Reconciliations Part II: Revelation
Characters: Chris, Vin, and the rest of the seven~ Orrin Travis ~ Nettie, Rain, plus OC.
Rating: FRM, Profanity, Het, some violence and offensive language. MCAT case deals with a sensitive subject matter.
Special disclaimer: The subject matter of the MCAT case is a sensitive one and in the course of writing about it certain offensive terms are used that do NOT reflect the views of either author.
Disclaimer: This is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from “The Magnificent Seven.” I don’t own them, 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 only play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction; any references to locations or people are only for story use and is not intended to depict any real place or person.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is under the leadership of Commander Chris Larabee. It is an independent, versatile, responsive, and respected premier Federal law enforcement agency, demonstrating excellence in all aspects of its operations. In the last year, this MCAT unit has done outstanding work on a number of cases. Most notably, this unit has neutralized three terrorist’s threats, halted at least two assassination attempts of high ranking officials, taken on serial killers, public corruption, computer crimes, and formed several specialized task forces to thwart major criminal activities.
Chris, along with three members (Vin, Buck, Nathan) of his extended family of brothers, and their families, reside on the Larabee 7. The seven men work together, and jointly own the ranch, where they are raising thoroughbreds, quarter horses and children. Ezra lives in town, while Josiah and JD reside on adjoining properties to the ranch, with their families.
This first series establishes relationships and provides background for the characters in this AU. ‘Reconciliations” is the seventh story in this series.
MCAT Story # 7: Reconciliations (shared in three parts) follows the events that transpired in MCAT #6, Addition and Apprehensions, and references previous stories in this series. It unfolds a year of changes for the Wild Bunch filled with emotional upheavals and danger that will either break them apart or mend the cracks in their relationships that have weakened their bond of strength.
Part III ~ Resolutions. Brings the Turbulent Transition series to a conclusion and will lay the pathway for Series Two ~”Strength in Solidarity”.
Acknowledgments: I fell in love with this creative new AU for the Seven the first moment I read Transitions...and then the subsequent stories that followed that drew me further into the lives, relationships, and intriguing cases of the Seven. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to write with Sherry because I found a dear friend along the way. I want to add my thanks to Sarai for her beta work and Jan for her inspired comments and advice...Wendy
My thanks go to my friend and co-writer Wendy for her talent, and great advice. It has been a fun experience to share the writing of this story with her. Sarai for your brilliant beta work, thank you. Jan, you are greatly appreciated, Jo your artwork is inspirational, and Tonny, thanks for you contribution…I also want to say a special thank you to all of you who have been with me from the inception of my MCAT AU, all the way to the end of this first set of stories. Your comments and suggestions have inspired many ideas along the way, and helped give me the encouragement to continue writing. Looking back to the first story in the series, Transitions, I find that I have also gone through my own transition as a writer. Hopefully I have entertained you with my take on the Seven, keeping the integral parts of each of their individual personalities in tact, while creating new characters for them to interact with, as well as realistic situations for them to work their way through. I will continue to write in the MCAT AU and appreciate y'all for taking the time to ride along....Tannertexaslady...
Notes: The original characters I have created for this series are mine. Any mistakes are ours and both of us would like to thank Bountyhunter'slady for the great collage for this story.
Size: Approx. 630K
Excerpt from the ending of Part II ~ Revelations
“Walter, double the patrols around the ranch. As of this minute we are on lockdown, and nothing comes in here unless we check it out first. Max, you had better prepare for more houseguests.” Chris pulled out his cell phone to call the Southern breeze. It was going to take Matt’s cooperation to secure his side of the property that bordered the Larabee 7, and he also wanted Linda safely escorted home. Chambers had declared war, and Chris would be damned if he was going to give the bastard a chance to touch one member of his family.
*You’re mine Chambers, and when I am finished with you, then I’ll give Tanner what’s left.*
Somewhere, in the mountains, close to Denver…
Karl Chambers sat back in his big leather chair and savored the moment. His antagonist had a name…Vin Tanner…and by now the traitor knew that his identity had been revealed. Even if he did not succeed in taking out his first target, he knew his message would be received loud and clear.
Tanner, I plan to make your life hell as you have made mine. Destroy what you care about as you did to me. Your death can wait… you will not see me coming, and you will not know when…where…or who I will strike at next.
Journal Entry ~ January 17th~6:00am
The last three weeks have been tense around the Larabee 7. After the late Christmas present that Chambers or his hired help sent, all of us have been on alert for suspicious activity around the ranch. Travis agreed that the MCAT team should come back to work, however our priority has been to find Chambers and the RMR, and we have been centering the investigation out of Camp Larabee instead of our regular office. So far we have no leads on the whereabouts of Chambers or his group, and Raven is not having any more luck finding him than we are.
Tanner is still in protective custody so, he will have the time off he wanted without any question, and Orrin had some strong words for the U.S. Attorney’s office. They wanted to put Vin and his family into seclusion, however Travis convinced them that Tanner was in the safest place possible here on the ranch. If we don’t find Chambers soon though, I am afraid Vin might take matters into his own hands, and go after the maniac himself to give his family the peace they deserve once and for all. It helps that he is too concerned about Kelli at the moment to even consider it, but his patience is wearing thin. Dr. Weeks put Kel on fulltime bed rest for almost three weeks after the bomb incident, citing excessive stress and borderline anemia as the reasons. Her blood count is back up almost to normal and she had only a few days to go to make that critical three month mark so, Dr Weeks has taken her off total confinement, but will not even consider her returning to work. The problem now is that Kelli is allowed to get up and move around, and it is getting increasingly difficult to keep her restricted. Vin is with her constantly, while Raphael and Selina stay at the school all day with the kids, but the tension level in the Tanner household is growing.
I am still attending my NA meeting once a week. My goal is to reach the twelve month mark. I do not feel that I have to attend anymore because I am positive I have my problem under control, but found that I want to. New members are coming into our group, and it makes me feel good to know that my presence may help them reach their own objectives. It has been a year since Jack started me on this dark period of my life, and to know that I've risen above it is something that I savor. Even though I do not know what the future may hold for me, or what temptations it might bring along with it, I am confident in my ability to resist giving into them.
Linda and I talked to Ezra and he has agreed to represent us both in our divorce. We've made a decision to hold off making a big announcement to the family. I'm not certain that an announcement by Linda and I will be necessary with this bunch anyway. Word usually spreads fast enough from one person to another. Amazingly, Linda and I have been amicably communicating with one another more since we decided to divorce, than we ever did before, and I am beginning to think we might have a few peaceful months together waiting for Cody to be born. Gotta run, I still need to drop Grace off with Max, and pick up Nathan. It would not be good to be late for work when my temporary office is a five minute drive from my front door.
Tanner Home 6:30 am
“Kel, what are you doin'?” Vin asked as he watched his wife slide out of bed and move over to her dresser.
“I'm gettin' dressed, Tanner. I'm goin' into the kitchen to eat breakfast with our children before they go to school.” Kelli replied, her voice holding a touch of annoyance in it. Everyone was treating her like she was some fragile piece of artwork that had to be monitored twenty-four-seven or it would break into a million little pieces and the unwanted attention was driving her nuts. Kelli knew that Vin, as well as everyone else, were only being protective because they cared about her, and they all wanted her and the babies to be okay; but she was beginning to feel smothered.
“We’ll have breakfast with ‘em, but then you are comin’ back to bed afterwards.” Vin had become obsessive about her well-being the moment he had learned that she was pregnant with the baby they both wanted so badly. She had expected that, but ever since the bomb delivery he had gone into full protective mode and seemed to feel the need to be with her all the time. He watched her movements the same as he had been for the last three weeks, making an effort to convince himself that she was alright. Tanner was also determined to share as much of the pregnancy experience as possible with his wife, and he even intended to take part in the delivery. He had read everything he could get his hands on about her condition, and talked to the doctor often. “Dr. Weeks may have said you can get up, but I plan to make sure you don’t overdo.”
“I'm not an invalid, damnit!” Kelli snapped; her feelings of being smothered rising quickly to the surface and spilling out” I'm perfectly capable of goin' into the kitchen and enjoyin' a meal with my children without fallin' apart or endangerin’ our babies!”
“I know that Kel, but damnit, after all that has happened since you became pregnant, bein’ a little cautious is not unreasonable.” Tanner snapped back.
“A little cautious, Vin? I have been practically livin' in that bed. Between you, Dad, and Max I have not had the opportunity to do anythin’ that could even remotely be called reckless!” Kelli huffed. “It’s like havin' three mother hens instead of one.”
Vin rolled off of the bed in one fluent movement and came to stand beside her. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, searching for the right words. “I know that bein' confined to bed has been hard on you, and the situation here is not ideal, but after everythin' that has gone on around here lately...it was the best thing that Dr. Weeks could have done short of puttin’ you in the hospital. This pregnancy on its own is risky enough without havin' a man like Chambers sendin' bombs to our doorstep to add more stress.”
“I know that…but…Hell, Vin, I worry about you, the kids… and what’s gonna come next. As it is we have someone here babysittin' you twenty-four-seven and a houseful of people constantly. Although I love Rain, Terrell, and Nathan, I’m glad that their home will be ready for them to move into by next weekend. What’s more, I won’t put our life on hold because of that madman either. I want to enjoy the time we have waitin’ for our babies, not hide out from the world, or spend the next six months confined to bed.”
“I know.” Vin sighed and pulled her into his arms. “Don’t ask me not to be protective of you and the kids, Kelli. I can't do that....but I will try to ease up a bit and not make you feel as restricted.”
Leaning into him Kelli sighed. “I’m not mad at you; I just don’t like all of this. I want to get out of this house once in a while, and do somethin’ besides goin' to the doctor’s office. I love our family, and the team is great, but I want our home and our life back Vin. Maybe Chambers did what he wanted to do and left the country, if so we are goin’ through all this worry for nothin’.”
“He's still out there plannin' is next move, you can be certain of that.” Tanner told her, an edge creeping into his voice. “I spent enough time with the man to know that he doesn't give up very easily. He's used to gettin' what he wants, and doesn't settle for anythin' less. Karl Chambers won't stop comin' ‘til one of us is dead, and it ain't goin' to be me.”
Kelli felt a cold chill travel down her spine, and mentally kicked herself for complaining about anything. Vin had enough to worry about without her carrying on. “It won’t be you for sure. God did not give us Jason, Andi, and these two little miracles, to take you away from us. I’m sorry for being so bitchy, and I promise I won’t overdo.”
The Texan smiled as he leaned his forehead against hers. “You bitchy, I don't think so. You're a bit annoyed maybe, feisty as all get out, stubborn for sure, outspoken, and even argumentative on occasion, but never bitchy.”
Kelli chuckled. “I’m not one to argue with Wise Eagle either.” Leave it to Vin to know just what to say to ease a tense moment between them. “Come on, Max should have breakfast ready by now, and I want to enjoy it with Andi and Jason.”
She finished brushing her hair, while Vin pulled on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. Together the two of them headed for the kitchen where the sounds of their older children's voices buoyed Kelli's spirits even more. Max had breakfast on the table and Jason, as well as Andi had already started to eat. Nathan sat with the children nursing a cup of coffee.
When Andi saw Kelli come into the kitchen behind Vin, she got down from her chair and ran to give her a hug. “Good morning, Mama.” Kelli laughed and hugged her back.
“Mornin’ Nate, Jason,” She also hugged her son as Andi climbed back onto her chair.
“Mornin’ Nate,” Vin said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Where’s Rain?”
“Still sleeping, but these two have been keeping me company.” Nathan indicated Jason and Andi.
Vin kissed Andi on the forehead and ruffled Jason's hair. “They make pretty good company.” He waited until Kelli sat down next to Andi and then he seated himself beside his son.
Jason eyed Kelli carefully and then turned to whisper, “Dad, should she be out of bed?”
Jackson choked on the sip of coffee he had just taken, since he had been fighting the urge to ask the same question himself, but under the warning look that Vin had sent him...he had decided otherwise.
“Mom is fine, Jason. Dr. Weeks said that it was okay for her to get out of bed as long as she doesn’t do too much.” Vin whispered back to him reassuringly.
“Okay.” Jason replied, relieved to hear his dad's words. “Mornin' Mom.”
Kelli sighed, and acknowledged Jason, pretending that she had not heard his question to Tanner. She supposed she had four mother hens, instead of three. “Max, breakfast looks great, and I can see that these two little imps are enjoyin’ it.
“Thanks Missy. You make sure you eat all you can, we don’t want those babies to be hungry.” Max set a cup of hot herbal tea down for Kelli. “If you want more say so, I made plenty.”
“I’ll start with this, but be sure to save some for Chris, Walter, and Raphael. They should all be here soon, and Rain will be getting' up soon with Terrell.” Kelli looked at the pile of food on her plate and knew she could not eat it all.
“No problem, I made enough to feed an army.” Max laughed, “It seems that’s what we have around here lately.”
Talking ceased as everyone ate, and as soon as Jackson saw that Tanner was finished he posed a question to the Texan. “Uh, Vin, could I talk to you?”
“Sure, Nathan...what's on your mind?” Vin replied.
Jackson hesitated before answering. “In private, please?”
Tanner nodded. “We can use my office.” The two men left the room together and moved through the house and into Vin's office. The Texan closed the door behind them, seated himself in one of the chairs and waited for the other man to say what was on his mind.
Nathan carefully considered the words he wanted to say to Vin. One by one he had talked to all of his other brothers, but the opportunity had never seemed to be there to talk to Tanner. He had done them all a great disservice when he had gotten caught up with his crusade of getting back in touch with his 'black roots'… especially with the Texan. Yet, none of them had ever used his mistakes against him or even mentioned them. Instead, they had been there when he had needed them all the most... when his car had been forced off the road, and when the members of the RMR had set fire to his home with him, Rain, and Terrell inside. Most of all, Vin had risked his life to go undercover to get the vital information needed for MCAT to put the members of the RMR behind bars, and intervened to help Rain, risking himself to do so. Now he and Vin, as well as their families were targeted by Chambers and his men.
“Spit it out, Nathan, before you choke on it.” Vin's quiet voice broke through Jackson's thoughts.
“I don't know how to start.” Jackson admitted, sitting down in the chair opposite the Texan and looking him in the eyes.
“Nate, there's never been a time when we haven't been able to talk things out with each other before; this instance shouldn't be any different.”
“I was wrong, Vin. Wrong about so many things and it sticks in a man's gut to have to admit something like that.” Nathan began. “I said such harsh things to you. Accused you of being a racist, something I never would have done if I had been thinking clearly.”
Tanner waited, knowing that Jackson wasn't finished.
“When I saw Caleb...what had been done to him...it enraged me. It made me want to strike out against the people who had done it to him...Made me feel as if I had had it too easy, that I hadn't suffered nearly enough as my race had over the years and propelled me into joining the group I was in. I suddenly felt as if everything that I had done in my life, allowed my true self to be turned 'white'. I never realized what a load of bull I was convincing myself to believe, until the night of the fire, and the other brothers rescued me, Rain, and Terrell from certain death. Not once since the day I joined up with the lot of you for Team 7, have any of you ever treated me as if I was less than your equal. You all saw the man I am, and not the color of skin I have, and I am truly ashamed of how I acted toward all of the brothers, but especially you. “
Vin considered his words carefully. Nathan had been compelled to say what he had, although for the Texan it wasn’t necessary. “Nate, you’ve seen all of us at our worst at one time or another. We’ve moaned, groaned, bitched, and complained when you did nothin’ but try to help us when we’ve been injured. Yet, you never gave up on any one of us, and we could never give up on you. I reckon you’re no different than the rest of us, ornery, imperfect, and stubborn. As far as I’m concerned there is nothin’ for me to forgive…just forgive yourself.”
Relief flooded through Nathan. He had been dreading this conversation with Vin, yet he had felt obligated to have it nevertheless to clear the air between his Texas brother and himself once and for all. “I can do that...now.”
Standing up, Vin playfully slapped Nathan on the shoulder. “Chris should be here by now, and we need to go rescue my wife from all the well meanin’ mother hens, namely Jason, her dad, and Max.”
“Rain should be up with Terrell by now, so add her name to that list, too.” Jackson said as he followed Tanner out of the office.
Raphael had picked Jason up for school, and Inez had invited Andi to come over to play with Maria. Walter took her over to the Wilmington’s on his way out to the security office. Chris had dropped Grace off for the day, and then he and Nathan went on to Camp Larabee to meet the rest of the team, with the exception of Alex, who stayed behind to be Tanner’s watchdog. It irritated Vin that Chris felt that he needed to leave a man at the house, but he understood the rules of protective custody and kept his mouth shut. Tanner left Alex to fend for himself with Adam, Grace, Terrell, Rain, and Max as he and Kelli slipped off to their bedroom. At least there Vin could feel a little freedom away from being watched by Sandoval, and Kelli would not have Rain or Max monitoring everything she did, besides the couple needed their alone time.
Camp Larabee ~2:00pm
The team had followed the last of the leads they had, and had come up with nothing. Chris had called a meeting for two, and they all knew that he had been on the phone for a while. Even a rookie could read the signs, their dead end on the investigation, added to the sounds of frustrated curses coming from the private room where Chris was talking did not bode well for MCAT. There was no conference room here, but Larabee gathered everyone together for a status report. Of course with Raphael, Selina, and Alex on assignment, and Kat as well as Greg at the main forensics lab with Bones, it was not a large group. That in itself was one of the topics that needed to be discussed. JD, Mallory and Pam were already seated in front of CASSIE II. Chris waited for Buck, Nathan, Ezra, Josiah, Mark, and Justin to sit somewhere.
Chris waited until the small group was seated comfortably. “I’ve been on the phone with Travis for the last hour and we have come to an agreement of sorts.” He looked over the anxious faces of his MCAT family. “I know all of you feel the way I do about searching for Chambers, but…we have run out of leads. Intel suggests that the man has gone to ground with his private army, and possibly even changed his name. He could be anywhere, and truthfully it may take action on his part before we get fresh information.”
“Are you saying we give up?” Buck narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “We know he still wants Vin and Nathan dead. Hell, the barrage of threatening letters he’s been sending tells us that. We can’t stop…”
“I never said we were quitting Buck, but we do have other obligations to consider too. We have run down all the info we have received, forensics has been over every scrap of paper, and we have come up with zilch. I have word that Ross has decided to take a job in the private sector and will not be coming back to MCAT, and at this time Paul is not inclined to commit himself either. Vin is on active status, but will be out until the federal prosecutors release him, and that is not going to be anytime soon. Kelli is on medical leave, and I have no idea when she may be returning. Bottom line we have a team to rebuild, and while we continue our investigation of the RMR, we need to also turn our attention to this Unit and its future.”
“In other words, Travis is getting pressure to move on.” Josiah stated the obvious.
“Something like that,” Larabee sighed. “I don’t care for it anymore than any of you do, but we have our orders. We are required to keep someone with Vin, as long as he is in protective custody, and we need an escort for the kids, but we will not be leaving two agents at the school all day. As of next Monday, we are back in our regular offices and we will be hiring as well as training new agents for the team. Nathan, given the circumstances you will have the option of staying with your family if you choose. I cannot in good conscience condone Rain returning to work yet, it is too damn dangerous. I will understand if you want to be with her and Terrell until we have some type of closure on the RMR. The ranch should be secure enough, but I cannot guarantee anything outside these gates.”
“I will be working.” Nathan answered firmly.
“Josiah and I have discussed something with Rain, Nathan, and Casey; we may have a solution for the kids.” Mallory spoke up. “Suppose we pull Jason, Caleb, Sarah and Joanne out of school temporarily, with the Wilmington's and Tanner’s permission of course. Then Rain and Casey could home school them using the computer and a hookup to their classes to keep them current with normal school work. That would eliminate the need for escorts to and from school and I know we would all feel better knowing that at least the children were not at risk should Chambers decide to target them.”
“Hell, I know Inez and I would agree, and I’m sure Vin and Kelli would be relieved.” Buck agreed. “It may not be ideal for the kids, but it is a solution I think we could all live with.”
“I could setup enough computer terminals for them to use and Casey would love to help Rain. She wants to go back to school when this is all over, and it would give her an opportunity to see if she can be separated from Lilah and Daisy without worrying herself silly.’ JD offered.
Larabee saw the benefits of freeing up two agents, securing the children, and then all he needed to worry about was Vin and Nathan. With Jackson at work he could keep and eye on him, and he would assign Raphael to the Tanners. “You okay with this Nathan?”
“Yes, our house will be ready this weekend, and I know Rain is anxious to be doing something positive. She could start Monday with the kids and I want to be back at work.”
“I’ll talk to Vin, As long as he and Kelli agree we go with it. Josiah, you and JD need to give me your recommendations for your respective profiling and communication teams, we’ll complete them first, and then move to other areas. Buck, you, Ezra, and Nathan are fulltime on the Chambers investigation. Mark, Alex, Selina, and Justin will do physical background checks on all the applicants using the information JD’s team comes up with. Unless something breaks on the RMR and frees Vin up, then we have to start searching for a weapons specialist, too.”
“How long do we have, Chris?” Ezra questioned, he knew how bureaucracy worked. A new hot case had precedence over a cold one any day of the week. It was only a matter of time before MCAT was called into action.
Chris knew what he was asking, how long before the powers that be pulled them off Chambers. “I don’t know, but we’ll find the bastard even if we have to do it on our own time.” Larabee stood up and gathered his notes. “We still have until Monday to get a break in this case, so let's dig in and see what we can come up with.”
Nathan and Chris walked in the back door of the Tanner home and found Vin sitting at the dining room table helping Jason finish his homework. They knew Mallory had already been by to pick up Adam, but there was no sign of anyone else. It was so quiet that Larabee thought for a minute he might be in the wrong house.
“Okay Tanner, what did you do with everyone?”
“Blame your youngest daughter; she has everyone’s full attention in the family room.”
Curious, Chris headed out of the room to find Grace, and see what she was doing. Vin and Jason followed, not wanting to miss seeing Larabee’s reaction when he saw what his daughter had learned. The closer they came to the family room, the louder the laughter and clapping became. Stopping in the doorway to watch, a broad grin crossed Chris’s face as he saw what his youngest daughter was up to. Grace had learned to pull herself up to a standing position by holding on to the coffee table; she would stand, then sit, then stand again. Obviously she was proud of her accomplishment, and loved the attention she was getting from Kelli, Rain, Max, Andi, Terrell, and even Alex.
“Hi Dad. She’s been doin' this for the last thirty minutes,” Kelli smiled. “Seven and a half months and standin’ alone, she’ll be walkin’ before you know it.”
Max laughed, “Then you’ll have fun trying to keep up with her.”
Chris grinned, “You’ve got that right.” Hearing her daddy’s voice, Grace lost all interest in entertaining the others, and looked around to find her favorite person. Her father obliged her by picking her up, and was rewarded with his baby’s sweet laughter.
Alex stood up. “Since you’re here I suppose that means my day is over.”
“Yep, you can leave. See you tomorrow.” Chris answered without taking his eyes off of his baby daughter.
“Night Alex,” Vin nodded to Sandoval as he walked passed.
“Good night, folks, I’ll see myself out.” Alex walked out of the room and toward the back door.
“Lord, I got so wrapped up in watching little Grace; I am behind schedule for dinner.” Max shook her head. “If I’m not careful, these babies will have me so off my routine that it will take me a week to get straight.” She headed for the kitchen.
“Jason, would you help Andi wash up for dinner, while I talk to your Mom and Dad?” Chris asked.
“Sure Uncle Chris, come on Andi, they want to talk adult so we need to find something to do.” Jason took his sister’s hand and disappeared out the door.
“That boy never ceases to amaze me with his perception.” Nathan commented. “Are you sure he’s only seven?”
“Last time we checked, but sometimes I wonder.” Vin smiled as he sat down next to Kelli. “Okay Chris, it’s just us, what’s on your mind?”
“Bottom line, as of Monday MCAT moves back to the office. Mallory made a suggestion that I think is worth discussing. Until we get Chambers, we should pull the kids out of school. Rain and Casey have volunteered to home school them, and I think it will be better all around knowing they are all safe here on the ranch.”
Vin listened, but what he was hearing was what Chris was not saying. “If it’s for the short run, I don’t see why we can’t do that. What I wanna know is how long are we gonna have to find Chambers before Travis has to pull MCAT off the case completely?”
“That, I don’t know, but I promise you that we will find him, even if we have to do it on our own time. He’s gone to ground Vin, and there is no sign of where he is or even a rumor of what he might be up to next. The powers that be want MCAT back up, and operational. The federal prosecutors won’t turn you loose yet, so it’s up to the rest of us to find the sonofabitch. It might take some time, but he will end up either dead or rotting in jail.”
Kelli could feel the tension radiating off Vin. The waiting was tough on all of them, but for him, being in protective custody was hell. He needed his freedom, and she was certain that if she were not pregnant, he would already have skipped out to look for Chambers himself. “I’ll call the school tomorrow and make the arrangements for Jason. Rain can tell me what she needs from them, and we’ll let Jason know that Friday is his last day there for a while. What about here? Is it absolutely necessary to have another agent in the house twenty four hours a day?”
Chris sighed, “I’m sorry, but we have to follow procedure or risk the Marshals taking over. Not only do we need someone here during the day, but when Nathan moves this weekend, you’ll need to have an agent stay over at night. I planned on giving Raphael that assignment.”
The Texan stated. “You do what you have to Chris, but… you only have two weeks. If you don’t have Chambers either dead or in custody by then…I’ll do what I have to. One way or another this is gonna end, and we’re getting’ our life back.”
Larabee Home~ Friday January 19 ~7:00am
Chris was dressed and in the process of changing Grace’s clothes when Linda walked in. For the last couple of weeks she had been rising early and often made time to share breakfast with him before he left for work. Since his wife had dropped all her game playing it was not bad, and the stress in his household had dropped drastically. They still planned their divorce, and both of them had come to accept that it was for the best, but if they could manage to enjoy a tranquil period together while waiting, so much the better.
“I have a doctor’s appointment this morning at eleven-thirty; you’re welcome to come along if you want.” Linda informed him and waited for his response.
“I’ll pick you up by ten-forty-five. That should give us enough time to make it downtown.” Chris answered as he lifted Grace up into his arms.
“That will be fine.” Linda hesitated before leaving the room. “I haven’t heard you say. How is Kel doing?”
Larabee was not surprised that Linda had asked. He was aware that she missed Kelli’s friendship, and he understood that her question came from genuine concern for the redhead. “She’s had a rough beginning, but hopefully the worst is behind her and the rest of her pregnancy will be easier. Even though she’s considered high risk, Kel has a good doctor that keeps her monitored. Max, Jason, and Vin are keeping a close watch on her too.” Chris grinned. “In fact it will surprise me if she tolerates all the fussing much longer without rebelling.”
Linda nodded. “She never did like to be fussed over much. Do you think…”She sighed as she collected her thoughts. “I’d like to talk to her before I leave permanently. Do you think it would be okay? I don’t want to upset her, but I would like to straighten out a few things. I know it will never be the same for Kel and me, but…we were friends too long to part on bad terms.”
“I think it might be good for both of you.” Chris agreed. “Look how much better it is for us since we cleared the air between us.”
“Yeah… it is.” Linda was surprised to realize just how much better it was. “It may be a couple of weeks, but I will talk to her. I don’t want bad blood between us, and maybe we can salvage some good memories.” Linda turned to go. “I’ll see you at ten forty-five.”
Chris watched her leave as he held Grace. He wished Linda took more interest in the baby, but he was glad she recognized that their children would be better off with him. He still cared for his wife, but he knew they would never make the long haul together. They were just too far apart on agreeing about their priorities in life, and staying on friendly terms was the best that he could hope for. Linda Dubois could not change who she was anymore than Chris Larabee could walk away from his family. He would embrace the good memories they had made together, and let go of the bad ones. At least this time he was letting go by choice.
Larabee had caught up on all of his paperwork, and had most of it ready to go to the main office on Monday. He hated to give up the office this close to home, but Travis had insisted. Even worse were all the dead ends they had followed to try and find Chambers. Nevertheless, he would comply with the Director’s request and be back in the airport hanger bright and early Monday morning. Chris was more concerned about Tanner’s state of mind than anything; he was not sure how long Vin would stand still and wait for results without acting on his own.
JD walked in waving a report. “I’ve got it!”
“Whatever it is, make it quick JD, I have to leave soon to make Linda’s doctor’s appointment on time.” Chris answered as he stacked folders into a box.
“Chris! The leak…at the Federal Building…I found it.”
That got Chris’s attention. “Tell me.”
“Shelly Turner, age 25, works in the secretarial pool on the fifth floor of the Federal building. That's the same floor as the offices of the prosecutors that are working on Chambers’s case. On December 15th, she made a twenty-five thousand dollar cash deposit to her bank account; and it was not a Christmas bonus. She talked to the prosecutor's assistant, and watched her desk for more than ten minutes on December 8th, right after Vin made his deposition. According to one of the women she works with, Shelly has a boyfriend named…Chip.”
Larabee felt a thrill of exhilaration go through him. Hot damn, they had a lead. “Good work J.D.”
Dunne showed his pleasure at the praise with a smile, and waited to see what his Commander would do next.
Chris finished piling the folders into the box and then rose to a standing position. He moved around his desk toward the doorway, motioning for the younger MCAT agent to follow him. “Listen up, everyone.”
He waited until he had gotten the other MCAT Agents attention before speaking again. “Thanks to JD's expertise with CASSIE, we may have found the leak at the federal building. Her name is Shelly Turner. We are going to arrange for a team to go in and execute a general investigation, enough to make her nervous. We’ll also put her under twenty-four hour surveillance, and hopefully she will lead us to Bellows. If not, we’ll pull her in and ‘talk’ to her.”
“Who are you sending in?” Buck asked.
“Westin and Sandoval, they are the least likely to be recognized by Chambers’s men if Miss Turner describes them to her boyfriend. Buck, you set it up for Mark and Alex, Ezra can take over at the Tanners. Just be sure and let the prosecutor's office know what we are doing. As for the surveillance, JD has her address, make of car, etc. Call in some of the officers you had on the trafficking task force to assist.”
Buck nodded his agreement of Larabee's instructions.” You better get going or else you're going to be late taking Linda to the doc's.”
Larabee was already heading toward the door.” I'll fill in Vin on this latest bit of news when I drop Linda back off at the ranch.”
Tanner Home ~12:30pm
Max had enough food ready for lunch to feed ten people, but it was only Vin, Kelli, Rain, and Alex that sat down to eat. Andi was over at the Wilmington’s again; and Terrell, Adam, and Grace were sleeping.
“Max, you've out done yourself on this spread.” Vin commented as he served himself another helping of macaroni salad and passed the bowl to Alex.
“There is plenty more where that came from, and Missy you need to eat better than that.” Max looked at Kelli’s plate and shook her head. “Lord, child, you are supposed to be eating for three, and you have barely eaten enough for one.”
“I know,” Kelli answered wearily. “I just haven't gotten my regular appetite back, let alone grown a larger one for the twins. Guess it's because my body is still wonderin' when the next bout of mornin' sickness is goin' to hit. Why they call it mornin' sickness when it lasts all day is beyond me.”
Rain laughed. “They call it that because it usually starts in the morning, but even though it may ease up as the day wears on it can strike anytime and last all day. It’s also easier than explaining the rapidly increasing levels of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) that hits you during the first trimester.”
“Thank you Dr. Jackson, I really needed to know that.” Kelli stood up quickly. “Excuse me.” She rushed off toward the bedroom.
Vin followed her, he was expecting to find her in the bathroom, but Kelli was laying across their bed instead. He walked over and sat down next to her rubbing her back. “Kel, are you okay?”
“Pretty much, I just needed to get out of there.” She turned over to look at him. “Vin, if I eat what Max expects me to, I’ll be bigger than a barn in six weeks. And it won’t have anythin' to do with the twins. I also know that Rain means well, but I don’t need a medical explanation for everythin'. I’m drinkin' two quarts of water daily, takin' my vitamins and iron pills, gettin’ plenty of rest, followin’ Dr. Week's instructions, and I eat when I get hungry. What else do I need to know?”
Since Kelli’s outburst about feeling smothered he had paid special attention to how everyone was acting around her, and realized that she was right. Every conversation centered on her and the babies. How much she ate, how much she rested, what she should and shouldn’t do, and he was not the only one concerned. Max, Rain, Chris, and even Jason questioned her all the time. It was as if Kelli the person had disappeared, and it was all about her pregnancy. Vin’s problem was that he wanted to be involved and was not sure how to do that without making the situation worse.
The Texan moved to sit with his back against the headboard and positioned his wife to where she could lay her head on his chest. “You need to know that you are not goin' through this alone. I don’t want to make you feel more confined, but I do want to share this experience as much as possible, and I will try to do that without makin' you feel like a child that has to be watched constantly.”
“It’s not you Vin, but it seems that all I hear lately is do this, don’t do that, eat this, and stay away from that. I would not ever do anythin’ to deliberately hurt our children, but ‘m still me and I can think.” Kelli relaxed against him. “I know they all mean well, but this is somethin’ you and I should share, not the rest of the world. Maybe ‘m being selfish, but the only ones that really should have a say are you, me, Jason, and Andi. I want the others to know that although I appreciate their concern, ‘m still Kelli, and have not lost the use of my brain, or the ability to think.”
Vin kissed the top of her head. “I can’t promise not to be overprotective, but I’ll try to give you your space.”
Kelli sighed. “I reckon its confession time. You know that I’ve always been independent, and usually protest bein' fussed over, but I’ve never felt this vulnerable before…I will admit that I am just a little bit apprehensive about what’s comin’ in the next few months.” She turned her head to look directly at Vin. “I like the way you’ve stayed close to me, and been there to keep watch over us. It makes me feel …sheltered, and less afraid of what the future may hold. The rest of them can back off, but…just till the babies are born…you think you could keep hoverin'?”
Tanner understood that her independent streak had been born out of necessity, not by deliberate choice, and until Jake, there was no one she could depend on but herself. After McKenzie died she was on her own for a long time before fate intervened and brought the two of them together, but now she had Vin and an extended family that cared about her. Kelli’s life had changed considerably over the last two years, and little by little she had been adjusting to the permanent changes their love had produced. Yet after all this time, and as close as they were, it had been difficult for her to admit her vulnerabilities, even to him.
“I reckon I can do that.” Tanner tightened one arm around his redhead, while his hand rubbed across her stomach. For Kelli to admit she was a little apprehensive told him that she was closer to terrified about what was happening. The last of the defenses that she had stubbornly held on to were now gone, and instead of perceiving his protectiveness as her weakness, she was allowing herself to draw on the strength he offered. “We’ll take it one day at a time and get through the next few months the same way we have everythin’ else…together.” Vin knew that his wife would never be clingy, it was just not in her nature, but for a woman who had trouble saying I love you when they were first married, admitting the need of his protection to feel secure was a giant step. *We’ve come a long way, Kel.*
Kelli snuggled closer. “Good, because this is the only time havin’ a baby will be a first for us. I want to experience it together, so next time, we’ll know what to expect and it won’t be such a mystery to either of us.”
“Next time Kel?” Vin raised an eyebrow. “How ‘bout we get through havin’ the twins, before we plan on next time.”
“I didn’t mean right away, but we do want at least one more don’t we? I know it won’t be easy to juggle kids, work and home, but we can do it. You did say that together we could do anythin'…”
“Kel… one day at a time, baby.” Vin pulled her to him for a long lingering kiss. He already had accepted the fact that if they made it through having twins without any major complications, it was inevitable that they would try to have another baby at some point in the future. “As long as your health is not at risk, and God’s willin’, I reckon we have room for one or two more.”
“Okay, twins first, then we’ll talk about it.” Kelli smiled. “In case I haven’t told you today…I love you, Tanner.”
Vin couldn't help but kiss her again for the look of deep and abiding love shining in the depths of her sapphire blue eyes. When she looked at him like that, it was all he could do to not sweep her up in his arms and make love to her. Making love was sounding better by the minute as he lowered her back onto the bed and adjusted his body so that he could lean the upper half over her. His lips traced a pattern of kisses down to her neck, as his hands roamed elsewhere. Kelli responded to his caresses by locking her arms around his neck and arching forward to give him more access to her body. The phone rang, startling them both for a minute, but the couple decided to ignore it since they knew that Max would answer it for them. If it was important, she would let them know.
About five minutes after the phone had first rung; there came a knock at their closed bedroom door. “Vin, Kelli...that was Jason's school...one of you needs to call the principal ASAP” Max's voice came through the door.
Vin froze in the middle of his loving administrations, and fought to control his body and its insistence that he continue along the path of pleasuring himself and Kelli. When he had regained control, he reluctantly rolled off of Kelli and sat up. “Damn...talk about timin'.”
Kelli worked to control her heavy breathing and the waves of passion sweeping through her body in reaction to the tender and loving caresses that Vin had been giving. “Damn, is right.” she agreed.
Reaching for the phone, the Texan took a deep breath before calling the school. He dialed the numbers and waited for an answer. “This is Vin Tanner, callin for Mrs. Ross.” He was put on hold and squeezed Kelli’s hand as she moved closer to listen. “Yes…we’ll be right down.”
“What’s wrong?” Kelli asked.
“Jason is extremely upset and won’t talk to Mrs. Ross. He insists that he’ll only talk to us.” Vin stood up and hesitated only a moment, before making a decision. “Come on Kel, our son needs us and ‘m not takin’ Alex along to baby-sit.” He handed Kelli her shoes and a jacket. “We’ll go out the patio door, if Sandoval wants to throw a fit about bein’ left behind, he can take it up with Lar’bee.”
Kelli did not argue with her husband, technically he was still with another agent, even if she was on medical leave. She watched as Vin took their weapons from the gun safe, a reminder that even a trip to the school could become dangerous with Karl Chambers on the loose.
It was a long twenty minutes before they reached the school, and the Tanners’ wasted little time in making their way to the principal’s office. Raphael Cordova was standing outside the door when they reached it and was surprised to see them.
“Raphael.” Vin wasn't in a mood for any questions and the low voice Tanner used to say his name broadcast that loud and clear to the other MCAT agent. Cordova moved aside to allow the younger couple access into the principal's office. Vin opened the door and held it for Kelli to enter through it before him, and then closed the door behind them.
The moment Jason saw his parents walk in he yelled, “Mom, Dad!” Vin barely had time to crouch before his son was throwing himself into his arms. “I want to go home.” They could both see that Jason was obviously distraught, and tears were rolling down Jason’s cheeks.
Kelli looked over to Mrs. Ross. “You have an explanation for this?”
“Not really. After lunch Jason asked to come to my office and said he needed to go home. He refused to explain his reasons, and the more I questioned him the more upset he became. I realize that there are extenuating circumstances surrounding your family at this time, and I thought perhaps Agent Cordova could assist Jason home, but the child insisted that he had to see both of you. I did not know what else to do, but to call you, since I didn’t want to distress the child any more than necessary.”
“You did the right thing.” Vin answered as he picked up his son. “This is his last day here for a while, so we’ll take him home and try to get to the bottom of what’s troublin’ him. Agent Cordova can bring Jason's books and lessons when he leaves with the other children.”
Mrs. Ross nodded. “Call me if I can be of assistance.” Directing her remarks to Jason she said, “We’ll see you soon, you keep up your lessons.”
Jason tightened his hold on his dad’s neck and mumbled. “Yes ma’am.”
“Thank you for callin’ us, and for your help in arrangin’ the home schoolin’. We’ll be in touch.” Kelli told Mrs. Ross before they exited the office.
Raphael waited just outside the door for Tanner’s instructions. “We’re takin’ Jason home; you stay with Selina and the other kids. If you would bring his books and lessons home when you come, I’d appreciate it.”
“I will, but are you two alone?” Cordova asked, concerned for Tanner’s safety.
“Nope, last time I counted there were three of us.” Vin answered as he headed out the front door. “We’ll see you back at the ranch.” All Tanner wanted to do was get Jason somewhere quiet so maybe they could find out what had happened to upset him so much.
Once the three Tanners were in the truck, Vin hoped to get some answers from Jason. “Son, can you tell us what’s wrong?”
Jason was still crying, and hesitated at first to answer, but he needed to show them what he had. Digging into his pocket he pulled out a crinkled piece of paper and handed it to his dad. “Thomas and Robert gave me this and laughed, they said you were gonna die.”
Vin straightened out the wrinkled paper and cursed when he saw what was on it. It was his picture and written underneath his name was the amount of $50,000, Dead or Alive, along with a brief inflammatory message to all militia groups in Colorado. “Damn fuc…”Vin stopped before he said too much, and passed the paper to Kelli for her to read. If the Harrison brothers had taunted Jason about this, then they had to have heard it from their father, and the Texan made a promise that the elder Harrison would answer for scaring his son.
“Honey, nothin' is gonna happen to your dad. The people that put these things out don’t know him like we do. They think he’ll be scared, but you and I both know he doesn’t scare that easily.” Kelli put her arm around Jason, wanting to give Vin a chance to think about what he had to say. “We are being extra careful, not only at the ranch, but with you and Caleb, Sarah, and Joanne too.”
“That’s why we have to home school?”
“Yes, but it won’t be for long, and I promise you, the man responsible for this garbage will be in jail soon.” Kelli hoped that more of an explanation would not be necessary, but Jason’s next question shot that idea all to hell.
“Why does that man want you dead, Dad?"
“It’s a long story Jason, and I think we need to find a better place to talk about it.” Vin started the engine and began to drive. “We’re goin' to a place that’s special, and when we get there I’ll tell you everythin’.”
It did not take long for Kelli to realize where they were going. Their cabin was a special place, and until now they had not taken either Jason or Andi up there. However she silently agreed with Vin’s decision. There were too many people at home, and the cabin was the best place to have the discussion that Jason needed to hear. She and Vin had both hoped to spare the kids worry about their work at least for a few more years, but thanks to the Harrison brothers, Jason was in for a crash course on what it meant to be a federal agent… the good, the bad, and the ugly side to it.
Tanner home ~1:45pm
“What do you mean you don’t know where they are?” Ezra was livid. He had come over to relieve Alex of his protection duty, only to find that Sandoval had lost both Vin and Kelli. “Your job is to know where Tanner is at all times! That is what protective custody means!”
“Sir, Captain Tanner’s truck is gone and it appears he and Kelli slipped out the patio door from their room. I believe they went voluntarily and no one else was involved.” Alex had retraced the route the Tanners took and was fairly confident that they were not coerced into leaving.
“You believe! Three weeks ago, Chambers sent a bomb to their home, you can’t believe anything! You either know or you don’t know!”
“Excuse me.” Max interrupted. “I do know that Jason’s principal called from the school and needed to talk to either Mr. or Mrs. Tanner ASAP”
Standish pulled out his cell phone and called Raphael. After hearing Cordova’s account of his encounter with Vin, he at least felt that Chambers was not involved in their disappearance, but it did not explain where they were now. Ezra looked at his watch. Chris was due back at anytime, and he did not want to be the one to tell Larabee that his daughter, Vin, and Jason were missing.
Ezra made a second call. “Buck, you had better get over here. We have a situation.”
At the cabin ~ 2:15pm
It was colder at the higher elevation and the snow was undisturbed except for a few animal tracks scattered near the half frozen lake. They stopped at the cabin first, where Vin started a fire in the fireplace. After making certain Kelli was comfortable, he left her inside the cabin while he and Jason walked down to the lake.
Jason was impressed with what he was seeing and was doubly thrilled to find out that his Mom and Dad owned the cabin and the land around it. “Wow, y’all own a lake and mountains too. How come you never told us?”
Tanner grinned at his son’s enthusiasm. “No reason, the subject just never came up in our everyday discussions. This was the first place I brought your Mom after we were married, and it’s special to us. We had planned to build our home here, but when you and Andi came into our lives, we decided to build closer to your Uncle Chris. Next summer though, I’ll bring you up here to fish that lake. The trout are huge and the water is crystal clear.”
“I’d like that.” Jason became serious again. “Reckon it is a better place to talk.”
Vin agreed. “Robert and Thomas were repeatin’ things they heard…things they know nothin' about, hopin' to cause trouble. Jason, as a Federal law enforcement agency, MCAT takes on some really bad people sometimes. The man that put that paper out is one of the worst. He hates people because they are different than him and he spreads that hate through violence and crime. I made a choice to try and get enough proof to have him arrested. Just like you stood up for Caleb, I had to stand up for what I believed was right."
Seeing that he had Jason's full attention, he continued. "I was able to get information that can put this man in jail for a long time for the terrible things he had done, but he’s not real happy about it and wants to punish me for findin’ out how bad he is. He has threatened to hurt you, Andi and Mom, but ‘m not gonna let that happen. The only thing he can do is try to get other bad people on his side usin’ things like that paper, to make him think he is stronger…but he’s wrong. Your uncles, and all the MCAT agents are lookin’ for him and it won’t be long before he is in jail where he belongs.”
“So, we just have to wait ‘til he’s in jail, then it’s over?”
“He has to go to trial too …that means court with a judge like the one that decided you and Andi should belong with us. I have to go and tell the judge what I saw and then he decides what happens to the man. In the meantime the lawyers that represent the government…that’s us…want me to be in what’s called protective custody. That means that what I have to say is important and they want to make certain that I can say it in court so they want me safe. That’s why we have extra agents at home, and why Uncle Chris will be mad when he finds out ‘m playin’ hooky, but he’ll get over it. The work we do is important Jason, and sometimes dangerous, but we are trained to handle it. Mom and I do it because we want a better world for you, Andi and the twins to grow up in. We don’t get all the bad men, but we can make a difference.’
“You or Mom could get hurt too.”
“True, but there are a lot of ways we could get hurt, even if we didn’t work for law enforcement.” Vin knelt down and looked Jason in the eye. “I cannot promise you that nothin' bad will ever happen, but I can tell you what my grandfather told me. If we worried about the bad that could happen, we might miss the good that is offered to us, and we have to trust fate to reveal what we need when we need it.”
Vin tried to think of a simple way to explain fate to Jason. “When I first met Chris, it was as if we had known each other forever. I believe fate brought us together at a time we both needed somethin' in our lives. I was able to help him during a rough period and he helped me find a place to belong at a point in my life that I needed solid footin'. He is a friend that I trust with my life, the brother I never had, and family."
"Fate did that?"
"Yes and when I met Kelli it was the same thing. We were destined to be together in this life and because we met when we did, a chain of events started that led us here today."
"Is that how me and Andi ended up here with you and Mom, ‘cause we needed y’all?”
The Texan sighed, wondering how to simplify his answer. "It seems that the Lar'bees and the Tanners are destined to share our lives together in one way or another. Kelli is a Lar'bee by blood, but was not one at birth. When I married her, she not only became a Tanner, but she found her father, too. You and Andi were born Lar'bees, but you lost your father and Andi never knew your mother. When Chris found the two of you he wanted you both to have a place to belong with family. He decided to do what he felt was best for you, and that was lettin' you come live with me and Kelli. By allowin' us to adopt y'all, he knew you would have a secure, lovin' home with the freedom to grow into the man that you choose to be, and Andi would have the love of a mother that she had missed out on knowin'. Yet, he would be close enough to keep an eye on you both if you needed him. In return Kelli and I have you and Andi to love and share our lives with, and once the babies are born they'll be Lar'bee-Tanners, too."
"So, we all got what we needed?"
"Yes we did. We are all family son. As an added bonus y'all have a passel of uncles, aunts, and cousins that will always be a part of your lives. I believe that was our destiny, Jason. Just like fate worked to bring you and me here today to a place that will always be special for us.”
Jason stood next to the man that he had claimed as his father and looked out over the frozen lake to the mountains beyond, thinking about what Vin had told him. “I reckon that fate knows what it’s doing, ‘cause I really like being here with you.”
“That makes two of us, son.” Vin laid his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “I bet Mom is anxious to see us back at the cabin, you ready?”
“Yep, I think I might need to explain to Uncle Chris about this fate thing too. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble ‘cause Thomas and Robert tried to scare me.”
Vin chuckled as he tried to picture that conversation. “We’ll explain it to him together.”
Tanner Home ~ 4:00 pm
Chris had paced the length of the Tanner living room at least twenty times in the last hour. He could not decide who he was the angriest with, Alex for not paying close enough attention, Raphael for letting the Texan leave without an agent with him, or Vin. Of all the people involved, Tanner knew better than the rest of them what Chambers was capable of doing. Larabee checked the time again, Raphael and Selina had already been here fifteen minutes with the other children safely delivered from school, and Tanner had left with Jason and Kelli over two hours ago. There had not been one word from him since, not even a phone call to say they were alive and well. Was Chambers watching the school? Did he kidnap them on their way home? Maybe they took an indirect route to the ranch and had an accident. Hell, Chris had a million thoughts running through his mind.
“You want me to put out an APB on Vin’s truck?” Buck was having a hard time watching Chris work himself up.
“No. Not yet.” Larabee did not feel any sense of danger connected with Vin, but if he did not hear from him soon, he would have no choice but to report him missing and instigate a full-scale search.
“Perhaps if we could ascertain the source of Jason’s distress, we may have a better idea of where Vin would have taken him.” Ezra offered. “I could talk to Mrs. Ross again, maybe prod her memory.”
“She said she didn’t know, and I believe her…” Chris looked out the big window and saw Tanner’s truck coming up the drive. He felt a mixture of relief that they had arrived safely, and anger that he had not checked in. Anger won out as he waited for them to walk in the door, and was prepared to blast Tanner for taking off on his own without another agent.
Jason was the first one inside. Vin was taking extra time to make sure Kelli did not slip on the ice that had accumulated on the walkway. “Uncle Chris, don’t be mad ‘cause dad played hooky. It was my fault, for being scared when they tried to make me believe that he was gonna die. If I’d known about that fate thing I wouldn’t have been so scared, but I didn’t, so don’t yell at dad. Okay?”
Chris stopped in his tracks, trying to make some kind of sense of what Jason was telling him. “Who told you that your dad was going to die, Jason?”
“Thomas and Robert, but they were wrong. Dad only did what he believed was right, and he won’t be punished for it. The bad man will go to jail and then a judge will send him away after Dad says what he knows in court, but you gotta catch him first. Can you do that soon, so we can go back to school?”
“By the look on your face Cowboy, I reckon Jason already attempted to explain what happened.” Vin said from the doorway as he helped Kelli removed her jacket.
“I explained Dad, so now Uncle Chris don’t have to yell at you. May I go to my room and change out of my school clothes?”
“Sure you can, son.”
Chris waited until Jason had left the room. “You wanna explain to me what in the hell he was talking about?”
Vin took the flyer out of Kelli’s pocket and gave it to Chris. “Fate has handed us a connection to Chambers. That came from Robert and Thomas Harrison; they had to have gotten it from their Father, who had to get it from Chambers or one of his men.”
Buck read over Chris’s shoulder. “That means that the Ledger Militants are somehow connected to the RMR and if we put them under surveillance, then bingo…”
“We have another possible route to find Karl Chambers.” Ezra finished Buck’s sentence.
*You should have called, Vin*
*Calming Jason was more important.*
Chris reread the flyer and could only imagine how a seven-year-old would react at seeing it, especially if he was being taunted about it. “Next time you call me.”
“Won’t be a next time Chris. That bastard is going down, and Harrison is going right along with him.” Vin vowed. “I plan to be there when it happens with or without your blessin’.”
Chris did believe in fate. The fact that they had two new leads in the space of a few hours made him feel that Chambers’s days were numbered. “You’ll be there…that sonofabitch came after my family and we’ll all be there when he falls but…before he goes to jail, he’s gonna get a personal message from this Larabee”.
Journal Entry ~ January 22nd~6:00am
The last three months have been rough on all of us. In spite of all our precautions, and added security measures, I know we cannot completely stop the ugliness of the RMR from reaching us on the ranch. We have of course, faced difficult cases in our careers, but to have them hit so close to home as the last few have is a whole new ballgame for us. I suppose I have known since the day Orrin called me into his office to discuss the formation of MCAT that all our lives would change in one way or another. Travis warned me about the risks we would encounter, but I never imagined the mental toll it would take on my agents or our families. Our work in law enforcement has always been dangerous, but at least we knew the rules, could identify our adversaries, and usually it did not include personal attacks on our families as a result.
Somewhere along the way though, yesterday's common criminals have evolved with technology to become ever larger threats. We also have a domestic breed of terrorist that have brought their war to us under the guise of freedom, and attack us from within the very heart of what we all hold sacred. Our role under MCAT, while necessary, has altered the line between black and white. We operate in a gray area between the two that sometimes produces more questions than answers.
Our unit has been under the gun since its inception from one source or another, and our caseload has read like a bad horror novel. Sam Reed worked under orders to destroy MCAT, but it was strictly motivated by a quest for power and politics. Lady Ice was a paid assassin and Brad Cleaver was a serial killer that had clearly lost touch with reality. Phillip and Rachael Deveraux allowed revenge to take over their lives. Paul Madera was a mercenary that did what he was paid to do and Jack's reasons for coming after me were strictly personal. Victor Donner was a monster that preyed on innocent children and believed he was above the law. He made it his business to try to destroy us and damn near succeeded. Yet in the end he succumbed to his own greed and ego. We were battered all to hell, but we survived, and even though I could not condone any of their reason for breaking the laws, I could understand their motivations.
Karl Chambers and men like him are another matter completely. Hate groups are not motivated by reason; they are obsessed by convictions that are intent on destroying the very principles on which we base our laws. Equal justice under the law is something they do not recognize. To white supremacists, and armed militias, our rules do not apply to them, nor does the authority of our government. We are the enemy and anything goes. They bomb our Federal buildings; kill innocent civilians for the color of their skin, spread hatred, and disregard our laws. They are not afraid to die for their cause and have no conscience when it comes to taking a life.
When Chambers sends his soldiers out with the intent to harm members of our family, he crosses a line, and whether we like it or not he drags MCAT into that gray area between strict adherence to the rule of law, and our personal right to protect ourselves from the evil he has injected into our lives. MCAT will undeniably be facing more of the Karl Chambers of the world in the future. If we allow men like him to succeed with their threats against our families, and make us question the principles we live by, they win. Somewhere in that middle ground is an answer for my team. As Commander, my job is to find it, and set the course for them to follow.
Travis wants us to increase the size of the unit. My intention is to convince him that to meet the objectives that are expected of us, it is the wrong direction to go at this time. The old standards of operation will not work for MCAT, and bigger is not always better. We must definitively define our perimeters within our new configuration as an independent agency, and carefully plan the most efficient way to get the job done without jeopardizing the well-being of my agents. Later this morning I will meet with Orrin to lay out my recommendations.
Travis’s Office ~February 2nd ~9:00am
Orrin Travis laid down the last file and then studied the man in front of him. Chris Larabee was an exceptional leader and had good instincts about how to get the job done, however his recommendations were far below what the Director had expected.
"Chris, you are asking me to put a moratorium on new shadow assignments. Why?"
“We have the best agents in the country Orrin, and I am confident we can handle our normal caseload with no problems. We have a top notch forensics team with Dr. Metfield, Greg Ramsey, and Katrina Santos, plus excellent lab assistants. JD, Pam, and Mallory have done an extraordinary job with Cassie, and Judy Mullins has enough experience to train another data typist if necessary. Dunne also insists that he has all the personal he needs to run the communications department efficiently. We have the ability, but what we need is time to work out the best way to make use of our assets."
"Orrin, MCAT is headed into new territory as an independent agency. The types of special cases you, and your superior, expect us to take on in addition to our normal workload require procedures that need defining guidelines to insure the best possible outcome not only for justice, but for the mental and physical well-being of my agents. If we have learned anything from our dealings with child trafficking and the militias, we've learned that our work encompasses more than just getting the bad guys off the street. Our targets are not simply gunrunners and drug dealers that we arrest and move on, but networks of criminal activist and terrorists that support ideologies they are willing to defend to the death. We need to prepare a strategy to meet those challenges without getting bogged down in the gray areas that can suck the life out of this unit. I have already lost two good agents over the last year. I am not willing to sacrifice additional team members to meet your expectations at any cost when I know we can find a better way, as long as we take the time to do it right."
Chris Larabee was not usually one to make speeches, and Orrin knew he would not do it without a good reason. Obviously he had given his words a lot of thought, and Travis respected him enough to listen. "Okay Chris, tell me how you think we should proceed."
"Honestly, for a while it will be trial and error, Orrin. Eventually we will find the best way to achieve success with the shadow operations, without compromising our agents' wellbeing in the process. Josiah is working with me on some ideas, and together I believe we can work out a solution that you and your superior will find acceptable. In the meantime, we will continue with our normal caseload as we have effectively done in the past."
Orrin stood up and moved over to the window. He chose his words carefully. "Our new boss would like to see our situation with Chambers resolved before we advance to other delicate tasks. So, you'll have the additional time you requested Chris, but put it to good use. I realize the pressure this Chamber's situation has placed on MCAT, but I expect to see some recommendations regarding the most effective procedures to carry out future shadow ops, soon." The Director turned to face Larabee. "As to the rest of our work, explain to me how you plan to divide the remaining workload. I respect your experience, but are you certain that MCAT can handle the cases that are presented to us with only a dozen full-time field agents?”
"Josiah came to me with the idea of two of our investigative agents doing double duty as profilers, eliminating the need to hire additional agents. Ezra Standish and Kelli Coulter already have the required educational credentials for the positions, and both are good interrogators. Standish has the added training as a negotiator. Under Sanchez’ instruction they will both do well, should the need arise that he requires assistance.”
“Josiah does understand he can have as many agents as he needs?”
“He does, but truthfully we don’t need to add to the team at this point in time. Josiah agrees with me that we need to use the experienced agents we already have. At least until we have had an opportunity to explore and refine techniques that will be compatible with our extra assignments.
"Captain Wilmington will be handling the investigative assignments. Captain Tanner is our weapons expert, and he will be in charge of all training exercises. Mark and Bandit will work with Buck on explosives; Justin and Alex work well together, and Nathan coordinates all our cases with forensics. Raphael can work solo or with a partner as well as pilot our aircrafts. Selina is our only rookie, and she will alternate her training with each of the experienced agents. We also have the advantage of several team members that can fill in on other positions as needed.”
“We’ll see how it works Chris, but I think you may find that you need more field agents, especially since we do not know how long Tanner will be out. Are you certain that Kelli is planning on returning to work?”
“She is, although it may not be until after her maternity leave is exhausted. I set her up on medical absence for three more months, then short term disability, by that time she will be eligible under the federal family leave act to take three months after the twins are born before she returns to work. In the meantime Josiah has recommended some on-line courses for her to enroll in and some books to bring her criminology training up to date. Tanner will be back as soon as we get Chambers wrapped up.”
"We'll do this your way Chris, for now. “ Travis picked up a new file. "Where are we on finding Chambers?”
“The surveillance on Harrison led us to a hate rally when they were passing out invites into the brotherhood. The best lead we received from there was a general direction they all headed toward afterwards. It appears that Chambers and his men are held up somewhere in the mountains west of Denver, and seems to be moving between three different camps. Shelly Turner met with Bellows three times; however I don’t think they were discussing the brotherhood. Shelly and Chip had more of a one on one personal session, but it was enough to narrow the field to work on for a location JD is using the satellite to try and pinpoint the new RMR base camp as we speak.”
“What about the trail of destruction that the RMR has left over the last month? “ Travis picked up the reports. “We can credit them with two church bombings, we also suspect their involvement in four drive-by shootings, and we know they are still sending hate mail to Jackson and Tanner.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have one shred of evidence that we can connect any of it to Chambers or the RMR.” Larabee sighed. “Even though we know that they are involved with the church bombings, and the hate campaign against Nathan and Vin. We suspect their involvement in the drive bys, but we don't have any real concrete proof. Nothing that will stand up in court; the only solid information that we have is what Vin managed to accumulate for us as Dusty Slater.”
“Which is why we still have Tanner in protective custody, I don’t know how much longer I can hold off the federal attorneys. The longer Chambers is on the loose the more nervous they get about Vin’s well-being. It’s just a matter of time before they force him into total seclusion.”
“Orrin, you and I both know they will have a helluva time trying to force Vin to do anything. I can keep him as safe at the ranch as any of their ‘secure’ locations. It’s the waiting that is getting on everyone’s nerves, and we are doing what we can to shorten that. We are damn close; we just need one or two pieces to finish this one.”
“Very well, for now we’ll go with your recommendations, and I will hold off the prosecutors as long as possible. Keep me informed on Chambers.” Travis stood up, and walked with Larabee to the door “You have done a great job Chris, under less than ideal circumstances. I’m glad to see you back and fully involved.”
Chris nodded, “Thanks.” He moved past Suzanne’s desk and out the door. Larabee headed straight for Josiah's office and stuck his head in the door. "We have a green light; get to work on those profiles."
MCAT would deliver on the special cases they were assigned, but it would be on Larabee's terms.
Tanner Home ~ February 2nd~10:30 am
The last two weeks had brought a few changes to the Larabee 7. Vin had taken it on himself to have a talk with Chris, Rain, and Max about their mother hen attitudes toward Kelli. None of them had realized how strict each of them had sounded to his wife. The Texan convinced them that although their thoughts were appreciated, it was a bit too much coming from three directions, or more. Now, even Max was letting up on her constant watch of his wife, of course giving the older woman a new responsibility had helped considerably. The Texan asked her to find a part-time housekeeper to shift some of the workload off her, and to work out a new childcare schedule for after the twins were born. Max had a few suggestions and once she was given free reign to work on them, jumped in with both feet to accomplish that task.
Rain and Nathan’s home repairs were finished and they had moved back into their own space again. While Chris arranged for some of Walter’s men to keep an eye on the Jackson home. Rain and Casey immediately setup the home schooling classes for Jason, Caleb, Sarah, and Joanne to coordinate with their lesson plans from the regular school. In fact they were all ahead of their assignments, and their lesson times had been shortened. Rain dismissed them each day at one. It had become a daily habit for Max to have lunch waiting at the Tanner’s for all four students, and they were usually joined by their siblings. The routine around the Tanner’s, as well as Kelli’s energy was returning to normal. She was feeling better everyday, and, best of all Dr. Weeks said her blood tests showed a definite improvement in her iron levels, which meant no more iron shots, less bed rest, consent to drive again, and although she could not return to work, she had more freedom.
Raphael was still assigned to protect Tanner, but it was only to satisfy the federal prosecutor’s office, Walter had all the latest security measures that Chris had ordered installed and operating. In fact he knew the location of everyone on the Larabee 7 at any given moment. Today he knew that Linda was off the property, home school was in session at the Jackson's until one, and all the MCAT agents with the exception of the Tanners and Cordova were at the main office.
“Max, that beef stew smells delicious.” Kelli tried to sample it as she walked through the kitchen, and the older woman stopped her.
“It’s not ready yet, Missy. You drink some juice and there is a platter of fruit in the fridge for you.” Max handed her a glass of grape juice. “In fact you can share some of the fruit with the little ones in the family room. I think Vin and Raphael are in there with them.”
Kelli took the large platter of fruit out of the fridge and made her way to the family room. Adam, Maria, Andi, and Terrell were mesmerized by Blues Clues on the TV. The Dunne twins were keeping Grace entertained with their rendition of story time, and Vin as well as Raphael seemed to be enjoying watching all of the kids. “Snack time, munchkins,” Kelli set the fruit platter down along with a stack of napkins.
The fruit disappeared in nothing flat, and Max joined them for a story time for the kids. “I’m going to settle these little ones for a morning nap. Lunch will be ready at one. If you gentlemen would escort Inez and Tannis over when you pick up the school kids, we can all eat together. I know Rain and Casey will be anxious to claim their children; they might as well eat with us before they go home.”
“Yes ma’am,” Raphael readily agreed. He had learned that it did not bode well for his stomach to mess with Max’s plans when it came to dinnertime.
“It’s a beautiful day, I think Kel and I may just walk down and visit Walter for a bit.” Vin quickly assured Max. “We will be back in time for your stew, don’t worry.” He took his wife’s hand, as he recognized the maternal look on Max’s face. “We have Raphael to watch us, and I promise I won’t let Kelli overdo.” Tanner grinned as he walked out with Kelli and Raphael.
Cordova kept them in sight, but kept his distance from Kelli and Vin, giving the younger couple some privacy. He left them in the barn with the colts, while he and Walter discussed security, and Andrews showed Raphael the latest cameras that had been installed that connected to the network already in use in the homes on the ranch.
“As soon as it gets a little warmer, I need to teach Jason how to start trainin' this one.” Vin stroked the neck of Jason’s colt. “Jason handles him enough and has plenty of patience with him, so it should be easy, the colt already trusts him and that is more than half the battle.”
“You should know Tanner, you’re the expert.” Kelli laughed. “That is how you broke through my defenses…with trust and patience.”
Vin drew Kelli closer. “Are you complimentin’ or complainin’, woman?”
“Hmmm…not complainin’…I think…oh…” Kelli exhaled a deep breath.” Vin…I think I just felt our babies move.”
Tanner had read enough to know that it was about the right time for what the experts called the ‘quickening’. Although this was something only the mother could feel, he was content to see the look of amazement and delight on his wife’s face as realization of what she had felt set in. “What did it feel like, baby?”
“Like … butterflies taking flight for the first time…there it is again…I think they like the sound of your soft Texas drawl as much as I do.” The redhead leaned into Vin’s embrace and was delighted that the babies responded to their father’s voice.
“I reckon I need to start talkin’ to them more directly now.” The Texan grinned and tightened his hold on her. He knew that very soon, he would be able to feel and see the babies move, but for now he was happy to share this moment with Kelli. “I suppose this would not be the best time to make out with my wife in the barn…that is if the children are listenin’.”
“I don’t know Tanner, we could try it and see if they approve.” She teased. “Besides…we don’t need words.”
“You’re right.” Vin lowered his head and claimed a tender kiss, taking full advantage of the alone time they had for the next few minutes.”
All too soon it was almost one, and it was time to gather everyone for lunch. While Kelli and Vin returned home with Walter, Cordova went to escort Inez, Tannis, and the school children back to the Tanners for lunch. His first stop was the Wilmington home.
Inez smiled at Rafael as he gently took Tannis into his arms so that she could climb into the seat of the vehicle. Rafael, like her husband and his brothers, were all very lethal in their capabilities as federal agents, but place a baby into their arms and they all turned to mush.
“She sure is a pretty little thing...just like her Mama.” Rafael said as he handed the baby back to Inez.
“Gracias, Senor.” Inez said sincerely.
Rafael closed the passenger door and then moved around to the driver's side. He started the engine and set the truck into motion, to the Jackson home, where four kids climbed into the back of the SUV, ready to tackle lunch. Cordova kept watch out of the rearview mirror at Casey Dunne as she followed him in her car with Rain .It didn't take them more than a few minutes to drive up the road to the Tanners house and begin to unload all of the children.
Kelli was inside assisting Max with last minute preparations for lunch. Tanner and Walter were standing on the front porch talking when Rafael, the other women in the family, and children arrived. Although the conversation was casual, they were still creatures of habit, and years of training kept their instincts on alert for anything that might be perceived as a threat.
A short distance away from the Larabee 7, a group of men dressed in camouflage clothing, and sporting military issue rifles and other arms, gathered around Chip Bellows to listen to last minute instructions. “Chambers wants us to bring the traitor in alive, but that does not mean we can't hurt him… or anyone else who gets in our way or attempts to stop us from achieving our goal.” Bellows told the men gathered around him.
“Those of you who are going to be breeching the security measures through the back part of the property need to make sure that you don't cause any awareness to yourselves, and if you do, eliminate anyone you come in contact with.” It would take the men on horseback another fifteen minutes to reach their entry point onto the Larabee 7, and he waited to give those four men an opportunity to position themselves.
The rest of you, who are storming the gates with me from the front, have your weapons at the ready and be prepared for anything. Tanner is well-trained, as well as most of his family, they are federal agents, and they know how to defend themselves.” When he was certain that everyone with him understood their role in the siege of Tanner's house, Chip climbed into his truck with Stevens as his navigator. He waited for the dozen plus men to fill the bed of the truck and secure themselves. Then leaving the other vehicle and the horse trailer secluded, he headed his truck toward the entrance of the Larabee 7 and into position to make a run at the front gate.
At exactly one o’clock, Bellows pressed the gas petal to the metal and charged the iron- gate that was designed to keep unwanted visitors off the ranch property. The truck's fender connected with the gate, causing a rough jerking motion of the vehicle, throwing his passengers in the bed of the truck off of their feet. Chip cursed as he saw that the gate hadn't come completely unhinged as he anticipated and slammed the truck into reverse to give the vehicle space enough to make another charge at it.
“Hold on!” he yelled out to the men as he gunned it and the vehicle shot forward. This time the gate fell and he felt a thrill of exuberance fill him. “Look out Tanner, here we come!”
Tanner felt trepidation slice through him as he heard what sounded like metal clashing against metal in the near distance, and realized almost immediately what it was he had heard. A moment later he heard the distinct beeping noise coming from the security panel just inside the doorway signaling to them that the front gate had been breached. “Someone's forced their way through the front gate. Rafael, get those kids inside NOW!”
Walter was on his radio immediately for a security check of the perimeter as the women and children were unceremoniously pushed into the house. “Vin, it appears that four men on horseback were attempting to breech the west side of the property, too. Our security intercepted them and neutralized that threat, but it will be at least twenty- five to thirty minutes before we get any help from that direction. Our other patrols are on the far side of the ranch, and most of the ranch hands are in the high pasture dropping hay for the horses.” Andrews reported.
Vin acknowledged that information with a nod. “Raphael, you, and Max get the women and kids into the basement safe room, Kel, get the gun case open, and call the MCAT office."
MCAT Office ~1:05pm
Larabee was in his office, when Gunny walked in. “Sir, a package came for you special delivery, and was marked personal. It’s already been x-rayed and Agent Westin had Bandit check it over, too.”
“Thanks Gunny.” Chris took the package she handed him and began to examine it. The outside of the package gave Larabee no clue as to who the sender might be, so he ripped it open and dumped the contents on his desk. Two CDs and a short note was all that appeared. Chris picked up the note and read. “Your target will be in place for the next seventy-two hours, happy hunting.” It was signed only with an R, but the Commander knew who had sent the information.
Chris had just started to insert one of the disks into his computer when Gunny buzzed him with an urgent call. “Sir, Kelli is on line one and she says that it’s an emergency.”
“Dad, the front gates, as well as the west side of the property have been breeched. How fast can y’all get here?”
Larabee surged to his feet as a chill ran down his spine. “Hang tight we’re on our way. I’ll call you back on the cell.” Racing out of his office he only had to say five words. “The ranch is under attack.” The rest of the brothers did not need any other prompting to drop everything they were doing and head for their vehicles. Chris redialed the Tanner home on his cell, and then cursed when he received no answer.
*Damnit, talk to me Tanner*
*Kinda busy at the moment, y’all just get your asses here ASAP, and you'd best be prepared to fight.*
Chris, Josiah, and Ezra loaded into the Ram, and sped out of the parking lot, closely followed by Buck, Nathan, and JD, in Wilmington’s truck.
Tanner Home ~1:07pm
Once they were armed, Vin, Raphael, and Walter positioned themselves at strategic spots within the house, not only the best positions to hold back any threat, but also to keep an eye on the security cameras that could be monitored from any home on the ranch. The children were sheltered in the basement with Inez, Rain, Casey and Max, where they would be safe from any gunfire. Kelli gave Max a rifle that she was familiar with using, a handgun to Casey, and then went back upstairs to assist the men.
Vin turned at the sound of someone coming back into the room that he was in and frowned when he saw it was Kelli. “Kel, you should have stayed...”
“Save the argument Tanner. I may be pregnant, but I am a Federal agent, and I can still shoot. Right now we need every gun we can get.” The redhead determinedly stated, moving over to a window, where she eased herself into a comfortable position, and readied her rifle for the upcoming fight.
“Just so you know, if you get hurt, you have to answer to me, so keep your head down.” Vin knew it was useless to argue, and truthfully, he knew they if they were going to hold out until reinforcements arrived, it would take all of them to do it.
“Same goes for you.” Kelli replied and suddenly there was no time left for talking as a truck loaded down with men carrying guns came to an abrupt halt past the other cars belonging to family members, and the men began spreading out.
Vin set his eye to the scope of his rifle, letting the cool calm that always settled over him in crisis moments focus his attention to where it needed to be, and picked out his first target. The man went down without uttering a sound. As he picked out his next target, he heard a staccato of gunfire close to his ear as Kelli's, Walter's, and Rafael's weapons fired their weapons around him. Bellows had brought over a dozen men with him, and he had just lost four of them, plus his team on horseback had been captured.
Bellows and his men opened fire on the occupants of the house, realizing that their element of surprise had been shattered sooner than they had anticipated. They dove for cover behind anything that they could, constantly maneuvering their positions to make their way closer to the house so that they could find a way inside. “Tanner! We’ve been watching you! We know the routine of this place. Your ranch hands are too far away to help you, and your MCAT team can’t get here in less than twenty minutes. It’s after one…school is over for the day, and you have over a dozen kids in you house…two of them are yours….Jason, and Andi… let’s see, there is also your wife, and that black bitch you tried to save at the clinic and…”
Tanner had heard enough. “Get to the point, Bellows!”
“This is how it’s gonna be…you come out and leave with me, or I start lobbing grenades into your home…how many of those kids are you willing to see die before your ‘help’ comes?” Bellows challenged the Texan, making certain that the grenade he held up was in view of the security camera.
Vin froze as the enormity of Bellows' intention fell on him like a ton of bricks. He knew what Chip was capable of and he couldn't risk anything happening to the children, or anyone else for that matter. Not when he could prevent it. He set his rifle down against the wall and slowly stood up.
“Vin! No, you can't do this! He's goin' to kill you as soon as you step out onto the porch!” Kelli cried out; rising to a standing position, fear for him etched on her face and in her voice
“Chambers wants me alive, despite what those flyers said. He wants to kill me himself. Bellows knows that, and so do I.” Tanner knew he could give his wife and children the time needed for Chris and the others to arrive, and he had to give then a chance to survive, besides he stood a better chance of defeating Bellows once he had him away from his family.
“NO! Chris and the others will be here in less than ten minutes, we can hold them off. If you go out that door…damnit Vin, you can’t!” Kelli pleaded with him. “Please wait for your brothers!”
Bellows yelled again. “I’m not waiting for your fellow agents to get here Tanner! I have two horses ready…you come out now and we ride out together…your family lives.”
Vin pulled Kelli into a fierce hug. “I've got to do what he says, Kel. I love you.” He kissed her, trailed his fingers down her cheek, ran his hand over her stomach, and then reluctantly released her and moved toward the front door. Tanner exchanged a look with Rafael. “Make sure she doesn't follow me out.”
Rafael nodded. Vin continued to the door, took a deep breath, and then called out before he opened it. “All right, Bellows...I'm comin' out.” He glanced over at Kelli and felt his heart twist in his chest as he took in the tears standing in her beautiful blue eyes. The Texan repeated the words he had said to her only moments before.” I love you, Kel,” as he opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch.
*Anytime now Cowboy.*
*Eight minutes Tanner, hold on.*
*Sorry...out of time here...take care of my family, and make sure Bellows dies along with Chambers.*
Chip grinned from ear to ear, knowing that catching Vin Tanner and delivering him to Chambers personally, was going to elevate his status in the RMR even further.
Cordova blocked Kelli’s path to the door as she tried to follow her husband, while Walter covered Vin the best that he could. Bellows had dropped off one of his men at the barn to have two horses saddled, and waiting by his truck, he had chosen Pony and Peso. “I told you, we have been watching. I even made sure we had your horse ready for you.” Chip grinned. “Karl has been waiting for you Tanner, and I am going to enjoy watching him kill you.”
Once Tanner was close enough Chip tied his hands and ordered him to mount Peso, while he got on Pony. As soon as he had his prisoner secure he took the reins and led Peso behind him. The fact that Bellow's men had chosen Peso and Pony out of all the horses in the stables was a gift from Mistress Fate. He would certainly use his and Chris's horse’s natural orneriness to his advantage. Peso was a bit confused by his master’s contradictory behavior. Vin seemed to be controlling him with his leg muscles, but was allowing that fool in front of him to lead them. Pony was not thrilled about his new rider either and the only reason he had not dumped the man on the ground was the fact that Tanner was around, and that usually meant that Chris would be along sometime soon.
“What do you want us to do Bellows?” Stevens called to him.
Chip looked at Tanner and grinned. “Give me time to get Tanner out of here… then…kill ‘em all, and drive out before the other agents get here.”
If looks could kill, Bellows would have been dead. Rage seized hold of Vin and he made a solemn vow then and there that Chip Bellows would be dead before they ever left Larabee 7. He had to trust that his brothers would arrive in time to save the lives of their families, including his. As they rode away gunfire began again, and then the horrifying sound of a grenade going off ripped through Tanner’s soul.
The explosion that shattered the floor to ceiling windows in the living room caught them off-guard, but not for long. That man who threw it was dead before he had an opportunity to duck his head. Kelli did not let her flow of tears stop her from killing the man that aided Bellows in his quest to kill her husband, and dared to try and injure her children; Michael Stevens never knew that it was her shot that felled him. Raphael, Walter, and Kelli continued to shoot back, taking out as many of Bellow’s men as they could. Little by little the sound of returning shots lessoned, and no one had a chance to send a second grenade into the house. Through the anger and tears they kept firing until they heard more gunfire coming from the opposite direction…Chris and the others had arrived…in time to halt the siege, but not soon enough to keep Vin out of hell.
Larabee 7~ February 2nd~ 1:40pm
The Cavalry rode to the rescue in the form of Vin's six brothers. From the moment they came through the gate in their vehicles, Larabee and the others opened fire on the RMR members attacking the Tanner home. They could hear the sounds of gunfire being shot from weapons inside the house, and that gave them heart, knowing that they weren't too late. In a matter of a few minutes, the siege had ended with all of the RMR members in sight dead, injured, or handcuffed. Larabee led the charge toward the house and onto the porch.
Rafael met them at the door.” We're okay...all the children and women, except for Kelli, are secure in the basement.”
“Dad!” Kelli threw herself into Larabee's arms.” Bellows has Vin… You've got to go after them!”
Larabee held on to his daughter, but leaned back. “What do you mean Bellows has Vin?”
“Bellows told Vin that if he didn't surrender himself, that he was going to throw several grenades into the house.” Rafael told them. “He taunted Tanner with hurting the children, and Vin made the decision to go with him. From what I could see from my firing position, Tanner's hands were bound and then he was helped onto a horse. Bellows mounted another horse and they rode off, after he had Vin, Bellows then ordered his men to throw the grenades anyway...We stopped them from sending more than one in.”
“He had Peso and Pony saddled and …they took off toward the north about ten minutes ago.” Tears streamed down Kelli’s face. “Please, you have to find him…”
“I will Kel, and if that man was idiot enough to get Tanner on Peso and then take Pony, it won’t be hard to find them. Vin will have that ornery horse walking around in circles.” Chris took in the damage to the house. “Are you up to handling what needs to be done here?”
“Just go, we’ll manage.” Kelli urged him on.
“Raphael, you take over here, and Walter, use your security force to hold the prisoners until the rest of the team gets here.” Chris instructed.
Josiah and Buck had heard Cordova’s explanation and were already on their way to the barn to saddle more horses.
Ezra closed his phone and told Kelli. “Barbara is on her way out, whatever you need, she will be here to help with until we get back with Vin.”
JD came up from the basement. “Chris, Casey and Rain are going to take the kids over to the Wilmingtons. Max and Inez have already taken Tannis and Grace over, and the twins are next. We figured they didn’t need to see any of this and Kel is not up to answering questions about all this destruction from Jason and Andi.”
“Kel you should go with them.” Chris told her.
“No, ‘m stayin’ here, I’ll be fine,” The redhead stubbornly answered, “Just bring Vin home.”
Buck and Josiah returned a few minutes later leading six saddled horses. Nathan was the first one to grab for his. “These injured men don’t want help from a darkie so they are on their own.” He mounted up. “I’m good to go.”
“Chris, I saddled Dancer for you, just until we get Pony back.” Buck handed him the reins.
“No problem, let’s mount up and ride. We have a Tanner to find.” Chris kissed Kelli on the forehead “We will all be back.” The rest of the brothers quickly mounted their horses and followed after him as he led the way toward the north. Heading out after their seventh and the man he was with.
*What in the hell were you thinking, going off with him?*
*I was thinkin' about protectin' our families. Just tell me they’re okay.*
*Everyone is safe and uninjured, but Kel is pretty damn upset. Not that I can blame her.* Larabee could almost hear the edge in Vin's voice and he sensed that Tanner wasn't too happy about him questioning his reasoning behind him going with Bellows.*We’re on our way…wait for us.*
“I thought you were going to be a lot harder to capture, Tanner.” Bellows said as he led the way down the trail to where he had the truck and trailer stashed. “All that hype about not letting anyone take you alive back at the compound was all a bunch of bullshit wasn't it?”
“You might have gotten me out of the house, Bellows, but you'll never get me off of this ranch. You'll be dead before that happens.” Vin told him in a lethal tone.
Chip laughed. “Just what are you going to do when you're all trussed up on the back of a horse and no weapons to fight with?”
“I won't need weapons when I kill you.”
“You talk big Tanner, but you are going to die the same way Anson did.” Chip made his hand into the shape of a gun. “BOOM! Karl nailed him right between the eyes. It’s a damn shame though that Ricter never knew you suckered him with that bet in the bar…If he’d of known that piece of ass was your wife, he would have killed you both, but not before he got him a prime cut.” Chip laughed. “Hell maybe she survived that grenade blast, and Stevens grabbed her…man that would be something to see. She may be a Fed, but with that white skin, and sexy ass, I bet she can get wild…right Tanner? “You put it to her every night don’t you?”
Vin worked to control the fury building within him at Bellows' taunting words. He knew that he was going to have to stay in control and not let the other man's barbs get to him. Scanning the countryside around him, the Texan realized that they were about to enter a small clearing. It was where he decided that he would make his move.
“What? No witty comeback? No verbal threats telling me what you are going to do to me once you have your hands on me?” Bellows continued to taunt him.” Maybe the men will kill your brother agents, and then let the children watch as they have their way with the white women, or while they kill that black whore, the porch monkey, the Mex and her half breeds. Don't you people understand that if those niggers and wetbacks are allowed to continue to breed with our white brothers and sisters, that we are one day going to wake up and find that the white race has become extinct.”
Tanner had heard enough. *Cowboy, you can have what’s left of him, I ain’t waitin’.* Signaling Peso with his knees, the horse stopped and refused to move forward.
“What’s wrong with your damn horse, Tanner? Make him move!” Bellows yanked on the reins, and still the horse refused to budge.
A slow grin creased Vin's lips as he let out a high pitched whistle that startled Pony into rearing up and tossing Bellows onto the ground. The Texan made his move. He threw himself off of Peso's back and onto Bellows. Even though his hands were tied in front of him, Tanner found that he could still use them. He went straight for Bellows gun, knowing that if he could get it away from the other man, it would all be over. Bellows, sensing how close he was to dying, rallied and the two men were soon fighting intensely for his weapon.
The fight went on for several minutes, until Vin felt victory was near as his right hand settled firmly around the butt of the gun and he started to aim it toward the other man. Chip took that opportunity to knee Tanner in the groin. Vin fell onto his back gasping for air as paralyzing pain shot through his body, but he somehow had the presence of mind to toss the gun away from him to keep Bellows from reclaiming it and using it on him.
Bellows lurched to his feet and made a move toward the area where the gun had been tossed, but Peso blocked his movements, and Pony stepped onto the gun. With a cry of rage, Chip withdrew the bowie knife from its sheath on his belt and lunged at the incapacitated Tanner.
Vin threw up his hands in a defensive block as the knife slashed downward toward his stomach. That move effectively slowed the momentum of the knife, but didn't manage to keep it from slicing through his shirt. Red-hot pain flooded through his chest, even as Bellows made another lunge at him with the knife. This time, Vin took the risk of allowing the knife to cut through the rope that held his hands together, freeing them. He was able to fully stop the knife with the palms of his hands and he saw to his satisfaction a flicker of fear dash across Bellows face as he realized that the tables had suddenly turned on him. Ignoring the pain he still felt in his groin, Tanner drew up his right leg and kicked Chip off of him. Bellows landed on the hard ground a few feet away from him, attempting to breathe again as Vin rose into a standing position and lunged toward him.
Bellows scrambled onto his feet and swung out with the knife, making the Texan abruptly halt his forward motion and go into a defensive stance. He blocked the slashing movement Chip made with the knife and moved easily into a roundhouse kick that connected with Bellow's hand holding the knife and sent the bloodied blade hurtling through the air.
“What's the matter, Bellows? Ain't feelin' too cocky now, are you?” Vin taunted his opponent, enjoying the scared look settling onto Bellows' face.
“Karl will never let up on you Tanner. He will take everything you care about and take pleasure in killing it. You are a walking dead man.”
“So are you.” Tanner told him coldly as he advanced on the man, moving into a series of intricate martial arts steps that was hard for Bellows to follow, let alone defend himself against. The RMR member did his best to put up a good fight though, and actually managed to sweep Vin's legs out from under him.
As Tanner fell backwards, Bellows leaped on top of him and grabbed the Texan by the throat. Vin grabbed the man's hands with his own and pounded on Bellows hands until he felt the other man's grip on his throat start to slip. He then he raised his head and butted the other man in the face. Bellow let out a roar of pain as blood began to pour from his broken nose, breaking his hold on Tanner's throat with one hand to cup it. It was all the advantage Vin needed to free the other hand from around his throat. He wrapped his legs around Bellows waist, rolling them until he was in a dominant position and then he encircled Bellow’s neck with his arm.
Chip desperately tried to break Tanner's hold on his neck, but the Texan was unmerciful. Images of Nathan in his car at the bottom of the embankment, Paul's mutilated body on the porch of his house, Rain's terror in the clinic, Jason's distraught face after he had seen the wanted poster, Kelli getting ready to open the bomb, and the order to kill ’em all as they left his home, flashed through his mind as he squeezed the breath from Chip's body. He gave one violent jerk of his arms and heard the resounding 'pop' of Bellows' neck breaking before he released his hold on the man.
Vin fell onto his back in the dirt and lay there gasping from his exertion. Now that the immediate threat to his life was over, the adrenaline left him in a rush, and was replaced with pain and weariness. All he wanted to do was lay there and not move, but Peso and Pony were not about to let that happen. They nudged the Texan with their noses, and kept up their relentless assault until Vin raised his hand to stop the horses from pestering him more.
When the others arrived, they saw two motionless bodies on the ground, one of which was surrounded by two very concerned horses. Chris was off Dancer in an instant, and running toward his brother. “Vin!”
Nathan grabbed his medical bag and was one step behind the blond, as the other brothers followed them. “Move, you ornery animal,” Jackson attempted to push Peso aside and was almost nipped in the process.
Chris grabbed the reins of both animals and handed them to Buck, who managed to led them away a short distance. “Tanner you had better be alive or so help me …”
“Damnit Chris, can't a man rest in peace without you yellin'?” Vin said, opening one eye and gazing up at him and the others. “Don’t need you barkin’ in my ear, especially after those two mules tried to roll me.”
Nathan put his hand on Tanner’s shoulder. “Don’t move. Let me see how much of this blood is yours first.”
“Hell Nate, ‘m fine.” Vin grimaced as he attempted to move.
“We can see that, but indulge us and let Nathan look you over.” Chris exhaled a relieved sigh, and then started in on Tanner. “You had to take him on all by yourself…you knew we were coming damnit…but did you wait…hell no!”
“Bitch, bitch, bitch…sometimes I think there is no pleasin’ you Cowboy.”
“You remember this, my friend, you had your shot here with Bellows…I get mine when we go after Chambers. Raven gave us a special invite.” Chris decided that the details could wait until tomorrow.
“Maybe one of us should call Kelli and let her know that Vin's all right?” JD spoke up.” Well, not all right, but at least alive, so that she won't continue to worry?”
“You do that JD, and tell her…hell; just let me up and I’ll tell her myself.” Tanner tried again to get up and was stopped by three sets of hands. Nathan, Chris, and Buck knew that at least some of that blood belonged to the Texan and they were not about to let him up until they were satisfied that he was not in any immediate danger of bleeding to death.
Ezra knelt down next to Bellows and noted his broken nose and neck. Whatever transpired here it was brutal and ugly. “Perhaps we should arrange to remove this piece of vermin, and once Nathan is finished, work to clean up our Texan, before presenting him to his family.”
Nathan felt relief flood through him as he finished his examination of Vin. Except for the serious slash on Tanner's left upper chest quadrant, Jackson saw only minor cuts and abrasions on the Texan. The wound on his chest was about two inches deep and three inches wide and would require stitching once he had his injured brother in a more sterile environment. He had packed the wound tightly and wrapped bandages around Vin's chest to keep the dressing in place, so that they could move him back to the house.
“It's an ugly and painful knife wound, but he'll live.” Nathan told his anxious brothers. He let his own relief show for a moment as he looked at Vin.” He will need to have some stitches, maybe a pint or two of blood to replenish the blood that he lost. He'll also need to undergo some tests since Bellows apparently bled over Vin's open wound to make sure that he wasn't carrying any blood borne diseases.”
“What kind of test Nathan? Vin asked warily.
“Sorry Vin, but unless an autopsy proves that Bellow's blood is clean… no HIV or hepatitis…”Nathan did not finish.
“Aw hell, it’s not enough they come after my family at home, and want me dead, now you’re sayin' the bastard might have been diseased, and passed it to me?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we need too, right now let’s get you home. You’ll ride with me.” Chris ordered. “Josiah, you hand him up once I’m on Pony.”
“Damnit, I can ride…”Tanner protested.
“No, you can’t! You need stitches and by God, you’re not going to rip that wound open more by bouncing around on that mule you call a horse.” Nathan yelled. “You will ride with Chris or I’ll have to kick your ass Vin!”
“We’ll since you asked so nice…how can I say no.” Tanner grumbled as Josiah helped him to his feet, and up on Pony’s back. Although Vin would not admit it, it felt good to let Chris take control, and he closed his eyes intending to only rest for a minute.
Larabee 7 ~3:00 pm
Kelli was certain that this day was never ending; it seemed as though it should be midnight, but it was still early afternoon. The rest of the MCAT team had arrived and taken over the disposition of the prisoners, and forensics was clearing out the dead bodies. Walter supervised several ranch hands as they used tarps and boards to cover the space where the huge floor to ceiling windows had been in her living room. Max, with Mallory and Barbara’s help began the cleanup inside the house, as Kelli paced. She was torn between anger and worry. Vin had not heard the last of his arbitrary decision to take off with Bellows, and even though JD had called and said Vin was slightly injured, but basically okay, until she saw him herself, the redhead would not rest.
Raphael saw the riders first and steered Kelli away from the view until he saw Ezra lead one of the horses carrying a body over to Bones. Once Chris was closer to the house he opened the door, but was unable to stop her from running outside. She gasped as she saw the blood that covered Vin’s shirt.
“He’s okay for the most part Kel, just wore out.” Larabee quickly assured her, as she approached Pony.
Josiah slid off his horse and came around to assist Tanner down. “Come on sleepin beauty, the princess wants to see those pretty blue eyes.” Sanchez eased Vin off the horse and supported his weight as he helped him into the house.
“Take him to our room and put him on the bed.” Kelli instructed as she stopped in the kitchen to grab an ice pack for the bruises on Vin's face. She then followed them into the bedroom, and anxiously waited for an opportunity to examine his wounds.
Chris handed Pony’s reins to Buck. “Take charge of the scene, and let Bones know we need those test results on Bellows ASAP. Put Justin and Alex on interrogation. Give everyone a chance to see to their families, and then we meet at Camp Larabee at eight in the morning to determine our next course of action.”
“You think Nathan will insist that Tanner go to the hospital?”
Chris laughed. “Throwing a fit to get him on my horse is one thing, but if Vin says no hospital…Nathan may have a bigger fight on his hands.”
Buck took the reins of the other horses and passed them over to George who was waiting to help. “See you in twenty, Chris.” Wilmington went over to talk to Bones.
Larabee proceeded inside to see how Jackson was doing with his patient, and heard the arguing before he reached the bedroom. Prepared to intervene between Jackson and Tanner, he was surprised to find Vin snapping at Kelli. “Kel, Nathan knows what he’s doin’, just step back and let him do it.” Vin said, his voice harsher than he intended, but until he knew that he was not carrying HIV or hepatitis, he did not want her near him.
“You made the decision to leave with that racist bastard, without even consultin’ me, knowin’ that there was a good chance he would see you dead before you made it off the Larabee 7. I was left here wonderin’ if I was ever goin' to see you alive again or how I was goin’ to tell our children you were gone. Then, miracle of miracles happened and you return, all cut up and bloody, and instead of lettin’ me help take care of you, you won't allow me anywhere near you! You've got a hell of a lot of nerve Tanner!” Kelli yelled; each word laced with a mixture of anger and hurt. “I thought that WE made decisions together...I guess that only applies when YOU decide that I'm allowed to have an opinion.”
“I did what I thought was right at the time! If I hadn't left with Bellows like I did, he would have bombed the whole house, killin’ everyone inside and I couldn't let that happen! Damn it, Kel, I didn't expect you to agree with the decision I made, but it was the only one I could have made at the time and you know that! “The Texan snapped. “Now get out of the way so Nathan can tend to me!”
“Fine...arguin' with you is pointless anyway once you've made up your mind that you are right about somethin'!” Kelli snapped back, choking back an angry sob. “Sorry that I happen to be concerned for my own damn husband! You don't want me in here, then I'll leave...but I also won’t be stayin’ around here either. You want to be alone, so be it! You can make all the decisions and have the whole damn house to yourself!” Kelli turned to leave and ran into Chris.
Larabee reached out to steady her, and saw the hurt look in her eyes. “Kel…”
“Excuse me Dad; I need some fresh air. Am I allowed out of the house on my own, or do I need a damn babysitter?”
“It should be safe, but if you want, I’ll go with you.” Chris offered.
“I can manage. Contrary to what some people think I am a grown woman and I damn sure know how to take care of myself!” Kelli pushed past him and out of the room.
Vin sighed as Kelli made her rapid departure from their bedroom and leaned back against the pillows. “Do whatever you have to Nate. Just get it over with.”
Jackson nodded as he pulled on some plastic gloves and prepared to suture the wound up. “I can stitch you up here, but you probably need some blood and…”
“No hospital! Do what you can and then tell me what fuckin’ tests I need to take.” Tanner growled. “If you can’t do ‘em, then I’ll go to a doctor later, but for now just get me on my feet. Chambers is next, and I plan to be there when we find the sonofabitch.”
Ezra made an appearance in the bedroom just then. “What in the hell did you do to Kel, Vin? I just saw her and that is one angry woman.”
“She’ll get over being angry sooner or later.” Vin said through gritted teeth as Nathan began preparing the wound for stitches. “Right now though, she needs to work through everythin’ that happened today. If being mad at me helps her to process it without losin’ it altogether, then so be it.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing Vin. She just had her home attacked, her husband nearly killed, part of her house bombed, she’s pregnant, and has a Larabee temper. That is not a good combination to piss off and expect to smooth things over. It could be a while before we know about the tests results, are you sure…?” Nathan said doubtfully, without looking up from his suturing.
“There isn't anythin’ that Kelli and I can't work out.” Tanner said confidentially.
“What?” Tanner glanced over at Chris. “You think that after everythin’ we've been through, that I should just tell her... Oh, by the way the bastard may have passed on HIV or hepatitis to me, but there's nothin’ to worry about.”
“I think your protection mode just took a flying leap off a steep cliff, but what I think doesn’t matter.” Larabee told him seriously. “What I do know is that arbitrarily making decisions about what's best for Kelli, isn't going to do your marriage one lick of good. Kelli is a strong woman who has seen more than her share of hurt in the world, but somehow she has managed to turn into one hell of a lady. You have to trust her to be able to handle the news that there may be a possibility that you've contracted something from Bellows. The decision of how you handle this from here on out is all up to you, but I would think carefully over what your next move should be… because Kelli is one upset lady who looks to be seriously considering leaving your ornery ass.”
“If it will make your decision a little easier, Vin,” Nathan said, pausing in his stitching to look the Texan in the eyes, “The chance of you contracting anything from the little amount of blood that you might have shared with Bellows is....very low. You just need to take a few precautions until we know for sure; touching or even kissing your wife is not gonna put her or the babies at risk."
“Why the hell didn't you tell me that in the first place?” Vin asked angrily, and then felt his anger dissolve.” Sorry, Nate...regardless of whether you told me the stats now or earlier, don’t change the fact that I've just been a helluva bastard to my wife.”
Chris smirked at him. “It wouldn't be the first time...and I'm quite certain it won't be the last. Just prepare to do a whole lot of apologizin' an' I'm sure that Kelli will forgive you.”
“If I wanted any input from the peanut gallery, I would have asked for it.” Tanner tried to glare at Larabee, but found that he couldn't. Chris was right. He had a whole lot of apologizing to do to Kelli, and as soon as Nathan was finished with sewing him up, he was going to hunt her down. He had to know things were right between the two of them before he went with the others to bring Chambers down, and he was going down, one way or another.
*It's time to end the months of hell Karl has put us through, Cowboy.*
Tanner Home~ 5:30pm
It had taken Nathan almost an hour to finish suturing Vin's injury. He had worked slowly to make certain the wound was clean. He knew Vin well enough to know that the man was not going to stay in bed, and the only rest Tanner would have would be while the medic worked on him. Just as Nathan expected the Texan was ready to get up when he finished. Chris and Ezra helped Vin get cleaned up and changed into fresh clothes, and then Tanner then insisted on seeing what kind of damage his house had taken from the grenade blast.
Larabee and Standish knew better than to argue with the stubborn Texan when he got his dander up, so instead they followed him out of the bedroom and into the main part of the house. Vin moved carefully, one hand on his injured side as he came to a stop in the middle of the living room and surveyed the damage that had been done. Shattered glass and splintered pieces of wood were strewn over the entire front room. Where there had once been a spectacular view of the mountains, an ugly gaping hole now stood as reminder of the evil that had visited them that day.
Vin sucked in a deep breath, and had to remind himself that Kelli and the children were safe. “Damn.” The Texan reacted to seeing the damage wrought by the grenade. “Y'all were lucky no one was hurt or killed by the flyin' glass.”
“The man that threw it never saw the damage. Kel zeroed in on him and he was dead before it hit.” Raphael told him.
Chris saw the conflict of emotions on Vin’s face. Cordova had reminded him that he was not the only one that had experienced hell today and going with Bellows did not stop a grenade from exploding in his home. "I talked to Matt, he’s going to escort Linda home and send over some of his men to help us make repairs. You need more than the tarps and plywood?”
“It’s enough for tonight.” Vin was thankful that there were no injuries.
“Vin, the kids can stay with us until you make more permanent repairs if you want. You and Kel, too” Buck offered. “I know the boards and tarps help, but they won’t keep the cold out, and cold don’t feel too good when you ache already.”
“Thanks Bucklin, but I’ll stay here. I will come over and say goodnight to Kel and the kids though.” He knew that Kelli had gone over to the Wilmingtons to be with the kids, and for now he reckoned that was the best place for her to be.
Buck raised a brow. “The kids are at my house, but Kel isn’t. She came over, talked to the kids and then left. I thought she was here.”
“No, I thought she was at your house.” Vin stood up too fast and grimaced with pain. “Where in the hell did she go?” Tanner closed his eyes and tried to think past the panic that flooded over him. *Think Tanner, where would she go?* He knew that even as angry as Kelli had been at him, she wouldn't leave Larabee 7 on her own. Not when there was still a threat against them, although a good portion of the RMR members were dead or in custody at that very moment. *The barn.* It was a place that both of them seemed to find a bit of peace from things when they were going a bit rough. He started toward the door and heard more than one man sound a protest.
“Where in the hell do you think you're going?” Nathan demanded. "I just spent over an hour sewing you up. You want to undo all my work?"
“You aren't in any shape...” Buck started to protest, but found that he was talking to Tanner's back.
“Perhaps you will allow us to assist you in finding our wayward sister?” Standish asked.
Chris wisely said nothing, knowing that this was something that the Texan needed to do
“I'm goin' to find my wife.” Vin told them firmly and continued on his way. He exited the house and was slowly making his way off the porch when he realized he wasn't alone. He turned around just in time to see Larabee trot down the stairs.
“Where are you goin'?” Vin demanded.
“With you,” Chris told him. “You are in no shape to be wandering off too far by yourself, so I'll go with you. When we find Kelli, I’ll give you the privacy you need to work things out between you, but until then, I'm going to be your shadow.”
Tanner knew it was pointless to argue with Larabee. “Fine...just don't hover.”
Chris laughed as the two men started toward the barn, going at a slow rate to accommodate the Texan's wounded condition.
Just as Vin had suspected, the doors to the barn where the colts were stabled stood open, and he felt a sigh of relief fill him. “I go it alone from here, Chris.”
"Call out if you need rescuing." Chris grinned as Vin answered him with a hand gesture, before entering the barn.
Kelli sat curled up on the hay strewn floor, her back against a post, and her head buried on her knees weeping. The sound of her crying tore a hole clean through Tanner's heart, and guilt flooded through him, knowing that he was responsible for making her cry again. He moved into the barn, not as quiet as he usually was, but Kelli made no movement to indicate that she heard him. Carefully he eased himself down into a kneeling position and then sat down beside her.
“Aw, Kel.” He wanted to pull her into his arms, but wasn't sure she would let him touch her. “I'm so sorry for the way I acted.” Considering her condition he figured he should tread lightly and damn sure use some conciliatory words to parley peace between them.
Kelli lifted her head up at the sound of his voice, fire still evident in her blue eyes. “You should be.”
Tanner almost smiled, but stopped himself just in time. “I shouldn't have made the decision to go with Bellows without consultin' with you first.”
“No you shouldn't have.”
“I know that it was a terrible risk to take, and even though I thought it was a good idea at the time, it was unfair of me to make it arbitrarily.”
“Yes, it was.”
Now he did smile. He couldn't keep it from his face, and was rewarded with a flicker of one in return, before his wife corrected herself and returned to looking sternly at him. “I shouldn't have yelled at you when the boys got me back to the house either. I should have allowed you to help Nathan tend to me, but… I was scared for you to touch me.” He admitted softly.
Puzzlement, followed by concern flooded over Kelli's beautiful face as she gazed at him. “Why?”
“Some of Bellows blood got mixed with mine.” Tanner told her quietly. “Nathan told me that I was goin' to have to get tested for hepatitis and HIV, and all I could think about was protectin' you.”
Vin quickly realized that was the wrong thing to say. "Of all the idiotic, lamebrain things you've come up with Vin Tanner, this one takes the cake!” Kelli's renewed anger surprised him. “You don't get to protect me from life! I'm your wife Vin, not some child that you have to shield from all the ugliness all the time! What affects you, affects me, remember? 'Til death do us part! If by God, you have contracted somethin' from that sick bastard, then we will face it together! As man and wife! As life mates, so you had best get it out of your head that you are makin’ all of the decisions around here, right now!”
“I'm tryin' to apologize here!” Vin snapped back at her, although there really wasn't any fire in his voice.
“Well you're doin' an awful job of it!” Kelli snapped back.
The Texan gazed at her for a long moment and then threw his head back and howled with laughter. The release of the stress from earlier finally hit him. They had survived all the terrible things that had been thrown at them since Dusty Slater went into Rock Meadows, and should be celebrating that fact. Instead here they sat in a cold barn, on a hard floor, snapping at one another, but…it felt good to be able to laugh about it all.
Kelli stared at her husband as if he had suddenly lost his mind. “Vin, stop it! It's not funny, damnit! This is serious!”
“I know it is,” Vin gasped out, his face paling a bit from the pain of his sutured wound as he tried to control his laughter.
Although concerned about his injury, a slight smile creased Kelli's face as she continued to gaze at her husband, and finally a giggle escaped from between her lips. “Vin Tanner you are impossible, but I love you anyway!”
“I love you too, Kel.” The Texan said as he finally got his laughter under control, and turned serious again. “I really am sorry I shut you out and that I made the decision to go with Bellows without consultin' with you first. All I could think of is protectin' you, our children, and everyone else. I reacted to the situation, and in that moment, you weren't another MCAT agent, but my wife that I wanted to protect."
"You seem to be doin' that a lot lately Tanner, and that's somethin' we need to work on." Kelli let out a sigh as her anger at him finally dissipated. “I know you thought you were doin' what was right at the time...I can even see the reasonin' behind it...but damnit, Vin, watchin' you walk out that door and not knowin' if I was ever goin' to see you again, just about tore my heart in two.”
Vin reached over and caressed her face. “I'm sorry that I scared you so badly.”
Kelli leaned her cheek into his hand and closed her eyes against a new wave of tears. “Don't do it again.”
“I can't make any promises, Kelli. I don't know what the future holds.” Tanner told her softly, “All I can tell you is that I'll do my damnest not too.”
“I guess that is goin' to have to be good enough then.” Kelli replied and shifted closer to him as Vin lowered his mouth to hers in a sweet kiss of further apology, which Kelli readily accepted.
Tanner shifted his position and groaned. “I hate to admit this, but I think you’re gonna have to step out that door and ask Chris to come and help me up.”
Kelli chided herself for not realizing how much it had physically taken for Vin to come after her. “Hang on.” She hurried out to find Chris standing not too far away from the door. “Dad? I think we might need a little assistance gettin’ Tanner back to the house.”
Larabee followed her inside and smiled when he saw the predicament that the Texan was in. He had managed to get down on the barn floor, but couldn’t get up. He started to reach out to help him, but had to ask first. “Kel, you want this ornery Texan back in your house?”
Vin growled, and Kelli laughed. “I took him for better or worse, so I reckon my answer is yes."
“Good,” Larabee helped Tanner to his feet. “Now that you two seem to be on speaking terms again, we can all go home. Tomorrow we have to start making our final plans to take on Chambers.”
“What’s to plan? We go in and take him down.” Tanner retorted.
Chris and Kelli both rolled their eyes as they watched Vin gingerly move between them. Larabee quipped. “Right, but if you don’t mind, this time, your brothers and I get to have some fun…you don’t get to hog all the action.”
Tanner grinned, “Sounds like a plan to me.”
Camp Larabee ~ February 3rd ~8:00 am
Chris finally had all his brothers in one place and started the meeting with the information about Raven's message. “In the middle of all that happened yesterday, I received a package. Raven has sent us a gift.” Larabee passed the note over to Vin “JD helped me transfer the information off the disks, and the first one is a detailed map of the area where Chambers is holed up, and the second one gives us specifics about the RMR facility. We have a seventy-two hour window to move in. Travis is already working to obtain the warrants we’ll need.”
“It looks like we’re going hunting.” Buck grinned
“Damn straight.” Vin agreed
Larabee stood in front of the chalkboard using a pointer to indicate a particular building on the blown up version of the map of the RMR's new base of operations that Raven had supplied for them. “We know from the information that Raven obtained for us, that this building is where Chambers sleeps. Besides the sentries who stand guard at the entrance to the compound, and those who patrol the perimeter of its interior, there is always at least one man guarding Chambers at all times.
Vin broke in. “Havin' someone guard his back twenty-four-seven is somethin' new that Chambers has set up. He must be feelin' the pressure of knowin' that we are out to take him down, because he values his privacy. We also have to assume that he will know that Bellows failed yesterday, and he may tighten up his security even more.”
“He’d better get use to not having any privacy. Where he’s going he’ll be on display twenty-four hours a day.” Buck commented.
“I’m getting the current satellite view from that location and can track any activity on that compound until we’re ready to move in.” JD showed them a current view on his computer screen.
“That’s great JD, you keep it going. Justin and Alex have already begun to interrogate the prisoners from yesterday, to see if we can confirm what Raven sent…either way we’ll be ready to move in within seventy-two hours. Vin, you try to contact Raven. See if anything has changed due to yesterday’s activity. We’ll have to go in by horseback; any other way would call too much attention to our movements.” Chris flipped over the compound map for a look at a broader view.” We can go in here, make camp and then move in on Chambers tomorrow night. What kind of moon will we have?”
“Full moon,” Vin replied.” Should give us enough light to see by, and give us the element of surprise that we need to enter the camp.”
“Going in on horseback is going to limit us on the supplies that we will need to carry to execute such an operation.” Ezra said. “We are going to have to plan carefully of what is absolutely vital for us to have.”
Josiah picked up a pad and pen. “I assume that Vin will sort out the weapons we’ll need. What else?”
“I’ll take care of the medical supplies. With this bunch, I won’t take any chances on not being prepared.”
“We won’t need much. There won’t be any campfire, and we should be on our way back by Monday mornin'. So, light weapons, cold tack, bedrolls, and wear dark clothin'. Ez, you might wanna round up some dynamite. I seem to recall Chambers’s men greetin’ us with some; I’d like to return the favor.” Vin listed what he considered essentials.
“Mr. Tanner, I like how you think.” Standish remarked with a wide grin.
“Kevlar vests for everyone. The added weight may be a hindrance to our movements, but with this bunch I don't want to take any chances of any of us getting shot.” Larabee informed them.” Let’s go over this one more time. Our main objective is to get in and take Chambers and we are not going to instigate a major firefight to do".
“I’ll take care of communications. Pam will coordinate all of us from here, and I will have my palm pilot handy for satellite feeds.” JD stated.
Buck was already making additional plans. “Mark, Alex and Raphael will be our back-up and will be prepared to move in on the Commander’s order to pick up any prisoners. Selina and Mallory will stay here at the ranch for added security while we’re gone. JD, you might want to have Casey, Miss Nettie, and the girls come and stay with Inez. Mal and the kids can stay at the Jackson's. Walter is keeping an eye on Kelli and Max, so that leaves Barbara, and Linda to account for.”
“We know where Chambers is supposed to be for the next three days, do we really need to alarm the kids, at this point, by moving them?” Dunne questioned
“Better to play it safe, than sorry,” Vin answered. “I don’t think any of our families are at risk for one night, but then I didn’t think Bellows would break through the front gate, or that Chambers could get a bomb through our security to my wife either.”
“Point taken, Tanner,” Ezra said thoughtfully. “Barbara will be staying close to Kelli, and I am certain that it would take a team of wild horses to drag Max away from either of them.”
Chris laughed, “That is a sure bet, Ezra. Linda will stay with Matt while we are gone, and he has added extra patrols to ours to make certain that the ranch is secure. I’ll have the warrants, and Travis has arranged to have Harrison and Turner picked up this afternoon. I figure we can ride in close enough to make a cold camp by late tomorrow, and then we’ll wait until after midnight to move in. Are there any questions?” Larabee looked around and saw only satisfied grins on his brother’s faces. This was something they all had been waiting for, and now they would have their chance to take Chambers and the RMR down. “We’ll meet at the barn tomorrow at 0500hrs to load the horses. Okay, you each have preparations to make, get to ‘em, and dinner for everyone at my house at three.”
Nathan pulled Tanner aside. “Vin, I’m concerned about you being on a horse…those stitches…”
Vin laid his hand on Jackson’s shoulder. “I appreciate your worry, but ‘m not lettin' a little thing like stitches stop me from being there when Chambers goes down.” Tanner grinned. “Besides, you’ll be there to patch me up if I fall apart.”
Jackson rolled his eyes and shook his head; he knew it was useless to try to convince Tanner to stay behind. “I will at that.” Nathan reached into his pocket and handed Vin a folded piece of paper. “Bones called me early this morning. He worked all night to finish the autopsy on Bellows and personally tested his blood and tissues. These are the results.”
The Texan fingered the note. “Just tell me.”
“Bellows showed no signs of illness, and his blood was negative for HIV and hepatitis.” Jackson smiled. “No possibility of Aids Vin. I still sent your blood work to the lab, but only as a cautionary procedure. So, you can stop worrying, you…Kel…and, the babies are not at risk.”
Tanner visibly relaxed and then grinned. “Thanks Nathan.”
Chris walked up to the pair. “I see that Nathan told you the good news.” He laid his hand on the Texan’s back. “It’s almost over Vin, after Monday all you’ll have to face is the trial, and we can get down to the business of welcoming three new babies into this family. Don’t forget that you promised to help me build Cody’s nursery.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I have some major rebuildin' to do on my own home, and a nursery to build for the twins, too.”
“Then it is fortunate that you two have several brothers that are willing to assist.” Ezra spoke for all of them that had been listening to the conversation.
Josiah grinned. “You don’t think we trust you two on your own to get it right do you?”
“My specialty is how to prepare for twins, so Vin, I expect to see your plans before you even begin.” JD smiled.
Buck stood between Josiah and JD with a hand on each of their shoulders. “Hell, we know it’s going to take the entire family to get it done. You two can do the actual work, but as uncles we have to make certain you do it right.”
Chris looked them all over, and smiled. “Yep, I’d say we are two damn lucky men.”
Tanner Home ~9:00am
Max and Barbara had gone over to the Wilmington's to help prepare their contributions to this afternoon’s dinner at the Larabee’s. Vin was at Camp Larabee with Chris. It had been a long time since Kelli had found herself alone in the house, well almost alone, it was her, Tracker, and Buttons. She planned to take advantage of it by doing a few things she knew Vin and Max would probably object to. She did not plan anything too strenuous, but she wanted to at least mentally outline the work she wanted included when the repairs were started, and tackle a project or two.
A knock on the back door dashed her plans. She was surprised to see Linda standing there when she opened the door. “Linda…what brings you out so early?”
“I wanted to talk to you…May I come in?”
Kelli stepped back and allowed the blonde to enter. “Truthfully, you are the last person I expected to see.”
Linda laughed. “I can imagine.” She saw the damage to the big room and gasped. “Chris told me what happened, but I didn’t realize the damage was so bad. I tell you Kel…this type of adventure is one thing I won’t miss once I leave here.”
“So, you’re really going?” Kelli asked as she indicated a chair for Linda to sit in.
“Yeah…I suppose it won’t shock you if I admit that Chris was right. I love him, but I am not in love with him. We were good for each other at the right time in our lives, but not for the long run. It took me a while to accept that, and I made a lot of people miserable in the process.”
Kelli studied the blonde. She knew Linda well enough to recognize the ring of truth in her words. Although she hated to see her father’s marriage fail, she was well aware that Linda was not the right woman for him to spend the rest of his life with. They would be in a constant battle against one another if they tried and the children would suffer for it. “I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were lookin’ for Linda.”
“Me too,” Linda sighed. “Most of all I’m sorry I managed to wreck our friendship while I tried to make things go my way. I know we can never be like we were, but I was hoping that…maybe…hell Kelli, we were friends too long to part on bad terms. Do you think we could call a truce, and try to salvage a few months of being friends again?”
Instead of answering her question, Kelli had a few of her own. “Are you really goin’ to just walk away after Cody is born? You can live with that?”
“I have thought about it a lot, and I know me…I can not be happy here, and Chris will not change…he shouldn’t anyway, but he is what our children need. I believe the only reason I am a mother now is because my role in Chris’s’ life was to bring these children into the world for him. Think about it Kel…I am thirty five years old and never even came close to becoming pregnant until I met Chris. I am not mother material and I know it, if I tried to stay, it would not take long for the kids to know it too. This way I can be free to pursue my dreams, and they have a loving dad, a few doting aunts and uncles, including Matt, a ton of cousins, and they will have a wonderful sister that I know will make room in her heart for them….I can live with that.”
“What if you change your mind…?”
“I won’t. I have already made arrangements for a trust fund for all the kids, your new ones included, and Chris promised to keep me supplied with pictures and information about the children. He even agreed that I can see them if I want, but except for a visit once or twice a year I can’t see me wanting more than that. I am giving him full custody, and I am signing my rights as a parent over to him. I would also like to know that should, God forbid, anything happen to Chris that you and Vin would become their guardians. Ezra has already agreed to arrange it, if y’all agree. I don’t feel that I am completely abandoning them, but making certain they have a good life with people that can love them the way they should be loved.”
“You know we would Linda. We love Grace, and Cody already has a special place in our hearts; they are part of our family, too.” Kelli saw the determine look in Linda’s eyes. “Obviously you have thought about this and if you are certain that this is what you want…I will try my damnest to support you on it. I won’t pretend that I understand it, or agree, but I can wish you well, and at least we can part on good terms.”
Linda exhaled and visibly relaxed. “That’s all I ask Kel. I know that you have found what you have been looking for all of your life here with Vin and the Wild Bunch. You have a Father that loves you and a family of your own to fuss over. I’ve always had family, now I want the freedom that you had before you met Vin.” Linda laughed. “The irony is you never knew how much I wanted to be like you, strong and independent, and you wanted the family I found too restrictive. Maybe this way we can both have what we wanted.”
Kelli thoughtfully nodded. She may not be able to understand a mother walking away from her children, but she did understand Linda and her never-ending quest to have more than she had. “I sincerely hope you find what you’re lookin’ for Linda.”
“Thanks, it means a lot to me for you to say that.” Linda brightened. “Now, has your doctor told you about the new birthing center at the hospital?”
“She mentioned it, but I don’t know many details.”
“Well, it opens May first, and that means you and I both get to use it. It is first class all the way. The labor room and delivery room are the same and the décor is restful and a helluva lot more agreeable than that bland labor room I had with Grace.” Linda dug in her bag and handed Kelli some papers. “I brought you some pictures and information on it. It’s a labor room with a more home-like environment. I can have music, a queen-size bed that I can stay in even after delivery and lots of room …”
Kelli took the pictures and smiled. This was the Linda she had known so well, being one of the first to use this birthing center was just what the blonde would have ordered. The redhead sat back and let Linda continue to talk, giving her all the details. Her projects could wait; she could make time for what might be one of the last opportunities to visits with her old friend.
Larabee Home~ 3:00pm
It felt good to Chris to have the entire family back in his home for a casual dinner…almost like it used to be. Max was supervising in the kitchen with Linda’s blessing; in fact she was making a sincere effort to make it a pleasant day for everyone. The children had bounced back from the scare Bellows had given everyone yesterday, and were in fine form this afternoon. After they finished their mission concerning Chambers, Larabee hoped there would be more family time for everyone, at least for a short while, before they had to start on a new case. The last year had been hard on all of them, and now it was time to look toward the future.
“Chris, I don’t know how you convinced Linda to do this, but it is just what we all needed after yesterday.” Buck stood next to his oldest friend, just outside the front door, while they could watch the kids play, and still had a good view of the crowd inside.
“I didn't have to convince her, Buck.” Larabee said softly, his eyes straying onto the form of his pregnant wife as she paused in the doorway of the living room, her eyes glancing over everyone to see if there was anything that they might need until they came to rest momentarily on him. They exchanged a brief smile, before she disappeared back into the kitchen and he turned his attention back on the conversation that he was having with Buck. “It was all her idea. She wanted to do something to help us forget about yesterday.”
“Then make sure to tell her how much I, for one, appreciate it.” Buck replied.
“I will, in fact since we have agreed to disagree about our future, we talk a helluva a lot easier than we used to.” Chris noted. “Just because we choose not to remain married doesn’t mean we can’t be civil to one another.”
Buck watched Chris as he spoke so casually about his and Linda’s impending separation, and for a moment he wished there was something he could do to hold this place in time for his friend, but he knew that was impossible. The only thing he could do was to be there for Chris and his children, and pray that someday Larabee would give love another chance. “Hey…Maria, you stop that!” He saw his daughter about to throw a snowball at her Uncle Vin as he approached the Larabee home with his family, and felt he needed to intercede
Vin easily dodged the snowball that his niece threw in his direction. “A little snow isn't goin' to kill me, Bucklin. Relax.”
“In case it slipped your mind Tanner, you were injured yesterday,” Buck retorted.
“Yeah and if I can take on bad guys, wrestle with Jason, and have Andi climb all over me, one little imp is not going to hurt me with a snowball.” Jason and Andi ran on inside with Caleb, but Vin stopped to give Maria a hug, and as he did he whispered something in her ear. The little darling smiled, and then turned to throw another snowball at her dad.
Wilmington dodged just in time to miss the icy blow, but when he did it hit Chris instead. “Uh oh.” Buck grabbed his daughter, and then hurriedly took her inside the house along with the other giggling children.
“What's your rush, Buck?” Chris called after him with a grin on his face as he wiped the snow off of him.
“You should have moved faster Dad.” Kelli grinned as Vin took her arm to secure her walk up the porch steps. “You really should have seen that one coming.” Larabee shot his daughter a warning glare, but it was ineffectual on the redhead, who said cheekily, “Old age must be catchin' up to you.”
“Not so old that I can’t extract some payback from an insolent daughter.” Chris tried to look stern, but she just kissed him on the cheek and continued on inside.
“Nice try Chris, but it don’t work on that one…I should know.” Tanner grinned. “Face it; she has your number and mine.”
Chris laughed. “That she does. Come on, you two are the last to arrive and Ezra is chomping at the bit to say something to all of us.”
“I hope he says it in a language we can understand.” Vin mumbled as he followed Larabee inside.
Ezra had indeed been waiting for everyone to arrive and since dinner was at least fifteen minutes away from being ready, he took the opportunity to gain their attention. “I shall try to be brief; however I do require your attention for a few minutes.”
“You got it Ez. Just get on with whatever you have to say.” Buck urged.
“In due time sir, Barbara and I have an announcement to make. As you know we are to be married April the eighth. We have decided that we wish to exchange our vows here on the ranch…with our family in attendance. We have also made another decision…Barbara is taking a leave of absence from her job and we hope, with your blessings, to start a new endeavor here on the Larabee 7.”
“What kind of new endeavor?” JD questioned. “Are you saying you want to start a family or what?
“No…I mean eventually yes we do, but that is not what we are discussing. I have been in negotiations with our neighbor Matthew Dubois, and he has agreed to allow us to purchase, at a very reasonable price a strip of land between his property and the Larabee 7. We will be building a home on it, but also a barn, training arena and suitable bunkhouses on land that he is willing to donate.”
“Are you going into the ranching business Ezra?” Chris asked.
“No, Chris...” Barbara spoke up. “A friend of mine is looking for a partner to help run a camp for emotionally and physically challenged underprivileged children. Therapeutic riding uses equine-orientated activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well being of people with disabilities. It also provides benefits in the area of therapy, education, sport, recreation and leisure. My friend works with children, and her dream has always been to set up a place that is conducive to helping kids that are either physically or emotionally scarred. I have agreed to help her.”
“With the land that Matt has agreed to donate and hopefully that we will match from the Larabee 7, we can make that dream a reality, and help a lot of children as well as young adults in the process.” Ezra added.
Josiah spoke up. “I am familiar with that type of therapy and I think it is an excellent idea. What do you need from us?”
“We need a donation of land, which is of course a tax write off for the ranch, permission to allow the building of such a facility this close to your homes, and your help.” Standish outlined.
Chris looked at his brothers and saw all of them nod yes. “We just took a vote. I think we have enough space to go around, and if you think this is doable, then we'll help any way we can.”
“I will have a written proposal for y’all to look at before the end of the week.” Standish accepted their vote. “Just one more thing… We...Barbara and I ask that in lieu of any wedding presents that you donate some of your time and vast array of skills to help put this together.”
“Hell Ez, we’d do that anyway.” Vin answered. “Startin’ somethin’ like this here on the ranch is great. We’ve heard some fantastic reports through the foster parent program about how kids respond to animals when they won’t respond to doctors or therapist. This will be good for all of us, and even our children can get involved.”
“I would love to help, in fact JD and I have been discussing the possibility of me going back to school, and this is exactly the type of work I wanted to do.” Casey said excitedly. “Working with kids is rewarding, but to help them through animal therapy is a challenge I can’t wait to get started on.”
“You can count on me and Rain for whatever you need us to do.” Nathan responded for both of them.
“Mallory and I would love the chance to be involved.” Josiah stated.
“You know me and Inez will do what we can to help.” Buck nodded in agreement.
Matt grinned. “It looks as if we found something else to agree on Larabee.”
Chris laughed. “Keep this up Dubois, and we might just get to be friends.”
Max came out of the kitchen and made her announcement. “Dinner is buffet style and on the table. The kids are already seated, and eating, so come and get it while it’s hot.”
Tanner looked over to his wife, the sight of Kelli holding Tannis almost took his breath away. She had always had the ability to affect him, but since she had become pregnant he found her even more incredibly beautiful and desirable. Kelli knew he loved her, but she had no idea how much her presence in his life meant to him, and probably wouldn't believe him if he told her. “I’ll check on Jason and Andi before I round us up some food.” Vin stopped her from getting up. “Besides, you and Tannis look too damn comfortable.”
“I’m not helpless you know,” she smiled, “but this time I’ll let you.” She was enjoying spending some time with the newest member of the Wild Bunch.
Barbara sat down next to the redhead while Ezra made his way over to the table to get their food. “Kel, there is something I’ve been meaning to ask you.” She hesitated briefly. “I want you to be my Matron of Honor, if you’re willing.”
“I would love to, but Barbara by the time of your weddin' I’ll probably be as big as a house, and you may not want me in the wedding party.”
“Kel, you are the closest friend I’ve had in a long time, I really would be honored if you accepted. We don’t want a big pretentious affair, our wedding is all about family, and having you and your babies stand up with me would make me happy.”
“If you’re certain, then I accept, but I have to insist that you let me do my duty as Matron of Honor, and help you with the plannin’.”
“Deal,” Barbara grinned as Ezra and Vin returned with their food.
Vin set their plates down and took Tannis from Kelli. “I think her mama is ready for her.” He left long enough to hand the baby over to Inez and then returned to sit next to his wife. “So, what kind of deal are you two cookin’ up?”
Kelli has agreed to help me plan the wedding here on the ranch.” Barbara informed him. She also has agreed to be my Matron of Honor.”
Ezra grinned. “Great minds think alike love. I just asked Vin to be my best man and he agreed.”
“You two are welcome to base out of our house while you build your home, and work on setting up the new facilities. We have plenty of room, and that way I can count on you, Ezra, to be my baby-sitter, and keep the prosecutors happy.” Vin offered.
“We’ll help however we can, I think what you have decided to take on is absolutely fantastic for all of us. Vin and I are suspendin’ ourselves as foster parents, for a while because of the current situation, but this way we can still be involved with helpin’ kids.” Kelli added.
Ezra looked to Barbara and she nodded. “Thank you, we will take you up on your offer, and don’t worry there will be plenty for everyone to do.”
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly and Chris decided to herd his brothers toward their homes. Tomorrow would be a long day for them, and he wanted them well-rested before they took Chambers on. “I’ll see all of you at 0500hrs, get plenty of sleep. Eat a good breakfast and be prepared for anything.”
“Yes dad,” Tanner stood up and grinned. “We’ll behave, see ya’ll in the mornin’.”
“Young upstart,” Chris muttered. “You make certain Nathan checks out that injury and he gives his approval for you to go Tanner.”
Nathan laughed; he knew that Texan would go if he was on his last leg. “I’ll stop on my way home to look at it Vin.”
“Goodnight brothers.” Josiah said as he and his family walked out the door.
“Night Chris, and thanks Linda, for the dinner.” Buck said his good-byes, and gathered his family to leave.
“See you guys in the morning.” JD hoisted Lilah onto his shoulder as Casey picked up Daisy.
Ezra stopped in front of Larabee. Thank you for your support on our project Chris. Barbara and I will be staying at the Tanner’s tonight, so he will have me as his protection detail.”
Chris nodded. “Keep your ears open Standish. Things should be quiet, but you never know.”
Larabee closed the door as the last of the Wild Bunch departed and he began to pick up. “Thanks Linda, it meant a lot to all of us to be together today.”
“I gathered that from all the smiles. Leave this mess Chris, Louisa and Mila will be in tomorrow to clean up, while I’m at the Southern Breeze. If you’re going out on assignment in the morning you should probably get to bed early.” Linda had been in a thoughtful mood since she had left Kelli this morning. “By the way I did work things out with Kel, she may not agree with what I’ve done, but she and I did reach a tentative truce.”
“I’m glad, it will be better for both of you to part on good terms.” Chris sat down on the couch and propped his feet up. “Did you ask her what you wanted to about the kids?”
“Yes, and she agreed, so we can tell Standish to proceed.” Linda sat down next to her husband. “She asked me if I was sure about making this decision.”
That statement drew all of Chris’s attention. “What did you tell her?”
“The truth,” Linda sighed. “All this time I fought so hard to do things my way. I was unable to see what was right in front of me. I told her that I loved you, but that I was not in love with you, and admitting it was…it’s difficult to describe, but I felt as if a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. We were good for each other Chris, but not meant for one another…does that make sense?”
Chris was already nodding his head. “Yeah…yeah it does. We did have our moments, and I have no regrets.”
“I may be a terrible mother, and a bitchy wife, but you have to admit that we were good between the sheets.” Linda laughed.” I think that is what I am going to miss the most, Cowboy.” Linda looked over to Chris. “Grace is sleeping. You think we could…at least one more time? No strings attached?”
Larabee looked at the woman that had given him his beautiful daughter and now carried his son. Their marriage may be over, but there was no reason they could not share these last few weeks before their son was born. They were still married, and still had that strong sexual attraction that had brought them together in the first place.
Chris grinned. “Anything is possible.” Her desire filled voice sent shivers down his spine. They may only have a short time left, but …they would both have time to make some good memories to replace the bad ones.
Larabee 7 ~ February 4th ~0500hrs
The air was cold and crisp, and the weather report called for clearing skies with a slight warming trend. Chris would not allow Vin to help with the horses, due to his injury, instead Larabee, Buck, and Josiah tended to the loading, and Tanner was only allowed to close the trailer doors. The Ram pulled a trailer that held four of the horses, and Vin’s Silverado pulled a trailer that held three more. Their gear was loaded, and the brothers were on the road by 0530hrs, the drive would take close to four hours with the extra weight of the trailers, but they would still have plenty of daylight to reach their designated camping place. The rest of the team had their assignments, and their Commander had no doubt they would be in there when he called for them.
“Vin, you should let Josiah drive, you need all the rest you can get.” Nathan fussed over the injured Texan.
“Damnit, I can drive my own truck. It’s not like I have to push the damn thing.” Tanner grumbled thinking to himself that he probably owed Kelli an apology for all the extra fussing he did over her. It was downright annoying.
“Fine, but I don’t want to hear you call for my help when you fall flat on your ass.” Jackson climbed into Chris’s truck with JD and Buck, leaving Ezra, Josiah, and Vin to follow them.
Chris took the lead and drove the back roads towards the mountains, making certain that they were not followed from the ranch. It was the long way into the area that the RMR camp was supposed to be located, but they wanted to go in undetected. Larabee knew from previous missions that the only way to take down a man like Chambers, without several casualties, was to take him by surprise. Larabee's family had already paid too high of a price from dealing with that madman, and his private militia. Chris had no intention of the cost going higher.
Mountain Area ~ West of Denver ~0900hrs
They parked the vehicles in a secluded area for their other teammates to pick up later, and unloaded the horses. Each man held his thoughts privately as they went through the routine of saddling their mounts, and packing their saddlebags. The RMR and Karl Chambers had been a thorn in their sides since last October. They were responsible for the death of FBI Agent Abbott, the brutal attack of Paul Roberts, and the attempted murder of Nathan Jackson along with destroying his home. The ranch had been breeched three times; first, to try and kill Jackson and then antipersonnel mines had been planted for their children to find, and finally an all out assault last Friday. Vin had endured weeks of hell as Dusty Slater, been present to see Josiah and Rain nearly killed, and then his, and Nathan’s families had been harassed and targeted for death. Tanner also had to console his son when he saw the bounty Chambers put out on him, rescue his pregnant wife from a package bomb, and then confront Bellows, killing him while being injured in the process. Enough was enough.
Chris gathered them together and laid out a map on the hood of his truck. “This is the route we’ll take." He pointed to lines that he had drawn on the map. “We’ll get to this point by mid-afternoon, make camp and wait for nightfall. No one goes past that point without a Kevlar, and we will take the last half mile in on foot. Mount up boys, and let’s ride.”
Vin was a little slower at mounting Peso than what he usually was, and his horse knew it. Tanner did his best to ignore the pain that shot through his chest as he guided the horse in the direction of the trail they were going to take and waited for the others to join him.
“You okay?” Larabee asked, noting the grimace on his face.
Vin nodded. “I'm alright...just a mite sore, let’s move.”
The blond shook his head, knowing that Tanner was purposely downplaying just how much pain he was in so that he and the others wouldn't worry too much about him. They rode at a steady pace stopping once to rest the horses, and had a lunch that consisted of cold biscuits, beef jerky, and water. Larabee rested with his back against a tree and Buck walked over to join him.
“Chris, you know that Vin has no business being out here. He should be at home healing.”
“Maybe Buck, but he has unfinished business out here, and he deserves a chance to see this through to the end. We’ll just have to make certain he doesn’t get killed while he’s doing that.”
“Then I guess us old dogs will just have to keep watch over the pup.” Buck looked over to where the Texan appeared to be sleeping, although Wilmington knew better. Even injured Vin was more alert out here than any of the rest of them. This was where he felt most at home, and his senses excelled in the wilderness.
Tanner had to refrain from smirking as he listened to the quiet conversation going on between Wilmington and Larabee. He appreciated Buck's concern for his health, and knew that Chris and his other brothers were worried as well, but he had no intention of forgoing seeing this thing to the end. While the other members of his family had been in danger as well, Chambers had marked him as a wanted man and specifically targeted his wife and children, and he was going to be there when they brought the RMR leader down. He gave no indication that he was awake and listening into their conversation, but felt a bit chagrined a moment later when he heard Larabee's voice in his head.
*You broadcast any louder and everyone is going to hear you.*
*Can't a man think without you eavesdropping in on him?* he shot back and heard Larabee's quiet chuckle fill his head.
Aloud, Larabee said to Wilmington, “We'll keep watch on him and on each other as well. The RMR doesn't exactly play by the rules and will do anything they can to stop us from taking Chambers into custody.”
“You got that right.” Buck agreed
Chris stood up. “Let’s move out, we have another two to three hours before we get to our campsite. I want everyone well-rested before we move in tonight.” Bodies began to move and within ten minutes they were riding further into the mountains.
Mountains of Denver ~2200hrs
Upon their arrival at their intended campsite, the seven men had made quick work of setting up cold camp, fixing a quick meal, and spreading out on the ground to rest up for their impending mission. As the time grew nearer and the moon began to rise they mentally prepared for the job before them.
While Larabee went over the details of the plan once again, Nathan tended to Tanner's wound. Vin had managed not to tear any of the stitches in the ride up to their present location, but the wound around the stitches was nevertheless reddened due to aggravation. Wisely Jackson kept his mouth shut as he applied some antiseptic to the wound, causing a hiss to escape from between Vin's mouth in reaction to the stinging that set in after he had done so. Nathan rewrapped the wound with clean bandages and tossed the soiled ones into a plastic bag he carried with him.
“Our only way into the RMR compound is through the front gate, which isn't going to be easy.” Chris told them. “The sentries on duty will most likely refuse us access, but we will show them the warrants that we have and make our entrance. Under no circumstances do we initiate hostile actions with them, but once they have done so, defend yourselves and each other at all costs. Our main goal in this endeavor is to get to Chambers, secure custody of him, and then take control of the compound. “
“Chris, you don’t expect them to let us in just because we have a warrant, do you.” JD asked.
“No, that’s why we’ll have to neutralize the sentries the second they turn hostile, before they can alert the others.” Chris shifted the map. “The back of the compound is against the mountain base, so we know Chambers has no way out in that direction. Josiah, I want you and JD on the east side, Buck, you and Vin on the west. Nathan, I want you to come in with me and Ezra through the front gates.”
Wilmington nodded his head, “Sounds good.”
“Just remember that I trained some of these men, so subduin' them or takin' them down isn't goin' to be very easy. Karl Chambers is one paranoid sonofabitch.” Tanner spoke up. “So be alert for anythin'. In their minds they are soldiers at war, and we are the enemy. Killin’ the enforcers is the only thing they will be lookin’ to do.”
“Enforcers Vin?” Ezra raised a brow.
“Government agents, Ez, they don’t recognize Federal authority. We are their enemy.” Tanner explained.
Larabee checked his watch. “Ten-thirty, paint up, and let’s break camp. We’ll ride within a half mile of the compound and then go the rest of the way on foot.”
Nathan pulled out the camouflage face paint they would use to cover any exposed skin. Even very dark skin, because of its natural oil, would reflect light, so they worked in pairs. Shiny areas, such as the forehead, cheekbones, nose, ears, and chin were painted with a dark color, and shadow areas, around the eyes, under the nose, and under the chin, were painted with a light color. In addition to the face, exposed skin on the back of the neck, arms, and hands were also painted. Each team member also wore dark clothing and covered their heads with black watch caps. Kevlar vests were adjusted, weapons were secured and their badges were attached to a chain they wore around their necks and tucked inside their shirts.
Chris gave them all the once over and nodded his approval. “We’ll use hand signals to communicate, keep those radio silent, and talking will be kept to a minimum. Watch your backs.” He mounted Pony and the others quickly followed his lead, mounted their horses and they were ready for whatever was waiting for them.
Vin positioned Peso into second place behind Chris and Pony on the trail, his blue eyes continuously scanning the area around them, and his ears straining to pick up sounds that weren't natural to the environment.
Buck came next and was in the process of mentally preparing himself for the raid on the RMR compound. He was confident that they could handle Chambers and his men, but he wasn't stupid enough not to realize the risks involved, and found himself thinking of his wife and children.
JD was a bundle of nervous energy that he tried to keep under control as much as possible, knowing that it could be distracting to the others as they prepared themselves for the mission they were embarking on. The faces of the three girls in his life drifted foremost into his mind, and he fervently hoped that he would see them all again.
Nathan followed after JD and was running down the list of medical items he had brought with him, hoping he hadn't left something vital behind, and didn't have to end up using any of it.
Josiah was saying a quiet prayer of protection for him and his brothers that they would succeed in their task at hand without any serious injuries to themselves, or too much bloodshed lost on the side of the RMR members. He asked that the Lord's presence would be with all the wives and children as they waited at home for their husbands to return safe and sound.
Ezra brought up the rear and was going over tactical maneuvers in his head, and the schematics of the RMR compound. He liked to refresh himself on the layout of a particular raid and each of their jobs within it, until it was firmly implanted into his head. As they neared the destination where they would continue on foot, Ezra's last thoughts were on Barbara.
The horses were left tied to tree limbs or staked to the ground near a stream so that they couldn't take off, and would have both food and water for the duration of their stay. As they had formed up on the horses, they repeated their order on foot. Larabee led the way, while Standish brought up the rear. Careful attention was now paid toward muffling the sounds of their movements through the underbrush and trees as they made their way toward the RMR compound. It would not do to blow the element of their surprise, regardless of the fact that Chris, Ezra and Nathan were going through the front gate. They wanted to give the RMR members the illusion that there were more than just the seven of them, and that illusion would be blown if they somehow gave themselves away before they even arrived.
When they were less than fifty feet away, Vin suddenly grabbed Chris and yanked him backwards. “What the fu..?” Larabee hissed at Tanner, even as Vin dropped into a crouch and signaled for the others to do so as well.
Silently Vin pointed to the thin wire that stretched across the pathway that they were on and Larabee stilled instantly. *Booby traps.* Evidently, Chambers had instituted another new tactic after receiving the news of Bellow’s failure. Tanner motioned with his hand for them to stay where they were, before rising slowly and following the thin wire along its pathway. JD's heart thumped wildly in his chest as he realized just how much higher the risks had just increased of one of them getting hurt or killed on this mission.
Six brothers waited motionlessly for their seventh to come back. Vin returned a few long minutes later, wearing a wide grin on his face and holding a large knapsack in his arms. He opened it up and showed them the sack of grenades he had confiscated from the traps the RMR had set up in that area. Chris knew that the Texan probably knew more about the mindset of the RMR than any of them, and motioned to him that he should take the lead until they actually reached the compound. Tanner swung the sack over his shoulder, and set the pace a bit more cautiously, as he continually scanned the area directly in front of him and around them, looking for any sign of more traps. They came across one more when they were only ten feet away and he soon took care of it. Five feet more down the path and they were suddenly at a clearing with no trees or bushes, only hard ground that led up to the fencing of the compound and their was a collective sigh of relief from all seven men. This was where they needed to split up, and to do so with more traps possibly lying in wait for the men was slightly unnerving.
Vin distributed some of the grenades to the other men before he and Buck took off toward the West side of the compound. They would use rope and hooks to scale the wooden fence and get inside. When they reached a good place, the two men worked quickly to remove rock climbing gear from the lightweight packs they had brought with them. The hook clunking against the wood as it embedded itself in the wood made an ominous sound in the quiet night. After a couple of moments passed without any retaliating noises, Buck and Vin breathed sighs of relief, and began their ascent over the fence and down the other side. Tanner fought against the pain that the movements spiked through his chest, determined not to let anything stop him from fulfilling his part in the mission.
Josiah and JD reached their assigned area on the east side, and went to work on securing their rock climbing equipment and maneuvering themselves over the fence and into the compound. Once they had both touched ground, they cautiously sought shelter behind one of the buildings and waited. Any second now, Chris, Ezra and Nathan would be making their approach to the front gates.
Chris pulled the warrant out of his back pocket, and released the safety on his weapon. Motioning to Ezra and Nathan to flank him he crossed the clearing and confronted the guard in front of the gate, by shoving his pistol into the man’s side. “Federal Agents… we have a warrant …Hell.” The man started to shout an alert to the rest of the compound, but Larabee silenced him with a right hook. Standish dragged the body away from the gate and tied his hands, taking the added precaution of gagging him, before the trio slipped through the front entrance into the darkened compound.
*We're inside...* Larabee sent to Vin, who in turn let out a low bird call to alert JD and Josiah everything was a go.
Vin and Buck stayed to the side of the fence, moving steadily closer to the location where Chambers was believed to be. A door to one of the buildings opened and a solitary figure stumbled out into the darkness. Vin moved forward and dispatched the resistance member before he even knew what had happened. He dragged the man back behind the building, tied him up and gagged him, and then he and Buck continued moving.
JD followed Josiah as they began moving past the row of bungalow styled houses that served as bunks for the members. “Jed, this ain't no time to be playing hide and seek.” A voice suddenly said from behind them and both JD and Josiah whirled around in surprise. It took only about a second for the two MCAT agents to realize this RMR member was inebriated and thought that JD was someone else.
“Uh yeah... you’re right.” JD said quietly, approaching the man. Josiah tensely watched his youngest brother, determined to act if necessary to protect him. The moment JD stepped close enough, he saw the man's eye widen as he realized that the man before him wasn't familiar at all to him. JD coldcocked him with the butt of his weapon and watched with relief as the man slumped to the ground. Quickly the two men tied him up, dragged him out of sight, and then continued moving.
One by one the RMR members who were either on sentry and patrol duty, or otherwise still awake at such a late hour were taken care of and the seven men converged into a group. Then they began their approach toward the bungalow at the back of the compound in which Chambers resided. His guards were efficiently dispatched as well and Vin led the way into the bungalow where Chambers lay sleeping. Ezra took the window, while Josiah stood watch at the door. “Rise and shine, sleepin’ beauty,” Vin said, landing a solid whack to Chambers’s foot.
“What in the hell? …YOU! Where in the hell did you come from?” Chambers grabbed for his gun and found it missing.
“Looking for this?” Buck grinned, and held up Karl’s personal weapon.
“You bastards! You come in here in the dead of night and think you can get away with this? No way, my men …”
“Your men are busy, or will be in a few minutes.” Nathan took the arrest warrant from Larabee. “Karl Chambers you are under arrest for murder of FBI Agent Abbott, attempted murder of a Federal officer, and conspiracy to commit murder, among other things. You have the right to remain silent...”
“Fuck you! No nigger is going to arrest me! You will never get me into an enforcer’s jail…the resistance will not stand for it!” Chambers began to rant.
Larabee threateningly grabbed Chambers by the throat. “You fucked with my family! Count your blessings that unlike you, I’m a law-abiding man and am only taking you in…what I want to do is rip your head off and feed it to the god damn animals. Now shut the hell up and listen to your rights before I forget I am an officer of the law!” Chris tightened his grip on the man's throat and watched as Karl's face turned almost purple.
“I would listen to the man, if I were you. He can be downright mean.” Josiah took on his preaching tone.
“Yeah, and right now he’s in a good mood. You sure don’t want to piss him off.! JD added.
“Gentlemen, I hate to interrupt, but can we get on with this.” Ezra sighed as he kept watch out the window for any signs of movement in the compound.
“Judgment day has arrived Karl, and you are goin' to prison where you belong!” Vin snarled as Chris let go of Karl's neck, handcuffed the older man, and then half shoved, half dragged him out of the shelter.
“Hey...what's going on?” A voice called out from the location of the row of the outhouses.
A collective curse went up from the mouths of all seven MCAT agents, as they realized that things were going to turn downright ugly in a minute. Obviously the man had been in the outhouse when they were working the rounds and knocking out the patrols and sentries and in the darkness was not seen.
“So much for easy,” Tanner drawled.
The stray member of the militia was also across the way from them, and there was no way any of them could reach him to quiet him by force, so Larabee did the next best thing. “Standish now would be a good time to liven things up.” The other six men surrounded the trussed up Chambers and prepared to defend their hold on the prisoner at all cost.
“Diversionary measures are coming right up Commander.” Ezra exclaimed as he dug into his bag and began extracting sticks of dynamite. Already a clamor was starting in the row of bungalows as the sleeping members were startled awake by the sound of shouting. He extracted a lighter, lit the first stick and tossed it through the air. The building housing the RMR's munitions stockpile exploded, sending wood and embers shooting first into the sky, and then outward, causing the MCAT agents to all duck as dangerous projectiles flew through the air.
“Damn, Ezra! Good throw!” Buck exclaimed as they all rose back up into upright positions as they readied themselves to take on the two dozen or so men streaming out of the bungalows toward them. Standish continued to lob sticks of dynamite, lessening the odds against them, but soon all seven men were in for a fight. In such tight proximity, they did not risk using their guns for fear of actually shooting one of their brothers by mistake.
Vin swept the legs out from under the first man that came at him, and then moved into a roundhouse kick that toppled the second man. Chris was going blow for blow with his opponent. JD and Buck partnered up as they normally did and traded off blows and kicks to the men who had set their sights on them.
Josiah grabbed two men by the backs of their necks and slammed their heads together, effectively knocking them out, before something hit him on the back of the head and he fell to his knees.
Nathan had dispatched the first man that came at him, and then quickly caught the end of the baseball bat that had been used on Josiah, pulling it out of the man's hand that had done harm to his brother. He flip the bat over in his hands and swung it as hard as he could, smashing the man's kneecap and sending him onto the ground shrieking in pain.
Ezra grappled on the ground with the man who was trying to throttle the life out of him, cursing fluidly in several languages as he thought of the dry cleaning expense his clothes were going to cost him.
Chris sent another man flying head over heels, scrambled onto his feet and turned just in time to see Chambers trying to run away in all of the commotion. He darted after the leader of the RMR, but Nathan reached Chambers first and grabbed him by the back of the neck. “Going somewhere?”
“Get your nigger hands off of me!” Chambers spat at Jackson. Nathan slugged him and Chambers crumpled to the ground unconscious.
Within fifteen minutes the battle was over. The fight weary MCAT agents glanced at each other to see that everyone was okay, and then onto their handiwork. Most of the RMR agents lay unconscious or hurt on the ground. They handcuffed, or tied up all the prisoners. JD, and Ezra, took pleasure in keeping them under armed guard.
Chris snapped on his radio. “Justin, have the team move in to clean-up this garbage, and take them into custody.” The state police were also waiting with the rest of the team with a prison bus to provide transport for the prisoners. Larabee had elected to keep other federal agencies out of this particular takedown.
Nathan immediately began to examine his brothers starting with Josiah, who sat on the ground rubbing the back of his head. “Hold still and let me see.” Jackson was relieved to see that the skin was not broken and Sanchez’s eyes looked good. “You may have one hell of a headache, but I don’t think we have to worry about a concussion. You have a hard head my friend.” Nathan turned to Tanner. “You’re next, take off that vest and strip out of that shirt.”
“Nate, ‘m fine…” Vin started.
“Shut up Tanner and do what the man says.” Chris ordered as the compound began to fill up with MCAT agents, forensics and additional officers to take custody of the prisoners.
“You worry too much, Cowboy.” Tanner complained as he removed his Kevlar and then his shirt, allowing Jackson to examine his wound.
Nathan cleansed the sutured area and although he did not like the redness that surrounded it, he felt that Tanner was in fair shape. “I think the redness is from the heat of wearing that vest, but when we get home I want you to have a doctor look at that, just to be on the safe side.”
Tanner sighed, “Will do. Now can I put my shirt back on?”
The medic laughed. “Yes, just leave the vest off.”
Greg Ramsey stepped out of the small building that Chambers used as an office. “Commander Larabee, Captain Tanner, you might want to take a look at something we found.”
Chris entered first leaving Vin to cross the space in front of the area where their prisoners sat. The Texan stopped in front of Karl Chambers and crouched down. “You’re a soldier Chambers; you should have left my family out of this.”
Chambers looked up at him and grinned. “Made you squirm didn’t I? Don’t get too cocky Tanner, a lot can happen between now and the time we are to meet in a courtroom. Your laws don’t apply to me, this is war, and you have made me a political prisoner. My army will not allow that.” Karl lowered his voice so that only Vin heard his next words. “I’m betting that you’ll be a dead man long before that happens, and with you not there to testify…I’ll be a free man again. Then I’ll make certain that your family joins you in hell.”
Tanner took the bait and lunged at the prisoner, shouting, “You sonofabitch!”
“Easy Vin,” Buck grabbed Tanner. “He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” Wilmington pulled Tanner off the prisoner, and held on to the Texan until he was certain that his temper was under control. “Go on in with Chris, I got it covered out here.”
Vin shot Chambers a blazing glare that was so intense, the man was forced to turn away. “If he breathes the wrong way Bucklin, shoot the bastard.” Tanner continued on to join Chris and the forensic unit in Chambers’s office.
“You get lost Tanner?” Chris looked up from reading the papers in his hands as Vin walked in.” Federal prosecutor is on his way in; this ought to make his day. There is enough here to link over thirty different resistance groups all over the country to a series of unsolved crimes.” Larabee handed him a folder. “I thought you might be interested in this one.”
Tanner opened the folder and immediately paled as he realized that it was all about him, his family, his work, his life. There were numerous pictures of Kelli, Jason and Andi, along with a diagram of the Denver memorial Hospital maternity wing. “Fuckin’ sonofabitch wasn’t gonna give up was he?”
“No, and there are other folders with all our names on them.” He threw down files labeled, Larabee, Wilmington, Jackson, Dunne, Sanchez, and Standish. “That is one crazy bastard, who used his ties to white supremacy groups to cover his criminal activities, and it will be a pleasure to see him pay the ultimate price.”
“I want him in solitary and watched twenty-four-seven. He talks to anyone we need to know. I don’t think he is gonna let a little thing like incarceration stop him.” Vin ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t trust his associates Chris, but I need you to talk to the prosecutors and get me out of PC.”
Chris knew how hard it had been for the Texan to lose his privacy, and the rollercoaster of emotions that had consumed him since this whole mess started. As the man in charge of MCAT when Nathan and Paul were attacked, he was in a difficult position, and had some hard decisions to make. Then as Dusty Slater he had to put up with living with the prejudice and malice daily, and finally as a man trying to protect his family. This bust should be the beginning of the end of the stress this case had placed on Tanner and his family; he deserved to regain some peace in his life. “I’ll see what I can do Vin, and I’ll make certain Chambers is housed in a high security area.” Larabee laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I wish I had been there for you from the start, but when you talk to Raven, tell him your brother said thanks for the help.” Chris took the folder out of Vin’s hands and laid it with the others. “It’s over brother; except for the formalities… let it go.”
“I hope you’re right Chris, but I don’t plan on lettin’ my guard down just yet.”
Tanner Home ~ Wednesday February 28th- ~7:00am
The last four weeks had flown by. Between kids, wedding preparations for Ezra and Barbara, court appearances, and repairing the damage to their home, Vin could not believe that it was time for the big event. Today Kelli was scheduled for another ultrasound, and if their children cooperated, they would know whether to expect boys, girls, or one of each. Not that it mattered to either of them. All they wanted were healthy babies and a problem free delivery; however it would calm down the running argument between Jason and Andi. As the Texan stood by the coffeepot to pour himself a second cup, the disagreement began again.
“They’ll listen to me Andi, I am their older brother.” Jason stated firmly before taking another bite of eggs.
“Uh uh, you’re not the boss.” Andi yelled. “Daaad! Make him stop tellin’ the babies to be boys.”
“I can tell ‘em if I want to. Right Dad?”
“Y’all can talk to ‘em all you want, but boys or girls, we’re all gonna love ‘em just the same.” Vin sighed; this had been going on since Jason had heard Kelli say the babies responded to voices. He had been ‘talking’ to them every chance he got, and then Andi picked up on it and the verbal battle had commenced. Of course Jason wanted more boys, while Andi was insistent on the babies being girls. Neither of them comprehended that there was no choice, whatever sex the new arrivals were to be had already been predestined. “Jason, get a move on it, Aunt Casey will be here any minute to pick you up for class. Hopefully by the time Aunt Rain finishes with your studies today we’ll all know whether the babies are boys, or girls.”
Casey walked in on the tail end of the conversation with Lilah, and Daisy, “Morning gang.”
“Mornin’ Casey,” Vin took a sip of coffee. “I take it that Nettie is still in Arizona. How is her sister?”
“Yep, her sister is better, but Nettie decided to stay for a while, said she had some things to catch up on.” Casey laughed. “I think she just likes the warmer weather, she is really tired of all the cold we’ve had this year.”
Max entered the room with Grace to greet the Dunnes. “Hello girls. Are you ready to join me, and Grace for some morning stories?”
Watching her daughters toddle over to Max, Casey sighed. “Helping Rain with this home schooling has convinced me that I needed to practice leaving the girls. I’m glad you and Chris decided to keep it going the rest of the semester Vin.”
“The last thing we need is to be worried about the kids in school. It makes me and Kel feel better, at least ‘till this trial is over, to have the kids here on the ranch. Dr. Weeks said Kel has to reduce stress in her life, and knowin’ that Jason is with you and Rain every day helps.”
“Speaking of Kel, how is she doing?”
“She is tired, and her back aches, but she’s ready for another day.” Kelli said as she walked into the kitchen. Vin was waiting for her with an outstretched arm, and she went straight over to take advantage of the offered hug.”
“Morning Mom,” Jason grabbed his book bag, hugged Kelli, and whispered loudly to her stomach. “Think boys.”
Kelli laughed. “I know they heard you Jason, they move when you talk to them. You have a good day at Aunt Rain’s.” She kissed him and he joined Casey.
“I empathize with you Kel. You're almost half-way there, but don’t worry, it gets more miserable. “Casey laughed as she walked out with Jason.
“Mama, can you tell the babies not to listen to Jason?” Andi turned her big blue eyes onto Kelli.
“Aw Andi, it doesn’t matter what Jason says to ‘em.” Kelli moved over to hug her daughter. “Sugar, if they are boys, then you and I get to me surrounded by males that love us, and if they’re girls we get to teach them about their great brother, and fantastic Dad. Either way you and I come out winners.”
Andi jumped up, but before she ran off to join Max and the other kids she stopped long enough to give a message to her unborn siblings. “Jason may be a boy, but he is the bestest brother.”
Travis’s Office ~9:00am
“It’s been almost a month Chris, since Chambers was arrested and the prosecutors agreed to drop the protective custody order on Tanner. When is he coming back to work?” Orrin was questioning the MCAT Commander. “He is coming back to work, isn’t he?” Travis recalled a conversation he had with Tanner about his hesitancy to return to MCAT.
“He is Orrin, but not now. I don’t blame him for being concerned about the long wait for Chambers’s trial.” Chris stood up and walked over to the window, staring at the view as he spoke. “You saw what happened at the arraignment with all the protesters. Chambers is like some damn cult hero to those people. Dragging out the trial date to August was not a good move by our federal attorneys, not to mention all those preliminary hearings that will require Vin’s presence. He is still receiving threats from Karl’s followers, and that damn $50,000 bounty has not been withdrawn. Tanner feels like his place is with his family, and right now I have to agree with him.”
Travis nodded thoughtfully. “Karl Chambers is nothing more than a criminal who used his white power movement to disguise his activities. To date, investigators have uncovered ten bank accounts with combined deposits of over a half a billion dollars. With the evidence Tanner found plus what you recovered from the compound, the man is headed for a long stretch in jail or even death row. Making himself a martyr is keeping his people stirred up, and I can understand Tanner’s concern”. Orrin stood up and joined Larabee by the window. “Is this current situation the only thing holding him back?”
Chris turned to look at Orrin. “Vin and I have worked out our problems sir. We’re good.” Larabee sighed. “Although that Texan would be the last one to admit it, I think the entirety of the last year’s events; plus the stress of the last few months combined, have all contributed to a slight case of burn-out. Although in Tanner’s case maybe brown out is a better word. He’s tired Orrin, and the man has not had near enough downtime over the last year. Now with the threat of retaliations from Chambers‘ followers looming over his head, concern for his family, and the new babies on the way, he just needs some time to reorient himself. Personally, I think he’s more than earned it.”
Orrin went back to his desk, sat down, and began to write.” I cannot give Tanner time-off because he will be testifying as an active MCAT agent; however I can place him on administrative duty only, keeping him available to the U.S .Attorney’s office pending Chambers’s trial.” The Director handed Chris a piece of paper. “These are my official orders Commander; you are not to assign Captain Tanner to an active case until resolution of his status as a witness against Chambers. I do expect him to be available to the prosecutors when necessary; otherwise I leave his unit assignments to your discretion.”
Larabee grinned, the Director had just given him all he needed to protect Vin’s MCAT status, and allow the Texan the time he needed to regroup. “Thank you sir, I’ll make certain your orders are followed to the letter.”
“You do that Chris, and you tell Tanner not to get lazy, I expect him to return to his duties well rested and in top mental form…after the trial.” Orrin chuckled. “Amazing that the time period coincides with the birth of their babies, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.” Chris smiled, and then added seriously. “This means a lot Orrin. Vin came through for me and for the unit when we needed him, now it’s his turn.”
“You have come through too, Chris. Your preliminary plans for shadow ops are promising, and I'm anxious to see more. I am also pleased with how you have handled your personal challenges, and stepped back into your leadership role." The Director handed him another folder." This is for you.”
Chris opened the file and swallowed hard. Inside was the original order Travis had made placing him on six-month probation status upon his return to MCAT. The stamp across it read ‘rescinded’ in bold red letters. *You made it all the way back Larabee.* “Thank you Orrin…”
Travis waved his hand in the air. “No thanks necessary. You’ve earned it, now get the hell out of here and get to work.” Orrin grinned as he watched the Commander pick up the new case files, and walk out of the room. He whispered to himself. “Welcome back Chris.”
Dr. Weeks Office~ 11:00am
Vin signed them in, and was told by the receptionist that the doctor was running late and would be here in about twenty minutes. She was at the hospital, and has just delivered another baby. He nodded and then joined Kelli in the waiting area.
The Texan knew that Kelli had been nervous about today and he took her hand. “You okay baby?"
“Yes…no…hell. I don’t know. I’ll just be glad when this is over. If the woman wants me to reduce stress, why in the hell did she make us wait to hear the results of last week’s blood test?”
“Maybe it was because she didn’t have the results until now.” Tanner squeezed her hand. “Relax Kel, you’re fine, I’m fine and the babies are gonna be fine too.”
“Mrs. Tanner?" The nurse said, coming to stand at the inner doorway with Kelli's file in her hands. "I'll see you into a room and get you ready for Dr. Weeks. She should be here in about ten minutes or so.”
The Tanners walked hand in hand across the room to join Nurse Patsy at the door. She led them into a room, where she proceeded to take Kelli's vitals and mark down the results in the file. She next moved to one of the cabinets and extracted a gown for Kelli to put on, as well as a blanket.
“You know the routine Kelli. Dr. Weeks will be in to see you the as soon as she arrives.” Patsy told the Tanners before she left the room and closed the door behind her.
Vin helped his wife change out of her clothes and into the gown. Once she was settled on the examination table, he covered her with a blanket the nurse had provided. He had just settled himself back into a chair when the door opened and Dr. Weeks walked in.
“Kelli, Vin, I’m sorry about the delay.” She said as she flipped through Kelli's file.” All your vitals seem just fine, except your blood pressure is slightly elevated, but not enough to be concerned about. I'm sure you are both anxious to hear the results of the Multiple Marker Screening or what we call the triple test that we did last week.”
“We have been a little anxious to learn what the results were.” The Texan told her, and felt Kelli give his hand a hard squeeze. She was the one who had been anxious, not him. Kelli sucked in a breath as Vin tightened his hold on her hand.
“Everything looks good. No, genetic disorders detected, and your babies are at the normal level of growth that they should be in this stage of pregnancy.”
Kelli let out the breath she was holding, and felt a smile begin to form as Vin exclaimed, “Thanks, Doc...You don't know how much hearin' that means to us.”
Dr. Weeks smiled.” Oh, I think I do....now, let's get on with the sonogram.”
It took the doctor a couple of minutes to position the monitor where all three of them could see it, turn on the sonogram machine and place gel onto the paddle she would use to get the picture of the babies. “You’ll notice that this is a little different than the last ultrasound we did. This one is more detailed, and we should get a really good 3D look at the babies”
Tanner leaned forward, eager to get another view of his and Kelli's babies, as Dr. Weeks began to point out features to them. “Here is one of your babies… head, face...torso.”
Kelli felt moisture fill her eyes as she took in the sight of their first baby, and was able to pick out the features of the other one without the doctor having to tell them. A lump formed in Vin's throat as the doctor finished pointing out features to him and Kelli of both babies.
“It appears that there is one placenta, and that tells us that they will be identical instead of fraternal. Are you ready to find out the sex of the babies?” Dr. Weeks waited for their answer.
The Tanners exchanged a look, before Kelli said, “Yes.”
Dr. Weeks moved the paddle around on Kelli's stomach for a few moments, hoping to get a better image of the babies' genital region and finally succeeded. “Your babies are definitely boys.”
“Boys, “Vin whispered, unable to say more. He looked down at Kelli and saw her still staring at the screen as if she were memorizing each tiny detail she could see. “Kel?”
“They are beautiful Vin…our two boys.” Tears rolled down her face and Vin gently wiped them away. “Jason will be thrilled… now we have three sons.”
“We're goin' to have an upset little girl when she finds out all of her 'special talk' to the babies, didn't convince them to be girls.” Tanner chuckled softly.
Dr. Weeks cocked an eyebrow at the Texan's comment. Vin was quick to explain. “A couple of weeks ago, Jason caught me talkin' to the twins. I explained to him, and Andi both, that the babies liked to be talked to, so ever since they've had an ongoin' argument tryin' to convince the babies that they should either be boys or girls.”
The doctor laughed. “You've got your work cut out for you then. I wouldn't be surprised though, that once Andi sets her eyes on the babies that she forgets all about being mad that they weren't girls.”
“Do we get to keep a copy of this one too?” Kelli asked.
“Absolutely, I’ll have it for you before you leave today.” Dr. Weeks stated to turn off the machine.
“Wait, “Vin stopped her. “Can we have just a few more minutes?”
Helen Weeks smiled. “I think that can be arranged.” She moved the paddle to give the parents another look at their boys. After an extra fifteen minutes she turned off the machine and told Kelli to dress and then meet in her office in ten minutes. The doctor left then room, closing the door behind her.
Vin helped Kelli off the table and to dress. Neither had much to say, but both of them grinned each time the looked at one another. Now the work of fixing up the nursery had taken on a whole new outlook. It was not just the babies anymore, it was the boys.
Tanner Home~ 1:00pm
Vin and Kelli had decided over lunch to keep their new knowledge to themselves, at least until they told their older children. It was driving Max crazy, but they stood firm. After the last attack on the ranch, the childcare arrangements had changed while the Tanner home was being repaired. Inez was keeping Adam during the day, and Joanne joined him there after school. Terrell stayed with Rain even during school hours, and Andi usually ended up with Maria sometime later in the morning either here or at the Wilmington's. Today was no exception and they were playing at Maria’s house. Jason was due home in a few minutes, and Casey had promised to pick up Andi when she dropped Joanne off at the Wilmington's. The Tanners still had no idea how they were going to console Andi.
“Will you at least tell me whether or not everything is alright with the babies?” Max asked the Tanners as they all waited.
“I'm sorry, Max...We should have told you that right away.” Kelli said.” Dr. Weeks said that everythin' is just fine. Babies are growin' like they should be an' they are from all indications they are goin' to be identical. You’ll have to see the video Max, they are absolutely beautiful.”
Vin was carefully monitoring the words Kelli was using, ready to step in and cover for her if she started to slip. Kelli, in turn, cocked and eyebrow at him in silent admonishment for him not trusting her to keep from making a slip about the sex of the twins before Jason and Andi were told.
Max was visibly relieved to hear the news.” That's great news. I know that the two of you were worried about how the stress Kelli has been under the past several weeks might have affected the babies.”
There wasn't any more time for them to talk, because the children arrived home. Andi was a miniature whirlwind entering the house, throwing herself at Vin first for a hug, before bouncing over to receive another one from Kelli. Jason followed after her at a more sedate pace, but with a wide smile on his face when he saw his parents. Casey came in and was greeted much the same way by Lilah and Daisy. As she hugged her girls, she gave Kelli a questioning look.
“Everythin' is fine. We’ll talk later okay?” Kelli nodded to the kids, and Casey received her unspoken message.
“I’ll see you guys later. It’s time for me to take these two little imps home. Call me.” Casey helped each of the girls on with their jackets and then left.
Jason was excited. “Do we know yet?”
“Yeah, do we Daddy?’ Andi yelled.
Until this moment Tanner was not certain how they were going to tell the kids, and then Kelli’s words about Max seeing the babies repeated in his head. “We are goin' to watch a movie.” He stood up. “Come on Max, you too.”
Kelli realized what Vin was talking about and thought it was an excellent idea. “The best way we know how to introduce you to our new family members is by seein' for yourself.”
Jason looked at Andi and shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, but then will y’all tell us?”
“I promise.” Vin herded everyone into the family room and turned on the television. While he set up the video, he explained to the children what they would be seeing. “Through the miracle of modern technology, we were able to actually see the babies while they are still inside your mama. The machine is called an ultrasound and gives us a three dimensional picture of the babies. Now you can see them too.” He inserted the tape and pushed play.
Andi sat on Kelli’s lap, and watched intently as the pictures appeared on the screen. “That’s our babies?”
“Yep, see this is baby A.” Vin outlined the head and heard Max gasps as she clearly saw the face.
“Lord, they have come a long way on these things. I can even see the facial features on that one.” Max was riveted to the screen.
“They have. This is baby B and according to the doctor they are identical.” Vin explained.
“Denicle? What does that mean?” Andi studied the movie she was seeing.
“It means they will both look alike, right dad?” Jason tentatively answered.
“That's right Jason.” The Texan noticed that Kelli was studying the images just as intently as Andi.
“They look like baby dolls.” Andi said as she looked from the television to her mama’s tummy in awe.
“They do don’t they Sugar?” Kelli hugged her daughter closer and looked over to Vin as he encouraged her to keep talking. “These two are gonna be boys, but I promise that you are gonna love havin’ them around, and they are gonna love their big sister.”
“I'm gonna be a big sister? You mean I get to boss them the way Jason does me?” Andi grinned. “I get to boss two little brothers! Wow!” Andi looked over at the video again, and as she absorbed her new knowledge. She forgot all about wanting the babies to be girls. “When do we get them?”
It won’t be for a while, but you can talk to them anytime you want to.” Vin added, as he meet Kelli’s eyes, both were relieved that Andi was not upset.
“Brothers…I’m gonna have two brothers.” Jason grinned.” Can I tell Caleb? He only has sisters.”
“I reckon you can tell him, and anyone else you want to” Vin smiled, very pleased by the children’s reaction. He shut off the video and moved over to sit beside Jason. “Of course you know that it will be up to you and me to teach them about how special their sister is…and their mama.”
“Congratulations on your new sons, and thank you for sharing this with me. I hope you will let Walter see it, too.” Max said as she wiped her eyes.
“Of course we will. Walter, Dad … shoot, I bet Vin will be showin’ it to everyone sooner or later.” Kelli replied, purposely ignoring Max’s obvious tears. She knew Max did not like to show emotion, and would never embarrass the older woman by commenting on her reaction.
Max stood up. “While Grace is still napping, I am going to feed these two little ones. You get some rest too, Missy.” A happy Jason and Andi left the room with Max, while Kelli moved over to where Vin sat.
The Texan put an arm around her and drew her close to his side. “I think we just avoided another potential catastrophe." Vin chuckled. “Nice move with the big sister angle. How did you know Andi would latch onto it?”
“I didn’t, but it seemed like the natural thing to point out.” Kelli leaned into her husband and yawned. “Andi will be a wonderful big sister”
“Yeah she will. Our baby boys are lucky to have Jason and Andi waiting for ‘em.” Tanner shifted and grabbed Kelli’s hand. “Five minutes and you’ll be asleep right here. Come on love, I think you’ll be more comfortable on our bed.” He helped her up and wrapped an arm around her waist as they walked. “I bet that you and I won’t have a chance to tell anyone about the boys, by nightfall everyone in the family should know, thanks to Jason, and Andi.”
“No bet Tanner, and forget nightfall, I only give it two hours before the entire Wild Bunch knows.”
It took a little longer than two hours, only because Jason and Andi had limited use of the phone. They were however waiting for their Uncle Chris when he came to the house after work to pick up Grace. Watching out the window their both yelled when they saw the black Ram pull in front of the house, and would have run outside, if Vin had not stopped them.
“Whoa there, it’s too cold for y’all to be runnin’ outside with no jackets or shoes on. He’ll be inside in a minute, and then you can spring on him.” Vin leaned back against the kitchen counter to watch the fun.
Chris barely had the door opened before he was attacked by the two little Tanners. “Uncle Chris, guess what?” Jason started.
Catching Andi as she jumped up, Chris placed his arm around Jason’s shoulder Chris smiled. “What?”
“I’m a big sister!” Andi shrieked while nodding her head affirmatively.
“Yeah she is and we’re havin’ two new brothers!” Jason grinned, delighted that he was the one to tell his Uncle.
Larabee looked over Jason’s head at Tanner. *Boys?*
*Yep, and they’re identical.* The Texan grinned.*Mama and babies are fine.*
*Asleep, and worn out.*
“You wanna see?” Andi tugged of Chris’s shirt. “We got pictures.”
“Sure, lead on Sugar.” Larabee set her down and she led him to the family room, and then waited for her daddy to turn on the VCR.
“This is cool, Uncle Chris, we can see ‘em and they’re not even born yet.” Jason explained to his uncle. “It’s a miracle of modern…tec… what that word Dad?”
“Technology Jason,” Tanner pushed play, and then moved to sit down while the kids narrated for their Uncle Chris. Vin was impressed with how much of what he had said that they remembered.
Chris watched the screen, the kids, and his brother. He had no doubt about how much Vin loved Jason, and Andi, but he knew that the Texan had to be ecstatic to find out that he had fathered two boys of his own blood with the woman he loved. It was a natural reaction, and Larabee well understood the feeling. He also knew that when it came down to it, blood ties were not what it took to make a good dad. Jack had never given those kids what they needed, Tanner had, and much more. Jason, Andi, and their two brothers would truly be a family in all the ways that mattered. Besides, they would still be blood related through Kelli; she was after all their biological cousin, before she became their mom. The video ended, but it was another fifteen minutes before the two young siblings ran out of steam, and left the men alone where they could talk.
“I’m glad to see the kids reacting so well. I thought for sure Andi would be upset if they babies were boys.” Chris stated as Vin got up to rewind the tape and put it up.
“You and me both, but she likes the idea of bossin’ around two younger brothers.” Vin shut off the television. “I think you are one of the last to know. Jason told Caleb, who told Sarah, who told her mother. Inez called Rain, who called Mallory, who, called Casey…well you get the picture.”
“Who needs TV and newspapers when the kids are around?” Chris stood up and walked with Vin into the kitchen. “Travis lifted my probation today. It’s finally over.”
“Damn that’s good news. Chris, you worked hard to get you life back, and you deserve it.” Tanner grinned. “Course now Kel will have to move the celebration party she planned for you, but I doubt she’ll mind.”
“I don’t need a party; just making it to this point is enough for me.”
“You tell her that then, because I won’t. One thing I have learned over the last couple of months is not to upset a pregnant woman.” Vin laughed. “If you’re brave enough, go ahead and tell her, but you had best know she has her mind set.”
Chris thought about it and grinned. “I suppose a small party wouldn’t hurt anything.” Larabee reach in his jacket pocket and handed Vin an envelope.” These are your orders Captain Tanner.”
Vin hesitantly took the envelope. “Chris I told you…”
“Just read the damn thing.” Chris snapped. “You will conduct training classes two days a week, four hours each day from Camp Larabee. You will not be assigned to any active cases, and will be on admin status only until after Chambers’s trial.”
Tanner nodded, “Thanks Chris.”
“You’re welcome. Now, where is my baby daughter?”
“Right here,” Max walked into the room carrying Grace. The baby squealed with delight when she saw her Daddy and waved her arms excitedly.
“Hey baby girl. “Chris smiled when she did and then looked over to Vin. “Tell my eldest, I’ll talk to her later. I’m going home to tell Cody that he is going to have two boy cousins his own age to grow up with.”
“Lord help us all, another generation of Larabee and Tanner men.” Max laughed. ”One thing is for sure, with three new boys coming, in addition to the clan we have already, there won’t be many dull moments around the Larabee 7 over the next few years.”
Journal Entry ~February 23 ~midnight
Today has been a day to remember. I made it through my ‘trial by fire’, and I am finally free of the last string that bound me to California. Travis withdrew my probation, and I am one hundred percent back in control of my unit. I know it was just a formality, but I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders when Orrin handed me that folder. I am back in total control of my life, admittedly it is a slightly different one than I first imagined it would be, but I have no complaints.
Linda and I have managed to reach a level of understanding. It’s almost like living with a part-time girlfriend. We keep separate rooms, but when the mood strikes we have a few hours of wild sex, and then return to our separate lives. She still doesn’t take more interest in Grace, and she shows no signs of regret about leaving once Cody is born. Linda has already begun cutting her ties to the ranch, too, and has told all the ladies that she does not want a baby shower. She told me today that her car was shipped to Louisiana this morning, and slowly she has been packing more of her personal items to send there within the next couple of weeks. We have come to an amicable agreement about our divorce, and the only thing left unresolved is how long she will stay once our son is born. That is the one thing she refuses to discuss.
Vin and Kelli found out today that they are expecting boys and everything looks good. I am happy for both of them of course, but especially for Vin. He never believed that having his own family, and planting roots was written in his destiny…he was wrong. I was watching him while the kids replayed the video from the ultrasound and the emotions that showed on his face were truly priceless. I am pleased that Cody will have Vin’s sons to grow up with.
I think Max said it best when she said. “Lord help us all, another generation of Larabee and Tanner men.”…I believe he already has helped… all of us.
MCAT Office~ Wednesday ~March 21st- 9:00am
The one thing Chris had not missed in the months that he had been away was paperwork. It seemed that it grew on his desk, and although Gunny was an organizational godsend, and Buck did his share, he had never realized, until now, how much extra Tanner had taken on to lighten his workload over the last year. Considering that the Texan hated paperwork as much as he did, spoke volumes about Tanner's dedication to not only their job, but their friendship as well. As Larabee prepared for the ten o’clock team meeting, there was a knock at his office door.
“Enter!” Chris shouted as he chased the pen that was rolling off his desk.
JD walked in with a folder clutched in his hand. “Chris, you have a few minutes?”
“Sure JD, what’s on your mind?” Larabee indicated that the young agent should sit, and Dunne chose a chair that was opposite Chris.
“You are aware that I have been assisting the Justice department to develop a new program that will track offshore bank accounts and provide an electronic link back to the criminals that use them. One that overrides the use of numbered accounts only, and traces the original ISP of the deposits.”
“That all links to the case you were working on for them right?”
Right,” JD squirmed for a minute and then plunged ahead. “They were able to make their case with the data my program provided, but…aw hell Chris I did some digging of my own, and I understand if you want to tell me I overstepped my bounds, and you probably don’t want to know…”
“JD…the point, son…get to the point.”
“Yeah, I went to the evidence room at the federal building and checked out Jack’s laptop that we found at the cabin. Using the information on it, and my program…I tracked his movements to several offshore accounts. Chris, he had almost three hundred thousand dollars stashed away when he died. You being his next of kin, you could…you know for the kids…” JD sat back and said no more.
Chris took a minute to let the implication of JD’s words soak in. Surprisingly, he did not feel the pangs of regret and apprehension he used to when Jack’s name was mentioned. Maybe it was the passing of time, or the fact that he knew the kids we thriving in their new home, or…maybe it was simply because he had come to terms with that episode in his life, whatever the reason, it was not painful anymore. “I don’t want it, and the kids don’t need it. Ezra has invested their mother’s life insurance money, and it has returned more than enough to secure their future.”
“So, we just leave it there unclaimed?”
Larabee thought for a minute more. “I won’t claim it, and as agents I suppose we should turn it over to the Justice department. I’m sure most of it was made through illegal activities anyway. Monday morning that is what I want you to do….provided of course, that the money is still there then. It’s really a shame to have to do that though, when we know there are several charities and non profit organizations that could benefit from having that amount of money to work with, but that is what procedure dictates.”
JD sat there for a minute, fully understanding what his Commander said, and what he did not say aloud. Dunne stood up. “I’ll see that it is taken care of, Chris.”
“You do that JD, and thanks, I appreciate you looking out for the kid’s interest.” Larabee watched the younger man leave the office. He knew where that money would end up, and was not sorry about it one bit.
MCAT Conference Room 10:00am
For the first time in a long time, the entire team, minus Tanner, was in attendance for a unit meeting. JD, Pam and Mallory sat close to the bank of computers in the room. Raphael, Justin and Selina, sat opposite Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra, while Mark had a special place for Bandit. Bones, Greg, and Kat represented forensics, and Captain Wilmington sat next to Chris. Larabee started with an update on the missing agent’s status.
“We have a lot to cover today. First off, I received a communication from Paul’s sister. He has undergone his third reconstructive surgery, and is doing well. Additionally, he has decided not to return to MCAT, and will be entering the private sector for employment. We wish him well. Captain Tanner is on administrative status pending the resolution of Chambers’s trial. He will however, be conducting training classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings from eight to noon at Camp Larabee. Take a look at the schedule Buck is passing around to see what classes you are due for, and plan accordingly.”
Wilmington passed the schedules out. “We will be keeping current on our required training hours, so make certain if your name is listed to attend.”
“Agent Dunne is back with us after his short stint with the Justice department. Welcome back, JD.” Chris flipped the page on his notes. “You will also note that over the next two weeks contractors will be in to add another office, with two Captains, we need the additional office. Make certain all sensitive materials are secured at all times. Now before we head to new business, final reports are due on the arson investigation, on my desk no later than five today.”
“Chris, I received word this morning that Chambers fired his attorney and hired a new legal eagle. We should expect a call for a new hearing within the next couple of weeks, and should take all precautions when Vin is subpoenaed to testify again.” Ezra advised.
“What can a new attorney do that the old one couldn’t?” Nathan questioned.
“The man he hired is known for using inflammatory tactics such as: keeping the media frenzy running, holding numerous news conferences, basically anything he can do to muddy the water.” Standish explained. “Their claim is that Chambers is being held prisoner, by an unlawful government that has no authority to hold him.”
“His followers are practically camped out in front of the courthouse as it is, this could make a tense situation even worse. “ Josiah stated.
“I suspect that is exactly what he intends to do.” Chris sighed. “Keep me updated Ezra, if he is bringing in a legal zealot, we may have some problems.”
Josiah recalled. “In Birmingham Alabama a few years ago, they had a white supremacist leader in jail, and each time he made an appearance in court they damn near had a riot outside the courthouse.”
“The U.S. Marshals are in charge of the courthouse security, but we will take responsibility for Tanner.” Chris assured. “I also heard that Harrison was making bail, Justin, I want to know when he’s being released, but I want you and Raphael to keep tabs on him once he’s out.”
“That will be our pleasure. “Justin said and Cordova nodded in agreement.
“Our new assignment is an assist. We will be supporting the DPD by investigating a string of particularly gruesome murders of homeless people in the greater Denver area. Reports are sketchy, but indicate eight homeless men have been found brutally murdered over the last four months. All of them were examined at a clinic on fifteenth St. within a week of their deaths, so that give us a place to start. Nathan, you and Mark talk to the doctors and personnel at the clinic. JD, I want your team to give me some background on these names.” Larabee handed Dunne a list. “Bones, check with your contacts, and see what rumors may be floating around. Greg and Kat will take the lead on this one, most of the investigation will center on evidence recovery.”
“What about the rest of us Chris?” Buck asked.
Larabee answered. “I have a special assignment for you Buck. Josiah has several profiles I would like you to look at, and then give me a report on your assessments."
"I can do that. Is this for a new case?" Wilmington was curious.
"No. Not at this time." The last thing Larabee needed or wanted right now was another major case falling into their laps; his team was still recovering from the last two. "Our main priority is protecting Nathan, Vin, and their families until Chambers's trial is over."
Captain Wilmington was relieved to hear that. “Josiah, I'll be in your office as soon as I get the rest of these yahoos some work to do". Buck stated." I think today would be an excellent time to catch up on our reports." He grinned when he heard the groans for the other agents.
“That’s it, dismissed.” Chris gathered his papers.
Larabee 7 ~ 12:30 am
Several ladies of the Wild Bunch were having a luncheon to discuss the upcoming Standish wedding, and the equine therapy facility that was soon to be built. They had decided to meet at Kelli’s home; with Max preparing lunch for everyone. Barbara had arrived early and was spending some time with the Tanners before Rain, Casey, and Inez arrived.
“Someone did invite Linda didn’t they?” Barbara questioned.
“I did. She declined, but did send something over with Chris this mornin’ for you.” Kellie got up to retrieve the envelope Chris had given her. “It’s a contribution to help with the buildin’, donated in Cody and Grace’s name.”
Barbara opened it and whistled. “This will certainly help. With the check you and Vin gave from your children, and the others we have, we almost have enough to pay for all the building cost. Then we only have to keep enough coming in to keep it running.”
“With Ez in charge of fundraisin', I doubt that will be a problem. “ Vin laughed. “I swear that man has the touch when it comes to helpin' people part with their money.”
“So I've heard.” Barbara smiled. “I want this to work so badly. Caitlyn is wonderful with kids, and so many children can benefit from this.”
“You, lady, are preachin’ to the choir. Kel and I are sold on this, and we’re both lookin’ forward to helpin’.” Vin said as he got up to answer the phone.
“I’ve been so wrapped up with this project, I forgot to ask. How are you feeling Kel?”
“Better than I have felt over the first few weeks. It’s a relief to know that everything is okay. Dr. Weeks nixed me goin' back to work, but now that we know about the boys, we can plan more.”
“Kel, I need to talk to you for a minute.” Vin walked back in, “Barbara would you excuse us?”
“Sure, I’ll go in and see if Max needs any help.”
Vin waited until Barbara was out of earshot before he explained. “Kel that was Carmen on the phone, she has a situation. I know we agreed that fosterin’ a child was too much to take on right now, but…she has a six month old girl whose mother was brutally murdered yesterday. She needs somewhere away from the city to place the baby until the police apprehend the mom’s boyfriend for the murder. There is no other family, and it’s only temporary…”
“Of course we’ll take her Vin. Chambers is in jail, I feel better, and besides, you’re here, and we have Max to help. Tell Carmen to bring her out. We can set up the port-a-crib, and whatever else we need we can get.”
“Are you sure you are up to it?”
“Yes, call her back and tell her we’ve got this one covered.” Kelli let Vin help her up.
“You remember baby, this one is only temporary. I think we’ll have our hands full with Jason, Andi, and these two.” He patted her stomach. The Texan was very much aware that given half a chance Kelli would keep every one of the children they had given refuge to. Fortunately all of them, with the exception of Caleb, they had less than forty-eight hours before they were placed in permanent foster care homes.
“I’ll remember, and trust me I have no illusions about this spurt of energy I seem to have. I know that the next few months will not be easy for us, but we have to help this little one now.”
Tanner kissed the top of her head. “I’m callin’ Carman now. You prepare for the invasion, the kids and their mamas will be here in fifteen minutes.”
“Okay, we have the flowers, the food, the preacher, and the music taken care of. What else?” Rain questioned the others.
“Invitations are out, the rings are at the jewelers, the weddin’ dress is ready for the final fittin’, and the girls dresses are waitin’ for them to try on Saturday mornin’.” Kelli read off her list. “You declined the shower, and the girl’s night out, so all we have planned is a rehearsal dinner. Mallory is in charge of that and accordin to her notes she has it well under control.”
“Caleb and Jason’s suits have been fitted. The outside tent is reserved with chairs, and we have alternative plans made if the weather refused to cooperate.” Inez looked over her list.
Casey read off hers. “JD will be video taping the ceremony, and has a friend of his lined up that will take the wedding pictures. I’m in charge of the children, and we’ll cross our fingers that the girls don’t get too carried away throwing rose petals.”
“You ladies are amazing, and I don’t think you have missed a thing.” Barbara smiled. “Not that I would know, this is pretty far off my experience scale.”
“I do have a question.” Casey lowered her voice. “Is Maude coming?”
“No. She told Ezra she would be in the south of France until May and wanted us to reschedule. He told her no. I did tell him that I was willing to wait, but he said the only family that mattered to him was here, and refused to consider a change. Barbara shifted in her chair. “Before you ask, I do not expect my parents either. They are one-third of the way on a trip around the world, and believe me; they are not going to take a break for my wedding.”
Kelli took in the silence that statement produced, and decided to change the subject. “If we have things for the weddin’ covered. Let’s talk about equine therapy. What needs have not been fulfilled?”
“We need a doctor on the premises, someone willing to devote all their working hours to the group, and a hospital willing to sanction us. Caitlyn needs an assistant qualified to counsel children and teens. We also need someone to keep track of the paperwork, individual case files, registration forms, etc. Of course we need volunteers to help the younger kids with the horses, too.” Barbara sighed. “All that is needed just to get us started and we certainly will find more openings as we work through procedures.”
“If you give me a list of criteria, and specific requirements, I know who to talk to at Denver Memorial Hospital.” Rain offered.
“Great Rain, it just so happens I do have that information with me.” Barbara grinned. “I have been working on this set-up full time.”
“I am four credits from havin a degree in child development, and will be qualified as a camp counselor. Plus, I know horses, and I would love the opportunity to work with the group.” Casey explained.
“I’ll put you in touch with Caitlyn, she’ll be the one to approve anyone working with the kids, but I think you two would get along well.” Barbara proposed.
“That sounds good to me.” Casey smiled
“As long as I can work from home, I am used to keeping paperwork for Ezra from the Standish Tavern. I could do it for your group.” Inez stated.
“Thanks, Inez, I appreciate the offer.” Barbara wrote her name down on her pad.
“Once I go back to work, I’ll only have weekends, but I want to help, too.” Kelli said firmly.
Casey laughed. “Your weekends will be full for a while, getting used to having twins in the house takes time.”
“Boys at that, and identical,” Inez grinned. “You and Vin both will stay busy “
“Thank heavens the girls are fraternal, if they were identical... lord they could both be like Daisy.” Casey exclaimed. “At least mine are different enough that Lilah makes up for all Daisy’s energy, and insatiable curiosity. She is a handful all by herself; Lilah is more laidback and lower maintenance.
“You’re already doomed, you never stop going and Vin has more energy than three men. Your boys are bound to be little whirlwinds.” Rain laughed.
“I heard that, and we’re used to the whirlwinds, look at the two we already have. Besides, it will be a while before the boys catch up to our Andi.” Vin said as he walked into the room and sat on the arm of Kelli’s chair. “I hate to intrude on you ladies, but I thought Kel should know.” Tanner turned to address his wife. “Carmen called, and she’ll be here in five minutes.”
“Okay, is everythin’ ready?”
“Ready and waitin’,” Vin replied.
“Is that the same Carmen that helped us with Caleb? “ Inez asked.
“Yep, only this time she’s bringin’ us a girl, and she’s only six months old.” Tanner answered. “Her name is Ronesha Jewel, and Carmen says she is a little doll.”
“I thought you two weren’t taking on any more foster kids for a while.” Barbara was surprised.
“Special circumstances, Barbara,” Kelli explained. “Her mother was murdered yesterday, and Carmen needs a safe place for her while the police hunt down the boyfriend. We’re only takin’ her until they find him, and she can locate a more permanent home for her. Apparently she was a single mom, with no relatives that can be located, so the baby will probably be going up for adoption.”
“We are through here anyway aren’t we? “Casey asked, prepared to take her girls home. “I need to get to the house and help Aunt Nettie, or she’ll tackle dinner on her own.”
“Yes, I’d best be taking my bunch home, too.” Inez stood up. That is if I can pry Tannis away from Max.”
“Good luck on that one, Max has Tannis, Grace, Terrell, and Adam.” Tanner grinned. “The other girls are all in Andi’s room, and Caleb is with Jason in the loft.”
Casey and Inez went off to claim their children. Rain and Barbara stuck around, both waiting to see the baby that Carmen was bringing.
Carmen Johnson arrived a few minutes after Inez, and Casey had left. Vin met her at the car, and carried in the supplies she had brought with her while Carmen took the baby inside. She removed the baby from the carrier and handed her to Kelli.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Kelli looked down at the baby. “Look at those eyes, man she is goin’ to break some hearts one of these days.”
Andi peeked over her shoulder. “Is that how small the boys will be?” The little blonde was intrigues at the small size of the child.
“They'll be way smaller than this Sugar. Ronesha is six months old, and has gained a few pounds since she was born.” The baby reached out to grab Andi’s hair.
Andi yelped. “Ouch, she’s strong.” Rain untangled Andi’s long locks from the baby’s grasp.
Rain looked at the light brown skinned baby, and…fell in love. “She is absolutely beautiful. Can I hold her?”
“Sure,” Kelli passed the baby to Rain and watched the two of them.
“Ronesha’s mother was African American, we have no idea who her father is, but according to neighbors he may have been white. They said that the mom’s previous long-term boyfriend was a Caucasian man that stopped coming around shortly before the baby was born. On the birth certificate the father was listed as unknown.” Carmen explained.
Vin came inside with the box that Carmen had left in the car. “Is this all of it?”
“Yes, she didn’t have much in the apartment. A few baby clothes, and the one stuffed toy. I added some disposable diapers, and some baby food, but if you need something you know the routine. Buy it, save me the receipt and I’ll see that you are reimbursed. I hope to have her placed within the week, but a lot depends on how fast they pick up the new boyfriend. He was seen leaving the apartment shortly before the neighbors found the mom’s body.”
“Do what you need to Carmen. We’ll be fine with her until you make other arrangements.” Vin told her.
“I know, and that’s why I wanted to bring her here. I’ll check with you tomorrow, and let you know if they make an arrest.” Carmen walked toward the door. “Take care, I can see myself out.”
Kelli noticed the look in Rain's eyes as she held Ronesha, and she was not the only one watching. Barbara was, too. The two friends exchanged a knowing look; Rain Jackson was definitely taken with the young guest in the Tanner household.
MCAT Office~ 3:00pm
Chris was reviewing expense reports when Gunny buzzed him. “Sir, you have a call from Agent Cordova, line one.”
“Thanks Gunny.” Larabee picked up the phone and pushed the button. “Talk to me.” He listened for a minute before saying anything. "I've got it. Stay there in case we miss him.” Chris stood up, grabbed his jacket, and left his office, stopping long enough at Wilmington’s door to issue an order. “Grab your coat; we’re going for a ride.”
Buck did grab his coat, but had to ask. “Where are we going?”
“Federal lock up.”
Thirty minutes later the two MCAT agents were waiting outside the rear exit of the Federal Detention building, in downtown Denver. They were watching specifically for one man to emerge from the jail. Buck spotted him first.
“That’s him.” The two agents moved in to flank the ex-prisoner.
“Frank Harrison?” Chris asked.
“Yeah, that’s me, who in the hell are you?”
“Your worst nightmare,” Larabee growled as he pushed Harrison up against the building. “You are gonna pass the word to your acquaintances that the bounty on Vin Tanner is null and void.”
“Why would I do that?” Frank retorted.
“Because I am going to make certain that you spend so many years in jail, your kids will forget what you look like, if Tanner so much as gets a scrapped knee from any of your nutcase associates.” Chris tightened his hold on the man’s throat. “Are we clear?”
“Yeah, but I can’t guarantee the right people will hear that.”
“Then I strongly suggest that you find a way to make certain they do, or you will be an old man before you see the outside world again.” Larabee snarled.
“Is that supposed to be a threat?”
“No, that is a promise.” Chris released his hold on Harrison. “Now you have work to do Mr. Harrison, get to it.” Larabee watched as the man hurried off, confidant that Justin and Raphael would dog his trail.
“You think he believed you?” Buck asked.
“Doesn’t matter, he’ll led Cordova and Michaels to the men we need.” Chris walked toward his truck. “Harrison is a coward, and stupid enough to not realize he’s being followed.”
Buck grinned. “Damn, I’m glad we’re on the same side.”
“Me too Buck…me too.” Chris climbed inside the truck and started the engine.
Jackson Home ~ Wednesday evening ~8:00pm
A tired Terrell had finally given up the battle to stay awake, and Rain quietly backed out of his room and gently closed the door. She went into the den to join Nathan on the couch.
“He gave up huh?"
“Yes. You know I think that boy would run twenty-four hours a day if his body didn’t demand fuel stops and force him to rest.” She leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder and sighed with contentment as he wrapped his arm around her. “I have really enjoyed being home with him these last few months. At this age it’s easy to miss those precious milestones in his life.”
“That is one good thing that has come out of this awful mess with the RMR. Being able to spend extra time with him, and you, despite the chaos going on around us, is what helped me to finally get my head straight about what are the most important things in my life.” Nathan said softly. “I almost lost you and that dear son of ours, in addition to my brothers. I can’t believe I came so close to destroying our family.”
“Nathan, we have to look at the lessons learned from that time, and let the rest go.” Rain told him. “I have been thinking about our future, and there are a couple of things we need to discuss.”
“I’m listening baby."
“First off, I have given the decisions I've made some careful consideration, and I'm confident that what I've decided, is really what I want to do. I have decided not to go back to work at the clinic. In the past couple of months since I have been gone, the clinic administrator has managed to hire three excellent doctors who have split up my patient load. I've gotten some very good reviews about them from some of my more 'difficult to treat' patients, and that makes me confident that the clinic will do just fine without me.
I want to take the position as resident physician with Caitlyn's equine therapy group, if she'll have me. I’ll still be helping the same types of children that I treated at the clinic, as well as ones with long term illnesses. I will be closer to home, and most likely I will be able to come up with a work schedule that Caitlyn will approve so that I can spend even more time with Terrell. "
Nathan knew that his wife did not jump into anything without researching all the facts. It was clear to him that Rain had done her homework on it, and had already made her decision. She had only waited for a time when the two of them were alone so that she could share what was on her mind with him, and get his opinion on what he thought about the whole idea. “Are you certain that this is what you really want to do?"
“Absolutely." Rain nodded her head emphatically. "I talked to the chief of staff at Denver Memorial and he saw no problem with me having working privileges there. In fact, he is going with me to the next board of directors meeting to propose an alliance with the hospital and the new equine therapy group. This is where I feel that I need to be Nathan, and if I wasn’t positive before, something happened today to convince me that fate was taking control of it for me, and…for us.”
Rain had his full attention now. “For us?”
“Remember back in November when you said that when all this was over we could look into other ways to make a difference?”
“I do, but honey this is not completely over yet. We still have to see Chambers go to trial and to be convicted.”
“Nathan…I want another baby.” Rain said it before he could finish his last thought. “Not just any baby, either. I want a little girl…and her name is Ronesha. We could start out applying to be her foster parents, and then…”
“Whoa, baby. Why don’t you start at the beginning and fill in the blanks for me?” Nathan listened as she did just that, explaining everything she knew about the baby she had met at the Tanner home. Up to and including the instant bond she felt when she held the child, and the fact that her father may have been Caucasian.
“She is beautiful, and so full of life. She needs us, Nathan, and I want us to be there for her. Maybe this is what the last few months have been leading us to.”
Nathan looked into the face of his beautiful wife. Dr. Rain Jackson, wife, mother, and one of the strongest women he knew, showed him the love she already held for that baby girl in her expressive dark eyes. He could not explain it because to make a decision based on a few minutes of holding a child was out of character for her, but nevertheless, he recognized the determination in her eyes. Maybe what Josiah and Vin had been saying was true…for everything there is a season. They had all certainly been through their own hell over the past nine months; maybe this was what fate had been preparing them for.
“I think I’ll be going into work late tomorrow. I need to meet the young lady that has obviously stolen your heart. “Nathan was not sure what prompted his wife’s reaction to this child, but he did know that once she had her mind set, he needed to at least explore the proposal further.
“My heart belongs to you Nathan Jackson, but I have enough love to share with you, Terrell, and another child.”
"My sweet Rain, you are the light of my life. “Nathan told her.”Whenever things seem dark and dim, you are there to remind me that I have so very much to be thankful for and that the bad times will pass. I can not express to you in words just how much you mean to me."
His tender words brought tears to Rain's eyes. She opened her mouth to respond, but Nathan's lips covered her own just then. The kiss was filled with all the love that was in Nathan's heart for her and Rain lost herself in the sensation of it.
Nathan ran his fingers through her long, dark curls, enjoying the feel of it's silkiness against his callous hands as the kiss deepened. Rain brought her hand up to trace a line down the side of his strong jaw and gazed up into his dark eyes with all the love she felt for him shining in their depths. Reluctantly Nathan ended the kiss and slid off of the couch and into a standing position. He helped Rain to her feet and led her through the house, turning off lights and setting alarms as he went until finally they reached the sanctuary of their bedroom. Nathan closed the door behind them and drew Rain back into his arms for another kiss. This one was searing with passion and full of promise.
They had traveled a rough road over the last seven months, and survived intact. Nathan was positive that together they could face anything that waited for them in their future.
Larabee 7~ Saturday ~March 24th
Tanner Home~ 8:00am
Nathan and Rain arrived early; they had been spending a lot of time at the Tanner home the last couple of days. Ronesha had captured both of their hearts, and with Barbara’s assistance they had put in an emergency request, and had been approved, to become temporary foster parents for the baby girl. Barbara, along with Carmen Johnson, was meeting them this morning to make the official transfer of guardianship to the Jacksons.
Vin was talking to Nathan, but could tell that his interest was elsewhere. The Texan decided to have some fun, at his brother’s expense. “So Nate, we’re agreed; today at four we’ll both go skydivin’.”
“Right…at four…we…what did you say?" Nathan took his eyes off Ronesha, and stared blankly at Vin.
“Never mind,” Tanner grinned.
“Sorry Vin.” Nathan grinned sheepishly. “The events of the last few days have moved so quickly, I never imagined that our lives could change so fast. Things started to fall into place and here we are. To think that crossing paths with one baby girl could be the cause of it, still has me reeling a bit.”
“Don’t apologize, Nate.” Tanner’s eyes moved onto his wife, and the start of a smile played on his lips. “Trust me, I know. Sometimes it only takes one look, and a moment in time to change our lives forever.”
Nathan followed Tanner’s line of vision to Kelli, and nodded. “Yep, I guess you would know all about that.” Jackson looked over to where Rain was holding Ronesha, and to Terrell, who was fascinated with the baby. “You know, neither of us planned on a large family. We always believed that Terrell was enough for us. With Rain’s career and my work, it made sense, but…now her practice will be centered here at the new equine center and this baby…” He sighed. “It’s as if fate placed her here for us to find.”
Carmen Johnson overheard Nathan’s remark, and smiled. “Mr. Jackson, you can call it, destiny, or divine intervention, but I believe a higher power helps us with each successful placement we make. The children we work with…the outcome of their lives fall into the hand of fate and we try our best to find loving homes for all of them. Ronesha is one of the lucky ones; I wish all our kids were so fortunate.” She handed Nathan some paperwork. “As of now she is under your care, and I am confident she is where she belongs. I will be in touch with Ms. Lindsey about our investigation, but I do not foresee any complications for an adoption. You have my number; feel free to call me with any questions, and I will be out for a home visit in ten days.”
“Thanks Carmen for your help on this.” Barbara walked her to the door, leaving the Jacksons with their new foster daughter.
Rain held Ronesha and spoke softly to Kelli. “After the last few months, and all the turmoil we’ve encountered to be here…” She looked up and smiled at Nathan. “…the four of us together, it just feels right.”
Vin slipped his arm around his wife. “I think we know how you feel.” He grinned. “We are firm believers in that old sayin', ‘right time and right place’.”
“After the way I behaved about Caleb, we’re lucky Carmen Johnson is an understanding woman.” Nathan commented.
“Maybe she recognized even then that although you may have gone about it the wrong way, your heart reacted for valid reasons. It just took some time for you to work it out, and Carmen is a patient woman.” Rain replied. “Then again, maybe we had to go through all that we did to get to here…and here is a pretty good place from where I sit.”
“You married a smart lady Nathan.” Kelli laughed. “Y’all look good from over here too."
“I agree.” Barbara returned.
“I hate to break this up, but if we are gonna get started on Cody’s nursery today; Nate and I need to get movin’ to meet the others.” Vin kissed Kelli before moving.” I’ll see you later baby.”
Nathan kissed Rain, Terrell and Ronesha. “Bye loves.”
“Before you go, I have some great news.” Barbara halted the men.” Someone has made an anonymous donation to the equine center, almost three hundred thousand dollars. This means we can start building immediately.”
“That is good news.” Rain said. “The sooner we start, the sooner we can make a difference.”
“You get the foundation started, and by then we’ll have these nurseries finished and be able to help.” Vin offered as he and Nathan headed for the door. “See you ladies at lunch.”
Larabee Home~ 8:15am
“We appreciate you doing this so early Ezra.” Chris said as he sat down next to Linda.
“No problem, this is only a formality. You two have already worked out the agreement, I only need your signatures.” Ezra pulled some papers out of a folder. “I can’t file these until after the birth of your child, but unless there are any changes, we won’t need to do more.”
“There will not be any changes.” Linda stated firmly as she picked up a pen.” Where do I sign?”
“Linda, are you certain?” Chris questioned. “No second thoughts?”
“No. This is best for everyone concerned.”
Ezra passed the pages to Chris, and then Linda for them to sign. Within a few minutes it was finished, Linda had signed her maternal rights away, and their divorce was only held up by the fact that she was pregnant. Once Cody was born, Standish could file the papers and within sixty days their marriage would be over. “Linda, could I speak to you for a minute please?”
Chris frowned at Ezra. “Do you need me too?”
“No, we are done. I’ll be out in a few minutes to help y’all, but I would like a moment with Linda first.” Ezra placed the pages into a folder.
“Is there a problem Ezra?” Linda asked.
Ezra had waited until Chris left the room and then sighed. Until he had found family here in Denver with this group of men he now called brothers, he had not known what he had missed out on in his early life. The Larabee children would never have to experience the loneliness and isolation he had as a child, but he wanted Linda to know that what she was doing was okay.” Linda …”Standish hesitated, gathering his words. “I wanted to tell you how much I admire your decision to give Chris custody of the children. Maude…my mother, should have made the same decision and left me with my father's family, but she erroneously believed she could do it all. I had a number of caregivers; however my memories of that period in my life are not good ones. My childhood was never stable, interesting perhaps, but not what a child needs. I do love my mother, but I cannot help but wonder at times, how my life would have been different if she had the courage to admit that motherhood was not for her.”
Linda listened to Ezra and realized that he was not judging her, but instead was giving her the insight of one who knew firsthand what it meant to end up with an absentee parent. Although she had not felt guilty about deciding to give up her rights, the words Standish offered did make her feel better. Any doubts she may have harbored vanished. She was doing the right thing, for her, for Chris, and for their children. “Thank you Ezra.” Linda stood up to leave, but turned to say. “In spite of whatever shortcomings Maude may have had as a mother, her son managed to become an exceptional man.” She closed the door quietly as she exited.
Standish placed the folder into his briefcase and closed it, now all they could do was to wait, but the hard part was over.
Larabee Home~ 4:00pm
The seven brothers had been working all day on the latest addition to the Larabee home. The construction work was finished, and Cody’s nursery was starting to shape up. Both his and Grace’s room were now connected to the rest of the house by a hallway, allowing access without going through Chris’s bedroom.
“That’s the last of it, Chris. Now all you have to work on is the interior.” Buck was picking up tools as he spoke. “I think we should call this place Larabee Construction business, instead of a horse ranch. With two nurseries, Ezra’s home, the equine center, and Vin’s corral, we have more building projects going on than most construction companies.”
“You may be right, Buck, but when it’s all done, we’ll be through for a while.” Chris said as he wrapped up the cord on the electric saw.
“As for the corral, I have plenty of free time on my hands thanks to Karl to work on it.” Vin stated. “At least I allowed room for a nursery when we built the house, so it won’t take much to finish it for the twins. All I need is for Kel to decide on which wallpaper she wants and what color to paint the walls. "He laughed."At the rate she keeps changin' her mind; I'll have time to build another barn before I even get started on the nursery."
Josiah picked up some leftover lumber. “Ezra is having professionals do the work on his home, and the equine center won’t break ground for a couple of weeks.”
“Speaking of Ezra, where is he? Nathan questioned.
JD laughed. “Ezra went to check on dinner about an hour ago and hasn’t come back.”
“That’s our Ez, any thing to avoid manual labor.” Vin laughed. “Let’s go see what he’s up too.”
Satisfied that their work area was cleaned up, the six brothers went in search of their seventh.
In the kitchen they found that dinner was almost finished, but there was no sign of Ezra anywhere. Tanner walked up to his wife as she stood helping to cut up some vegetables for a salad and slipped his arm around her waist to splay his fingers on her protruding stomach, even as he lowered his head to kiss her neck.
“I thought you were supposed to be takin' it easy?" he asked her quietly.
Kelli sighed. “I was...but the boys were givin' me fits with their rollin’ antics, and so I came in here a little while ago to see if I could be of some help."
Vin chuckled. "Just don't overdo.” He patted her stomach. "Y'all behave, and give your mama a break."
He snitched a slice of cucumber from the salad bowl and bit into it. “Do y'all know where Ezra got off to?"
"I sent him out for somethin' chocolate for after dinner." Kelli said. "He seemed anxious to be of help, but truthfully he was underfoot so..."
"Maybe I should call him and let him know the work part of the day is over, and it's safe to come back.” Vin smiled as he opened his cell phone, and then punched in Ezra’s number. “Your chocolate cravin’ gave him a good reason to get out of workin.” He frowned when he received no answer.
The trip into town to fulfill his partner's sweet craving was the perfect excuse Ezra needed to get out of the menial labor involved in building Cody's nursery. He had headed straight into town to his favorite bakery and picked out a couple of decadent desserts, instead of only one. His choices varied from Chocolate raspberry tiramisu, a chocolate cream pie, and cherry cheesecake for the adults, to three dozen chocolate chip cookies for the kids.
Ezra had just placed the desserts into the passenger seat of his JAG, closed the door and walked around the vehicle to the driver's side when he was approached by three scruffy looking 'good old boys'. All of them held weapons in their hands, and Standish didn't need anyone to tell him that they meant to do him serious bodily harm. His hand inched toward the sidearm he wore, even as he said, "Gentlemen it would be prudent of you to cease and desist in your current train of thought or action.” He told them quietly, shifting slightly away from the car so that he could have room to maneuver as they continued to advance on him.
"Your fancy words don't mean a damn thing to us Fed." one of the men said, as he twirled a bat around in his hands. "Your going to be our message to Tanner that he best forget about testifying against Chambers...or else he's going to be visiting a member of his family in the morgue every week."
Ezra glanced around. He didn't like the idea of gunplay on an open street such as the one he was on. There were too many people about that could get injured if he was to pull his weapon. Although the men that were confronting him were brandishing a bat, piece of pipe, and knife, he couldn't take the chance that they weren't also armed with handguns as well. That meant that he was going to have to use other means to persuade them that he wasn't someone to be easily toiled with.
"I must implore you again to rethink your intentions.” He told the men; even as he readied himself for the impending fight he knew was coming.
"We've wasted enough time talking." Another of the men exclaimed, and then all three rushed Standish.
Ezra ducked the swing of the bat, at the same time sweeping out with one leg and kicking the one with the knife in the stomach. He twisted to the side in order to deflect the blow of the lead pipe with his hand and felt it go numb for a moment as the pipe connected with his forearm. It wasn't broken, and that was certainly a plus for his side as he continued to fight off his assailants. He took a glancing blow to the head from the man with the bat and felt blood begin to trickle down the side of his face, even as he shook off the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him. He kept moving around though, making sure to keep all three men in front of him, so that he wouldn't be taken unaware as the fight continued.
He got quite a few hits and kicks in against his trio of attackers and found himself silently thanking Vin for the strict regimen of hand to hand combat training the Texan had insisted all of the MCAT agents have during their human trafficking case. It was proving to be very beneficial to him now. Ezra took a fist to the mouth and spit out a mouthful of blood as he swept the legs out from underneath one of the men, sending him into the man with the knife and both men toppled to the ground. The man with the baseball bat moved into his personal space and took another swing at him, but Standish ducked and kicked the man in the side of the knee and heard the loud 'pop' that told him that he had broken the man's kneecap. Ezra took a fist to the mouth and spit out a mouthful of blood as he swept the legs out from underneath one of the men, sending him into the man with the knife and both men toppled to the ground. The man with the baseball bat moved into his personal space and took another swing at him, but Standish ducked and kicked the man in the side of the knee and heard the loud 'pop' that told him that he had broken the man's kneecap. The man screeched as he fell to the ground and Ezra pulled his service weapon as he dove for his car, and his cell phone.
While he dialed 9-1-1 he kept his weapon trained on the injured trio. "This is Federal Agent Ezra Standish, badge number 4417, and I need immediate assistance to my location, 1015 Grand Street. Three unsubs detained, possibly others armed… approach with caution.” He wiped the blood from his head as he tried to steady himself. “Also need emergency medial assistance.” Ezra closed the phone and waited for assistance.
One of his assailants tried to get up. “I would stay on the ground if I were you, unless you wish to experience the excruciating pain of a bullet wound on top of the other injuries you have already sustained.” Standish stated.
“You talk big with that gun in your hand, but while you waste your time with us, our associates just might be paying a visit to that ranch you think is so safe and secure.” One of the men groaned. “We know everything that happens there. How do you think we knew where you were?”
The Denver police arrived quickly. Standish hurriedly told them what had happened, and ordered them to take charge. He had his car door open, seated himself, and the ignition roaring to life as his assailants were being handcuffed. He peeled away from the curb and headed the JAG back toward the Larabee 7.
Dinner was five minutes away and still no word from Standish. Six men gathered in the den, Chris and Vin were both concerned, but did not want to alert the women that anything might be wrong. The rest of their brothers stayed close by, each one beginning to grow uneasy as they waited for Ezra to pick up his cell phone.
“I don’t like it Chris.” Vin tried Ezra’s cell again. “It’s not like Ez to stay out of contact.”
"I know...." Larabee replied.
Standish fumbled in the pocket of his jacket for his cell phone, where he had deposited it after calling for assistance. Keeping his somewhat blurry gaze on the road, he opened the phone and held it up in front of him and saw that the number on it indicated that the missed call had been from Vin. He pushed redial and was relieved when Vin answered on the first ring. "Is everyone all right at Larabee 7?" Ezra said cryptically into the phone.
"Ezra?" Tanner said into the phone. "What do you mean? Is everyone alright? Of course, they are. We were beginnin' to wonder about you though."
"I was detained by a trio of RMR miscreants outside of the bakery." Standish replied. "I managed to turn the tables on them though, and I was able to thwart their devious plans for my premature demise. I am currently on my way back to the ranch, and will further explain once I arrive. Keep alert. I was told by the deviants that there might be another attempted assault on our homes." He snapped the phone shut and increased his speed.
“Standish! ...EZ!” Vin yelled into the phone, but the connection was lost. “Chris, you better tell Walter to put security on alert, the RMR just tried to get to Ezra, and we may be next.”
“Let’s not alarm the women. Vin, you keep trying to reconnect with Standish. Buck, tell Walter to pass the word to security to watch for intruders. Josiah, you go out front and wait for Standish. Nathan, you better get your medical bag ready, just in case. JD, I don’t care how you do it, but I want you to stall dinner without letting the women know why.” Chris ordered. The men moved to do as their leader commanded, while Larabee remained in the den with Tanner to see if Vin managed to reconnect with Standish.
Standish ignored the sound of his phone ringing, and continued to drive. Blood from his head wound was dripping into his eyes and making it hard for him to see. He tried to stave off the flow with his left hand pressing his handkerchief to his head, while he kept the other hand firmly on the wheel. His brothers were just going to have to stew in phone silence for a few moments until he got to the ranch.
"Damn it, Standish! Pick up the phone!" Vin said anxiously into his cell phone.
"Easy, Vin...if Ezra was coherent enough to relay the message to us the first time...then he's got to be in reasonably good shape. Overreacting isn't going to help anyone, and we don't need the women and children upset." Larabee cautioned.
Five minutes later Ezra pulled up in front of the Larabee home. Josiah immediately opened the car door and when he saw the blood, ushered Ezra into the house and to the den, closing the door behind them. Nathan took over and told Ezra to sit down.
“What happened?” Chris asked.
"I had just acquired the decadent delicacies I had been commissioned for." Ezra said, wincing as Nathan asked Josiah to apply pressure to the bandage he had placed upon the Southerner's head, while he wadded up another bandage and handed it to Ezra to hold up to his cut lip. "No sooner had I placed the desserts into the JAG when I was approached by three men. They made it quite clear that I was to be a warning to Vin that if he didn't refuse to testify against Chambers, then I would be the first of several family members that would be taking a one way trip to the morgue."
“Sonofabitch! What the hell do I have to do to end this nightmare?” Vin shouted, “I can’t risk any of y’all gettin'’ hurt because of me.”
“Vin, we are all in this together, and I for one do not want to see Karl Chambers walk out of jail a free man because of a little intimidation.” Buck placed a hand on Vin’s shoulder. “As long as we stand together, we’ll be fine.”
Nathan finished his administration to Standish and stood. “I worry constantly about Rain, and the kids. I know it’s doubly hard on you with Kelli being pregnant, but together we will make it and that bastard will pay for the misery he has forced on us.”
Josiah added. “They have no idea what we are capable of Vin. Together we are unbeatable.”
“I concur.” Ezra said as he slowly stood up. “We will prevail, and Karl Chambers will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
“They’re right Vin. We’ll make sure Chambers’s men don’t get another chance to get close to any of us, or our families.” Chris stated firmly. “Travis will just have to free up MCAT to work solely on protection detail until this is over.”
Tanner sighed and nodded. “I reckon I overreacted, but it seems as if this shit never ends. I’ll be damn relieved when this trial is over, maybe then we can have our lives back.” He looked over to Ezra. “'M glad you’re okay.”
“As am I friend,” Ezra grinned. “I am in much better condition than my adversaries.”
“Buck, call Justin. Tell him to go over to the DPD and find out what he can about the men that attacked Ezra.” Chris looked at the closed door. “In the meantime you know we have to tell the women, they’re bound to notice that Ezra looks a little different with those bandages, and I’m certain they heard the yelling.”
A soft knock at the door accompanied by a female voice inquiring about Ezra, confirmed Larabee’s statement. Chris knew it was going to be a long four months until Karl Chambers went to trial.
Tanner Home ~ April 7~ 3:00am
Vin was aware of each time Kelli had to get up during the night. It seemed as the weeks past that it was becoming more difficult for her to sleep. She either had to make frequent trips to the bathroom during the night, or the boys would decide it was playtime and the constant movements made it impossible for her to rest. He waited in the darkness to see if she was coming back to bed, but instead she donned her robe and slipped out the door. Vin knew she felt badly about what happened to Ezra last week, and blamed herself for him being at that bakery. That fact, and worry about the RMR did not help her reduce the stress Dr. Weeks had warned her about…she might need him. The Texan rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of sweatpants, and followed her.
Kelli found sleep elusive, the boys were restless, and her mind was going places that she would just as soon stay away from. Most of the time she managed to keep positive thoughts, but tonight and after what had happened to Ezra, her mood had turned to the dark side, and she was consumed with feelings of disquiet. Dr. Weeks had warned her that she was reaching the stage where nightmares were not uncommon, and sleeping through the night was difficult. Knowing that did not help at the moment, she needed to make certain her children were safe, and then try to shake off her anxiety.
Tanner stood at the door that led to the kid’s rooms. Leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed in front of him, he had a smile on his face as he watched his wife check on Jason and then Andi. She straightened their disheveled covers, gave each one a kiss without waking them, and then gingerly stepped over Tracker as he lay in the doorway that connected the two rooms. Buttons had spent the colder months in Jason’s room, but now that the weather was warmer she spent most of her time outdoors. Vin waited for Kelli to turn his way, and acknowledge his presence, however when she did he was concerned to see unshed tears in her blue eyes.
Looking up, Kelli saw Vin waiting for her and did not hesitate to walk into the open arms he offered her. “Sorry, I woke you.”
“You didn’t wake me Kel.” Keeping his arm around her waist they slowly walked back to their bedroom. Vin steered her to their chair, sat down, propped his feet up and pulled her down next to him. “Are you okay?”
She snuggled closer as Vin pulled an afghan over the two of them. “I couldn’t sleep, your sons are practicin’ karate moves I think, and…”
He had to smile when she referred to them as his sons when they were keeping her awake, but hers when they were quiet, “And what baby?”
“Vin, what are we doing? Chambers is not goin' to let up, and we are goin' to have four children that depend on us. What if we can’t give them what they need? With the work we do, what in the hell were we thinkin'? What happens to them if one of us gets hurt or worse? You could manage, but I’m not sure I could if…”
“Shh.” The Texan held her tighter. “Kel, we are havin’ our babies, just like we wanted to, and we will give them what they need. You are gonna be fine, and I plan to be around a good long while to see these kids grow up. If fate has other plans…then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Vin sighed, he hated to see his redhead so uncertain, but he understood her doubts. In fact he had been expecting her old insecurities to surface at some point during this pregnancy. She never showed it to anyone else, but he knew how vulnerable she could be when her past called, and the events of the last few weeks had stirred up old fears of being left alone. He tried to think of the right words to say that would put her misgivings to rest. “Do you remember that fateful day at the restaurant over two years ago?”
“Of course I do, but what has that got to do with now?”
“I saw this gorgeous redhead sittin' across the room, and I had the feelin’ that I knew you from somewhere. The boys sure sat up and paid attention.” Vin laughed. “It didn’t take long though for me to realize that it wasn’t just sexual attraction that drew me to you. It was a hell of a lot more Kel. Not that I don’t enjoy makin’ love with you, I do, but…it was like findin’ somethin’ that I didn’t know was missin’. That mornin’ up on the mountain watchin’ your Texas sunrise, I figured out what it was.”
“Yep, you are the part of me that I need to complete my journey in this life, just like I’m here for you to complete yours.” Tanner kissed the top of her head. “That journey started for us many lifetimes ago, and has continued, and will continue long after our bodies are gone in this one. In this time and space it has brought us together again with Chris. Jason and Andi, plus these two little fellows are here to share the trip with us, too. Maybe there will be more kids for us, maybe not, but I do know that we are in the right time and the right place to fulfill our destinies in this life span.” Vin turned her head to look directly into her eyes. “We always have been and always will be, and no matter what happens in this life, trust fate to lead us baby.”
Those damn annoying unshed tears flowed freely as Kelli looked into the concerned eyes of the man she loved and trusted above all others. She felt all her dark thoughts vanish in an instant as his words replaced them with feelings of contentment and peace. “I love you Vin.”
He gently brushed her cheek with his fingertips and wiped the tears away. “I love you too, and together we are gonna bring these babies into this world. We’re gonna teach them about the strength of family, about fate, trust, what’s right, and what’s wrong. Most of all we’re gonna teach them about love and how it never ends, but evolves as we do from one journey to the next.” Vin could hear his grandfather’s words echo in his head. Treyton Hawk had taught him all these things and more. He may not have understood all of the lessons his grandfather gave him as a child, but he did now. It was time to pass them on to his own children and the Texan hoped that someday they found the missing pieces in their lives as he had. His grandfather believed that all connected souls found one another when the time was right, and so did he. He knew that Chris, his brothers, Kelli and the kids were all part of his being, his soul, and they reunited again and again, lifetime after lifetime.
Kelli smiled. “Does that mean when we get older that you’re gonna want me the same way you do now?”
“Nope…” Tanner grinned seductively. “More…much more, we only get stronger from here on out baby." Vin lowered his head and possessed her mouth with a kiss that was filled with promise, passion, and love. He pulled her over to sit across his lap in spite of her protest.
“Vin, ‘m too big to do this,” Kelli insisted.
“Not likely baby.” The Texan grinned as his wife laid her head on his chest, and leaned against him. “You’re not heavy Kel. You’re carryin’ a part of us, a few months of double Tanner love is no burden.” Holding her like this he could feel the boys kicking, and placed his hand on her stomach, gently rubbing over it. Speaking softly he told his sons, “You two settle down and let your mama get some rest.” He was rewarded by another kick.
“So much for the voice of authority,” Kelli laughed as she tenderly brushed his hair back from his face. The desire she saw in his eyes took her breath, and she whispered softly. “I can rest anytime, you’re all I will ever need, Vin.”
“I reckon, you’re good then, Texas, because you’ve got me, and together we can do anythin’.” He cupped her cheek and looked into her willing eyes. Vin mentally thanked fate for being kind to him on his journey through life. There had been times he had felt the detached puzzle pieces of his existence he had accumulated would never fit together. Then he came to Denver, found Chris, and finally felt at home. From then on the jagged parts of his life began to fall into place, bringing him to this moment in time, surrounded by family, holding the woman he loved, and feeling his unborn children move under his caress. The RMR, Karl Chambers, or anyone else could not touch what he had found, and he would do whatever was necessary to protect them. The road ahead may not always be smooth, but he was ready to meet any challenge thrown at him head on.
Larabee 7 ~ 6:00am
Sunrise was still twenty minutes away when Chris and Vin rode out. The sky overhead was streaked with brilliant colors as the sun slowly rose over the mountains. Peso and Pony were more than ready for a morning run, racing across the property side by side; their riders slouched over in the saddles, and were taking as much delight in the vigorous ride as the two horses.
After twenty minutes of unbridled abandonment, the two men slowed their horses to a walk. Vin patted Peso on the neck, whispering words of affection to the black horse, in a soft tone that only the animal could hear. He straightened up in the saddle and turned towards Chris, to see the blond man rubbing Pony’s neck affectionately. His thoughts turned to the last time they had ridden this way.
*Almost a year.*
*Too damn long.*
Tanner knelt down by the stream Peso was drinking from, reflecting on the reasons it had been so long since he and Chris had ridden together. The last year had been hard for all of them, but especially so for his brother.
“You’re thinking too hard Tanner.” Chris said as he adjusted the cinch on Pony’s saddle. “It hasn’t all been bad. “ Resting his hand on the horse’s flank he continued. “That fate thing you’ve been talking about all these years… I’m beginning to think you were right. It sure as hell explains how I can feel so good about things that should have damn near destroyed me.”
“How do you figure that, Chris?”
“First, it was the pills, and as much as I tried to deny it, I was addicted to them. I tried to control it and failed miserably. When I started going to NA I learned that it was not something I could control, but I could manage it, and not let it control me. More importantly, I discovered that it was not a weakness, a deliberate decision, or my fault. Prescription pill addiction is a real problem in this country, and nothing to be ashamed about. Neither is asking for help with it. I also learned that the great Chris Larabee is not infallible.”
Vin snorted. “Hell, I could have told you that.”
Chris chuckled, “Yeah, I guess you could have at that.” He walked around Pony and sat down on the ground next to Vin. Both men sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, enjoying the still of the morning.
“So you reckon fate had a hand with the pills?”
“No, the addiction was a physical reaction, and an unfortunate consequence of Jack’s manipulations. Fate however, did use the fallout from my downward spiral to show me a couple of home truths. First and foremost, my family cared enough about me to be tough, stepping back, and letting me find my way home without judging me. None of you tried to ‘handle me’, but stayed close enough to catch me if I stumbled along that path. Second…my marriage was not what I thought it was.”
Chris stayed silent for a bit, and Tanner waited for him to collect his thoughts. “You and Kel have the kind of marriage I had with Sarah. We were friends first, and then lovers. Our marriage was a partnership. I gave her what she needed, and she did the same for me, we completed one another. Don’t get me wrong…we did have our disagreements.” Chris smiled as he remembered. “Sometimes I’d rile her just to see her get mad. She was a beautiful force to reckon with when she was angry.”
Vin laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“Yeah, I imagine you do.” Chris chuckled. “Anyway, my point is we had one helluva marriage. We fought and made love with an intense passion, and we shared our dreams and every aspect of our lives with that same passion. I never had to look behind me to see if Sarah stood with me. I knew she was there good or bad, right or wrong. When Sarah died I lost more than my wife and lover, I lost my best friend, and one of the finest women I have ever known.”
Vin wisely said nothing. It was rare for Chris to talk this much about Sarah, and the Texan realized that for some reason he needed to talk about her now. If Chris needed to relive part of his past to face the future, Vin was not going to stop him.
“I know now that Sarah and Adam were a gift that I was given, and I cherish every moment we had together. I wanted to blame someone when they died and did a damn good job of wrecking what was left of my life. After I met you and the boys, I realized I was going to have to pick up the pieces I didn’t destroy and try to move on. Aside from my brothers and the Wild Bunch though, I was determined not to have more family.” Chris grinned. “That is where fate stepped in and turned my resolve not to have more kids into a fantasy.”
“Mistress Fate put you on the fast track, Cowboy. Any regrets?”
“Hell no, I’m grateful. When Linda came into my life she put everything I believed in to the test. Our relationship started on a physical level and that’s what we built on…we were doomed to fail before we began, but…I discovered something very important.” Chris looked at Vin. “Nothing happens to any of us by chance…I needed Linda at that point in my life to teach me that all things happen for a reason…when the timing is right.”
Vin smiled as he shook his head.
“I know…you’ve been telling me that for years and I didn’t believe it. I needed to find out for myself and with Linda… She freed me Vin, from my past, and she has given me three children to share my future with. That’s why we were together…fate brought her to me long enough to do that.”
“Three children, Chris?”
“Think about it Vin. Why was Kelli even in Colorado?”
“Because she… Kel came to help Linda when her father died.” Vin realized where Chris was taking this. “You have been thinkin’ about this, and I can’t say I disagree with your conclusions. Fate does have a unique way of unveilin’ our destiny.” Vin sighed. “I reckon I owe Linda, too.”
“We both do, and I will always love her for what she has brought to my life, but…it’s time for Linda and me to move on, we were never meant to be together forever.”
"A fresh break is usually best, once you’ve made a decision." Vin agreed, “If that's somethin' that both you and Linda are happy with."
“We are." Larabee told him.
Companionable silence fell between the two men as they each thought about the events of the past year, and just what fate had lain at their door.
"I'll be happy when this crap with Chambers is finally over once and for all." Tanner broke the silence at last. "I'm ready to be free to live my life without always lookin' over my shoulder to see whether or not members of the RMR are standin' back there.”
“It will be over soon. All our resources are being used to break up what’s left of the RMR. After what happened to Ezra, Travis had no problem getting us total control on the case, and on the protection detail until this is over. Using our tail on Harrison, and the information from Ezra’s assailants, we have made twenty arrests in two weeks. That’s bound to put a dent in their organization.”
“Chris, you and I both know there will always be someone else to replace anyone we arrest.” Vin stood. “This won’t be over until Chambers is convicted and spendin’ the rest of his life in prison on death row.”
“Vin, I know it’s been hard on you, first as Dusty, and now as a man needing to protect his family.” Chris stood also.” You are not in this alone. You and Kel are going to have two healthy babies to add to your family, and the RMR will not stop that from happening. We won’t let them.”
The two men locked eyes and held. There was no need for more words on the subject by either man. Vin knew that his brothers stood beside him in anything else that the RMR members threw their way. Together they would get through the next couple of months until Chambers's trial was over and the man was finally out of his life forever.
"Vin, I want to run an idea by you."
"I'm concerned about the shadow ops that Travis expects us to run. I don't think the entire team should be involved at this point."
"Hell, I got a knot in my gut the first time Travis told me about 'em. What did you have in mind?"
Chris picked up a small stone and threw it in the water." You see those ripples? They represent the entire unit, the part of MCAT that should continue to work as we have since the beginning. I believe these shadow ops should be limited to the stone."
Tanner saw exactly where Chris was going. "That would work, but what about Travis?"
"He'll come to see that the only way for MCAT to be effective is to keep our normal caseload totally separate from shadow ops. The best way to achieve success is to limit the agents we use to only the most experienced agents, and run all shadow ops out of Camp Larabee. When I have all the details worked out, I'll present the proposition to him."
"That makes sense, a special team within a team. Probably be best to use different identities too, ones that can't be traced back to MCAT or the agent's families." Vin thought for a minute." JD could set it up, and use an encrypted program on all reports and communications."
Vin hesitated. He was not ready to commit to anything except seeing this trial through, and taking care of his family. "Maybe I am. Ask me again when this mess with Karl is over and Kel and I have two healthy babies to hold."
"Fair enough," Chris nodded.
"We best start headin' back to the house." Vin said and swung easily onto Peso's back. “We have a brother to marry off this weekend.”
Chris swung onto Pony’s back, and then rode up next to Tanner. “If I know Ezra, he is Mr. cool, calm and collected.” The men took their time on the trip back to the ranch.