chapter Two

“Crockett, get out from under foot!” Teaspoon ordered one of his three male Australian Shepherds as he hefted another fence post onto his shoulder from the large pile stacked beside the barn and carried it toward his truck. Crockett was quick to obey, giving his two brothers the perfect opportunity to jostle each other for the best position at their master’s feet. “That goes for you boys, too.”

Sam chuckled as he watched the crazy antics of the three dogs as they wrestled with one another for a prime spot beside Teaspoon. Bowie, Crockett, and Houston, were each nearing their tenth birthday, brothers taken from the same litter of pups from Rosita, his brother-in-law, Ramon’s old dog. Seeing how the three adult dogs acted around Teaspoon, one would have thought they were much younger than they actually were.

Teaspoon placed the fence post in the back of his truck and withdrew a checkered handkerchief from his back pocket. He used it to wipe the perspiration off his face and carefully eyed the pile of fence posts loaded in the bed of the old Ford. He decided that the stack should do him for that day’s work on the range, before turning his attention onto his approaching son-in-law. Sam wore an expression on his face that reminded Teaspoon of ones men tended to wear when they were about to meet their fate by firing squad, and it did not bode well with him.

Sam was a man after his own heart. He had a strict code of ethics he adhered to, lived life to its fullest, was as devoted to Emma and their children, as he was to a career in law enforcement, and treated people the way he wished to be treated. Teaspoon had worked with the younger man over the course of his own career in law enforcement, and next to his old partner, Padraic Shannon, Sam was a hell of a man to have in the middle of a crisis. They shared an easy and open relationship and had acted as sounding boards for one another on more than one occasion, so the older man couldn’t imagine why Sam was acting as if he was about to meet a death squad as he approached him.

Crockett, Bowie, and Houston gave up vying for their master’s attention the moment Sam neared the truck. All three sets of ears perked up, noses twitched, and tails began waving ecstatically as they turned their attention onto him. Teaspoon watched with amusement as his dogs swarmed a writhing ring of furry bodies around Sam, as each one begged for his son-in-law’s full attention. Sam crouched down and patted or rubbed each dog in turn, grimacing as he received wet, slobbery kisses in return for his offered affection.

Teaspoon, seeing that Sam was fighting a losing battle against his three dogs, let out a shrill whistle. Bowie, Houston, and Crockett responded immediately to it by rushing back over to their master’s side. The older man gave a curt hand signal, which the canines obeyed, and soon sprawled, on the ground around his feet.

“Thanks for the rescue,” Sam grinned at Teaspoon as he stood up.

“If I hadn’t intervened you would have been stuck there pettin’ them all day. They are affection greedy critters.” Teaspoon smiled down at the canines at his feet, before gazing over at Sam. “Now, suppose you tell me what had you lookin’ so sour when you were walkin’ over here?”

“That obvious, huh?” Sam sighed. At Teaspoon’s node, he continued, “Emma and I were talkin’ a little while ago about the way you’ve been pushin’ yourself lately. I told her I’d come out here and talk to you.”

“You really don’t expect me to believe that line of horseshit do you?” Teaspoon’s gaze was direct. “I know whose brainchild this conversation was.”

Sam sighed again. He should have known Teaspoon would accurately identify the instigator of this early morning conversation. “Emma’s worried about you Teaspoon. She sees you workin’ so hard every day and is terrified you’re goin’ to up and die on her.”

It was Teaspoon’s turn to sigh. He knew his children, especially Emma, was worried about him, and wished he could chase their concerns away. “I won’t live my life sittin’ in a rocker on my porch watchin’ the world pass me by.”

“No one is askin’ you to do that,” Sam was quick to assure him.

“Aren’t they? Emma would be more than happy to see me strapped in a rocker so she could coddle me all day. Ramon thinks I should live the leisurely life of a jet-settin’ man and leave the runnin’ of the ranch to Raul and his sons.” There was not anger in Teaspoon’s voice, only exasperation. “What do you want me to do?”

“Whatever you want to do,” Sam felt a twinge of disloyalty to his wife for not siding with her cause, but he could not be anything except honest with Teaspoon. He understood his father-in-law’s unwillingness to let his life just pass him by. If the roles were reversed, he would be just as determined to live his life to the fullest for as long as he was given the opportunity to do so. At the same time, it troubled him to see Emma so worried about her father all the time. “My wife is one of the most level headed women around. She has a brilliant, analytical mind and has held her ground when interrogatin’ suspects, but when it comes to you, she becomes a little girl again. Losin’ Maria Elena was devastatin’ to her, and she cannot bear to lose you, too. It kills me to see Emma worryin’ so much over you. I’ll do anythin’ to chase those fears away from her permanently, even talk to you until I’m blue in the face.”

“It’s difficult for me to know that my wantin’ to live my life on my own terms is hurtin’ Emma,” Teaspoon searched for just the right words. “A father never wants to hear that somethin’ he’s doin’ is causin’ harm of any kind to one of his children, but I can’t be any different than who I am, Sam. I refuse to live my life sittin’ on my butt and doin’ nothin’. With Ramon, I can pretty much give him the ‘I got to be my own man’ speech and leave him to stew in it. I cannot use it with Emma, anymore than I could have with Maria Elena. I’m at a loss as to how to get through to Emma enough to reassure her that I’m not leavin’ this earth any time soon.”

“I know. I’ve tried tellin’ her that myself, but she just won’t believe me.” Sam leaned over and scratched Houston behind the ear. Crockett and Bowie inched forward until their heads were in range of his hands and Sam obliged the two other dogs with a scratch apiece, before straightening up. “Maybe if you lighten up the work you do in a day’s time, it’ll ease her worry some.”

Teaspoon considered Sam’s words. “I reckon I can do that. I must admit that these old bones of mine sure get worn out by the time a day’s over.”

“I’ll tell Emma that you decided to compromise and meet her half way.” Sam turned to head back to his and Emma’s house. “I best head and eat afore Emma and I have to leave for work.”

“Tell those grandkids of mine I’ll be expectin’ them at the barn after school to help me feed the foals.”

“I’ll make sure mom knows it’s all right for them to head over to help you before they do their homework.” Sam said as he walked away.

Teaspoon nodded and gestured to the dogs to get into the back of the truck as he watched Sam walk back to his house. He knew that the discussion of him doing too much was not permanently settled, but he chose not to dwell on it. For now he had other things to occupy his time.

Cain House

“Melinda Leigh, stop talkin’ with your mouth full and finish eatin’ your breakfast. We’ve got to hightail it out of here in ten minutes or you’re goin’ to be late for school.” Emma scolded her daughter as she finished packing lunches for Melinda and her son Austin.

“All done Ma,” Austin made the declaration after finishing his glass of milk.

Emma glanced up from her own plate of food she had gone back to eating after she had finished packing the kids’ lunches, and smiled at her son. Austin wore a milk mustache above the endearing smile on his cherubic features that were so much like his father’s. Austin was the spitting image of Sam, except that his sandy blonde hair was liberally sprinkled with red highlights he had inherited from her.

“Wipe your mouth, and then go brush your teeth.” Emma directed as she placed her own dishes in the sink and then cleared Austin’s from the table.

“Okay Ma,” Austin used his napkin on his face and then bolted from his chair and practically bowled Sam over as he exited the kitchen.

“Slow down speedy, we don’t have collision insurance,” Sam instructed his son with a laugh.

“Okay, dokay,” Austin slowed down to a walk as he continued toward the bathroom.

“Hi darlin’,” Sam tousled Melinda’s hair as he passed the table and moved to give Emma another kiss. “Mmm…scrambled eggs and toast, did you save any for me?”

“In the warmin’ oven,” Emma said. “How did the talk go with Pop?”

“About as well as I expected.” Sam took his plate of food out of the warming oven and then fished a fork out of the dish drainer before turning his attention back to Emma.

“Damn. I was afraid of that.”

“He did agree to a compromise,” Sam told her around a bite of eggs.

“He did?” Surprise blossomed on Emma’s face, followed by hope. “What did he agree to?”

“He agreed to lessen the load of work he does in a day’s time. Take the olive branch he’s offerin’ Emma,” Sam’s gaze was direct on his wife’s face.

Emma chewed on her bottom lip. She knew that Sam was right. A compromise from her father on the subject of him overdoing was more than she had hoped for. “I’ll take the olive branch. It is better than continuin’ to fight with Pop. It won’t change the fact that I’ll still worry about him, but I suppose that comes with lovin’ folks.”

“Good,” Sam smiled at her, understanding how hard it had been for her to concede.

“You better hurry up and finish your breakfast. Can’t have the Captain bein’ late for work,” Emma laughed and dodged the swat Sam aimed at her rear as she left the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, Sam, Emma and the children were headed up the driveway in Sam’s S.U.V. The elder Cains dropped their children off at Brown Elementary School before continuing into San Antonio to the Department of Public Safety building. Sam escorted Emma to the door of the Criminal Intelligence Division, kissed her, and then headed down to the Texas Rangers office.

Chapter Three

Three days later…

Teaspoon lathered soap into his hands and then scrubbed his face. He splashed cool water onto his face to wash away the soap, before turning off the faucets and reaching for the hand towel hanging on the rack over the toilet. He dried his face and hands, before combing through his scraggly hair. When he felt that his appearance was presentable, Teaspoon left the bathroom and headed toward the back door. Crockett, Bowie, and Houston swarmed around him the moment he stepped out the back door into the yard. Teaspoon spent a couple of minutes patting each canine before he started walking toward Sam and Emma’s house. Although he was perfectly capable of cooking a decent meal for himself, most nights he took supper with his daughter and her family.

He rather enjoyed spending time with Sam, Emma, and his grandchildren. Tonight Marian Cain would be joining them as well and he looked forward to the battle of wits the two often engaged in when they were together. Where Maria Elena had been quiet and conservative, Marian was lively and talkative. His late wife had had exotic features and Marian Nordic ones. The two women were as different as night and day, but they had been good friends nevertheless.

Melinda met Teaspoon at the Cains’ front door. She swung open the door with a glad cry, “Poppa,” and barely allowed him entrance into the house before she flung herself at him.

Teaspoon closed the door behind him before swinging Melinda up into his arms. “Mindy Pooh, Poppa loves you.”

“Mindy Pooh loves Poppa too.” Melinda, with delight shining in her hazel eyes, recited the phrase the two of them had greeted each other with since she was a small child.

Running feet signaled Teaspoon to the realization that his grandson would be joining him and Melinda in the entranceway at any moment, and braced himself for the impact. Austin was a whirlwind of activity when he was excited and often did not come to a stop until he had run into something. Holding Melinda on one shoulder with one hand, Teaspoon lowered the other to protect his family jewels just in time to prevent his grandson from hitting him there with his head.

“Poppa!” Austin cried out with glee, his blue eyes lighting up with happiness as he darted around the corner and torpedoed into the protective hand the older man held out.

“Boo Bear!” Teaspoon exclaimed, his lined face beaming at his grandson as he lowered Melinda to the ground so he could swing her brother up into the air as he had done with her.

Teaspoon and the children were still greeting each other a few minutes later when Emma came into the room to rescue her father. “You two go wash up for supper,” she instructed, giving Melinda and Austin a push toward the hallway as she stepped forward to give her father a hug.” Hi Pop, did you have a good day?”

“I did. Got most of the fence posts repaired or replaced where needed. Another day or two and I’ll be finished with the job.”

It was on the tip of Emma’s tongue to suggest that he allow one of the ranch hands, Manuel or Enrique, to finish the job, but she didn’t say it. She really did not want to have another argument with her father over his overdoing. On some level, she knew she was being unreasonable in her fear, yet, somehow she could not get past worrying about his health. Her fear of losing her father was terrifying to her and she seemed unable to allow fate to dictate how her father’s life was going to turn out.

“Pop, I…,”

Teaspoon pressed a finger against Emma’s lips. “I fully meant it when I told Sam I’m willin’ to compromise.” He told her. “You need to hold up your end of the deal. I am done discussin’ how you or Ramon think I should spend my life. None of us know how much time we have left on this earth, and I for one, am not goin’ to waste one moment of mine sittin’ on the sidelines watchin’ it go by.”

There was no anger in her father’s voice as he spoke, but Emma recognized both the firmness and finality in his words. He had made his final decision on the matter and the topic of his health was now closed. Emma sighed. She’d known that sooner or later her father was going to dig in his heels and draw a line she didn’t want to cross, but hadn’t been able to stop herself nevertheless.

“I never meant to try and tell you how to live your life Pop.” Emma stated her gaze direct on her father’s face.

Teaspoon’s smile was gentle as he gazed at her. “I know you didn’t, Darlin’. Losin’ your Mama has been a painful thing for all of us, but she would not want us to spend our days thinkin’ on what could happen. She would want us all to live our lives to their fullest potential. Let’s do that from here on out.”

“Alright,” Emma blinked back the tears, which had formed in her eyes as Teaspoon was talking. “I can’t promise that I won’t fuss and worry ‘bout you from time to time, but I’ll try hard to not let it get out of hand.”

“That’s all I’m askin’.”

They shared another hug before walking arm in arm into the kitchen

Sam’s attention was averted from the conversation with his mother, and onto his wife and father-in-law. He took in the evidence of tears on his wife’s almost serene expression before raising questioning eyes to Teaspoon.

Teaspoon understood the unspoken question in his son-in-law’s eyes and gave a perceptive nod. Sam felt relief settle over him at the knowledge that his father-in-law and wife had finally come to an agreement over the issue of him physically exerting himself too much.

Sam decided he did not need to know the details of the conversation, as long as the matter was settled. He flashed his father-in-law a smile. “Are your jewels still intact?”

“Samuel!” Marian swatted her son on the arm as Emma glared at her husband and father in turn, as Teaspoon chuckled in response to Sam’s comment.

“I’ve become pro at runnin’ interference between my whirlwind grandson and certain parts of my anatomy.”

Sam threw his head back and roared, earning him another glare from both women.

“Really, Pop, you shouldn’t encourage him,” Emma told her father disapprovingly.

“Encourage me?” Sam gave an indignant cry. “He’s worse than I am.”

Teaspoon grinned at his son-in-law. “Do as I say….”

“Not as I do,” Marian finished the end of the quote for Teaspoon. “I’m afraid my son has never been too clear on the ‘not as I do’ part.”

“Hey, what is this, pick on Sam night?” Sam asked glancing from his mother to Teaspoon, to his wife.

“Aw, poor baby,” Emma kissed Sam to take away the sting of their teasing. “You know we love you.”

“I wonder sometimes,” Sam kissed her back, setting the bottle of salad dressing mix he had been shaking onto the counter so he could embrace his wife.

“I keep tellin’ them there’s a time and a place to get naked and it isn’t when their parents or children are present.” Marian’s blue eyes held a mischievous glint in them as she nodded past Teaspoon to the kitchen doorway where Melinda and Austin stood watching their parents kiss.

Teaspoon snorted in response to Marian’s comment. He and Marian exchanged grins, as Sam and Emma broke off their kiss, and with flushing cheeks, and set to work finishing the rest of the dinner preparations. Teaspoon and Marian corralled the children into helping them set the table, and soon the family was seated around it enjoying their meal.


Two hours later found Teaspoon sitting before a warm fireplace, nestled in his favorite recliner, an equine magazine turned to an article he was reading, and an open bottle of Budweiser on the table next to the chair, listening to the news on the television. He had called Houston, Crockett, and Bowie in for the night, and the three canines were sprawled in comfortable positions around the family room.

Teaspoon itched his left foot with the toes of his right one as he lifted the bottle of Bud to his lips and took a swig of cold beer. It was at that moment that his telephone started ringing and he fumbled to pick up the cordless from its base on the table. “Hello.”

“Aloysius, how’s life treating you?”

“Orrin you old son of a gun, what rock did you crawl out from under?” Teaspoon inquired, recognizing the voice of his oldest friend and law enforcement colleague, Orrin Travis.

Laughter erupted from the phone making Teaspoon’s smile widen. “The same one you did, you crotchety old goat. How’s the family?”

“They’re doin’ good. Melinda and Austin are growin’ like weeds. Ramon just made Homicide Detective on the S.A. P. D. He is thrivin’ on being out of uniform, despite mine and Sam’s attempts to persuade him to prep for the Rangers. Sam’s stepped into my shoes quite nicely as Captain of ‘D’ squad, and the CID could not get along without my girl. How’s Evie?”

“As beautiful and energetic as ever, she keeps me on my toes,” Teaspoon heard the warmth of affection Travis held for his life companion in the deep timbre of the other man’s voice. He felt a stab of pain slice through him as he wished again that his Maria Elena was still living.

The sound of Travis’s voice broke through his reverie. “Aloysius, this call is more than a social one.”

“I’m listenin’.”

“It has been impressed upon me by higher ups that it is time to expand MCAT. Despite all the odds that were stacked against them, MCAT has excelled at being an efficient and successful government team. Two more satellite units will be formed. Bravo Company will be based here in Denver at the MCAT compound, while the other is going to be based in San Antonio.”

Teaspoon felt his blood begin stirring in a way it had not since he had retired from the Texas Rangers. He had followed the progress of MCAT with much interest, curious to see if a specialized task force would pass muster. It had far exceeded his own expectations and he knew that a large part of MCAT’s success rested solely on Travis’s shoulders, and the men he’d selected to form the first unit. After all, Travis had handpicked the core seven members himself, in the form of an almost legendary ATF team headed up by Chris Larabee.

“Where do I come in?”

“I want you to head up the Charlie Team as the Administrative Chief Officer of MCAT Operations. You will have a hand in picking the field captain and other members who’ll make up the unit, along with Chris Larabee.”

Travis had given him plenty to ponder. His mind raced with the pros and cons, which came with a job offer like Travis, had made to him. He would not be in the field with this new MCAT unit being formed, as he would have as captain of the Texas Rangers, but he would still be an active member of an elite team.

“Aloysius you still there?”

“I’m here,” Teaspoon acknowledged. “You’ve certainly made me an enticin’ offer, Orrin. I am goin’ to have to do some ponderin’ on it. When will you need an answer?”

“A.S.A.P.” Orrin spoke plainly. “I’ve already got Chris Larabee screening potential candidates for both units.”

“There’s somethin’ we need to get straight before I accept the offer. One, I am not a yes man who can be manipulated into doin’ somethin’ against my own personal ethics. Two, I want to offer Sam the position of Field Captain for Charlie Company, and I want Emma placed on the team as well.”

“Aloysius,” Orrin started to respond, but Teaspoon cut him off.

“I understand that they’ll have to undergo the proper security checks and trainin’ as any other candidate does, Orrin. I just want them placed at the top of the pile of potential candidates. Sam has an impeccable record with S.A.P.D. and the Rangers. He has strong leadership abilities, a cool mind, and twenty years experience in law enforcement. Emma has a fine analytical mind, knows the ins and outs of all types of information gatherin’ apparatus, is at the top of her field as a profiler, and has almost twenty years in law enforcement under her belt.”

Orrin chuckled. “I’m fully aware of what talented candidates both Sam and Emma are for MCAT, so you can stop crowing at any time. I have a question for you.”

“Ask away.”

“What makes you think Sam or Emma is going to want to leave their current positions to join MCAT?”

“I don’t,” Teaspoon replied. “At least not where Emma’s concerned, but Sam’s been avidly followin’ MCAT in the press ever since its inception, like I have. I can almost guarantee he’ll jump at the chance to join MCAT once I’ve shared this conversation with both of them.”

“Talk it over with them as soon as possible and get back to me on your decisions. You’ll have to get me Sam and Emma’s records A.S. A. P. so I can place them at the top of the pile Chris Larabee is going through.”

“Give me forty eight hours to discuss this with Sam and Emma and you’ll have your answer.” Teaspoon vowed.

“It’s a done deal. Goodnight.”

“Night, Orrin.”

Teaspoon hung up the phone and settled back into his recliner. Travis’s proposal had certainly given him a lot to consider. He glanced at the Australian Shepherd clock hanging over the fireplace and saw that it read eleven o’clock. Too late to call Sam and fill him in on his conversation with Travis. He knew Sam was going to be just as intrigued and excited about it as he was. He had told Travis the truth. Both of them had followed MCAT’s progress from day one. Every new article in their law enforcement magazines, press releases in local newspapers, and on the news, had made each of them want to be a part of MCAT. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such an elite team of federal agents? Chris Larabee had used his tremendous leadership abilities, coupled with years of law enforcement training on both state and local levels, to forge an eclectic group of people into a cohesive unit.

He looked forward to meeting the man who had effectively led ATF Team Seven for several years before it was disbanded, and MCAT was formed. Against all odds, Chris Larabee had fused together a remarkable team of accomplished men and women.

Teaspoon took another swig of his beer and then stood up. His bed was calling to him and he was an early riser no matter how well he slept during the night.

“C’mon boys, time for bed.”

The three canines scrambled to their paws and trotted after their master as he headed down the hallway to his bedroom.

Sleep eluded Teaspoon as he contemplated the proposal Orrin had presented to him. It was no little thing to be asked to become a member of such an elite federal team like MCAT. While the position of Administrative Chief Officer of MCAT Operations would not have him on active duty in the field, he would still be in an advisory capacity. He understood that time was of the essence for Travis to fill his position, and as well as others on the team and he made the decision to talk to Emma and Sam the following evening, so that they could give Orrin their answers quicker.

5:30 the next evening…

“Pop what’s so urgent that you needed us to stop by here first, before we went home?” Emma asked as she and Sam entered the main house.

“Emma we haven’t even been here for five seconds,” Sam protested. “Let’s sit down and give Teaspoon a chance to tell us what’s on his mind before you start interrogatin’ him.”

Teaspoon could see the underlying fear in his daughter’s eyes and mentally chastised himself. He had not realized his message for Sam and Emma to come to his house after work would have such an alarming effect on Emma. He had hoped their talk the night before would have eased Emma’s mind that everything was okay with him.

“Sam’s right, Emma. There’s nothin’ wrong. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just received an important call last night that I thought both of you would like to know about, and it was too late after I received it to call you.”

“What was the call about?” Sam was intrigued.

Teaspoon gestured for his son-in-law and daughter to move into the living room. He seated himself into his favorite chair and waited for Sam and Emma to sit down. “Orrin Travis was the person I received the call from.”

Sam leaned forward on the couch. “And?”

“He informed me that MCAT is expandin’. Two additional satellite units will be formed; one will be based in Denver, and the other will be here in San Antonio. Travis offered me the position of Administrative Chief Officer of MCAT Operations.”

“Are you goin’ to accept it?” There was a hint of disapproval in Emma’s voice. “I thought you’d given up…”

Teaspoon frowned at her. “Compromise remember?”

Emma bit back the argument rising up within her. She swallowed hard and felt it travel all the way down to her stomach. “Never thought compromisin’ could be this hard.”

A gentle smile flickered across Teaspoon’s face at the disgruntled expression Emma wore. “If compromisin’ was so easy, folks would be doin’ it all the time. Now before you blow a gasket, let me finish talkin’ and then we’ll discuss things.”

“Alright,” Emma reluctantly agreed.

“I will be carryin’ out my responsibilities behind a desk, not in the field. While I’ll be overseein’ things regardin’ Charlie Company on an administrative level, the Field Captain will be in charge of the unit.”

He looked pointedly at his son-in-law. Sam felt a twinge of excitement flood through him as Teaspoon continued, “I’m not promisin’ that you’ll get the position, but Travis will see to it that your file gets placed at the top of the stack if you want to submit it.”

“Damn right I do.” Sam’s words were automatic. He glanced at Emma. “Life changin’ decision and all, we’ll be doin’ some discussin’, but I want to submit my records for consideration.”

Emma nodded. She knew how important an opportunity this was for Sam and she was ready to support him however far it went. “What about ‘D’ company? Who’d step into your place as Captain?”

“Tyler Murdock.” Sam and Teaspoon said together, and then exchanged a knowing look.

“It was my second choice for the position if you’d turned it down.” Teaspoon explained.

“Tyler’s a good man. He’ll make a fine captain.” Sam said.

Teaspoon turned his attention onto Emma, “I know that you enjoy your work at the CID, but your full potential is bein’ wasted. Travis is goin’ to place your records on the top as well. It will be totally up to you whether or not you want to carry through with it.”

“It never crossed my mind to leave CID,” Emma stated with surprise, “What about our kids? How would workin’ together affect our lives?”

“I’ll leave the answer to your questions for you and Sam to work out Emma. As for whether or not I am goin’ to accept the position Travis offered me, I am. It’s too good a position to pass up.”

“How long do we have before Travis needs and answer?” Sam asked.

“Forty-eight hours.”

“We’ll have an answer for you ASAP.” Sam took Emma’s hand in his. “C’mon Emma, we best head to the house. I’m sure the kids are chompin’ at the bit to see us.”

“You comin’ over for supper Pop? Ramon stopped by CID on his lunch break to chat and I invited him over to eat too.”

Teaspoon cocked an eyebrow at his daughter. “This isn’t another set up for you and your brother to try and get me to spend the rest of my days sittin’ in a rocker and watchin’ the world go by, is it?”

“No, Pop, I swear. We have not seen Ramon much lately since he made Homicide. I thought it would be nice to visit with him. The kids really miss their uncle.” Emma’s tone was earnest as she answered her father.

Teaspoon did not apologize for the question. The last two times his son had been out to the ranch, he and Emma had teamed up to try and talk him into lightening his work load or taking an extended cross country vacation. He had put a halt to both discussions by leaving Emma and Sam’s house. “I’ll look forward to supper then. I’ll see you after I finish with the evenin’ chores.”

“Alright, Pop.” Emma gave Teaspoon a kiss on his cheek before she and Sam left.

Chapter Four

Dinner was enjoyable for the Hunters’ and Cains’. Ramon was filled in on Teaspoon’s call from Orrin Travis over dessert. He raised objections that were firmly shot down by Teaspoon. Just as he had done with Emma, Teaspoon explained to his son that he had to live his life the way he saw fit, and that included taking the position with MCAT. Ramon reluctantly accepted defeat. He realized from the glint in his father’s eyes that Teaspoon had been pushed far enough and he risked creating a rift between the two of them that might never be resolved. Losing one parent was hard enough to deal with; losing another was out of the question.

After dessert was over, Teaspoon headed back to his house, and Ramon left, leaving the Cain’s alone. Emma and Sam worked together to get Melinda and Austin bathed and into bed. After each child was read a story, and their prayers were said, Austin and Melinda finally drifted off to sleep. Emma and Sam retired to their bedroom. “Pop certainly gave us a lot to think about.” Emma said as she sat down at her vanity table and began wiping the makeup from her face with a moist facial cloth.

“Yeah he did.” Sam sat down on the end of their bed and toed off his boots. “What would you say if I told you that I want to take the job with MCAT, regardless of the position?”

Emma gazed at him through the mirror attached to her vanity table. “I knew that the moment Pop told you he requested Orrin Travis to put your jacket on top of the candidates pile.”

Sam finished unbuttoning his shirt that he had started undoing after he took off his boots, and slipped it off, noting Emma’s quick intake of breath. He smiled at her, letting her see how her reaction to seeing his bare chest made his body respond. He was grateful that after knowing each other for nearly fifteen years, ten of them as her husband, that she was just as passionately attractive to him, as he was to her. While his body urged him to take her in his arms and make love to her, Sam restrained from doing so. The discussion they were currently having was one, which would change their lives forever. “Do you have any objections to my takin’ the position?”

“One.” Emma said as she rose from the bench and turned to face him.

“What is it?”

Sam closed the distance between them, placing his hands on her shoulders.

“You and me workin’ in the same environment.”

Sam blinked. “Are you interested in workin’ for MCAT too?”

Emma grinned at him. “Damn straight. It’s true, the thought never crossed my mind to leave CID until Pop suggested it, but I have to admit it’s one hell of an opportunity to pass up.”

“It also ups the danger level both of us take. Are we willin’ to risk leavin’ our kids alone to be raised by someone else?”

Emma pulled away from him and walked over to the bed. She turned around to face Sam as he joined her. “I guess I’m finally seein’ somethin’ that Pop’s been tryin’ to tell me since Mama died. Our lives do not belong to us, but to Fate. What is supposed to happen will, regardless of our attempts to divert or stop them.No matter what occupation you or I have, there is always the possibility that one or both of us will die before our children are adults. All we can do is love them the best we can, as well as try to make the world a safer place for them to live in. That is somethin’ we have always believed in, Sam. Workin’ with MCAT is goin’ to give us an even better opportunity to protect our children’s futures’, as well as further our personal crusades to eliminate some of the sewage permeatin’ the world.”

“Are you certain this is what you want?” Sam tucked a strand of curly red hair behind Emma’s ear. “There’s bound to be other unforeseen obstacles we haven’t thought of yet that we’ll have to face.”

“Whatever may come, we’ll face them together as we always have.” Emma stated, tracing a finger along the waist of his jeans. “Let’s go to bed.”

“Are you propositionin’ me, Mrs. Cain?”

“You betcha, Mr. Cain. Now get naked so I can have my wicked way with you.” Emma’s brown eyes twinkled mischievously as she climbed onto the bed, and began stripping out of her own clothes.

Sam had an advantage on her since it took fewer clothes to dress him than it did Emma, so he volunteered to help her out of her bra and panties. Emma did not turn his offer down and the two of them settled into a night of loving.

Nine a.m. Texas Time

Sam and Emma called Teaspoon early the next morning and told them their decisions. After he finished helping Raul with the morning chores, Teaspoon called Travis at home. He shared pleasantries with Evie, before she handed the phone to her husband.

“I hope you have something good to tell me.” Orrin growled into the phone.

“Good mornin’ to you, too,” Teaspoon smiled as he remembered Travis was like a bear just come out of hibernation before he had his first cup of coffee in the morning.

“Don’t beat around the bush, Aloysius, just give me your answers.”

Teaspoon’s mile widened. “Not only am have I onboard, but Sam and Emma have thrown their hats into the ring, too.”

“Good. That was the answer I was expecting to hear.” Travis’s voice held a cheerier tone to it and Teaspoon wondered if he had finished his coffee.

“When do you want us there?”

“I need you to come out to Denver so I can introduce you to Chris Larabee and the rest of the MCAT Alpha Team. Once we have squared away a few things, we will set to work on picking out potential candidates for your new team.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Teaspoon said. “Give me at least a day to reschedule a couple of appointments I have this week with some buyers, and then I’m all yours.”

“I’ll set it up for Raphael Cordova to fly to San Antonio to pick you up.”

Teaspoon whistled into the phone. “You have a personal plane at your disposal? What other high tech gizmos does MCAT have?”

“You’ll have to wait and find out. I’ll see you when you get here.”

They exchanged goodbyes and then hung up. With his dogs running around his boots, Teaspoon headed to the barn to talk to Rocco about his impending trip to

Denver, Colorado.

Teaspoon was not only impressed with the sleek, top of the line aircraft MCAT had use of, but also of the way Raphael Cordova handled it. Since he was the only passenger on the plane, Raphael invited Teaspoon to sit up in the cockpit with him, but strongly urged the older man not to touch any of the instruments unless he was asked to. Teaspoon took the request in stride, and instead led Raphael into a heated conversation about the heated dynamics of fighter jets of two thousand and eight and earlier versions used in Vietnam, Korea, and World War 2. By the time they landed at the MCAT complex in Denver, Teaspoon and Raphael had developed an easy rapport with each other.

Travis was waiting for him on the landing strip when he came down the ramp.

“Aloysius, it’s good to see you.” Orrin said as the two men shook hands.

Teaspoon cocked an eyebrow at him. “Good to see you too, Orry.”

Orrin glowered at his friend. “Don’t call me that!”

“I seem to recall tellin’ you somethin’ along those same lines regardin’ your persistence in callin’ me by my given name. From here on out, every time you call me Aloysius, I’m goin’ to call you Orry.”

“Slip ups are bound to happen now and again Al- Teaspoon, but I’ll make more of an effort to call you by your nickname.” Orrin turned toward the MCAT facility. “How was your flight?”

Teaspoon fell into step beside his friend. “Interestin’. Cordova is an intelligent fellow with flyin’ skills I haven’t seen outside of combat.”

Orrin stopped walking and turned to look at Teaspoon. “Why do I have the sinking feeling I don’t want to know the details of that comment?”

Teaspoon chuckled and slapped him on the back. “Maybe because it’s best you don’t. Why don’t we head into your office and get down to business?”

“Sounds good to me.”

After giving Teaspoon a preliminary tour of the bullpen, the two men had gone immediately to Travis’s office to hash over the fine details of Hunter accepting the position as Administrative Chief of Operations for the San Antonio, Texas MCAT Unit.


“Hold up, Vin, I need to speak to you and Chris.” Orrin called out as he and Teaspoon entered the bullpen.

Teaspoon’s eyes raked over the tall, younger man in a long sleeve blue Henley, crisp jeans, and scuffed cowboy boots, as he and Orrin neared the two MCAT agents. There was a taller, giant of a man with graying hair, and keen blue eyes with him. Both wore an aura of intelligence, authority, and charisma that he’d witnessed only a few men possessing, and was suitably impressed. He watched as the two men shared a few soft words with one another, before the one called Vin moved to join him and Orrin, while the other disappeared into an office on the left hand side of the large room.

He greeted Vin with a curt nod, as he continued to scrutinize everything around him, taking note of the orderly way the room was set up, and the high tech computers that adorned each desk.

“Where’s Chris?” He heard Travis ask the MCAT agent.

“Chris is out in the field today. What do you need, Sir?” Tanner replied.

“We need to talk.” Without hesitation, Travis headed toward Vin’s office, expecting him to follow.

Travis sat at Vin’s desk, instructing him to shut the door and then be seated. “Captain Vin Tanner, meet Aloysius Hunter. He has top security clearance and will be observing MCAT procedures and operations for the next week. I had hoped to discuss this situation in more detail with Chris; however, you are more than capable of handling it in the Commander’s absence. Give Hunter full access to whatever he requests and show him how the top response team in the country earned their reputation.”

As Orrin made the introductions, Teaspoon eyed Tanner and could almost see the wheels in the younger man’s mind turning, as he thought of a way in which to fulfill the command Travis had given him, without having his time hindered with a tagalong. Tanner had a surprise coming though. He was not going to sit behind a desk and sort through a bunch of files. He was a ‘hands on’ man who planned to take full advantage of this carte blanche opportunity to explore every aspect of MCAT operations and see just how the elite federal agency worked.

“Yes, Sir, we’ll take good care of him.” Tanner said, after Travis had finished speaking.

“I know you will,” Travis stood. “I’ll leave you two to get better acquainted.” He turned to Hunter. “Aloysius,” he grinned, “You know where I am if you need me.” The other man glared at Travis and started to say something, but the Director made a hasty exit leaving the two men alone.

Hunter was the first one to break the silence. “Let’s get one thing straight, Tanner. You don’t call me Aloysius and I won’t have to kick your ass. My name’s Teaspoon, use it.”

Vin leaned forward and spoke softly, “First off, you’d have a helluva headache if you tried to kick my ass, but since I wouldn’t call a dog Aloysius, I reckon we don’t have a problem.” He grinned and offered Teaspoon his hand. “My name’s Vin. What part of Texas are you from?”

Teaspoon responded with a firm handshake. “A place you probably never heard of, Pearsall, Texas. Four generations of the Hunter family have called it home.”

Tanner nodded. “Frio River country, I know the area. Welcome to Colorado.” He moved over to his desk. “I can start you off readin’ some of our case files if you want.”

Teaspoon shook his head “Don’t stick me with files or paperwork. I want to be where the action is.”

“Unfortunately a lot of the action in this unit is in paperwork.” Vin corrected him. “Case reports, personnel files, surveillance intelligence etc, and of course plans to be submitted to Travis. All part of the territory.” He ventured a guess, “I reckon you bein’ here and bein’ from Texas is no coincidence. You apparently have somethin’ to do with Travis’s plans for the MCAT expansion team in San Antonio. If so, you’ll be workin’ closely with Commander Larabee. He should be here in another couple of hours. Until then, make yourself at home and meet some of the team.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll do just that.”

Vin pushed his chair back and stood. “I’ll get you started by introducin’ you to our Administrative Assistant, Gunny. If it happens in this office, she knows about it, and can point you to any department you want to observe.”

“Lead on, Captain. I’m ready to take it all in.”

Vin left him in the capable hands of Gunny, who proved to be a amicable guide. The tour of MCAT headquarters had been an extensive one. Teaspoon was impressed with the high tech gadgetry and the level of expertise of all the agents he was introduced to or he observed as they went about their business. There was an air of cool efficiency and pride in the jobs they were doing from the agents on Alpha Team. He was determined to make sure that the men and women who he and Sam selected for Charlie Team were just as efficient and held the same level of pride in the work that they did. He wouldn’t accept anything less from the San Antonio based team, than he had from his Texas Rangers.

Teaspoon and Gunny returned to the bullpen about an hour or so later, and both were instantly aware that a level of tension filled it. There was also a buzz of activity around the Captain’s office, and Teaspoon headed for it to see what was going on. He arrived at the door as Vin was coming out of it.

“What’s going on?” he inquired.

“Commander Larabee and Agent Coulter are in trouble. You can accompany us if you like, or stay here until we return. Choice is yours.” Vin said.

“I’m all yours.” Teaspoon told him.

Chapter Five

Teaspoon sat in the back of the helicopter, behind JD. He was here to observe and that was exactly what he was doing. When Tanner told the unit that Larabee and Coulter were in trouble, they each did what had to be done without waiting for orders. He knew that Jackson was scheduled to work all night with the gang unit on one of MCAT’s ongoing urgent cases, yet he was one of the first ones on board. It was an effortless and superb display of teamwork in action. Hunter was still working on understanding the dynamics of the unit and the character of each individual, but from what he had already seen, the next week promised to be damn interesting.

As Sanchez brought the helicopter around to circle the Carter property, Teaspoon glanced out of the window, taking in the rapidly approaching scenery below them, and because of the rural area, wondered just what kind of trouble that Larabee and his agent had gotten themselves into. He also noticed that the State police had gotten a jump on them and were already searching the property for the two MCAT agents.

He heard Tanner tell Sanchez to put the bird down, and a few moments later, all words were lost as the ground beneath them erupted into a spectacular wall of flames, which reached dangerously close to the helicopter. Black smoke billowed toward the sky and then silently retracted as quickly as it appeared.

“Hold on!” He heard Josiah yell as he wrestled with the controls of the helicopter. The aircraft pitched and then rolled to one side as the concussion from the blast reached it. Teaspoon hung on, noting the varied expressions on the faces of the other men in the helicopter with him. Nobody said anything as they held on tight, but he was certain that they were all expecting any moment to be their last, just like he was.

Sanchez fought with the bucking aircraft, attempting to halt its rapid descent toward the fiery hell waiting to claim them. They were ten feet from the ground when the monster below released its grasp on the helicopter and Josiah was able to divert a disaster. Teaspoon let out the breath he’d been holding as the aircraft righted itself, and exchanged a relieved smile with the MCAT agents. He’d witnessed both Cordova and Sanchez’s skills behind the controls firsthand now, and he could honestly say that after the last few moments, that Sanchez had edged his way to the top over Cordova.

Ducking the wind from the whirling blades, six men jumped from the helicopter before both skids touched the ground and spread out to help the shocked and wounded officers who were staggering away from the site of the explosion. While Alex, Teaspoon, and Justin dragged bodies away from the smoldering rubble, which once was a house, JD was on the phone ordering additional back up and the fire department to the scene. Josiah had been the last to disembark, after he shut down the helicopter systems. He then joined Nathan to help assess the injuries.

Teaspoon accompanied Tanner as he located the State Trooper who was in charge of the scene, shoved his MCAT credentials into the man’s face and demanded.” What the hell happened?”

Teaspoon’s lips twitched as he took in the expression on the State Trooper’s face in reaction to the Captain’s question.

“Our units split up as soon as we arrived; we secured the perimeter, and then checked the outer buildings. Officer Davis took a team to secure the house. Evidently it was rigged to explode the moment anyone knocked on the door, Sir.”

The State Trooper’s words didn’t bode well for the safety of the missing Larabee and the agent who’d been partnered with him. He wisely chose to keep his thoughts to himself as Tanner continued to question the State Trooper.

“Any sign of my missin’ agents before the blast?” Vin was certain Chris and Kelli were not inside the rubble and still sensed Larabee’s living presence somewhere nearby. That was the only thing holding him together at the moment.

“No, Sir. I’m sorry.”

Vin nodded. “Tend to your men; more help is on the way.”

Teaspoon watched as Tanner’s gaze swept over the area, as if he was looking for something…anything to give him a clue to the location of the missing agents. He could remember doing the same thing a time or two over the course of his career. Any time a fellow officer was wounded or went missing, his hunting instincts had kicked in and he’d become like a bloodhound until the men were relocated. While he hoped that the two missing MCAT agents came out of this scenario alive and unharmed, he was very aware of the possibility that they’d been in the house when it exploded, and this could very well change over from a rescue to a recovery. Until that time happened, he was going to do whatever he could to assist Tanner and the rest of the MCAT agents in finding out what had become of Larabee and Agent Coulter.

By the time he and Tanner had rejoined the others; several units of paramedics and the fire department were now on the scene. They learned that Sanchez had taken the most critically injured to the nearest trauma center by helicopter and additional troopers had arrived to assist with what was now a crime scene. Teaspoon listened as Tanner gave terse orders to his men on the scene; he was a man on a mission and somehow he knew that the other man wouldn’t settle for anything less than a positive outcome. He was waiting for his own orders, when he witnessed a strange look come over Tanner’s face, and then the other man was signaling to his team to gather close.

“Chris and Kel are trapped under this mess. Smoke is seeping into the underground room and the walls are unstable. We need to get them out as quickly as possible. Let’s get to work.”

Surprise colored Teaspoon’s features. He did not see how Tanner could know any of the information he had just given the other MCAT agents. He’d dogged him the entire time they’d landed on the scene, and no one had given the MCAT captain anything new to go on. He expected one of his team members to question him about what he’d said, but none of them. They took him at his word and fell into follow instructions to the letter. Teaspoon decided that he could do no less, even though he was uncertain about the validity of the information Tanner had revealed to his teammates.

He worked alongside the MCAT agents, approving of the fluidity in which the team members worked together. The more time he spent with these men, the more he found to admire, and his approval wasn't something he gave lightly. He picked up a concrete boulder and threw it off to the side as the pile of debris began to diminish. He caught Agent Dunne watching him with almost an anxious look on his face. "Son, it's not polite to stare." He grinned when JD's face flushed with embarrassment.

JD wasn't certain a man of Mister Hunter’s age should be doing such strenuous activity and was concerned for the older man the same as he would be if Orrin Travis was out there. “Sorry. It’s just that this is really hard work and with you not as young as the rest of us. I thought… Aww hell…I meant…"

Teaspoon chuckled, but didn't let him finish his sentence. “I’m not goin' to keel over any time soon, Son. Why don't you set your mind back on to the business at hand and stop worryin' about this old man?"

JD grinned back at Teaspoon, relieved that he had not been offended.

Working through the heat left from the explosion, Vin, Alex, and Justin were closest to the entrance. It took backbreaking effort to move all the debris by hand and their muscles were already feeling the strain from removing pieces of what was left of the house. In spite of the forty degree chill in the air, sweat rolled down their faces while they labored.

Other members of MCAT arrived and Teaspoon was relieved. Digging was hard work, and in the heat it was even more difficult. Fortunately, with the other extra muscle, and a canine named Bandit, they soon had Commander Larabee and Agent Coulter freed from their tomb and being looked after by medical personnel. Teaspoon stood off to the side catching his breath and sipping on the bottle of Gatorade that one of the EMT’s had handed to him, and watched as the MCAT agents were reunited with their CO and fellow agent. He watched with fascination the apparent silent communications between Tanner and Larabee. The more he was around this MCAT team the more he wanted to know them better. It was clear to him that he had a lot to learn about these men and women, who Travis spoke of with such great esteem.

“They do that all the time; have since they first met one another.” Josiah Sanchez came to stand next to Hunter. “Amazing isn’t it? “

“It is at that,” Teaspoon replied.

“Come on, I’ll introduce you to Commander Larabee before Nathan has me whisk him off to the hospital.” Josiah said.

“All right.”

As Teaspoon walked beside Sanchez toward the ambulances, he caught sight of tender looks being exchanged between Tanner and Coulter, followed by an embrace. Josiah, realizing his companion was no longer keeping pace beside him, stopped walking as well, and turned back to see what had caught Teaspoon’s attention. Sanchez smiled.

“They are married.” He said, rejoining Teaspoon.

“How’s that affect them working together?” Hunter inquired.

“It doesn’t,” Sanchez said. “If you want to know more, I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to Vin yourself.”

Teaspoon made a note to himself to ask Tanner about his and Agent Coulter’s relationship. Maybe he had insight that would benefit Sam and Emma as they embarked on this new journey with him. When they reached Larabee’s side, Josiah made introductions, and then left the two men alone to speak.

“Hunter,” Chris acknowledged the introduction. “I’m looking forward to discussing details with you, but I believe I’m being shanghaied to Denver Memorial first. In the meantime, Vin, Josiah, JD, Ezra or Nathan can answer most of your questions.”

Teaspoon nodded. “Let the doc fix you up. We’ll have plenty of time to talk once you’re released for duty.”

“Plan on it being tomorrow morning,” Chris told him and began issuing orders to his men, while Teaspoon looked on. Once he was finished, Larabee finally allowed the EMT’s to put him into the ambulance. Sanchez offered him a ride back to headquarters in the helicopter, and Teaspoon gratefully took him up on his offer.

By the time Teaspoon reached his hotel, it was growing late. He made a quick call to Sam and filled him in on how things were going, before he spent a moments talking to his grandchildren and Emma. He ordered room service when he hung up with them, and went and took a hot shower while he waited for his supper. He ate heartily of the steak and potatoes dinner, and then climbed into bed, and fell fast asleep.

Chapter Six

MCAT Office-The next morning.

Chris was in misery. He hurt everywhere and those blasted crutches were a pain in the ass. No one had any lead on “Bitsy” or Carter. Additionally, with Buck gone, Ezra undercover, the work was piling up on his desk, and he still had a meeting with Hunter. He had spent the past two hours in Travis’s office going over plans for the new units and being prepped for his new role of Associate Director of MCAT Operations. Apparently it was not enough for him to be Commander of one unit, now he had the added responsibility of overseeing three. Granted, it was a supervisory position and he would not have to be involved in the day to day running of the teams. Each would have their own SAC, Special Agent in Charge, and thanks to Hunter’s role for the Texas unit, Chris would not have to travel back and forth to San Antonio. Nevertheless their success or failure was on his shoulders. Slowly making his way back to his own office his dark mood emanated before him and everyone moved out of his way.

When Hunter had arrived earlier, instead of being secluded away in an office going through paperwork, he had suggested that for the next couple of days he be allowed to shadow the senior agents as they went about their daily jobs. While he would not be an active field agent for the San Antonio branch of MCAT, he still wanted to know the ins and outs of the various departments within the main unit. Once Chris Larabee had given him the all clear, Teaspoon had chosen to follow Josiah Sanchez around. His view of the bullpen from the agent's desk afforded him the opportunity to observe the reactions of the others when Larabee entered the area.

Josiah stopped going over the intricacies of the criminal mind when he realized he had lost Teaspoon's attention. The large man glanced up in time to see Chris finally make it to his office and winced as the door slammed shut behind the MCAT CO. "Did someone forget to mention that Chris is a tad bit temperamental at times?"

His question focused Teaspoon's attention on Larabee. Teaspoon found it amusing to observe the other MCAT agents give their CO a wide berth as he awkwardly maneuvered himself through the bullpen to his office. It was apparent by the scowl on Larabee's face the man was in a sour mood. Given the multitude of injuries he had sustained in the incident at the Carter place the day before, he was certainly in a world of hurt and should have been taking it easy at home. Instead, here he was working, and while Teaspoon admired Larabee's dedication to his job, he couldn't help shaking his head at the foolishness of youth. He answered Josiah, "No, but I think I just got my first glimpse."

"Hunter, you haven't seen or heard nothing yet,” Josiah corrected with a wide grin. “Larabee’s been known to bring grown men to their knees with just his glare."

Teaspoon chuckled. “That must be a sight to see."

“It is." Josiah agreed, "So long as Chris's anger isn't directed at you. Now, where were we...?"

As the other man started back on his diatribe regarding the criminal mind, Teaspoon heard Larabee bellow, “Hunter, my office.”

Josiah looked up from his paperwork and grinned. “Ah, the Larabee summons. Don’t worry; usually his bark is worse than his bite.”

“Usually?” Teaspoon asked. “What about the other times?”

“You don’t want to know,” Josiah shook his head. He was smiling though as he watched Hunter leave to room.

Larabee’s office

Hunter was barely seated before Chris began. “I’ve read your jacket and agree with Orrin about your qualifications. You obviously have the experience to lead and you’re more than qualified to handle putting a team together.”

“I hear a ‘but’ in there,” Teaspoon’s brow arched as he leaned forward in his chair. “Just spit it out, Larabee. What is it you think I don’t know?”

Chris studied the man in front of him for a moment before answering, “Your history of military service, being a DPS Officer, and a Texas Rangers is excellent. But they all have one thing in common; they are all traditional, established institutions with defined procedures. MCAT is…different. We have a lot more flexibility and room to maneuver than any other agency outside the CIA. More than that, being an MCAT agent is not just a job, it becomes a way of life. Our work affects our families, disrupts normal routines, can be extremely dangerous, and is also one of the most important positions any of us will ever have the opportunity to hold. We push the envelope hard, and often. The past three years have taught me that the only thing to expect is the unexpected.”

Teaspoon nodded, “After bein’ here for only a couple of days, I already sensed that. I have also followed your progress since MCAT began. You’ve been through the fire and fought against many obstacles, some from within your own team. Yet you’ve managed to create an extraordinary unit. While it is well-organized, successful, and imposin’, this team is made up of agents who really want to make a difference, are the best at what they do, and who care about one another. You, Sir, are responsible for that and it’s what I hope to duplicate for the Texas team.”

“I was fortunate enough to start with a core team consisting of men who are the best I’ve had the privilege of working with.” Chris stated proudly.

“Team seven,” Hunter acknowledged. “Their reputation is legendary. I may not be able to duplicate them, but I’m positive I can come damn close.”

“Then let’s make it happen, “Chris answered. He liked the attitude he was hearing from Hunter, but seriously doubted he could ever come close to matching his ‘Magnificent Seven‘. “Do you have anyone in mind to lead the new team?”

Grinning, Teaspoon reached across, picked up a folder from a pile on the corner of Chris’s desk, and passed it to him. “As a matter of fact, I do. I took the liberty of leavin’ his file here this mornin’. His name is Sam Cain.”

“I’ve already read his file and I approve of your choice, “Chris said. He picked up a large stack of folders, passing them to Teaspoon. “Josiah has already selected some possible candidates. These personnel files give you a good start in finding who you need. In fact, I think you and Sam could begin putting your team together as soon as possible.”

Teaspoon nodded. “I’ll have these couriered to Sam so he can start readin’ through them. I plan on stayin’ here until the end of the week. “

Setting Sam’s file on top of his inbox, Chris agreed. “Stay as long as you like and talk to whoever you need to, but there are some pressing matters I need to tend to.”

Teaspoon relaxed. “Those pressin’ matters personal or work related?”

“Work, guns and gangs,” Chris shook his head. “Never a good combination, but someone wants to push it. I want that someone.” A knock on the door interrupted him. “Enter.”

“Chris I…,” JD stopped when he saw Teaspoon. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were busy.”

“Come on in, JD. What have you got for me?”

Handing Chris a stack of folders, he explained, “The forensic report on the bomb is on top along with a detailed workup on Lorene Fowler. I also finished the backgrounds on everyone who works at West End Junior High. The ones I thought you would be interested in are listed first and then the rest. I duplicated a set for Ezra and he’ll be picking them up after school closes for the day.” JD fidgeted while he debated with himself about saying more in front of Teaspoon.

“What else?” Chris prodded.

Taking a chance on igniting the infamous Larabee temper, JD blurted out, “Chris, you look like hell and should be home resting. We can handle things here and Josiah is ready to take you to the ranch.”

His first impulse was to snap and say he was fine, but his body said differently. Sighing deeply, Chris nodded, “Tell Josiah I’ll be out in five minutes and JD…thanks for putting in the extra time on this one.”

JD nodded, not sure how Chris knew he’d put in the extra hours last night, but not surprised that he did. Chris always found out everything, one way or another. “If I find out more, I’ll give you a call.” He left to give Josiah the message.

Teaspoon observed the interaction between Larabee and Dunne and laughed. “I was certain you were too stubborn to give in, but I’m glad you decided you weren’t superman after all.”

“Stubborn, I’ll admit to, but not stupid,” Chris grinned. “Another twenty-four hours and I’ll be fine. Have JD give you a crash course with CASSIE. It’s been an invaluable tool for us and will be for you too.” He gathered the files he wanted to go over with Vin and prepared to leave.

“I think I’ll do just that,” Teaspoon stood. “Let me carry your briefcase, so you can concentrate on those crutches.” He followed Chris out of the office and handed the case to Josiah. “See y’all tomorrow.”

Chris and Josiah headed toward the door while Teaspoon sought out JD.

Later that afternoon.

Vin finished his conversation with Josiah and left the profiler’s office in search of JD. He found him sitting in front of his computer attempting to explain some of the intricacies of Cassie’s program to Teaspoon. When he neared JD’s desk he caught a glimpse of the puzzled expression on Hunter’s face and stifled a laugh. Noticing Vin’s approach, Teaspoon and JD glanced away from the monitor and focused their attention on him.

The older man caught the smirk Vin quickly tried to hide, and couldn’t help but smile back. “I do good to remember what my password is when usin’ a computer, all this newfangled mumbo jumbo is beyond my skill level. “

“That’s why we keep him around.” Vin patted JD on the shoulder. ”We don’t understand it either, but CASSIE is an invaluable tool we can’t do without.”

“Nice to know I’m wanted for something other than my good looks,” JD quipped.

Vin rolled his eyes skyward. “Are you channelin’ Buck again?”

“Yep, and I’ll keep reminding you…now that Buck isn't here...the role of devilishly handsome rogue falls on my shoulders. JD's grin was wide as he chuckled and ducked a swipe from Vin.

Hunter observed the easy banter between the acting CO and the MCAT agent and recognized that like the other members of the founding team, there was more than just a professional relationship between the two men. During his career in law enforcement he had witnessed the working dynamics of quite a few squads, and none of them could hold a candle to the way this unit interacted with one another. It was a rare thing to witness.

All banter disappeared and Vin became serious. “JD, I need you to do a spider search for me. Start with Royce Carter and Lorene Fowler, cross check with Carlos Chavez. Then take what you find and run it against any connection to upcomin’ weapons shipments by the military.” He nodded and smiled. “Let’s see who or what we can snag in our web.”

"You got it, Vin." JD turned back to his monitor and as Teaspoon and Vin looked on, his fingers practically flew over the keyboard as he typed in the names of their three suspects into CASSIE.

"Score," JD exclaimed with an enthusiasm that made Teaspoon chuckle. "There's a large shipment of munitions scheduled to leave Ft. Carson on the 21st."

“Anythin' else?" Vin inquired.

"It appears that Fowler and Chavez have an interesting connection."

"Really?" Teaspoon was intrigued at how fast Agent Dunne had been able to come up with this viable bit of information.

"Yep." JD turned in his chair to look at both Vin and Teaspoon.” Lorene “Bitsy” Fowler is the daughter of Louise Fowler Chavez, Carlos’ ex-wife.”

“Keep diggin’, JD,” Vin ordered. “I want to know every detail you can find on any of ‘em. I especially want to know what Chavez has been doin’ since the last time we tangled with him and who he’s been doin’ it with.”

Teaspoon studied Tanner and asked, “You know somethin’ or just have a hunch?”

“Right now it’s just a hunch, but you never know,” he shrugged. “You wanna take a trip over to the lab?”

"I'm game," Teaspoon readily agreed. He hadn't had an opportunity to check out the forensics division of the MCAT headquarters until now and was anxious to see how it was set-up. He and Vin walked over to the hanger which housed the MCAT lab.

To say he was impressed with the facilities was an understatement. As he followed Tanner into the building adjoining the HQ, Teaspoon found himself gazing around in wide eyed fascination. The cavernous room was separated into sections by glass partitions that allowed open access to anyone with MCAT authority to view. He easily picked out the area setup for autopsies to be performed by the big red warning on the door. Another section held equipment which he identified as being used to work with fingerprints. Tanner pointed out the area where all manner of DNA was tested and recorded, as well as the ballistics area and incendiary forensics. Whoever had engineered the design of the lab, as well as the rest of the buildings and training facilities that made up the whole of MCAT headquarters was ingenious.

“There’s Nathan, “Vin nodded to the right and quickly joined Jackson. “Hey Nate, what have you found out about the bomb?”

Nathan greeted Teaspoon and Vin before explaining his finding. “Apparently the explosives were meant to destroy the underground storage area. We were lucky it failed or Chris and Kelli would have been buried alive.”

Vin felt a shiver race down his spine when he thought about what could have been, but he forced himself to shrug it off. “So it was not newly installed?”

Shaking his head, Nathan picked up a scale model of the Carter property. “I would say the explosives were placed there about the same time the storage area was constructed. At least five…maybe six years ago,” he said as he pointed out their location on the model. ”Every bomb maker has a signature and when I reconstructed this one I ran it against known explosive devices, I found a match.” He set the model back on the table and handed Vin a sheet of paper. “This bomb was made by Ray Montoya; he’s been associated with Carlos Chavez for the past ten years.”

“Ray Montoya, now that's a name I've run across a couple of times back when I was with the Rangers," Teaspoon commented as he studied the scale model Jackson held up. “He's a slippery snake who has slithered his way through prison bars more times than I can count."

“He's about ready to get a rude awakenin' then," Vin spoke up." Nathan, keep at it an' let me know what else you turn up that can tie Montoya into all of this."

Teaspoon nodded and gave the lab one final look before following Vin out and back into the bullpen. Vin headed straight for the CASSIE station where JD was still working on the assignment he gave him earlier.

“JD, add Ray Montoya to your list,” Vin instructed him. “Put out an APB on him, and then get me all his connections to Chavez, Carter, and Fowler.”

“You got it,” JD jotted the name down and began to work his magic with CASSIE. He made a mental note to call Casey and let her know he would probably be home late…again.

Chapter Seven

Holiday Inn~8:00 a.m.

One Week Later

Teaspoon packed his essentials kit into his suitcase, shut the lid, and snapped the locks into place. He gave a quick perusal to the rest of the room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, before leaving the room. He stopped off at the front desk to give the hotel clerk his room key and to make sure there were no extra charges on the bill he needed to pay for, before heading out to his rental car. MCAT had covered all of his expenses as promised, even the long distance calls he had made most nights to his kids.

By eight-thirty he was at MCAT headquarters. It was somewhat of a shock to him that he found he was going to miss this ragtag band of federal agents. Chris Larabee was a remarkable man who had done the impossible. He had taken men and women from diverse backgrounds and cultures, with unique personalities and skills and created the best damn law enforcement unit he had ever witnessed. They were underpaid and under-appreciated for all the excellent work they did on a daily basis, and most certainly gave every bit of their time, energy, and devotion to making this country a better place for all to live in.

He entered the bullpen and caught sight of JD. The MCAT agent’s face was battered and bruised. A black ring encircled both eyes which had puffy lids, making JD look like a raccoon. There was a band of bruising lining Dunne’s jaw and his top lip was swollen, while the other was cracked and cut.  “Lord, son, what the hell happened to you?”

JD cracked a smile by way of greeting, and immediately regretted it as pain shot through his mouth, “Got into a little fight yesterday.”

“A little fight?” Teaspoon’s eyebrow arched. “It looks like you wrestled with a gorilla and lost.”

Thinking about the men he and Vin had tangled with the day before, JD had to agree with Hunter’s analogy of their opponents. “Actually it was more than one. I hear you’re leaving us today?”

“Yep,” Teaspoon nodded. “I just need to see Larabee first.”

“He’s in his office with Vin.” JD told him. “They’re expecting you.”

“You take care of yourself son,” Teaspoon said and continued through the bullpen. By the time he reached the commanding officer’s office, he had essentially said his good byes to the rest of the team.

Gunny gestured for him to go on in. Teaspoon opened the door and stepped inside. He took one look at Vin Tanner’s battered and bruised face and couldn’t help chuckling, “ I see you’ve been wrestlin’ with gorillas as well.”

Vin cocked a questioning eyebrow at him, as Chris smirked.

“Vin and JD have an amazing talent for attracting trouble, and practice using it on a regular basis. It’s also called how to give your CO an ulcer.”

“I’ve had a few men in my command over the years that had the same talent.” Teaspoon grinned, and extended his hand to Larabee. “I just stopped by to say my good-byes.”

Chris stood, steadying himself against his desk, and shook Hunter’s hand. “Good luck with your search for a team. You have some excellent candidates to choose from and I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“You’ll have my report every Friday by noon.” Teaspoon said, picking up his bag. “By the time May rolls around, I’ll have the second best team in the country assembled, ready for you to train.”

“Second best?” Chris smiled. “Did you forget we’ll be assembling another team here in Denver?”

“Nope, didn’t forget it, just statin’ fact.” Raising his hand to the brim of his hat, he tipped it to both MCAT agents, and headed out the door, calling over his shoulder. “See y’all in May.”

San Antonio Airport

Sam leaned against the wall of the airport, arms folded, and ankles crossed. He affected the nonchalant pose in an effort to set other airport patrons at ease with his presence, but was not certain he had succeeded. He had caught more than one double take from passengers, security, and other personnel once they spotted the gun on his hip. Some were observant enough to catch sight of the badge pinned to his shirt, but most gave him a wide berth, something he found quite amusing.

He was eager to talk to Teaspoon and discuss how things had gone in Denver. Ever since Teaspoon had told him and Emma of Orrin Travis’s offer, Sam had had MCAT on the brain. Until now, he had never considered leaving the Rangers. Being asked to take a position with MCAT was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Emma, too, was chomping at the bits to find out whether there was a place on MCAT for the both of them before they notified their superiors that they were accepting new positions.

Sam glanced down at his watch for a third time since his arrival at the airport. Teaspoon’s flight was at least forty minutes late and the airport didn’t even have the courtesy to keep updating him on the expected arrival time. He absentmindedly played with the keys to his truck. He stood and went over to check the status board. It was now eight o’clock

Airport officials had initially told him flight 2345 was expected to be fifteen minutes late, but hadn’t given him or any of the others waiting anymore details. If the plane didn’t arrive in the next ten minutes, he was going to make his irritation and concern known to the appropriate people. He accepted airport workers were a harried lot as they waited on demanding passengers anxious to make their individual flights, but still they had a responsibility to keep people like himself informed on all changes in arrival status of incoming flights.

Ten minutes were up and he wanted some answers. He started toward the courtesy desk, when suddenly the loudspeaker overhead blared to life in a roar of static that made him wince. A female voice cut through the static and announced that flight 2345 was arriving, but passengers would be delayed in disembarking due to an onboard emergency. Concern flooded through Sam in light of this new information. He wondered if there had been some kind of hi-jacking attempt onboard the flight. Had an obnoxious passenger caused an altercation that ended with another passenger or crew member being hurt? Or had a passenger simply become ill during the flight and needed medical attention? He supposed he would find out in the next couple of minutes.

He watched the plane taxi up to the gate and the rolling hallway attached to the exit. Emergency personnel wheeling a stretcher between them, parted the crowd of people waiting for passengers, and hurried through the doorway leading down into the attached corridor. Several moments passed before the emergency personnel reappeared with an elderly man strapped aboard the stretcher. An oxygen mask was affixed over his nose and mouth and one of the EMT’S carried an IV bag in one hand as they rushed through the crowd toward an awaiting ambulance outside. Visibly shaken, an elderly woman who Sam supposed was the spouse of the ill man was led out of the corridor by a man he easily recognized. A young couple burst through the crowd and hurried toward the older woman. Teaspoon’s warm smile as he handed over the lady to her relatives had a reassuring effect on them

Sam shook his head. Leave it to his father-in-law to become involved in an emergency crisis twenty thousand feet in the air. He watched as Teaspoon scanned the crowd looking for him. Sam let out a shrill whistle that caught Teaspoon’s attention immediately and earned him disapproving looks from people standing near him. Shrugging his shoulders, he dismissed the stares and waited for the older man to join him.

The two men greeted each other warmly.

“It’s good to be home,” Teaspoon commented as he and Sam headed toward baggage claim. “How are things at home? Emma and the kids okay? Are my grandkids takin’ good care of Bowie, Houston, and Crockett?” Teaspoon bombarded him with questions. He hated to admit it, but he was homesick.

Sam chuckled. “Things are fine at home; Emma and my mom have things under control. Mindy and Austin have been spendin’ a lot of time with the dogs, makin’ sure they don’t get too lonesome, and Ramon has been stayin’ at your place to care for the stock and help out wherever he could be of use.”

“That boy of mine should have never left our land in the first place,” Teaspoon scoffed. “It’s as much his, as it is Emma and yours.”

“Tell me about Chris Larabee,” Sam changed the subject, not wanting to get Teaspoon started on how he disapproved of his brother-in-law moving off Hunter land and into a place of his own. “What is he like?” Sam listened as Teaspoon retrieved his suitcase from the baggage carousel.

“Chris Larabee is a helluva man. He is a straight forward; no rules barred S.O.B who knows his stuff. He doesn’t expect anyone on his team to give more than he himself is willin’ to give, and that is usually one hundred and ten percent.” Teaspoon told him as they headed out to the parking lot.

High praise indeed coming from Teaspoon, Sam thought as he took in the information about MCAT’S commanding officer. Teaspoon was a shrewd judge of character and the fact that he highly approved of Chris Larabee told him a lot. He had a feeling he was going to like the man just as much as his father-in-law did.

On the way back to the Hunter ranch, the two men discussed MCAT. By the time Sam pulled into the driveway, he was even more intrigued about meeting the entire unit. As Captain of the San Antonio Division of the Texas Rangers, he was fully aware of the difficulties which came with leadership positions. His own unit of Rangers was a varied mix of personalities, cultures, and backgrounds who, for the most part, worked well together, but upon occasion there had been incidents in which he had had to intervene. Sam knew that forming Charlie Team into a cohesive unit would come with its own unique challenges, especially in the beginning, but he was confident it could be done, and he was just the man to do it.

The Team Rises

Chapter Eight

The next couple of weeks were busy ones for Teaspoon and Sam as they dove into finding suitable candidates for Charlie Team. It was a challenging task, but they eventually came up with fifteen people they were interested in talking to face to face. Interviews were set up to take place the following week in the San Antonio unit’s new base of operations. With input from both Teaspoon and Sam on the ideal location for their team to call home, Orrin had purchased a spacious warehouse in an industrial section of town.

NEW MCAT Headquarters

Teaspoon pulled his old Ford into a parking spot and killed the engine. He peered through the windshield at the two-story steel and glass structure that would soon be his home away from home. Teaspoon approved of his old friend’s choice. The warehouse was located on a corner lot at the end of a long row of warehouses. The exterior was similar in design and build to the others’ around it, and once in operation, no one would pay attention to the grouping of vehicles parked around it.

As he got out of his truck and headed for the front entrance, Teaspoon brought up a mental image of the floor plan he and Sam had decided upon. The lower level would consist of the Commander and Captain’s offices, the bullpen, kitchenette, bathroom, conference room, and storage area. The top level would be split up into training rooms, co-ed showers, and weapons storage.

Teaspoon stepped inside and gazed about at the controlled chaos ensuing as the renovations neared completion. Painters stood on scaffolding doing touchups on the freshly painted walls. Electricians worked on installing wiring, phone lines, and comm units through the warehouse, while moves carried in furniture, electronics, office supplies, and a myriad other things needed to turn the expansive interior into a functional work environment.

As he watched, a pretty woman in her mid-forties, with strawberry-blonde hair dressed in a green blouse and jeans, came into view. Rachel Dunne had come highly recommended to him and Sam via contacts within the San Antonio Police Department. Both of them had been impressed by her resume, set up an interview, and pretty much hired her on the spot. Her first task as their Administrative Assistant was to oversee renovations.

Sam pulled his blue Ford Ranger into the spot next to Teaspoon’s, and killed the engine. He set for a moment or two, willing his swirling thoughts to settle, before going inside. A chapter of his life had ended, while a new one was only beginning. He sighed, got out of his truck, and headed for the door. He found his father-in-law standing in the entryway, watching the hectic activity going on around him.

“Looks like Rachel has things well in hand?”

“Indeed it does,” Teaspoon exchanged a grin with Sam as he stepped up beside him, “You get everythin’ squared away?”

“Yep. Tyler’s officially been sworn in as captain of ‘D’ Company, and I’m no longer a Ranger.”

“Once a Ranger, always a Ranger,” Teaspoon studied his son-in-law. “You regrettin’ signin’ up with MCAT?”

“Not at all,” Sam assured him, “Just processin’ the change is all.”

“Good,” Teaspoon stated, “We both have to be at the top of our game if this is goin’ to work.”

“I know,” Sam agreed.

They shared another look, before joining in on the work going on around them. By the end of the day, they had each set their new offices in order, and directed the placement of all the furniture, office supplies, electronics, and training equipment. There was still much work to do before Charlie Team settled into their new digs.

Monday morning

Teaspoon and Sam were welcomed by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and blueberry muffins when they arrived at headquarters. Rachel greeted them with the news that all of their candidates had arrived in San Antonio over the weekend and reported in.

“Let us know when our first appointment arrives,” Sam told Rachel. “Send her in and have the others wait in the conference room until we’re ready for them.”

“Yes sir.”

Teaspoon and Sam took their coffee and muffins into Sam’s office to await their first interviewee’s arrival.

Louise McCloud applied a new layer of lip gloss to her lips, and then closed the mirrored visor of her rental car. She took a deep breath and exhaled. She had a lot riding on this interview. Making the cut for MCAT was important. Not only would she have the opportunity to make a bigger difference in the world, but a new locale for her and her younger siblings to call home would be a godsend. The elaborate gifts had begun to arrive again, alerting her to the fact that he had found them once more, and it was only a matter of time before he would attempt to see them. She could not allow that to happen.

She exited the car, and walked to the front door. Upon entering the steel and glass building, she was met by Rachel.

“I’m Louise McCloud. I have an appointment with Sam Cain.”

“Captain Cain is expectin’ you.”

Rachel led her to Sam’s office. She knocked once on the door, waited for a response from within, and then opened the door.

“Miss McCloud is here.” Rachel stepped aside to allow Lou entrance into the Cain’s office.

After introductions, Sam gestured for Louise to take a seat, and the interview began. He opened her file and read from it.

“Your jacket is impressive. You are the youngest woman to be promoted to detective on the Saint Joseph, Missouri Police Force. Exemplary marks in weaponry, as well as a couple of awards in the field of forensics.”

Lou shrugged, “The awards are nice, but they aren’t the reason I decided to go into law enforcement.”

“Why did you?” It was Teaspoon who posed the question.

“Initially, because it was an honorable career path I thought I would be good at. Now, it’s not only a job, it’s who I am. “

Both Sam and Teaspoon liked her response. They understood the feeling of being one with the job.

Sam continued on with the interview, asking McCloud a number of basics questions, before throwing out the one he was most interested in hearing her response to, “Tell me about Ivan Boggs.”

“What about him?” She could not keep the edge out of her voice.

“What is your relationship with him?”

“Our DNA matches,” Lou replied.

“Can you be more specific?” Sam inquired.

Damn couldn’t the man read? She thought her jacket was pretty self-explanatory. Did he want the moment she was conceived too? Lou sighed and stood up. “Ivan Boggs is my sperm donor, and nothing more. He is scum of the Earth and deserves to rot in prison for the hell he put my mother through, and don’t even get me started on all the RICO charges he has pending against him. “

Great Lou, way to blow the interview! Lou mentally kicked herself for doing the one thing she had promised herself she would not do; snap the moment Boggs’ name was mentioned. She wouldn’t be surprised if Cain and Hunter showed her the door and was done with her.

Teaspoon ordered, “Sit down McCloud. I understand you have strong feelin’s on the subject, but I need you to convince us that your connection to Boggs will not be a problem if you are hired as an MCAT agent.”

Lou did as Hunter ordered and sat back down. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, calm had filled her once more. She gazed at the two men before her. “Admittedly, I had a more visceral reaction to the mention of Boggs’ name than I usually do. He is currently attempting to make contact with me and my younger siblings, despite the legal paperwork against him, and that always sets me on edge. When you hire me, I can assure you that if MCAT comes up against Boggs’ or any of his associates; my personal feelings will not be an issue. I will conduct myself in a professional manner.”

Sam studied her. He approved of how quickly she regained her composure and answered Teaspoon. It took strength of character to draw yourself up by your bootstraps, and handle an uncomfortable situation with confidence. “I think we have everythin’ we need. Stay close by, we’ll call you within the next day or so with our decision.”

“I appreciate you considering me for MCAT,” Lou shook both men’s hands before exiting Sam’s office.

“She’d make a fine addition to MCAT,” Teaspoon voiced his opinion once he and Sam were alone.

“Yes, she would,” Sam agreed, “I still have concerns about her familial connection to Ivan Boggs. I wonder whether she could hold her personal feelings in check and stay objective if we come up against him.”

Teaspoon shrugged. “None us know how we’ll react in such delicate situations. All we can do is give her the opportunity to show us what she’s made of.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Sam placed McCloud’s file on the corner of his desk, opened his door, and asked Rachel to send in their next candidate in.

By the end of the day, four more files were added to Lou’s, including Emma’s. Three more were added to a discard pile. That left seven more candidates with interviews scheduled the following day.


9:00 a.m. the next morning

“Hickok, what makes you worthy to be an MCAT Agent?” Teaspoon took charge of the interview.

“MCAT is looking for the best people; I’m the best at what I do,” Jimmy said, meeting their gazes evenly.

“Tall talk for the company you’re in.” Sam entered the conversation.

Jimmy met his gaze, “That’s not ego talking, just honesty. The Mag Seven ATF unit was renowned in law enforcement circles before they became the MCAT Alpha Team. With all they’ve accomplished since its inception, they’ve now reached legendary status. I reckon my fellow candidates and I are all the cream of the crop in our areas of expertise for you to want to interview us. Am I wrong?”

“No, you are not,” His response surprised Teaspoon. Given the dozen or so disciplinary write ups in Hickok’s jacket, he had expected a more volatile response from him, “MCAT needs men like you. You are an excellent marksman and strategist, among other things, but your jacket not only highlights your strong points; it outlines reprimands and disciplinary write ups. Care to explain?”

Jimmy sighed. “I have a quick temper and I was a bit cocky in my younger years. Those two things don’t mix well with a supervisory officer who has it in for you. If you check the dates and names of the officer who wrote them up, you will see that most of them were written when I was still a rookie, and signed by Sgt. David McCabe.”

Teaspoon did not need to look again to know that Hickok was telling the truth. “You expect us to believe that you were just an innocent victim in all of this.”

“No,” Hickok said. “I’ll take ownership for some of those write ups, but not all of them. As I already told you, I’ve got a quick temper, and I was a cocky bastard when I was younger. With age and experience, I’ve learned there’s other ways to get my point across without blowing up and acting like a jackass. When I’m hired, I can’t promise you that I won’t butt heads with either of you or one of my team mates; because that would be a lie. What I can promise, is that I will conduct myself like a professional.”

Teaspoon smiled. Hickok reminded him of himself when he was his age. Hell, who was he fooling? He was still like that. “I think we’re done here for now. Stick around town and we’ll give you a call in the next day or so.”

“You got it.” Jimmy bid them goodbye and left.

Teaspoon and Sam exchanged a look before Teaspoon added Hickok’s file to the growing pile on the corner of Sam’s desk. “That makes six.”

The rest of their afternoon was spent conducting interviews with the other MCAT candidates. That night, Teaspoon and Sam barricaded themselves in Teaspoon’s home office to go through the files of the last twelve candidates. It took some doing, but they finally cut loose two more potentials.

“Ten’s a nice round number,” Teaspoon mused before taking a long sip of his cold Budweiser.

“I’m leanin’ more toward eight,” Sam said as he reached for another piece of pizza.

“Eight’s good too,” Teaspoon gestured at him to hand him another piece of pizza. “How you plan on filin’ down the number to ten?”

“Don’t know yet,” Sam took a bite of his pizza, chewed it, and then said,” You got any ideas?”

“I might, let me ponder on it tonight, and I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Teaspoon told him.

“Sounds like a plan to me. I’m headin’ home to my woman and my youn’uns.” Sam stood up and headed for the door. “See you in the am.”

“Night, Son.”

Teaspoon busied himself with cleaning up the remains of his and Sam’s dinner by wrapping up the leftover pizza and putting it into the fridge, and discarding the box in the burn barrel. He made sure the doors were locked before he settled down in his chair in the living room and turned on the television. As he flipped through the channels, he ran his free hand over Crockett’s head to the Australian’s Shepherd contentment. As he watched the tail end of a Walker, Texas Ranger episode, a sudden thought occurred to him. He glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantle, picked up the phone on the table beside his chair, and dialed Orrin Travis’s number.

Chapter Nine

8 am the next morning…

Hunter Ranch

Teaspoon was washing up at the kitchen sink after helping with the morning chores, when someone knocked on the back door.

“Come in,” he called out as he dried his hands on a dish towel.

Sam opened the door and came in. He was immediately surrounded by three swirling, energetic furry bodies as Crockett, Bowie, and Houston all vied for his attention. He gave each dog a pat, scratch or rub before Teaspoon called them off. Sam shot his father-in-law a grateful look as he made a beeline for the coffeepot. He poured himself a cup as Teaspoon puttered around his kitchen making breakfast.

“You want some eggs and toast?” Teaspoon gestured at Sam with the egg carton.

“No thanks, I already ate.” Sam settled at the table with his coffee, “So did your ponderin’ bear fruit?”

“Sure did,” Teaspoon plated his eggs and toast, refilled his cup with coffee, and joined Sam at the table, “You agree we need to test our recruits to see what mettle they’re made of, right?”

“Right,” Sam took a sip of his coffee.

“What better way to do that than have them go up against some of MCAT’s finest?” Teaspoon grinned at Sam.

Sam returned the grin. “Do you think Travis will go for it?”

“Not only did he agree to it, but he’s already settin’ things in motion. I expect we’ll be hearin’ from Chris Larabee sometime today.”

Denver, Colorado

MCAT Headquarters

Chris sat at his desk going over some reports when his phone rang. He ignored it, knowing that Gunny would answer it, and continued going over the paperwork before him. A moment later his comm unit buzzed.

“Director Travis is on line one, Sir.”

“Thanks, Gunny.”

Chris picked up the phone, “Morning Orrin.”

“Chris, Teaspoon Hunter and I have come up with a plan to not only test Charlie Team’s applicants,” Travis cut to the chase, “but also allow us to properly evaluate their individual capabilities before they arrive in Denver to begin official training.”

“I’m listening,”

By the time he hung up with Travis, Chris was scowling. Alpha Team had better things to do than to go coddle new recruits, but Travis had a point. Technical, physical, emotional, and mental evaluations needed to be done on all of the recruits before he would feel comfortable signing off on them becoming MCAT agents. Who better to do those evaluations than members of Alpha Team?

He rose from his desk and went to his door, opened it, and bellowed, “Tanner, get your ass in here!”

“Ooh Captain T, you’re in trouble,” Buck Wilmington teased the Texan, grinning at him over his coffee cup.

“Eat it Wilmington,” Vin quipped, winked at Kelli before heading to Larabee’s office.

“What’s got you so fired up this mornin’?” Vin asked as he cleared the commander’s doorway.

Larabee quickly filled him in on his conversation with Travis. Tanner was scowling, too, by the time he was finished, and Chris told him that he was among the agents from Alpha Team heading to San Antonio.

“I’ll let you have the pleasure of informing Dunne, Coulter, Sanchez, Wilmington, Jackson, and Standish of their impending travel.”

“My pleasure,” Vin grinned, “Upside to this I’ll finally get my wife alone under a Texas moon.”

“On your downtime only, Tanner,”

Vin frowned at him, “Spoil sport.”

Fifteen minutes later, assembled in the conference room, Tanner surveyed the expectant faces of the elite MCAT Alpha Team.

“We’ve just been handed a special assignment.”

“Oh joy,” Ezra muttered under his breath on Vin’s right.

JD’s reaction was a bit more vocal, “Aw hell, you know how these ‘special’ assignments always get us into trouble.”

“No shit,” Buck concurred.

Nathan started running through a list of medical supplies he would need, “Bandages, splints, plasma,”

“Alright, alright, pipe down and listen up,” Tanner ordered.

Josiah sat back in his seat and grinned at Vin, “Captain you have our full attention.”

“As I was sayin’, we have a special assignment. Pack your bags for a week’s stay in the magnificent state of Texas.”

“Good God, why Texas?” Ezra exclaimed earning him glares from both Tanner and Coulter.

“As you know Agent Coulter is the liaison for the MCAT Charlie Team, thus she will be accompanyin’ us. We’ve been asked to evaluate them technically, mentally, emotionally, and physically.”

“Are we going strictly in a supervisory capacity or...?” Sanchez asked, but was interrupted by Wilmington’s groan, “You already know that it ain’t going to be supervisory, right Captain?”

“Well, now that you mention it…” Vin said.

“Oh Lord,” Standish sighed, “glorified babysitters. I predict our captain already has a rousing, spirited, enjoyable, exhausting, debilitating, humiliating, physical regime already planned.”

“Standish, you read my mind. MCAT jet, five am, tomorrow morning, dismissed,” Vin picked up his notes and walked out of the room, as the others slumped in their chairs, with the exception of Coulter, who followed him out the door.

“Wait up, Vin,” Kelli called out.

Vin turned around and raised his eyebrow, “I didn’t expect to get any guff from you.”

“No guff, but I do have something you are going to need,” She stopped at her desk, opened a drawer, pulled out a bottle of aspirin, and handed it to him.

Chapter Ten

8 pm- San Antonio Airport

Teaspoon and Sam were both on hand to greet the members of Alpha Team. They stood on the tarmac and watched as the MCAT jet made its drop out of the Texas sky, make its descent, and then touch down. Sam let out a low whistle as he got a better view of the sleek, state-of-the art aircraft that taxied down the runway toward them.

“We are goin’ to have access to all the neatest toys,” he grinned at his father-in-law as the plane came to a stop a short distance away from them, and the pilot began to power down.

Teaspoon chuckled, “That we are, Son, that we are.”

The two men sobered as the door to the jet opened, the boarding platform lowered, and Vin Tanner stepped out of the plane. Teaspoon smiled as he recognized agents Coulter, Standish, Wilmington, Sanchez, Dunne, and Jackson. Teaspoon was more than pleased with the Alpha Team members Chris Larabee had chosen to send to Texas to evaluate the new recruits. He and Sam stepped forward to meet them.

“Welcome to San Antonio,” Teaspoon greeted them. Sam echoed his greetings with one of his own.

“It’s good to see you again, Teaspoon,” Vin grinned as the two men shook hands.

“Don’t let him lie to you,” Wilmington quipped from behind Tanner, “He only came along so he could have a little extra one on one with his woman.”

“Shut up, Buck.” Vin and Kelli said together, causing laughter to abrupt around them. Even Teaspoon chuckled as Sam looked on in puzzlement.

“Son, Captain Tanner and,” The older man explained to his son-in-law, pointing to Kelli, “Agent Coulter here are married.”

Sam grinned, as he shook hands with Vin, and nodded at Kelli, “I hope you won’t mind me pickin’ your brains about what it’s like workin’ together. Y’all will meet my wife, Emma, in a bit.”

“Not at all,” Kelli assured him. “Vin and I have been down that road and crashed a time or two. We’d be happy to fill you in on the gory details.”

“Thanks,” Sam said.

After introductions were completed, Teaspoon gestured to a couple of black SUV’s parked next to the hangar, and dropped two key rings into Tanner’s hands, “Those SUV’s are for your use for the duration of your stay in San Antonio. If y’all are ready to go, follow us, and we’ll take you to your accommodations.”

“Lead the way,” Vin tossed Josiah the other key ring, as the Alpha Team members followed Cain and Hunter to the vehicles.

“I hope we arrive at our accommodations soon,” Ezra commented to Vin and Kelli as Tanner followed the truck driven by Cain, “I’m famished,”

“Wouldn’t surprise me if Teaspoon doesn’t have a Texan-size feast setup for us,” Vin told him, “Texans’ are pretty big on hospitality.”

Ezra rolled his eyes, “The size does not matter to me, so long as it is hot and succulent.”

“Size always matters Ezra,” Kelli shot him a grin, earning her a glare from the Southerner, and an impish wink from her husband.

Behind them, in the SUV driven by Sanchez, Nathan commented, “What do you think of Cain, Josiah?”

“He seems amicable and capable enough,” Josiah said as he maneuvered the SUV into the left turning lane behind Tanner and Cain’s vehicles, “but until I have the opportunity to evaluate him in action, I’m going to restrain from giving my professional opinion.”

“Fair enough,” Jackson glanced at Buck and JD in the back seat, “The two of you have any thoughts on Cain?”

“He has a good record,” Wilmington mused, “Obviously Travis and Chris think he has what it takes to be a MCAT Captain, or else he wouldn’t have been offered the position.”

“That’s true,” Nathan agreed.

“Anyone else notice we appear to be heading out of town?” JD asked, as he gazed out the window, effectively changing the topic of conversation.

The three other agents fell silent, as they too, glanced out their windows at the fading lights of San Antonio.

“I can just imagination what’s going through Ezra’s head right about now,” Josiah said, exchanging a grin with Nathan.

“Forcing me into ‘glorified babysitter’ servitude was bad enough, now I’m subjected to endure roughing it as well?” Buck’s impersonation of Ezra, elicited howls of laughter from his fellow agents.

Forty-five minutes later, the three vehicles passed under a wrought iron arch with the scrolled words, “Hunter Acres” written in the center of it.

“Good Lord, it appears our accommodations are going to be rustic in origin,” Ezra exclaimed as he caught sight of the sprawling log and stone ranch house with a wraparound porch, large bay windows, and at least three enormous chimneys.

“Relax, Ezra,” Vin cautioned, “I’m sure Hunter has indoor plumbin’ and clean sheets.”

Kelli chuckled at the ungentlemanly snort Standish made, as Vin parked the SUV next to Cain’s truck, and killed the ignition. The trio got out and joined Hunter and Cain in front of the vehicles, while they waited for Josiah to park. Emma was waiting on the porch. Sam took the steps two at a time to greet her with a kiss, before Emma flashed their visitors a warm smile.

“Welcome to Hunter Acres. I’m Emma Cain. I’m sure you all must be hungry. Rosaria and I have prepared a late supper for you to enjoy. ”

Teaspoon led the MCAT agents into the dining room where a Tex-Mex meal of beef and chicken enchiladas, tacos, Spanish rice, mixed salad, Apple Empanadas, and Caramel Flan awaited them. Hunter waited until his guests had helped themselves, before dishing up his own meal. For the next several moments silence ensued as the hungry agents enjoyed their meal.

When he had eaten his fill, Teaspoon leaned back in his chair, and studied the men and women seated around the table. “I hope y’all don’t mind, but I told Travis I’d put y’ all up here for the duration of your stay in San Antonio. We are all in for some late nights over the next week and I felt that havin’ you in close proximity would allow us more of an opportunity to work together. Besides, I thought y’all would be more comfortable out here in the country, than in some stuffy hotel rooms in the center of town.”

Hunter watched with amusement as six pairs of eyes settled on Standish, who simply said, “Thank you for your generous hospitality, Teaspoon. I’m sure my associates and I will find the accommodations not only comfortable, but satisfactory as well. ”

“You practice that speech a lot?” Teaspoon asked with a grin.

Ezra shrugged, “Not often enough, obviously.”

After supper was finished, Emma bid everyone good night, and then headed to her and Sam’s house. Once their guests had deposited their luggage into their assigned rooms, the group gathered in Teaspoon’s study to go over the new recruits’ personnel files.

“Obviously they are all highly skilled and experienced, or else they wouldn’t be under consideration. So we’ll highlight some bits of info for you,” Teaspoon told Tanner and the others, once everyone was seated, “Analytical, decisive, Emma Cain, Texas Ranger, Criminal Intelligence Division, is one of the best profilers in Texas. James Hickok’s jacket makes him a poster boy for a S.W. A. T. pamphlet.”

“Louise McCloud, Homicide Detective in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and her investigative skills are outstandin’,” Sam took up where Teaspoon left off, “William F. Cody’s long range sniper scores are impressive. His Army Ranger trainin’ as a helicopter pilot will be an asset to Charlie Team as well. Killian Kidd, DEA, his undercover experience has given him lots of opportunity to study drug activity south of the border. ”

Teaspoon caught the glance Tanner and Coulter shared. He knew Cody’s skills with a rifle would be of particular interest to both agents; as Tanner was renowned throughout law enforcement for his shooting skills, and Coulter was one of the best markswomen he had ever seen. He tuned back in to Sam as his son-in-law continued,

“Running Buck Cross, DEA, is fluent in several languages and a master in martial arts. Beatrix Lopez, LAPD Gang Unit, has an in depth knowledge of criminal gang activity. Marcus Jones, US Border Patrol, has extensive knowledge of drug cartels and mule operations. Noah Dixon is a forensic specialist and profiler, as well as bein’ an instructor at Quantico.”

“I’m looking forward to having a conversation with Dixon,” Josiah interrupted Sam, “I’ve been hearing a lot of good things out of Quantico about his method of instruction.”

“So have we,” Teaspoon commented, “Ike McSwain’s skills will be of particular interest to you, JD.”

“Why’s that?” Dunne asked.

“He’s well known for his computer skills and technical know how. I think he might just be the man to be Charlie Team’s Satellite Communications Computer Specialist,” Teaspoon told him.

JD smiled, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when I do my evaluations.”

“You do that.” The older man grinned at him.

“You’ve got quite a group here,” Vin stated. “On paper, all have the necessary skills, but do they have what it takes to be MCAT? I know…,”

A collection of snorts, coughs, and a loud ‘we’ from Nathan, erupted in protest of his using ‘I know’.

Tanner rolled his eyes, “As I was sayin’, we know from experience that what makes a cohesive team is how well its members works together,” He gave Kelli’s hand a squeeze, and looked at each of his brothers in turn, “Each of us has a valuable role within the group. We all know what is expected of us in any given situation. It’s goin’ to take some doin’ to mesh these newbies into a unit. Commander Larabee and I agreed that it is goin’ to take a minimum of ten days or more, to make the proper evaluations.”

“We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make a team MCAT can be proud of.” Sam told him.

“Good,” Vin said, “‘Cause we have our work cut out for us.”

“Let’s hit the hay then. Mornin’s goin’ to come all too soon.” Teaspoon suggested.

Sam bid the visiting agents and his father-in-law a good night and went home. Teaspoon waited until his guests had turned in, before going to bed.

Chapter Eleven

The Next Morning

8 am – Conference Room- Team Meeting

Teaspoon and Sam stood at the front of the room and watched as their recruits filed in. Both men smiled as Emma entered the room and took her seat at the oval table. James Hickok was the next agent through the door. Hickok gave the CEO and SAC a curt nod, before maneuvering around them to settle into a chair at the table. Teaspoon believed that despite his file being peppered with disciplinary actions, Hickok had what it took to be an MCAT agent. Sam believed that with the right outlet to pour his abilities into, Hickok would be a good asset to their team.

Louise McCloud filed into the room next, and after throwing a brief smile their way, found her seat beside Emma. The two women exchanged ‘hellos’ as the rest of their teammates entered the room. William F. Cody was a braggart, but with his military training, Teaspoon had no doubt that he could follow orders when they were given. Killian Isiaah Kidd, or Kid as he preferred to be called, entered next. He exuded a confidence about him that was neither shy, nor boastful. He simply accepted his abilities as well as his shortcomings, and was comfortable with them. Sam liked that about him.

Buck Cross and Noah Dixon were engaged in conversation when they entered the room. As they passed by him to go to find their seats, Teaspoon picked out enough words to know they were discussing a new forensics technique. Trixie Lopez, Ike McSwain, and Marcus Jones were the last three recruits to arrive. As Ike took his place at the table, his brows furrowed when he noted seven empty chairs.

Sam waited until everyone was seated and he had their attention before speaking.

“Welcome to MCAT evaluations. I am SAC Sam Cain. The man standin’ to my left is Teaspoon Hunter, Administrative Chief Officer of MCAT San Antonio Texas Operations. I trust you have introduced yourselves to one another. If not, do so before we leave today.” He waited until they did as he instructed, “This is an opportunity for you all to be a part of an extraordinary law enforcement unit. As an MCAT agent, you will not only face terrible dangers and take greater risks, but you’ll also be takin’ down criminals and savin’ lives on a grander scale than you ever thought possible.

You’ve all made it this far due to your excellent references, skills, and abilities,” Sam chuckled, “That was the easy part. For the next ten days we’re goin’ to test your mettle. We’ve arranged for help to do that. Through the cooperative efforts of our CO Teaspoon Hunter, Director Orrin Travis, and Commander Chris Larabee, seven members of the foundin’ MCAT Alpha Team are here to assist us,”

At his words, a current of anticipatory excitement sparked through the new recruits. Postures straightened, attention sharpened, and ten pairs of eyes followed Sam to the door. He opened it to reveal Vin, Kelli, and the other Alpha Team members. Sam introduced them as they entered the room and took their places in the empty seats located around the circular table, “My counterpart in Denver, SAC Captain Vin Tanner of Alpha Team, the MCAT Profiler, Josiah Standish, CASSIE creator, JD Dunne, Agent and Covert Extraordinaire, Ezra Standish, Explosive Expert, Buck Wilmington, Forensic Specialist and Team Medic, Nathan Jackson, and Agent Kelli Coulter, whose also our Team Liaison with Denver.”

“Relax, we don’t bite.” Tanner stated, his eyes traveling over each recruit in turn, before he focused his attention back on Sam and Teaspoon.

“Much,” Buck stated, “We only go feral every other Monday.”

A nervous chuckle or two escaped from the lips of one of the new recruits, but was quickly muffled behind a hand, before anyone could pinpoint who it had come from.

“And that was last week, so you’re in the clear.” Ezra quipped, flashing the recruits a Cheshire grin.

“Whatever damage is taken, I can fix.” Nathan interjected, which JD quickly acknowledged, “You can trust him; he’s had a hand in saving all our lives a time or two.”

“The count’s closer to twenty,” Kelly corrected, “but you’ll never hear that from Agent Jackson. Bein’ an MCAT agent isn’t about braggin’ rights, it’s about gettin’ the job done, and bein’ the best you can be at doin’ it.”

“As Special Agent Coulter pointed out,” Josiah said, “Being an MCAT agent is not about fun and games; it’s about fighting against the evils of the world. It’s about dedication and team work. My fellow Alpha Team members and I are here to not only assist Captain Cain and CO Teaspoon Hunter in evaluating your individual skills, but also help them form you all into an effective, cohesive unit.”

Josiah nodded at Sam to indicate he was done speaking. All eyes returned their focus to Cain as he took control of the meeting again.

“For the duration of your evaluations, I am assignin’ teams. They are as follows: Cody and Coulter, McSwain and Dunne, Dixon and Sanchez, Hickok and Wilmington, Kidd and Standish, Shannon and Jackson. Cross and Lopez you will be with Captain Tanner. McCloud and Jones, you’ll be with me.” Sam told the new recruits, “As Agent Sanchez pointed out, MCAT is all about teamwork. Your first assignment is to get to know your partner or partners better.”

“On that note, I’m gonna to excuse myself and leave you yahoos to get to know one another,” Teaspoon said.

As soon as Hunter left, there was a shuffling of seats as the trainees and Alpha Team members got better acquainted.

“Before I let you anywhere near CASSIE, can you tell me what a polymorphic virus is?” JD asked Ike, wanting to assess the other man’s knowledge of all things technical, before he introduced him to CASSIE.

“A polymorphic virus is a virus that avoids detection by changing its code,” McSwain smiled, “Next question?”

Dunne grinned back, before peppering the recruit with more technical questions about ‘jaggies’, ‘misconvergence’, ‘dye sublimation’, ‘zettabyte’, and ‘packet jam’. Ike answered them all quickly and accurately, pleasing JD with his vast knowledge. Once the question and answer period was done, the two men settled into a conversation over the range of new computer technology that had just come out on the market.

“Is Simon Manheim still teaching at Quantico?” Josiah asked as Noah sat down beside him, “Or have they turned him out to pasture yet?”

“His mind is still sharp, but the rest of him not so much,” Noah chuckled, “Simon is one of the best profilers I’ve ever met and a legend in his own time. I think that is the only reason why they haven’t forced him into full retirement yet, but they have reduced his lecture load considerably.”

“I learned a great deal from him,” Josiah commented before turning the topic of conversation toward the usage of new techniques being used in capturing serial killers and other fugitives, including those that were unique to him and Dixon.

Vin seated himself in a chair between Cross and Lopez. After an initial moment or two of awkwardness when Captain Tanner joined them, Cross and Lopez were soon in a heated debate over whether the United States should further tighten their security measures along the border with Mexico, to curtail drug cartels from bringing illegal contraband into the US. Vin, for the most part, observed the two in action, quietly taking note of their valid points and opposite stances on the topic, while keeping an eye on the interactions going on between the other candidates, Cain, and the rest of Alpha Team.

Hickok and Wilmington shared information about the newest techniques in disarming explosives, while Kidd and Standish shared some of their more hair raising covert undercover assignments with one another.

“You sure don’t look old enough to be a homicide detective, let alone a MCAT agent,” Marcus Jones commented to Lou as she took the empty chair next to him.

Sam took note of Jones’ comment to McCloud, as he sat down next to Lou. He waited to see how the female recruit responded to the other man’s goading.

Lou bristled at Jones’ words, “Not only am I old enough to be both a detective and an MCAT agent, I’ve got the skills too.”

“Didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers, girlie,” Jones said, smirking at her, “Just seems to me that a pretty young thing like yourself would be more interested in finding a man and settling down, than in shooting guns and solving murders.”

Lou counted to ten before responding, “Let’s stick to discussing how our individual skills will be an asset to the team, okay?”

“Whatever you say,” Jones replied, focusing his attention solely on Cain, as he started to list his personal skills aloud and expounding on how valuable he would be to the team, as Lou grudgingly listened.

Sam mentally made a mental check beside Jones’ name. He did not like the male recruit’s comments to McCloud or the way he dismissed her presence. If Marcus couldn’t play nice with others, maybe he wasn’t cut out to be a member of Charlie Team.

Kelli felt like applauding the younger woman on how she handled the situation with Jones. She, too, had come up against men such as Jones in the course of her career, and had come out on top. Lou would, too, if she kept her head about her, and remembered that she was more than just a pretty face. Across from her, Emma and Nathan were in the middle of discussing some new discoveries in forensics and how they would advance antiquated techniques into solving cases.

“So, you’re a marksman?” Cody asked as he settled into a chair beside Kelli.

“Markswoman,” Kelli corrected, as she withdrew her focus from Jackson and Shannon’s conversation, onto Cody, “And yes, I am.”

“You must have some mad skills to hold a position on such an elite team,” Cody commented, his blue eyes studying her.

“You could say that,” Kelli acknowledged.

“I can’t wait to see you in action,” Cody grinned at her, “If you shoot half as good as you look, it’s going to be a sight to see.”

Kelli eyed him, suddenly aware of Vin’s gaze upon her from his position at the end of the table. How he could have possibly overheard the comment Cody had made to her, amid the buzz of noisy conversation going on around them, was beyond her. She felt other eyes upon her as well, and realized that Nathan and Emma’s conversation, as well as Kidd and Ezra’s had come to complete halts, as all three of her fellow Alpha Team members waited to see how she would handle the blonde recruits comment.

“I suggest you best be keepin’ your eyes on the targets,” She told him evenly, Or you will be findin’ out just how good I am with a gun, up close and personal.”

“I didn’t mean any offense,” Cody grinned at her, “Just trying to make small talk.”

Kelli rolled her eyes at his remark. If this was Cody’s idea of small talk, she was in for a long ten days.

Chapter Twelve

San Antonio Texas Rangers Training Facility

6 AM

Sam met with Commander Marge Danvers; the CO of the facility, to go over the schedule that he and Teaspoon had organized for their unit. Danvers had cleared his team’s usage of the firing ranges and obstacle course for the day. He told her he appreciated the use of the facility, and headed to the obstacle course to await the arrival of Alpha Team, and Charlie Team’s applicants.

At six-thirty, he was joined by Captain Tanner and his MCAT teammates.

“Found your way alright?” Sam asked Tanner as the two men shook hands.

“Vin could find a rabbit hole in a blizzard without any trouble,” Buck commented, “his navigational skills are something to behold.”

Kelli rolled her eyes while Vin grinned, “We didn’t have any trouble findin’ the facility.”

“Good,” Sam said, “I thought we’d start with the obstacle course first, break for lunch, and then follow up with practice at the firin’ range.”

“This is your rodeo,” Tanner told him, “We’re here to assist you in any way we can. You lead, we’ll follow. ”

Sam nodded.

“Since observation is our objective here,” Standish spoke up from his place beside Kelli, “Can one assume we are not going to be forced to participate in the obstacle course?”

“Think again, Agent Standish,” Cain barked, “As Captain Tanner just pointed out, this is my rodeo, and y’all will do what I tell you to do.”

“Guess he told you Ezra,” JD hooted, earning him a glare from Standish.

“Suck it up, Ezra,” Buck told him, “You could stand to lose a pound or two.”

“I am in tiptop shape!” Ezra protested, as Tanner quipped, “Kettle callin’ the pot black Buck.”

“Inez likes my love handles!” Buck retorted.

Cain snorted with amusement as Sanchez and Jackson joined in on the bantering as they waited for the recruits to arrive.

He glanced at Tanner and Coulter, “Are they always like that?”

“Yes,” Vin and Kelli said together.

By seven o’clock, the Charlie Team recruits had assembled as well.

“For the next ten days, this facility is goin’ to be your home away from home,” Sam said, gazing over the assemblage, “Not only will we be testin’ your shootin’ abilities with a number of weapons, but every aspect of your law enforcement trainin’ up to date. It will be my job to also teach you new skills which will greatly benefit you as MCAT agents. These segments will be portioned out over the next ten days. By the end of that time, we will announce the name of the applicants that made the cut. Bring you’re A-Game boys and girls, if you want your name to be on that roster of agents.”

A buzz of anticipation ran over the new recruits at Cain’s words. Hickok had no doubt his name would be on the list. His extensive close quarters training with S.W.A.T. gave him a leg up over the other applicants. Lou set her shoulders, lifted her chin, and gazed intently at Cain. She was determined to earn her place on Charlie Team. Jones, chuckled silently to himself, he considered this all just a formality. As far as he was concerned, he was already an MCAT agent, because he was the best man for the job. Emma knew Sam would not play favorites. It was up to her to make sure she claimed her spot.

*Bring it On* Lopez thought. She would do anything it took to be on Charlie Team, anything. She eyeballed Cain appreciatively, and smiled. She could be quite persuasive when she wanted to be. Cody was not only eager to demonstrate his sniper abilities, but his other skills as well. Kidd was prepared to meet any challenge Cain threw his way. Cross was ready to show how valuable an asset he would be to MCAT. Ike knew his physical abilities needed to outshine his electronic capabilities, if he was going to claim a spot for himself. Noah would let his skills speak for themselves.

“The purpose of havin’ y’all go through the obstacle course is to not only test your individual endurance, but assess how you each work as a part of a team. MCAT is all about teamwork. Whether it be runnin’ this obstacle course, chasin’ a fugitive, or devisin’ a plan of action to rescue civilians,” Sam stated, “We do it as a team. If you are lookin’ only to put another notch on your career belt or take a step up in law enforcement circles, MCAT is not the place for you.”

He waited a moment for his words to sink in, “Alright everyone, pick a spot and plant yourself, time to limber up before we hit to course.”

After the recruits were limbered up, Sam led the group through a number of exercises which included crunches, sit-ups, and jumping jacks, before telling them to pair up with their partners he had previously assigned to them, “First up, Tanner, Cross, and Lopez, y’all get the honor of breakin’ the ice. Tanner, whenever you’re ready.”

Vin nodded to Buck Cross and Trixie,“Let’s show ‘em how it’s done.”

“Yes Sir.” Buck and Trixie said together.

Tanner set a pace down the track, with Cross and Lopez on his heels. Coulter and Cody went next, followed by Hickok and Wilmington.

Soon all of the recruits and their counterparts were on the move with Sam, Lou, and Marcus bringing up the rear.

Cross concentrated on keeping up with Tanner who had finished the first ten yards and was halfway through the inner tubes.

Lopez easily kept pace with Cross, grinning inwardly, at how well her former days as a high school track star was coming in handy. It was the other obstacles on the course that were going to give her problems.The scaling wall and the rope/wall combo were always a bitch for her to get over. For now she would concentrate on getting through the course, one obstacle at a time. She got through the inner tubes just fine, and then moved onto the hurdles, feeling Hickok and Wilmington nipping at her heels.

Hickok grinned when he topped the second hurdle ahead of Wilmington, “You okay back there, Sir?”

“Nobody ever called me minute man, Son, but I get the job done,” Buck quipped as he landed on his feet beside Hickok.

Coulter glided across the balance beam, making Cody feel like Bigfoot as he treaded a bit more cautiously. Thinking, * I’ll catch your cute ass on the parallel bars.*

Ezra took note of Cody’s quiet appraisal of Kelli’s assets, and muttered, “I hope your teammate keeps his thoughts to himself or we may have more excitement than you rookies can handle.”

“Why’s that?” Kidd questioned, pacing beside him.

Appalled that he had voiced his thoughts aloud, Standish shook his head, and said, “Just keep going.”

Ike and JD had no problem, so far, but as they rounded a corner in the track and caught sight of the ten foot by two foot oblong apparatus, with tightly strung coiled rope they had to alternately half slither/half crawl under or shimmy over, Dunne let out a groan, “Damn, was hoping there wouldn’t be one of these attached to this course.”

Ike chuckled, “Not a fan, are you?”

“Hell no,” JD exclaimed as they ran up to it, “Somehow I always get tangled up in the ropes when I do one of these.”

“You get tangled up this time, I’ll cut you free,” Ike said as he began to slither under the first set of coiled rope.

“If anyone’s going to cut anyone free, it’s going to be me cutting you loose,” JD muttered as he slid under the rope and began maneuvering through the crisscrossing ropes, taking over the lead from Ike, and sliding free from the tangle of ropes without any of his previous difficulty. He grinned at McSwain as he held the ropes apart so his partner could pull free and climb to his feet.

Josiah flashed a grin at Dixon as he maneuvered over the short wall, but his gloating was short lived, as his sneakers fought for a solid footing on the steep incline on the other side, and failed. He half fell, half slid down it and landed on both knees in the two foot deep trench at the bottom. Dixon was by his side in a moment and offering him a hand up.

“Go ahead and laugh,” Sanchez told Noah, finding the humor in the situation, and noticing how shiny the younger man’s eyes were becoming as he strained not to let loose the laughter building up inside him.

Dixon’s laughter was contagious. Once the two men were on solid ground again, they continued on through the course.

Cain, McCloud, and Jones were the last ones to tackle the rope/wall climbing obstacle. Commander Cain was the first one to the top.Jones, already agitated at being bested by Cain, became even more so when McCloud matched was neck and neck with him, as they started up the wall.

He began heckling her as they climbed up it. “You might as well give up McCloud. You don’t have what it takes to be an MCAT agent.”

“That’s not for you to decide,” Lou retorted, her arms beginning to burn as she struggled up the wall.

“Women have no place being on the front lines.” Marcus told her, “They belong at home, in a kitchen or preferably in the bedroom.”

“That’s original,” McCloud snorted, “You think up that bullshit all by yourself?”

“Who did you sleep with to get MCAT to accept your application? Cain? Tanner? The old coot? You know that’s how Agent Coulter got her job as an agent.”

Lou fought to control her anger, not willing to let Jones’s idiotic words distract her from the job at hand. She concentrated on putting one hand in front of the other, and slowly began to pull ahead of Jones.

Jones, seeing Lou pulling ahead of him, decided to revert to more direct tactics. He grabbed Lou’s leg and yanked it, trying to dislodge her, so she would fall, and prove his ideals right. Women didn’t belong at MCAT.

“What the hell!” Lou exclaimed, as she felt Jones wrap a hand around her right ankle, and give it a sharp tug. Her grip loosened momentarily, but she quickly tightened her hold, and kicking out with her leg, she felt it connect with Jones’ body, and heard him let out a swift intake of breath.

She did not wait to find out what he would try next, but put some more speed into her movements. Using her rising anger as fuel, Lou reached the top at last, scaled over to the other side, and slid down the rope to find Captain Cain waiting for her. By the look on Cain’s face, she knew he’d overheard the comments Jones had made to her.

“You good?” he asked.

“I’m good. Jones had a little mishap with the rope,” Lou commented before heading to rejoin the other candidates and the Alpha Team agents.

Sam waited for Jones to join him on the ground, “You’ve got an antiquated idea about where women belong Jones.”

“What? That little...what did she say?” Jones demanded angrily.

“McCloud didn’t tell me anythin’. I heard every damn word you said, and if you think that kind of attitude is goin’ is acceptable, you should pack up and head back to where you came from!” Cain snapped.

“Yes Sir,” Marcus replied, realizing he was walking on treacherous ground.

“Hightail it back to the others,” Sam barked and Jones was quick to do as he was ordered.

*McCloud you are going to pay for this!*

Sam followed on Jones’s heels. Marcus’s attitude about women wasn’t an uncommon one in law enforcement, but it was one that didn’t set well with him. Whether or not McCloud, Lopez, or Emma made it on Charlie Team would be determined by their individual abilities, and ability to be part of a unit.

After a ten minute break, everyone assembled at the firing range.

“Assume horizontal firin’ positions,” Sam waited for his instructions to be followed, intently observing each recruit and their Alpha Team counterpart, as they assumed their individual positions. Hickok and Cody had brought their personal guns to the firing range, while the rest of the recruits were outfitted with rifles from the facility’s weapon locker.

Cody let out a low whistle as he took in the Winchester Model 70 that Kelli settled on her shoulder. It had a full fancy walnut stock with a shadow line cheek piece which allowed for perfect eye alignment with the scope, and was favored by many shooters, “What a beauty, how’s it shoot?”

Kelli eyed him over the stock of her rifle, “Like a dream.”

Cody grinned, and then got down to business, preparing his own weapon for firing. He had been given his Barrett M107 when he made sniper in the army, and it had quickly become like another extension of his arm. He settled into position and waited for Cain’s next command.

Two hours later…and Cain had all the shooting specs he needed. All of the recruits handled a variety of weapons well, with Hickok and Cody’s scores placing them ahead of the others in long range shooting. He was pleased to see that Emma held a solid fourth in the ranking. Of course, Alpha Team was exemplary in their shooting, with Captain Tanner and Agent Coulter having the best overall scores.

“Good job everybody,” Sam said after the last round of firing exercises ended, “Recruits you can clean up and clear out. I’ll see you back here tomorrow mornin’ at seven.”

The recruits dispersed immediately, leaving Cain alone with Tanner, as the rest of Alpha Team went to retrieve their SUV’s.

“What did you think?” Sam inquired.

“There’s some fine shooters in the bunch. Understandable that Cody and Hickok scored higher marks than the rest, given Cody was a sniper in the army, and Hickok was with S.W.A.T.,” Tanner paused, and then added, “After observin’ them at the obstacle field, it seems a few are in need of an ego adjustment, though. There’s no ‘I’ in team.”

“Agreed. I was pleased with everyone’s overall scores. There’s no denyin’ they all have the skills to make MCAT. The decidin’ factor is gonna be more about how well they get along with one another, attitude, and which ones would make the best cohesive unit.”

Vin nodded, and started to follow the rest of his team.

Cain laid a hand on his shoulder to halt his movement, ‘There’s somethin’ else you need to know.”

Tanner turned and gave him his full attention, “I’m listenin’.”

“While climbin’ the wall, Jones made some questionable remarks to McCloud, about women havin’ no place in law enforcement, statin’ the only way that she or any other female could make MCAT was by sleepin’ with someone in authority, and yes he included Agent Coulter by name.”

Vin’s jaw clenched at Cain’s words. No one was going to insult Kelli or any other female at MCAT and get away with it, “Assholes like him make the rest of us look bad.You can’t have a team if you don’t have mutual respect, regardless of gender.” Tanner locked eyes with Sam, “someone needs to show Jones the error of his ways. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be the man to do it.”

“What the hell,” Sam grinned, and slapped Tanner on the back, “Go for it.”

As Sam walked away, he reflected on how far they had come over the last three months since that fateful call from Orrin Travis to Teaspoon. For better or worse, at the end of the upcoming week, his team would be completed. It was anybody’s guess who was going to make it across the finish line.

Chapter Thirteen

Saturday dawned bright and clear. Sam stood on the porch of his and Emma’s house, enjoying the fresh country air, and a few minutes of quiet while he sipped his coffee. The past week had been a productive, but hectic one. Putting Charlie Team candidates through their paces on the obstacle course and firing range was enlightening. He had tested their proficiency in federal laws, rules, and regulations, assessed their individual skills with forensics at mock crime scenes and diversion driving. He had also observed their investigation and interrogation methods. All was necessary, but time consuming. He reckoned he deserved a few minutes of solitude, before beginning again.

Today, he planned to observe how good the rookies were at tracking and capturing a fugitive via non mechanical, but mobile transportation. It was imperative that MCAT agents be able to adapt to any given scenario, using any method of transportation and weaponry at their disposal. In less than an hour his candidates would be arriving, and he fully expected it to be a long day for all of them. In fact, with the assist of Alpha Team, he figured some of them would be dragging ass by the end of the day.

"You look too damn peaceful to be an MCAT captain." Vin walked up onto the porch and stood next to Sam. "Haven't you figured out yet the job is a sleep deprivin', stress producin', screw with your love life bitch, and never-endin'?

Sam grinned, "Damn, I was hopin’ you'd tell me it gets easier."

"Easier? No. Just 'bout the time you think it is, one of your team members will do somethin' not by the book, or some dumb-ass criminal will take things to a new level sendin' you into a tail-spin , or you'll hit one of the many hidden potholes waitin’ for you on the road of workin' with a spouse or kin.." Vin shook his head and smiled, "If that's not enough, then the powers that be will come up with a new idea to make your life hell."

"Is that all?" Sam laughed, "Sounds like a typical day here at Hunter Acres. Between Teaspoon and Emma , both bein’ stubborn to the bone, one is always head buttin' the other. Two energetic kids, who know only one speed, as in full speed ahead, and three over enthusiastic hounds, make my life anythin' but dull."

"Sounds a bit like The Tanner chaos we have at home." Vin grinned. "Course days like today add fun into bein' in charge."

Sam knew the answer, but asked anyway."You ready to give 'em a good run?"

"Damn straight." Vin displayed a wicked grin. "I guarantee they will all be achin' , bitchin', and hatin' me by tomorrow."

"I have no doubt 'bout that." Sam noted a truck and car in the distance. "Looks like our recruits are anxious to get started. You best disappear while you can. See you after you're 'captured' Captain," he laughed and slapped Tanner on the back.

"Ha..it'll take more than a few green recruits and a former Texas Ranger to catch me." Vin walked off with a smile on his face.

Thirty Minutes Later

Sam watched his team as they gathered at the barn where saddled horses stood. The looks on their faces were mixed with apprehension, confusion, and dread. "Okay, time to move into your next assignment. For today we have a few team changes. Marcus you will join Coulter and Cody, Lopez you will join my group. Cross you will be runnin' with Dunne and McSwain. The rest stay with your previously assigned partners.

We are here to apprehend a fugitive who has escaped into the hills. He has a thirty minute head start, is armed with a paintball rifle and to our knowledge is on foot. We will be travelin' by horseback," he heard assorted groans and curses. "the horses are tame and should not present a problem for those not used to ridin’. We will be usin' dogs to track our man. Y'all will have a paintball rifle and a two way radio to use. The only rule is...when you are painted you must return to the barn. At the end of the day Teaspoon will host a BBQ for us. Any questions?"

Ezra stepped away from the three hounds that had taken a liking to him. He looked at his teammates. Reading their expressions, he asked what they all were thinking, "Our fugitive is?”

"Captain Tanner has volunteered to be our target." Sam explained."Mount up."

Buck snorted. "Well hell. We might as well shoot ourselves now and save a lot of time. If Tanner don't want to be found, he ain't gonna be." He took the reins of his horse and turned to Hickok. "Hope you inherited some of your ancestor's skills, Son."

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Jimmy replied, as he attempted to step into the stirrup, he muttered, “hold still you damn horse.”

“Amen, Brother Buck,” Josiah nodded to Dixon."Come on Noah, let's get painted."

JD nudged McSwain and whispered, "We are screwed."

Cross overheard and smiled. "Don't worry, I know how to ride and track. We'll do fine."

"Uh huh," JD sighed. "Then you take lead for us." He mounted his horse, joined Cross, and waited for McSwain to catch up.

Ezra muttered as he led his horse away from the crowd and told Kidd. "Hope you can ride, cause that may be the only passing mark we get today."

Kelli and Emma mounted their horses and waited for their partners. Nathan rode up to them with Cody and Jones close behind.

Jones laughed, "Bet I find him before any of you catch up with me."

"There is no I in team, Marcus." Kelli glared at him and waited for Sam to turn the dogs loose.

Sam let Bowie, Crockett, and Houston sniff one of Tanner's shirts and then released them. The canines took off at a run with the MCAT agents following. The dogs kept up a fast pace for twenty five minutes, before stopping in front of a stand of brush and started howling.

Sam raised his hand for the rest of the riders to stop."Take it slow and easy, avoid gettin' tagged." He dismounted and moved cautiously toward the brush.

Trixie saw an opportunity to make points. She dismounted, raised her rifle, and moved into position to rush their fugitive. "Let's get him," she yelled as she moved in.

"I wouldn't do that, Lopez." Kelli tried to warn her. Trixie didn’t listen and a moment later, they heard her scream. A moment passed before Lopez screamed as paint spread across her shirt.

Sam was closest; so he rushed in to assist his partner. He found her holding a bandanna and covered in blue paint. He laughed so hard he had to sit down on the ground. Evidently the dogs had been following a decoy. A calf with Tanner's kerchief tied around its neck had been booby trapped to spray paint on whoever tugged the cloth loose.

Trying to control his amusement Sam said, "Have to admit Tanner is creative. Haven't seen a ruse like that since Ranger trainin'." He stood and joined the others. “Lopez, you get to return to the barn.The rest of you spread out in different directions and find a new trail. I'll keep the dogs with us, and unless one of y'all finds Tanner first, we will meet up in four hours at the big quartz formation north of here we call Settler's Rock." He made sure each one saw where he was pointing. "Let's go find our fugitive."

Within the next three hours, Ezra, Kidd, Wilmington, Hickok, Josiah, and Noah were at the barn keeping Lopez company. Tanner had painted them all.

Sam and Lou were having no luck picking up a trail, but did find Dunne, McSwain and Cross. JD and Ike were riding double.

"What happened JD?” Sam questioned.

"My horse came up lame a few miles back." Dunne explained.

Sam sighed, "You and Ike head back, Cross, you ride with me. Don't worry McSwain, you did fine and won't be penalized on points."

Once JD and Ike were on their way, Sam addressed the others. "We're gonna meet the remainin' teams in forty-five minutes. When we see how many are left, I'll decide then how we proceed from there. Cross, you take lead; let's see if your Indian blood can find us a trail." Truthfully, Sam was concerned about Lou. He was aware that she had never ridden before and she looked worn out, but he also knew she would not say anything. Quit was not a word in her vocabulary.

Meanwhile...back at the barn

Looking over the group at the barn, Teaspoon hid his amusement well. His greenhorn candidates were obviously tired, hot, frustrated, and sore from riding. The paint spattered
members of Alpha Team were not a happy bunch either.

" Y'all look like you've been rode hard and put up wet." Teaspoon chuckled. "Charlie Team recruits, I hope you brought the change of clothes you were instructed to bring. Y'all can use the bunkhouse to shower and change, then join me on the deck for some cool drinks." He turned to Alpha Team, "You Colorado Cowboys might wanna hit your rooms and freshen up a bit, too."

As they all scattered, Teaspoon fell in step beside Josiah. "Rough goin' out there?"

"For us, not so much, but some of yours never sat a horse before and I bet about right now they are feeling every muscle in their bodies screaming at them." Josiah laughed. "Course, a couple of ours are a bit rankled about Tanner's paint job on them, too. Wherever Vin is I know he is enjoying the hell out of this."

Teaspoon smiled and nodded. "I bet he is." He thought for a second and then asked, "You think he'll paint Coulter, too?"

A deep belly laugh erupted from Josiah. "Not if he expects peace in his home life anytime soon."

"I reckon you're right." Teaspoon slapped Josiah on the back. "First beer is on me."

"Sounds like a plan. Be there as soon as I clean up."

Settler's Rock

Kelli was ready to throttle Jones, but kept her temper under control. However, one more insulting, chauvinistic remark and all bets were off. She was relieved to see Sam riding up in the distance, along with Nathan, Lou, Emma, and Cross.

"This Tanner guy could not be all that good. One of us is bound to find him. Of course having all these females riding along is doing nothing but slowing us down," Jones complained.

"That's Captain Tanner to you, jerkass." Kelli bristled. "Speakin’ for all women agents, I'd take you on any day, any time, and you'd be sorry you ever opened that smart mouth of yours."

Jones laughed, "Just chill girl. Hate to see you make a fool of yourself when you and I both know where your real talents lay."

Cody rode between the two. "That's enough Marcus. Keep your offensive comments to yourself."

"I don't need you to speak for me Cody. He's not the first ass I've had to work with and I'm capable of handlin' his kind myself." Kelli snapped.

Sam sensed the tension in the air as he rode in and was positive Marcus was the cause of it all. He made a few quick decisions. Lou was barely holding on, but she needed a way out that would not be seen as a defeat. Emma could go on all day, but then he already knew she was great on horseback and her outdoor skills were top-notch. Cody and Cross deserved a chance to use their combined tracking talents to make a final attempt to captive Tanner. He knew he could handle Marcus, and there was no need for more than one Alpha Team member to be there.

"We go on foot from here. Nathan, I want you and Lou to take our horses back, Emma you corral the dogs and get them home. Have Teaspoon send out a truck if we don't radio in or aren't back in three hours. Have 'em meet us at riverbend." Sam dismounted and turned to Coulter. "You'll represent Alpha team and together we'll see how Jones, Cody, and Cross can fare from here."

Kelli nodded and dismounted. She gathered what she needed from her saddlebags and handed the reins to Lou. "You did great for a greenhorn," she smiled, "a few lessons and you'll be ridin' rings around 'em all." She was pleased to see the younger woman smile back.

Cody and Cross followed Coulter's lead and led their horses to Lou. Jones by-passed McCloud making a point of giving Nathan his horse’s reins. Emma took point and headed them homeward.

Taking note, Sam shook his head. Jones was not making any friends out here. "Okay, Agent Coulter and I are here to observe. Y'all decide which direction we need to go and head out."

"The river is the only way to go." Marcus declared. He did not wait to see if Cody or Cross agreed, he simply took off ahead of them.

Cody shrugged his shoulders. “Guess the river it is.” Muttering under his breath, he said, “It would be a damn shame if Wonder Boy drowned.”

Cross, heard him, suppressed a smile, and followed. Sam and Kelli stayed back a ways, allowing the three men an opportunity to show what they could do.

From his vantage point high in the rocks, Vin watched through binoculars. It did not surprise him that Cody and Cross were still in the game, but he was surprised that Jones survived riding with Kelli. Tanner figured his redhead would have already lost her temper with Marcus and kicked him to the curb. Maybe she was learning the lessons he preached to her about patience. Then again, she might just be waiting for an opportune time to give that man the comeuppance he deserved.

Tanner thought about how he could get them back on his trail, short of planting signs that said off-track. Heaving a deep sigh, Vin figured he should make an attempt to get them on focus or they might all still be out here at midnight. He dug in his backpack and brought out a flair.

Marcus kept up a fast pace without stopping to look for signs. Cody and Cross had already seen enough to know they were headed in the wrong direction and were determined to find the right one.

"Jones," Cross yelled. "wrong way."

Clearly aggravated that Cross shouted at him, Jones stopped and turned around. "What makes you so damn sure?"

Cody answered. "First off, Tanner is a former Army Ranger, which means he will look for high ground, not river bottom. Second, there is no indication this dirt has been disturbed by anyone but you in a very long time."

Cross laughed, "Third, unless we have a few coyotes out here that carry flares, I'd say that one was sent by Tanner." He pointed up and to the right where he sighted the signal Vin sent them.

Kelli could not resist laughing. "Leave it to Tanner to yell without sayin’ a word." Her remark earned her a dirty look from Marcus.

Sam resisted the urge to call Marcus to task. Instead he waited to see if Cody and Cross would abandon Jones or attempt to include him.

"Come on Jones, we can't ignore an obvious invitation to climb up those rocks." Cody did not particularly like the man, but he was on their team at the moment.

Reluctantly Jones rejoined them and the three began an ascent toward the cliffs where they believed Tanner was waiting for them.

Cross took point, and after a ten minute climb, raised his hand to stop the others. He crouched down and conferred with Cody and Jones. "Only one place I see Tanner could use as cover," he indicated the possibility. "Don't think anyone, even the Captain, could get much higher than there."

Cody nodded. "We'll have to flank him and move fast before he can get off a shot with that paint gun."

Marcus agreed, but took command again. "I'll move in from the right, you two go left on my signal."

The men crept quietly, yet when they made their move, Tanner was nowhere to be seen.

Sam and Kelli stayed at the base of the cliffs, yet had a good view of the three recruits.

"You reckon they'll figure out it's a trap or get painted?" Sam asked Kelli.

"No trap. Hell, if I know Vin, he's not even there."

Seemingly out of nowhere, Tanner stepped out into the open. "Right you are. Reckon it's a good thing Kel isn't the one after me." He chuckled, "figured after eight hours, y'all had had enough. It's time to end this anyway. Be right back," he said as he stealthily moved upwards.

" Damn," Cody cursed, while Cross mumbled some unintelligible words. Both sat down to rethink their next move.

"Told you both he went to the river." Marcus growled. "Why in the hell would he go to the trouble to climb when it's easier to cross down there?"

The sound of loud swooshes caught their attention. Within seconds all the Charlie Team recruits were covered with paint. Vin answered Jones' question. "Maybe cause it's more fun to do it this way." He reached out to give first Cody, then Cross a hand up. "Game over y'all, but well played."

Below, Sam keyed his radio. "We're done, waitin' on that ride home."

"Ten-four, see you in twenty." Teaspoon laid down the radio and picked up the keys to his truck. "Josiah, watch the food will ya? Sam called for a taxi."

"No problem." Josiah took over the BBQ, while the others waited to see how their hunt turned out.

Chapter Fourteen

Charlie Team was disappointed to find that Tanner had bested them all. However, most were too tired and sore to raise much of a fuss. The long week was wearing on them, and the opportunity to relax for a while was just what they needed.

Teaspoon clanged the western style 'dinner bell' to get everyone's attention. "Okay y'all listen up. I have a couple announcements before you dig into the food." Once it was quiet, he resumed speaking. "We're three-fourths through our trainin' exercises...." a few cheers and whoops interrupted him. "Havin' that much fun are ya?" He chuckled."I'm sure we could extend it if y'all want." A course of resounding no's answered him."Alright, but we still have a few more days. I want to take this opportunity to thank Alpha Team for comin' down here and assistin' us and give them fair warnin'. Y'all may be the number one MCAT Unit, but we'll be nippin' at your heels like dogs goin' after a bone."

"Bring it on, but know that the Big Dogs bite." Tanner yelled.

"We will, and bitin' dogs won't stop us." Teaspoon smiled. "Tomorrow you're off and Monday we will meet at the Ranger Trainin’ center again. This time for some hand-to-hand combat exercises. Be there by 9am. For now though, I want y'all to relax and enjoy the rest of the day and evenin’. There is plenty of food and cold beer along with some sodas and sweet tea. After y'all eat, I believe Captain Cain would like a few words with his team."

Sam stood. "Find me in an hour. I promise, no work, just a couple words."

Everyone scattered to the food line and for the next hour, enjoyed the BBQ and music. Sam watched and found it interesting that 'his' recruits seem to drift together, with one or two exceptions.

"They are gettin' there," Vin said as he walked up beside Sam. He too, had been watching the recruits interact. “I had strong words with Jones yesterday about respectin’ teammates, but don’t think he listened all that well.”

Sam shook his head. "He's so damn confident about makin' the team, he quit his job before he came here. At the rate he's goin’, I'm not sure he'll even make it to selection day. though."

"I hear ya." Tanner scanned the area to look for Jones. He saw him hoisting another beer, and talkin' to Ike across the way. "It's a damn shame he has such a bad attitude, because he has good experience and decent skills."

"Enough 'bout him. You get hold of your kids?"

Tanner grinned. "Yeah, Kel and I listened to 'em tell us about their day. Even the babies got louder when Jason hit speaker and they heard our voices. It's hard to be away, but we decided to take a couple extra days in Texas while we have the chance." Vin turned toward Sam."One thing Kel and I won't compromise on, and that's time for us. Makes us better at bein' parents, and at work. You and Emma make sure y'all get away from Captain and Agent as much as you can, otherwise the lines blur and stress creeps into your relationship."

"The voice of experience talkin?"

Vin smiled, "We have in the past, let life get away from us, especially workin' difficult cases. Not anymore though...the cost is too damn high."

"So noted." Sam nodded, "thanks for the heads up."

Cody approached Sam. "Time for those words now?"

Sam saw the rest of his team headed his way and prepared himself for what he had to do. It was too obvious today that Emma knew the ranch well and the dogs listened to her with no problem. He wanted to clear the air.

"Catch you later," Vin told Sam, then went off to find Kelli.

Ten recruits gathered around Sam waiting for whatever he had to say. Some looked uneasy, anticipating something bad. Others showed no sign of anxiety whatsoever.

Sam did not want to prolong this so he began. "I had planned to make this announcement once the new Charlie Team was sworn in. However, I've heard a few questions and comments bounced around today that need addressin'. While it has no bearin' on my selection process and shouldn't be an issue, y'all should know Emma Shannon is also Emma Cain, my wife." He held up his hand. "No questions or comments please. "I hope by now y'all have seen for yourselves that I'm not playin' favorites, and this information will not change anyone's chances of bein' selected. If you do have a problem with it, see me privately. You may now return to your rest and relaxation."

As one by one the recruits moved away, Emma exchanged a glance with Sam. She understood his need to come clean, but hoped it would not be a problem for either of them. She felt Lou elbow her.

"You ready for more tea?" Lou gave her a big smile, letting Emma know she was fine with Sam's announcement.

"Yeah, sounds good."

Vin spotted Kelli, but Teaspoon intercepted him before he could join her. Tanner resigned himself to having his brain picked and stood listening as the older man peppered him with questions about the mock drill planned for Tuesday.

Cody saw Coulter on the far side of the lawn talking to Dunne, but decided he needed to interrupt and talk to her privately. He wanted to make certain he did not mess up today when he interfered between her and Jones.

"Excuse me Agent Coulter," Cody cleared his throat. "Could I speak to you for a minute?"

"I'll see you later, Kel." JD stepped away.

"What's on your mind Cody?" Kelli waited.

Usually he did not have a problem saying what he wanted to the opposite sex, but for some reason this woman perplexed him. He moved closer and chose his words carefully.

"About earlier. Why were you upset when I intervened with Jones?"

Kelli sighed. "Cody, when a woman enters law enforcement, and for this conversation we'll use MCAT, although it could be at any level. She becomes an MCAT Agent period. Not a woman agent, just agent. No one ever says man agent now do they?"


"Chivalry is great, but it has no place in a professional law enforcement organization. Just like steppin’ in today. Would you have done that if I were a male?"

"Probably not."

"In this instance no harm, no foul, but out there in the field under fire that kind of distraction could cost you your life. I trust my trainin' and any partner I have should too. Try to control those knee-jerk reactions and think about what you do out there. If I can't handle an ass like Jones, I have no business bein’ a federal agent."

" I've always worked with men, I guess I never thought about it like that." Cody flashed her a smile. "Old habits are hard to break, but I'll try, but agent or not, you are a beautiful woman, Agent Coulter. Makes a man want to be a knight in shining armor."

Kelli laid her hand on his arm. "I appreciate your thoughts, but trust your partner male or female, to do what they are trained to do."

"Well, well, well. What do we have here." Marcus Jones approached the pair. but spoke to Cody. " you two look cozy, but since our Captain makes such a big deal about team, I guess I need to educate you kid."

"Don't need your help Jones." Cody tensed up as he spoke.

"You do if you think this one is gonna put out for you. She may have great tits and a body built for sex, but you're not high enough on the power chain to get her between the sheets." He turned to Kelli. "Ain't that right honey?"

Kelli squeezed Cody's arm." I got this." She took a step toward Jones. "You are a disgustin' excuse for a man, Jones. What I do and who I do it with is none of your damn business, and how I look has nothin' to do with how I do my job. Now get the hell out of my sight."

"Hell, you and I both know you fucked your way onto the MCAT team." He stood his ground. "Of course can't blame the kid for wanting a piece of your sexy ass. Wouldn't mind some of that myself." He reached out and grabbed at her breast, making Kelli see red.

“Don’t you fuckin’ touch me!” Kelli exploded into action, shoving Jones away from her, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Don’t try that innocent act with me.” Marcus retorted, his faced reddening, “I’m just trying to claim my share of what you’re already giving out to Captain Tanner.” .

“The only ‘share’ of anythin’ your gettin’ is my boot up your ass!” Kelli spat, going into a defensive stance as Marcus lunged at her.

She sidestepped his lunge, and moved into a roundhouse kick, sweeping Jones’s legs out from under him. Marcus hit the ground with a thud. Cody let out a loud ‘whoop’ , clearly enjoying the spectacle of Kelli teaching his fellow rookie some manners.

The heated words and explosive altercation, was drawing the attention of the other BBQ attendees. The Charlie Team members glanced excitedly at each other, none of them knowing whether they should intercede, or wait for Captains Cain and Tanner to put an end to the fight. By that time, most of Alpha Team had arrived on the scene, and Lou felt relief flood through her. Certainly Coulter’s team mates were going to step in and stop the fight. When they didn’t, she frowned.

Cody nudged Wilmington, “Shouldn’t we do something?”

“Nah, Kelli can hold her own,” Buck assured him.

“I’m going to kick your ass,” Marcus threatened, rising to his feet, and making another go at Kelli.

“You and what army?” Kelli taunted.

Jones swung out with his right first, Kelli blocked it, and jabbed at Jones. Her fist connected with his jaw, jostling his head backward, and eliciting scream of rage from him. Marcus jabbed out with a fast one-two punch that Kelli wasn’t able to block completely, striking her a blow to the cheek. The hit stung, but she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of letting Jones’ know that it hurt her.

She stepped back out of his reach, and waited for him to make the next move. Jones started swinging at her again, and Kelli did her best to block the furious blows raining down on her, using a variety of techniques Vin had drilled into her and the rest of their MCAT Team mates.

After one of Jones’s throws had made connection to her body again, Kelli made the decision to incapacitate the egotistical, chauvinistic man once and for all. As he lunged at her again, she kicked him in the balls.

“You bitch!” Jones gasped out, as he crumpled to the ground, clutching his injured groin.

“I’m the best bitch you’ll ever meet!” Kelli made a move toward the fallen man, but suddenly found herself lifted off the ground by Vin, who had just arrived on the scene with Sam and Teaspoon.

Unlike his teammates, he was not going to stand back and watch. “ Enough, Kel. He’s down and not goin’ to be movin’ any time soon!”

"I'm not done with him yet!" Kelli snapped at Vin.

"Yes you are." Vin kept a firm hold on his wife. "Now unwind that temper of yours and stand down."

Sam pushed Jones back when he started to get up. " You stay put." He stood between Coulter and Jones. "What the hell started this?"

"She started it!" Marcus growled. "I was just trying to be friendly."

"Friendly my ass, you were way out of line and you know it," Kelli was still full of anger and attempted to pull her arm from Vin's hold with no success.

"Cody, front and center." Sam ordered. "You were here, I wanna know what happened."

Clearly uncomfortable, Cody decided not to repeat Marcus's words, but give an overall account of events. "Jones came over spouting off offensive crap, and then made a grab at Agent Coulter. She objected and kicked his ass.

Vin zeroed in on the words offensive and grab and instinctively knew it was more than bad manners. He turned a scorching glare on Jones and in a low lethal tone asked, "What did you say and do to my wife?"

"Wife?" Jones began to squirm."No one said she was your wife. I thought she was...."

Tanner turned loose of Kelli and took a menacing step towards Marcus. "Thought she was what?"

Kelli recognized the predatory look on Vin's face and immediately calmed down. She knew if Marcus repeated his words, the husband part of Tanner would go ballistic and not stop at kicking the man's ass. Grabbing his arm she said softly. "He's not worth it Captain Tanner."

Vin realized she was reminding him about work/home boundaries. He took a deep breath and counted to ten before he turned around to get a good look at his wife. He cringed inwardly when he noted the start of a bruise on her cheek and couple on her arms. He had an actual physical reaction to seeing her injuries. The muscles in his belly knotted, and his heart ached. Everything protective and male inside him rose up and flooded him with an overwhelming desire to ease her discomfort. However, under the circumstances, he was smart enough to refrain from treating her as his wife. instead of an MCAT Agent.

"Agent Coulter, you wanna tell us what transpired?"

"Not really."

"Well, I suggest you try anyway." Vin's tone was professional, but the concern she saw in his eyes was all spouse.

Heaving a deep sigh, she repeated what happened. She was not sure the Captain part of Vin would win out as she watched the array of emotions and anger wash over him. "I reckon I should have restrained my anger, but at that moment I wasn't thinkin' much about stayin' professional. "

Sam had heard enough. He was barely holding on to his anger, and bet Tanner was fighting one hell of a battle with his."You wanna file assault charges Agent Coulter?"

"Charges?' She dragged her eyes off Vin, and onto Sam. "No. It's over. Let it be."

Captain Cain focused on Jones. "You're done with MCAT. I want you off this property and you stay the hell away from the office or I’ll have you charged with trespassin’.” He stepped close to the man and said only for his ears. "In about one minute I'm gonna give Tanner the go ahead to finish you. I suggest you get out while you still can."

Marcus leveled a heated gaze at Cain, and then Tanner. "I'll go, but you haven't seen the last of me." He staggered to his feet and pushed his way through the agents and recruits still gathered around.

Tanner heard Jones' remark, yet resisted the urge to turn loose on him. Kelli was his main concern right now. Without turning around, he made a request, "Agents Wilmington and Sanchez, would y'all see that Jones makes it off the property please."

Kelli looked at Teaspoon, " Sorry 'bout disruptin’ your BBQ."

Teaspoon was listening. "Hell, it's not a Texas shindig if we don't have at least one brawl. No apology needed."

Nathan stepped up beside Kelli, “Let me have a look at that?”

Kelli sighed, and turned her head toward Nathan. As Jackson examined her for injuries, he glanced at Tanner, “You doing okay?”

Vin grimaced. “I’m workin’ on it, Nate.”

At that moment, Ezra passed by, patted Kelli on the shoulder, and said, “Well done, partner.”

“Don’t encourage her, Ez.”Vin growled, and turned his attention back to his wife, “We will be discussin’ this Kel.”

Kelli rolled her eyes and figured the looks she was getting from the Charlie Team recruits, she would be answering more than Vin’s questions,”Later, please.”

“Aside from a few aches and bruises, I think you’ll survive,” Nathan gave them his assessment.

“Thanks, Nathan.” Vin leaned closer and kissed Kelli’s injured cheek, “You stay put. I’m gonna talk to Sam and will be right back.”

Kelli nodded and found a semi-comfortable place to sit.

Emma approached her with a cold beer and an ice pack, “I thought you could use these.”

With an appreciative sigh Kelli accepted both items, “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Emma said as she watched her father. He looked tired, and she thought maybe he could use a hand with the cleanup. “You need anythin’ else?”

“I’m good.” Kelli assured her. “Go do what you need to.”

Cody was the next one to approach her. “Married, huh?”

“Yep, and four kids too.”

“Damn.” Cody was disappointed on a personal level, but that was how things were and he was okay with it. “I wasn’t sure you ‘had it’ when you said ‘I got this’, but you sure did. You did notice that I trusted your training.”

“I did. You learned that lesson well.” Kelli smiled at him. “You’re goin’ to make a great MCAT agent Cody. Just remember, look out for your team, but trust your teammates trainin’.”

“Yes ma’am.You take care.”

Cody was grinning as he walked away.

An hour later, all the recruits were gone, and most of Alpha Team was in bed. Teaspoon had retired too, leaving only the two captains and their wives awake. Sitting on the deck, they relaxed for the first time that day.

Emma rested her head in Sam’s lap, enjoying the luxury of him running his hands through her wild red curls. After a long day, this was one of her favorite ways of ending it. She drowsily listened as Sam, Vin, and Kelli talked.

Sam looked at Vin.”For a short while there, I didn’t think the ‘captain’ part of you, was gonna make it.”

“Wasn’t so sure myself.” Vin admitted.

“You told me there were potholes of workin’ with your spouse. I didn’t know they could be that damn deep.”

Snuggled next to Vin in the lounge chair, Kelli laughed. “This was shallow compared to what y’all might see up the road.”

Vin nodded. “It’s hell for either of us to see the other hurt and it’s not easy to separate work and home, but we have to. In spite of the ten thousand ways the job plays hell with your personal relationship, there are advantages.”

Kelli elbowed Vin in the rib. “There aren’t ten thousand issues, just feels like it sometimes.”

“Okay, maybe I exaggerated.” Tanner smiled as he grasped her hand. “The truth is, while it’s not always easy, it helps to be able to freely discuss with each other the shit we have to go through with this job. We get the worst of the worst cases, and knowin’ Kel is close, and understands, helps me keep my perspective.”

“Vin’s right. I did okay workin’ alone as a Texas Ranger, or so I thought. However, I’ve learned that being able to share what we go through is a big stress reliever for me. It does get ugly, but we try to balance one another so neither of us gets overwhelmed at the same time.”

“Sam and I realize that workin’ together is goin’ to be a challenge, both professionally and personally.” Emma said, sitting up and shifting her body so that she could rest her head on Sam’s shoulder. “It’s goin’ to be a learnin’ process for us both, but I believe with time, we’ll work the kinks out.”

Sam smiled at her. “That’s right, we will.”

He turned his attention back onto Vin. “After witnessin’ how you both handled the situation with Marcus, it looks like y’all do more than okay.”

“Yeah, most of the time.” Vin grinned. “Except for times like tonight. As a captain, I’m damn proud of how Kelli did so well kickin’ ass, but as her husband, I’m thinkin’ what the hell possessed her to take on an opponent twice her size.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure how I would react to seein’ Emma scrappin’ with a brute like Jones either.” Sam admitted.

“Probably the same way I’d feel about seein’ you go toe to toe with someone.” Emma said dryly.

“Guess so.” Sam gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

Emma glanced at Kelli. “I have to say, you impressed the hell out of me with your fightin’ skills.”

“Vin puts all of us through some hard hand to hand trainin’ on the job, despite the daily protests from everyone. At home he works me as my personal trainer to make sure I’m in top form. As he tells me often, trust your trainin’ it won’t fail you when you need it. ” Kelli squeezed Vin’s hand. She felt he needed a reminder as well. “That’s why I had no problem takin’ on Jones.”

“Then I reckon it’s a good thing we’re workin’ on just that come Monday.” Sam nudged Emma, and together the Cains rose to their feet. “We’re headed to bed, y’all enjoy the Texas air as long as you want.

“Will do.” Vin and Kelli watched as the Cains headed across the yard to their house, before pulling his wife to him. “ In case I haven’t mentioned lately, I love you, but please quit tryin’ to find ways to give me a heart attack.”

“You know your life would be dull and borin’ if I behaved all the time.” She laughed when he rolled his eyes, then became serious. “I think Sam’s right. We do more than okay together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“We do.” Vin hugged her. “Forget the Texas air, let’s go inside and practice our togetherness.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Chapter Fifteen


Teaspoon was up earlier than usual for a Sunday morning. He fed and watered the horses, leaving his foreman and hands to tend to the rest of the livestock, while he went back to the house, smiling when he noticed Ramon’s truck parked next to his. Bowie, Houston, and Crockett greeted him with excited yips and a swirl of tails. After he got his wild canines settled down with their own breakfast, he washed up, and headed for the kitchen.

He set the coffee on, before digging out an assortment of ingredients from the refrigerator, including oranges to squeeze for juice. The menu included steak, hash browns and eggs, with homemade country biscuits and gravy, for those preferring traditional. Chorizo, Tex-Mex breakfast scramble, with a side of Rosaria's fantastic salsa, and his famous eggchiladas for those more daring.

"Gee Pop, you tryin' to feed an army I don't know about?" Ramon entered the kitchen, running a hand through his dark hair, and stared at the array of food laid out.

"Mornin’, Son. Check that oven for me, will ya?” Teaspoon continued squeezing oranges. "As for an army," he chuckled, " Sam and Emma are comin’ over with Marion and the kids, I have seven MCAT agents as guests, and then you and me."

"Ah, the infamous Team Seven agents. Emma told me about 'em."

"Judgin’ from the sounds of movement from upstairs, I'd say you're about to meet 'em, too."

Josiah was the first one down the stairs. "Smells good in here, what can I do to help?”

"Ramon, this is Josiah Sanchez, " Teaspoon, nodded towards his son, "Josiah, my son Ramon, SAPD. He has a nose for good food and knows Sunday mornin's here will make up for all that bachelor junk he eats during the week. As for help, we're just about done, but you can take that stack of plates to the table if you want."

"Pleased to meet another Hunter man." Josiah took the plates and headed for the dining room.

Buck and JD were next, followed closely by Nathan and a sleepy-eyed Ezra, all making a beeline for the coffee. Teaspoon made introductions as he set the first pan of hot biscuits on the table.

"Sam and his crew are on their way". Teaspoon told them. "Seems all we're missin' here is Vin and Kelli."

Buck laughed. "I'm betting they didn't sleep much. By the time Tanner got over giving Kel hell for last night, I'm sure she had to work at soothing his anger."

Ezra, obviously not at his best this early, shook his head. "I disagree, Kel probably had him over his exasperation within two minutes."

Ramon frowned. "Last night? Did I miss somethin'?"

"We had a little dust up at the BBQ, Son. I'm sure you'll hear all about it." Teaspoon set the last plate of food out.

Sam and his crew arrived just as the Tanners descended the stairs. Teaspoon had just finished introducing Ramon to Vin and Kelli, when they heard a child’s voice cry out,


“Guard your jewels!” Ramon warned the male MCAT agents, strategically moving so that his were covered by the kitchen counter.

Kelli grinned in amusement as her husband and teammates did as the younger Hunter instructed, even though they were puzzled by the command. A few moments later, the whirlwind known as Austin Cain entered the kitchen at full speed, followed by his older sister.

Both children zeroed in on their uncle, standing amid their grandpa’s guests, and wide grins blossomed on their faces. “Tio!”

The change in their direction was instantaneous. Teaspoon didn’t begrudge his son moments like this with his niece and nephew. Since Ramon had moved into an apartment in San Antonio, and with his work schedule, his son didn’t get to spend as much time at Hunter Acres with Melinda and Austin as he liked.

Ramon squatted down and held out his arms. Melinda and Austin flew into them and received a big hug, chatting excitedly in a mix of Spanish and English.

Sam took an assessing look around the room, noticing the protective hand each male Alpha Team member still held in front of their groin area and chuckled, “Who gave you the heads up about protectin’ your family jewels? Teaspoon or Ramon?”

“Ramon.” All six Alpha Team members said in unison.

“Can’t any day go by when y’all men don’t draw attention to your anatomy in one way or another?” Emma asked, glancing from her husband to her father to her brother, before sweeping her eyes over the other males in the room.

“No!”A chorus of male voices filled the room, causing Kelli to laugh, Emma to roll her eyes, and Marian to look on with amusement.

Emma and Marian added their contributions of food to the feast Teaspoon had prepared, as everyone gathered around the table. Teaspoon said grace and told them, "Don't be shy ‘bout diggin' in, there's plenty more where this came from."

Silence prevailed for a few minutes as platters were passed around and everyone's plates filled with food. Ramon studied his father's guests, attempting to read them. He knew they were all dedicated law officers who belong to an elite team, and he assumed they were all serious individuals. Mentally preparing himself for a more formal and reserved conversation he finally asked, "So what did I miss last night?"

JD snorted the orange juice he was drinking. "You mean when Vin almost had a heart attack?"

Tanner growled, "leave it JD."

“Our little redheaded agent kicked some serious..." Buck noted the children in the room, "backside. Took on one of your brother'-in-law’s recruits."

“I had to ‘invite’ Jones off the property and out of MCAT.” Sam laughed." Poor Vin was busy havin’ difficulty decidin' if he was Agent Coulter's Captain or Kelli Tanner's husband when she laid into Jones, who happens to be about twice her size."

Nathan added, "She did give him what for, gained a few bruises of her own, but Vin was the one I thought I’d have to resuscitate ."

Kelli shot back, "I was only defendin' myself."

Marian grinned at the younger woman. "Good for you. A girl after my own heart. Takes no crap off of anybody!”

Her comment earned her a grin from Kelli.

“Mom!” Sam glanced from her to Melinda and Austin, who were listening with apt attention to the grownups talking.

Marian rolled her eyes at him. “You’ve said worse in front of them.”

“She’s got you there, Bro.” Ramon grinned affectionately at Marian, and ignored the glare his brother-in-law sent him.

"Ha," Buck grinned, "I'd say it was more of unleashing that Larabee temper of yours. I'm glad Chris wasn't here, you're old man wouldn't have stopped til Marcus was mincemeat."

"Amen to that." Josiah finally commented. "Our Commander doesn't possess near the patience our Captain does."

" Commander Larabee is your father?' Emma did not remember either Sam or Teaspoon mentioning that fact.

Kelli sighed, "Yes, I discovered a few years back that Chris is my Dad." She sent a heated glare to her other teammates. "Although I do happen to have my own temper, which y'all might be seein' real soon if you yahoos don't quit your smart remarks."

"I know you told Vin and Sam, but what started it all?” JD questioned. "Last time I saw you, you were talking to Cody."

Kelli cleared her throat and glanced at the kids." I was explaining to Cody about how workin' with women in law enforcement is different, and that bein' chivalrous could get him hurt in a real under fire situation. Jones came up spoutin' garbage and did somethin' he shouldn't have."

Buck's eyes narrowed, "I didn't see that. What did he do?"

"Let's just say no man has the right to touch any woman inappropriately and leave it at that. "Kelli shrugged. "Beside, Jake taught me not to start..uh... stuff, but always be ready to finish it, if it comes to ya."

Teaspoon recognized that saying, and spoke up. "That would be Jake Mackenzie?"

"Yes, he was my guardian for eight years, until I was seventeen. Did you know him?"

Sam chimed in, "Hell, most Rangers know of Mackenzie."

"Yep, he was a good man." Teaspoon thought for a moment and then smiled. "You have to be his Kelcat, he talked about you all the time."

"Lord, I haven't heard that name in years." a wave of nostalgia washed over Kelli. She felt Vin squeeze her hand., and then she said softly, "He was a good man and a great Texas Ranger."

"Kelcat?" Buck grinned. “That’s even better than Blaze.”

Vin sensed where Wilmington's mind was headed, and sent him a warning look. "Don't go there Buck."

"Yeah Buck, Vin might sic Kelli on you." JD laughed and ignored the Tanners' glares.

Josiah laid his hand on Buck’s sleeve, “Keep running your mouth and you just might be visiting the closest Texas ER before the table’s cleared.”

Sam could see what was coming by a country mile, and decided it was time for his kids to head outside. He looked at Melinda and Austin. “Take the boys out for a run.”

“Which boys?” Austin asked as he looked around the table.

“The dog ‘boys’ silly.” Melinda slid off her chair, feeling the wordless reprimand her mother cast her way. “Sorry Austin, you’re not silly.”

Teaspoon heard a vehicle arrive and realized it was past time to make his big announcement. “By the way, we’re about to have another guest.”

“Guest? Who Pop?” Emma asked.

The door opened and the first words spoken were by Tanner. “What the hell are you doin’ here?”

“Well good morning to you too, Sunshine,” Chris Larabee reached over to shake Teaspoon’s hand. “Nice to see you again.”

“Alright who told him?” Kelli sent a Larabee worthy glare to each of her teammates.

Ezra ignored her glare, and spoke for his brothers.“I can assure you, the brethren assembled around this table, would never stoop so low as to spread rumors, especially to our fearless leader. We should surmise that Captain Tanner must have been broadcasting on a Colorado frequency.”

“Hey, don’t blame me.” Vin turned to his wife,“Kel, I swear, I didn’t.”

Bewildered by the turn of events, Ramon asked his father, “What am I missin’ here?”

Sam added, “Yeah, clue me in too.”

Before Teaspoon could explain, Chris scanned around the table with a scathing glare of his own. Not missing the bruise on his daughter’s cheek, he stated, “Better question is, what the hell did I miss?”

He received a collection of mutters, shrugs, and inaudible responses, along with a defiant glare from Kelli.

“Before I have to act as referee,” Teaspoon chuckled. “Sam, Emma, Ramon, Marian, this is MCAT Commander Chris Larabee, my boss.” He turned and said, “I think you’re well acquainted with the rest of these yahoos.”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Larabee sat in the nearest empty chair before he continued. He decided to start with the defiant one. “Okay, Kel, tell me.”

“Nothin’ to tell.” Kelli shrugged. “You hungry?”

Clenching his jaw, Chris’s next victim was Vin. “Tanner?”

“What?” Vin snapped, not happy about being caught between his wife and Chris again. “He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

A vein popped out on Larabee’s forehead. “ Captain Cain, your turn.” He gave the younger man his undivided attention.

”How the hell did it get to be my turn?” He felt trapped between a rock and a hard place.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud.” Kelli’s patience was gone. “I had a disagreement with one of Sam’s recruits. No big deal.” She challenged her father with her eyes. “ Why are you here, and what did you do with your kids?”

*I’ll explain later, Cowboy*

Chris received both Tanner’s wordless message and Kelli’s dismissal. He sighed. “Cait volunteered to watch Cody and Grace overnight. As to why I’m here, I came to address the Charlie Team recruits in the morning, and to check in on my team.” He threw back a challenge of his own. “If that meets your approval, Missy?”

Teaspoon figured he needed to redirect the conversation. “Seems Orry...uh Director Travis is havin’ an MCAT recognition dinner next week. He wants Charlie Team to be there and Chris is issuin’ the invitation personally. I hear lots of law enforcement VIP’s will be attendin’ , too.”

The Alpha Team members groaned. Buck was more vocal. “Damn formal again.”

Sam wasn’t a big fan of formal, but saw an opportunity in the making. “Does that mean we get a tour of the main office too?”

“Absolutely,” Chris answered. “Charlie Team may be a few hundred miles away from us, but we all work for the same goals. Plan on a lot of interaction with Denver.”

“I’m sure you would like an update on our week from your team, Chris.” Teaspoon looked around the table. “If y’all are finished with the food, Rosaria has volunteered to clean up for us. We can take our conversations to the Sun room.” He stood. “I’ll have your bag delivered to your room Larabee.”

“I’m stealin’ your offspring for a couple of hours.” Ramon told Emma and Sam. “I’ll bring ‘em back fed and in one piece before their bedtimes.”

“Don’t go overboard on the sweets,” Emma cautioned as Sam nodded. “I’m goin’ to go take a little me time while I can, and leave y’all to talk shop.”

“Emma, I’ll walk out with you.I’m goin’ go over to a friend’s house for a spell, ” Marian cast an appraising glance over each of the male Alpha Team members. “ It was a pleasure meetin’ all you handsome and virile young men.”

Sam flushed at her words, earning him a cheeky grin from his mother, as laughter broke out around him.

Buck slapped him on the back. “Sam, you have one hell of a mother,”

“Thanks I think,” Sam quipped.

“Marian is a spitfire, alright,” Teaspoon agreed. “Let’s all settle somewhere more comfortable.”

He led them all out to the enclosed sun room that had been his late wife’s favorite room in the whole house, next to their bedroom. The decor was a bit more on the feminine side, but the furniture was well built and would suit their purposes.

They worked through a light lunch and within a few hours, Chris knew as much about Charlie Team, their assessments, and the plans for the upcoming three days, as Teaspoon, Sam, and the rest of Alpha Team did.

Emma appeared with a tray of cool drinks, setting them on the table. “Ramon has the kids, and supper won’t be for another couple of hours. If y’all are ‘bout done, I thought Kelli might want to ride with me. I’ll give you a proper tour of the ranch if you want?”

“Love to, they don’t need me around anymore.” Kelli wanted to make an escape before the subject of last night’s escapade reappeared. She kissed Vin, and then her Dad, before following Emma to the barn.

Once the ladies were gone, Chris leaned forward. “Okay, now will someone tell me what the hell happened that no one wants to talk about?”

Tanner decided it was past time to appease Chris’s questions. He gave him a full account of what transpired with Marcus Jones, then waited for the explosion he expected. He did not have long to wait.

Chris growled. “How the fuck did a man like that make it through a background check? He had to have had incidents come up in the past. Surely to God, his attitude problems would have been a red flag to CASSIE at least.”

JD defended CASSIE. “Chris, according to his records, he worked alone most of the time. There were no incidents reported to indicate he was a prejudiced bastard. He had the right experience and skills to be considered as an applicant.”

Sam joined in. “Now we know he is not MCAT material. That is the point of these evaluations, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Chris conceded and sighed deeply, not at all happy his daughter fought with the man.” Any chance he will try to make good on his threats?”

Sam and Vin exchanged a glance. Tanner answered. “If he does, he’ll have to go through MCAT to carry ‘em out.”

Chapter Sixteen

MCAT Headquarters 7am

Teaspoon and Sam entered HQ, not surprised to find that Rachel had beat them into the office, again.

"Don't know how she does it," Teaspoon shook his head, "but that coffee smells great."

Sam nodded. "Wish puttin' the rest of this team together was as easy as findin' Rachel. We did good with her."

The object of their comments came forward and she smiled. "Good morning, Sirs.Your agendas are on each respective desk. A plate of fresh fruit, and a box of assorted pastries is in the break room, coffee's fresh. I also set-up a space for Commander Larabee, if needed. Will you require anything else?"

"That all I believe." Sam started towards his office, stopped, and turned. "Thanks Rachel."

She nodded, and returned to her desk. Teaspoon followed Sam to his office. He had a few questions for the Captain.

Leaning against the door frame, he waited until Sam settled, and then asked, "What's your opinion of the Commander?"

Sam grinned. "Well, he's not ten feet tall and bulletproof, like I imagined."

Teaspoon chuckled. "Reckon that's a good assessment."

"Seriously, I think the man has many layers. With his 'family' he's a lot like you are. He cares. When it came to business, he asked all the hard questions, and I get the sense ' he's’ not a man that anyone in their right mind would want to get on their bad side. He also took time to talk to me about team buildin' last night. The man knows his stuff."

"All true from what I've seen. He is fair minded, won't ask anythin' of his team that he wouldn't do, and even though I hear he has a quick temper, he does listen. I think too, Ramon was very interested in watchin’ Larabee interact with his team."

"Maybe we'll win Ramon over to MCAT one of these days. I..." Sam heard the arrival of Alpha Team. " We'll get to Ramon later." He stood and walked out to meet them.

Teaspoon joined him.

"Mornin' again." Sam addressed Larabee. "Our AA fixed a space for you to work if you want." He nodded toward the smaller office.

Buck laughed. "Guess she knew you're here to observe and figured keeping you busy might give us a chance to escape the Larabee 'control' issues."

Chris growled low. "I don't have control issues." The rest of Alpha Team burst into laughter, ignoring the glare sent from their Commander.

"You know, " Larabee grinned, "I'm thinking I just might make arrangements to stay until you yahoos are done here. We can all ride back together." He winked at Teaspoon. "Should be a pleasant trip..for me, at least." No one missed the implied unpleasantness he directed to his team.

Tanner ignored the threat. "You do what you need to, we have recruits to meet,” he looked at his watch, "in less than an hour. Alpha Team, grab y'all's coffee and let's move out." He looked at Sam. "Meet you there."

As Alpha Team made their departure, with Sam on their heels, Teaspoon nodded to his Commander. "Reckon it's you and me Larabee. You can give your speech to 'em there."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

A hundred miles south of San Antonio

Marcus Jones had been a busy man since Saturday night. His anger toward MCAT had only intensified, and he had taken steps to appease that anger. After all, since Cain tossed him off the recruit list, he had nothing to lose now. No job to return to, no family, and after draining his checking and saving accounts, no money. Making use of his cartel contacts, he ordered what he would need to show those bastards and bitches he was not a man to dismiss lightly.

Jones waited impatiently for his contact to arrive and smiled thinking about the surprise he would have for MCAT. A jeep approached from the south and he exited his vehicle to await it.

"About time you got here." Marcus snapped. "Hope to hell you got all I need."

"That I do old friend." The man opened the back and showed Jones what he brought. "Enough C-4 to do the job, detonators, wire,...."

"Yeah yeah, I can see." Marcus grabbed the first box to transfer to his truck. "Get the rest will you."

Boxes transferred, money paid, his old friend was curious." I've known you a long time Marcus. I never thought you would join our side. What changed?"

Jones studied Joseph, a man he had known since childhood. They had taken different directions in life, but now he and his friend, a lieutenant in the Rio Grande Cartel, seemed to have merged paths. "Let's just say, I've found a reason to dislike law enforcement as much as you do."

"Fair enough. Happy hunting then." The two men shook hands and each departed, one turned south, the other, north to San Antonio.

Ranger Training Center


Sam noted all his recruits were present before he made the introduction. “Before we start I'd like to introduce y'all to my boss's boss man, from the Denver home office, Director of Operations, Commander Chris Larabee."

Chris stepped forward. "I'll be brief because I know how anxious you are for another training day." He waited for the laughs and groans to subside. “For anyone to make it this far into the recruitment process says a lot about both your skills and character. If selected for Charlie Team, you will find the hardest work you have ever done, mixed with the pride of knowing that you can and do make a difference in this world of uncertainty. Not one of us works the job for the pay, and it is more than a career; it is a way of life. It affects our families, disrupts normal routines, can be extremely dangerous, and is the most important position that any of us will ever have the opportunity to hold. While our successes can be immensely rewarding, they come with a cost, and sometimes that cost is very hard to pay.

While each of you have excellent references, experience, and skills, in your chosen field, you are outstanding individuals. However, they all have one thing in common; they are all traditional, established institutions with defined procedures. MCAT is...different. We have more flexibility and room to maneuver than any other agency outside the CIA. We push the envelope hard, and often. Working with MCAT has taught me that the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

I have reviewed all of your jackets and look forward to speaking to each of you during the day. I am here mainly to observe, however I do have a message from Director Travis. By the end of this week Charlie Team will be completed and for those selected, we expect to see in you Denver when MCAT is honored at a formal dinner. You may bring your spouses,' significant others, girlfriend, or boyfriend, etc, as the case may be. Your travel arrangement will be on us and all expenses paid . It is a big deal for our Director, meaning, in turn it is for us, too. Your Captain will give you further details at your first official team meeting. Now, get out there and kick some ass today."

Sam thanked Larabee. "Now to the trainin’ room. Today we work one on one. Captain Tanner has graciously volunteered to conduct the session. One, I hear his team practices often."

Training Room

“Everyone spread out arm lengths from the people on either side of you.” Tanner commanded the group, and nearly smiled when Larabee immediately moved to do as he instructed. “We’re goin’ to start out with some of the basics…to get our bodies limbered up before we move into somethin’ more strenuous.”

Tanner put the agents through a series of stretches, push ups and pull-ups before he moved on to practice self-defense techniques. Vin paired the group up by similar body weight. He would show them a certain hold on his partner, who was Larabee, and then let the pairs practice it a couple of times, before moving onto another one. When it seemed that the class had the holds down fairly well, he added a few more steps to learn, and again waited while they practiced what he had shown them onto one another.

Tanner called a fifteen minutes break. "When y'all return, we’ll go into one on one with a weapon." He tried to hide his smile as he watched them disperse, some groaning, others walking very slowly.

Everything Trixie thought she had to do to become an MCAT agent had changed over the past nine days. Always before, she had used her feminine wiles, along with her law enforcement training, to get the positions she wanted. It was what men like Marcus Jones assumed about their female counterparts, and she thought why fight it? Might as well make their stereotypical, chauvinistic attitudes about women in law enforcement work to her advantage.

Much to her surprise, she had discovered that the men of Alpha Team, as well as Captain Cain and CO Hunter were a different breed altogether. Women were equals in their eyes. Agent Kelli Coulter held a place of esteem within the ranks of the foundation MCAT Team, and that was something Trixie never thought she would ever witness. Now, she more determined than ever, to make it onto Charlie Team; and she would do so by using her established skills, instead of her feminine wiles.

Lou felt she was making progress. Hand to hand had never been easy for her., since most of her opponents were usually twice her size. With the techniques Captain Tanner was teaching them, she felt confident she could handle a perp, regardless of their size.

As she waited for her turn at the water faucet, Lou spotted Kelli coming out of the ladies room. “Agent Coulter, can I talk to you for a moment?”

“If we can walk and talk at the same time.” Kelli replied. “Captain Tanner doesn’t like to be kept waitin’.”

“Alright,” Lou fell into step beside Agent Coulter. “You handled yourself pretty good with Jones at the BBQ. Where did you learn how to fight like that?”

“Captain Tanner.” Kelli smiled at the look on McCloud’s face. “I learned the basics, same as you did, when I went through the police academy and Ranger school. But they were nothin’ compared to what I’ve learned since becomin’ an MCAT agent. Tanner drills us on a weekly basis, keeps us at the top of our game.”

“I hope I can get to be as good as you at it.” Lou commented.

“Be as good as you can be,” Kelli corrected. “Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Just be the best that you can be and I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

Lou nodded. It was good advice to keep in mind. She fell silent as they joined the others. Once again, Tanner addressed the recruits.

"Earlier I put y’all through some of the basic self-defense holds. Now we are goin’ to go over the same moves as before, ‘cause I want you to feel so comfortable with them that you could do them in your sleep. Then I am goin’ to show you a couple of new moves, which will introduce a whole different level of self-defense into them because I’m goin’ to arm you. Or rather, I will arm one member in each pair. These moves will be choreographed in order for no one to receive any serious injuries during class, but I do not want that to deter any of you from takin’ this seriously. In a real situation, your life will most likely depend on your ability to deflect the movements of your opponent, and you can be sure that they are not goin’ to play fair.”

When he was sure that all of them were ready, he motioned with his fingers for Chris and Kelli to join him at the front of the group, and then proceeded to pair up the rest of the team members.

“First we’re goin’ to start with a Cross Block.” Vin said, instructing the pairs to face off with each other, eyes leveled on their opponents, feet spaced slightly apart and body weight balanced evenly between them. “The partner in each pair that is standing to the right of me will be the aggressor, while the one on the left will be the defender. To begin, the aggressor’s are only goin’ to simulate havin’ a weapon in their hands. Your dominant hand will be the one that you will use, regardless if it is the right hand or left hand.”

Vin put the team through the steps of the Cross Block, and then moved them onto learning the steps of a Two-Hand Block. When he felt that they had it down well enough, he moved over to the weapons bag he had brought from the ranch and extracted a couple of knives, ice picks, screwdrivers, and stickpins. He gave Kelli a knife, and then moved through the group, distributing the rest of the items he had brought with him.

Emma found herself paired off with Kidd. She wielded the machete Tanner gave her a little awkwardly. It was heavier and longer than her service weapon, with a razor sharp blade. She was worried about doing serious injury to her fellow recruit, but shoved that worry aside, and concentrated on making the moves the captain instructed them to do.

Cross smiled as he was paired up with Commander Larabee. He, unlike his fellow recruits, was finding many of the moves Captain Tanner was putting them through, a little redundant. He excelled at hand to hand combat due to this extensive knowledge in several forms of martial arts. Obviously, his ease with the moves hadn’t passed Tanner’s notice, and so the captain had switched out opponent’s on him.

After sparring with his new partner for a couple rounds, Chris commented, “You’re damn good Cross.”

“So are you, Sir.” Cross jabbed at Larabee with the spiked stick he had been given, and all Chris’s concentration went into evading getting stuck by his worthy opponent.

Practicing the moves with actual weapons in their hands against their teammates was an entirely new experience for some of them and a rusty one for others. As Tanner had expected, the partners who were playing the aggressors were even more conscience of their movements for fear of actually doing serious injuries to their partners. This slowed them all down considerably, and he had to encourage them to pick up their speed. The more they practiced, the more each pair got used to the movements and were able to pick up their speed, some without anyone getting hurt. When he finally called an ending to the training session, Vin was pleased with how things were progressing.

“They’re all yours, Captain Cain.” Tanner said.

Sam addressed his weary recruits. “Go back to your respective hotels or motels, soak your achin’ muscles, and get some rest. Be back here tomorrow mornin’ by eight.”

His words elicited a chorus of half-hearted ‘yes sirs’ from the recruits as they made a beeline for the exit, except for Emma, who waited for him at the door.

She greeted him with a kiss, which earned him a catcall from Wilminton, as Alpha Team filed past them on their way to their vehicles.

“Catch a ride with you, Captain?”

“Any time.”

Marcus waited until the last officer exited the training area before he moved. Quickly he ran across the obstacle field to his objective. Tomorrow when MCAT came to drill, they would find he had beat them to it. Working fast, but efficiently, he removed the items from his backpack, setting a string of explosives, which led back to a timed detonator, set to go off at nine a.m.

Hunter Acres

“Thanks, Cait.” Chris hung up as Tanner approached.

“Everythin’ good?” Vin asked.

“Yeah. Cait’s going to keep Grace and Cody until I get back.” Larabee told him.

“Cait’s a keeper, Chris.”

“Don’t push...”

“I’m just sayin’.” Tanner held up his hands. “What do you think of Cain’s recruits, now that you’ve seen them in action and had the chance to talk to them?”

“All are a bit rough around the edges, but with the proper training, I think we’ll make MCAT agents out of them.”

Emma chose that moment to knock on the door and announce supper was ready, ending any further discussion about the Charlie Team recruits.

Chapter Seventeen

Training Facility 7:30 am

Alpha Team unloaded gear they had picked up at MCAT HQ, the evening before. Their plan today was simple. All they had to do was stand between, and stop the Charlie recruits from reaching their objective. The 'asset' or objective, the recruits were tasked to save, would be on the roof. In this case, that roof attached to a mock set-up of a three story structure filled with five rooms on each floors, dark corridors, dead ends, and stairways.

Vin handed a laser rifle to Kelli and addressed his team. "Y'all all know what we have to do, pick your spots inside, and be ready for ‘em to try and pass ya." Tanner's order was not detailed, but then it did not have to be. Vehicles were moved, and each member wore camouflage fatigues as well as face paint.

Chris watched as Alpha Team worked in sync, as they always did. Each doing their part without words or directions. After speaking with each of Sam's recruits yesterday, he could see the potential, given time and training, of Charlie Team coming close to their Colorado counterparts. However, he knew that no team anywhere would ever fully match his. Desire, character, determination, or training had nothing to do with it; 'his' team was one of a kind. They were destined to be together, and blaze their own trail for anyone brave enough to follow.

Observing was difficult for Chris, who was used to action. He sighed and moved next to Vin. "You know I can't just stand here and watch. What can I do?"

"Well since you asked," Vin grinned, "we are in need of an ass...et. You can be our hostage, and Charlie Team's objective."

Not happy by a long shot, but Larabee was determined not to be difficult. He guessed it was the best he could expect. "Beats the hell out of standing around doing nothing."

Vin nodded. "JD, escort our hostage to the roof. If he gives ya any trouble..."

Chris growled while Tanner laughed."Think I can find the damn roof without help."

By the time Sam and his recruits arrived at eight, Alpha Team was nowhere in sight.

Cain addressed them as their special gear was unloaded. "The structure before you is three stories, with lots of rooms, dead ends, and staircases. Terrorists have taken it over and kidnapped one of ours. You will note that with your camo, you have special sensor buttons to put on. If you are tagged with a laser, you will feel a zap, then you are 'dead'; same goes for our opponents in this exercise. At that time, you will join Teaspoon in the 'dead zone' area, where he is standin', and remain until the mission is completed. He will also be timin' us. We have thirty minutes to breech their defenses and 'save' our hostage, who our mock terrorists are holdin' on the roof.

We will move in teams; one aggressor, the other to cover. Hickok and Cody will take point, followed by Lopez and Cross, then Shannon with Dixon, followed by Kidd with McSwain. McCloud and I will cover the rear." He looked them over and saw the anticipation in their expressions. "Y'all are to rescue the hostage by any means, but remember no real injuries are acceptable, and," he grinned, " expect the unexpected. Everyone ready?"

A chorus of yes sirs answered Cain. He looked over to Teaspoon and nodded.

Teaspoon glanced at his watch. It was 8:35. "On my mark, 3-2-1-GO!"

Cody and Hickok entered and went to the right, followed by Lopez and Cross, who went left. The lighting was almost non-existent, but it did not deter them. Shannon and Dixon followed Cross as Kidd and McSwain trailed Cody. McCloud and Cain took a right turn and stepped over the trip wire the others had managed to avoid, also.

Hickok kicked in the first door on the right and went inside, doing a sweep before calling out ‘clear’ to Cody, who was standing guard at the entrance. Kidd and McSwain did the same with two more rooms. Satisfied that their side was clear, they cautiously began ascending the stairs, with the second team paced well behind. The staircase turned and two men appeared, at an apparent dead end.

Hickok grinned, he knew he and Cody could laser Tanner and Wilmington before they themselves were tagged. As he lifted his rifle, he felt a zap just a second before he heard Cody curse. "Son of a bitch!"

"What the hell?" Cody looked up where Vin pointed.

Kelli stuck her head over one of the rafters and smiled. "Sorry boys, y'all are dead."

Sighing deeply, Cody retreated, along with Hickok. They met Kidd and McSwain on their way back down. "Dead end guys."

"Yeah and dead men walking through you." Hickok growled as he passed them.

"Guess we backtrack." Kidd shook his head and suppressed a smile, watching Cody and Hickok depart.

"After you," Ike moved to allow his partner through.

"Not so fast." Josiah stepped out of a dark corner they had just passed and zapped them both.

"Hell," Kidd winced as he recalled, "expect the unexpected".

"Remember that," Sam said as he zapped Josiah. He turned to Lou. "Reckon we're the last ones standin' over here. Let’s backtrack and head up the other side while our dearly departed join Teaspoon."

Meanwhile, on the left side, Lopez and Cross have made it to the second flood, closely followed by Shannon and Dixon.

Cross raised his hand to halt them and ducked, missing the laser Nathan shot their way. Trixie use the diversion and made an evasive maneuver hitting the stairs leading to the top floor. Emma and Noah walked backwards to cover all their backs as they proceeded upwards. Once on the third floor they separated to clear the rooms.

Dead Zone

Teaspoon listened to the grumblings from Hickok and Cody, along with a few quietly uttered curses among them all. He looked at Josiah questionably. "Who got you?"

"Sam." Josiah grinned. "If I had to go, at least it was by the Captain's shot."

"How are the rest doin'?"

"When I left, Sam and Lou were backtracking to go to the left side, Vin and Buck will probably follow them. Kel is in the rafters, JD’s on the roof with Chris, and Nathan and Ezra were left to slow your other two teams down."

Teaspoon nodded."Accordin’ to my timer, they don't have much longer to save their hostage. I figure..." He felt a vibration in his pocket. Hunter knew all cells were off inside and could not imagine who would be calling in the middle of an exercise. Pulling his phone out, he prayed it was not an emergency about his son, or someone else he cared about. He reached for his glasses to read the text:

A timer with a two minute countdown appeared with one word, BOOM!

"Son of a bitch!" Teaspoon ran towards the structure yelling at Josiah. "Get em out NOW!"

Josiah did not hesitate to follow and motioned for the rest to stand clear. He did not know what the message read, but trusted Hunter.

Teaspoon entered the building just behind Vin and Buck, who were transferring to the left side. He grabbed Tanner's arm and shouted, "Bomb! Two minute countdown. Get ‘em out!"

Vin did not question the man. He told Buck, “You and Josiah stay here and account for who comes out." He sent a silent message to Chris as her ran towards the second floor.*Bomb! Two minutes to get out. You and JD move your asses. Kel is in the rafters.*

Buck urged Teaspoon out. "Sir we got this, you need to move outside."

Teaspoon refused to leave. "I've never left a man behind and I'm not startin' now. I'll go when my people are safe.”

Tanner quickly located Sam and Lou, relaying the warning, as he ran past them. When he saw Cain hesitate, he yelled, "Y'all go. Get clear."

Sam thought about Emma somewhere above him. As her husband, his first instinct was to protect her, and he wanted to go to her. Yet, as Captain Cain, he knew his team needed a calming presence and his responsibility was to all his agents. He had to trust that Tanner would get to the others in time and nudged Lou to the exit.

Tanner kept going. He had Nathan escort Trixie and Cross out, while he looked for Emma and Noah. Vin was starting up to the rest of his team when Chris's thoughts stopped him.

*JD and I have Kel and Ezra , as well as Emma and Noah with us. Don't wait, we're coming down.*

Vin backtracked to the exit, sensing Kel, Chris, Ezra ,and JD not far behind him. He told Sam, "Emma and Dixon are with Chris, right behind me. Move your recruits." He asked Teaspoon," How much time? "

"Fifteen seconds." He told Sam, "I'm right behind y'all."

"Pop..." Sam knew how stubborn his father-in-law could be. As much as he too wanted to see Emma out, he understood they had to move.

Teaspoon was unmovable. "I know Son. We'll make it, now git."

Josiah, Buck, and Nathan hesitated until Vin glared their way. "GO," Tanner ordered them all to get away from the building. He turned to look at the structure as he shuffled backwards and willed himself to believe Chris would get the others out in time. Anything else was incomprehensible. *Chris?"

*Almost there.*

Trixie turned as Sam pushed them along. She saw Hunter was not moving and her old training kicked in. She rushed back to grab the older man, just as the world shook, and a deafening noise assaulted her ears. Pushing as hard as she could, Lopez threw herself at Teaspoon, knocking him down, and falling over him as the gates of hell swung open, spewing up its destructive tentacles.

One explosion followed another, sending wood, metal, and mortar skyward. Smoke filled the air as pockets of flames appeared where the structure stood only seconds ago. The force of the blasts knocked down all standing within fifty feet.

The MCAT recruits along with the Alpha Team agents immediately went into action to find their missing. Sam had already called 911; help and medical assistance were on the way. Other law enforcement personnel training in the other facilities, heard the blast, and ran to assist.

Tanner raised himself to his knees, shaking his head to clear the bells ringing in his ears. The realization that his wife, family, and teammates had not cleared the blast, set in, accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. He stood, and ignoring the heat, smoke, and flames ran toward the destruction.

*Chris where the hell are y'all.*

*Six souls, we're alive, close to where the door used to be, but the exit is blocked with debris*

*Hang on*

Buck, Josiah, and Nathan appeared at Vin's side, each realizing every second counted. All they needed was a hole big enough to pull out their survivors. Each determine they would not lose anyone this day.

Sam ran, looking for any sign of Teaspoon or Emma in the pile of burning lumber scattered around. He saw Tanner pulling burnt boards from where the door once stood, and Trixie on the ground, covered by a charred piece of plywood, but did not realize Hunter was beneath her. " Cody, Hickok, give us a hand here. Ike, you and Lou, check on our injured. Kidd, you and Cross get us some water over here." He sent up a prayer asking for the strength and composure to help his team. Knowing that Emma and Teaspoon were included in the count of three missing from his unit, he added a urgent plea to Maria Elena, *Please protect your daughter and husband, and deliver them safely back to us.*

Within minutes, a man made tunnel appeared at the exit. One by one the trapped agents crawled through. First one out was Emma, who was passed over to Sam, who immediately began assessing her injuries.

Emma assured him she was fine. Except for bruises and a couple of burns, she was not badly hurt."Where's Pop?"

"Not sure, Red, but we'll find him." Sam helped her to stand, noticing her limp as he handed her off to Kidd.

Noah and JD were the next ones out, then Chris assisted Kelli through. All were bruised, a bit battered and sooty, but alive.

Paramedics stood close by, ready to treat the wounded and began with Emma and Noah. Vin took Kelli, while Buck and Josiah aided Chris. Nathan moved into healer mode, giving orders and checking injuries.

"Anyone that's mobile, move further away from here and to the triage area.” Nathan visually inspected his teammates as they passed by him.

"Sir, over here." Lou called to Sam.

Cain hurried to her side. He was shocked to find Lopez out cold, and obviously more than a little hurt, but shaken to see Teaspoon on the ground covered in blood. "Sweet Jesus."

"Blood's not mine, Son," Teaspoon mumbled. "See to Lopez. She took the brunt of the blast protectin' me."

"Need a couple of backboards over here." Sam yelled to the paramedics, who appeared almost before he stopped calling to them. They decided both would go by ambulance to the hospital.

Emma rushed over to her father and told Sam. "I'll stay with Pop. You do what you need to."

Sam nodded, made a check on the other wounded, and then sought out Tanner and Larabee. "Two of mine goin' to hospital, the rest treated, and released."

"Nathan is still decidin' ‘bout ours." Tanner answered as he watched the animated argument between Kelli and Nathan about her care. "Most are in fairly good shape, but it could have been much worse."

"Any idea about what the hell happened here?" Larabee looked from Vin to Sam for an answer.

Vin started. "All I know is Teaspoon got a text showin' a timer with a countdown and the word boom."

"I've got his phone. Reckon we should try and trace that text." Sam added.

"It's a start." Larabee noted that the fire department had the situation under control and the Ranger supervisor was on top of the incident."Ezra, tell that supervisor what we know, and explain that this is now an MCAT investigation. Someone tried to kill my agents. No one but us will be in charge." He turned to Buck and Josiah. "You two stay with Ezra. Snag whoever you need to get it done. I want a report A.S.A.P."

"On it." Buck acknowledged the order. "I'll keep Hickok and Cody here.”

Sam agreed and added. "You'll want JD on the trace I'm sure. McSwain can help with whatever he needs." He handed Teaspoon's phone to Dunne, who trotted off to grab Ike and head to the office.

Watching Nathan, Chris correctly assessed that Kelli had lost her argument about needing more evaluation. "Vin, you'll want to go with Kel, so Sam and I will meet you at the hospital. Sam, send the rest of your team to HQ to regroup. Tell them to stand by for further instructions. We'll tend to our wounded, then hunt this bastard down."

While Sam gave his recruits their orders, and Vin went with Kelli to the hospital. Chris gazed over the destruction. One thought running through his mind.

*We’ll find you, you son of a bitch. Whatever it takes.*

Chapter Eighteen

University Hospital, San Antonio Texas

Cain and Larabee arrived at the emergency room shortly after ten. Nathan was waiting for them, and started in as soon as men entered. " Lopez is in surgery, critical condition, Hunter is in X-ray, and Emma is with him, fair condition. Vin is with Kel in ER room 3. She has a few stitches in the leg she gashed on the loose rafter board, but should be released soon."

"I better get a couple SAPD officers up here to guard Lopez when she’s moved to a room. If Teaspoon stays, I know Emma will too. Our bomber might be lurkin' around." Sam pulled out his phone to make that call and swore. "Damn! Teaspoon wasn't the only one who got a text." He showed Chris the message he missed while he was inside during the exercise. It read: You ain't seen nothing yet Boss Man.

"You got any ideas on who sent it?"

"My gut says it's Marcus Jones. He has a background with explosives, and called me Boss Man a few times, but that's not proof."

Chris nodded. "From what you all told me about his attitude, he sounds capable of doing something like this. He just moved to the top of our suspect list." He looked down the hall and saw Vin and Kelli approaching. She walked with a slight limp, but otherwise seemed okay.

Vin handed Nathan her release papers." Six stitches and a bruised rib, should be fine in a day or so."

Kelli hugged her Dad. "Thanks for gettin' me down so fast, although...next time maybe do it without half-draggin' me over loose boards." She smiled to soften her remark.

"Better battered and bruised, than dead." Chris grinned. "I'm glad you're okay, that's all that counts.

"So what do we know?" Vin asked.

Sam showed him the text and repeated what his gut was telling him. "We can't discount revenge as a motive."

"Agreed." Vin looked at Chris. "I suggest the remainin' Charlie recruits be sworn in and made official A.S.A.P. Hell of a first case for them to investigate."

Larabee turned to Sam. "It's your call Cain, but I agree with Vin. We're taking lead, but they could certainly help and learn at the same time."

Sam would like Teaspoon to be included on this, but with him down and out at the moment, it fell on his shoulders. There was really no decision to make. His recruits were ready, and after today's attack, they deserved an opportunity to see this through. Later, when he knew more about Lopez's condition, he would deal with the final numbers. "Reckon it's a good thing the Commander is here to make Charlie Team official."

"Go ahead and get a couple SAPD officers here," Chris directed. "Soon as we know about Hunter and Lopez, we'll head back to the office and get it done. He turned to Kelli, "You might want to take the day..."

"Uh uh. I'm good for whatever needs doin', Dad." She was firm, and both Tanner and Larabee recognized the signs of her stubbornness surfacing.

*I'll keep watch on her, Chris.*

Chris knew that without Vin's support to make Kelli take off, it was not going to happen. "Fine, you win, but don't make me regret not benching you."

Sam closed his phone, looked up, and smiled when he saw his beautiful wife walking towards him. Reaching out for the hug they both needed, he asked, "How's Pop?"

"Stubborn as a mule." Emma sighed. " He's in there arguin' with the doc. He's battered and bruised, but insist on not stayin'. Thinks he's Superman, I reckon."

"If he's arguin', then it sounds like he's near his normal self." Sam chucked, feeling a wave of relief wash over him. Hugging Emma tighter he said, "Relax Red, the worst is over now. We'll deal with whatever aches and pains he has, and keep him slowed down as much as possible."

Larabee stepped away from the couple and motioned to Tanner. "Vin, you, Kel, and Nathan head over to HQ. I'll wait here with Sam, til we know about Hunter and Lopez and then ride back with them. Make sure JD puts a trace on the incoming texts to Sam's phone, and digs up everything he can on Marcus Jones. "He's our best bet at the moment, unless or until we can eliminate him as a suspect. You're taking lead on this, but allow as much interaction with Charlie Team as possible."

Sam saw what was Larabee was doing and added. "Rachel knows where the MCAT ID's and cell phones are. Have her get them out and ready. Anythin' else we need, let her know, she'll make it happen."

Vin nodded, "See y'all there."

MCAT Office- two hours later

Vin had Rachel contact Gunny about the paperwork they would need, and put the recruits to work running backgrounds when he arrived. He also instructed her to make arrangements for food to be delivered, to fuel everyone for the long hours of work ahead. Looking over the reports from Buck and Josiah, he was personally more certain Jones had to be involved in today's disaster. Time would tell if his gut instincts were right. He gathered Alpha Team to let them know where they stood.

"Chris called, Hunter was released, Lopez is in SICU, still critical, with a guard at the door. They're all on the way back here." Vin began issuing orders. "Ezra, set up a case review board. Josiah, a preliminary profile please. JD, keep tryin' your magic on tracin' that burner phone. Nathan, we'll need your assessment of injuries. Buck, gather the recruits in the conference room. Tell ‘em not to touch the folders on the table. Meetin' starts in 20 minutes."

Kelli knew what Vin was thinking and resigned herself to his protective nature. She sighed, "and me?"

"You, Missy ..." Vin, the husband, was reluctant to put her on anything at the moment, but the agent part of him knew her experience would probably come into play. "Just be on stand-by and rest that leg while you can. When this case gets hot, I may need you in the field.” To appease her need for being included, he added, “You can, however, sit and help me with the weapons for Charlie Team.”

War Room

On the huge round table place cards had been arranged with each recruits name on them. Around the room were laser screens and monitors showing an array of high-tech gizmos, images, and information. None of the Charlie Team recruits had been in this room before and noting the differences from their customary conference room, they were a bit in awe. Larabee, Hunter, Cain, and Tanner sat side-by side and provided an imposing show of solid leadership. While not sure about the why of the change, each was anxious to find some payback for today's events, and hopefully see action quickly.

As soon as everyone found their places, Vin stood . "We have a lot to cover, but before we do, we have some housekeepin' business to attend to. I want each Charlie Team recruit to remove your current ID's, your old assigned weapons, and cell phones. Lay them on the table in front of you." He waited while they did as told and JD picked up the ID’s and cells, while Nathan took the weapons.

"This mornin' events accelerated a few changes that need to be implemented. After consultin’ with Commander Larabee and your team leaders, we decided to include Charlie Team in our investigation. To do that y'all need official standin' as MCAT Agents." He nodded to Sam, who passed a folder around the table.

An excited stirring swept through the Charlie Team candidates at Tanner’s words.

Sam told them, "Take one sheet out and pass it on. You will see that this is a confidentiality agreement between you and MCAT. Read it, sign it, and pass it back. Rachel will be a witness to y'all's signatures."

Lou didn’t hesitate in signing the form as Cain instructed. As she passed her paper back to Sam, she glanced around, and saw that her fellow recruits were doing the same thing.

Once all the paper were returned, Vin continued, "JD is now givin’ y'all your new MCAT credentials and cells. This is the only phone you will carry. Keep it with you at all times. It has GPS tracking, threat alerts, and all the bells and whistles you can imagine. If you need help with it, or information off your old phones, see JD after we are done here.

Last, but not least, Nathan will now give you each an MCAT issued weapon assigned to you. If you prefer your own personal one, see your Captain for permission to use it. He will also give you information on how to turn in expenses for movin’ your families and personal belongin's to San Antonio. Normally we would have a bit more formality for this, but the circumstances today won't allow it. That bein' said, welcome to MCAT.”

A chorus of ‘woohoo’ erupted around the room from the new members of Charlie Team, despite the seriousness of the situation. Vin paused long enough to allow them to have their brief moment of celebration, before continuing.

“I know y'all are all anxious to jump in with both feet, and I wish there was time for this to all sink in for y'all but there's not. Let me explain what is goin' to happen. Alpha Team is takin' lead on today's bombin' investigation. I'm in charge and Captain Cain will be workin' closely with me. ACO Hunter, and Commander Larabee will be overseein' the operation.

This is an opportunity for y'all to 'get your feet wet' with a overt mission. Listen, follow orders, and learn. We'll start with a rundown of where we stand." He nodded to Nathan.

"All agents were treated and released with the exception of Trixie Lopez. She is in SICU, following emergency surgery, at University hospital in critical condition. A metal object was removed from her back and at this time she is paralyzed from the waist down. Next update from the doc will be at six."He glanced over at Chris. “It’s my understanding that Commander Larabee has contacted her sister, and the MCAT jet is on its way to pick her up and bring her here.”

A somber silence settled once again over the room. One of their own was fighting for her life and all were reminded that the danger level was ratcheted up a few notches with their new positions.

Buck began as Nathan sat down. "Preliminary reports from the sight indicated that the device used was a simple, but extremely effective one. A series of wiring connected to well placed c-4 was set at the base of the structure. The detonator was pre-set to go off at 9am. Unfortunately, there were no usable fingerprints recovered .We did however, determine that the 'signature' of the bomb making was similar to those used by the Rio Grande Cartel that usually operates near the border. The wiring and detonator was traced back to a shipment missing from a Border Patrol facility in Laredo."

Ezra stood at the electronic case board and sliding images across the screen, showed them pictures of members of the cartel.

In correlation to a display on the screen, Josiah gave a general profile. "Our subject chose not to be present when the bomb exploded, ruling out a need based perpetrator. That means he or she was satisfied to know what would happen without waiting to see the result. This person is egotistical enough to believe they are infallible, and confident enough in their abilities not to feel the need to oversee the completed act. I believe, at this time that whoever this is did not intend mass casualties, but was sending the message 'Look at me..see what I can do'."

“To state the obvious,” Emma spoke up from where she sat, “It was personal.”

“Precisely.” Josiah acknowledged.

JD continued. "The texts sent to Hunter and Cain traced back to a burner phone. Apparently used only the two times. It was bought from a lot sold from only four locations. We have security video from three of those stores and CASSIE is running facial recognition against them as we speak. The forth location had no video so if it was bought there we are SOL."

Vin noted the muttered remarks from around the room. " While we each may have an idea of who we think did this, we have no proof. Until we do, we don't rule out anyone or jump to conclusion we can't prove. Marcus Jones is indeed a person of interest. We know he has motive, but have yet to come across anythin' that shows he had the means and opportunity to pull this off. We are pursuin’ all avenues to find anythin’ that could link him to our crime, but we cannot discount the cartel or anyone else. MCAT has a lot of enemies, some of them wouldn’t hesitate attackin’ us here.

Our efforts for the rest of the day will concentrate on the men you see on that screen, as well as Marcus Jones. Until we know more, I want all of you to stay alert, watch your backs, and report anything that may seem out of the ordinary. Charlie Team, meet with Captain Cain in the small conference room for further orders. Dismissed."

While Charlie Team assembled again for Captain Cain, Emma approached him. "Sam, one of our team should be with Trixie. If she wakes up alone..."

"Already thought of that. I'm sendin’ you and Kidd over there." Sam saw her hesitate. "Don't worry, I'll keep tabs on Pop and Ramon has already threatened to go loco on him he doesn’t listen to the doc.”

Emma nodded and stepped back with her other team members.

Cain started. "I know a lot has happened in a short time, but celebrations come later, we have a job to do.

Kidd and Shannon, I want y'all to head over to the hospital and relieve SAPD. As long as we have a teammate in there, we will cover her in shifts. At midnight, Hickok and Dixon will replace you. Tomorrow mornin’ SAPD will relieve ya'll at six. " He watched as Emma and Kidd departed after warning them to keep their eyes open and watch their backs.

"The rest of you will stay here and assist with the info sent over by Marge Danvers, CO of the trainin’ facility. She is givin’ us a list of everyone scheduled to be there today. Cross-check their names for any connections to the cartel or any connections, no matter how small, on cases they may be workin’ on."

"Sir, are you suggestin’ that MCAT may not have been the target today?" Cody was certain Marcus was their man and did not understand why they were not focused solely on him.

"What I am sayin’ is we will not rule out anythin’ at this point. Until we can, all options are on the table." Cain understood their thinking, but he knew from years of experience that emotions and facts did not always coincide. "Supper will be here soon, continue workin' with Alpha Team and ...keep your minds open."

The hour grew late and still there was no sign of Marcus Jones’s whereabouts or any luck with facial recognition.

Ike watched as JD keep pulling information from the CASSIE terminal "I knew CASSIE was good, but I had no clue she was the eighth wonder of the world. I am impressed."

JD beamed at the compliment to his creation. "This is small stuff for her, wait til you really see her in action. I promise, CASSIE will surprise and impress you every day you work with her."

"I suppose I have a lot to learn then." Ike smiled. He was looking forward to playing with all the new toys MCAT provided.

Both men turned their attention to Captain Tanner when he whistled.

Vin waited for the noise to die down and made sure he had everyone's attention. "It's almost midnight. I want you all to go home, get some rest, clear your minds, and we'll start over at 8am tomorrow." He sensed the reluctance of Charlie Team to leave. "The best tool we have to work with is not all the flashin’ gizmos you see around ya. It's the minds of dedicated agents, who are smart enough to realize that exhaustion is not what is needed to think straight and have sharp reflexes. Now...go."

Sam stood by Tanner as the agents filed out. "Hard way for them to learn, on a case like this."

"Yeah, but it will either make or break ‘em. Better now while we are here, than later when they have no safety net." Vin smiled. "By the way. How did you get Teaspoon to go home earlier?"

Cain laughed. "I told him if he stayed, I was gonna cut him out of the info loop completely." He glanced at his watch. "I'm gonna pick up Emma at the hospital. Hickok and Dixon should be there soon. Night Vin."

Vin nodded. "I have a feelin' that tomorrow we'll catch a break. Hopefully this is one investigation that will not drag on. Just so you know, Alpha Team is stayin’ here. See ya in the mornin'"

“We’ll be here bright and early.” Sam made his departure.

As Lou pulled her rental vehicle into a parking stall at her hotel, her thoughts were swirling. Her hard work had paid off, and she was now a member of Charlie Team. Her excitement was dampened though by the explosive events of the day, and the fact that one of her teammates was fighting for her life.

Even though they couldn’t rule out other possible suspects as being behind that day’s bombing, Lou was certain it was Marcus. Wearily she slid out from behind the wheel and made her way to her room. Key card in hand, Lou thought she heard a noise. She glanced quickly around the dimly lit hallway, but didn’t see anyone.

She shrugged and inserted her card, opened the door, and stepped inside. She hit the light switch, and had just a moment to register that her room was in total disarray. A slight sound behind her, made her aware that she wasn’t alone in the room, and she whirled around to face the intruder.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

Chapter Nineteen

MCAT Office 6:30am

After a stop to make arrangements for food, Sam, Emma, and Teaspoon arrived together, surprised to see the office already filled with working agents. Cain glanced at his watch as they approached Tanner. "Mornin', a catered breakfast is on the way, but didn't we say eight?”

Teaspoon looked around, and smiled, showing pride in their choice of agents. "They all here?”

Tanner explained. "Not all yet, but y'all's team began arrivin' around five, Ike is gettin' a crash course on CASSIE with JD. Hickok, and Dixon came over as soon as SAPD relieved 'em at the hospital, Kidd got here ‘bout thirty minutes ago. Reckon they're all anxious to show the bosses they are self-starters.”

Emma excused herself. "I'm gonna find Sanchez and see if I can help him."

Sam nodded. "On your way, see Rachel. Let her know about the breakfast plans." He told Vin. "I checked with the hospital, too. Trixie's sister is there, and there’s no change in her condition."

"Tough break for a woman her age." Tanner hated to see it happen to any agent, but the young ones were the hardest. "If you and Teaspoon are ready for an update, we can join Chris in the conference room."

Chris hung up the phone just as the three men entered. "Travis is on the warpath, he takes offense when someone tries to blow up his agents."

"I'm not so happy 'bout it myself." Teaspoon commented as he gingerly sat down. "Had to fight my kids and son-in-law just to be here. They think I should be home restin'."

"I hear you. Been there a time or two myself." Larabee grinned as he handed Sam a stack of folders. "Your morning threat assessments, Captain."

Sam looked at the stack and sighed. "Reckon my agents aren't the only ones thrown into the deep end of the pool."

Vin nodded. "Yours are the same as mine, nothin' there won't hold. CASSIE ran all night, checkin' other personnel scheduled to be on the range. Any connection to the cartel to merit this kind of attack, is unlikely. No luck on who bought the burner phone, but JD did manage to triangulate the call." He passed Sam a map. " Since we can't rule Jones out, you might wanna send a couple of your agents with a picture of him to all the motels within this range. He appears to have gone off grid, but he has to stay somewhere."

"Didn't really think the cartel was involved. It's been my experience that they are more in your face with automatic weapons." Sam nodded thoughtfully. “I'll send Cross and Cody, maybe we'll get lucky." He stood to find the two, but first sent Teaspoon an intense look. "Remember your promise."

Teaspoon held up his hand. "I know, I know, behind the scenes or off the case." He ignored the wide grins Larabee and Tanner displayed.

MCAT Bullpen 9am

Breakfast finished, all agents were accounted for except Lou McCloud. Cain was concerned because he had her pegged as one who would be in early. Trying her MCAT cell he received no answer. "Kidd, Dixon, y'all head over to McCloud's motel. If she overslept, wake her butt up." He handed them the address.

"On it." Kidd nodded to Dixon and both left in a hurry.

"Yes!" JD shouted, drawing everyone's attention to the Cassie area.

Tanner knew that yell. The kid had something. "You wanna share with the rest of us?"

"I've been digging deep on Marcus Jones. Aside from his run-ins with other women agents, he has two ex-wives. Both filed charges of domestic violence on him, but dropped them before they divorced. That's why he showed clean in the initial background search. And...there's more. Jones grew up in Laredo, Texas. He went to school with and was close friends with a Joseph Estrada."

That name registered with Sam. "Joseph Estrada is a lieutenant with the Rio Grande Cartel. I've crossed paths with him a time or two as a Ranger."

"If they were friends and learned together how to make bombs, that would explain why the signature was so close to the ones the cartel uses." Teaspoon added his thoughts.

For Tanner the pieces were beginning to fall into place. "Good work JD. We had the connection right, but the wrong people. It wasn't law enforcement targeted by the cartel, but Jones usin' an old friendship to obtain supplies. Now we have motive, means, and he sure as hell had the opportunity."

"He is still off the grid, but I sent his picture to all vehicle rental places, the SAPD, and issued a statewide BOLO naming Marcus Jones as a person of interest." JD informed them.

Josiah nodded. "It makes sense that when Jones felt rejected by MCAT, he would try to connect to someone from his past he knew well. His present life is a mess, he lost his future, has no job to return to, and no reason to play by the rules. For him, at this point, he has nothing to lose, and should be considered extremely dangerous."

"As of now we focus all our attention on findin' Marcus Jones." Tanner ordered. "I don't care how many rocks y'all have to turn over, or how far we have to go, to do it."

Sam's cell rang and he stepped back to answer. Listening to Cody's report, he replied. "Stay where y'all are and don't touch anythin'. We can be there in twenty minutes." He moved closer to the others. "Cody and Cross found the room Jones was usin'. No sign of him, but his truck is in the parkin' lot, and from what they saw in the room, it appears that's where he made the bomb."

"Nathan, Buck, go with Cain. Go over every inch of that room, find us somethin' to work with." Vin noted Larabee moving toward the door. He felt a gentle reminder to his Commander was necessary. "Chris, you and Teaspoon are here as administration. So administrate, and leave the field work to our agents."

Chris nodded and sighed. It galled him to admit that Vin was right, but he had to agree with Director Travis though. Sometimes the administration part of this job sucked big-time. "Transmission received and noted, Captain."

Twenty minutes later Rachel took an urgent call from Noah Dixon. "Captain Tanner, Agent Dixon is on the phone, line one."

Vin used the closest desk, punched one, and connected. After listening to Noah's report he told him, "Start a canvas, see if anyone saw or heard anythin'. Leave the room as you found it. I'm on the way." He turned to the other agents in the room. "McCloud's room was tossed, her car is there, but she isn't." Knowing Jones's history with women, he was reluctant to order either Kelli or Emma out on this one until they knew where Jones was. Maybe he was overreacting, but he was not willing to make them a target. "Josiah, Ezra, with me. Coulter, put out a missin' person report on our agent and get us a copter on stand-by. Shannon, have an SAPD unit meet us there, and you stay on the radio to correlate the two scenes for me. JD..."

"On it." JD knew what was expected from him, find Jones's mode of transportation.

Lou's Motel Room

Ezra stopped going through the rubble in the room and told Vin. " Her cell is here, but badge and weapon are missing, and according to the print scanner, it was definitely Jones. This mayhem probably occurred before McCloud arrived. The clock broke at midnight and we know she departed the office at twenty of, the timing is about right. He was waiting for her.”

Josiah stood in the doorway, reading the scene before him. While nothing he saw surprised him, he was disheartened to note the rage behind the senseless act of destruction.. "He's spiraling out of control. McCloud represents his failures, and is now the target of his anger and blame. If he hasn't killed her yet, it's only a matter of time before he does."

Vin asked. "You think he'll wait and target our other women agents before he does?"

"I doubt it, he has Lou; to him she represents them all." Josiah thought for a moment before adding. "Expect him to do something dramatic and attention seeking."

Dixon walked in. "Kidd and I have talked to everyone we could find in the area. Big surprise, no one saw or heard anything."

"Wherever he is, he's long gone from here and Sam said his motel room looked like he wasn't plannin' on returnin'. Let's head back to HQ and decide how to get our agent back." Tanner stepped outside and motioned to the SAPD officers "Secure this scene, and keep someone posted here until further notice.”

MCAT Office

All agents worked intently to find a lead on Marcus Jones's whereabouts. The general consensus among them was that time was short for any chance of rescuing Lou.

Teaspoon watched Larabee as he observed his agents. “It’s damn hard for me to stand back and let them run with it. How do you do it?"

Chris turned to face the older man. "It is hard, but they are the best at what they do and sure as hell don't need an Assistant Director hovering over them."

"I didn't think I'd miss bein' in the thick of things this much.'" Teaspoon had been calling on every ounce of restraint he could muster.

Chris nodded. "It's damn sure something I'm not used to. This ADD stuff is not for me, but I'll hang in there until Bravo and Charlie Teams are ready to stand alone." He looked back out at the bullpen. "You made good choices. Working with Alpha Team, we'll get your agent back. From what I read in her file, that's one tough lady. All she has to do is hang in there until we find her.”


Hands and feet bound, Lou tried to ignore the pounding in her head. Her efforts last night to elude Marcus Jones had ended up with her in a lot of pain, but she did get in a few good blows before he knocked her out. One thing she understood loud and clear..the man had lost it.

Sitting on the cold concert floor of an abandon warehouse, she studied him as he paced like a wild animal. Jones rambled on and on, alternating between rage and conviction that MCAT would still hire him once they saw his capabilities.

Clasping her badge in his hand, he stopped pacing and shouted at her. "Those stupid bastards made YOU a fucking MCAT agent! No women should be allowed in law enforcement! Women are clingy, and too damn emotional for this job." He stepped menacingly closer to her. "Look at you. Not so big and bad now are you?" He backhanded her across the face. " I wish I had that redheaded bitch and Cain's whore here. I'd show all of you how tough men can be."

That hit hurt like hell, but Lou refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. She instinctively knew antagonizing him in any way would not be in her best interest. Somehow she had to convince him that she was not a threat and watch for her opportunity to make a move.

"You are right, I see that now. I was only fooling myself into believing I could measure up. Captain Cain should have picked you over me. It was the right thing to do."

"Your damn right it was." Marcus snarled as he roughly reached out to pull her to her feet. "He's going to pay; him and all the rest of those sonsofbitches who think they are so smart." He trailed the barrel of his gun from her neck downward. "If I kept you, I'd show you what women are supposed to do. Which is, keep quiet, pleasure men, and follow orders."

Lou cringed at the implication of his words, but forced herself to show submission. With her head down, she said. "Yes, Sir."

Grabbing her hair, he jerked her head up. "Don't patronize me! You and I both know you think you’re equal to a man. Well, you're not. You were put on this earth to be used, and I'm going to use you to send a message to your beloved Captain. Now move!." He shoved her forward, toward the truck he had stolen last night. “We need new wheels.”

Blood trailing into her eyes, Lou tried to stay standing. The ropes around her ankles, making that difficult. She thought about her siblings, and prayed for the strength to hold on, knowing that her teammates were looking for her and would find her...soon.

Chapter Twenty

MCAT Office 2:30 pm

Tanner was snapping at just about everyone when he sensed Kelli at his side. She gently steered him into an empty side room. "Vin, you gettin' surly is not gonna make things move any faster."

"I know," he sighed. "He's had Lou more than twenty -four hours though, and my gut says her time is runnin' out."

Kelli placed her hand on his cheek. "You have the best team in the world out there to find her. Trust 'em."

"You're right and I'm bein' an ass." He hugged her and immediately found his inner calm again. It still amazed him that his wife had no clue how her mere presence affected his temperament, but he knew. "How's the leg?"

"Good for whatever you need me to do, Captain." Answering in agent mode was meant to get Vin back to a working frame of mind.

Vin smiled. "Then get your butt back to work, Agent Coulter."

Chris observed what Kelli did, and nodded. Another few minutes and he would have pulled Vin aside himself, but whatever she said to him worked. He sensed the calm surrounding Tanner as he emerged from the side room only moments after his wife.

Teaspoon nudged Larabee. "Emma and Sam are like that too. They each instinctively know what the other one needs."

"With the work we do, it's a good thing. Balance is not always easy to come by." Chris thought for a moment. "Sam is getting a crash course too, today. I'm glad to see that he's as good as you said he was."

"Charlie Team is in good hands, Chris. Sam is up for whatever the job calls from him..." Teaspoon stopped when a flurry of activity started around the CASSIE Desk. Both men moved closer to see what was going on."

JD was explaining to Vin, "I've been monitoring police reports. A witness saw a man matching Jones' description steal an SUV about an hour ago. Said he thought he saw a woman being pushed inside. I have the tag number and already plugged into the GPS on the vehicle."

"Get me a map." Vin ordered. "We're gonna herd that bastard right to us." He looked at Teaspoon and Larabee. "Y'all wanna jump in, this is what you can do." He spread the map on one of the desk. "We need him to go where we want. If we use SAPD and the Rangers we can spook him enough to go our way, and then tighten the net as he gets clear of the city traffic."

Sam nodded as he realized what Vin was aiming for and pointed to a spot on the map. "If we can get him here, there's high ground for a sniper and little traffic."

Teaspoon saw it too. "I'll contact Captain Murdock at Ranger Company 'D', they love a good round-up."

Chris too, saw what had to happen. " JD, if you can get his track on a laptop, we'll grab a chopper and trail him from a distance. We can correlate with ground units to keep him on the move."

"Did and done." JD went to work and told McSwain.. "Ike, you fly with Larabee and Hunter. Keep us all connected."

"Will do." Ike was more than ready to prove he had the know-how to keep Charlie Team electronically connected. The fact that JD had confidence in him, made it all that much sweeter.

"Sam, Charlie and Alpha Teams will set up a roadblock here." Vin noted the spot and looked over to Larabee and Hunter. "Y'all drive the bastard to us and we'll do the rest."

Larabee nodded. "Lock and Load, boys and girls. It's time for this son of a bitch to face MCAT."

Within thirty minutes, Alpha and Charlie Teams had the roadblock set up, vests on, and headsets working. The Rangers and SAPD were herding Jones in their direction, while Larabee and Hunter had eyes on the vehicle from above.

"Kel, I want you up there." Vin pointed to the highest point around. "You have a green light, if you get the shot. Cody, your gonna spot for her."

"Hickok and Kidd, y'all arm yourselves and use the SUV on the right for cover." Sam told them and then turned to his remaining team members. "Shannon and Dixon, y'all do the same on the left. Cross, I want you in the middle."

Charlie Team followed their orders, but wondered among themselves about what Alpha Team was planning to do.

In the meantime Kelli and Cody reached their designated position. While she readied her rifle and adjusted her scope, Cody scanned the area, giving her measures of distance. They both heard the radio call from Larabee and prepared themselves for a shot that could mean life or death for Lou McCloud.

"Eta 6 minutes."

Tanner asked Sam. "You ready?"

"Good to go." He stood next to Vin as Buck, Josiah, Ezra, Nathan and JD spread out beside them in front of the vehicles blocking the road. Standing shoulder to shoulder the seven men formed a human barricade. If Jones wanted passed, he would have to go through them.

Charlie Team members watched as the men they had come to admire and respect displayed an inspiring, but also intimidating picture of bravado.

Marcus was aware of the tail he picked up, but he was certain it was only temporary. Grinning as he drove faster, he had the feeling he was just about home free. No way would he allow SAPD or any Ranger to stop him. In a couple of minutes he would be out of the city limits, lose the San Antonio cops, and be on his way to Mexico , left with only a few Rangers to eliminate. He looked over at his hostage. "As soon as I lose the last of my bird dogs, you are history."

Gagged, Lou could not answer in words, but sent a scathing glare his way.

Approaching a curve, he slowed briefly, and then slammed on the brakes, when he saw what lay twenty feet ahead. An imposing blockade of MCAT agents waited on him. "What the fuck?"

Jones started to back up, but while he was looking ahead, the Rangers had blocked his retreat. The sound of an engine alerted him to the helicopter hovering above. The realization that he had nowhere to go began to sink in.

Marcus made his decision. MCAT might win, but the cost would be high. "They want me, it'll be after I kill you, bitch." He opened the door and dragged Lou out with him.

Tanner yelled. "Let her go Jones, it's over."

Using Lou as a shield, he yelled back. "Move out of the way or she dies." He jammed his gun barrel to the back of her head. "Even if you shoot me, I'll kill her as I go down."

Above them, Kelli zeroed in on her target. She heard Cody say, "Four hundred sixty yards, wind from the north, 5 mph."

Marcus shouted, "I'm waiting."

"It's not gonna happen." Vin told him.

"Then I guess you lose an agent." Resigned that his run was over, Jones' s finger tightened on the trigger.

Lou closed her eyes and waited for the moment that would end her life. A shot rang out, and blood splattered over her, as Marcus slumped to the ground. Her eyes popped open as she slid down to the ground and slowly realized, that her captor was the one dead, not her.

Sam ran forward to retrieve his agent, with Nathan close on his heels, carrying his medical bag. Working together they freed Lou from her restraints. Jackson began a medical assessment of McCloud's injuries, washing Jones's bodily fluids from her face, to reveal the myriad bruises beneath.

Placing a hand on her shoulder, Sam said, "Welcome back, Agent McCloud."

He nodded for Nathan to continue.

Vin approached Jones's body and kicked his weapon aside. He knew Kelli's shot nailed him, but was impressed to see how accurate she was. He spoke into the headset, "Good shot Coulter."

Teaspoon's voice carried over the head set. "Well done, all of you. We're headed back to the office."

As the clean up began and the coroner was alerted. Each Charlie Team agent reflected on the events of the past twenty-four hours. They had witnessed firsthand why Alpha Team was called magnificent and the trust they displayed in each other's abilities was extraordinary. They vowed to do their best, to follow Alpha Team's example.

Lou insisted that she was all right and refused to go to the hospital. By six, both teams were gathered together at the MCAT office. Another case closed with a check in the win column for MCAT.

Commander Larabee addressed them. "Hell of a way to begin your MCAT careers, but you all showed outstanding teamwork out there today. Job well done." He glanced from one tired agent to the next. "Alpha Team will be leaving in the morning, but that doesn't mean y'all are off our radar. Agent Coulter is your team liaison with the Colorado office, I expect you will see her often. The next couple of months will be comprised of further training and new cases. This unit has strong leadership and skilled agents, an unbeatable combination in my book. I expect nothing but good reports about Charlie Team in the weeks and months to come. We will also see all of you in Denver next week for Director Travis's dinner." He looked over to Sam. "Captain Cain, they are all yours."

Sam nodded and took over. "Our thanks to you Commander for your support, and to Alpha Team for givin' their time to help launch Charlie Team. While we may never surpass y'all collective accomplishments, we plan to come damn close." He waited while his team members laughed and expressed their agreement. "Seriously, we will do whatever is necessary to follow the path y'all have set for MCAT and we are proud to be a part of the legacy y'all are buildin'. Now, Charlie Team, go home, recoup, call your families, start your movin' plans, and be here by eight in the mornin', ready to work."

Lou started to leave, and then realized she was not sure where to go. Her room had been trashed and she had no vehicle here to use.

Cross stepped forward for the group of her teammates. "We're all going to help you get your belongings and settled into a new room."

Surprised, Lou was not sure what to say, but managed a few words. "You are all tried, and don't have to worry about me."

Kidd shook his head. "She doesn't get it yet does she?"

Noah smiled."What he means is, we are a team. If ones needs, we all need."

Pleased to see their actions, Sam patted her on the back, and handed her the badge and weapon found in Jones' stolen truck."I believe these belong to you."

"Lou's riding with me and Hickok." Cody took Lou's arm. "I'm driving."

"I call shotgun." Hickok smiled and hurried ahead.

Cross grinned at McSwain, "Guess you're with me."

"Lead on." Ike suddenly felt less tired. This teamwork stuff had its merits.

Vin nudged Sam in the ribs and smiled. "They'll do."

"Let's get out of here." Buck suggested. "I'm hungry."

"You're always hungry, Buck. What else is new?" JD laughed, continuing to tease Wilmington as they headed for the door.

Josiah, Ezra and Nathan stayed out of the banter, and followed their brothers.

"Supper's waitin' and y'all are probably ready for a good night's sleep." Sam said as he pulled out his keys to lock up. He and Emma were more than ready to see this day end, as were Chris, Vin, and Kelli.

Teaspoon stopped at the door and told Emma. "I'll be right along, but I have a stop to make first." He noted her worried frown, and patted her back. "Gonna run by the hospital to see Trixie, nothin' strenuous."

Hunter Acres

Teaspoon walked in just as supper was ready. His thoughts were on the young woman he had just left at the hospital.Being told you were paralyzed at her age was hard, but she assured him that if she had it to do over she would do the same thing again. Said she had done a lot of wrong things in her past for what she thought were good reasons, but MCAT had showed her the error in her thinking. In spite of her injuries, it felt good to finally do the right thing for the right reason.

"You're just in time, Pop. You wanna say grace for us?" Emma looked at him expectantly.

"Absolutely." He sat down. "Heavenly Father, you have blessed this family, and we ask that you also bless and protect our friends as they make their journey home. Amen."

As the food was passed around he reflected on the faces of the men and women around the table. They had walked into the fire on this case, and now sat before him. All alive, all together and all now bonded as part of his extended family.


Denver. Colorado
February 16th

Within a week of swearing in as MCAT agents, Charlie Team found themselves, along with their families, whisked away on the agency's private Lear jet, destined for Colorado.

It had certainly been one hell of a week. A major case assigned, signing confidentially agreements, an explosion, kidnapping, injuries to new teammates, finding permanent residences, new high tech equipment revealed, and taking a moment to just breath. All of this handed to the newly formed team at warp speed.

The past two days had also been a revelation. Touring the main MCAT office, viewing the awesome forensic lab available to process evidence they would collect during future investigations, seeing the main CASSIE terminal, meeting the other agents, as well as, Director Travis, and then enjoyed an evening at the Larabee 7 Ranch, where they met the families of Alpha Team members, all added to the whirlwind of events experienced in such a short time.

And now, here they were, seated at a dinner to honor MCAT, in a room filled with VIPs. It was a lot to take in.

Teaspoon settled in his seat at one of the huge round tables assigned to Charlie Team. Observing the men and women of the unit he was responsible for and, who were quickly feeling like family to him, he was taking time to simply enjoy.

On his right, Emma and Sam were sharing a special moment. He watched as his son-in-law leaned forward and whispered something in Emma's ear that earned him a playful laugh from his wife.

As his gaze traveled past them and settled on Kidd and Lou, Hunter smiled. Hearing enough of their animated conversation to ascertain they were discussing the batting averages of their favorite baseball players. Teaspoon was glad to see the younger woman enjoying herself after the harrowing experience she had lived through at the hands of Marcus Jones.

Beyond the two agents, sat McCloud's younger siblings, Teresa and Jeremiah, who were in the process of getting better acquainted with Kidd's fourteen year old daughter, Katerina.

At the adjoining table, he saw Cross and McSwain, interacting with members of Bravo Team, while Dixon was introducing his lovely wife, Jayda, to Bravo Team Captain Michaels' wife.

He noted that neither Hickok or Cody had elected to bring anyone to Colorado for this special occasion. Both men were now engaged in deep conversation with their team liaison, Agent Kelli Coulter. Teaspoon had to laugh. Kelli was dressed to kill and from across the room her husband, Captain Tanner was keeping a close eye on his wife and the two younger agents. Teaspoon reckoned he had seen that same look on Sam's face a time or two when Emma met with her male colleagues.

Watching Orrin Travis and his lovely Evie, mingle with the guests, brought back a rush of memories. Sighing deeply, Teaspoon's thoughts turned to his late wife, Maria Elena would have loved all of this, and at this moment he sorely missed her presence. When she died, he thought he would never feel truly alive again, but little did he know that a fateful call from his old friend Orrin, would change that.

He chose to believe that even after death, his beloved Maria Elena knew what he needed, and had some small part in setting him on a new course in life. It would never be the same as when she was here, but it was good.

Teaspoon smiled as he remembered the prophetic words Chris Larabee gave him on their first meeting,

"Expect the unexpected."

That he could do, and was looking forward to experiencing whatever his future with MCAT offered.


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