Written by Tannertexaslady
With Sue M, who contributed her ideas, and wrote several great scenes for Fire & Rain. Her story, ‘Just Couldn’t Wait’ inspired this one.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Feedback is welcome and appreciated, but save the flames for the barbeque.
Characters: Vin, Chris, Ezra, Buck, Josiah, JD, & Nathan. In addition, there are additional original characters, the Wild Bunch, and the MCAT team. <Guest appearance by OW JD>
Rating: Gen- Het, some violence and profanity included.
Disclaimer: This story is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from “The Magnificent Seven.” I don’t own 'em, but if I did I would run away with ‘em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘em away. I play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction. Any references to locations or people are only for story use and do not intend to depict any real place or person.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) Yes, it contains mystery, action, anguish, and het relationships. Further background and information on the characters of MCAT and the Larabee 7 families is available @ Magnificent Seventh Heaven
MCAT: Turbulent Transitions, the foundation series for this AU is complete and archived @ Blackraptor.
MCAT: Strength & Solidarity ~ Series of stories which center on the Seven's intrinsic bonds of friendship and brotherhood, forces which have no boundaries.
# 4 ~ Fire and Rain ~ Dramatic life changes come for the residents of Larabee 7 when tragedy hits the Wild Bunch. Chris faces losing custody of his children, a marriage is in ruins, and no one is unaffected by the turn of life-altering events. The ramifications are far-reaching and devastating. Questioned loyalties divide the seven, and answers are difficult to come by.
From Sue ~ My thanks to Sherry for having enough faith in me to write in an AU out of my comfort zone. I've enjoyed our time together...even the early morning writing fuelled by Muse interference! LOL Thanks also to the girls from Muse...your encouragement and help has been phenomenal.
From Sherry ~ Wendy thanks for the beta, bouncing ideas around, and your support. Sue, your muse started this and I’m glad you stuck around to help make it happen. Jan, I love your creative ideas; they do tend to make me smile. Jo, Mary Ann, Lisa, Robijean, and the rest of the M7Muse ladies… y’all are the best. Thanks for the critiques, suggestions, and encouragement along the way.
Bountyhunter’slady, the collage you created for Fire and Rain is awesome. All of your collages amaze me, and I appreciate the art you have contributed to the MCAT Series.
Notes: Any mistakes are mine. I'm a Texan, born and raised. I speak Texan, understand it, and write it, as I know it. The original characters created for this series belong to the authors who created them. All chapter liner quotes written by tannertexaslady, except where noted by *. The story takes place after, and refers to events, which transpired in Sue M’s, ‘Just Couldn’t Wait’
A glossary of Law Enforcement terms used in this series is located @ http://www.tannertexaslady.com/Whatdidtheysay.html
Sunday, February 3 ~ Chris’s Journal
I have neglected writing down my thoughts lately, but to be fair, I have been somewhat busy. It is hard to believe we are only one month into the New Year… seems much longer. Right now, I am captive in my own home, on crutches again after undergoing surgery last Friday. Vin and Kelli accompanied me to the hospital where I had outpatient surgery. Doctor Thorp used a laser of some kind and according to him, my knee will be better than the original in a few short weeks. Tomorrow I can ditch the crutches and replace them with a walking brace. Tuesday I return to work.
Vin is recovering from his own surgery, and will be attending physical therapy with me. We should both heal about the same time. I came close to losing him last week when an arrest went bad, and in spite of wearing a vest, a bullet managed to enter his shoulder, breaking up his collarbone. Luckily, it did not shift far enough to hit his carotid artery or he would not be here.
I almost lost Buck too, not to death, but burnout. He is back with us again after saving Ezra from a bomb intended to blow him to kingdom come. He appeared relieved when he found out about the configuration of the new teams, and I’m beginning to think he never wanted to be a supervisor or a Captain anyway. Yet, I am not certain Buck has wrangled all the inner demons that drove him away in the first place. All of us will be there for him, but knowing he will not get his copy of ‘Legends of the Quest’ until later, concerns me. What else does he have to experience before it happens?
Worry about my children has taken up much of the past month. Grace is doing better since Caitlyn suggested letting her attend Reins daycare. I know I still have some big hurdles to overcome with her in the future, but for the moment, she is happy. I try to control my feelings of resentment against Linda, but it is difficult. Not having a mother is one thing, having one who shows so little concern for her children is abominable. Grace is fortunate to have so much family on Larabee 7 who love her. It does not make up for what Linda did, but it does give her security. Caitlyn is fantastic with her and her presence in Grace’s life has made a huge difference. Cody is too young yet, to know he is missing a mother in his life, but his time is coming.
Kelli is rebounding from her horrid experience with Ice. Sometimes I hate the fact that the woman is dead, because in my opinion, she did not suffer nearly enough for what she did. Kelli suffered too long and the loss she and Vin endured damn near destroyed them both. The only good thing to come of it all is that Kelli and I have a stronger father-daughter relationship. The years we were apart are not as much of an issue now as they were when we first started out.
Still, Ice’s actions left me fighting the urge to slip into a destructive mode of hatred and vengeance. I am determined not to give in though; it would be too easy to slip back into the hell it took me years to crawl out of after Sarah and Adam died. The damn codes Ice left as a parting gesture has JD temporarily stumped, but eventually he will break it and identify the person or persons responsible for Sarah and Adam’s death, of that I have no doubt. I plan to make certain justice is served. All I have to do is practice patience. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, given the shit that keeps happening around me, and to my family. I keep working on the bad feelings and talking it over with my NA sponsor, Mike, helps. What I learned at NA, and having six brothers around to support me make it bearable.
Our caseload at work has been a bitch, but with this last assignment wrapped up, I hope for a slowdown. At least until we work out all the details on the MCAT expansion teams and the construction crew completes the major remodeling of our office space. On one hand, I think it is exciting, on the other, I dread change, and the extra time involved for me as Assistant Director of MCAT Operations, overseeing the actions of three units. Travis calls it progress; I call it a pain in the ass.
Another surprising thing happened this month. I realized I could still enjoy a woman’s company without feeling guilty about taking time from my babies. Although I fought admitting it, it is nice to sit and talk with Caitlyn. She is intelligent, caring, direct, and easy on the eyes. Grace thinks the world of her, and while I have and will keep insisting we are only friends, she has entered my thoughts more often than I care to admit…yet. I am not convinced now is a good time to consider another relationship but…. who knows where we could end up? I suppose time will tell.
Cowboy’s words echoed across the ages of time - Embrace the past, cherish the future, and fight like hell for today.
Chris could do that, this was his destiny and they were after all, his family and for Chris Larabee family was everything -allied by the timeless bonds of friendships and brotherhood, which tie us all to our past and gifts us with the promise of tomorrow-
Now we continue …three months later.
MCAT Strength & Solidarity # 4
Fire and Rain
Chapter 1~ Fire and Rain
We are awakened, restored, and renewed
the bonds of desire have led me to you
*Fire of the Newly Arrived ~Rosanne Cash
Reins of Change ~ Saturday Afternoon May 24
Caitlyn stood in silence by the barn door, reluctant to intrude on the moment. When Chris agreed to talk to Jesse for her, she had no idea the bond the two forged could be so strong or that her foster son would respond this well to Chris’s influence. Yet he did. Even when their CPS caseworker Carmen Johnson broke the news about a couple willing to adopt Kyle and Tara, Jesse seemed to be happy for the young brother and sister, showing no signs of insecurity concerning his own position in her home.
“Time for the final test, let’s find out if this contraption fits Toby.” Over the past several weeks, Chris had spent many hours teaching Jesse how to first design, work the leather, and cut the pieces to create a bridle for his horse. He examined the leatherwork and put away the last of the tools, then handed the finished project to Jesse.
After a moment of hesitation, Jesse reached for the bridle. Chris Larabee was the first man in his life who made time to spend with him, not out of obligation, but because he chose to. Learning how to design and work the leather was a bonus. Jesse wanted this project to turn out right, not to prove his abilities, but more than anything he did not want to disappoint a man he had come to respect.
Jesse slipped the bridle over his horse’s nose, and broke into a grin. “We did it!”
“You did all the work, son,” Chris corrected him; “I only guided you a bit.”
Jesse caught sight of Cait standing inside the barn, and was proud to show off his accomplishment. “I made Toby a new bridle,” he turned to Chris with a smile, “almost, all by myself.”
“Perhaps you’ll consider making a new one for Moon Shadow, she…and I… would love it.” Cait stepped up to stand beside Chris.
Jesse glanced first at Chris, who nodded in return. “Sure, we can do that.”
Cait did not miss the wordless exchange between the two. “I’ll look forward to seeing what you create for her. In the meantime, I came over to tell you Willard needs your help. The last riding class left a mess in the arena and he’s grumbling.”
“On my way,” he said, hanging up Toby’s bridle. “Thanks, Chris. See you tomorrow?”
“You bet.” A big smile reinforced his words. “Buck and Vin built an enclosed playground for the little ones, but Cody, Grace, Trey, Bren, and Tannis are walking or rather running all the time now. I’m counting on you to help me corral them at Cody’s birthday party.”
Cait slipped her arms around Chris, giving him a hug. “You are good for him.”
“Jesse is a great kid, I enjoy his company.” Chris returned her hug, letting his hand linger on her hips. “You’re not so bad yourself. I enjoy your company too. Just wished we had more time together… alone.”
“Me too, but with my obligations at Reins, group therapy, Jesse, Willard, the Wild Bunch, MCAT, Grace, Cody, and Dottie, I am beginning to think it’s not possible.”
Chris’s grin brightened, “Ah, but Dottie is gone until Monday. Vin and Kelli took my kids for the night and you promised to help me prepare for Cody’s birthday party tomorrow.” He leaned back to place his hands on her shoulders. “You haven’t changed your mind have you?”
“No I’m good to go. The last class of the weekend is over, and I’ve cleared my schedule, but Jesse…”
He stopped her, “…knows you’re going to help me. He’s okay with it,” he read the uncertainty in her eyes, “trust me.”
One of the things Caitlyn was certain of after four months of dating Chris Larabee, he was a man she trusted. He was also a man she liked, respected, and was pleased to call a good friend. “Let’s get started.”
Three hours later, they had wrapped the presents, prepared the decorations to put up first thing in the morning, and Cody’s birthday cake was baking in the oven. They decided to think about dinner.
“Damn,” he said looking inside the filled refrigerator. “You’d guess with this much food ready to barbeque tomorrow; we’d find some kind of leftovers for tonight.”
“I assume Dottie cleaned out the old stuff to make room for the party fare.” She opened the pantry and scanned its contents. “Not much here, but we…” A knock on the back door interrupted her sentence.
Chris answered it to find Kelli standing in front of him with her hands full of foil-covered plates. He reached to take some from her. “What’s all this?”
“It’s dinner for you and Cait.” She set down the rest, and glanced at Caitlyn with a smile. “Hi Cait,” turning back to her father, she explained, “Max figured you’d be hungry ‘bout now, so here’s y’alls part of our supper. I talked Vin into wranglin’ the kids while I came over here. There are also some presents for Cody in my Navigator. If you’d bring them in, Dad, I’d appreciate it.”
“Sure thing, but stay out of that.” He caught Kelli just as she started to taste the icing in the bowl on the counter.
Kelly dropped the spoon she had in her hand and glared at him.
“What? You think I don’t know my own kid?” Chris was laughing as he walked out the door, missing it when Kelli stuck her tongue out at his back.
Aware of the turbulent history between these two, Cait smiled. To see them now, one would believe their relationship had always been good, but they would be wrong. It was a testament to Larabee tenacity that they had forged a strong father-daughter bond. “Thanks for the food. I was afraid we might end up calling out for pizza.”
“Chris would drive fifty miles out of his way to avoid eatin’ delivery pizza, if possible.” Kelli helped her unwrap the dishes, and set the food on the kitchen table. “Vin on the other hand would do the opposite; he loves pizza any way he can get it.”
Walking in on that comment, Chris scoffed, “Vin loves food period, the more the better.” He continued into the next room to add the packages to the stack on the dining room table, before he returned to the kitchen. “These were mixed in with the presents, yours?” He held up two DVD’s.
“Hell, you weren’t supposed to find ‘em yet.” Kelli frowned. “Vin and I thought y’all might enjoy a little downtime before tomorrow’s activities. The problem is we couldn’t agree on what y’all might want to watch, so he chose one and I chose the other.” She leaned over and kissed her dad on the cheek, “Enjoy. I have to get back and rescue Vin.”
“You think Grace and Cody will go to sleep without me? Maybe I should…”
“Relax, Dad. Cody, Trey, and Bren are fine together, and we have Caleb and Jason to help with ‘em. Andi is having a slumber party with Sarah, Maria, Tannis, and Grace, so they’re fine,” Kelli reassured him. “Rain and Nathan have the other Wild Bunch Kids at their house. At least for the night, their parents have a chance to be alone. Next time it’s our turn.”
“You have ten children under your roof tonight?” Cait shook her head.
“Yep, so I should be gettin’ back.” Kelli picked up her keys, and with a defiant grin toward her father, stuck her finger in the bowl of icing on the way out the door.
Chris grinned. “Sassy kid, I swear since she took her new position at work, I’ve seen an uninhibited side to Kel I never expected. She’s….”
“She’s worked through the plight Ice left her in and come out stronger for it,” Cait observed. “Some people never recover from that kind of trauma, and it haunts them for the rest of their lives. You should be proud of the way she and Vin handled it.”
“Oh, I am.” He slid his arm around Cait’s shoulder. “Those kids deserve a break. It’s been one challenge after another for them since they were married.”
“They’re not kids.”
“That could be debatable. Those two tend to lose about ten years the moment they leave work.” Chris grinned. “If the right mood hits, I swear they become teenagers.”
Cait nodded. “From what you’ve told me, and what I’ve seen, they’ve managed to build a relationship that works. In this day and age that in itself is an accomplishment.” Cait sighed. “In my business I’ve seen too many couples who give up trying when they meet even minor obstacles.”
Leaning down, he kissed her brow. “It’s a good thing we’re not quitters.” He wrapped his arms around her waist. “After all these months, I think this is the second time we’ve been alone together.” His lips touched hers, shivers of delight passed over them both… just as the oven timer went off.
“Damn,” Cait cursed the interruption.
With a deep sigh, Chris released her. “Birthday cake, dinner, and then, maybe we can sit down, relax, and watch a movie.”
“That sounds good to me Larabee.” She swatted him on the butt when he bent down to remove the cake from the oven, pleased to hear his laughter.
“Which one do you want to watch, ‘The Lake House’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma’?” Chris read the titles of the DVD’s.
Cait curled up on the couch. “I love westerns.”
“3:10 to Yuma it is then.” Sliding the DVD in the machine, Chris joined her. Reaching out he put his arm around her, pulling her against him until her head rested on his chest. At Cait’s questioning look Chris said, “What? I have a beautiful woman who means the world to me, alone for the first time in weeks, and I’m not going to cuddle with her?”
Cait laughed while her heart was singing at his words. Snuggling closer to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her top leg over his.
He brushed his lips against her hair, breathing in her scent and thinking how very right it felt to have this woman in his arms.
Halfway through the movie, Chris felt a slight weight-shift and looked down at Caitlyn. He smiled when he realized she had dozed off. Well, it *had* been a long day.
He took the opportunity to gaze at her. God...she was beautiful. Her skin was perfect; her hair the color of sunset and her eyes, a man could lose all sense of time staring into them.
Feelings stirred within him as his thoughts turned. Cait was an intelligent woman. Down to earth, selfless with her time, passionate about what she believed in and direct with her words. She did not play games to get his attention, understood his moods, accepted him for who he was, and cared about each member of the Wild Bunch almost as much as he did. She was also a sensual woman who stirred his latent desires. His growing discomfort caused him to move just enough for her to rouse.
She wondered for a moment where she was before the haze of sleep cleared. She felt safe and warm. Inhaling, she caught the familiar scent of Chris's cologne and it sent an electrical pulse deep within her, catching her off guard. Tilting her head, she looked at him...those lips...those eyes. Their gazes locked and her breath caught.
Chris drank in the features of her face...full lips, startling eyes. Before he realized it, he was bending his head towards hers. Their lips touched and they both shuddered, mutual desire deepened the kiss. They had both been without a relationship for a long time. The inability to be together more often fueled their discontent that their blossoming love affair was showing little progress. All those pent up frustrations went into one kiss, and they both knew...there was no going back.
Her uncontrolled quiver when he brushed his hand across her breast, prompted him to undo a few buttons. Cait arched toward him, sending him into overdrive.
He broke off the kiss when her hand slid inside his shirt, his voice was husky with desire, “Cait...I want you...but not here...not like this. Will you come to my bed?”
“Yes,” her answer was instantaneous. He had awakened feelings in her that she did not think were possible to experience again. She uttered a soft gasp when he lifted her into his muscular arms, and carried her to his room.
Placing her down on the bed, Chris looked into her eyes for a moment. He recognized the signs of need and desire within her as she opened her arms to embrace him.
“Cait...” he whispered, showering her with tender kisses.
She stroked his face. “I want you.”
Chris shuddered. “Oh God...I want you too...you are so beautiful.”
“I was just thinking the same thing of you,” she answered between rasping breaths.
Cait had forgotten the overwhelming emotion of having someone she loved, making her feel like she was the only woman in the world.
Consumed with taking this beautiful woman to a place Chris hoped she would never come down from, he held on to her, preserving their moment.
Awash with emotion, she rubbed her cheek against his. Chris held her tighter. There was no need for words as they drifted off into a sated sleep. Later he nudged her awake for more lovemaking. Chris was a voracious lover. He was not shy with her and proved it throughout the night. It was apparent by the end of their lovemaking session that she was insatiable, too, at least with him.
In the early morning hours, she awoke. He was still there. The memory of their lovemaking filled her thoughts. She’d had sex with Chris…over and over again. It had been amazing….and astonishing….and perfect, but there had also been a stunning discovery that complicated the hell out of their friendship….she knew without question, she was in love with him.
“Cait, you okay?” His velvet toned voice carried in the darkness.
“Yes, but I need to go home. If Jesse wakes up and finds me gone….”
Nuzzling against her neck, he sighed. “I know, and as much as I hate to let you go, I’ll take you home.” He nipped her earlobe. “Come on woman; let’s find your clothes before I forget to be reasonable and mature.”
Locating their clothes proved to be a challenge, but in due course, they were dressed. Chris pulled her into his arms for another deep and probing kiss as his fingers carded through her soft tresses.
Reluctant to end the kiss, Cait pulled back and locked her eyes with his. “What have we done?”
He chuckled, “I would think you’d know, but if I need to explain….we…”
“I know what we did you dolt.” She reacted to his attempt at humor by shaking her head. “I mean…bloody hell… I don’t know what I mean.”
Lifting her chin with his finger, he smiled. “Cait, it’s all right. I’m not sure where this takes us either, but I am certain it was right… for us. Trust me.” Drawing her to him for a tender kiss, his soft-spoken words meant to assure her. “We were friends before, and we’re friends now…. From friends to lovers is a natural progression. Let’s enjoy the gift we’ve been given and see where it leads us.”
All Cait could do was nod. She readily accepted that Chris was someone special in her life, but she had not expected to fall in love with him. Love was something she gave up on years ago… He might not know it yet, but Chris Larabee had just blown her settled, planned, and comfortable life all to hell.
Loving commitments create the ties that bind.
Larabee 7 ~ Sunrise, Sunday, May 25
Racing across the open meadow, with the warm winds of May at their backs, Pony and Peso ran neck and neck to meet the sunrise. Their masters lay low over the saddles, enjoying the race, and the magnificent dawn the morning offered. A sudden burst of speed from Peso had him crossing the shallow stream, a nose ahead of Pony. Both men slowed their mounts, coming to a halt a few yards past the water.
“Yee haw!” Vin yelled, a big grin forming on his face as he glanced over at Chris. “That was fun.” He patted his horse’s neck, and dismounted.
“We almost had you,” Chris slid off his horse, holding on to Pony’s reins, “would have too, if we’d run another quarter mile.”
“Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses.” Vin unsaddled Peso, allowing him to cool off before letting him drink from the stream. “You have to admit, considerin’ your knee and my shoulder, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to ride, you’re out of practice….at least with ridin’ horseback.” The frown on Chris’s face made him chuckle. “Hell, your thoughts are broadcastin’ loud enough for me to hear ‘em halfway to Texas. If you don’t want me to know all the details of your night with Cait, you need to tone ‘em down a notch.”
“Quit listening to what I’m thinking.” A slight flush crept up his neck. “I never listen in on your thoughts about Kel.”
“Only because she’s your daughter,” Vin countered. “You used to pick my brain for explicit details every time I had a date.”
“Hell, we used to spend four or five nights a week at the saloon, getting drunk, flirting with and talking about women. Back then we were damn well happy if we got laid once in a while.” Sighing, Chris turned Pony loose and sat down by the water. “Our thoughts didn’t matter because none of what we did was that important in the grand scheme of things.”
Vin knelt next to him, allowing a comfortable silence to fall between them. When Chris called at six saying he wanted to ride, Vin knew he sought more than a good run for Pony. He needed a friend who would listen, and help him work out what was troubling him. “You sayin’ you miss those days?”
“God no, it wasn’t anything I’d want to repeat.” Chris shook his head. “I guess that’s why I never tried to hit the single bars after Linda left. What the hell made us think we were having fun?”
“Reckon you figured you’d never go back to bein’ a family man, and I…hell, I was an idiot to think it didn’t matter if I had a special woman in my life or not. Guess it was a good thing fate had other plans for both of us.”
Chris nodded. “The things that are important to me are on this ranch. My children, my brothers, their families…I thought I could be content and not need another relationship.”
Tanner knew the best way to make a point was to remind a man of his own words. “You told me years ago, there are plenty of women around willin’ to settle for a game of grab ass or a one-night fuck, but it’s the ties to a relationship that matter. A man needs a woman who stirs the fire inside him, to share his life, making the good times better, and the bad times bearable. I was too thickheaded to believe it, but you were right. Those ties are the best damn things in my life and I wouldn’t trade what I have with Kel for anythin’.” He stood and grabbed Peso’s saddle before turning around to look at Chris. “Cait is a good woman to ride the river with, don’t be afraid to get your feet wet.”
Chris laughed. “I think I’ve already waded in over my head, and the water’s still rising. Guess the only choice I have is to climb on that raft, hold on for the ride… and see where it takes me.” He stood up and dusted the dirt off his ass. “Thanks, you give good advice …for a wet behind the ears, long winded Texan.”
Mounting his horse, Vin grinned. “This Texan already has his woman and she stirs the fire in me just fine. You’re the one who’s lookin’ at some long nights alone if you fuck this up.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Stepping into the stirrup, Chris swung his leg over the saddle and rode up beside Peso. “We best get back and set up for the party. In a few hours, we’re going to be overrun with seventeen little ‘ties’ that’ll run, yell, cry, make messes, and without a doubt will keep us on our toes.”
“Speakin’ as the father of four of those little ‘ties’, I’m lookin’ forward to the chaos.”
Chris chuckled and said, “Yeah me too.” Scanning the horizon, he said, “Sun’s up, and we’re burning daylight. Let’s ride.”
Tanner Home ~ 7:30 a.m.
“Reinforcements have arrived,” Buck called out as he and Inez came in through the back door, “refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for duty.”
Kelli glanced up from attempting to feed the twins and Cody. “The rest of the kids just finished breakfast, and Max took them to the playroom. You wanna help, grab another spoon. These little guys have more food on their faces than in them.”
“I got this on.” Inez took over feeding Cody. “Buck, you get some coffee.”
He leaned down and kissed Inez on the brow. “Got ya covered.” Reaching for a cup he asked, “Where’s Vin hiding this morning?”
“Chris called early, askin’ him to ride with him. They should be back soon.” Kelli washed Bren’s face and then Trey’s. “Give me fifteen minutes to bathe these two, and then it’s Cody’s turn.”
“Take your time, we’re fine.” Inez smiled when Cody grinned up at her.
“The Larabee charm strikes again,” Buck chuckled at Cody’s expression. “This one already has Inez wrapped around his little finger.”
“Thanks,” Kelli said as she lifted Bren, then Trey out of their highchairs, and hurried off with them.
Inez watched Buck while he talked and cooed to Cody. “Are you disappointed that we’re having another girl?”
“Heck no, I already have my son. Caleb and I will do fine with five Wilmington females in the house.” Tilting her head by placing his finger under her chin, he smiled at his wife. “The most important thing to me is that you and our newest daughter are healthy.” He leaned down and captured her mouth for a long slow kiss.
“Okay you two,” Vin said, entering through the kitchen door, “y’all had all night for that.” Grinning, he walked over to snatch a piece of sausage and a biscuit.
“We did and we thank you for the alone time,” Buck patted Inez’s stomach, “but I can’t get enough of my beautiful pregnant wife.”
Vin nodded, finishing off the biscuit in three bites, and then washed it down with coffee. “I hear you. Speakin’ of wives, have you seen mine?”
“She went to bathe your two youngest before coming back for Cody,” Inez told him, “but he filled his belly and is out like a light.”
“I’ll take him,” Vin said, easing Cody from Inez’s arms, careful not to wake him. “I told Jason and Caleb they could go with us over to Chris’s this mornin’.”
“Good, they can help us set up the chairs and tables.” Buck offered his wife a hand up. “Since you’re taking Cody, we’ll handle the rest of the munchkins ‘till the babies are down. What time is Chris expecting us?”
“When we get there,” Vin said over his shoulder. He headed for the nursery with the sleeping birthday boy cradled in his arms, smiling to himself when Buck called after him.
“Don’t rush back on our account, stud.”
The one-night stands and shallow affairs in his past were vague memories, and Vin could not recall one name that was significant. He stood unmoving, in the doorway observing the woman who had claimed his heart. Watching her hold the living proof of their love in her arms, filled him with a peace and contentment he had searched for his entire life. He had found what he needed and never knew he was missing until he met Kelli…. ties. Together, they were writing a beautiful book of lifetime memories, one page at a time.
Without making a sound, he placed Cody in the port-a-crib, walked up behind her as she laid Bren into his bed, and whispered in her ear, “The babies are asleep; it’s your turn for some TLC.”
Heat flushed over her and she leaned back into his arms to relish the feel of his hard body pressed against hers. “Buck and Inez…”
“…are in the other room with the rest of the kids and don’t expect us to make an appearance for a while.” He led her out of the nursery and down the hall to their bedroom.
When he locked the door behind them, he flipped the stereo on and pulled her to him. “Now you can scream my name all you want. No one but me will hear you.”
“I enjoy makin’ love with you, Vin, and I don’t scream.”
“Yes, you do. Shall I prove it?” He began to unbutton her shirt or rather one of his she was wearing, and leaned down to nuzzle her neck. “Black lace and thongs are fine, but I love seein’ you in my shirt…sexy as hell.” His mouth settled firmly on hers. Never one to do anything half measure, his kiss was deep, satisfying, and thorough, sending shivers of delight over her.
Kelli lifted her head and grinned. “You, Mister Tanner, are a bad, bad boy.”
“Yep, and you love it.”
She breathed in his masculine scent and reveled in the mingled aroma of saddle leather and a whiff of the fresh outdoors, which clung to his clothes. When he kissed her, she could taste coffee, strong and sweet with a light touch of cream to make it smooth…like him. She loved him beyond reason; he was her strength and anchor in life. He was also her greatest weakness… but, if she had to have an addiction, she could not think of a more rewarding one.
“Vin…” she sucked in her breath when his hands caressed her hips.
“Ssshhh,” he whispered, slipping the shirt off her shoulders, “your Texas Cowboy is gonna take good care of you.”
Their eyes met and hers emitted the same smoldering desire he was certain matched his. Gently pushing her back, he covered her body with his.
She moaned and arched her body. Mutual passion consumed them and she screamed out his name, “Vin!”
Trailing his other hand though her red tresses, he smiled. She was his fire and he damn well intended to keep her burning for the rest of their lives. He devoured her mouth with a deep, zealous kiss to capture the cries of pleasure from the woman who claimed his heart and soul. Her gasp of delight fanned the flames of his passion. Lost in their desires, they reaffirmed the love that brought them together and delivered them safe and sound from the fires of hell.
Thunder rumbling in the distance more often than not indicates rain is on the way. Alas, it does not elucidate the strength or severity of the impending storm.
Nettie Wells stood in his kitchen preparing breakfast when Chris returned from his morning ride. He had not taken the time to eat before he took off earlier. The smell of hot biscuits, scrambled eggs, and frying bacon made his mouth water. “Nettie you are an angel.”
“Not an angel, just an old woman who knows a man needs a good meal before he puts in a day’s work.” She set a plate full of food on the table for him. “I expect the rest of your band of brothers will be here soon to help, so I made plenty.”
Chris washed up and sat down to enjoy the breakfast feast Nettie had prepared. “Josiah and Nathan will be here in a bit to fire up the grill. Vin, Buck, JD, and Ezra are in charge of setting up the tables and chairs. The rest of the clan will be here about noon.”
She sat down with a cup of tea and took a deep breath. “JD may be late…he and Casey are fighting… again.”
Chris frowned and looked up mid-bite. He placed his fork down on the plate and sat back. “What’s going on with those two?” He sighed in frustration. “I thought they were getting along better since JJ was born.”
Nettie’s hand trembled as she sipped at her tea. “To be honest, I’m more than a little concerned. Since the accident, JJ’s premature birth, and the hysterectomy, Casey's emotions run all over the place. When she disappeared, and then resurfaced without an explanation, it affected JD far more than he would ever admit...even to Buck. When Casey decided to talk to her doctor about her problems, she was like her old self for a while. Whatever meds the doctor put her on were working and the children for the most part, were unaffected...”
Chris sensed a 'but' and waited patiently as the woman he had grown fond of over the years, struggled to decide how much she could share.
“...but, the past few weeks her moods are all over the place. Sometimes she seems...distracted. At first, I thought nothing of it, we all have moments where we drift, but I came into their bedroom the other day to find JJ alone, lying on his changing table. Lord, Chris...if he'd wriggled a little more, he could have ...”
Chris placed a comforting hand over hers. “Where was Casey?”
“Showering, and when I spoke to her, she stared at me as if I was crazy, told me I must have moved him.” She shook her head. “I probably should have told JD, but I didn’t. That evening, they had a terrible argument about her not wanting to go back to work. JD did everything to prevent things from escalating, but it was clear that Casey was up for a fight. Later I found him holding her, in the living room, comforting her. They've been fine since, except for the last day or so. I think perhaps I should talk to someone, maybe Cait, or Josiah, get their thoughts.”
Josiah and Nathan walked in, interrupting their conversation.
“Did I hear you mention Casey?” Nathan asked.
“Yes, we were discussing why JD might not be here early to help.” Reluctant to share Nettie’s confidences, Chris only said, “He and Casey are having a….”
“Fight,” Nathan finished for him. “Daisy told us how her parents argue all the time. In fact, Casey was supposed to come to our house to help get the girls ready for today, but she didn’t show up.”
Josiah read the concern on Nettie’s face. “They’re fine. Mallory is with Rain and they can manage with JJ and the girls.”
Nettie sighed, “I don’t understand that niece of mine anymore.”
“Would you like for me to talk to her?” Josiah offered. “Maybe, as someone not living with her, I can listen to what she’s saying from a different perspective.”
“If you would…I just worry about her.” Nettie silently prayed that she was making something out of nothing.
Josiah nodded as Ezra and Jesse joined them all in the kitchen.
“Good morning all. I dropped Barbara off at Reins to assist Caitlyn with a dish she was preparing and found this young man ready to come over and help,” Ezra explained. “I will of course supervise…”
“I supervise, Standish, you actually get to perform manual labor.” Chris grinned. “First though, dig in. Nettie made us breakfast and I for one intend to enjoy every bite. We’ll get to work when Buck and Vin get here.”
Twenty minutes later Buck and Vin arrived with Jason and Caleb. Nettie offered them something to eat.
“I expected you and Buck earlier,” Chris commented.
Buck chuckled. “Talk to Tanner.”
“I had somethin’ needed my attention.” Vin hugged Nettie and grabbed two biscuits, handing one to Jason. “Best biscuit you’ll ever eat, Son.” He glanced over at Chris. “We’re here now and with all this help we’ll be through in nothin’ flat, if…we get movin’.” Tanner grinned and headed out the door.
Chris picked up his plate, but Nettie took it from him, “I’ve got it in here; you’d best go and supervise this gang.”
Herding the rest of the men outside, they began the work of setting up the perfect first birthday party for Cody.
The Jackson, Sanchez, and Dunne children arrived with Mallory and Rain. All except little JJ immediately took over the playground area under the watchful eyes of their uncles. Josiah kept the barbeque hot and the meat was close to being finished. Max and Gunny were helping Nettie with the side dishes in the kitchen when Barbara and Caitlyn arrived.
Chris left Buck talking to Nathan and met Cait halfway across the yard. “Here, let me take that.” He took the plate of deviled eggs from her, leaning down to whisper for her ears only. “You are beautiful.”
“You look damn good yourself.” She smiled, feeling a slight flush creep up her neck. “Is everyone here?”
“Not yet. Inez is on her way with the girls, and JD and Casey aren’t here yet. Neither is Matt, and Kelli is waiting to bring Cody and the twins last. Jesse’s been a big help.” Walking slowly, he found that he wanted to share as much with her as possible on this special day.
Cait nodded. “I’m sure Cody will be enthralled when he gets here.” When they reached the deck, she turned and smiled. “I think I should go inside and help the other ladies.”
“I’ll …uh…put these on the table and see you in a bit.” On impulse, Chris stole a quick kiss, winked, and walked away.
Sighing, Cait watched him leave before she went up the steps to join the women in the kitchen.
Buck grinned when Chris returned. “Something you want to tell us, Stud?”
“No,” Chris answered and then nodded toward the driveway. “Our girls are here.” Going out to meet them, he was able to catch Grace in mid air as she jumped into his arms. “Hello Sunshine.”
“Cody come, Da, me go play.” She wiggled signaling she wanted down, waved, and ran off with Sarah and Maria. Chris shook his head in wonder, only a few short months ago she would not leave his side without a major battle. Now…thanks to Cait’s help, Grace was doing great. He looked up at the house and smiled. Come to think about it, he was doing great, too.
Riding on her father’s shoulders, Andi was excited. “Daddy, when do I get my sister?”
Vin stopped so fast, he almost dropped her. “Why do you think you’re gettin’ a sister?”
“Tracker told me and he don’t lie,” Andi stated adamantly. “He said, so it’s gotta be true.”
Silently cursing his ancestor for saying such a thing to Andi, a forgotten conversation came rushing back to Vin. *One correction, Andi is our only daughter, not our eldest.*…*Yet, Vin, only daughter yet.*. He had assumed Tracker meant another baby for him and Kelli, but what if….* we lost our girl…. don’t go there, Tanner* Sighing, he decided that being able to talk with your great, great, grandfather was both a blessing and a curse.
He lowered Andi to the ground, and crouched down in front of her. “Sugar…Tracker told us things that could happen, things he knows we have to wait for. If there is a sister… or another brother for you in our future, then we have to be patient and let fate bring her to us.”
“She’s there, but I can wait.” Andi hugged his neck. “I know you and mama will figure it out.” She took off to play with the other kids leaving her father standing there with a perplexed look on his face, thinking about the possibilities.
“Problems?” Chris walked up to stand beside him.
“Not with you,” Vin exhaled, “with Tracker. Hell, the man’s been dead almost a hundred years and he’s still stirrin’ up trouble.”
Chris chuckled. “That seems to be a common trait with Tanners.”
“I…,” Vin started to explain but JD and Casey drove up behind them, “I’ll tell you later.”
Casey exited the truck and stomped off to join the others. JD stared after her, and then with shoulders slumped, walked over to Chris and Vin. “Sorry, I wasn’t here earlier to help. We…uh…”
Chris threw his arm around JD’s shoulders. “No need to explain. You’re here now and that’s what counts.” He noted Matt and Katrina’s arrival, but stayed with JD while they joined the others up by the house. “All we need now is the birthday boy and we’re ready to party.”
JD nodded. “I promise I’ll stay and help take the tables down.”
“You do what you need to do, Kid,” Vin told him. “Walter, Jesse, Caleb, and Jason joined the set up team today and we’ll manage.” He placed his hand on his young brother’s other shoulder, lowering his voice as his eyes met JD’s. “If you need us we’re here.”
JD made an effort to smile, despite the fact that Casey had walked past the girls and JJ without stopping. “Thanks, I guess I should go check on my kids. “JD nodded to his brothers. “I appreciate you understanding.”
“Sure thing,” Chris assured him, “anytime.” Watching JD walk away, it stuck him how weary JD appeared. “You think he’s okay, Vin?”
“No, but I reckon he knows he can come to any of us twenty- four-seven when he’s ready to talk.” Vin turned his attention to the Navigator pulling in. “Your birthday boy has arrived.”
Chris hurried over to the truck, opened the back door, unlatched the straps, and lifted Cody from his car seat. He had only been gone overnight, but it seemed much longer. Despite the fact that he treasured the night he had spent with Cait, he was glad to have Cody and Grace home. Somehow, he would find a way to include all of them in his life.
“Thanks, Kel, for taking care of him and Grace.”
“No problem, Dad,” she said taking Trey from Vin while he reached inside for Bren. “I love spendin’ time with my baby brother and sister.”
“Since everyone is here. What do you say we get this party started?” Vin placed one hand on Kelli’s back and kept a firm hold on Bren with the other.
“Let’s do it.”
Everyone filled up on barbeque, sprawled out across the lawn, and watched Chris help Cody unwrap his presents. The baby seemed to be more interested in the paper and boxes than the actual gifts, but he was smiling. Grace played with the doll her daddy gave her, and the other kids were on the playground or napping.
Casey and Caitlyn’s quiet conversation had turned animated and heated. Standing up abruptly, Casey announced. “We have to go home. Nettie, you can bring the children when you come.”
“Anytime you are ready to come back to work, Reins has a place for you, Casey, even if it’s part-time.” Caitlyn reminded her, hoping she would think about the offer when she calmed down.
“NO…I need to be at home. Find someone else.” Casey shouted, and then softened her voice. “I do appreciate it, but…no…just…no.” She took off toward their truck.
JD took JJ from Inez, saying softly, “Thanks for watching him.” He looked over to Nettie. “I know you’ve been working all day, if …”
“You go on, son, tend to JJ and Casey. I’ll bring the girls home directly,” Nettie said. “Go on. I can handle two little girls.”
“Yes ma’am.” Embarrassed by his wife’s behavior, JD expected to read reproach on his family’s faces, instead he saw concern and support. Unable to speak, he simply nodded, carried JJ to the truck, and took Casey home.
Chris watched them leave, making a mental note to speak to JD sometime soon. He cast a quick glance at Buck as if to reassure the man, who without a doubt was worried about their youngest brother, then broke the silence their departure left by rubbing his hands together and announcing, “Time for cake and ice cream.”
Within the hour, the cake was history, parents had cleaned up their children, and the party was over. Walter, Nathan, Vin, Buck, and Ezra began taking down table with Jesse, Jason and Caleb’s help. Josiah cleaned the grill, and the women put the leftover food in the refrigerator, while Chris and Matt stood guard over the kids in the play yard.
Matt took the opportunity to speak with Chris in private. “I hate to put a damper on the festivities, but I thought you should know…Linda called me.”
Chris stopped breathing for a moment, and then inhaled deeply before asking, “About Cody’s birthday?”
“No, she didn’t mention his birthday.” Matt hesitated, before continuing, “She’s engaged to a man who is supposedly rich, well connected to powerful people and according to my private investigators just plain bad news.” He pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Chris. “This is a copy of his background report, use it or lose it, your choice. My goal is to protect my sister if possible as well as my niece and nephew.”
“Appreciate it Matt,” Chris pocketed the envelope, “but why are you worried about Grace and Cody?”
Matt hesitated for a moment before answering. “From what Linda has told me they are talking about having children.”
“Is he aware that Linda can’t have anymore?” Chris was afraid to hear the answer.
“Yes, but… Hell, I wasn’t supposed to warn you, but I think you should know what my dear sister is planning. Chris, she’s coming to Denver and wants to have her parental rights restored by the courts and then take custody of Grace and Cody.”
“Over my dead body,” Chris stated adamantly. “There’s no way in hell Linda will get her hands on my babies. She’s done enough damage by walking out on them already.”
Matt nodded. “I agree and whatever you need me to do, I’m willing.”
“Thanks, Matt; I hope I can keep you out of the middle of our problems. Let me know when she arrives and I’ll handle Linda.” Chris was certain he stood on solid legal ground about custody, but Linda never let what was legal or right, stop her when she wanted something. On the other hand, he never backed down from a fight and if that was what it took to protect his children, he was damned well ready for one.
If It's gonna rain … let the storm start … the sky is heavy and it feels like the winds are gonna change.
Reins of Change ~ Monday, May 26
Grace kissed her daddy goodbye and ran inside the daycare. Chris waited until she was out of sight before drawing Cait closer to him. “Good morning, beautiful lady.”
“Morning to you to,” Cait smiled. “Has Cody recuperated from the excitement of the party?”
“He slept like a rock, but when I dropped him off with Max, he was chomping at the bit to go and play with the twins. Dottie will be in this afternoon and she’llpick him up from the Tanner’s.” He leaned down to kiss her. “I missed you last night.”
She looked into his eyes. “I missed you too…but, Chris, what are we doing? I mean do we stay quiet about…” Cait was reluctant to give what they had a name, yet.
“Us?” He grinned. “We are an ‘us’, whether we planned it or not and in case you didn’t notice yesterday, I’m not exactly hiding our relationship from my family.”
Cait nodded. “I noticed, and so did Jesse. He hasn’t said anything, but I do know he likes you a lot and I want to make certain we’re sending the right message to him.”
“I hope we are, because what we do have is special,” he answered. Chris understood her concerns, Caitlyn Broderick might be wild in his arms, but she was conservative by nature. She was straightforward, down to earth, compassionate, and generous to a fault. There would be no game playing with this woman and she did not mind calling him on his actions or words if she thought he was out of line. She was more like Sarah in temperament and personality, the complete opposite of Linda. She was definitely not a one-night stand he could forget or act as though they had not been lovers. He wanted to spend more nights with her, yet… was he ready to say he loved her, and commit to another long-term relationship? To be honest, he did not have an answer yet.
“Cait, I do want you in my life, but as much as I would love to stand here and tell you we have some kind of future together, I can’t, at least not now. Matt told me yesterday Linda is coming to Denver and she wants to challenge me for custody of our children. I have to resolve things with her, before I can even begin to think about …more.”
A knot tightened in her stomach when she considered even the possibility that Chris might lose Grace and Cody. Losing his children would destroy him. “I understand, and I don’t plan on going anywhere. If I can do anything to help, please let me.”
Her offer warmed his heart. “You are an extraordinary woman, Doctor Broderick.” Chris shook his head. “I just don’t understand how a woman can be so callous and think only of her own selfish needs without giving any thought to how it affects her children. Linda has not even tried to see Grace or Cody in a year’s time, no phone calls, no letters…nothing. Now she‘s supposedly engaged to a man who wants children and it’s convenient for her to play mom. How do I protect my kids from a mother like that?”
“You do what you are doing. Love them, fight to keep them safe and secure, and ask for help when needed.” Cait was pleased that Chris was sharing this with her, instead of shutting her out. “Talk to your lawyer and be prepared. Grace is safe here at Reins, and I promise you I will watch her like an old mother hen.” She laughed. “As for Cody, I dare anyone to mess with Max or Dottie, trying to get to him.”
“You’re right. I told Walter not to let Linda on the property if she comes here.” Chris kissed her again, a long lingering kiss that told her he cared. “Thank you for being you.” Looking at the time, he sighed. “I have to go, but I’ll call you later.”
Cait watched him leave. She was glad he was honest with her, it was one of the reasons she loved him. Chris never said anything to make things easier. He was a man who valued his word and did not make excuses. She knew he cared for her and given time, he would come to realize he needed her in his life. Time was something she could give him. After all, she had waited twenty years to find a man who made her feel loved again.
MCAT Office ~ 1:00 p.m.
Chris spent most of the morning at the training center, reviewing the test scores for the Bravo and Charlie teams. The spirit of competition appeared to be alive and well between the two MCAT units. However, Captains Justin Michaels and Sam Cain were both strong leaders and Chris was certain the friendly rivalry between the Denver and San Antonio teams would not get out of hand.
He passed Ezra’s desk and motioned for him to follow as he made his way up the stairs to his new office. It still seemed strange not to be closer to Alpha team, but Travis insisted that his office and Chris’s should be separate from the units. Vin took over Chris’s old office and Kelli had been assigned one between Director Travis and Assistant Director Larabee, since technically she worked for both of them, although Orrin kept her busy most of the time.
“Close the door and sit down, Ezra.” Chris instructed him. “I need your help.”
Ezra sat down opposite to Chris. “In which matters do you require my assistance?”
“Linda is coming back to Denver and wants to make a challenge for the kids. Tell me I have nothing to worry about.”
A chill ran down his spine. Although he had hoped this day would not come, his experience with his own mother kept him from being surprised. “You are on solid legal footing, however…” Ezra hated to say it. “If she chooses to do so, she can stir up a hell of a mess and cost you a small fortune proving your rights in court.”
Closing his eyes, Chris tried to control the fear that Ezra’s words caused to churn in his stomach. “You tell me what I need to do.”
“With your permission I would like to speak with Robert Eaves, an attorney friend of Barbara’s. He specializes in child custody cases, and his experience far exceeds mine. I will, of course, have to give him all the information you have in regards to Linda’s impending arrival.”
Chris nodded and proceeded to repeat Matt’s conversation from yesterday.
Ezra stood. “Try not to worry, I will contact Robert ASAP, but I am certain the papers Linda signed will hold up in court. Let’s hope things stay peaceful and quiet on Larabee 7 while she is in Denver, no need to give her ammunition to fire back at you.”
Chris waited until Ezra walked out the door and then leaned back in his chair. They could manage peaceful and quiet for a week or two at least. Couldn’t they?
Later, a noise from the bullpen caught Chris's attention as he came down from his office. Chris grinned at the three-man Nerf-ball tournament, taking place between Vin, Buck, and JD. It was good to hear JD chuckling and Chris had missed that huge grin of his. It was clear that something good happened after JD and Casey left his home yesterday evening, but Chris still intended to talk to the young man later.
“Keep it down to a dull roar, guys.”
Knowing that was Chris's way of accepting a bit of horseplay, they continued for a little longer, finally breaking off to get some coffee. It felt good to have some office downtime; it was a rare thing these days.
Buck smiled as he watched Vin and JD rifling through a box of donuts, fighting over the last jelly one. Vin conceded, and Buck was convinced he did it, for the same reason he was grinning like a loon, now. It was good to see JD laughing and joking around. He had not been doing much of that recently. With a nod from Vin as he left munching an iced donut, Buck sipped his coffee and stood next to his little brother.
“Everything okay at home, kid?”
JD smiled and nodded, taking a seat on the couch next to the window. “Yeah, thanks, I think it finally is. Casey and me had a talk last night; I think we've turned a corner, Buck.”
Buck squeezed the younger man's shoulder. “That's good news, son, but don't forget, I'm always here for you, and so are the others.”
JD smiled and nodded. “I appreciate the offer, and I would kinda like to talk to you sometime soon, if you don't mind.”
The brunet bobbed his head. “Absolutely, you just say the word kid and I'm here for you.”
Watching Buck exit the break room, JD looked out of the window, his thoughts drifting to last night.
Wells’ Property Previous Evening
They made the trip home from Chris's in unbearable silence. While JJ slumbered in his car seat, blissfully unaware of the turmoil his parents were going through, JD's mind was racing as he tried to second-guess his distraught wife, yet again, glancing at her occasionally to see her staring out of the passenger window. Pulling into their driveway, JD sighed as Casey stormed out of the car and into the house. He carefully unbuckled JJ, smiling at the little noise the infant produced when he was disturbed, then, slinging the diaper bag over his shoulder, he settled the little one to rest on his shoulder and followed Casey inside.
Ignoring her slumped form on the sofa, JD continued into the bedroom, returning ten minutes later after settling the baby for a nap. He walked into the kitchen and switched on the kettle.
Casey took a few seconds to answer, but finally turned to him and nodded. By the time he placed the cup on the table in front of her, she was ready to talk. “I can't believe Cait showed me up like that. I thought she was my friend.”
JD sighed. “All Cait did was ask if you were ready to come back to work, it was how you reacted that showed you up.”
Casey huffed. “Dear God…you're so obsessed with your family, you're even defending Chris's newest conquest. I thought she had more sense than to climb between the sheets with a Larabee.”
Staring at her, he shook his head. “What is wrong with you? Cait is sweet and funny. Chris needs someone like her in his life. He's been a fucking saint this past year. It’s about time he had someone to care about him. What’s more, Cait has been a good friend to you, and if that's how you talk about your friends, you're more of a bitch than I took you for.” His words surprised him, but he'd had enough. No more 'mister nice guy', it was time to put the children, Nettie, and him first for a change. JD stood and walked back into the kitchen.
Weary from the events of the day, he looked back at her standing in the middle of the living room.
“You're right, I'm sorry.”
“Case, what the hell are we doing to us?” He took her hand and pulled her down to sit next to him on the couch. “We have a good life together, maybe not extraordinarily exciting, but I thought we were happy.”
Casey jumped up and began to pace. “We were…are…” She shook her head. “I don’t know anymore. We’ve never not been an us….You…me…we…Why did we get married? Was it because we really belong together, or more what we expected to happen? Could either of us make it without the other or without Aunt Nettie’s help? What do we really know about being tested? Would we be stronger or weaker if we had half the challenges other couples we know have had?”
“Are you saying you don’t want to be married to me?”
“No…no…I…I’m just rambling. Don’t pay any attention to what I said. I didn’t mean any of it.” She stopped her rant and turned on him. “Maybe if you were home more I wouldn’t have these thoughts. I…I’m sorry I’ve been difficult.”
JD swallowed the lump in his throat. “I wish I could believe you.” He watched her drop her head and go to the bedroom, then looked up at the ceiling to stop the tears forming in his eyes, from rolling down his cheeks. Hell, he knew the past couple of months had been hard for her. First their wreck, a premature delivery, and then an emergency hysterectomy, but the doctor had her on hormone supplements and for a while she was better. Now…she was back to being a bitch and unpredictable. After a few minutes, he pulled out his laptop and sat on a stool at the kitchen counter. He hoped work could take his mind off his troubles.
Much later, a warm hand on his head roused him from his sleep as he rested his head on his arms on the countertop. Still half-asleep, JD looked up to see Nettie. “You should go to bed.”
He smiled. “Where are the girls?”
“Buck took them home with him for the night. I'm picking them up in the morning. I am going to put JJ in with me for tonight. Go get some sleep.” She kissed him on the head and went into JD and Casey's bedroom, returning with the baby in her arms, intending to put him in the port-a-crib for the night. “Casey is asleep. I suggest you get some, too, son.”
Bidding her goodnight, he cleared the coffee mugs and closed down his laptop. He rinsed the mugs under the faucet, and then shuddered when a hand reached under his shirt to stroke his abdomen. Turning, he gazed into sexy, chocolate brown eyes that oozed seduction. He gasped. “Casey!”
The delicate, black chiffon baby-doll negligee she was wearing left nothing to the imagination.
“Case, Nettie's just…”
Pushing him back against the sink, she captured his mouth, and deepened the kiss as she moaned, taking his hand to rest it on her backside. Despite everything, JD loved this woman with all his heart. Their sex-life had been good, but recently lacked the intimacy they had shared over the years. He returned her kisses, savoring the feel of her delicate hand roaming under his shirt, stroking and caressing him, lost in the moment as their love came to the fore and their passion increased.
Suddenly, he grabbed her hand, pulling back. “Casey…I want you…God *knows*, I want you, but we need to talk.”
Casey spoke, her warm breath tickling his face as she looked into his eyes. “I know. I have no excuse for my behavior, it's disgraceful and I'm ashamed of how I treat you all. I'm trying, JD, and you know I'm getting there. Josiah offered to talk to me. I said no, but…maybe I should. What do you think?”
“I'd like that, Case. Josiah's a wonderful counselor.” He was right in her face and before he realized, he was kissing her warm, full lips, his hands reached for her breasts, cupping and massaging first one, then the other. Casey arched into him.
“I want to make love to you, JD.” She took his hand and guided him into the bedroom, her hips swaying as she walked.
It was an invitation that JD could not refuse. Maybe things would be okay after all.
MCAT Office ~ Present Time
JD smiled to himself as he sipped at his cooling coffee. They had slept in and he had almost been late for work, so he barely had a chance to speak to Casey this morning, but he'd had a warm kiss goodbye.
“Agent Dunne,” Vin yelled for the third time. “Are you still with us?”
“What…yeah…sorry I didn’t hear you.”
“Damn, Kid I thought you’d left us.” Vin smiled. “I hate to do this to you, but I just got a call from the DOJ. They’re havin’ problems with the witness protection program you designed for ‘em. They request your presence at the Federal Buildin’ ASAP.”
Sighing JD shook his head. “I swear no one at the DOJ knows anything about computers.” He made a mental note to pick up flowers on his way home.
“You’ll get no argument from me on that, but you still have to go.”
“Hell, I’ll be there half the night, but I’m going.” JD’s mood plunged. He knew it would be a late night and Casey would not be happy about it. Stopping at his desk, he called home, receiving the answering machine. “Case, I’ll probably be late. The Feds insist I show up at the Federal Building, and you know how that goes….love you, bye.” He grabbed his keys and walked out the door.
Standing beside the phone in the bedroom, Casey heard the message and felt a cold shiver run down her spine. It was happening again. She began talking to herself, picked up the nightie on the chair and walked into the master bath. She turned the water on, and entered the shower fully dressed, leaned against the wall and slid to the floor of the tub. Curled up in the corner, she clutched the torn negligee to her chest. Water rained down on her while she rocked back and forth, muttering repeatedly, “They took him again….they took him again...”
The passion of old is a children's quick game. Now it's the sound of the thunder and feel of the flames.
*Fire of the Newly Arrived ~Rosanne Cash
Wells’ Ranch ~9:45 p.m.
“Hello! Where is everyone?”
The place was quiet as JD placed his keys and cell on the entry table. He wandered toward the twins' room, and peeked inside; disappointed that they were asleep. He checked his watch and sighed, it was late. Closing the door in silence, JD went into his own bedroom, crossed the room, unclipped his holster, and removed his service weapon, along with the second gun he had strapped to his ankle. He opened the safe, placed them inside, closed the door, and spun the combination lock. Glancing around the room, he yawned and stretched before he walked toward the crib.
“Hello there, baby boy,” he whispered, smiling down at his sleeping son. The girls were the light of his life, but this little one fulfilled him in a way he did not believe was possible. With a feather light touch, he trailed a finger over the infant’s cheek and bent down to kiss his forehead.
He had come so close to losing Jarrod John Bucklin Dunne, and his mama. He recalled the car accident that trapped him and Casey for hours, her early labor coming on, and then having to deliver little JJ himself. Lord, he was so small when he made his appearance. Finally rescued, they made a mad rush to the hospital. Casey hemorrhaged, needing emergency surgery while they took his son to NICU, where he stayed for weeks.
A noise from the back of the house drew his attention. Without making a sound, he exited the bedroom, and moved down the hall to the kitchen, smiling as he caught sight of Casey chopping vegetables at the counter.
“Hey babe, sorry I'm later than I promised, work's been insane today.” Embracing her from behind, he nuzzled at her neck while he reached around her to caress her breasts.
She let out a strangled sound, paled and stopped cutting. “W…what are you doing here?”
Releasing her immediately, he raised his hands, moving a short distance away from her. “Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you,” he laughed, “but, unless you're trying to tell me something, I live here.” She resumed chopping vegetables, adding them to the large pile she had accumulated. When she did not respond to his attempt at humor, he added, “What was dinner? I'm starving and I’ll take leftovers.”
She remained silent.
Glancing over at her, he tilted his head. “Aww babe, things are a little off right now, but we made progress last night. Can we just put everything else aside for tonight…please?”
The next few seconds became a blur. Casey tightened her grip on the large knife in her hand, glared at JD with a burning hatred in her eyes and flew at him, screaming like a wild banshee. “I warned you! Get out of our house…Get out!”
JD had no time to react to her screams before a sharp blow to his side took his breath, his knees went weak, and blood began to pour from a gaping wound. Casey slashed at him again; another forceful blow to his abdomen dropped him to the floor, his legs convulsed while pain surged through him. He looked up at his wife to see the blade in her hand dripping with his blood and he fought through his rapid, shallow breathing to whisper her name.
Everything moved in slow motion and a haze settled over his vision. She moved closer and growled in his face, “You won't hurt us again…you hear me? Never again!”
Shaking violently, JD curled in on himself as his hand sought out the wound. Before he could do anything to stop the blood flow, he passed out.
Nettie heard what sounded like Casey screaming. She threw her book aside and left her bed in a rush. Putting on her robe, she made her way to the kitchen expecting to find Casey and JD fighting again. Instead, her niece stood silently at the counter staring at something on the floor. Nettie followed Casey's line of vision and gasped, her hand going to her mouth as her heart and stomach lurched. Lying in a pool of his own blood was JD.
“Oh dear God!”
Grabbing several dishtowels, the older women dropped to the floor, applying pressure to his wounds. She pushed back sweat-soaked hair from his slack face, and checked his neck for a pulse. Relief flooded over her when she found one.
“Casey…what happened?” She demanded, desperate to control her fear.
She looked up when she did not get a response “Are you injured too? Talk to me child!” Silence met her demands.
After jamming the towels between JD's wound and the floor, Nettie rose to grab the kitchen phone on the countertop, dialing 9-1-1 and relaying her distress call. She wanted to call Chris, but JD's need was too urgent. Instead she sought out more towels and went back to help him.
“Casey…answer me, what happened?” Nettie was close to frantic. JD was unconscious and bleeding. Casey simply stood there, staring and unresponsive… blood splatters covered her. Was she hurt? Was there someone else still in the house? Her blood raced as now she feared for the children. Then she saw it, just before it clattered to the floor from Casey's now lax fingers…the bloody knife. Vaguely aware of her movements, she looked down at her aunt with no recognition or emotion in her eyes.
Realization began to sink in and with her fear mounting for JD and Casey, Nettie whispered, “Sweet Jesus, no.”
When the phone rang at this time of night, Walter expected bad news. He listened intently, acknowledged the message, and replaced the receiver before he rolled out of bed.
Fully awake now, Max asked, “What is it?”
“Got a call from the gate, an ambulance passed runnin’ full lights and siren headed to the Wells’ property.”
Max bolted upright, “You go, I'll call Chris.”
The children were asleep and Chris was ready for bed, after talking with Cait for the past hour. When the phone rang shortly after he hung it up, he silently cursed the intrusion and said a silent prayer that it was not work related.
“Larabee,” he growled into the phone. “Max… What…? Okay, call Vin and Buck. Tell them to meet me at JD's. There’s no point in worrying anyone else until we’re certain about what's happened. Thanks.” Within a few minutes, he dressed, informed Dottie he was leaving, and was out of the door, on his way to the Wells’ ranch.
Inez stood by the kitchen door watching her husband. Buck had papers spread out over the table and was deep in thought. “You have eight weeks to complete your plans, dear. You don’t have to finish tonight.”
“Eight weeks is no time at all. I want this rodeo to be the best event these kids have ever seen.” Buck leaned back in his chair. “Besides, Chris put me in charge and I do not plan to let him or the kids down.”
She sat down next to him. “Is it coming together like you want?”
“It will. Vin and Chris are taking care of the stock. Ezra and Nathan are coordinating with the vendors and Josiah is organizing the youth group on the west end. JD‘s taken on the advertising and Matt has spread the word to other ranches in the area. We’ll have more help and contestants than we know what to do with, plus make a ton of money for Reins, and the youth center.”
“Those kids got to you didn’t they?’” She already knew the answer, but loved to watch her husband’s eyes light up when he talked about ‘his’ kids at the new youth center.
“Yeah, they did. I….” The ring of the phone stopped him. “I got it.” Buck pushed away from the table and grabbed the receiver. “Wilmington here… it’s your quarter.” He listened for a moment, mumbled a reply, and slammed down the phone. “An ambulance was called to the Wells’ place. I’m going over to meet Chris.”
Inez followed him to the door. “Call me when you…”
“I will, babe, take care of our babies.” He leaned down, kissed her, and then disappeared into the night.
“The boys are down for the count.” Vin walked onto the porch and sat next to his wife. “I love our kids, but it’s nice when they all decide to sleep at the same time.”
Kelli handed him a glass of tea. “I’ve been thinkin’ about our planned trip to Texas. Fifteen hundred miles, in a truck with four kids… you reckon we’ll survive?”
“I’m seriously considerin’ we should take Wyatt up on his offer. He said he could arrange a private flight to San Antonio and have motor home waiting on us, for the last leg of the trip. Less wear and tear on the nerves,” Vin laughed as he reached to answer the portable phone. “Tanner…right….we’ll be ready when you get here. Thanks.”
Alarmed by the changed expression that came over him, Kelli asked, “Vin?”
“Unknown trouble at JD’s. Max and Walter are on their way over to sit with the kids.”
They went inside, and changed clothes quickly. Kelli refrained from commenting when Vin passed her gun to her from the safe as he retrieved his. He may not know what the trouble was, but Vin Tanner firmly believed in preparing for anything.
Chris swallowed hard at the sight of the ambulance parked outside the Dunne’s home. His first fear was for Nettie, she was a strong woman, but age had been sneaking up on her and her health was foremost in his mind. He switched off his engine, hurried out of the truck, and in through the door within moments.
Feeling a split second of relief when he saw Nettie, his eyes caught sight of the crimson splatters on Casey’s blouse, and the paramedic working earnestly on JD in the kitchen. The unmistakable coppery smell of blood assaulted his senses. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips. “What the hell's going on?”
Nettie looked up at him; her expression leaving no room for misunderstandings…this was not the time for explanations. He bypassed the two women, rushed into the kitchen, and crouched down beside his injured brother. He stroked JD's head while trying to comprehend the scene before him. Chris voiced his question to the paramedics.
One of them shook his head. “Not sure, we need to get him to hospital, he's lost a copious amount of blood, and his stats are falling.”
“JD?” Buck's voice cut through the tension when he rushed into the room and joined Larabee on the floor.
When Vin entered with Kelli, Chris stood to meet them. He spoke first to his daughter, “Nettie needs help.” Once she left the room, his worried gaze settled on Tanner.
“I’m going to the hospital. I need you to secure the area as a crime scene. Are you up to taking over here?”
Vin glanced at Nettie, her tear filled eyes and protective hold on Casey, spoke volumes. “Don’t reckon I have much choice do I?”
Chris scanned the room. “I need to know what happened ASAP and Buck’s in no condition to help…’
“Do what you have to…I... we’ll handle it.*
Chris nodded; Buck’s distraught voice drew his attention.
“Kid…can ya hear me? Come on, son…stay with me…you're gonna be fine.” Buck stroked JD's hair as he spoke, trying desperately to ignore the blood surrounding his younger brother.
A paramedic touched the big man's shoulder. “We have to go.”
Casey made no move to leave the safety of her aunt's embrace. With a nod from Chris, Buck rose to accompany the paramedics, and in seconds, they were on their way to the hospital.
At a loss for the right words to say, Chris knelt down in front of Nettie. “You realize we have to go over what happened here.”
Feeling years older and suddenly very tired, Nettie sighed. In a voice barely above a whisper she said, “I know.” She tightened her hold on Casey.
“I’m going to the hospital.” Chris looked at Vin who was staring at Nettie. “Vin will stay here. He’s in charge of the investigation.” He patted her hand. “I’ll call as soon as I know about JD.”
She nodded through tear-filled eyes.
The ride to the hospital seemed to take forever, but it was actually less than twenty minutes. Buck clung to JD's cold hand, as if willing his energy into him. The young agent was ashen, even his lips, causing his damp, dark hair to stand out as it clung to his face. Buck instinctively brushed the hair back.
“What happened to you, boy? Who did this?” A knowing glance from the paramedic in attendance met his whispered words, but Buck’s focus on JD was so intense, he missed it. Just as the driver announced their arrival, the paramedic in back leapt forward as an alarm sounded. All Buck could do was sit and watch as the ambulance lurched to a halt and the doors flew open. The paramedic with them straddled JD's torso and began pumping on his chest.
“He’s crashing, code Blue… Code Blue!
The team now at the ambulance doors pulled the gurney out and rolled it quickly toward the ER while the medic continued pumping. Unable to move for shock, Buck sat and stared after them, not stirring until a nurse stepped into the ambulance and, speaking softly, guided him to where they had taken JD.
Buck was relieved when Chris walked into the waiting room a few minutes later. He stopped pacing and approached him.
“How is he?” Chris asked.
Buck stopped in front of him. Chris instantly noted the man's trembling features.
“He…he died, Chris…right in front of me…just…just gave up.”
Larabee grabbed Buck's arms, fear gripping his heart. “What are you saying?”
Buck released a soft sob. “They got him back…but…” he looked tearfully at the man he had known all his adult life. …”why would JD just give up like that? He's not a quitter Chris…What the hell happened that would make him stop fighting?”
Larabee swallowed hard, not wanting to give voice to the ugliness of what he feared was the truth. “We'll talk later…but for now, let's just concentrate on JD, okay? Ezra and Nathan are on their way. Josiah's gone to Nettie's to help Vin and Kelli.”
Buck frowned as something dawned on him. “Where's Casey? Why isn't she with you? Is she on her way? Oh God, is she hurt too? What about the babies!”
Chris squeezed the brunet's arms. “Later…okay? Everything’s in hand. Once we have some news, we'll talk, I promise. JD *is* strong, Buck, he won't give up on us... Damnit man, we brought him this far…we're not letting go of him yet.”
With a nod from Buck, Chris guided him to the chairs and they sat down. Chris closed his eyes, *God, what a fucking mess.*
Our hold on sanity is sometimes fragile in the best of times, but under surreal circumstances, it hangs entirely on a thread of faith.
Vin’s trained eyes read the scene, while his heart refused to believe the obvious. Over the years, he had learned to expect the unexpected in law enforcement and never make assumptions, but...this was beyond understanding. This type of thing happened to other people, not his family. Knowing he needed to get beyond the emotions raging inside him, he called on the self- discipline he became skilled at during his time with in the Rangers, and did what he had to do. He knelt down and bagged the bloody knife for evidence.
Kelli stood inside the doorway, her mind refused to register the evidence in front of her. She spoke quietly, but her voice reached her husband’s ear, “Vin?”
She only said his name, but he heard her unasked questions. The same ones he was asking himself. Stepping around the blood, he pulled off his gloves, walked over to her, and drew her into his arms, resting his chin on her head. “I don’t have any answers, baby. I only know we’ve got a job to do, whether we want to or not.”
“So many lives are goin’ to be affected…” Hugging him tighter, she shivered. “God, how do we…?”
“We do what we’re trained to do,” he kissed the top of her head. “Forensics will be here any minute, along with Josiah. We need to question Nettie and Casey. Are you up to doin’ it?”
Kelli nodded. “You’ll probably get more from Nettie. I’ll stay with Casey while you talk to her.” She raised her head and recognized the look of torment in his eyes. “We’ll do what’s necessary and later…we’ll find a way together to move on.”
“Casey is calm now, but don’t let your guard down. If she did this, she could come at you, too,” he warned her.
“I’ll be fine, Captain Tanner.” Kelli stepped back and tried to sound professional. “You question the witness, and I’ll contain the suspect.”
Vin swallowed the lump in his throat. He understood that Kelli was trying to help him gain his perspective and it worked. “I love you, Texas,” he whispered before he entered the living room.
Nettie raised her eyes when Vin walked in. As much as she wished to hold onto this moment in time, she knew better. Altered by the events, which had transpired in the kitchen earlier, life would never be the same for her family and God help them; there would be no turning back.
“Captain Tanner,” Nettie deliberately used his title. “Perhaps we can talk in the dining room?”
“Yes ma’am,” Vin offered his hand to assist her. “Agent Coulter will sit with Casey.”
Casey reacted by clinging to her aunt. “Don’t leave me. They took JD… They handcuffed him and dragged him out...,”she began to ramble and as her words trailed off, they made less and less sense.
Kelli sat down next to her and wrapped her arm around Casey’s shoulder. “We’ll find JD for you. Maybe Nettie can help Vin look for him, okay?”
The young woman barely nodded, but did release her hold on her aunt.
Taking her arm, Vin walked with Nettie into the dining room, and pulled out a chair for her. “I’m sorry to put you through this. Can I get you anythin’ before we start? “
Placing her hand on his, she shook her head. “No call to apologize, Son. Let’s just get this over with. You have questions that need answers. Now sit down and do your job.”
Vin heard the forensic team, led by Greg Ramsey, arrive, and the baritone of Josiah’s voice as they came into the house. He knew Kelli would direct them to the kitchen. Once Josiah got a handle on the situation, he would be able to give them an idea of how to proceed with Casey.
Tanner sat down and sighed. “Nettie, I need you to tell me everythin’ you remember about what happened here tonight.”
Vin listened to the whole story and witnessed the toll answering took on Nettie. “I understand how difficult this is for you, and I wish I could make this all go away, but I can’t,” he told her. “You realize Casey will be arrested.”
“Yes,” Nettie whispered, “but she needs help, Vin. Who should I call?” Her voice trembled.
Vin loved this old woman, and owed her more than he could ever repay. His heart ached to see the anguish in Nettie’s eyes. Not only was the niece, who she had loved and cared for like a daughter since she was five-years-old, in serious trouble, the man she called son was gravely injured and lying in the hospital. “She’s gonna need an attorney. I’ll make a couple of calls and find one you can talk to about helpin’. You want me to call anyone else?”
“Caitlyn,” she nodded, “she‘s close to Casey, and I’m sure she’ll be able to help me sort some of this out.”
“Okay,” he said. Standing up, he squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll call her, but I want you to stay in here ‘til she arrives. No need for you to be in the middle of what needs to be done.”
Josiah waited for Vin to finish with Nettie, and he tilted his head toward the kitchen to indicate that Tanner should follow him. They moved away from the door and the forensics people to talk in lowered voices.
“We hear anythin’ from the hospital?” Vin asked.
“Not yet,” Josiah answered, as anxious as Vin to find out about JD’s condition. “Tell me what you found out.”
Vin nodded and began, “Nettie didn’t witness what happened, but what she said matches with the evidence we’ve seen. She said once the kids were down, Casey went into the kitchen to cut vegetables for a salad, but she thought after she finished, Casey went to her room to be with JJ.” He sighed and pointed to the counter. “That was at eight o’clock. JD did not arrive home until almost ten. Judgin’ by the amount of vegetables piled up, I reckon Casey kept cuttin’ for close to two hours. JD checks on the kids, comes in here and…for whatever reason, Casey flipped out and attacked him. Nettie heard Casey screamin’, ran in here, found him on the floor, and Casey was standin’ there with the knife in her hand.”
Sanchez agreed, “It fits with my read of the situation and after observing her with Kelli I believe she’s suffered some kind of psychotic break. We’re not going to get anything out of her that will make sense of this.”
“We have to arrest her, but maybe her lawyer can arrange for her to be held in a hospital instead of the jail.” Vin suggested. “I told Nettie I’d find her an attorney, and she asked me to call Caitlyn.”
“We should call Barbara too. Nettie will have her hands full with Casey. With JD in the hospital and Casey under arrest, it won’t take long for CPS to start asking questions about the kids.” Josiah suggested. “We need to keep them together, if possible.” He placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder. “I’ll call Caitlyn and Barbara, you find Nettie a lawyer, and then…We’d best let Chris know what happened before we take her in.”
Josiah took only a few minutes to set Caitlyn and Barbara into action; they were both on their way. Vin called Douglas Banks, who had represented JD when Ice had him arrested, and was the best criminal attorney Vin knew. Banks agreed to meet them at the Federal building where they would be taking Casey. JD was her husband, but when she assaulted him, she also assaulted a Federal Law Enforcement Officer. Anywhere in the country, that was automatically a capital offense, with or without the victim’s cooperation. If JD died, the charge would be capital murder.
Josiah knew Vin had to be the one who called Chris. “I’ll tell Nettie about Douglas Banks, and Barbara said she would take care of the children. You, my friend, need to call Chris before we officially arrest Casey.”
“Yeah,” Vin said softly. He stared at his cell phone for a long while, before he finally punched in Chris’s number. He reckoned confirming Chris’s fear was going to be one of the hardest phone calls he would ever make.
Kelli handed Greg a plastic evidence bag, which contained Casey’s blood splattered clothes. It had been easy to get the young woman to change, and hand them over to her. “Tell Vin, we’ll be on the front porch.” Casey was now docile and oblivious to what was going on around her, she allowed the redhead to help her on with a coat, and lead her outside. Kelli wanted to get her out of the house and away from Nettie and the children while she was being submissive.
When Captain Tanner gave the word, Agent Coulter would read the young woman her rights, and tell her she was under arrest. She was determined to take on as much of the dirty part of this investigation as possible. Kelli hoped that with her being the arresting officer it would be her everyone threw their arrows at, and perhaps somehow lessen Vin’s guilty feelings about the decisions MCAT’s Captain Tanner had to make.
After talking to Chris, Vin felt worse than before. Yes, Captain Tanner was the investigating office in charge, and he was doing his damn job, but this was family, and no matter what he did, there was bound to be hard feelings down the line.
Barbara approached him. “Vin, I will be responsible for the Dunne children. I‘ve already put in a call to a judge who is a friend of mine, and I hope to fend off any ugly battles with Child Protective Services. Inez is on stand by to baby-sit, if needed. She already has the Jackson children and Mallory is dropping her kids off with her and then coming here to help me. Cait is in with Nettie, and is prepared to drive her to wherever you’re taking Casey.”
The Wild Bunch women were a force to reckon with. Vin was always amazed when the women in this family mobilized into action. They did what they had to without complaint, and attempted to ease the path for their husbands without questions or judgments. He saddened for a moment when his thoughts turned to Casey, not so long ago she was one of them... Now, she was heading to jail, and JD was clinging to life. The grief that swept over him for their loss was almost too much to bear. He sobered and straightened in an attempt to shake off his foreboding thoughts.
“Thanks Barb, appreciate it. This is a crime scene however, so you need to find a place for Nettie and the kids to stay until we can release it.”
Her nod told him she understood. “I’ll take care of them. You do your work and leave the rest to us.”
“Captain Tanner.” Greg stopped him on his way back to Nettie. “We are finished with the kitchen, but we will need to process the rest of the house. I’m sending what we have to the lab, but I’ve logged in the evidence personally.”
Vin nodded. “Missus Standish is making arrangements for Miss Wells and the children. I want you to keep this discreet. We keep a tight lid on details, and anythin’ you find, you bring to me. Otherwise, we’ll treat this just like any other crime scene. Specifically we are lookin’ for anythin’ that might indicate the assault on Agent Dunne was premeditated or that more than one perpetrator was involved either in the planning, or the actual attack.” Vin glanced at the front door. “I expect you to be thorough, but leave everythin’ exactly the way you find it.”
“Yes sir.” Greg started to leave and turned back. “I almost forgot. Kel took Missus Dunne outside. She said to tell you she’ll meet you on the porch.”
“Okay,” Vin dismissed Agent Ramsey and headed into the dining room to talk with Nettie.
The older woman looked at him expectantly. “Any news?”
Tanner shook his head. “I talked to Chris, but they don’t know much. JD is likely headed for surgery.” He crouched down in front of her. “Douglas Banks has agreed to represent Casey. He’ll meet y’all at the Federal Buildin’. Go to sublevel B, which is the detention area, and look for a sign that says intake. We’re gonna try to get Case into the infirmary, but Douglas will know where she is.”
“We’ll find you,” Cait spoke up. “I’ll be with Nettie for as long as she needs me.” She recognized the look of gratitude in Tanner’s eyes and wished she could do more to help. The days ahead were going to be rough for the entire Wild Bunch and no matter the outcome; they were all going to lose something. Trust, safe havens, and core values had been shattered tonight, and no one would be coming out of this unscathed.
Vin stood. “Barbara is making arrangements for you and the girls to stay somewhere else for a day or two, while forensics finishes up here. An officer will stay here to guard the premises. We’ll meet you at the Federal Buildin’.” Nodding to both women, he left before his emotions had an opportunity to explode.
Josiah walked with him outside. “Are you certain you don’t want me to go with you and Kel?”
“We’ll handle Casey. You go on to the hospital.” Vin told him, “Emotions are runnin’ high and Chris didn’t sound good when we hung up. I reckon you can help him better than me right now.”
“God, this is one helluva mess,” Josiah said, throwing his arm around Vin’s shoulder. “We’ll make it through this, Brother, but I have a feeing there are some dark days ahead of us.”
“Go,” Vin urged him. “We’ll come to the hospital as soon as we can. Call me if…” he hesitated. “…just call me.” Watching Josiah leave, a heavy weight fell over him. Vin squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and walked over to Kel and Casey.
Kelli read her husband well. She stood up and assisted Casey to her feet. “Casey Teresa Dunne, you are under arrest for assault with intent to commit murder against Special Agent John Daniel Dunne. You have the right to remain silent….”
Vin used plastic ties to bind Casey’s hands instead of metal handcuffs. He took her by the arm and led her to his truck. Kelli handed him her gun and slid into the backseat next to Casey. Exhaling a deep sigh of regret, he got in on the driver’s side, started the engine and continued their journey through hell.
During the ride downtown, Casey remained silent and impassive. When Vin pulled up in front of the Federal Building, she became animated and combative.
“JD works here,” she said quietly at first, and then became agitated. “JD…JD!” Casey pulled against the restraints on her hands and screamed, “JD….JD, I’ll help you!” Turning to Kelli, she pleaded, “let me go… I need to warn him! They’re coming…..please let me go! JD…needs me…JD!” Kelli held on to Casey, but the young woman began to thrash around violently.
Vin parked the truck, jumped out of the front, and opened the back door to assist. “Casey, settle down,” he ordered sternly, grabbing her arm before she hurt herself. Once she stilled, he softened the tone of his voice. “We’re gonna go inside that buildin’, take your picture, and then a doctor will examine you.”
Casey stared at him for a moment and finally nodded her head.
Reverting back to her impassive state made it easier to get Casey through the booking process. Vin talked to the shift supervisor, and called in a few favors to get her taken to the infirmary. A brief discussion with the doctor on call convinced him she needed to be seen immediately, and as a precaution put on suicide watch in the psychiatric ward. Reluctantly, Vin and Kelli left Casey in the doctor’s care and went in search of Douglas Banks. They found him sitting in a break room with Nettie and Cait.
Douglas stood up when Vin entered the room, and reached out to shake his hand. “Good to see you again Tanner. I’m just sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”
Vin nodded.” I had Casey admitted into the psychiatric ward. A doctor is in with her now, but I told him to be expectin’ a visit from you.”
Nettie looked up. “Is she still…” she swallowed hard, unable to ask about Casey’s condition.
Kelli sat down next to Nettie and grasped her hand, giving Vin an opportunity to talk to Douglas. “She did just fine, Nettie. I’m sure the doctor who examines her will find a way to help.”
“Max sent a message for you, Kel,” Cait said, trying to keep things as normal as possible. “The kids are fine, and she and Walter are staying over at your house.”
Vin and Douglas moved away from the women to talk in private.
“The doctor placed Casey on suicide watch, Doug,” Vin informed him. “She’s not stable, the sooner you can get her into a regular hospital the better. I can’t do anymore on this end.”
“I’m already working on the case.” He sighed. “I promise you, I’ll do everything in my power to get the proper help for that girl.”
Vin looked over the attorney’s shoulder at Nettie, who appeared to have aged considerably during the past few hours. “I’m worried about Miss Wells too.”
“I understand, and I will be gentle with her. However, I do need to discuss a few business matters with her. I can cut my fee, but initially several big expenses will pop up…”
“Hold off talkin’ to her for a while. I don’t have my checkbook with me, but I’ll stand good for whatever you need.” Vin felt certain that once his brothers understood Casey’s condition, they would be willing to help Nettie with expenses. If not…then he and Kel would. It was the least he could do, he owed that old woman more than money could repay.
“Your word is good enough for me.” Douglas knew this was a difficult situation for everyone involved. “There is nothing more you can do here. You did your job, now it’s time for me to do mine. You and Kel go on to the hospital and I sincerely hope JD is much better by the time you arrive.”
Vin took in a deep, shaky breath, “Yeah, me too.”
The Tanners said goodbye to Nettie and Cait and then headed over to the hospital. Neither of them had much to say, each lost in their own thoughts.
Kelli stared out the window for a while and then said softly. “How could it come to this without any of us seein’ the pain she was in?”
“I don’t know, baby. I reckoned she and JD were havin’ a few problems because he mentioned a small number of odd things over the past few months, but we chalked it up to pregnancy hormones...then when she left after JJ was born...he was devastated...but this…hell, I saw the evidence, and still can’t believe it.” He turned into the hospital parking lot and pulled in next to Chris’s truck.
“It could have been me,” Kelli whispered. “I almost killed you in that damn crypt.”
“Look at me Kel,” Vin gently drew her closer. “I was mentally prepared for anythin’ when I went down those steps. I knew if you were alive, you’d be stretched to the limit of endurance and you were. Yes, you could have shot at me, but I don’t think you would’ve unless you were certain I was a threat. In spite of your exhausted mental state, trainin’ would have stopped you.”
“Maybe,” she said. “At least I would hope so, but still…after…”
“Kel, you did what you have always done when faced with a bad situation. You used the copin’ skills you had to learn early in life, the same way Jason and Andi did, to survive. By withdrawin’ into your protective shell, you gave yourself time to heal.” Vin reached out to cup her cheek. “Casey doesn’t have the kind of intensive trainin’ you’ve received, or had to face life alone. Nettie was her safety net while she was growin’ up. Then JD came along while she was still very young, and he’s been there for her to fall back on. Don’t get me wrong, I love Casey like a sister, but she’s always put up a bold front to hide her lack of life experience. She’s never been on her own, and consequently, had no idea how to deal with whatever pushed her to this point.”
“Surely there were signs though. JD must have been worried about her.”
“Yes...but JD never expected this, and didn’t see it comin’ until it was too late.” Vin sighed. “It’s a damn tragedy all around, for him, her, their kids, Nettie, for all their friends, and family who love and care for them. If...” he took a breath. “...when...JD regains consciousness...” Vin felt his emotions taking control and tried desperately to shake it off. “... this is gonna break his heart. He loves Casey as much as I love you.” He shook his head. “Her being locked up…no explanations for her actions… I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d feel if I were in his shoes right now…but… I damn sure wouldn’t turn on you and I know JD won’t do it to Casey either.”
Kelli's eyes burned with tears as she saw Vin struggling. She took his hand. “You know I’ll need to prepare a statement for the press and Travis will want a full report. Are you okay about leadin’ this investigation?”
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly. “Don’t reckon I have any choice.” Vin leaned over and gently kissed his wife. “Let’s go inside. I think we need to be with the rest of our family.”
Hungry for another soul, greed stoked the fires of hell. Only the tears shed by the righteous can prevent the Devil’s success.
Denver Memorial Hospital ~11:30 p.m.
Buck and Chris waited for what seemed like hours. At last, Doctor Gilford exited the ER and approached the two men who stood to meet him, both anxious for news.
“I'll cut to the chase. JD went into shock and we've been struggling to stabilize him. However, we are now confident he's stable enough to go up to surgery.”
“How serious?” Buck asked.
The doctor gestured for them to sit, but they refused, so he continued. “The first lateral blow hit muscle and nicked JD's left kidney, the second anterior blow,” the doctor pointed to his lower abdomen, “in the left lower quadrant, hit his small intestine.” He paused while the two ashen men took in the information. “While all are repairable injuries under good circumstances, we won't know how bad it is until we're inside. He has lost a lot of blood and the risk of infection is high, not just from the knife blade, but from the damage to the small intestine. We are going in under extreme circumstances, but we have no choice. Chris…Buck…right now I wouldn't even attempt to give odds, but you understand we will do everything we can for him.”
As he finished speaking, the double doors burst open. Nurses rushed JD's bloody gurney toward the elevator. Buck became queasy, watching the pale unconscious form of his little brother race by. He wanted to reach out, but was unable to move. They turned when Ezra and Nathan came rushing in, both coming to a dead stop when they caught sight of JD.
“Oh my Lord.”
Both men rushed over to Buck and Chris.
Ezra gripped Larabee’s arm. “It's true, then?”
Chris looked at him through glistening eyes, his voice hoarse with emotion, “Yes.”
Buck's face now reflected fury as he turned to his oldest friend, and realized he was holding back information. “Chris, what do you know?”
Larabee insisted they all sit down. Before he could speak, his cell rang, and he punched answer. After a brief conversation, he clicked off and paused briefly to collect his thoughts before he answered. “Vin confirmed that he will be arresting Casey for attempted murder.”
For a few long moments, no one spoke, and then Buck's eyes flashed with rage. “Casey? Casey did this?”
Chris nodded. “Vin said since there were no apparent defensive wounds, it doesn't look like JD saw the attack coming. Nettie found him unconscious, with Casey close by, staring into space, and holding a bloody knife. Casey is still passive and non-responsive, but they intend to take her in soon.”
“Barbara went over…to represent the children's interests,” Ezra informed them, fighting the emotions, which threatened to sweep over him. “When she left for Nettie's she only had time to say that Casey attacked JD. I thought perhaps she hit him, but I never expected…”
Buck groaned and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. “This can't be happening.”
Nathan stood quickly, his own bitterness evident. “Rain is on duty tonight, she’ll tell us when she knows something. Are we gonna sit here, or get on up to the surgical waiting area and find out how our boy is doing?”
The other men stood in silent agreement and together they all made their way to the elevators.
Waiting Room ~ 4:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 27th
Observing the range of emotions displayed by his brothers over the past hour, Josiah understood their feelings. Fear, anger, disappointment, and conflict radiated around the room. Each man expressed his deep anguish in various ways.
Earlier, Josiah shared Vin’s struggle when, forced by circumstances, they had to set aside their own feelings and take charge of an unimaginable crime scene. He witnessed the pain in Nettie’s eyes as she tried to comprehend the truth. He felt Kelli’s fears for her husband and her sorrow for Casey and JD. He identified with Barbara and Caitlyn’s shocked faces when they entered the Dunne home. In spite of the horror of a family tragedy, he held compassion for the young woman who sat on Nettie’s couch, oblivious to it all. His experiences with Hannah taught him that for some things, there simply were no comprehensible reasons.
Nathan was a man of science, usually objective and reasonable. However, even as he sat quietly in the corner, the anger churning beneath his calm exterior was evident.
Ezra spent an enormous amount of time and energy attempting to convince the world he was unaffected by emotion. Yet tonight, with his air of composure stripped away, his thoughts collided. Torn between fear for JD and the concern for the Dunne children, he sat by the window staring off into the night, occasionally swallowing hard as he tried to come to terms with tonight’s tragedy.
Chris was most often the hardest to read, but even he was having difficulty concealing the angry turmoil of emotions simmering inside him. Part of him wanted to believe a rational explanation for what happened. A mistake or some tangible thread of reason he could grab hold of and understand. The other part of him wanted to forget his years in law enforcement and make someone pay dearly for the pain JD suffered. The resentments he held about Linda’s challenge for custody of the kids and Ice’s treachery, weighed on his mind. His family had suffered from both and now faced further hurt, inflicted by a woman, who was evidently not the loving wife and mother everyone thought they knew. Leaning against the wall nearest the door, he looked intense and menacing, like a lion ready to pounce on its prey.
Then there was Buck. He talked the talk and walked the walk, but of the seven of them, he was probably the most emotionally driven. For an hour, he paced the small waiting room and ranted. Running the gauntlet of emotional hell, he prayed for JD to live, and cursed Casey. He questioned God through his tears, and swore the devil’s vengeance in his rage, while he yelled about finding justice.
The mounting tensions in the room rapidly approached an explosive point. All that was missing was a target. When Vin and Kelli walked in, Josiah feared his brothers had found one.
Vin kept his hand on the small of Kelli’s back as they joined their family. Although he expected stress, and concern for JD, the massive amount of tension which hit him when they walked in surprised him. “How’s the kid?”
Buck stopped pacing, and spun around to face them, shouting, “Did you get the bitch locked up?”
Feeling Kelli tense up, Vin answered, “Casey has been charged and booked into jail. We left her in the infirmary, and her attorney is with Nettie.”
Narrowing his brow, Buck snarled. “The little bitch didn’t waste any time did she? I bet she already had her lawyer on speed dial when she planned to kill JD.”
“I suppose she expects to plead insanity?” Nathan shook his head. “I just hope the grand jury doesn’t buy that nonsense.”
Ezra turned from the window. “I agree. The young woman must be held accountable for her actions.”
Buck shot Vin a fierce scowl. “How the hell did she talk you into getting her in the infirmary? You should’ve thrown the bitch in with the rest of the scum, where she belongs.”
“She is where she needs to be, Bucklin.”Vin glared at him.”I arranged it. I also called Douglas Banks and asked him to represent her.”
“Why would you do that?” The softness of Chris’s voice contrasted with the intense look in his eyes.
Vin met his gaze. “Because she needed a good attorney, and Nettie was not in any condition to find one.” Vin’s head began to pound. He expected Buck to react first, and think later, but Chris’s challenge was unexpected.
“I don’t believe you’re taking her side in this,” Buck hissed. “The bitch can get her own lawyer.”
Kelli heard the judgmental tone in Buck’s voice. While she understood his concern for JD, she could not help but think how a few short months ago it could have been her he called a bitch. However, this was still family, damnit. No matter what Casey did, they should not simply dismiss her from their lives. She stepped forward. “I don’t like this any more than you, Buck, but if you call her a bitch one more time, I’m gonna cloud up and rain all over you.”
“Yeah, you try, Missy, and watch what happens.” Buck moved to stand in front of Kelli, physically spitting the words in her face.
Vin stepped between them, he loved Buck, but he would not stand by and let his brother vent his out of control anger on his wife. “Buck, back off.”
“Kel, you need to back off too,” Chris ordered. “He’s just saying what we’re all thinking.”
“That word is ugly and uncalled for, especially to a woman y’all supposedly care about, who regardless of what she did, is family, too.” Kelli snapped back defensively, thinking of the anguish Vin was going through over this. “We are not takin' sides and it’s offensive that you suggest otherwise. Of course, we care about what happens with JD, but no one in this room knows enough facts to appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioner.”
Ignoring Kelli’s words, Buck stood toe to toe with Vin. “The only one we care about is in surgery right now fighting for his life, or did you forget about JD?”
Tanner tried to disguise the hurt Buck's accusation caused. “No, I didn’t forget. While you were here pacin’ the damn floor, I was walkin’ in his blood. I questioned an old woman, who I care about a great deal, to tears, and stood by watchin’ helplessly as she aged before my eyes.” Vin’s pent up emotions were screaming at him. “I couldn’t be here, because I had a fuckin’ job to do, whether I wanted it or not, and I did it. We arrested a woman who has babysat our kids, shared meals with our family, and is someone I have known, and cared about for close to seventeen years. So hell yes, I asked Banks to help Nettie, even guaranteed his retainer, and I made the request to place Casey in the psychiatric ward where the doctor put her on suicide watch.” He poked his finger into Buck’s chest. “But through all of that, not for one second did I forget about JD!”
Buck grabbed Vin’s hand. “Yes, she's been all of those things...and more. All JD did wrong was love and care for her.” His voice dropped as he hissed out his words, “She sure paid him back, didn't she?” He shoved Vin's hand aside. “Guess it’s obvious where your loyalties are, Tanner. Casey and Nettie always could wrap you around their little fingers. Maybe you should go baby the little princess you seem to love so much, while we take care of the Kid.”
“Let it go, Buck.” Chris moved to stand in front of them. “They haven’t been here to see the results of Casey’s attack.”
Shaking his head and obviously taken aback by the animosity he heard in Chris’s voice, Vin sighed. “All the while we were doing what had to be done, we couldn’t wait to get here, to be with our family…but I reckon maybe we have different ideas about what that means after all.” Vin stepped back, took Kelli’s hand, and looked at Josiah. “We’ll be in the cafeteria. You’ll let us know about JD?”
Josiah nodded. What he was witnessing did not surprise him, but it saddened him to know he was right.
Chris pursed his lips and refused to meet Vin’s eyes when he and Kelli walked out. He was certain they would come around to the truth. Casey attacked his family and he would hear no excuses. No explanation justified her actions. Turning his focus on the door leading to the operating theater, he was confident when Vin came back and saw JD the way they had seen him, he would apologize for his insensitive remarks.
Hospital vigils never made for great conversation, but since the blow-up, the silence was unbearable, and the tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife. Rain came in several times to tell them JD was still in surgery, but she never stayed long. Their combined relief when Doctor Gilford walked in was overwhelming and they all stood to greet him.
“Hello everyone,” Doctor Gilford said as he entered the room still wearing his soiled scrubs. “JD is in recovery. We have successfully repaired, the damage, but there was some leakage from the injury to the small intestine. His temperature is a little elevated and we are monitoring it to make certain we do not have a problem brewing. Consequently, we are treating him with a strong antibiotic. He came through surgery well, but he is still in grave condition, I'm afraid. The shock and blood loss has taken its toll and he'll be going into SICU until further notice.”
“But he’s gonna be okay, right?” Buck needed some reassurance
“Physically, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, I expect a full recovery, given time.” The man's features saddened. “Sharing what happened with me earlier has helped a lot with how we’ve decided to deal with this. I have already arranged for a staff psychiatrist, who specializes in working with trauma victims, to talk with him when he comes around. Without Casey, and given the circumstances, JD's going to need help dealing with this mentally, while he heals physically. I am keeping him heavily sedated for a day or two, his body needs to recover and staying calm will aid the process. When he wakes, he will need people around him who can support him. We can't risk him collapsing or deteriorating.”
Buck and Chris straightened at the last remark as if to make a point.
“Don't you worry none, Doc,” Buck assured him, “the people in this room are behind him all the way and I for one will never let that boy down, or let him think for a split-second any of this was of his fault.”
Gilford nodded. “I don't doubt that for a minute. I'll notify you when he's settled in SICU.”
As the doctor left, Buck glared at Josiah as if encouraging him to disagree with him.
Meeting Buck's glare, Josiah stood. “Family is family, good, bad, or ugly, we don’t get to choose. I’m going downstairs to talk to Vin.”
Pain can divide families, be the source of hurtful words, and inflict hell on loved ones.
Hospital Cafeteria ~ 5:00 a.m.
After drinking several cups of bad coffee, Vin’s mood was even darker than before. He thought about the exchange of words with his brothers in the waiting room an hour earlier. Buck was easy to read, he was reacting, plain and simple. Nathan and Ezra did surprise him, but he was certain after they had time to think, they would be more reasonable. Chris’s reaction had shocked him though. The look in Larabee’s eyes was one he had rarely seen, and the censure and bitterness radiating from his glare was evident.
“Travis will be here soon. He wants us to keep a tight lid on this. I talked to hospital administration and had the ER records sealed. If anyone asks, JD is not listed as a patient.” Kelli talked, but was not sure her Texan heard a word she said. They had avoided any discussion about what happened with Buck, Chris, and the others, but the conflict was eating away at Vin. “You haven’t uttered three words in the past thirty minutes,” she said softly. “Talk to me…please.”
Shaking his head, he closed his eyes for a moment before answering. “I knew when we walked into JD’s home earlier; this was going to be bad all the way around. Bad…” he scoffed. “What a fuckin’ understatement. I understand the immediate reactions from Nathan and Ezra. Even Buck’s vehement rantin’, I expected. Chris though,” Vin shook his head, “his anger was predictable, but the blatant censure in his eyes was disturbing.” When Vin looked up his pain was evident. “If I can’t stay objective, interview JD, and investigate this case without bias, we’ll be forced to turn the case over to the FBI, and they’ll rip the Kid apart. They’ll make him into another insensitive cop, whose marriage went bad. Question how a trained federal agent let this happen in his own home. In short, they’ll crucify him, and every news outlet in the country will be talkin’ about JD and Casey.”
Kelli sighed, put her hand over his, and squeezed. “Then we’ll just make sure that doesn’t happen. Dad is upset, we all are, but as soon as Doctor G confirms JD will be okay, I’m certain he’ll see things more clearly.”
“I hope you’re right, Baby, but …for the first time since I met him, I can’t understand where Chris’s head’s at. Hell, we all love JD, and Chris knows we’ll stand with him, no matter what, or at least he should. Does that mean we turn our backs on Nettie and Casey? God, what about Lilah, Daisy, and JJ…?” Thinking of the Dunne children was more than his battered emotions could handle right now.
Trying to control her own emotions was difficult when Vin’s expression showed how much he hurt. Her voice trembled, “I’m afraid none of us will be able to escape the heartbreak of what’s happened tonight for a long time, especially JD and the kids.”
Vin glared at the clock on the wall for the umpteenth time. “Why the hell don’t we hear anythin’? JD should be out of surgery by now.”
“Want me to call the nurse’s station again?”
“Appears you won’t need to… Josiah’s here.” Vin spotted him the moment he stepped into the room.
Josiah made his way across the cafeteria to join them. Vin and Kelli stood when he approached, their fears rose, since his demeanor gave nothing away. He put a hand on each of their shoulders and gave a comforting squeeze.
“JD's out of surgery and about to go up to SICU. He's fighting an infection, so they're keeping him sedated for now.” He spoke to Vin, “I'm guessing you'll need a statement from him. I’m certain that won’t happen for a day or two at least.”
“He's gonna be okay?” Kelli's voice was uncharacteristically soft and shaky.
Josiah shrugged. “They're hopeful, and expect him to recover, but Doctor Gilford is cautiously optimistic. A body in shock can be vulnerable and unpredictable. He…” Josiah swallowed, “he died once…in the ambulance.”
A wave of nausea washed over Vin, his jaw clenched. “I need to be with JD,” Tanner's words were soft-spoken, but with no room for argument.
“That's why I’m here,” Josiah acknowledged, “let's go.”
Orrin Travis spoke with Josiah before he came up to the SICU. After only being there a few minutes, he felt the full impact of the tensions radiating from his agents. He pulled Chris aside to explain the steps he had taken to protect JD and MCAT from outsiders prying for information. “I expect you to make certain this dilemma is handled with discretion. We will take care of this investigation internally and keep Agent Dunne and his wife’s name out of the press.”
Chris leaned into Travis’s personal space. “This dilemma involves family. We are not sweeping this under the Goddamn rug! I don’t fucking care if her name gets in the press or not. Casey did this and by God she’ll pay.”
Orrin did not waiver. “Need I remind you Commander Larabee, you are now the Assistant Director for MCAT? Your responsibility is to not only to protect Agent Dunne from inflamed publicity, but all MCAT units as well. Like it or not, you set the tone the others will follow. I expect you to act accordingly.”
“A member of my family was brutally attacked in his home by his loving wife, and you want me to act accordingly?” Chris hissed. “Fuck you, Orrin. You want my job, fine, but do not tell me to think about MCAT first!”
Travis nodded. He understood Chris’s anger and his need to vent, but that was no excuse for his behavior. “Your emotions are obviously too involved in this case to be objective. Consider yourself on emergency family leave Commander Larabee, until this investigation is completed.”
“Fine by me, but if you’ve forgotten, this case has a name… John Daniel Dunne, and damned right I’m involved. That boy spent more than five hours in surgery to save his life, and is still in critical condition, but you don’t need to worry about MCAT, Tanner’s already doing his damndest to whitewash what happened.”
“I will talk to Tanner.” Orrin bit his tongue to keep from saying something he might end up regretting. Fortunately, after talking to Josiah on his way up here, he was prepared for Larabee’s attitude. He hoped that a little rest, time, and a recovered JD would still the rough seas raging in his unit. His stance softened. “Take care of your family, Chris; I’ll come back tomorrow to check on Agent Dunne.”
On his way out, Travis met Vin, Kelli, and Josiah at the downstairs elevator. “Captain Tanner, I need a moment please?” Orrin placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder, and took a few steps away from the others. “I realize this is a bad time for all of you, but you are to continue this investigation.”
Vin nodded. “Kelli told me you wanted to keep this low key.”
“I do,” Travis said. “Bravo will take over Alpha team’s duties. Talk with Justin and bring him up to speed on what your unit is working on, but do not give him any details about Agent Dunne. I want him and MCAT protected from adverse publicity. Agent Sanchez and Coulter will assist you, and under these circumstances, you will report to me.”
“What about Larabee?”
“Commander Larabee is on emergency leave of absence and the rest of your team is officially on stand down status.” Orrin stated without explanation. “I will make certain you receive whatever you require to complete your inquiry. Work out of Camp Larabee, stay in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s office, let Kelli handle information flow, and do not discuss your findings with anyone else. I expect you to conduct a thorough, objective, and professional investigation.”
Taking a deep breath, Vin was aware of the huge weight which fell on his shoulders, but he had no options. If he refused, no one would represent JD, MCAT, or the family’s interest in the outcome, and it could get ugly. “I’ll do my job, Orrin.”
“I know you will.” Travis sighed, dropped his professional tone and said, “I care about JD too; that’s why I want us to control what gets out and what doesn’t. After he recovers, JD, his children, and his wife will still have to deal with the emotional ramifications of this mess for a long time. There is no need for public scrutiny of his or his children’s lives. Be discreet, but find the truth…wherever it leads.”
The elevator dinged for the fourth time. “Go on, visit JD, then do your job.” Orrin accepted Tanner’s nod and watched him disappear into the elevator with Josiah and Kelli. He said a silent prayer for his men, his friends, and their families before leaving.
Before Doctor Gilford allowed the group into SICU, he held up his hand. “Let me tell you what to expect. Your friend’s appearance is dreadful; he's drawn and pale and connected to a vent.” He paused as he saw the alarm on the faces of the men in front of him. “For now, JD's in a medically induced coma, his body is currently too weak to fight and function, so the vent is assisting him to breathe for the short term. When I am convinced he's ready, I'll remove the machine and begin to reduce his meds.”
“Will he wake up then?” Buck asked, anxious to be at JD’s bedside.
“I expect him to, yes,” Gilford continued. “He's alone now, so you may all go in, but he will be out of it for at least twenty-four hours, during which time I suggest you get some rest yourselves. When I'm confident I can bring him around, I'll let you know…you will have plenty of time to get to the hospital to be here for him.” Satisfied that his message was clear, and received, the doctor stepped aside to allow them entry.
Buck's heart clenched when he saw JD lying there, reaching out for support, he grabbed Chris’s arm. Trying to ignore the numerous cables, drains, beeping machinery, and the whooshing of the ventilator, they approached the bed; the brunet leaned over and gently touched JD's face.
Unable to prevent the tears, which welled in his eyes from falling, Buck sobbed. “I'm so sorry, li'l brother…I'm so, so sorry. We're all here, kid…fight, ya hear me? Fight or Chris will have your ass in a sling.” The others moved closer, each man lost in his own thoughts… one by one resting a hand on JD. A noise at the door drew their attention. Josiah nodded to them all, as Vin and Kelli followed him into the room.
Vin stared at the small form in the bed, his heart in his throat, causing him to swallow to relieve the pressure.
Kelli had her hand on his back and could feel Vin shaking. She brushed away a tear from her cheek. Buck moved just enough for them to get close.
Softly laying his hand on JD's head, Vin took a few moments to look at him, leaned in, and whispered into his ear. “I've got your back…don’t give up, we're all here for you…hang in there little brother. You have my word that I’ll find some answers for you.” He rested his head against JD's for a moment, fighting the images of the young man lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, and then straightened.
Turning away from the bed, Vin was met by the anguished faces of his five other brothers, his own shaking became more evident. The events of the day were catching up with him and one huge solitary tear rolled down his cheek. Taking Kelli's hand, his voice shuddered, “I have some things need tendin’, but…I'll be back.” Without a backward glance, he left the room. It was not until he and Kelli were alone in the elevator that Vin finally broke down, allowing her to comfort him.
Chris stepped closer to JD and brushed hair from the younger man's face, addressing the others.
“I'm staying for a while. The doc said we should rest before he reduces JD's meds. I suggest we take his advice…when this kid comes back to us; he's going to need us fresh and awake. Go home…be with your families…then come back and be here for JD.”
He looked at Buck; there was no way this man was moving anytime soon. One by one, the men visited with their youngest, each offering words of comfort and promises to return after getting some sleep. Chris and Buck settled in for the duration. Chris needed to work some things out in his head before leaving. The blond looked sadly back at JD, no wife here at his side. Chris shuddered, his thoughts on Casey’s senseless violence and Linda’s egocentricity …fucking wives….this was so wrong…so very, very wrong.
As if the heavens empathized with the family, dark storm clouds shrouded the morning sun while torrential rains pounded the streets of Denver. Vin maneuvered through the rush hour traffic, his progress slowed by the slick roadways. Kelli was on the phone gathering information on their investigation and tried to ignore the soft curses he uttered under his breath.
Snapping the cell shut, she looked over to Vin, wishing she could somehow make all this easier for him, but at a loss to know how. “First off, I talked to Max, our kids are fine. I also reached Greg, and he’s waitin’ for us at JD’s. He has a preliminary report for us to go over on what he found, and he kept one tech with him, said he figured the fewer people involved the better.”
Vin nodded his response.
Kelli continued, “Barbara woke up a judge and managed to obtain temporary guardianship of the Dunne children assigned to Caitlyn. I talked to Cait and she told me Nettie and the kids are at Reins now, but she insisted that Nettie get some rest before the hearing today at two-thirty…” Though it was fleeting, she did not miss his reaction when she mentioned Casey’s court appearance. “Vin, I know you’re hurtin’, but we can’t change what’s happened.”
Reaching over to clasp her hand, he roughly whispered, “I know, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it, either.” Clearing his throat, he continued. “We’ll do what we have to and be professional. I…can accept Casey bein’ mentally unbalanced, it’s still a damn tragedy, but at least it makes better sense than the alternative.”
“We have to follow the evidence…wherever it takes us.”
“Let’s hope like hell Greg didn’t find proof indicating that Casey acted with intent or JD might never recover.”
*Or you,* she thought. It took a lot to have any of the seven genuinely angry with one of the others, but sometimes they did have extreme differences of opinions. Stubborn as they all were, it could get loud and occasionally physical, but it never lasted very long. However, their diverse emotional reactions to Casey’s attack on JD already proved to have the power to divide them. Kelli hoped it was temporary, that cooler heads would prevail, and they would find a way to come together in the days ahead, to attain the support and healing they needed, for all their sakes.
The truth can set us free or weigh us down. It can lead us into the dark places we do not wish to visit and force us to accept the unacceptable. The one thing it cannot do is lie.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Nathan leaned against the wall and waited by the employees’ entrance for Rain. Her shift ended at six and he needed to be with her this morning. He smiled as she came down the hall, and moved to meet her. “Hey, Baby,” he leaned close to kiss her, “thought I’d catch a ride home with you.”
“Sounds good to me. Are you okay?” Falling in step with one another, they shared an umbrella, and headed for her car.
He waited until they were inside to answer. Nathan thought about her question. “I’m a bit numb…Doc thinks JD is gonna be okay, but I can’t get the thought of what happened out of my head. How could Casey do this?”
“She’s ill. You know as well as I do that’s the only explanation.”
Shaking his head, Nathan disagreed. “Ice was a psychotic bitch, but everything she did was methodically calculated for a purpose. What makes Casey any different? How do we know this is not something she planned?”
“Nathan Jackson! You can’t believe Casey planned to hurt JD.”
“How can we be sure she didn’t? Can you sit there and tell me with one hundred percent certainty she is unable to understand right from wrong? I don’t think so. Depressed maybe, but she had to realize what she was doing. We would have known if she was that far gone.”
Rain was astonished. “You are the last person I would expect to jump to conclusions. I think we need to drop this discussion before we both say something we might regret.”
“Fine by me,” Nathan huffed, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. The ride home was long, wet, and silent.
Standish Home ~ 6:30a.m.
Ezra threw his keys on the table and made his way through the dark house. It seemed like days since he had been here and in some ways, a lifetime ago. He understood enough about human nature to realize that everything had changed since he walked out the door last night. A tragedy like this was not supposed to happen …not here.
The safe haven they took for granted on Larabee 7 for their families had vanished, touched by the ugliness of the world they spent their lives trying to hold in check. One of their own was down and one of their women responsible. How the hell do you recover from that?
He entered their bedroom and paused to observe Barbara sleeping. The soft rise and fall of her chest comforted him and his first instinct was to wake her to talk about what happened, but the voice of reason in his head said no. There would be time for talking later. He stripped off his clothes, slid in to bed beside his wife, wrapped his arm around her, and allowed sleep to claim him.
Wells’ Property ~ 7:00 a.m.
Parked in front of the Dunne home, the Mobile Analysis Unit or MAU, as the agents called the forensic truck, sat in the rain. Greg, his assistant, Roy, and a Deputy, waited on the front porch for Captain Tanner to arrive. Their work was completed, but the captain still had to sign off on the evidence collected.
Vin parked as close as possible to the house, but before he opened the truck door, he asked Kelli, “You okay with this?”
“Truthfully, no I’m not. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about searchin’ a crime scene…but this is family,” she shuddered, “I hate the idea of invadin’ their privacy like this.” Taking a deep breath, she exhaled slowly. “Still, we have a job to do, so let’s get this over with, and deal with our regrets later.”
Handing her an umbrella, Vin brushed his fingers across her cheek. “Agent Coulter; if you weren’t a married woman…you wouldn’t be safe with me, but I hear your husband is a possessive sonofabitch.”
Kelli laughed, in spite of her qualms, and relaxed, thankful Vin was with her. It did not make anything easier, but it did make what they had to do bearable. “He is, but the fact I have a husband never stopped you before, Captain. If you want to screw around later, I won’t tell him, if you don’t.”
Satisfied he had lightened her mood, Vin felt better himself. “I won’t tell him and I’ll definitely take you up on your offer, woman. God knows I need somethin’ that makes sense to look forward to right now. Let’s get this over with. “Making a mad dash for the house, they ducked under the yellow crime scene tape strung across the steps and were both drenched before reaching the porch.
Greg handed them towels to dry off with and steered them to the dining area where he had compiled the evidence ready to take to the lab. “Agent Dunne’s weapons and badge are accounted for and I figured you would want them in your possession. I have a small crew coming in to clean up the crime scene in the kitchen. I also made certain everything else has been returned to its original state, with the exception of these items.” He pointed to the evidence bags on the table, which he had collected over the past few hours.
“Tell me what we have,” Tanner waited for a verbal report.
Agent Ramsey continued, “I found this small caliber weapon in Missus Dunne’s vehicle.” He handed a 22-caliber handgun to Vin. “Answering machine tape has a message from Agent Dunne on it. The call came in at four-fifteen. I made you a copy as well as duplicates of the discs taken from three ‘Nanny Cams’ we found. Given the expert set-up of the one in the children’s bedroom, my guess is Agent Dunne installed it. The other two were located in the master bedroom and the kitchen. Missus Dunne’s prints are the only ones on them. They’re strictly amateur work, but effective.” He handed Vin the copies. “We tagged the cameras as evidence, and everything that happened in those three rooms for the past twenty-four hours was recorded.”
Suddenly the discs were hot to Vin’s touch and he felt queasy. “Includin’ the assault?” Knowing what happened was one thing, actually seeing the assault was another.
“Yes sir, you really should view them yourself.”
“Why two knives?” Kelli asked, pointing to the other evidence bags. “I thought Casey only used a single weapon.”
“This is the kitchen knife used in the attack.” Greg lifted the bag closest to him. “The other one I found under the mattress in the master bedroom… left upper side of the bed.”
Closing his eyes, Vin swallowed hard. He knew JD well enough to know he always claimed the right side of the bed. Casey was the only possible person, who could have placed the weapon under the mattress, which meant she could have stabbed JD at any time. Why the hell was she hiding a knife? “What this?” He picked up an evidence bag with pill bottles inside.
“Medication prescribed for Missus Dunne. The Premarin was in the medicine cabinet and it appears that she took it regularly. The other bottle was hidden inside a boot in her closet.”
Tanner read the label, “Olanzapine. What the hell is it for, and why is the bottle almost full when the date of prescription is over a month old?”
“Olanzapine is an atypical antipsychotic, a class of prescription medication used to treat psychiatric conditions. Why she did not take the prescribed dosage is something you‘re going to have to find out.” Greg pulled a folder from beneath the tray. “This is my preliminary report. I included the name of the doctor who prescribed the meds and the pharmacy that filled the prescriptions. This last item is a journal, which apparently belongs to Missus Dunne.” He handed the book to Kelli. “I’ve already processed this and have a notation in my report, but I thought it might be helpful in your investigation.”
“Good job, Ramsey. You’re done here. Take what you have to the lab and log the entire batch into evidence.” Vin took a deep breath and addressed the other forensic tech. “Roy, once the cleanin’ crew is finished, release the scene and drop the keys off to Miss Wells at Reins for Change.” He picked up JD’s weapons, ID, the report and the discs, leaving without another word.
Vin sat inside the truck and tried to make sense of what he had in his hands. “She was on fuckin’ antipsychotic meds, bought a gun, and kept a Goddamn knife under her mattress. How the hell could Casey be so screwed up, and none of us realize?”
“I don’t know,” Kelli said softly, “but I reckon our job is to figure it all out. We all assumed she was on a mild antidepressant because that’s what she wanted us to think.” She laid her hand on his arm. “Let’s go to the house, see the kids, change clothes, and then work out a plan.”
Vin nodded and set the evidence between them on the seat. He started the engine, and glanced toward the house. Whatever they found out would not fix what had happened or turn back the clock. His biggest regret was that he had no idea what would make it better again.
Denver Memorial Hospital ~ 11:00 a.m.
Chris stood and walked over to look out the window for the umpteenth time, not certain what he expected. The wind had picked up considerably while the rain continued to fall, making the morning dark and gloomy, just like his mood. He watched Buck as he stroked the back of JD's hand with his thumb, while talking non-stop about every subject imaginable…all except one…he hadn't talked about Casey. Buck was an amazing individual, loving and giving…he had been the perfect match ten years ago, for an orphaned rookie, twenty year-old wiz-kid.
Buck and Chris had often joked about it being like having a dependent in terms of responsibility. Not that JD had ever asked for special treatment, but both of them, and others on the team, had been compelled to treat JD that way occasionally…and he'd thrived on it. Hell, ten years later he was still thriving on it. They had seen him through from boy to man, bachelor to husband…and father. Chris smiled to himself. When JD hit ninety, he'd still be 'the kid'.
That thought brought Chris back to earth with a bump…JD would see ninety…wouldn't he? Of all the injuries the team and the kid had been through, certainly JD would not die at the hands of someone close to him…someone he…loved. He moved to snap himself out of his ruminations.
The brunet looked up wearily. “Yeah, thanks.” After Chris left, he turned again to JD. “Kid…that man is worried sick about you…we all are.”
Chris punched the button on the coffee machine, and Linda's face flashed through his mind.*'Fucking bitch'!* How could a woman end up destroying your life with a selfish act or callous words?
Her threat of a custody battle was the last thing he needed. The kids had settled into a good routine and now he had Cait. For the first time, in a long time, he felt…complete.
He turned to happier thoughts…Caitlyn. Despite all that was going on, he was already certain he had found a woman who understood him, not just as a lover, but also as a friend. Chris closed his eyes as he thought about Cait in his arms. He needed her…he needed her tonight. She touched his soul and his heart … he ached to be with her…to let her take away some of the pain. Just to hold him and be the strong one for a while. He walked back to JD's room and handed Buck his coffee.
“I'm going to head on over to Caitlyn's, find out what's happening. Shall I call one of the others…?”
“No.” Buck held up his hand to apologize for his hasty reply. “No, I…I'd kind of like to be with JD by myself for a while.”
Fully understanding, Chris nodded. He leaned over JD and laid his hand on the younger man's head. “I'll be back, son…I promise. You're not alone…please don't forget that…your brothers are here for you.”
As Buck watched Chris leave, the enormity of the words struck him. Chris was afraid…he was afraid JD would focus on Casey and give up. He picked up the slack hand.
“What he said, Kid, you know it’s true. We've been down this road before, me, you an' the guys…things may change, but it's always us…always the Seven. We're stronger together, JD…and we're stronger now, because every one of us is fighting right along with you. Rest easy, little bro…we're gonna beat this…all fucking seven of us.”
Tanner Home ~ 11:00 a.m.
After spending time with their children and settling them in for their morning activities, Vin and Kelli headed for their bedroom. A quick shower refreshed the sleep-deprived couple and they prepared to resume their investigation once they viewed the discs Agent Ramsey had given them.
Vin stood in front of the DVD/VCR player for a long time before pushing the on button. “Damn, I hate this.”
Wrapping her arms around him, Kelli whispered, “I know. “
He leaned into her and sighed. Setting aside the discs from the girls’ room, he started with the one from the master bedroom. He kept the sound down and fast-forwarded through the private moments between JD and Casey from the night before. He slowed when he reached the scenes near the time JD’s last phone call came in. Casey evidently listened to the message without picking up the phone. Pausing the screen, Vin told Kelli, “Look in the report and read the message JD left.”
Flipping through the pages, she found the notes. “Case, I’ll probably be late. The Feds insist I show up at the Federal Building, and you know how that goes….love you, bye.” Kelli picked up Casey’s journal. “Vin, she started this about the same time the FBI arrested JD back in October. You think …?”
“Yeah, I do. Look at her reaction after hearin’ the message.” Turning up the sound they heard Casey repeating, “They took him again, they took him again,” as she headed to the bathroom. Following the sequence of events after that was easy. Casey took a shower, fully clothed, came out an hour later, changed her clothes and then left the room. The only other activity was when she put JJ down, and then JD arrived at nine forty-five. It was difficult to view the tender moments with his son, knowing what was coming.
Vin changed the disc to the one from the kitchen and fast-forwarded to seven. Casey stood at the counter cutting vegetables and she did not move until JD came into the room. Vin felt a cold chill race down his spine viewing the attack. He cringed when JD went down and Casey’s obsessed screams damn near tore him apart. Watching JD fall to the floor was his undoing.
Tanner slammed his hand onto the stop button, crying out, “Fuckin; Goddamn, Sonofabitch! How could…damnit to hell!”
“Stop, please,” Kelli pulled him away from the television and held onto him, both finding comfort in one another.
Shaking off the horror of the surreal events they had just witnessed, Vin took a deep breath, and hugged his wife tightly to anchor himself in the here and now. He rested his chin on her head and asked, “You wanna run away with me? We could pack up the kids and be long gone before anyone came lookin’ for us.”
“Anywhere, any time, Tanner, say the word and we’re outta here.”
Vin exhaled and kissed the top of her head. “Reckon we need to finish what we started first, huh?”
She looked up at him and sighed. “Reckon we do.”
Reading the concern in her eyes, Vin assured her, “I’m all right now,” he swatted her on the ass, “but… we are never makin’ any kind of sex video… ever. The only person who’s gonna see you in action is me.”
Letting her go, he took the discs from the machine, walked into their closet and locked them in the gun safe, along with JD’s weapons and ID. He hoped no one else would ever have to see what he and Kelli had just watched. When he reentered the bedroom, his cell phone began to ring.
Snatching it up, he answered, “Tanner.” Listening intently, he finally responded to the caller. “We’ll be there.” Snapping the cell closed he looked at Kelli. “Trenton Barlow is the U.S. Attorney handling the Dunne case. Travis handpicked him and he wants us to meet him at the hearing this afternoon.”
Kelli nodded. “I’ll follow up with the doctor who prescribed Casey’s meds, stop by the bank and then go by the jail to check on Casey. I’ll meet you at the courthouse by two.”
“I’ll call Justin to fill him in on our caseload, and write up a preliminary report for Barlow. Nettie should be up by then and I need to ask her a few more questions before I head back downtown”. Vin shook his head. “I can’t talk to JD for at least another day, so when we leave the courthouse I want to come back here to try and get some sleep. I have a feelin’ we’re gonna need it.”
Finding a balance for our emotions through pain is not an easy task
Reins of Change ~ Noon
Chris went straight home to see his kids and was not surprised when Dottie told him Cait had picked up Grace for her regular daycare routine. After Cody went down for his nap, he drove over to Reins, not only to see Grace, but he hoped to have the opportunity to talk to Cait. Maybe she could help him sort out the range of emotions he was experiencing and find some balance in the madness of the past twelve hours.
Cait met him at the door with a hug and a kiss, noting the weariness and turmoil in his eyes. Wrapping her arm around his waist, she asked, “How’s JD?”
“Holding his own I suppose. The doctor has him in a medically induced coma…” Chris drew her closer to him while they walked inside to the living room. “God, Cait how did this happen? Why didn’t we see it coming?”
“Sometimes even the experts are caught unaware.” They sat down side by side on the couch. “Understanding the mind is not an exact science, and those who suffer mental illness do not wear a sign around their neck. As for Casey, I believe her depression was much worst than any of us realized. Combined with the stress factors of a premature birth and an emergency hysterectomy, some type of psychosis must have developed.”
“So you don’t think she knew what she was doing?” Chris shook his head. “I’m having a hard time believing that.”
Nettie stood in the doorway. “Casey loves JD. Whatever happened last night…,” Taking a deep breath, her voiced trembled, “I can’t explain, but I do know my girl needs help.”
Chris stood when Nettie entered the room. He was struck by how much older she looked than the last time he had seen her. He moved to assist her to a chair.
“Sit down, son,” Nettie waved off his offer to assist her. “I can manage.”
“Nettie is staying here for a while,” Cait explained. “Barbara arranged for me to take temporary custody of the children until JD is able to make decisions about their care.”
Clearly, Nettie was not in any condition to take charge of three children right now. The twins were a handful on a good day, and JJ needed constant attention. Although it made sense for Cait to take them in, seeing the older woman here, caught him off guard. He had not given much thought to anything other than JD’s condition, he should have been thinking about other considerations as well.
Nettie nodded. “My main concerns right now are JD and Casey. How is he?”
Chris explained what Doctor Gilford had told them earlier. “All we can do now is to wait until the doc thinks he’s ready to wake up.”
“I understand how you must feel,” Nettie sighed, “but I love that boy too, and I’d like to see him when he’s awake.”
Cait stood. “I’m going to get us something to drink. Chris, will you help me please?”
Following her to the kitchen, Chris thought about Buck and his reaction if Nettie went to the hospital. After the harsh words with Vin…
Cait’s voice broke into his thoughts. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you about Nettie being here. The children are at the daycare, I thought Nettie needed to rest…”
“Ssh, it’s all right. Her presence just took me by surprise. I noticed the twins when I stopped to visit with Grace, but I figured Nettie had dropped them off for the day and... Hell,” Chris could not wait any longer, pulling her into his arms, “I know it’s damn near impossible, but God, I want you and I need to be with you.” Lowering his head, he captured her mouth for a long lingering kiss taking them to another place, far away from the pain and explanations.
Placing her hand over his heart, Cait gently pushed him back a bit. “Lord, you do know how to change the subject and make me forget what I’m supposed to be doing.”
He grinned, “My pleasure, ma’am.” Taking a more serious tone he continued, “I understand we can’t be here together, and Dottie and the kids are at my house in the evenings. Besides, I plan to take a room at the hotel across the street from the hospital, at least until JD is on the mend. We’ll use the hotel as a base, so one of us can sleep while another sits with the Kid.” He sighed. “Seems we’re back to the same problem we had before…no place and no time for us.”
Running her fingers through his hair Cait whispered. “We’ll think of something. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” She moved away from him and reached for the pitcher of tea in the refrigerator. “Grab some glasses; I imagine Nettie is wondering what’s taking us so long.”
A knock on the front door drew their attention.
“I’ll get the door, you bring the drinks.” Cait smiled when she realized Chris was already doing just that.
Cursing the continuous rain, Vin knocked on Caitlyn’s door. His report was finished and Kelli called him a few minutes ago. She had talked to Doctor Ward, and was now on her way to the jail to attempt an interview with Casey. He hated the thought of asking Nettie any more questions, but it was necessary. Seeing Chris’s Ram parked in the driveway did not improve his frame of mind either. His emotions were too raw for another confrontation with Larabee.
“Vin, “Cait said as she opened the door. “Come in.” She stepped aside for him to enter. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to speak with Miss Nettie for a few minutes, if she’s available.”
“Certainly, she‘s in the living room with Chris. Follow me.”
Entering the room, Vin nodded to Chris, acknowledging his presence. He directed his comments to Cait and Nettie, “I won’t take up much of y’alls time, but I need to ask Nettie a few questions.”
“I have nothing to hide, Son, ask away.” Nettie made it plain she expected him to sit next to her and did not mind Chris and Caitlyn staying.
Once Vin sat down, he tried to dismiss Chris and Cait from his thoughts, concentrating on Nettie. “A professional cleanin’ crew went into your house this mornin’. When they’re finished I’ve instructed our forensic tech to release the scene, and drop off the keys to you.” He handed her a sheet of paper. “This is a list of items we removed from the premises and I think you’ll find everything else in its proper place.”
Nettie nodded. “I appreciate all this, but …I’m not ready to go back yet.”
“I understand.” Vin cleared his throat. “Nettie, did Casey discuss with you the type of medication her doctor prescribed?”
“Doctor Elspeth Shaftsbury is the one who took care of Casey after JJ was born. She put her on hormone replacement therapy after her surgery and something for what she called a mild case of depression.”
“Did Case ever mention a doctor named Ward to you?”
Nettie shook her head, “No, Elspeth has been Casey’s doctor for years, and her father was my doctor before that. Is something wrong with her medicine?”
“No, but we found a prescription from a Doctor Ward in Casey’s name and I wanted to make sure we had our facts straight. Kel talked to him and he told her Doctor Shaftsbury had referred Casey to him for treatment.” Vin hesitated for a moment. “Doctor Ward is a psychiatrist and evidently Casey had been seein’ him off and on since January…or was, up until a few weeks ago. She suddenly stopped going to her appointments and apparently quit takin’ the meds he prescribed for her.”
Nettie put her hand to her mouth. “Why didn’t she tell us? We…God, I should have seen this coming... I knew something was wrong.”
Vin took Nettie’s other hand. “Casey obviously didn’t want anyone to know and figured she could handle things herself. There’s nothin’you…or anyone else could have done differently. It was her choice to not say anythin’, in retrospect it was probably a bad choice, but hers to make.”
“Did she tell JD?”
“I won’t know that until I can ask him.” Vin held on to her hand. “I only have one more question. Were you aware of the camcorders set up in the house?”
“Yes, JD installed what he called …a ‘Nanny Cam’ in the girls’ room. He hooked the camera up to the computer screen in the living room so I could keep an eye on them when they were playing, but it was just one camera.”
“Okay, that’s all I needed,” Vin patted her hand, “but I’ll be at the hearin’ this afternoon.”
Nettie stood. “I think I want to freshen up, if you all will excuse me.” She left the room, but not before they noticed the tears glistening in her eyes.
Cait waited until she was certain Nettie was out of earshot and leveled her gaze on Tanner. “What are you not telling her, Vin?”
“I have the prisoner in an isolation room, and she’s been quiet since you brought her in,” the doctor in the infirmary told Kelli. “Without her medical records, I did not want to give her anything too strong unless necessary. I did, however, administer a mild sedative to help her sleep.”
Handing over her weapon, Kelli said, “I hoped she might be able to answer a few questions.”
“You can try, Agent, but I doubt you’ll get much.” The doctor walked with her until they reached the room. “The glass is two-way, just signal when you are ready to leave.” Locking the door behind her, he nodded to the guard.
Kelli stood at the door for a moment, observing Casey. The young woman, who she considered a sister, appeared to be sleeping in a fetal position on the bed. However, moving further into the room, it became apparent to the MCAT agent, that she was awake. Smiling at the young woman, she felt saddened by the lack of response. She straightened her shoulders, shrugging off the shroud of melancholy, which drifted over her, and took a deep breath. “How are you feelin’?”
Casey slowly lifted her head off the bed, blinking her eyes as if seeing Kelli for the first time, and stared absently at the redhead. Kelli shivered at the emptiness she read in the usually lively brown eyes. She lifted the solitary chair from against one wall, placed it closer to the bed, and sat down. They sat in silence for almost a minute before Casey found her voice.
“Kelli?” Casey’s eyes went from blank to showing a spark of recognition.
“Yes hon, it's me...Kelli.” Her heart ached at the uncertainty she heard in Casey’s voice and the sight of the huge tears, which appeared in her dark eyes.
Unsure how to answer, Kelli chose her words carefully, “JD's not well right now, Casey, but I promise, as soon as he is, I'll arrange for you to visit with him.”
Casey shook her head. “No...I need him, NO!”
Kelli replied firmly. “Right now that’s not possible...Casey, please understand, JD's too ill to be here...but if he could be, he would...”
“NO! No... I want him...I want him here now...make them bring him back...I know what they're doing...make them bring him back.”
Choking back emotion, the MCAT agent stood to approach the distraught woman. “Casey...please, you need to calm down and listen to me.”
“NO!” Casey stood suddenly and picked up the chair Kelli had been sitting on to place between them. Kelli went immediately into a defensive stance, hoping that she wouldn’t have to hurt Casey to get her under control, yet at the same time unwilling to become another victim to her violent behavior.
“Casey, put the chair down.” She said in her most authoritative voice, but her words were lost to deaf ears and Casey’s eyes had gone hard and cold... she obviously was lost in another time and place, completely out of touch with reality.
“Get away from me...you're not here to help me...you're helping them...you've got JD...You can’t have me!”
With that, Casey hurled the chair she held at Kelli, who dodged to one side to avoid contact with it. The chair connected with the two-way mirror, shattering it. Kelli ducked, instinctively covering her head and face, as jagged shards of glass exploded over both women. She felt a series of tiny pinpricks and small bumps caused by pieces of the fragmented glass connecting with the back of her head, and exposed bare skin. A second or so later she looked up and winced at the frightening scene before her. Casey stood in the center of the room, doing nothing to protect her face, neck or arms from the flying shards of glass, which inflicted cuts on her body. A maniacal look formed on her face, which sent shivers of apprehension rushing through Kelli. Casey then lifted one hand to reveal a much larger piece of glass.
Casey advanced on Kelli. “You aren’t going to take me, like you took JD.”
“Need some assistance in here ASAP!” Kelli yelled, briefly distracted from her attempt to grab the glass dagger from Casey’s hand, and successfully dodging another serious blow when Casey slashed out at her again. Not taking her eyes off the crazed girl, she pulled the sheet from the bed for protection against the weapon Casey was wielding. “You’re bleedin’, let me help you.”
She slashed wildly out at Kelli, who barely dodged her erratic swings. Casey seemed unaware she was inflicting grievous wounds upon her own hands and wrists at the same time.
Kelli moved in, grabbing at the hand that held the shard of glass, and was surprised at the strength Casey exhibited to fight her. Pain shot through her left forearm, followed by the flow of blood. One of the psychotic young woman’s swings had found their mark.
“No!” Casey screamed, “Leave me alone! I won’t listen to your lies anymore! You’ve taken JD, and you’re not going to get me! I’d rather be dead than to let you have me!” She slashed at her own wrists, spilling more blood on the sterile floor, and eliciting an anguished cry of alarm from Kelli.
Staggering a bit as she became weaker, Casey slashed at Kelli. “No, no, no, no. no….” Blood flowed from the cuts on Casey’s wrists.
Three guards rushed into the room, and tackled Casey, taking her to the floor, allowing the doctor to enter and administer a sedative to subdue her. Several minutes passed before she quit screaming and thrashing around, and the doctor was able to bind the many wounds on her arms and wrists
“Sorry Agent Coulter, we had a transfer and I pulled your guard. My report will reflect that and the camera caught the assault.” Turning to the orderlies at the door, the doctor began issuing orders. “Bring that gurney in here. An ambulance is en route and we’ll meet them downstairs. Agent Coulter you’re bleeding too. I’ll need to look at it and document your injuries.”
Kelli looked shakily down at the multiple cuts on her arms and hands from the flying glass. She felt physically ill when she realized just how close she had come to serious injury at the hands of her delusional friend. Her left arm was bleeding profusely and becoming numb, but she was more concerned about Casey. “It’s nothin’ that can’t wait, just pass me some gauze, I’m going with her to the hospital; someone can look at my injuries there.”
Reins of Change
Tanner stood to leave. “Cait, this is still an open investigation and we have many unanswered questions. It would be inappropriate to discuss details of the case with you now.”
“He’s right,” Chris agreed. “I…”
Vin’s cell phone began ringing and interrupted whatever Chris had to say. The distinctive sound of Yellow Rose of Texas playing let him know it was his wife. “Hey Kel...” he listened intently for a moment, his expression changing to one of concern. “Are you okay?” Another moment of listening and he was nodding. “I’m on my way.”
“Trouble, Vin?” Chris leaned forward and asked.
“Kel’s being treated in the emergency room at Denver Memorial, I gotta go.”
Chris stood up and glanced at Cait. She nodded toward the door. “Go, I’ll talk to you later.”
Leaning down to kiss her, he then hurried out the door and yelled, “Wait up, Vin, I’m going with you.”
Idling the engine, Vin waited for Chris to get in on the passenger side. Once the door closed, he shifted into gear and drove off without saying a word. When he hit the road outside ranch boundaries, he switched on the truck’s strobe lights and increased his speed, the rain preventing him from traveling as fast as he wanted.
The silence between the two men was not their familiar peaceful one, but stiff and uncomfortable. Chris decided enough was enough. “We may be on opposite sides of the fence right now about JD and Casey, but we need to call a truce where Kel’s concerned. What happened to my daughter?”
Vin shook his head. Explaining to Chris without discussing the investigation was impossible, so he chose his words carefully. “She went to lockup today and attempted to question Casey. Evidently, some kind of incident occurred, Kel was sketchy on the details. They were both injured and transported to Denver Memorial.”
“What kind of incident, an explosion, jail break or what?”
Hesitating a moment, Vin sighed. “Aw to hell with it, you’ll find out soon enough. Casey lost it again and threw a chair though the two-way mirror in her isolation cell. She sliced her wrists and then fought off Kel with a shard of glass until three guards came in to subdue her. While they’re treatin’ Case for attempted suicide, Kel said she only had a few minor cuts herself, and needed me to bring her some more clothes.”
Chris closed his eyes. “First Linda starts rattling her saber about the kids, then Casey attacks JD, and now this. Damn, what’s next?”
“Linda’s back? When did this come about?”
“Not yet, but according to Matt she’s due in any day. She…,” Chris sighed in frustration, “wants custody of the kids. Ezra says I’m on solid ground legally, but she could make herself a nuisance …especially if she gets wind of all that’s taken place since yesterday.”
The threat Linda posed with her presence explained a lot about Chris’s attitude. “No judge in the world would side with her over you…Shit,” Vin yelled, swerving to avoid a collision, and unintentionally, but effectively changed the subject. Another accident on the rain slick freeway had traffic backed up and gawkers slowed down to get a better view. “At this rate it’ll be a fuckin’ hour before we get to the hospital. I hate to think about Kel bein’ alone in that damn emergency room, especially not knowin’ how bad she’s hurt.”
“Buck’s there,” Chris said, pulling out his cell. “I’m sure he’ll go down to check on her and tell her we’re on our way.” He punched in the number for the hospital and the extension for SICU. “I need to speak with Buck Wilmington, he’s with JD Dunne.” Waiting while the nurse found Buck, he noticed the rain was intensifying.
“Wilmington here,” Buck answered.
“It’s Chris. I need you to run down to the ER and check on Kel for me. She’s been injured and Vin and I are tied up in traffic. Looks as if will be a while before we can get out of this traffic.”
“How bad is she hurt?”
“I don’t know, she didn’t give Vin a lot of details when she called.” Chris exhaled. “Look, she’s probably not seriously injured, but I’d feel better if you’d check on her, at least tell her we’re coming.”
Buck wanted to tell his friend yes, but his fear for JD dictated his response. Looking back toward the hospital bed, he made a decision. “No Chris...I'm all JD’s got here right now...I won't leave him...at least Kelli's conscious ...and soon she'll have you and Vin...no...I'm staying here...with our boy.”
Taken back by his response, it hit Chris just how much things had changed in the past twenty-four hours. Hell, any one of them would have checked on the other’s family or another teammate without hesitation and no questions asked ….until now. He was concerned about JD too, but he was in a drug-induced coma, and probably not even aware Buck was there. Not certain how to respond, he cleared his throat and finally answered, “Sure, you stay with the kid; I’ll see you when we get there.”
“Buck’s still too angry to think straight,” Vin said, overhearing enough to know he refused to leave JD. “I reckon it’ll take a while before he…or any of us come to terms with this.”
“I can understand his anger,” Chris shook his head, “but Kel is not only my daughter and your wife, she’s one of our agents, injured doing her job. I can’t remember any time one of us refused to help a teammate.”
“Let it go, no sense gettin’ in a knot about it,” Vin advised him. “We have enough on our plates without addin’ more hard feelin’s.”
“Maybe,” Chris said softly. He reached over and flipped on the siren. “Get us out of this damn traffic and to the hospital.”
Reconciling the emotions of our hearts with the voices of reaction we hear in our head is an awesome task. Sometimes the soul must intervene in order to keep us sane.
Kelli watched as handcuffed to the gurney, and accompanied by a guard from the jail, the attendants wheeled Casey out of the treatment room. They would keep her on the eighth floor in the psychiatric ward until she recovered, and then send her back to lockup, unless her lawyer was successful in having her moved to a treatment facility. Regardless, for the next seventy-two hours, she would be on lockdown status.
“Your turn, young lady,” Doctor Gilford said, walking up behind Kelli. He guided her into an empty exam room, removed her jacket, and made her sit down He brushed off the visible glass from her head, neck and shoulders. “Let’s see what you’ve done to yourself this time.” Removing the makeshift bandages from her arm and hands, he shook his head. Kelli had a large gash on her forearm and several cuts on her hands. From his experience, he recognized the signs of defensive injuries. “It appears you’ll need a few stitches.” He poured a solution over the wounds.
“Damn, that’s cold,” she yelped. “Where do you keep that stuff… in the freezer?”
Doctor G chuckled. “I have been accused of doing just that. This might take a while; sit still while I remove all the debris from the wounds.” He turned to give orders to the nurse who entered the room. “Place her personal items in a plastic bag and prepare a tray for suturing.” Turning back to Kelli, he asked,” Where is Vin?”
“He’s on his way,” she winced, “that hurt, Doc.” Until he started digging around, she did not realize how deep some of the cuts were. While the doctor worked, he talked softly. Kelli tuned him out and her thoughts went back to Casey, JD, and their children. Suddenly she had a need to be close to her own kids.
Thirty minutes, fourteen stitches, and two shots later, Doctor Gilford was wrapping her hands when Vin and Chris entered the small room.
Vin scanned his surroundings, taking note of the blood on his wife’s clothing, the bandages, and the bloodied, torn jacket on the chair. He moved to stand next to the doctor, but leveled his gaze on her. “I thought you said minor injuries.”
Doctor Gilford answered, “Relax Vin, she’s fine as long as she follows my orders. Although, I see each of you so often, I think I’m going to have to work out some sort of Larabee-Tanner discount on my fees.”
Chris joined them. “You have other patients? I thought we had exclusive use of your services.”
“Hell, Doc, you’re officially listed as our family doctor.” Vin did not take his eyes off his wife. “What does she need to do?”
“She didn’t need tetanus, but I did administer a shot of antibiotics and used a local anesthetic. Keep the wounds dry. The stitches should dissolve in seven to ten days. I’m afraid the injuries will be a little uncomfortable for Kelli the next few days, but I made certain the cuts were clean, so the risk of infection is minimal. Still, I am prescribing an antibiotic, along with a pain reliever, make sure she takes both.” Gilford stood and patted Kelli on the shoulder. “I did my best work, scarring should not be a problem. You take care of yourself, young lady; I do not want you in here as a patient for at least another six months.”
“Thanks Doc,” Kelli answered. She read the concern in her husband’s eyes and was quick to reassure him. “Most of the blood isn’t mine. Except for not being able to use my left arm and hand for a few days, I’m all right.”
Chris stepped back with the doctor to give Vin room to help Kelli. “Doc, how come you’re so much nicer to Kel than you are with me or Vin?”
Grinning he replied, “She’s prettier than either of you and listens to me, something you should learn to do, Larabee.” Handing Chris the written prescriptions and release papers he turned back to address Vin and Kelli. “If you have any questions, call me. Now, contrary to what you might think, I do have other patients.” With a nod to them all, he left the room.
“How bad?” Vin asked.
“Fourteen stitches, but spread out, no nerve damage, a few nicks and small cuts from the glass.” She pointed out the injuries to her forearm and the ones on her hands. “It’s not that bad.”
“It could have been,” Vin said, setting a bag on the counter. “I brought the change of clothes you keep in the truck.” Picking up a plastic bag with her badge, gun, keys, cell phone, notepad, and an envelope inside, he looked at her. “Is this everythin’ from your jacket?”
“Yeah, my truck’s parked at the federal building and the cashier’s check for Banks is the envelope. The jacket needs to be trashed.”
Chris picked it up and dropped in the wastebasket. “Did and done,” he hesitated before asking, “What about Casey?” he turned his back to them while Vin helped her change her shirt.
“She lost a lot of blood, but the last I saw of her she was stable. They took her up to the psyche ward and put her on seventy-two hour observation hold.”
Vin buttoned her blouse, threw the old one in the garbage and assisted her up. “I need to contact Barlow at the U.S. Attorney’s office, he’s expecting us at the courthouse in…” he looked at his watch, “twenty minutes.”
“Damn Cait and Nettie are probably on their way to the courthouse, too.” Chris decided he needed to be the one to call her. “I’ll break the news to them; you take care of the attorney. I want to check on JD before we leave and have a word with Buck, but you’re wiped out, Vin. I did manage to get a couple hours sleep off and on last night, so I’ll drive you two home.” Leaning down he kissed Kelli on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Chris felt older than his years. His call to Cait was difficult. Nettie took it hard about Casey, and was devastated to learn there would be no visitation allowed. Hell, the past sixteen hours alone had aged him ten years, he had no idea how Nettie was holding up. He walked into the unit and went over to JD’s bedside.
“No change,” Buck commented. “I thought maybe…but, damn I hate to see him like this.”
“Yeah,” Chris nodded, “me too.” Looking at Buck, he tilted his head toward the door. “I need to speak to you a minute. JD will be okay, until you get back.”
Walking out into the hall, Chris led Buck to a quiet area before saying what was on his mind. “I realize how upset you are, hell, we all are, but…aside from the fact we’re all supposed to be family, we are also a team. You want to ignore my family, that’s your choice. However, the next time one of our teammates ends up in the ER because they are doing their job, and you’re requested to do so, I expect you to find a way to check on them. Are we clear Agent Wilmington?”
“You didn’t say Kel was on duty,” Buck said defensively.
“I didn’t think I had to,” Chris countered; certain he had made his point. “You go back in with JD. I’m taking a room at the hotel across the street tonight. I expect you to come over and get some rest before morning.”
Buck nodded. “I’ll see how the Kid does the rest of the day and call you later.” He started to walk away and turned back. “Is Kel okay?”
“This time, yes,” he answered. “I’ll call you when I check in tonight.” Watching Buck return to the SICU, Chris shook his head. *God, would their lives ever be the same again?*
The moment the three of them left the hospital and were secluded in Vin’s truck, husband Vin disappeared and Captain Tanner appeared. The shift supervisor from the jail had met him in the ER with the report and video. After hearing the details of the incident at the jail, and viewing the attack on tape on the portable player the agent had furnished, Vin was furious. “What the hell were you thinkin’, Agent Coulter? Casey is a prisoner charged with attempted murder. After seein’ that damn DVD, I’d think you’d remember that. You forgot though, and it could have cost you your life if things had gone differently!”
“Don’t you think I know that? I screwed up and have no problem admittin’ it. Are you happy now?”
“Hell no, I’m not happy,” Vin yelled. “I don’t care who the fuck is in that jail cell, you will follow procedure or find yourself sittin’ behind a desk for the next ten years. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes sir, Sir, crystal clear,” Kelli snapped.
“Time out,” Chris shouted. “You both need to take a deep breath. We all make mistakes on this job. Vin, you know that as well as anyone. Kel, while you’re healing, you need to review what you did and make sure something like this does not happen again.” Travis’s words rang in his head. ‘Like it or not you set the tone the others will follow.’ Giving them a chance to cool off he continued. “This is not an ideal situation for any of us and I’m as guilty as any one of letting my feelings get in the way of good sense. You two have a job to do, and I’ll try like hell to stay out of your way, but I have to know something. What DVD are you referring to?”
Vin closed his eyes and cursed himself. He had not intended for Chris or anyone else to know about that DVD unless necessary. “Apparently Casey set up a couple more cameras in the house…reckon her paranoia compelled her to do it. Anyway, the one in the kitchen caught her attack on JD. Kel and I had to watch it, but if I have my way about it, no one else will ever see it.”
“God, it must have been….”
“It was,” Kelli said and then sighed. “I’m sorry Vin. I should have been more professional with Casey. I have a hard time though, thinking of her as dangerous.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry I yelled at you.” He put his arm around her. “I think we both need some sleep and a few hours away from all this.”
Chris was relieved. “Then, we fill the scripts, go home, and you two can get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll start over.”
Hotel- 10:00 p.m.
Back at home, Chris hoped to have a few minutes of peace and quiet, but fate had other ideas. When he picked up his mail a large brown envelope from a law firm drew his attention. After ripping it open, a knot formed in his stomach, which refused to go away. Linda had wasted no time. He was on official notice; she was taking him to court over the issue of child custody. He called Ezra to tell him, and waited until Grace and Cody were down for the night before leaving. Now, standing here in an empty hotel room he wondered just what the hell he was doing.
The weight of all that had happened over the past twenty- four hours was suddenly very heavy. He was confused about his feelings and just plain tired. Quickly making a call to the hospital, he reached Buck. “Hey, I’m in room 2216, across the street. Yell when you’re ready for me to take watch.”
“I will, but, I hate to think about leaving,” he forestalled Chris’s lecture, “but I will call you before morning.”
“Make sure you do that…” A knock at the door drew his attention. “I’ll let you go.”
Striding over to the door, Chris was prepared to chew out whoever was knocking, certain he or she had the wrong room. He opened the door, and was shocked to find Caitlyn standing in the hall.
“You are the last person I expected at my door tonight.”
“Should I leave?”
“Not on your life,” Chris said softly. “Come here, woman.” He drew her into his arms to claim an eager kiss.
He was shaking, but she instinctively realized it was more than passion affecting him. Laying her head on his chest she whispered, “Are you all right?”
“Yes…no…hell, I don’t know. Nothing seems right. My whole world is off kilter and I don’t know how to make it good again.”
“Let me help, you’re exhausted, and need to relax.” Cait took his hand and led him to the bedroom; they dropped discarded clothing along the way.
Laying there in the darkness, Cait held Chris close. His breathing was shaky and she could feel the struggle within him. She had already made her decision before coming here and knew it was right.
She touched his face, tilted his head upward from where he lay nestled against her breasts, and kissed him tenderly.
He returned her kisses, deepening them, the suddenly broke away. “This isn't right…JD…so much pain for everyone.”
“Chris,” she whispered softly, “this isn't about sex; this is about two souls merging. You need comfort…I want to give it. Just let go.”
She gasped as he captured her mouth in a fierce kiss, her body tingled with the way he excited her. She understood instinctively this was going to be guided more by Chris's inner turmoil rather than love, but she *did* love him, and she was prepared.
Consumed with passion, her words freed his soul and his body responded. “I love being with you, Cait,” Chris whispered in her ear.
*And I love you,* she thought to herself, knowing his words were spoken in the heat of the moment.
He had thought they could just be friends, but God, she was so damn easy to love.
Their lovemaking left them soaked, exhausted…, and emotional. Chris drew Caitlyn close and kissed her tenderly. Even in the darkness, he felt her tears and he kissed her soaked eyelids.
“I'm so sorry,” he breathed, his whole body shaking as the experience took its toll.
Cait kissed him back, her hand softly stroking his damp blond hair. “Don't be…” she sighed, “You needed this…I wanted this. There is nothing you can do that will hurt me, because I know you care about me.”
Larabee kissed her passionately. “Oh God yes…yes I do.”
Their lovemaking this time was slow, soft, and sensual. Later, with Chris asleep in her arms; she thanked God she was able to be here for him.
Secrets, lies, and fears ~ a guaranteed formula for grief and pain.
Denver Memorial ~ 5:00 a.m. Wednesday, May 28th
With a lingering kiss, and clinging hands that needed to be tactile, Chris and Cait parted company in front of the hotel. He watched her as she walked away. God, he wanted her; she brought total contentment and adult love back into his life. But, what could he offer her? She left for home, and he walked across the street to the hospital. He picked up two cups of coffee from the Java stand in the lobby, on his way upstairs.
Reflecting on the events of the past two days, he still had trouble reconciling his feelings. 'Commander Larabee' shouted orders in his head, telling him he needed to lead by example. Chris 'the father' was terrified of losing his youngest children and for the well-being of his eldest. The brother part of him desperately felt JD’s pain, worried about Vin mentally having to deal with the investigation, and Buck wrapped up in his anger. As a friend, he felt deep concern for Nettie and … yes, Casey, too. She had committed the unspeakable crime, but damnit, she was still the child he watched grow up and the mother of those beautiful babies. How the hell had it come to this? What in God's name, could he do?
Pushing the door open with his hip, Chris went straight to JD’s bedside. Using the toe of his boot to rouse a sleeping Buck, he said quietly, “Brought you some coffee.”
“Damn, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” Looking over at JD, he wiped his hand over his face and sighed. “I don’t think he’s moved all night.”
“You need some decent rest.” Chris sat down. “Go over to the hotel, I’ll be here. Inez sent you a change of clothes. Give her a call, shower, and then sleep. If anything changes, I’ll phone you.”
Buck hesitated, looking at JD. “I don’t know…maybe I…”
“No arguments. You have not left this hospital since you rode in with JD. Go and don’t come back until I call you.”
Nodding, Buck stood, leaned over and whispered to JD, “I’ll be back,” then he walked out of the room.
Chris leaned back in the chair, propped up his feet and settled in for the day.
Standish Home ~8:00 a.m.
“Four o’clock then, thank you,” Ezra told custody attorney Robert Eaves, hanging up the phone. Although he was confidant that the legality of the papers Linda signed would hold up in court, where she was concerned he would take no chances, especially now with the potential of a family scandal imminent.
“‘Robert agreed to help?” Barbara asked, entering his home office.
“Yes he did.” He sighed deeply. “Thanks to Casey, we may be in for a helluva court battle before this is over.”
Barbara’s head snapped up. “You can’t possibly think her mental problems could be used against Chris.”
They had been at odds on this issue already. “Mental problems? Is that what we are calling attempted murder now?” Ezra shook his head. “Regardless, Linda’s attorneys are going to argue that Larabee 7 is an unsafe environment for her children. Casey’s ‘problems’ are the icing on the cake for their lawsuit and they will damn well use her situation to make their case stronger. The breech the Rocky Mountain Resistance made onto the property, JD’s arrest for suspicion of murder, Chris’s arrest, his subsequent imprisonment, albeit brief, the shooting on the access road leading to the ranch, Kelli and Trey kidnapped …I expect all of it to be dredged up in the course of battle.”
She placed her hand on his shoulder. “Chris is lucky to have you fighting for him. A man who can survive the manipulations of Maude Standish can definitely handle Linda Larabee.”
“Failure is not an option. It would destroy Chris, and I will not allow that to happen.”
Camp Larabee ~ 9:00 a.m.
Mark Ramsey, holding the evidence box, waited beside the MAU for Tanner to unlock the building.
Vin opened the truck door for Kelli, grabbed his report off the seat and said, “Mornin” Mark,” as he walked past him. “Sorry you had to wait on us.”
“My fault, I’m afraid.” Kelli smiled at him. “Vin had to do double duty at home this mornin’ due to my injuries.”
Following her inside, Mark answered, “No problem. I like coming out here. It beats being in the lab.” He set the box on the table. “I understand from Travis that Josiah and Mallory are joining us.”
“Yep, they should be along any time now.” Vin headed to the coffeemaker to make a fresh pot. “Orrin thought it best we keep this out of the main office. Mallory will be tracking information on CASSIE and Josiah will pull together a profile for us.”
“What do you need me to do?” Mark asked.
“Pull out the case board.” Tanner instructed him. “I want everythin’ we find on JD and Casey Dunne recorded. If…when this gets before a judge, I don’t want any questions about how we conducted this investigation.”
“And if the evidence proves she knew what she was doing? In order to commit a crime in the eyes of the law all we have to do is prove mens rea …..” Mark started to explain.
“Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, “Kelli quoted the entire Latin passage, “the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty, but a guilty mind or intent is for a judge or jury to decide, Mark. We’ll let the lawyers sort through the facts. Our job is to investigate and present our findin’s without prejudice, period.”
“Not an easy task, under the circumstances, but doable,” Josiah said, as he and Mallory walked in and joined them.
“Coffee’s ready, grab a cup and we’ll bring y’all up to speed on where we are.” Vin set a cup in front of his wife.
“When we dropped our kids off at the Reins Daycare, Cait said to tell you that Willard and Jesse will take care of the chores over at the Wells’ place.” After passing Mallory a cup, Josiah sat down. “So where are we?”
“Mark will give you a rundown of what he found at the scene. We have Casey’s journal, a short preliminary report, the added charges from the assault on Kel, and our notes.” Vin answered. “Attorney Barlow also sent over a copy of Casey’s medical records. Mallory, we’ll need information on the Dunne’s financials.” He sighed when her face reflected her discomfort. “I understand your reluctance, but it’s what we’d do in a normal investigation, so we’ll follow procedure.”
Tanner stood, picked up a marker and walked over to the case board. “Let’s get started.”
Josiah studied the board. Over the past four hours they had reconstructed what he felt was an accurate account of the past few months. “I think we have a clearer picture of Casey’s demise. The trigger appears to be when the FBI invaded her home and hauled JD off in handcuffs.”
“That’s why her journal starts in October and she started keeping her money separate from JD’s?” Mallory asked.
“Yes.” Josiah shook his head. “Before her initial shock wore off and she had an opportunity to process what happened, she found out about her pregnancy, JD was stabbed in jail, and she had to split her time between worrying over him and dealing with her feelings of guilt for not being with the girls. She did better once JD came home, but when he returned to work, her fear rushed back to manifest into depression and bouts of delusions, which intensified over the next few months.”
“So, she knew somethin’ was wrong and agreed to see Doctor Ward, the psychiatrist, when her obstetrician made the recommendation. He started her on a mild anti-depressant because of her pregnancy and once she suffered the trauma of premature birth and surgery, he changed it to an antipsychotic, which we can prove she stopped takin’.” Vin mused.
“It was during the time between January and March that she added the cameras, bought a gun, hid weapons, and her behavior became more erratic. I believe after JJ was born, she went from mild to major depression to psychosis and finally snapped when she thought the feds took JD again.” Josiah offered his expert observation. “Doctors don’t understand a lot about the causes of psychosis. The explanations are fluid, some experts say depression triggers the onset, and some think it’s related to a predisposition for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Still others think the very medication used to treat depression cause it. When Casey quit taking her prescribed meds, it did not help.”
Mallory looked at her notes. “JD spent an average of fifty-eight hours a week at the office since his return to work.” She pointed to the line representing his actions. “The time they were together was limited, and if he was aware of Casey’s unusual behavior, he probably counted it as a side-effect of her pregnancy.”
“I missed the signs with JD. What Ice did to him affected him more than we realized. His obsession with breaking her code for Chris, the long hours at the office…”Josiah sighed. “It was his way of dealing with the trauma and I should have seen the signs.”
“We all missed ‘em, Josiah,” Vin patted his shoulder, and sighed heavily, “just like we missed seein’ that Casey was in trouble.”
Walter walked in with lunch for them and they took a break. Vin sent Mark back to the lab, and when it was only family left in the room, they discussed the one unconfirmed issue in Casey’s journal. Casey had documented her days away from the ranch earlier in the month with her friend Rebecca Lanski. She described her one night fling with a male stripper in explicit detail.
“What do we do about this confession?” Kelli looked around the table. “Do we have to put it in the report?”
“An extra marital fling fits in with the behavior pattern Casey was exhibiting. Hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, depression, and mania all play into the psychosis.” Josiah offered his opinion. “I think if we can confirm her affair with this Antonio Wendell, we should.”
Mallory handed the information she had obtained on Wendell from CASSIE to Vin.
Reluctant to admit the need to do so, he nodded, “I reckon Josiah and I need to track him down and talk to him.” Vin locked his eyes on Kelli. “We can pray it never comes out publically.”
“Yeah…” Kelli sighed. “None of us saw this side of Casey before now. God, I hope JD and the kids never will.”
Mallory offered, “We’ll finish up here. You two go talk to Antonio; I’ll make sure Kel gets home.”
Vin hesitated. He knew Kelli was upset over their discoveries about Casey’s behavior. It was too close to the depression she had undergone after Ice put them through hell. Still, Kelli’s background and life experiences were very different from Casey’s. She would never have gone that far, it just was not in her character, and she needed reminding again. “We’ll take my truck and pick up the Navigator while we’re out.” He turned to Kelli. “Walk out with me.”
Outside they walked toward the corral. “We talked about this before, but it appears you need a reminder. You are not Casey and never would have done what she did, regardless of the circumstances.”
Quiet for a moment, she nodded and then sighed. “I just cannot imagine… resentin’ my newborn instead of an accident for causing a hysterectomy…leavin’ you and my babies, havin’ a fling …comin’ home and actin’ as if nothin’ happened.” She met his eyes. “God, Vin, how could she get to that point without any of us seein’ her pain? How in the hell can they ever go back?”
Drawing her close he wrapped his arms around his wife. “I don’t know, Baby, but this family is strong. We’ll all find a way to deal with whatever comes.” Swatting her on the butt, he smiled. “Let Mallory help you, take your antibiotic, and don’t use your hands. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“I’ll be all right. Go do what you have to.” Kelli watched him leave with Josiah and then went back inside. She and Mallory still had reports to write and evidence to lock up before they could go home.
Denver Memorial Hospital ~ 4:00 p.m.
Larabee jerked awake. A little disorientated, he scanned his surroundings, finally resting his eyes on JD. Looking at his watch he realized he had only been asleep for a few minutes, but he felt as if he had slept for hours…not that he was refreshed, more like, muzzy, the sort of feeling you get when your body craves for more rest…yet…can't.
The last thoughts he remembered having were of the team's early days and a fresh-faced rookie who had been desperate to work alongside him…who he'd taken on and, consequently, watched grow into the man JD was today. Now he wondered how that same man was going to get through this… how they all were.
Chris stretched and yawned as Doctor Gilford stepped into the room. He waited while he performed the hourly check. Little noises and movements from the doctor he had not been aware of last time, drew his attention.
Gilford said. “His stats have improved.”
Chris stood and approached the bed, unable to stop his hand from resting on his young brother's head. “What are you saying?”
The doctor checked the time. “It's coming up on four o’clock. I'm going to start reducing his meds now, and take the vent out in an hour. If all is well, I'll reduce them a little more. It should be around eight this evening before JD starts to return to awareness, but to stay on the safe side, call your family and tell them to come by seven.”
Chris released the breath he had been holding. “He's improving?”
Gilford smiled. “Yes. He's progressing faster than I had anticipated.” He patted Chris's hand. “This is good. He may not be fully aware until the early hours of the morning, but he's stable enough to allow him to start the process.” He turned to go to the door. “I'll ask the nurse to bring the portable phone in here for you.”
Once the doctor left, Chris turned his attention to the young man in the bed and whispered, “About damn time, Kid.”
He thanked the nurse for the phone, made himself comfortable, and began calling his brothers.
“I miss you, mi amore, be strong.”
Buck closed his eyes to allow the warmth of his wife's voice to wash over him. She may only be on the end of a phone, but her strength and compassion was as strong as if she was standing beside him. He had been in Chris's hotel room for several hours, but not slept as long as he'd hoped, because every time he closed his eyes, he saw JD, lying in a pool of blood. He startled as his cell vibrated on the nightstand “Just a minute, darlin',” he spoke into the phone to Inez.
Leaning over, he recognized the hospital number on the caller Id and his hearted raced. He flipped open his cell. “Chris?”
“Buck? There’s no urgency, but, JD's improved and the doc is ready to reduce his meds…”
Before Chris could finish, Buck confirmed he was on his way, making a move as soon as the blond concluded the call.
“Okay, see you soon, pard.”
In seconds, he switched back to the other phone, elated by the news he spoke into the landline. “Inez…”
“I heard marido. Go…and tell JD we love him.”
In five minutes, Buck was washed, dressed and on his way to the hospital.
Vin called on every ounce of self-control he possessed to keep from hitting Antonio Wendell. When the man recognized the picture of Casey and commented about the sweetest piece of ass he had fucked in months, only Josiah’s presence and strong arm kept Tanner from turning loose on him. They were returning to the truck when Vin's cell rang.
“Tanner,” he snapped. “Chris?” he listened, and looked at Josiah. The expression on his face told the profiler there was good news.
“Josiah's with me, we'll come as soon as possible. Chris…thanks for lettin’ me know.” Closing his cell, he turned to the profiler. Despite the relief of knowing JD was improving, it did not ease the fear of how all this would play out, once his younger brother understood the full horror of what had happened to him.
Josiah's hand rested on his arm. “We're all in this together, Brother. Come on…let's go and be a family again.”
Tanner nodded and made a quick call to Kelli to tell her what was happening, while Josiah did the same with Mallory. A few minutes later, they were on their way to Denver Memorial, swinging by the Federal building to pick up the Navigator.
Watching Nathan playing with the children, Rain smiled. It was good to see him relaxing, but her heart ached, knowing how distraught he was over JD's attack. Her thoughts drifted to Casey. She had known the young woman almost as long as she had known Nathan. Both women were part of Team Seven’s history, and been included in the extended family the longest. Rain was already missing her friend. They had grown up on their mutual journey to what was now the Wild Bunch, shared the team's pain and injuries, cried and laughed together. Rain had not seen JD yet. She was just about to tackle Nathan on visiting the young man when his cell rang.
He stood and moved to answer it. She formed a smile when she read his changed expression as good news. Once he had hung up the phone, Nathan approached his wife and pulled her to her feet, hugging her tightly. Then he kissed her, leaving her giddy and breathless. He gazed into Rain's eyes, his face right next to hers. “I need to go back to the hospital.”
Nathan nodded. “Yes.”
Rain kissed Nathan softly on the lips and stroked his cheek. “Go, and give him my love.”
Law office of Robert Eaves
Ezra sat in his car, gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white. His meeting with Robert Eaves had gone well, but they both conceded that a helluva fight was coming. Just talking to the custody lawyer about the Larabee babies hit every raw emotion he possessed. Privately he shed the tears he had held back for too long. The events of the past few days washing over him, Chris…Linda…JD…Casey…all the innocent children involved …it was too damn much. He dialed a familiar number on his cell.
Barbara was sitting in their living room going over some paperwork when the phone rang. Her unease was evident as she heard Ezra repeat his concerns, waiting for an appropriate break in the conversation.
“Darling, listen to me. You are not weak, you’re only human. This situation is hell for everyone. Chris, JD, and the others need you, not because you are strong and noble, but because you care, and no matter how much you try to hide it, it shows in everything you do. That's the person your family is depending on, Sweetheart.”
Sighing deeply, he knew she was right. He needed to pull himself together and his family deserved it. “I love you, Barbara Standish. I think I’ll swing by the hospital on my way home.”
“I’ll talk to you, later, bye, Love.” Before she had even replaced the handset, Barbara was weeping. This was such a mess…such a Goddamn, heart-wrenching mess.
No sooner had he made his decision, his cell began to ring. Ezra answered abruptly, “Standish.” Hearing Chris’s voice, he assumed he wanted a report from his meeting with the attorney. “I…what? That is wonderful news. I’m on my way.”
Replacing the handset, Chris sat back, unable to prevent a small smile from escaping as he looked at JD and squeezed his hand. “Your brothers are on their way. No matter how rough it gets, we’re still seven strong and one way or another we always will be.”
When families are involved, the actions of one touch all.
Denver Memorial Hospital
The nurse smiled when Doctor Gilford entered JD's room. Gently carding her fingers through the unconscious man's hair, she spoke to him in soft whispers as his brothers’ did during their visits. “Time to wake up now, John…the doc says you're strong enough to breathe on your own, so he's going to remove the vent, and take you down a few notches on your meds. You're doing well and your family is looking forward to speaking to you.”
Talking his patient through each step, Gilford disconnected the ventilator; his final act was to remove the tube from JD's throat. It was all Buck and Chris could do to stand in silence and watch. The emotional anticipation of waiting for JD to take his first unassisted breath, almost finished off their nerves, but he took it, then another, and another. Buck's heart caught in his throat as he watched, while he moved closer.
Buck stood over the younger man and gripped JD's arm, resting his other hand on the young man’s head. His face was only inches from JD's. He waited…and suddenly… a tiny movement of an eyebrow …. A nose wrinkle…he was coming back to them. “Breathe, JD…breathe.”
JD's legs moved lazily under the covers and small movements on his face became more frequent. Buck leaned in; no way was he going to miss this moment. “Come on, kid…you're doing good…listen to my voice, okay…fight the haze and open your eyes…come on, JD…keep trying.”
Chris stood on the opposite side of the bed with a hand resting on JD's leg. With his heart in his throat, he watched the drama unfold.
Buck spoke again, “Hey…JD…come on…you're almost here.” He smiled broadly when black lashes fluttered open to reveal unfocused hazel eyes.
“Buck?” His voice was barely audible, but both men heard it. “Hurtsss…”
Resting his head against JD's, Buck whispered, “I know, son, but it's gonna get better, I promise.”
JD swallowed and drifted back to sleep.
Doctor Gilford coughed; both men had forgotten he was still in the room. “Let's get him to his own room, shall we?”
The wall clock read six forty-five. Evening had drawn in, the darkness outside adding to the intensity of the atmosphere inside the waiting room, while Gilford performed another hourly check.
They all glanced up when Josiah began speaking, “A friend of mine, Father Rafferty, has become well acquainted with JD during the past month. I wondered if it might help to ask him to assist in the counseling JD will need.”
Buck shrugged. “If you think so, but JD's faith hasn't really been a comfort for him since his ma died.”
Sanchez sighed, fighting with his conscience for a few moments, before deciding if it would be in JD's best interests to disclose any more information. The boy would have precious few secrets left soon. “JD shared something with me a month back. I found him in the bathroom at work one afternoon, clearly distressed. I'm guessing my timing assisted his decision to tell me, because I’m certain he did not intend to divulge this to anyone at that time, not even you, Buck, or Nettie.”
Buck took a seat, his stomach was in knots, and his knees weakened, fearing another unsettling revelation was forthcoming.
Josiah continued, “The previous evening, Casey had been admonishing the children when became agitated, resulting in her smacking Lilah… hard.”
They all took in a sharp breath.
“JD said he scooped up all three children and took them to the girls' room, hissing to Casey not follow them until she pulled herself together. He stayed with the kids all night. The next morning, he found her sitting on the floor of their bathroom. She apparently flew to him and begged his forgiveness; assuring him she had never done something like that before, and promised it would never happen again.”
“Who had the kids that morning?” Chris asked.
“Nettie did, and I understand Cait also dropped around. I believe he told them Casey was unwell.”
For a minute, no one spoke. Vin looked at Josiah. They both understood how hard it was becoming to shield their family from all the sordid details.
“So…are you saying JD has resumed as a…” Buck tried to find the right words, but they would not come to him.
Josiah stopped him. “No, he hasn't reaffirmed his faith. However, he became grateful for the help of my friend. It wasn't exactly ‘confession’, but the familiarity of it all seemed to help him considerably. Albert is a wonderful listener.” Josiah looked at Buck and Chris. “He told me he was going to talk with you both very soon. I'm sorry I had to tell you before he had the chance. Buck, I promise you, that is the only thing he has never shared with you…he…he didn't know how.”
“You can go back in now.”
They all startled when Doctor Gilford spoke behind them. Buck and Chris stood and passed him as they went back to JD's bedside. Once inside, Buck broke down. Chris put an arm around him, exchanging no words, two old friends, together, and drawing comfort from each other's presence.
Buck took a seat next to the bed and waited breathlessly. Never before had he looked forward to and yet dreaded an event so much. He desperately wanted his little brother back with them, but Lord only knew how JD was going to react when he realized what had happened to him. He took JD's hand once again and relaxed back in the chair. Soon, they would be seven again.
It was only the tiniest of movements, but Buck noticed. He leaned forward in his chair to make certain he was not hallucinating. Chris, alerted by the brunet's demeanor, checked his watch, seven forty-five. He poked his head out of the door, gave his four brothers one quick nod, and went back inside the room.
Six men sat waiting in JD's private room for the young agent to wake again, Chris gestured with his head for Buck to come away from the bed.
“God knows, I don't need this, but…let me be the one to tell him what happened…if he asks, okay?”
Buck frowned. “Why?” He looked deep into the man's eyes…and understood. “Okay.”
They all turned toward the bed as the softest of moans could be heard, all standing instantly. Chris moved in and leaned over the younger man.
“JD...Come on, son…it's Chris…time to wake up.”
He did not want to… no matter what the voice said. He was happy in this dark place…no pain, no tiredness, only peace and quiet, but…the voice…the respect he had for that voice, drew him back and he opened his eyes and sighed softly.
“Chris? You okay?”
Larabee tried to smile. “Sure, I am…how are you?” His heart ached to see the confusion on the face of the younger man, offering him a few ice chips.
His head felt odd and his body heavy. Had the alarm gone off for work? He could not have slept too well if he felt like this when he woke up. Jeez, he was dry…Hope Casey had the coffee on.
Chris squeezed his shoulder. “No, kid…it's me, Chris.”
JD's brow furrowed, trying to focus on the face before him. “Chris…? Wh…what are you doing in my be…edroom?” He groaned when he attempted to move. “Damn… hurts. Why are you here? Where…where's Casey?”
Chris could hear the little noises from the others and drew his gaze away from his injured friend. He glanced around the room, noting the other men’s anguish, and turned back to JD. He had hoped he would not have to answer this question so soon. He took a deep breath.
“You're in the hospital. You’re hurt very bad, Son. Casey…Casey isn't here right now, but all your brothers are…me, Buck, Vin, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan…we're all here for you…do you hear me? I need you to stay with me, JD…just for a minute.” Chris's voice was soft but oozed authority.
JD looked into intense green eyes, his body shaking now. “Chris…you're scaring me…what…?” He shook his head. “Hurt…? Why…why…. isn't Casey here? Is she hurt too? Oh God, my kids! Are they okay? I was…” he screwed up his face as he tried to remember, vaguely aware of strong arms embracing him. “She was…I was home…she…”
Larabee leaned right in. “Can you remember going home from work, Son? Try hard now…do you remember?” JD closed his eyes to think, opening them again, but was still puzzled.
Chris watched as JD's eyes widened, his memories rushing back. The trembles racking the young man’s body when his breathing quickened concerned him. Chris held firm, waiting for the torrent of emotion about to release, trying to ignore Buck's soft sobs as he remained focused on the job in hand. He felt JD fist his shirtfront.
“I…I was late…kids…asleep…I don’t think Nettie was home…” He concentrated harder…something…something…”Casey … cutting…”
Not one of the six men would ever forget that moment…the awful moment when John Daniel Dunne's world came crashing down around him.
JD was staring at Chris, his head shaking; he mouthed the word “no” repeatedly.
Chris nodded. “I'm so sorry, Son.”
The wail from JD made six men's blood run cold. Chris pulled him to his chest and held him as if both their lives depended on it. Riding out the anguished cries, shaking, and his initial fight to break free, Chris held firm, his own emotions coming to the fore. He knew this must be hurting JD physically, as much as it was emotionally, but this was the right thing to do.
With one hand, he cradled the back of JD's head and drew him closer. “Let it out, boy…just…let it out.”
There was not one dry eye among them while they watched the scene before them unfold. Chris 'hard-ass' Larabee, holding onto and attempting to soothe a young man they had all grown to love as a brother. This was no time for being strong, this was a time for grieving, and they did… together.
Josiah moved to embrace a distraught Buck, pulling Vin in too, as he became very aware of the younger man's distress. Nathan and Ezra moved closer and joined the small huddle, only moving when a sobbing JD suddenly went limp.
Feeling JD's body go slack, Chris gently lowered him back on the bed, touching his face. He worried about what was happening, while he pressed the buzzer to call for assistance.
In less than a minute, Gilford entered the room and examined JD. He looked at them all. “He's fine, just exhausted, and he will probably sleep through the night. His temperature is a little high, but the stitches held. Good work.”
Once he left, the six men moved to the bed, each one laying a hand on an arm or a leg trying to comfort a sleeping JD and themselves. An unexpected move and JD's eyes fluttered open, his chin wobbled as he glanced at them. He hoarsely whispered, “You're all here…”
“Yeah, we're all here,” Buck leaned in closer, “we ain't gonna leave you, Kid.”
JD swallowed, nodding as he drifted back to sleep.
Ezra croaked out. “And so, it begins.”
Sanchez Home ~ 7:00 A.M. Thursday, May 29th
Sitting at the kitchen table in the quiet of the morning, Josiah read over his notes in silence. The past three days had been hard on all of them, especially last night. It would take time to heal the emotional wounds left in the wake of Casey’s breakdown. For her, JD, their children, and all who cared about them, the next days, weeks, and months would be difficult.
Mallory entered the room, leaned down and kissed her husband. “You’re up early.”
“I couldn’t sleep. Too much on my mind, I suppose.”
“I tried to wait up for you, but I guess I was more tired than I thought.” Mallory poured herself a cup of coffee and refreshed his. “How did it go at the hospital last night?”
Josiah sighed. “JD did fine coming off the vent…then he started asking questions. Chris chose to answer the tough ones. It was hard…emotional, and heartbreaking.”
She laid her hand on his arm, hearing the pain in his voice. “I can’t imagine how that poor boy feels.”
“For a moment, I thought we would all be able to pull together. Hell, for a short time we did, until Doctor Gilford ran us out of the room and told us to decide on one person to stay.” Josiah shook his head. “It got ugly quick. Buck insisted he was staying. Chris argued that he needed to go home for a while to see Inez and the kids before coming back today. Nathan and Ezra both offered to stay so Chris and Buck could leave for a bit.” He sighed again. “That did not go over well. Brother Buck can be stubborn. “
“I take it Buck stayed.”
“Yes, but not before lambasting Vin when he said he was coming back today to question JD. The shit hit the fan when Buck told him to stay the hell away from the Kid, Vin insisted it was part of his job…they almost came to blows before Chris stepped in to stop them.”
Mallory sipped her coffee, frowning. “Where does Chris stand on all this?”
“It’s hard to tell. I don’t think even he knows how he feels. At least he did collar the doctor and asked about questioning JD. In spite of Buck’s objections, Gilford said he understood the necessity of it, but requested Tanner wait until after morning rounds to do it.” Josiah took a sip of coffee. “Vin and I are going together to the hospital. If JD is up to it, we’ll question him, and get it over with.”
Mallory stood and headed toward the refrigerator. “If you’re going into battle with Buck, you’ll need substance. I’ll fix breakfast; you work on your notes.”
Josiah grinned. “Woman you know me too well.” He picked up his notepad; determine to find ways to help his brothers heal.
Tanner Home ~ 7:00 a.m.
Vin took his time at the barn, tending to the horses. He was not anxious to go back to the house and face Kelli. After leaving the hospital last night, he allowed his out of control emotions to get the better of him. Anger, worry, frustration and being tired of it all were no excuse for his behavior, but it was the only one he had. While he forked the hay into Peso’s stall, Vin closed his eyes, his mind assaulted by how he had taken Kelli hard and fast, no foreplay, no gentle nudges, only brute force, and a hunger to be satisfied...to take him out of his misery.
It was late and he was still angry about the argument with Buck. When he walked into their bedroom, he was surprised to find that Kelli had waited up for him. Maybe because he knew she would let him or …hell, maybe it was because he was being a bastard. Whatever the reason, he used sex to vent all the emotions that had been building inside him for the past three days. He was wild, rough, aggressive, and insensitive. He took without giving a damn thing in return and did not consider her injuries. She gave him everything he demanded and more, leaving him sated and weak. Although she had every right to be angry, she snuggled up to him and went to sleep afterwards without uttering one word of complaint. On the other hand, he had lain awake for most of the night, slipping out of their bed before sunrise.
Shaking his head, Vin realized he had stalled long enough and headed back up to the house. In the kitchen, he found all four of his children awake and in the middle of eating their breakfast. Max fed Bren, while Walter took on Trey.
“Morning Daddy,” Andi yelled, jumping up from her chair to meet him.
He swung her up into his arms and grinned. “Mornin, Sugar.” Vin tickled her and once she stopped giggling, he sat her in the chair to finish eating. He ruffled Jason’s hair, before heading to the coffeepot. “Mornin’, Son.”
“Me and Jason helped Mama last night whens you was gone, “Andi said between bites. “Jason read her a story and I made her take her ‘edicine.”
Nodding his head, Vin told her, “I knew I could count on y’all.” Changing the subject, he looked at Max. “Kel’s sleepin’ in; I can take over with the boys.”
“We’ll finish up with the kids, you take care of Missy. She needs her bandages changed and wouldn’t let me touch them last night.” Bren sidetracked her for a moment, and then she continued. “Maybe you’ll have better luck convincing her to cooperate.”
“I doubt it,” Vin mumbled while he poured a second cup of coffee for Kel, no sense going in to talk to her without a peace offering.
One of the biggest arguments he and Kelli ever had was over the fact that he was reluctant to share his inner pain with her. It was a fair issue, but it was difficult for Vin the ‘protector’ to admit, even to his wife that he sometimes needed a safe haven for his emotions. It went against his lifelong habit of taking care of himself. When the visions started, and he thought he had lost her and Trey, he realized how wrong he had been not to share everything. Still, admitting it was not something he was comfortable doing, but he had to try. Pushing open the bedroom door, he found their bed empty. He heard movement in the bathroom and set down the cups of coffee.
When Kelli attempted to put the cap on the bottle of mouthwash with her bandaged hands, it fell and spilled on the bathroom vanity. Trying to stop the mess from dripping over the edge, she hit the hard surface. “Damnit to hell,” Kelli yelped.
“Leave it, Kel,” Vin said from the doorway. “I’ll take care of it after we get your bandages changed.” When she looked at him with tears in her eyes, Vin felt worse than he had earlier. Seeing the red marks on her breasts as she turned made him cringe. “Aw hell, I am so sorry. “He moved toward her, surprised when she threw herself into his arms.
“It’s not your fault.” Kelli laid her head on his chest, choking back a sob. “I know it’s temporary, but I feel so damn helpless. It took me ten minutes to wrestle into my robe, I can’t hold my children, grip a fork to eat, brush my own hair, or even handle a silly bottle of mouthwash. You even have to help me get dressed. Hell, I can’t even enjoy a cup of coffee unless someone else fixes it.”
“Kel….” He wrapped his arms around her.
“I know. Compared to what JD is goin’ through I have no right to bitch…I …Damnit, I hate it…all of it. I wish we could all go back in time…just a few days….”
“Me too, but it’s not gonna happen so we’ll do the best we can.” Vin savored the moment of holding her before he said what he had to say. Gently pushing her back a bit, he looked into her eyes. “I owe you an apology for last night. I never should have…”
Kelli shoved her elbow into his ribs to silence him. “Rein yourself in Tanner. You’re the one who told me only a few short months ago that what goes on between two consentin’ adults who love each other does not require an apology…ever. We both needed last night.”
“Damnit Kel, I left marks all over you.” He rested his chin on the top of her head and whispered, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“You didn’t and the only reason you’re unscathed is because of these blasted bandages. Otherwise, my mark would be all over you, too.”
Vin closed his eyes. “You sure, Baby?”
“I love you Vin. The only way you’ll hurt me is if you leave me or shut me out and turn to another woman.” She sighed. “Then I reckon I’d have to shoot you.”
In spite of his concerns, he chuckled. “Then I reckon we’re good, ‘cause that’ll never happen.” Relief washed over him. As long as he and Kel were okay, he could get through whatever was waiting for him at the hospital. “Let me help you get dressed and then I’ll change those blasted bandage for you.” He put his arm around her waist and they walked into the bedroom.
“I think you’re enjoyin’ my temporary disability. Don’t get too used to me being helpless.” Kelli smiled when he took off her robe and kissed the red marks on her breasts.
Raising his head, he looked into her eyes, reading the unconditional love she offered. “Undressin’ is my specialty, but I’ll suffer though havin’ to cover you up, if you insist.” He reached for her blouse, assisted her as she slipped her arms into it, and then buttoned it for her, taking his time.
Kelli chewed at her bottom lip. “When this is over…I think we need to go away for a few days, just you and me. I don’t care if we go to the cabin, campin’, or mountain climbin’… anywhere is okay with me. Both of us have had a turn at pushin’ the other away…to be in sync, we need time together.”
Vin nodded. “You’re right, we have taken a couple of wrong turns over the past year, but I think we both learned somethin’ from it.” He placed his finger under her chin and tilted her head. “You need to remember that you are stuck with me, no matter what happens, and I need to remember it’s all right to let you shelter me once in a while.” He leaned down for a quick kiss. “I won’t forget again, I promise.”
She stepped into the skirt that Vin held out for her. “Now, tell me about JD, while you change my bandages.”
He proceeded to tell her about last night’s hospital visit and his plans for the day.
Josiah pulled Vin’s truck in right on time. Vin met him outside and reclaimed his keys. They double-checked the recording equipment they would be using at the hospital and agreed on a plan of action
“I think the less we tell JD, the better,” Josiah said as he settled into the passenger seat. “The main thing we need is his side of what happened in his own words.”
“I agree. I don’t want to overload him with information until we’re sure he can handle it.” He drove the short distance to Reins and stopped, leaving the engine running. “I need a quick word with Caitlyn before we head up to the hospital.”
“No problem. I doubt Buck is in any big hurry to see us anyway.”
“Yeah,” he answered and started to get out, then turned back to Josiah. “We’re all gonna make it through this aren’t we?’
“Eventually, but I fear we may be in for a rough go first.”
Vin nodded. “I’ll be right back.”
Cait answered the door. “Vin, come on in. Nettie will be pleased to see you.”
“I’m not here to visit, but I do need a favor.” He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “Douglas Banks will be out here today to see Nettie. Could you give him this…without her knowin’?”
Taking the envelope, Cait raised a brow, fearing it might be additional bad news for her friend. “I can …”
Vin read her doubt and explained, “It’s nothin’ bad, just a cashier’s check and Douglas knows I’m leavin’ it here. I wanna make sure he’s paid without botherin’ Nettie about it.”
Cait nodded. “I understand. Consider it done.”
“Appreciate it, Cait. I need to get up to the hospital, if Nettie needs anythin’ please call me.”
“I will,” she hesitated, “it’s just hard for her right now. She wants to see JD. You think…?”
Shaking his head, Vin answered. “Not yet. He needs to know what’s happened first…” he sighed, “…I’ll see what the doctor says and let you know.” Nodding to her, he started walking back to his truck, thinking about how one uncontrolled moment in time had affected so many lives already. Knowing the worst was yet to come, he dreaded the next few hours.
Trying to fight fate only leads to frustration
Denver Memorial Hospital~ Thursday morning ~ May 29
Buck leaned in to insure he had JD's undivided attention, while Chris hovered in the background.
“Remember we told you Vin and Josiah need to ask you a few questions about the other night?" He ached for bright hazel eyes to look back at him, instead of ones full of despair.
"Well, they're here, waiting outside your room. I have no doubt that you understand protocol, but Kid…if you're not up to this today, say the word and we'll call this off." Buck instinctively wiped away a solitary tear, which escaped from the corner of JD's eye as the younger man's chin quivered.
Swallowing hard, JD took a deep breath. "No…let's get this over with."
Both Buck and Chris nodded. JD sought out Chris’s eyes and put his hand on Buck's arm. "Will you two stay with me?"
"No problem, kid."
Chris approached the bed, smiling. "If that's what you want, of course."
JD nodded again. "Yeah…I do."
Five minutes later, Josiah and Vin had their equipment set up and the date and time recorded. They sat next to JD on one side, while Buck and Chris elected to stand close by on the other side. Vin squeezed JD's arm. They had the head of the bed raised so JD could view everyone comfortably.
“I understand this is hard for you, but best to get this out of the way.” Acknowledging the slight nod of JD’s head, Vin stepped back from the bed and into ‘professional’ mode.
Josiah turned on the recorder and Vin began "In your own words, and to the best of your recollection, I need you to account for your movements after leavin' work Monday, May 26th."
JD closed his eyes for a moment. A squeeze to his shoulder told him Buck was close by, and began.
"After I left the Federal Building, I stopped at a gas station… the one next to the bank, to fill up.” He licked at his lips.” They had flowers inside so I bought some roses to take to Casey. They were kind of a peace offering I knew she would be upset about me getting home late again. “
Smiling wistfully, he added, "She likes roses and these were…,” he sighed, pausing for a moment, “anyway, when I got home… I…uh…I dumped my keys…I think I left the flowers on the hall table. I…I called out…I…but no one answered. It was late. I figured Nettie had gone to bed, and Casey…probably in the bedroom. Something smelled good...I was hungry and I remember wondering what might ..."
Vin leaned forward. "You put down the flowers and your keys..."
“Yeah…I peeked into the girls' room. They were asleep." His head snapped up, looking at Chris and Buck, alarmed. "They are okay, right? The girls and JJ…are they with Nettie?"
Josiah spoke before Buck could answer, to stop them from sidetracking JD. He and Vin wanted to make this as quick as possible for the young man. "Your children are fine JD, Nettie, too. Now, where did you go from the girls' room?"
Taking a few seconds to compose his words, JD continued, screwing up his face in concentration. "To our bedroom and I didn’t find Casey so I locked my guns in the safe. Not sure what I did next, but….I do remember looking down at JJ…something…I guess I heard a noise at the back of the house…I went into the kitchen and Casey stood at the counter…she…she had her…back to me…." He swallowed great gulps of air as he tried to stop his throat from tightening, looking up as Chris stepped closer with a cup of ice.
Chris spooned some chips for JD and after a moment asked him. "Would you like to take a break?"
Josiah and Vin shook their heads at Chris. This was hurting them, too, but they needed JD to re-tell the events of Monday night, before anyone else gave him an account of what happened…they needed his recall…his words.
"I bet you gave her a big ol' kiss, didn't you son?" Buck matched the glare he received from the two men.
Vin switched off the voice recorder. “I don't want to kick you out of here, Buck, but if you help him answer again, I will."
Buck laughed without humor. "You can try, junior, but that's all it'll be…an attempt. You'll have to put me out before I leave here, and that ain't gonna happen, Tanner, believe me."
Noting JD's accelerated breathing as he listened to the altercation, Chris cut in. "Shut the hell up, both of you and let's finish this." Changing the tone of his voice, he laid his hand on Dunne’s arm, "When you're ready."
Waiting a moment, while he tried to regain his control, JD closed his eyes. He recalled coming up behind Casey, pressing his body against hers as he had embraced her and caressed her breasts.
"JD," Josiah prompted him to continue, pushing the on button.
The young tech shook his head. "Sorry. I can't be sure if I said anything, but I’m certain I gave her a hug. She…I think I startled her, she went all stiff and pulled away…" His breathing became more erratic. "The way she stared at me…" he whispered, "…it was as if…" He blinked through watery eyes at the four men in the room."…She didn't seem to recognize me…and… I moved away from her…we…I … uh, started talking, and then…I must have scared her more than I thought…she… she….”
His gaze went glassy while he remembered the moments before the attack, sobs now racking his body as his hand touched his bandages.
"Oh God…she really did it…Oh God…my Casey…stabbed me." He draped his arm over his head and buried his face, embarrassed that he was unable to control his tears. Buck moved in an instant to comfort him.
"Can you remember anything else?" Vin almost choked on the words, but it would be easier on JD in the long run if they could continue.
Torn between what his heart felt and what his head was telling him, Chris yelled, “For fuck's sake can't you see he's struggling here?"
Vin met Chris's gaze, turning off the recorder. “I’m not blind, but you know as well as I do, we need to finish this sooner rather than later."
Experience had taught him enough to realize Vin was right, but seeing JD like this was tearing him apart.
"Goddamnit, Tanner, how detached have you gotten?" Buck lashed out at Vin.
Vin glared at Buck. Swallowing his anger, he answered softly, "About as detached as you, Bucklin."
Before Buck could reply, JD gripped his wrist. "It's okay…I'm okay, now." He turned and nodded to Tanner, who clicked the recorder on again.
"Before I passed out, she screamed at me. I can't remember everything but I think she shouted a warning….about hurting her…or something." He shuddered out a breath. "Her words made no sense…I…I don't think she was talking to me…I know that doesn't make much sense either, but…"
Josiah squeezed the young man's knee. “Son, you've done well." He turned off the recorder. The rest of their questions could wait until he was stronger.
JD nodded. He looked in earnest at Vin. "Vin, Casey trusts you. I can't imagine how awful she's feeling now. I scared her and she reacted, but she didn’t mean to hurt me…you know that. Tell her it’s all right…that we’ll work through this. Would you bring her to me? If I could just talk to her for a minute…"
Four men inhaled sharply. JD deserved an answer. He would find out eventually anyway, but…. was he up to hearing it now?
Vin grasped JD's forearm and took a deep breath. “Casey can’t come. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but, we…” he made a conscious decision to leave Josiah and Kelli out of it and take full responsibility himself. “…I had no choice but to arrest her.”
The four watched in fascination as Dunne processed the information. Always animated, right now his face was telling its own story.
"What are you saying?" He sought support from Chris and Buck. "He's crazy…," he turned back to Vin, "…You're crazy…you can't lock her up…this is all a misunderstanding…she wouldn’t hurt me on purpose…She needs to be with me…with our kids. What were you thinking? This is our Casey! Damnit Vin… Go get her out now! Oh God!” He screwed up his face in agony, his eyes shut tight.
His outburst had flared up all the pain his meds failed to control and he writhed in the bed in a mixture of despair and agony.
"Look what you did now!" Buck growled at Josiah and Vin, trying to calm JD down.
Tanner growled back. "I'm not gonna lie to him."
Buck hissed, "Get outta here you insensitive bastard!"
"Buck…enough!" Chris yelled. Three people who meant the world to him were coming apart, one physically and two mentally. Inevitably, JD had to hear everything and Vin had a job to do, but damn if he knew how to help any of them at the moment.
His priority though, was to stop JD from hurting himself further when the young man tried to get up. Chris used his Commander voice, “JD…stop and calm down."
Gilford came in. "What in Heaven's name is going on here?" In the chaos, no one had noticed alarms going off on JD's monitors. The doctor unceremoniously pushed everyone away from the bed as his medical team came into the room to help.
"JD, it's Doctor Gilford…can you hear me?"
"Get 'em out…"
Gilford frowned. "Get who out, JD?"
Dunne waved his free hand weakly. "Them…Buck…Vin… all of ‘em…please…."
Gilford glanced toward the faces of four stunned men.
Buck approached the bed. "Now come on, Kid…you don't mean that."
Opening his eyes for a moment, JD made eye contact. "Go away…Go away!” JD turned his head toward the window. “Please, just leave!”
The glower from the doctor gave them their orders and four men retreated to the corridor.
Buck shook his head. "I'm not leaving. He can scream all he wants…he don't mean what he said. I'm not going anywhere."
Josiah took a calming breath. “We’ve had three days to try and come to terms with all of this. This is new for JD; he needs time to grasp what we’ve told him and denying what happened is a normal reaction under the circumstances.”
Chris rubbed his eyes, sighing. He looked toward Vin and Josiah. "I’m not leaving until I’m sure he's okay. You two go. Do what you have to do. We'll talk later."
Vin was in hell. He looked at Buck, who turned away, and then to Chris.
*I couldn’t lie to him…ain't right to lie about this…I…I couldn't lie…*
Chris met his eyes. *I know.*
When Gilford said he was calling in the psychologist for a consult, Buck’s instincts told him it was a mistake, but it was not up to him. He paced the hallway, waiting for word that it was okay to return to JD’s room.
“Will you sit down?” Chris barked, throwing down the magazine he was attempting to read. “It hasn’t been long.” He stood up when the therapist walked out.
“Gentlemen, I’ll be brief,” Doctor Snyder said. “Mister Dunne has requested no visitors and I am inclined to agree that for now it is for the best.”
“You mean besides family, right? Buck stopped in front of the man.
The doctor sighed. “I mean no visitors, period. Go home, check with Doctor Gilford tomorrow.” He snapped the chart closed and turned to walk off.
Buck grabbed his arm, demanding more information, “Tomorrow? I need to be in with him, now.”
“Let him go, Buck,” Chris stepped between the two men, allowing the doctor to move on down the hallway. “JD has a lot of information to digest. Maybe he needs time to do that. In fact, maybe we all need to take a deep breath and think things through.”
Buck started shaking his head. “What if JD needs me?”
“What he needs right now is space.” Chris placed his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Go home. Spend time with Inez and the kids, and then we’ll see how JD is in the morning.”
Closing his eyes, Buck sighed deeply. “All right, I’ll go home for a while, but I’m coming back tonight. If he don’t want me with him, I’ll stay out here in a chair.”
“We’ll stop at the nurse’s station to make sure they call one of us if anything changes.”
The two men left their message and then took the elevator to the main lobby to make their way to the parking lot. Chris walked Buck to his truck, waiting to make certain he left and then headed to his own. He hoped tomorrow would bring better news.
Chris’s Home ~ Sunday morning ~ June 1
“Damnit Chris, three days and JD still refused to see us.” Buck paced the length of Chris’s deck. “He let Nettie, Barbara, Caitlyn, the therapist, and that lawyer come in, but you, me, all the guys are on a no visitors list. Why?”
“Have you been sleeping?”
“What?” Buck stopped and stood in front of Chris.
“You look like hell, I asked if….”
“No, I can’t sleep thinking about JD being by himself. He needs me…us, even if he don’t realize it. He can’t….I mean…what the fuck is going on?” He plopped down in the deck chair. “I don’t understand.”
Chris empathized with his old friend. JD’s behavior disturbed him too, but Josiah explained it was not something to be concerned about…yet. While he tried to practice the patience Josiah suggested, Buck obviously was not able to do the same. He took a deep breath before speaking. “This is not going away overnight. We need to give JD time to come to terms with what’s happened. He’ll need us in the weeks and months to come.”
“The kid has always turned to us for support before.” Buck shook his head. “He needs us now more than he ever has.” He stood up and resumed pacing. “If Vin hadn’t been so hell-bent in rushing things with Casey, maybe we …”
“Hold on Buck.” Chris made certain he had his friend’s attention. “Vin did what needed to be done. Casey belongs locked up either in jail or in a hospital until we know she is no longer a threat to herself or anyone else. We don’t know what all the investigation has or will uncover. Hell, look what she did to Kel less than twenty-four hours after she attacked JD. Can you stand there with a straight face and say she’s not where she belongs for now?”
Buck dropped his head. “No, but damnit, what about JD’s wishes, he don’t want her in jail.”
“That’s not our call or his, the law is clear on what had to be done.” Chris chewed on his bottom lip. “Right now you need to take time with your family, be strong for JD when he’s ready to come to you, and be patient. Let the process work.”
“It hurts Chris…to know the kid is in so much pain and alone.”
“Yeah, but his emotions are raw. Maybe he needs time to grieve a while, talk to a therapist, hug his kids, and then decide how to move forward. We can’t do that for him.”
“Go home Buck, hug your kids, love Inez, and do some healing of your own.” Chris stood up and placed a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Things will get better. It just might take some time before all of us see it happen.”
Vin sat in front of his home computer and stared at the blank screen. He needed to wrap up his report for Travis, but struggled with what more to include. Casey’s journal provided a wealth of information, all personal and some so explicit he hesitated to add the words to paper. On the other hand, if this were not Casey, would he exclude those details? Damn, he hated to be in this position. He received a reprieve from wrestling with his dilemma when the phone rang.
He grabbed the receiver and growled, “Tanner!” Taken by surprise by the caller, he lowered his voice, “JD.” Remorse washed over him for answering so harshly, “Yeah, I can come.” He glanced at the clock. “I’ll be there before noon.” Deep in thought, Vin hung up the phone. His natural instinct was to work this through himself, but he really wanted to practice sharing his inner feelings with Kelli and hurried out of his office to find her.
It took a few minutes, but he located his wife in the den and joined her on the couch. After a moment of silence, he told her, “JD wants to see me. Says he wants to finish our interview. How much do I tell him?”
Kelli heard the trepidation in his voice and tried to find the words to make him relax. “I can’t tell you what to say, but whatever he asks…give him the answers you would expect in his position.”
Vin nodded. “I’d want to hear it all, good or bad.”
“Well then, you have your answer.” She reached out to stroke the stubble on his jaw. Something she had missed doing before her bandages came off. “You can’t soften the cold hard facts, but JD is every bit as strong as you are and I have confidence you’d find a way to handle the truth. To move forward he has to understand what he’s facin’. Fate has set her course and while it may not be easy for either of you, he can take it… he has no choice at this point.”
Vin shook his head. In a few words, Kelli had managed to erase his uncertainty and paint a clear picture in his head. Allowing her to reassure him occasionally was a good feeling. He leaned over to kiss his wife. “I love you.”
“That’s good to know,” she grinned, “because a certain sexy MCAT Captain is just waiting for a chance to move in on your territory.”
”I can’t blame him for trying,” he drew her closer, “but tell him to get his own woman.” Relaxed again and certain of his course of action, his mood turned serious. “Thanks baby. I know what I have to do now.”
“Go help JD the best you can and take Dad with you. You’ll need a friend with you after Captain Tanner delivers the facts.”
“Smart woman.” He claimed another kiss before leaving her. Picking up the house phone, he punched in a familiar number and waited for an answer. “Hey Cowboy…I have a meet and could use some backup.” He listened for a moment and then smiled. “See you in ten minutes.” Despite their difference of opinions about Casey, he never doubted that Chris would agree to go with him, without question, and it felt good to know some things did not change
All things happen for a reason; our challenge is to discover what it is.
Sunday June 1
Vin had been driving for a while before Chris asked, “Wanna tell me where we’re going?”
“JD called and requested a meetin’.” He turned onto the main road into Denver. “Kel suggested I ask you to come with me. Reckoned I’d need a friend around when it’s over.”
Chris nodded slowly. “Judging from what Cait’s told me our youngest has been up to the past few days, I reckon she‘s right. He’s talked to Nettie, Douglas Banks, Casey’s doctors, and to Barbara about taking back custody of his kids. I figure he wants you to tell him what they couldn’t.”
Vin glanced sideways, a pained expression outlining his handsome features. “I’m not goin’ to lie to him, Chris. It might not be easy for him to hear, but he deserves the truth….all of it. If I were in his position, I’d expect no less.”
“Same here,” Chris shook his head, “but for me it’s hard to equate the facts of this case with our JD and Casey. How the hell do you tell a man the woman he loves and lived with all these years, is at the present time, not who he thinks she is?”
Vin sighed. “I don’t know, but I need to try and make him understand.”
“This whole damn thing is difficult for everyone, but I could have made it easier on you and Kel. You both took on a tough assignment and did not deserve the grief I…and some of the others dished out.” Chris swallowed hard. “I read the press release Kelli wrote….she did a good job …you both did.”
“Y’all said what you were thinkin’ and feelin’. I can’t fault any of you for your honesty.” Vin glanced over to Chris. “Conductin’ the investigation is not easy, but compared to telling JD the truth... hell, no matter what I say it’ll be rough for him.”
“A word of advice though. I wouldn’t mention this meeting to Buck. He’s already too upset about JD refusing to see the rest of us.”
“You know Buck. He’ll cool off once he thinks things over.” Vin took the exit for the hospital. “Unfortunately, I don’t think any of us can make this easier for JD. His future is at stake and he needs to face this his way, for his sake, and the kids. All we can do is support whatever he decides to do.”
Chris stared out the passenger window. “Yeah, but as much as we’ve all experienced firsthand how life can be a bitch… I always hoped we’d be able to preempt any trouble on the horizon for the kid.”
Vin pulled into a parking spot, cut the engine and sighed. “We need to accept and understand that he’s not a kid anymore and Mistress Fate evidently has other plans for him.”
JD’s hospital room
He had no idea what to expect from this meeting, and when he pushed open the door, Vin was apprehensive. The sight of an empty bed and a darkened room did not bode well. After a moment, his eyes adjusted, and he spotted JD, with his back turned, standing in front of the window. Except for a slight movement of his shoulder, he made no other sign to acknowledge Vin had entered the room.
“I don’t plan on pouncing on anyone today, Vin.” JD turned to face the man who held the answers, which would affect his future. “Come on in.” The room lightened as he moved away from the window.
“We’ve all been worried about you. I’m glad to see you up and around.” Vin stepped further into the room to face JD. “Chris came with me, he’s across the hall. If you want him here…”
“No,” JD answered quickly and harsher than he intended. Softening his tone he repeated, “No. I want…need this meeting to be between you and me. I’ll talk to Chris and everyone else soon, but right now I require answers only you can give me.”
Vin nodded. “Fair enough, you wanna stand or sit?”
“We can sit.”
They moved over to the chairs by the bed. In spite of the difficulty of lowering himself into the seat, JD was determined to show strength. Vin understood the importance of JD exerting his independence and resisted the urge to help.
Once his breathing evened out, JD began the conversation with a well-rehearsed statement. “I realize you still have questions to ask, but before we get into official stuff, I wanna talk to my brother.”
Vin leaned forward and placed his hand on JD’s knee. “Whatever you need, you got it.”
JD licked his lips and started. “Over the past few days I’ve talked to Douglas Banks, Nettie, Barbara, and Casey’s doctors. Nettie told me how you helped her and it didn’t take much for me to figure out who paid the retainer for Banks…thanks, Vin, I appreciate it.”
Vin squeezed JD's knee. “I love Nettie too, JD, so don’t worry over the money, we’ll work it out. You …”
“I plan to pay you back every cent.” Forestalling Vin’s further protest, he held up his hand. “You took on a tough assignment and still thought about what Nettie and Casey needed, that means a lot to me. I also understand you took some flack for it and I’m aware of Kel’s injuries.” He hesitated for a moment to get a hold of his emotions. “Casey’s doctor said she‘s got something called Schizoaffective Disorder… a mental condition out of her control. I need to learn more about it before I can explain it, but her recovery is gonna take time.” His eyes begged Vin to understand. “She would not hurt me or Kel otherwise… you have to know that.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Douglas is confident the criminal charges will be dismissed and Casey will be placed in a…,” he swallowed, unable to say mental institution, “…somewhere she can receive the help she needs and I’m going home tomorrow. Barbara filed the papers for custody of the kids to revert to me, and Cait helped Nettie find someone who can come in and assist her with the kids, and me until I get back on my feet. Then, I’ll need to make more permanent arrangements. I realize the others don’t understand why I won’t see them, especially Buck, but for now, right or wrong, I’ve gotta to do this my way.”
“It sounds as if you’ve given this a lot of thought.”
JD nodded. “This is something I need to do for me, the kids, and for Casey. I love her Vin, always have and no matter what, I’ll stand beside her…she needs me.”
“I do understand.” Vin swallowed hard and made a decision he hoped his wife would forgive him for, eventually. JD had to believe he really understood his reasons. “When Ice took Kel, it took months before I got her back mentally. Until now, no one except Chris knows about her miscarrying while Ice had her locked up. Kel came close to breaking over it. She blamed herself and it damn near destroyed both of us. Hell, sometimes I wasn’t sure we’d be able to recover, but I couldn’t give up tryin’ to reach her, anymore than you can give up on Casey.”
Knowing that Vin trusted him with his secret gave JD the courage to share his own demons. “Ice did a helluva lot more damage than we gave her credit for,” he said. “I let her words about me being the weak link drive me to obsession about work and that damn code. If I’d paid more attention to my wife…maybe….” He shook his head and then stumbled over his words. It took a few seconds to compose his emotions. “It’s your turn, say what you need to, but then I…I need you to tell me what you found out….all of it…good or bad.”
Vin heaved a sigh and then nodded. “First off, Kel and I are the only ones who know all of the facts. We handled the investigation and tried to keep it as discreet as possible. Josiah came in to help with a profile, and Mallory ran what we needed through CASSIE. Travis received our preliminary statements, but some of what I’m about to tell you he deleted from the copy he gave to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Chris, Buck and the others won’t see our reports and they haven’t asked for the details.”
JD's brow furrowed. “So Buck doesn’t…”
“No.” Vin closed his eyes and steeled himself for the emotional storm he knew was coming. “JD,” he slid forward to gain a position closer to the younger man, “did you know Casey was seein’ a psychiatrist since January?
JD raised his head to meet Vin’s eyes. “No…January? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Casey’s OB/GYN recommended she see Doctor Ward when she realized the depression Casey was experiencing was more than just due to the pregnancy. We talked to him and confirmed her appointments. Apparently, her problem started back in October when the FBI arrested you. The attempt on your life added to it and findin’ out she was pregnant…well all total it was more than she could handle. However, Casey went to great lengths to hide her sufferin’ from everyone, even you.”
“Why couldn’t she tell me?” JD choked back his emotions. “I thought she was just hormonal…”
“We all did, but she was spiralin’ and none of us saw what was happenin’. Casey struggled with delusions and became paranoid. She kept a gun in her car, set up a secret bank account for emergency use, and in case ‘they’ came back to take you again, she even kept a knife under the mattress on her side of the bed.” Vin stopped for a moment to allow JD a chance to take in what he was saying. “She added cameras in the house to record everythin’ and it did, includin’ her attack on you.”
“God, how could I be so blind?” JD fisted his hands and pounded on the chair. Tears welled up in his eyes and he fought desperately to them keep from falling, while he tried to deal with the new information Vin revealed to him. He closed his eyes and lowered his head, his breathing coming unevenly as his emotions threatened to overwhelm him. A few moments passed in silence before he finally gathered himself together and raised his head to once again look Vin in the eyes. “I should have seen her anxiety…I failed her when she needed me.”
“No, you didn’t.” Vin grabbed JD’s hand, wanting to offer his brother support, any way he could. Seeing JD in such an emotional upheaval, Vin found his own emotions working against him as he said, “She did not want you to see…she…aw hell...she did whatever was necessary to hide it all, but then…the accident happened…JJ came…the hysterectomy. It all started crashin’ in on her. Casey hated her thoughts, but stopped takin’ the meds the doctor prescribed. Last week all her fears, resentments and delusions combined…I believe the innocent message you left on the answerin’ machine about going to the FBI office triggered some kind of breakdown.”
“Message…answering machine…?” JD thought about what he had said. “I told her…God…’the feds insisted’…she must have believed it was happening all over again.”
Vin squeezed his hand. “She did things your Casey would never consider doin’, but in her mixed up thinkin’ it was all necessary. We found a journal she hid… all her fears, thoughts and paranoia…she kept a record of all of it. Kel and I read it and at some point, I reckon you need to. You want to remember the person who wrote in it was not your Casey, but a young woman trapped in the clutches of serious illness.”
“Can you get it for me? I need to understand what she went through.” When Vin withdrew and hesitated, JD realized there was more to tell. A determined look crossed his face. “All of it Vin. I can handle anything except not knowing.”
For a brief moment, Vin considered lying, but JD deserved the truth if he was going to fight for the future. “I’ll get it to you once it’s released as evidence, but…readin’ it will be painful. After JJ was born, she transferred her obsession about the injustices committed by the FBI to him. Just about everythin’ she believed was his fault and that’s one of the reasons she left you last month. She hated herself for feelin’ that way and while she was gone," Vin bowed his head momentarily, sighed and looked back at JD, "….fuck it…there’s no easy way to tell you." He tightened his grip on the shaking man, "Casey had a one-night stand before she came home and it’s been eatin’ at her ever since.” Vin's heart clenched as he watched a myriad of emotions cross JD's features.
JD's mind was desperately trying to process the information...Casey had an affair? Is that why she wanted to come home? He swallowed, his eyes darting left and right searching for a rational reason she would say such a thing. No...no way...not his Casey. But...oh God...they had made love...that night, before they headed home...and she had...? No! He glared at Vin, his head shaking in denial.
“No…no…not Casey… she might be sick, but …no. Neither of us ever had other sex partners… It’s not true. She might’ve written the words …” JD’s heart twisted and the pain was worse that the ones from his wounds. “I don’t… no, I can’t believe that.”
Vin was in hell, but he stayed resolute. "Kid...I tracked the guy down...he confirmed it...I'm sorry."
JD stood abruptly, crying out as the speed of his ascent pulled on his injuries. “Take me to him...he's lying, Vin...he has to be...Who the hell is he?"
Vin rose to his feet, concerned at the pain in JD's face, and his semi-hunched stance. He gripped his arm.
"JD, take it easy, I swear to you, if I thought for one moment this guy had lied...I would have ripped his balls apart myself, but..." his eyes began to water as JD's tears ran freely down his cheeks, "I also talked to Becky...the girl she stayed with. They went to a strip club the night before she called you. Becky's fiancé, Wes Chesterfield, had been away on business but, while the girls were out, he returned...earlier than Becky expected, and called her. She mentioned to Casey she wanted to get home...Casey told her to go ahead...she'd get a cab. Becky confirmed that Casey didn’t come back to the apartment, until some time around sun up, she packed her things, left a note...and went to meet you."
JD was shivering now; he sniffed and licked his lips. "But...but that doesn't mean she...that's not proof...she wouldn't...Vin...please...she wouldn't do that to me..." He searched his brother's eyes for something...anything...to offer him some hope, but all he got was sorrow, empathy, and sincerity. His legs gave out and he dropped to the floor, his slump softened by the Texan clinging to him, and slowing his descent as he followed JD down. Both men on their knees, they looked at each other. Feebly, JD hit Vin in the chest several times.
"She wouldn't do that...Vin...she...she…." His body was trembling now. Casey would not do that, but then the woman he knew would not try to kill him either. "Why? How...oh God...Casey...why?"
Vin could no longer hold back his own tears as he embraced JD and the two men clung to each other...one in support and one in desperate need. Vin allowed JD to let it all out, only speaking when he felt the younger man's heartbreak easing a little.
"I'm here for you…we all are...don't push us away...let us help you. I swear to you, little brother...we're gonna get you through this. You're not alone...you will never be alone...not as long as the six of us have breath in our bodies. All you need to do is reach out...we'll be right here."
JD's answer was fisting the back of Vin's shirt even tighter, but it was evident now, he was exhausted.
Vin had no idea of how much time passed while they remained on their knees clinging and crying, but eventually, JD relaxed his hold and Vin helped him to his feet.
"Help me into bed...,” he whispered. Vin obliged him, watching over JD for a while longer until he was asleep. Sighing heavily, Vin touched his hand to JD's clammy head, turned and left the room. He eased the door shut and listened against it. His suspicions confirmed, he closed his eyes in despair …JD had only feigned sleep and was now crying softly to himself.
Chris watched Vin turn away from the door and walk a few steps, alarmed when Vin suddenly squatted, the fingertips of his left hand touching the floor to steady him as his other hand covered his eyes. Approaching him, Chris placed a hand on Vin's head and pulled it gently against the side of his thigh while the Texan wept.
Glancing back at JD's door, Chris debated whether he should go inside or stay here. Vin lifted his steadying hand and held onto Chris's leg, giving the blond the answer to his dilemma, and that's how they remained, until Vin was composed, and ready to leave.
Chris’s Journal ~ midnight
Vin and I spent the afternoon sitting on a boulder, which overlooks one of the prettiest valleys on the Larabee 7, yet the beauty of the land held no comfort for either of us today. As he recounted his meeting with JD, I felt every bit of the pain he and our youngest brother shared. All I could do was to listen. I had no words of wisdom to offer him to ease the hurt.
The past week has been hell for all of us and until today, I believed it could not get worse. I was wrong. As our initial shock wears off, the pain of all that has happened is settling in for a long stay. This time there is no ‘quick fix’ and I fear that for some of us it will never be the same.
I placed Vin in an impossible situation when I ordered him to run this investigation. He’s damned if he does his job right, and damned if he doesn’t. Travis expects him to be professional, both attorneys expect him to produce evidence to aid their respective cases, and I am at a loss to find any way to help him. His relationship with Buck is strained and his role of supportive brother to JD almost did him in today.
JD is lost too. He’s decided that now is the time to slough off the protective cloak we’ve tried to wrapped him in all these years and stand on his own. While I have to respect, and in some ways admire his decision, I know that no man can go though this kind of heartbreak in his life alone. I’m living proof of that. Yet all I can do is to wait for him to realize he needs his family, now more than ever.
Buck is finding it difficult to give JD space and let go of ‘our kid’. He does not understand why JD is pushing him away. Why he cannot shield him the way he has in the past. I understand, but have the same problem Buck does…letting go is not easy, but sometime it is necessary to hold on to the things we treasure.
Ezra and Nathan are trying to remain in neutral territory while the rest of us work through our feelings. Josiah’s counseling skills are getting a workout too. I hope that given time JD will come to us and allow us to support him. In the meantime, our job is stand on the sidelines and wait.
JD will be back at home tomorrow. In the coming days, he’ll have to deal with his children, physical recovery, court hearings, and doctors. He’ll also need to make some tough decisions and plan for his family’s future…with or without Casey.
At some point soon, Travis will reactivate Alpha team and the rest of us will return to work. While it might take some time to mend our broken fences, I have faith that the seven of us will find a way. We are seven strong. Always have been and always will be.