A Last Stand
by Mary Ann

Thanks to Beta Rosalee - for catches. I've added a little to this after it was done

Characters - All, Ella Gaines


Vin Tanner entered Team Seven’s bull pen and flipped on the lights. Placing his helmet on his desk and hanging his leather jacket on the back of his chair, he went into the combination cantina and meeting room,  and started a pot of coffee.

Returning to his desk, he looked towards the open door to his boss’ office. A grimace crossed his handsome face as a sigh escaped his lips. Moving his helmet to the floor, he switched on his computer and leaned back in his chair. His gaze went around the room resting a moment on each of his teammates desks, before landing once again on the open door where the faint light from the windows dimly lit the office.

Chris Larabee, SAC in charge of the team, would be back Monday, after almost a month off. Things would hopefully get back to normal. Vin huffed and shook his head. It would be nice to see Chris back in charge instead of Buck, who was an okay leader but nothing near what Chris had perfected over the years. The bust they recently went on came off well. But when two things popped up that Buck wasn't prepared for, he had hesitated. Chris could change tactic in a heartbeat, not losing stride when the unexpected happened. Buck, he smirked. Buck had managed to get them through without a scratch, even though it was close for several minutes, and Ezra had almost been compromised.  Buck swore he'd never lead them again, until Travis advised him that it depended on how soon Chris returned and if something came up..

Smelling the coffee, Vin rose and went into the cantina and poured a cup. Adding several spoonfuls of sugar, he returned to his desk sipping the strong, hot, sweet brew. He had barely sat down when Josiah Sanchez walked in and boomed out a good morning. Vin smiled and answered as the big man turned on his computer then went for a cup of coffee.

“Aw, nectar of the gods. Vin, you make the best coffee,” Josiah said as he wandered over to his desk.

“No, it’s strong enough to float a battleship. Don’t know how either of you can drink that stuff.” Buck Wilmington commented as he walked in, followed by JD Dunne and Nathan Jackson.

“ ‘S good. Way you’re supposed to drink coffee. Not that colored water ya’ll call coffee.” Vin retorted taking another drink from his cup.

Josiah and Nathan grinned at each other as Buck headed to make a regular pot of coffee in the second coffee maker.

The five men settled down to do paper work.

JD asked, “Who wants what time for Ezra coming in?” He held up a piece of paper. Within moments quarters were dug out of pockets.

“9:15,” Vin flipped his quarter to JD.

“9:40,” Josiah followed.

“10.00,” Nathan added.

“9:50,” Buck tossed his quarter.

“I’ll take 9:55,” JD said as he wrote the times down.

Twice a month the guys would try to guess when their undercover man, agent Ezra Standish, would show up at the office. Ezra never appeared before 8AM unless he was needed at an early meeting. They used the funds to buy donuts, though they always had to add more to the pot.

“Guess we better get this paperwork done today. Chris will be back Monday and I’m sure Travis will have plenty of work for us to do then.” Buck stated as he sat down with a fresh cup of coffee.

“How’s he doing?” Josiah asked.

“Sounded good when I talked to him awhile ago. Think he’s getting bored sitting at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t stop in sometime today,” Buck told them.

Vin grimaced and kept his eyes on his monitor. He still blamed himself for what happened to Chris over three weeks ago. Chris had not trusted him, to believe him, until it was too late. He shook the thought off. He had contacted old friends, pulled in some markers and tried to find the woman who almost got Chris killed and shredded his heart. At least Chris had healed, and their friendship once again was on firm ground. Vin knew what happened would be with Chris for a long time, but one thing had closed. Chris found out who had his family killed. A woman named Ella Gains, who seemed to be obsessed with the blond.

The ring of a cell phone two hours later peeked the attention of the men. All eyes turned to Vin as he pulled his out of his jacket pocket.

“Hey Tanner, this is Rob Watson, think I found who you’re looking for." Vin grabbed his pen and small notebook.  "Woman fitting your description and that picture you sent bought a place outside of town under the name of Mrs. Ella Larabee." Disbelief snaked through Vin as Rob spoke, she had no right to use Larabee's name. "Some acres, nice house, said she’s waiting for her husband to join her, he’s in the service. She’s bringing in a few horses.”

While Vin listened to his old friend his teammates went back to their work.


“Outside of Eagle Nest, New Mexico. North and east of Taos.” Came the answer.

“Okay, I know the area. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Call me when you get close and I’ll meet you, take you to the place.”

“Will do. See you later.” Vin closed his phone, saved his work on the computer then picked up his helmet and jacket and stepped from behind his desk.

“Have to leave. I’ll be back Monday.”

“Where you going Vin?” JD questioned.

“Personal business. See ya later.”

Vin was out the door before anyone else could ask any more questions. In the underground garage, he buttoned his jacket, put on his helmet and started his Harley. He knew he had to make a fast stop at his apartment before heading south. He dodged the sleek dark green Jaguar as it came in the gate. Ezra had arrived. He sent a quick wave at the car and roared out into the late morning traffic.

Twenty five minutes later, he rushed down the stairs from his apartment, a clean pair of jeans and a tee shirt under his arm and several clips of ammunition in his pockets. He wore a lightweight shoulder holster under his flannel shirt and jacket. Another gun nestled in the small of his back and a smaller one in his left boot. He hooked a knife on his belt, tied the scabbard to his leg, with another one in his right boot, it completed his armament.

Stuffing his clothes and extra ammo into the Harley’s saddle bags, he mounted and took off. He knew he had over 300 miles to cover by the end of the day.

Vin knew he could make good time on Highway 25 going south, but wasn’t sure when he hit New Mexico, how 64 would be with the traffic. He knew Cimarron NM, but it had been a long time since he’d been through that area. Eagle Nest was west of Cimarron.

Once Tanner left Denver, he opened the Harley up and sped five miles over the posted speed limit. As he traveled south, his thoughts turned to the events that led to this moment; he felt betrayed when Chris didn't trust him.

Two months ago…

Chris received a call one afternoon and left the office for the rest of the day. The team had just completed a successful bust and all of them were working on the paperwork. For a couple of days, no one noticed that Chris was distracted until late Friday afternoon. He told them he had another appointment and wouldn’t be joining them for dinner and a drink. He didn’t invite them to the ranch either.

Buck instantly started teasing Chris about finding a lady for the weekend. Chris hadn’t said a word though his face turned a little red as he waved him off. Vin, watching, realized that Chris seemed confused but happy.

Days later, a beautiful dark haired woman dressed in a form flattering gold colored dress walked into their bullpen. Buck noticed her first, cursed out loud and walked out when she walked in. Vin saw a small satisfied smile cross her lips before it turned into a bright smile when she saw Chris come out of his office.

Chris, not having seen Buck’s departure, introduced her as ‘Ella Gains’ to the rest of them and then the two disappeared into his office.

Ezra took one look at the closed office door and then to where Buck vanished, before his gaze met Vin’s eyes. Reading something in them, Ezra had turned to his computer and began typing. While the others talked about the woman in Chris' life now, Ezra kept working. As the office door opened, he leaned back in his chair and nodded to Vin. Before he could say anything, Chris had walked out with Ms Gains, her hand in the crook of his arm.  

“I’m taking the rest of the day off,” his glance went around the room. “Where’s Buck?”

“He is looking up some files,” Josiah smoothly answered.

“All right. I’m leaving. I’ll see you Monday. Josiah you’re in charge. Call my cell if an emergency comes up.” With that he and the smiling woman left.

“What’d ya find Ez?” Vin asked as soon as the elevator doors closed behind the couple.

“Mr. Tanner, it is Ez-ra, one word, ‘Ezra’,” Ezra replied as he brought up the page he’d found on his computer. He turned the monitor so the men who crowded around his desk could see it.

“It looks as if Ms Gains has been married several times, each husband wealthier than the last, each man dying within two years. She is a very wealthy woman now and owns some expensive real estate around the country and an estate by Paris.”

“Why Chris?” JD asked.

“Because she went with him in high school and always got what she wanted.”

Heads turned to Buck who appeared, standing behind them.

Vin looked at Buck's frowning face. “What’d you mean Bucklin?” 

“They were a couple in Chris’ senior year. He broke it off a month before he graduated. She became furious, and when he went into the Navy she tried to get back with him for several months. She finally stopped when he began SEAL training. Can’t believe she’s here, thought Chris had forgotten about her.” Buck shook his dark head.

“Something about her …” Josiah muttered.

“A lot about her. She’s like a shark, comes out of nowhere and latches onto something, sinking her teeth in and ripping the body to pieces if it doesn't go her way.” Buck offered as he thought of Gains.

“What is that supposed to mean Mr. Wilmington?”

Buck placed a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, “Well, I think her juvenile records are sealed. But her dad died, killed about the time she turned 15, hit by the family car. She was the driver. It was ruled an ‘accident’ but she’d been mad at her father who didn’t want her to date until she got older. She wanted to go to a dance with her then boyfriend. Her mother died after she graduated, overdosed on medications. Mrs. Gains really liked Chris and she encouraged him to go into the Navy, if that was what he wanted. Chris and Ella broke up about three months before she died. By then Chris and I were already in the Navy; we couldn’t get leave to attend her funeral. Mrs. Gains, well she was a really nice woman, very down to earth. We couldn’t see her OD’ing on anything but life.”

“How do you know all this?” Nathan queried.

“She, Ella, and I went out a couple times, but she wasn't interested in me, she fixated herself on Chris. I was sort of a stepping stone to him. I didn’t care, she wasn't really my type, there were plenty of other girls,” Buck smiled. “She wanted only one thing, Chris Larabee, and went after him through me. Then when she got him, she wanted him to change, into what she wanted in a man. She hated it when he told her he had signed up and had been accepted into the Navy. Years later, we couldn’t believe when she showed up just before he got married. Of all places, at his bachelor party. Not sure how she ever got on base, much less found us at the club. She tried to talk him into leaving with her. He only spoke to her for about two minutes and walked away, told her to go and have a good life, he was happy and getting married. She had been escorted off base. I’ll never forget that look on her face. She wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. She left but wasn't happy, revenge didn't look good on her face. It’s been almost eight years since I last seen her, she hasn’t changed.”

“What do we do?” JD looked from one man to the other.

Eyes turned to Buck and he shrugged. “Nothing right now. Hope Chris wakes up? He thought he was in love with her years ago, so I hope he realizes he isn’t now either. I wouldn’t trust her at all.”

Vin slowed with the traffic near Colorado Springs, but once south of the city limits he took off again.

His thoughts returned to what happened less than a month ago. Ella had appeared in the office on a Thursday afternoon, breezing into Chris’ office. A short time later, she and Chris walked out, a smile on her face.

“Ella’s invited all of us to her place for the weekend. She’s celebrating the purchase of a high rise in Houston, Texas, and a thoroughbred race horse that she wants me to train for her. Which will be seen, if I have time to do it. She’s prepared a dinner for tomorrow evening and Saturday. Her place is located at 37692 Music Road, the last place on the road.” Chris told them.

“Bring your swimming suits and appetites; Saturday will be swimming and a big BBQ,” Ella added with a smile at the six men. She turned to Chris and gave him a quick kiss.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” Her hand caressed Chris’ cheek a moment then she quickly left.

Vin showed up with the others, but the situation bothered him, something felt off to him with Ella.  Saturday morning he’d left, promising Chris he’d be back, later in the day. At his apartment, he made a couple of phone calls to acquaintances in Houston and by mid afternoon he had information on Ella’s supposed purchase in that city. He also found out that the horse she’d bought was already owned by her, and the man handling everything for her, Jack Averill. No record could be found of her purchasing a multi-million dollar high rise anywhere in the USA.

Armed with print outs of the information, he’d returned to the party. Chris hadn’t believed him and thrown the papers in his face and walked out of the room, Vin drove away. At the end of the half mile long driveway he’d stopped, something felt wrong.

For two hours, he remained parked beneath the shade of a huge maple and watched as the sun set. He felt shocked disbelief and anger suddenly flow through him. He knew it came from Chris. He started his jeep and headed back to the house. Then he heard gunshots. He gunned it and flew into the parking area in front of the house; his gun in hand.

The jeep was rocking from the skidding stop. He jumped out and ran towards Chris; who was

shooting at some men near what Gains had called the bunkhouse. He wore only a pair of black jeans, his face twisted in hate as he fired at the men shooting at him and the rest of the team near the bunkhouse. 

Vin quickly assessed the situation. He found his teammates were safely under cover, except for his leader. Chris stood in the open near the porch steps. Vin ran towards him but just before he reached the blond, Chris was hit and turned in a half circle as he went down. The man who’d shot him died instantly when Vin’s bullet struck him between the eyes. Vin dropped over Chris, protecting him from more flying lead.

“Kill her, kill her!” Chris yelled. Vin fired at another man, and using his free hand to press Chris' shoulder.

Looking around, Vin spotted a flash of Ella’s red skirt vanishing into a vehicle. The dark green Hummer with dark tinted windows shot across the parking area, and down the driveway. Vin emptied his clip into the windshield and passenger side of the vehicle with no effect on the fast moving vehicle. One bullet ricocheted and grazed his upper arm before striking the porch.

As he quickly reloaded Vin looked down at Chris who had stopped struggling under his hand. A red hole in Chris’ side leaked blood and a puddle of blood began to form under him.

“Don’t move Chris. Nathan!” Vin yelled.

“Here Vin, I’ll be there in a minute,” Nathan answered instantly.

Vin pulled his flannel shirt off and covered Chris. His bandana was already pressed against the hole.

“Kill her, please kill her.” Chris pleaded as he looked up at Vin.

“I will Chris, but why?”

“She … she killed … my family …” Tears gathered in Chris' eyes and he blinked quickly to disperse them.

“Damn it!” Vin exclaimed as Nathan came running towards them, a backpack over his shoulder. The gunfire fell off, but Vin still crouched over Chris, protecting him.

Nathan knelt beside the two men and Vin leaned back, gun in hand as his eyes searched for any of Ella’s men as the shooting fell silent. One by one Team Seven came out of their hiding places and moved to where Chris lay.

“Buck call for an ambulance,” Nathan ordered the ladies man.

“Already done Mr. Jackson. Police are also coming,” Ezra answered as he stepped to Vin’s side. “How is our leader?”

“Bad through and through, hit a rib, think its broke. He’s bleeding pretty bad. I’ve got it packed for now.” Nathan said as he wrapped a bandage around the pressure pads he’d placed.

A short time later the police arrived, an ambulance behind the patrol car. EMT’s raced to Chris' side. Josiah and Ezra met with the police and explained the circumstances to them.

Vin and Chris’ eyes met as Chris was placed in the ambulance. Vin nodded and Chris’ lips curled. qqqPromise – ‘I’ll get her’xxx – given and accepted. The doors closed and the ambulance headed for the hospital. Vin turned towards the house, to follow Buck inside to see what Chris had found.


Vin tried to clear his head to concentrate on the road, but it only lasted a few miles.  His thoughts turned back to the hunt he’d gone on after Chris came out of surgery. Once the ambulance left, he’d followed Buck into the house. They found a small closet door open and on the shelves were effects that had belonged to Sarah, Adam and Chris. Her locket held a picture of Chris but Sarah’s picture was scratched out; there was an easily recognized scarf that Buck knew Chris had given her on their second anniversary. A little stuffed horse that Chris gave Adam for his first Christmas was also there, along with several other items Chris had given to his family over the years. He wasn't surprised to see Buck punch the wall when the man saw what they found in the closet. No wonder Chris wanted him to kill the woman; this was evidence that she was behind the murder of his family.

Following the surgery, Vin learned Chris was going to be fine. Once he was out of recovery and settled into a private hospital room, Vin spent the early hours with Chris. Chris woke for several minutes around 4AM and Vin told him he was going hunting and would be off for a few days. Before the groggy Chris could reply, or even think of anything to say, Vin gripped his forearm in their special handshake and told him he'd be fine and for Chris to rest and get better. Chris fell asleep gripping Vin’s arm. Vin gently worked his arm loose and put Chris’ arm under the blanket. Touching the blond head to ensure he had no fever, Vin sat back down, and waited until someone came to relieve him.

Buck appeared an hour later and Vin left. It was 5:15AM. Vin went home and slept for several hours and then started his search. He covered all the car dealers which sold Hummers, asking them if they had sold a vehicle to a Chris Larabee. He found, at the end of the afternoon, the salesman who sold a dark green Hummer recently to Mr. and Mrs. Chris Larabee. The couple paid cash for the vehicle. The address was on Music Road.

He asked for a description of Mr. Larabee, informing him it was regarding an attempted homicide. The salesman happily described the man, a tall, well dressed, dark haired man, with a clipped eastern accent. Vin informed the dealer that whoever the man was, it was not Chris Larabee that bought the rig, and the signed papers were forged. The man was shocked, but advised him nothing could be done, the vehicle had been paid for and the couple left with it. Vin got the temporary vehicle license number and headed to the ATF office to check it out.

He had found Ezra in their bullpen. He was shocked to see the other man there on a Sunday. Ezra didn't look surprised to see Vin.

“Mr. Tanner, I believe you need some help tracking down Ms Gains and her associate. I already verified they did not leave the city by airplane, of any kind, even though Ms Gains imparted that she owned one and her pilot was on call 24/7. There has been no confirmation of any flights under her names, aliases, or her traveling companion.” Ezra paused, glanced at his computer monitor then continued before Vin could speak. “Rest assured, I did check for anyone named Larabee also. There is nothing under that name. What have you found, my friend?”

Vin filled Ezra in on what he'd found about the Hummer. Ezra turned and began typing to check the DMV for the Hummer's license.

After awhile, Vin realized they were unable to track Gains through the DMV, and pulled a list of names out of his wallet, which he had not used in several years. The list consisted of a number of men he’d met or worked with before he become an ATF agent. Sitting down at his desk he began making phone calls.

Vin finished an hour later and looking over at Ezra and said, “Don’t know if it will help, but these men have connections and are passing the word around. If they hear anything they’ll let me know.”

Ezra nodded. “With their help, we may just find her.”

“We will, sooner or later.” Vin looked at the clock. “I’m going to see if I can find anyone who has  seen the Hummer. I’ll see you later.”

Before Ezra replied, Vin dashed out the door. Ezra, with a shrug, turned back to his computer and after hacking into the DMV’s traffic cameras, he began his own hunt.

Vin stopped at all the gas stations within a half mile of any of the main highways, but found no one who’d seen a dark green Hummer. One yellow, one red and a silver one had stopped for gas. He’d returned to the office around 10PM and found Ezra still working. Ezra had found one sighting of the Gains Hummer as it went through downtown Denver but was unable to tell which direction it went after passing the camera. There were too many streets without traffic cameras.  It was almost midnight when the two men headed off to their homes for a few hours sleep.

Vin spent his time at the hospital, sitting with Chris. Following the search he and Ezra made, he didn’t leave Chris’ room for more than a few hours to eat, clean up and check in at the office. After Chris’ discharge, Vin stayed with him at the ranch for the first week. Though Chris protested, he seemed happy for the company but insisted Vin go to work toward the latter part of the week.

Chris had apologized when they arrived at the ranch and said they’d look for Gains together. Vin didn't want  Chris to think he could get by not trusting what he’d told him, and didn't say anything. On the second day, Vin acknowledged the apology with a shake of his head. He wouldn't jeopardize the friendship he treasured. He could feel the joy leaping from the older man, their hands snapped together in the special brotherhood grip they shared. The hole in Vin’s heart closed, and as they talked, Chris apologized once more for not trusting him, and promised never to doubt his word again. They spent the rest of the week sealing their friendship. While Vin did the chores in the barn, Chris prepared special meals for his soul brother.


Vin guided the Harley off the highway to the first gas station in Trinidad. After filling the tank, he moved it to a parking spot in front of the mini-mart. Stretching his back, he went inside to get something to eat and drink. The sun was dropping behind the mountains and he hadn’t eaten lunch. He figured he had at least another 120 miles to go; it would be well after dark by the time he reached Eagle Nest.

Quickly eating the sandwich, chips and snack cake, Vin drank a bottle of water then packed the other water bottles in his saddlebag. Throwing away the empty bottle and wrappers, he returned to the bike and started it. Moments later, he entered the road and headed for the south bound highway ramp leading towards Raton, New Mexico.        

Vin reached Raton, exited onto Highway 64 and headed west through Cimarron to Eagle Nest, the highway continued through to Taos. Once clear of the city, he opened the bike up and flew through the darkening countryside. Traffic at first was heavy, which forced him to slow down below the posted speed. It was well after dark, when he reached the tiny village of Ute Park. On the outskirts of the community, he pulled over at a wide place on the edge of the road, that held a reader board and garbage can. Pulling out his cell phone, he called Rob Watson.

“Rob … This is Tanner.”

“Hey Vin, where are you?”

“Outside a tiny place called Ute Park,” Vin replied, yawning. He shook his head as he dug a bottle of water out of his saddlebag.

“Good, you’re only about fifteen minutes from Eagle Nest. Come straight through town, at the end of town on the left you’ll see ‘Laguna Vista Lodge and Historic Saloon.' I’ll meet you at the saloon. I’ll buy you a drink then we can come over to my place for the night.”

“Okay, see you shortly.” Closing and pocketing his phone, Vin finished the water and placed the empty in the nearby garbage can. Mounting the Harley he headed for Eagle Nest.

qqqThis trip is almost overxxx, Vin thought. He hoped he could get Ella alone somewhere, he knew he could not kill her, he didn’t want to be arrested. It would be better to take her in, if possible. Unless, he could make her disappear from the face of the earth. But too many people knew he was looking for her. With a tired smile he wished he could take her out into the mountains. Nice dream he huffed as he yawned again.

Lights ahead alerted him to the small town of Eagle Nest and he stretched his back as much as he could on the swiftly moving motorcycle. His lower back ached from the position he’d been in for so many hours. Vin smiled, it would be good to get a decent night’s sleep after this long ride. He was tired to the bone. He wasn't use to riding long hours on his bike anymore.

Vin slowed and rode through the town’s main street and moments later he spotted the large lit sign for the lodge and saloon. Less than a minute later, he turned into the parking lot and breathed a sigh of relief seeing lights shining from the saloon. The front of the building was a replica of an old saloon, from the boardwalk to swinging doors and crooked beer signs. Half a dozen cars and trucks were parked in the lot close to the entrance.

Parking his bike to one side, Vin dismounted and worked the kinks out of his back as he hooked his helmet over one handlebar. It felt good to be off the bike and walking around. He walked up the two steps and pushed through the batwing doors.

Pausing just inside the door, Vin looked around then made his way to the tall man that waved at him.

Rob Watson, taller by a good foot than Vin and 75 pounds heavier, grinned at him. Vin noticed that his sandy red hair had streaks of grey and it had gotten pretty thin. The man was still muscular and in good shape for his age. The large smile of welcome curled his lips, lighting up his freckled face.

Rob waved Vin to the tall table near the bar, where a couple beers sat, one nearly empty. ”Hey

Tanner, nice to see you. You look tired,” Rob said as he shook Vin’s hand.

“Glad to be here. Long drive,” Vin answered.

“Sit, got you a beer. The kitchen’s closed but I live just a couple miles up the road. I’ve got sandwich makings and salad. We’ll finish our beers and go, you can eat there. Got a spare room you can crash in for the night. Lots of room.”

Vin took a drink of his beer and relaxed a little. “Thanks Rob. It would be good to get something to eat and some sleep.” The shaking and sore muscles from the long ride were beginning to loosen up. “How’d you find out Ella moved into this area?”

“I’ve retired from bounty hunting, and since I have a realtor license, I joined the real estate company in town. I’ve been here for four years now. We cover places from Cimarron to Taos. Mrs. Larabee happened to come in looking for a place. I showed her what we had and took her and, well, she called him her brother, around. They settled on a place about eight miles out of town and she paid cash for it and settled in. Got your call, I saw them in town three days ago. So they are still here.”

“Is her place hard to find?” Vin asked taking another drink of his beer.

“I’ve got a map at home. I'll show you exactly where it is. It’s not hard to find. It has a nice view of the lake and mountains.”

“Good, I’ll take a look at the map, then go look her up in the morning.”

“After a good night’s sleep, I hope,” Rob told him.

“Yep.” Vin looked around the room, he felt dizzy but shrugged it off as road weary. Food and a good night’s sleep was what he needed right now. It had been a long day, he’d started at 5:30 AM with a three mile run. He glanced at his watch, 10:45PM, yep, a long day. Vin turned back to Rob.

“A sandwich, shower and sleep would be good.”

“Well, finish up, and we’ll take off. It’ll take about four minutes or less, and we’ll be at my place.” Rob told him as he finished his beer.

Vin rose as he drank the last of his beer down. As he headed for the door a wave of dizziness washed over him and he staggered into an empty chair. He gripped it to keep from falling.

“You all right Tanner? Here let me help you,” Rob grabbed his arm and steadied him.

“Guess I’m … more tired than I thought.”

“We’ll be home in a few minutes. Let’s leave your bike here. It’ll be fine, we’ll pick it up first thing in the morning.”

“O …okay,” Vin stuttered as they stepped out of the saloon.

They made it down the steps before Vin staggered to a stop. He felt Rob’s hand on his arm, the man's grip felt like a tight band.

“Come on Tanner, my truck's only a few more steps.”

Vin took another step, then his eyes rolled back into his head. His knees buckled. He was unaware that Rob bent down and lifted him over his shoulder before he hit the ground.

Watson smiled as he hefted Vin and carried him the last steps to his pickup. Opening the passenger door, he dumped the young man on the seat and closed the door. Walking around his truck, he glanced at Vin’s motorcycle and shrugged, it’d be fine where it stood for now. Starting the truck, he drove out of the parking lot. A half mile down the road, he turned onto the road going to Elizabethtown, a smile on his lips as he patted Vin’s shoulder.

As Eagle Nest disappeared behind him, Rob began to whistle a happy tune. This had gone down a lot easier than he thought. Tanner had no idea what was in store for him when Rob called him.

Rob chuckled, the setup had gone off perfectly. From his phone call earlier in the day, to Tanner traveling by bike in one day, and being exhausted when he arrived. Clockwork, Rob thought with a grin. Now all he had to do was deliver Tanner and collect his money. The easiest ten grand he’d ever made. He wondered if Ms. Ella would have some more work for him, the money would come in handy. 

Ten minutes later, Rob turned off the road onto a private drive and drove up to a large two story house. Light still poured from many of the windows. He parked on the circular drive near the lower back entrance and saw the woman and her close friend standing by the glass door. He snorted, friend? He felt sure the man was her lover, in place of her husband, who she said was away, nothing else. The two stepped out the glass door. Two men hurried across from the apartment above the nearby three car garage.

Rob got out and walked around the truck to open the passenger door.

“Here he is Mrs. Larabee. He has no idea what is going on. Tanner should be out for the night.”

Ella Gains ‘Larabee’, dressed in tight designer jeans and a white silk blouse stepped to the truck and looked in at Vin. She smiled as she ran her hand over the young man’s cheek.

“Perfect. You did well Rob. Really, just what I needed today. Fred, Dale, take him to his room, you know what needs to be done.” Ella stepped out of the way as the two men moved forward. In a minute they were carrying the unconscious man into the house.

Rob watched the men disappear inside then turned to Ella. “Mrs. Larabee, is there anything else I can do for you? I’ve got the weekend free.”

The pretty brunette looked at the big man then at the man beside her. For a moment their gazes locked before she turned away, her hand motioned to the man.

Jack Averill stepped to Rob, his hand going to the envelope in his pocket.

“Mrs. Larabee doesn’t need your services any longer. We have your number and will call you if something comes up. Here’s your ten thousand and a bonus thousand. Mrs. Larabee appreciates your help and will possibly be calling you later.”

Watson took the envelop of money and quickly counted through it. He smiled and held out his hand, “Pleasure doing business with you. Just give me a call. I’m available for anything.”

“We’ll call you. Go home, you’ve never seen Tanner.”

“Tanner who?” Rob grinned at Averill who grinned back at him. With a wave of his hand, Rob got into his pickup and drove away.

When Rob reached the pavement, he headed back towards Eagle Nest but instead of going back to the saloon and town, he turned west and drove to his little house. First thing in the morning, he’d make a run to Taos to deposit the money into his bank account. On Saturdays it was open until noon and he’d make it in plenty of time. He didn’t want all that cash sitting around in his home. At the house, he placed the money into a zip lock baggie and put it in his combo refrigerator freezer behind and under some packages of meat and bread. Whistling happily, Rob took a shower and went to bed without a care in the world.

Ella Gains walked into the house and waited for Jack to dismiss Watson. When the truck left and Jack came in, she linked her arm through his and together they walked through the large open living area. The room sported two wide halls that extended off each side of it, an open staircase was slightly to the left of the center of the room. Entering the right hall, they met Fred and Dale coming out of a room.

As they paused as she passed them, Ella asked, “Is he settled?”

“Yes ma’am. Just as you ordered.” Fred answered and then he and Dale hurried to the living area and out the door.

Ella ignored the two men, and almost dancing with excitement, she held onto Jack’s arm as they headed to see her prisoner.

Opening the second door in the hallway, Ella entered the room. A huge man came from an inside room, pulling the door closed behind him. In his hand he carried a pair of boots and there were clothes laid over his other arm.  He looked at Ella and stepped aside so she could go into the room. He dumped the clothes on a chair by the single bed and tossed the boots under it.

Ella released Averill and walked into the room, stopping near the almost naked man laying on the floor.

A chain was wrapped around him, just above his hips. A long dark towel was draped over the back of the chain, between his legs and over the front of it, in an imitation of a breechcloth. His wrists wore a tight loop of chain around each of them and were wired to the hip chain with a five inch length between wrist and hip chain. He couldn’t bring his hands up or down more than the few inches, though he might be able to touch his finger tips together. Long hair partly covered Vin’s face and closed eyes.


Ella Gains laughed and knelt down beside the trussed up form. She let her hand run over Vin’s head, shoulder and chest.

“Look Jack. I have Chris’s sharpshooter under my hand, and control. I thought these ATF agents were so smart, that they are always in control of what they are doing. Especially this one. He tried to turn my Chris against me, but Chris knows how much I love him and what I’d do for him. He was just shocked when he found out I would kill for him. That bitch was never good enough for my darling and then tried to pawn off her bastard as Chris’s son. They were never good enough for him and had to be taken care of, and my love will realize that soon.”

She ran her hands over Vin as she talked. “Now I have the closest man to my love and he will come to me, though it might take a few days. He will come. And then I will him, and this piece of garbage will be disposed of and disappear off the face of this earth, like the bitch and her whelp.”

Abruptly Ella’s hands balled into fists and she started to pummel the unresponsive man; her voice rose to a scream, “He’s mine. No one else can have him. I’ll kill you; you'll never see him again. He’s mine …”

Jack jumped to Ella’s side and grabbed her hands before she could hit Vin again. “Ella, Ella stop! You’re going to hurt yourself and he doesn’t even feel your wrath,” Jack said as he pulled her up and away from Vin, holding her to his chest.

“Don’t injure your hands on this lowlife. You have others to do that for you, and they’re stronger.”

Ella looked up at Jack then down at her fisted hands. Opening them she stared at her fingers. “Yes, I must not damage my hands. Chris would be so upset if I did,” she turned them over, holding them up to inspect them minutely.

“They are fine sweetheart. Let’s get you to bed, it’s been a long day and it’s getting late,” Jack told her and with his arm around her shoulders moved her gently towards the door.

“Yes, bed sounds good. I do need my sleep,” she started to move with Jack then stopped and turned back to Vin. Her foot lashed out, the toe of her fancy boot catching the prone man in his abdomen just above the chain fastened above his hips. She turned and walked out of the small cool room. Ella halted in front of the large man in the bedroom.

“Lewis, he’s not to be freed for anything. If he moves or tries to get up, I want him beaten back down. He’s not to talk or ask questions, keep him controlled at all times.”

“Yes ma’am. Food? Water?” asked Lewis.

“Hmm," Ella tapped a manicured fingernail on her lips. “I guess one meal a day; make it at a different time each day. Water twice a day, one cup once and two cups at another time. Food…well, oatmeal, or scrambled eggs…nothing else. If he complains hit him and next time he’ll get half the food he is served.”

“I’ll see to it ma’am.”

Ella started to walk away then whirled and looked at Lewis, “Also he’s not to know what time of day it is or the day. Put a bright light in there and turn it on and off at different times for now. Darken the window in here and whenever you open that door be sure all he sees is light.”

Lewis nodded his head. “Bathroom?”

“Same thing. This is only a half bath. Cover the window; leave light on and door open when he’s in there. He's allowed in there once a day, but you watch him closely.”

“I’ll take care of everything before he awakes,” Lewis promised.

“Thank you Lewis. I might have other instructions later. I’ll see you in the morning,” Ella said and turned and walked out the door. Jack took her arm and guided her up the stairs to the huge master bedroom suite.

Lewis went to the storage closet at the end of the hall and grabbed several 150 watt light bulbs. In the partly finished closet room where Vin lay, he changed the lights, stepping over the man on the floor. Closing the door he moved to the bathroom and changed the light in there. Moving down the hall to the second bedroom, he grabbed the roll of heavy black cloth that Mrs. Larabee purchased a couple of days earlier, and a heavy duty stapler and returned to his room. Laying the cloth on the bed, he went out into the hall and measured the hall window. In his room he measured and cut several lengths of the cloth. Grabbing the stapler, he stapled the cloth over the hall window. Satisfied with his work he moved back into his bedroom.

The test would be in the morning when the sun came up, but he was sure no outside light would come through any of the windows. He quickly covered the bathroom window, making a note to himself to cover the outside also. Since that window was easy to reach from the side deck, it would only take a couple of minutes in the morning. He measured and cut the cloth then set it aside; he wanted to get some sleep. It was late and no telling what the morning hours would bring. It took him only a couple more minutes to cut and staple the cloth over the bedroom window, and he was done for the night.

With a last look at the long-haired man lying on the tile floor of the walk in closet he shut the door and crossed to the bed. Flipping off the overhead light he left the small table side lamp on while he pulled off his boots and clothes making himself comfortable before rolling into the bed and pulling the blankets over him. Within minutes he'd fallen asleep.

Vin moaned. He was freezing to death and reached for his blanket. His arm wouldn’t rise and something cut into his wrist. He froze in place. With his eyes closed his senses went on high alert as he took stock of himself and his surroundings. 

Through his eyelids he noticed brightness. He realized he was mostly naked, and he lay on a floor that was very cold and hard. Vin tried to move his hands and found they were bound, cold metal dug into his wrists and pulled around his hips.

“What the …” Vin’s eyes flew open, then slammed closed. He blinked several times before he could open them to the bright light glaring down at him.

From his position, lying on his right side, Vin looked down at his hands, and a frown crossed his face. Links of chain were wrapped around them and were hooked into another chain around his hips. He couldn’t believe someone used chains to bind him. He snickered when he noticed the toweling they placed on him to save his modesty.

Lifting his head, Vin tried to look around. His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat, and his neck ached. His abdomen cramped and he lay still for a minute as his gaze traveled around the little room. There was nothing to see, no windows, and only one door across from him. The floor was icy and felt like tile.

Once his head eased some of its pounding, he rolled up to his knees then stood up. Swaying, he closed his eyes as he braced his bare feet and leaned against the wall for a couple of minutes. He waited for the dizziness to pass.

Vin opened his eyes and took the seven steps to the door and attempted to open it with a cold, chained hand.

The door flew open, the handle wrenched from his hand. Vin stumbled as he looked up at the man who towered over him.

“What are you doing?” Lewis asked.

“Ba …bathroom …” Vin rasped.

The man grabbed Vin’s shoulder and dragged him to the bathroom several feet from where they stood, and shoved him into the room.

“Make it fast.”

“Can I have my hand free?”

“No. Now shut up and get done.”

Knowing not to quarrel with the big man, Vin fumbled with the towel breechcloth and shortly had taken care of pressing business. He looked longingly at the water cup sitting on the sink, but there was no way he could reach it, much less get it up to his mouth. He bent over the sink and nudge the faucet on with his chin. A tiny stream of water came out and he sucked in what he could.

A heavy hand on his shoulder and upper arm jerked him up and away from the sink and the water. The hands gripping him dragged him out of the door and back to the small enclosed room.

“What’s going on? Why am I here?” Vin asked as he was pulled into the room he thought might be a closet, due to its size and location.

With a shove, that staggered him into a half turn towards the big man, he was released. Before he could say a word, a hard hand struck him across the face. The blow knocked him into the wall. Vin blinked in surprise, his right hand automatically lifted to rub his face, but the chains prevented the movement, he could raise it only a couple of inches.

Confused he looked at the man feeling blood on his lip. “What the hell's that for?” he snarled.

The second blow caught him across the side of his head and he hit the wall hard and collapsed to the floor.

Shaking his hair out of his face, Vin glared up at the man. His head was not only pounding now but also ringing, the side of his head aching.

“I didn’t do any …”

Vin didn’t see any emotion on the man’s face, but he moved with lightning speed. His large booted foot connected with Vin’s side with such force that he was rolled completely over before a second blow landed in almost the same place.

A cry of pain sounded in the room as Vin rolled again, coming to rest near the back wall. Gasping for breath, Vin fought his way to his knees, his left arm clamped to his side. Adrenaline and anger having taken over.

“Wha’ta hell’s the matter with you?” He yelled.

Vin’s eyes widened when the man stepped forward and grabbed his upper arms and jerked him to his feet.

“Nothing’s wrong with me. It’s you,” Lewis snarled as he turned Tanner loose then struck him with first one fist then the other, knocking the slender man to the floor once more.

Half conscious, Vin looked up at the man who stood smiling down at him.

“Why?” he mumbled as he tried to fight the pain that flowed over him.

Vin didn’t see the kick that came at him but pain erupted on his left side. Fire and flames seemed to consume him and he passed out.

Lewis shook his head and rubbed his hands together. He couldn’t believe how tough the young man appeared to be. Moving a step he looked down at the prisoner. Bruises were beginning to color his face and blood seeped from his split lip. Bending he ran his hand over the prisoner’s left side and could feel the give of at least one broken rib.

The big man straightened and gazed at the unconscious man a moment. As Lewis stepped through the door he thought Tanner didn’t look over twenty two years old. Leaving the room he wondered what this guy had done to Mrs. Larabee. With the door closed he sat down on the bed and glanced at his watch. 5:15AM. What a way to start the day off, he thought as he laid down, knowing breakfast wasn’t until 7AM. He had time to catch a few more winks before then.  

Several minutes before 7, Lewis opened the closet door and glanced at the prisoner. He saw that Tanner hadn’t moved. But he was more colorful now, as there were more bruises marring the tanned skin, especially along his left side. The split lip was scabbed over with dried blood that had dried in a trail across his cheek into the long hair on the side of his head. The slight body shivered with cold.

Lewis turned the light off and closed the door. He picked up the stapler and black cloth and went out of the bedroom. He made his way to the outside door that opened onto the lower paved deck area. It took only a minute to staple the cloth over the small bathroom window then he hurried back inside. His task finished, he stored away the stapler before he headed for the kitchen upstairs.

Fred and Dale, the other two men who worked for Mrs. Larabee, were sitting at the long kitchen table when Lewis walked in. As soon as he sat down with a large mug of coffee, the cook brought them

each a loaded plate of ham, eggs, hash browns and slices of toast.

When the men finished eating the hearty meal, they sat and talked for a while. They drank more coffee before the two headed off to do their morning tasks. Lewis finished his coffee and left the kitchen.

Walking back towards the stairs to the lower floor to check on Tanner, Lewis heard the click, click, of heels on the tile floor. Slowing, he glanced toward the wide hallway to his left and saw Mrs. Larabee coming his way. He smiled at her. She really was a beautiful woman. Her thick dark hair was loose around her shoulders, the designer jeans and cream colored silk shirt complimented her good looks. Highly polished black cowboy boots, a black belt with silver conchos and a black ribbon weaved in her hair finished her outfit. He spotted a short riding crop dangling from her right wrist when he paused to see if she needed him.

“Morning Ma’am,” Lewis greeted the woman.

“Good morning Lewis. How is Tanner?” Ella said with a bright smile. “Is he obeying you?”

“I had to quiet him down some last night. He’s a little worse for wear today.”

“Good. I’ll be there in a few minutes to check on him.”

“Yes ma’am, he’ll be ready.” With a nod Lewis hurried downstairs.

Turning on the lights in the bedroom, Lewis went to the closet, opened the door and flipped on the light in the small room. He looked down at Tanner, who hadn’t moved. For a minute he debated whether to try to wake him or leave him alone. Finally he walked out of the room. He’d let Mrs. Larabee handle things.

Lewis quickly straightened the bed then sat down to wait. He wondered if he would be in the bedroom all day with nothing to do. He’d rather be working. Hearing footsteps he rose to his feet and waited for Ella to come into the room. He heard another set of footsteps and assumed Averill had caught up with her.

Ella swept into the bedroom with Jack on her heels. She gave a slight nod to the large man standing silently beside the closet door. When Lewis opened the door for her, she smiled as she stepped into the room.

Tanner lay unmoving on his right side, she could see the bruises on his left side and blood dried on his face. Her smile widened, she turned to Lewis who stood silently in the doorway.

“You may leave for now. Return in an hour. Have my horse saddled. I want to go for a morning ride.”

“Yes ma’am.” Lewis glanced at Averill before stepping back then left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Ella whirled back to Vin and stepped closer. “He should be awake. I want him awake,” she said as she tapped his naked shoulder with her riding crop.

Jack stayed back, letting her have her fun, a camera in his hand.

“Well that didn’t wake him. Maybe harder,” Ella stated to no one and brought the crop down harder on Vin’s shoulder and upper back. “Wake up you interfering bastard,” she snarled as she kept striking him.

Vin moaned and tried to roll away from the pain that lashed into his shoulder and back. He rolled onto his back only to have the blows strike his chest and stomach. His eyes flew open and he tried to raise his hands to protect his face, but was unable to lift them.

“What th’a hell …” Vin exclaimed then saw the crop raised above him. “Stop it!”

“You don’t tell me what to do. I tell you!” Ella told him loudly as she brought the riding crop down as hard and fast as she could.

Vin rolled, flattening his hands under him as he tried to get away from the painful lashes.

“Don’t you dare turn away from me,” Ella shrieked and kicked Vin’s side.

The flash of legs caught Vin’s attention as he awkwardly rolled away. With a grunt, he rolled back, his hands reaching for the booted foot aimed at his abdomen. Surprised, he seized, twisted and shoved it away.

Ella screamed as her foot was caught and twisted. Losing her balance, she crashed to the floor onto her butt. For a minute she gasped for air, her eyes wide with shock. Vin struggled to push away from her.

With a screech Ella jumped up and kicked the downed man. Her foot thudded into Vin’s back, his side, then a lucky hit to his groin area pulled a cry from him as he rolled himself into a curl to avoid her.

Her face twisted into an evil grin, Ella started beating the prisoner about the head and shoulders with her riding crop once more.

Vin curled away from the woman as best as he could as pain washed through him. With his hands shackled the way they were, he couldn’t deflect any of the blows she rained down on him.

Jack finally grabbed Ella’s hand and pulled her back into his arms that wrapped around her, pinning her hand to her chest.

“My Love, remember what you wanted to do. We best get to it before you knock him unconscious.

Ella lifted her angry glare to Averill, then finally relaxed in his arms. “Yes, we best.” She held out a hand to him.


Vin fought not to groan out loud in relief when the beating stopped, but caught himself before he did. The pain in his groin was gradually receding, except he couldn’t straighten out yet. His lower back felt on fire from the blows he’d taken. His shoulders and ribs ached. He almost grinned as he thought how much he hurt everywhere, except maybe his big toes. He wasn't even certain of that; the floor was so cold that he could barely feel his lower legs. Hearing a rattle that sounded like a chain, he stiffened wondering what the crazy woman had in mind to do to him now.

Vin tensed when he felt someone step behind him. Before he could look over his shoulder a hand was buried in his hair and lifting him.

“Hey!” Vin growled hoarsely as he was dragged to his knees by his hair.

“You don’t learn do you?” The hand tightened in his hair as another hand struck the side of his head.

If it wasn’t for the hand gripping his hair, Vin would have gone down. His head rang and he felt blood run down the side of his chin from his split lip. He tried to turn his head to the man who held him, and felt something slip over his face and to the back of his head before he could. The hand released his hair and pulled the thing tight as it settled around his neck, on his shoulders. A hand yanked his long hair out of the way. The thing lay cold around his neck when the man adjusted it, he suddenly realized it was another chain, a dog's collar, choke chain.

Swallowing, Vin looked up at the woman. Her lips were curved into a wide smile as she gazed down at him. She watched closely as the linked chain tightened about his neck.

Ella laughed out loud seeing the hate filled look in the wide blue eyes.

“You want to be my husband’s dog? Follow him around and do everything he tells you, like the good dog you are? Well, you’re mine now," she growled, "and you need to be disciplined besides having some lessons. So I’ll be training you to do what I want until my Chris gets home. The first lesson is, you obey me or else.” Ella laughed wildly and she patted his head.

“Let me have that Jack. You take some pictures.” Ella stepped around Vin to where Jack stood holding the end of the choke chain.

Jack handed the end loop to Ella and moved in front of Vin. He pulled a small camera out of his shirt pocket.

“How’s this?” Ella asked as she pulled hard on the chain with both hands.

Vin, on his knees, felt the chain tighten around his neck when Ella took the end from Jack. Now she pulled it tighter and tighter. His hands moved uselessly in front of him as he choked. He didn't see the camera flash as he fought for air.

“Hold on Ella, I need to get another angle.” Jack stated as he moved closer to the choking man.

“This is fun Jack. Look I’ve got him under total control. Just like a bad dog. Ella giggled as she pulled harder on the chain. "Bad dog, you are so bad." She jeered as her laughter filled the room.

qqqNot a dog, bitchxxx, Vin thought as he scrambled to try to stand up, fighting the spots in his eyesight and trying to breathe. Awkwardly and off balance he still managed to lunge backwards. He crashed into Ella and knocked her into the back wall. Her hands slipped off the chain and he gulped in air as he staggered away from the struggling woman.

A hand grabbed his arm and a fist slammed so hard into his side, that he was turned halfway around. The second blow landed on his lower back and he crashed to the floor as intense pain lanced through him. A moan escaped his lips when he hit the floor. A heavy booted foot struck his back and he cried out. He tried to curl away from the foot, gasping for breath and attempting to control the pain.

Jack helped Ella to her feet and held her in his arms as she steadied herself. She pushed away and stepped to the writhing man on the floor. Reaching down she grabbed the end of the chain. Jack saw the madness in her face and placed his hand on her arm.

“Don’t kill him love. Remember, he’s your ace in the hole to get Chris here," he told her in a calm voice as her hands tightened on the chain.

Ella paused, her dark eyes flashing with madness and rage. She drew in a deep breath before she nodded. “I need this bastard alive. My Chris will come if he knows his dog is alive and here. I won’t kill him. Take the pictures,” she ordered as she pulled on the chain forcing Vin to struggle to his knees.

For several minutes, over her rage, Ella giggled as she pulled and released the choke chain around Vin’s neck. She’d watch him fight to breathe for a couple of minutes before she'd release the chain letting him slump back on his legs while he gasped for air. Finally tired of the game, she jerked him upright on his knees a last time, then kicked him in the back a number of times before letting him drop to the floor. She looked at Jack, he smiled and held up the camera.

Happily laughing Ella stepped over the man on the floor and almost skipped to the door. “My Chris will love these pictures, let’s go send them to him.” She glanced at Vin and chuckled.

“This was so much fun. I’ll have to do it some more. I’m sure I can think of more tricks for my dog to learn.” Smiling with that thought, Ella left the room with Jack, who turned out the light and closed the door as he followed her out.

In the darkness, Vin lay where he’d fallen. He gasped as he worked to force air into his starved lungs. At least the chain wasn’t strangling him any longer, though the cold links lay around his neck, as if telling him they’d won, they were the power.

At last, he pushed himself backwards until he felt the corner behind him. He curled up as much as he could and let the threatening blackness take him away from the pain.

Several hours later, Lewis returned to the bedroom. Finding the lights out he wondered why. He flipped on the main light and walked to the closed closet door, opened it, and turned on the bright overhead light. He shook his head seeing Tanner curled in the corner. More blood streaked his chin, and there were red welts and new bruises starting to show on his arms, shoulders, chest and upper legs. Lewis moved closer and spotted more bruising on his lower back. He noticed the dog choke chain around the prisoner's neck. For a moment he gazed at the red mark showing under the chain. He wondered why Mrs. Larabee did that. With a shrug he nudged the chilled body to wake him; it wasn't his place to think why she did anything .

“Wake up Tanner, if you want something to eat or drink. Time to wake up …” Lewis nudged Vin’s body again with the toe of his boot.

Vin gasped and tried to edge away from the foot that bumped into his sore ribs. The voice grated on his ears. He forced his eyes open and saw the foot coming at him once more.

“No … no more …” He cringed away from it.

Lewis reached down and grasped Vin under his arms and pulled him upright. He had to hold onto him when Vin’s knees buckled.

“Stand up. I’m not carrying you.” Lewis growled.

The shaggy head nodded and the battered young man shuffled his legs. He finally managing to get them under him and braced.

“What?” Vin rasped, swaying, fighting to stay upright as waves of pain washed over him.

“Told you not to talk.” Lewis snapped as he dragged Vin out of the room, across the carpet and into the bathroom where he leaned him against the sink. “Get done.”

For a minute, Vin held onto the sink as he gazed at the man in confusion, trying to think what the man meant. His gaze turned to his surroundings. He realized he was in the bathroom, the toilet a couple of feet away from him. It took him several minutes to use the facilities. He didn't notice what he was putting in the toilet was tinted with blood. Vin shuffled back to the sink and stared at it. His mind went to work, to figure out how he could get a drink of water without passing out. Carefully he bent down, leaning sideways against the cabinet and reached one hand to the faucet. He found he was able to touch it with his finger tips. It surprised him when it turned on very easy. Straightening a little he slowly bent over swallowing the cry of pain that tried to escape. At last he had his head close enough to the water to get a drink.

His thirst slacked, Vin gradually pushed upright and gazed at the running water.

“Hell with it,” he muttered and stepped away from the sink.

Lewis had watched as the young man attempted to get a drink. He knew he wouldn’t be able to turn off the water. He moved from where he leaned against the doorframe, turned off the water then grabbed Vin’s arm.

“Time to go.” He said and pulled Vin away from the sink and out the door.

Vin stumbled, and would have gone down except for the iron grip on his arm. He looked around as they walked through the bedroom. For the first time he noticed the feel of warm carpet under his bare feet, and wished he could stay there for awhile. He spotted a bed across from the bathroom door, it looked inviting. He was propelled the few feet to the closet door. Even though he tried to plant his chilled feet to stop his momentum, he was shoved into the brightly lit cold room.

Lewis felt Vin try to pause as they got to the room. He chuckled as he shoved him into the closet. “Won’t work, just accept it.”

“Why? What did I do to …” Vin didn’t finish the question as something connected with the back of his knee so hard and painful, that he cried out as his knees buckled. At the same time he was shoved hard. He stumbled a couple steps before crashing to the floor. Unable to stop the fall, his head struck the tile floor with a hard smack and he went still.

Lewis kicked the downed man, hard enough to roll him over onto his back. He saw a smear of blood on the tiles and his gaze went to Tanner’s head. He knelt beside Vin and saw the blood was coming from along his hairline, above the corner of his left eye.

With a curse, Lewis got up and went to the bathroom looking for first aid items. Not finding anything, he turned to the bedroom door. Thinking Jen, the cook, would have supplies, he hurried up the stairs to the kitchen.

Jen gave him her first aid kit, and he went back down to the closet. After cleaning the cut, he put antibiotic cream on it, covered it with a gauze pad and wrapped a length of gauze around Vin’s head. Using the wet cloth he’d cleaned the wound with, he wiped the blood from the floor. Picking up the supplies he left the room, shutting off the light and closing the door after him.

He returned the kit to Jen, then wandered around the downstairs living area, picking up a couple of magazines before returning to the bedroom. He heard the voices of Mrs. Larabee and Jack coming from the upstairs den, but ignored them. It had sounded as if they were arguing about something.

Vin woke, shivering with cold and pain. Blinking his eyes, he wondered if he had gone blind, or the room was dark; he couldn’t see a thing. He turned his head to look around wondering where he was, and gasped at the shooting pain that lanced through his head and clawed into his brain. He couldn’t prevent the moan that escaped his lips. For several minutes he lay still, attempting to get the pain under control as he again tried to raise his hands. He suddenly remembered where he was, and who had him, just as a noise sounded outside the room.

The door was thrown open and bright light flooded the room, tearing through his head as he slammed his eyes closed. He groaned in pain as he was wrenched to his feet by his upper arms. Blinking back the tears of pain that threatened, Vin raised his head, and barely stopped the shudder that ran through his shivering body.

Ella stood in front of him, a smile on her red lips as her gaze and hand roved up and down his body. Vin felt as though he had been stripped of all his dignity, then thought, yes, he had been. He jerked his aching head away from the hand she’d cupped his jaw in.

“Oh, my little dog, you are still full of fight aren’t you? Guess I need to take some of it out of you again, but how?” She cooed as she ran her hands over his shoulders then down his chest.

“Turn 'm loose, and I’ll show ya what I have left in 'e.” Vin snarled, his voice raspy.

Ella laughed. “I don’t think that is an option. I really don’t think you can stand on your own two feet. Let him go Lewis.”

Vin’s arms were released and he shifted his weight, bracing himself on shaky legs. His hands were balled into fists, though he couldn’t raise or lower them. He forced himself to stand up straight in front of the hateful woman who stood smirking at him.

“Well, dog, you are as loose as you’re going to get. Let’s see if you learned any manners.” She grinned and reached for the choke chain around his neck.

“Did ya’ learn?” Vin rasped, as he leaned on one leg and lashed out with the other. His left foot landed hard just above her groin throwing her back. A scream of pain came from her. Off balance, Vin tried to catch himself but fell back, crashing into something solid and warm. qqqDamnxxx he thought, he’d forgotten the big man standing behind him.

Arms wrapped around Vin and held him as the man shuffled them into a standing position. Vin didn’t struggle, knowing there was no escape. qqqStupid, stupidxxx ran through his head as the arms tightened.

Averill helped Ella to her feet and out of the room while she got her breath back. He rubbed her back, almost feeling sorry for Tanner.

“You’re a dumb son of a bitch, Tanner. You’ve really made her mad now.” Lewis muttered to the shaggy head against his chest.

“That bitch is crazy.” Vin replied as the adrenaline leached out of him. He heard a whisper of a laugh above him.

“But she pays very good, kid.”

Ella appeared in the doorway. Lewis shifted Vin so he could get his leg in front of Vin’s. Ella watched the maneuver, her hand rubbed over her stomach idly. She looked at the restrained man, a grin crossed her lips.

“I should kill you for that, but I need you, until my love gets here. Once Chris is here you’ll be taken care of like a mad dog or broken legged horse. For now, well, let me see,” she moved closer to Vin, smiling at the blue-eyed glare. Her grin widened as she brought her hand out from behind her back.

For a moment Vin thought she had a ruler, but with another glance, he realized it was a solid piece of wood or metal, in a round tube shape, about two feet long.

At the first blow, Vin arched away and it barely grazed his right side. He fought to get free of Lewis’ hold, only to have the man shift his grip. An arm went around Vin’s upper chest and shoulders, as fingers bit into his shoulder. The other beefy arm pressed tight under his chin, across his throat.  

Another blow, this one landed on his bruised left side and Vin gasped in pain. Several more blows followed. One on his right side, then both thighs before another one caught him on the left side again. Vin could feel himself weakening. His teeth clinched in pain as he struggled to get free. A glance at the crazy woman had him thinking, qqqstupid bitch, stupid me and my mouthxxx. As it flashed through his mind, another blow landed on his left side and he heard the crack as another one of his ribs cracked, pain lashed through him. With one more blow another rib broke, Vin cried out as darkness began to take over.

Barely conscious, he heard something beside him, and fought to lift his head. He felt the chain around his neck tighten. His eyes opened, and flicked to the woman in front of him; her hand pulled the chain tight and tighter.

“I really want to kill you now, you flea-bitten dog. What you did to me, I should just do it.”

Vin stared at her as his mouth opened to get air into his lungs. He wasn’t going to give her the

satisfaction of seeing him give up. His vision blurred, and moments later blackness descended; his head fell forward.

Jack took Ella’s hand off the chain. “Don’t kill him yet, love. You know how much you need him now. Come, let’s go. I’ve got more pictures to download. Let’s leave him alone for now.”

Ella turned to Jack. “Yes, we need to get those pictures to my love, so he will come,” she said and walked out of the room.

Jack nodded to Lewis and followed her.

Lewis breathed a sigh of relief, and laid the prisoner on the floor. Looking at him for a moment, he shook his head and stepping over him left the room. He could see the indent where the two broken ribs were, and hoped they hadn’t caught Tanner’s lung. He’d check him in awhile; he wanted to wash the blood off his hand. Tanner had bitten his lip. He’d have to clean him up again.

“Boy, that woman is crazy,” he muttered as he moved to the bathroom.


Early Monday morning, Chris Larabee walked into Team Seven’s bull pen and flipped on the lights. He hadn’t thought he’d arrive before Vin, and was surprised the sharpshooter wasn’t already there.

Going into his office, he turned on the lights, and hung his black duster on the hook behind the door. He booted up his computer before heading to the cantina to start a pot of coffee. Making a strong pot the way Vin and Josiah liked it, he also made another one for the rest of his team. He smiled at the thought of the thick, strong stuff Vin drank, calling it coffee. He’d had to get another coffee maker to keep the other men happy. Waiting for the coffee to finish, he wondered why Vin wasn’t there yet. Vin was usually the first man in. Buck hadn't said anything about Vin when he talked to him the day before. With a shrug, he carried his coffee back to his office.

Making himself comfortable in his chair, Chris began to read over the new reports that were downloaded on his computer. He wanted to get most of that done before he checked his emails. Almost four weeks out of the office wasn’t a good idea, he decided, as he skimmed through the latest agency report. He hated reading inter-agency reports and emails at home, and left them to read at work. Others, important ones in regard to his team, he'd kept up to date.

Josiah and Nathan arrived together, and stopped to welcome him back. After they greeted him, they went to get a cup of coffee before going to their desks. Buck and JD arrived in the middle of Buck's story about a great weekend he had with a lady named Ginger.

Grabbing a cup of coffee, Buck walked into Chris' office and plopped down on the couch in front of his desk.

“Hey stud, nice to see you back where you belong. Been way too quiet around here lately.”

Chris leaned back in his chair. “You were all at the ranch Sunday before last to pester me, but it is nice to be back. Where’s Vin?”

“He didn’t call you?” when he saw Chris' expression Buck continued, “Don’t know. He had a call and took off Friday around noon. Said it was personal business and he’d be back sometime today. I figure he’ll be in by noon.”

“Okay, get to work.”

Buck grinned, “I think we’re all caught up right now.”

“Yeah right. Well if so, look busy. I’m sure Travis will have something for us soon.”

“Yes, Boss.” Buck saluted Chris and walked out the door.

A short time later, Ezra entered the bull pen and was greeted by his teammates. He paused in Chris’ doorway for a moment, to welcome him back. With a smile and a nod of his head, he went to his desk.

Almost an hour later, Chris began to review the agency emails that were still in his inbox. He managed to get through nearly all of them in a half hour. He breathed a sigh of relief, as he whittled them down to a small handful. Picking up his coffee cup, he went to get a fresh cup of coffee before tackling the last few.

Minutes later, after listening to a couple of JD’s jokes and laughing over them with his team, Chris returned to his office and checked the last emails. Buck, having followed him, sprawled out on the couch in front of his desk. He began filling in the many details of the bust they’d been involved in, during the previous week with team eight.

Chris opened one of the last messages and it instantly opened into a slide show. For a moment he stared at the monitor, thinking he'd gotten some sort of spam. But when the figure became clear, he felt his face drain of all color. His hands gripped the edge of the desk tightly, as picture after picture rolled across the monitor.

“Fuck!” Chris exclaimed. Buck jumped up, and hollered for Nathan before he went around the end of the desk to Chris' side.

“Chris take it easy. You have overdone it today. You should not have tried to get through all those reports, and everything else in a few hours time. You’re too pale.” Buck said, then glanced at the screen.

“Shit! What the hell?” Buck’s loud voice exclaimed when his eyes latched onto what Chris was watching.

Nathan rushed into the office with the rest of the team crowding in behind him.

“Chris, Buck, what …” Nathan’s gaze went to the monitor the two men were staring at with shocked expressions on their faces.

“Aw no!” he exclaimed taking in the monitor's display. It took only seconds for the others to crowd around Chris' chair. In moments, the room rang with curses, and a “God help him,’ as they watched the pictures scrolling across the screen.

The slide show paused for ten seconds at each picture. Vin was all but naked, save for a breech cloth. His hands chained to a chain which was around his waist. He lay on the floor of a small room, as a hand with a short whip or riding crop striking him. A foot kicked him. Then he was on his knees, a dog's choke chain around his neck which was held tightly in someone’s hand. Another showed him with eyes closed, the hands on another part of the chain forcing his head back. Then being held with thick arms wrapped around him, a simple bandage around his head. Someone was then beating him with a short club. The last picture was of him laying unconscious, bruises showing along his back, chest, legs as blood soaked the bandage around his head.

“How could this atrocity occur?” Ezra stated, as the pictures began to play over again.

“JD …” Chris pulled his gaze from the screen to look at the communications expert, but JD wasn’t in the room. “JD!” he called out.

“Already on it Chris,” JD responded, then instantly called back, “Leave that on, don’t touch anything.”

Chris nodded and rose from his chair. In a daze, he walked into the bullpen and dropped into the

chair by JD's desk. Chris settled deeper on Buck’s chair and focused on JD's fingers flying on the keyboard. JD's skill and expertise on the computer astounded the entire team.

Nathan went into the cantina and got Chris a cup of coffee. He added several spoonfuls of sugar to it. Carrying it to Chris, he handed it to the blond.

“Drink it all Chris,” Nathan demanded, and without a word Chris drank it down. He didn’t say a word, but a grimace crossed his face at its sweetness.

“Ezra, can you get into Vin’s phone records? See if you can find where that call came from Friday,” JD asked as he worked. His head came up and a blush crossed his face.

“Um … Sorry Chris … I …I …”

“It’s okay JD, good idea,” Chris answered as he glanced at Ezra, who’d already sat down at his desk and was typing on his keyboard.

There was silence in the room, save for the noise of typing. Four men watched as JD and Ezra worked their magic on the computers. With minutes, Ezra had accessed Vin’s phone records, and was scrolling through the short list. He promptly found the call Vin had taken Friday morning, then one placed to that same number later that evening. Several more minutes passed, then Ezra sighed in relief. He’d traced the number and had begun to pull up information on the owner.

“I do love the internet.” Ezra commented as his fingers flew over the keys.

Buck chuckled. “You and the internet Ezra? I’d never think that of you.”

“You know so little about me, Mr. Wilmington. And here we are.” Ezra said, as he brought up an address and map.

“The first call came from a Mr. Rob Watson, a real estate broker in Eagle Nest, New Mexico. Mr. Tanner talked to him a couple of minutes Friday, before noon, here in the office. Mr. Tanner then called him from a place named Ute Park, near the other town, that night.””

“Is there an address for the real estate office, or the man listed?” Chris asked.

“I am checking the local directory for any record on the man.” Ezra replied, then with a grin he added, "I'll also check the local constable for anything."

“JD?” Chris looked at the young agent.

“Almost Chris. He’s pretty good about hiding his trail, but I’m better,” JD answered as he continued to type.

“There’s a report of an abandoned motorcycle at the Leguna Vista Saloon. They impounded it Saturday morning. No one has claimed it yet. I do believe it is Mr. Tanner’s Harley, if I remember his license number correctly.  I have the phone number, Mr. Larabee, if you wish to call the sheriff. I also have the address for the real estate office and Mr. Watson.”

“I will make the call,” Josiah replied before Chris could say anything. He took the slip of paper that Ezra had jotted the number on and moved to his desk.

“Found you,” JD exclaimed a minute later. “You couldn’t hide from me.”

“What’d you find, JD?” Buck asked, patting their youngest on his shoulder.

“Got the address of where that email originated from. Just a second … Here is the physical address too. Oh, look! It’s a place owned by a Mrs. Chris Larabee and Jack Averill. She is using your name Chris!” JD exclaimed in surprise.

“Bitch!” Chris snarled. “Get everything printed out. I have to make a phone call. We’ll leave as soon as I’ve talked to Travis.” Chris stormed into his office, slamming the door behind him.

Several minutes later JD blurted out, “Chris!” But Buck’s hand on his shoulder stopped him from saying any more.

“What is it JD?” Buck asked, sitting his and JD’s emergency bags, and arms beside the desk.

“Another email from them came for Chris.”

“Damn. What is it this time?” Nathan asked turning to JD’s desk.

“Vin’s laying on the floor, someone’s kicking him. Looks like just one hit, but enough to roll him over. His back is a mass of bruises. There are words, ‘qqqYou will be contacted on where to come if you want to see him alivexxx.’ That’s all.”

“Do you think Chris …” Nathan started to ask and stopped as Chris flew out of his office door, a backpack in his hand. As fast as he was moving, they could see the gun and holster tucked under his arm.

“He’s seen it, Brother.” Josiah answered as he paused by Nathan, who was adding a few more items to his first aid bag. Josiah picked up Nathan’s backpack, making sure their spare guns were packed as his gaze locked onto Chris.

Chris forced himself to calm down, as he watched his team prepare to go after Vin. He heard the printer, as it spit out printed pages of information they gathered or might need later. As he waited, he thought over the short conversation he’d had with Travis. The older man, his boss, had been surprised at what Chris told him. He wanted to let the local authorities handle it, until he opened the email Chris forwarded to him. He’d been shocked at the brutality, and when he opened the second email, he knew there was no way that Chris and his team would wait for a sheriff to find Vin. He gave his okay to go after the team’s kidnapped sharpshooter.

Larabee knew that Travis was concerned, and promised he would keep in touch with the older man; now he just wanted to get on the road. He watched as JD loaded his laptop then grabbed the papers from the printer. Buck had JD’s backpack in his hand and watched the young man. At the last minute, JD grabbed the duffel bag that held their radio equipment and vests.

Ezra had his pack ready, and bent to attach his holster and .22 to his right ankle. Chris knew the weapon was loaded with the maximum load, in fact, all of their weapons were. Ezra straightened and looked at Chris.

“I do believe we are ready, Mr. Larabee.”

“Let’s go. We’ll take my truck. Josiah, is your Suburban up to the trip or …” Chris said as they strode out of the room.

“Best take Nathan’s Chris, my lady is having an oil problem right now.”

“That okay Nathan?” Chris looked at the tall dark man.

“Of course. I filled it this morning, so it’s ready to go,” Nathan replied as they entered the elevator. “I’ve already let Rain know so she doesn’t worry.” He added.

A short time later the black Dodge 4-door pickup, followed by the Trailblazer, were headed south to New Mexico. At Colorado Springs they pulled off the highway long enough to go through a fast food drive-thru, grabbing something for lunch. Ezra complained about having to eat such a disgusting fare while Nathan was horrified at having to eat such vein clogging foods. They both ordered large salads as the others teased them. Josiah drove Nathan's rig, as he could eat his sandwich one handed.

The farther south they traveled, the darker the sky became. At Raton, NM they stopped long enough to fill tanks, grab coffee, sodas, and snacks before continuing toward Eagle Nest.

Lightning flashed overhead, lighting the darkening sky as they pulled into the small town of Eagle Nest, and separated. Chris went to the small sheriff’s office while Nathan drove around the corner to check the real estate office. The rain began to fall as they parked.

Chris and Buck entered the sheriff’s office and stopped in front of the only desk. The middle aged deputy rose, looking at the glare from the blond.

“Can I help you boys?”

“Chris Larabee, ATF from Denver. We were told you have my team member's motorcycle in your compound." Chris told him showing his badge and ID.

“Yes, Agent Larabee. I’m Deputy Nick McGregor. I picked it up Saturday morning in the Laguna parking lot. The other deputy figured it was an abandoned vehicle, called me, and I retrieved it. I found several firearms, ammo, some clothes and water in the saddle bags. I’d just put the license number into the system when your man called.”

Buck smiled tightly, “Guns?”

“Yes sir, I have them right here.” The deputy pulled a set of keys from his pocket and turned around to the cabinet that stood behind him. Unlocking the door, he reached inside and pulled out the guns lying on an inside shelf. He laid them gently on his desk, then retrieved the five ammo clips from the cabinet, placing them beside the guns.

“I believe one gun is missing, this doesn’t fit any of these guns,” McGregor pointed to one of the clips.

“Leave it to Junior to come loaded for bear.” Buck shook his head.


“Vin Tanner, he’s our team sharpshooter. He disappeared on Friday and we traced him here. Those are his weapons. How do we get them, and the bike released?” Chris asked.

“Sharpshooter, huh? Well, you did ID these, if you can ID the bike …”

“Dark blue, older Harley; black saddlebags with a dream catcher imprinted on the back mud flap. Colorado license CO25701, tag good until May next year.” Chris rattled off.

McGregor blinked at the man in black, then shook his head. “Yes sir, that’s it. Do you know where your man is?”

“We do, and we might need some backup to get him out of the situation.” Buck cut in before Chris could say anything, gaining an annoyed look from the blond.

“I’m here alone, but can get help from Taos in under an hour.”

“Might not have that much time,” Chris replied as the door opened behind them and three men entered the small space.


Nathan drove around the corner from the sheriff’s office, and pulled in beside a green pickup parked in front of the real estate office in the middle of the block.

Ezra and Josiah got out of the car, pushed the office door open, and walked inside. A tall muscular man looked up then rose from his chair behind his desk.

“Hello, may I help you?” Rob Watson asked, hoping for a sale.

“We apologize for it being so close to your closing time. We’d like to converse with a Mr. Rob Watson.” Ezra smoothly answered.

“I’m Rob Watson. What can I do for you gentlemen?” Rob smiled widely.

“I believe you know a friend of ours, Mr. Vin Tanner?”

“Vin? Sure I know him, but I haven’t seen him in, oh, maybe four years? How’s he doing?” Rob faked surprise, concern and smiled.

“We believe you’ve not only talked to him recently, but seen him also. Haven’t you Mr. Watson?”

“No, haven’t seen or talked to him in years. Why?”

Josiah leaned against the desk and gazed at the lying man. “Well, for one, we have Vin’s phone records. We know you called him Friday morning, and he came down here to meet you. He also talked to you that evening a few miles from here. So, we want to know where he is.”

“That’s a lie. I haven’t seen him for years.” Rob felt sweat break out on his face.

“May I?” Ezra said. He picked Rob’s cell phone up from the desk and turned it on.

“Hey, you can’t do that! That’s private property.”

“ATF investigation of a kidnapped agent. Possible gun running. We can check this. And look here Agent Sanchez, here is Mr. Tanner’s name and number, recently used.” Ezra held the phone so Josiah could see.

“Mr. Watson, you need to come with us.” Josiah said, with a gesture at the door.

“You will be locked up Mr. Watson, but no calls will be allowed for forty eight hours. Best get your coat, I do believe it’s raining outside,” Ezra said pleasantly. He watched as the man pulled his coat off the his chair and glance around the office as they went out the door. Watson turned off the lights and locked the door, then got into the agents waiting car.


Thunder rattled the sheriff’s office as the newcomers entered the room.

“Hey Watson, what’re you doing here?” McGregor asked, seeing the man with the two strangers.

“Perpetrating a kidnapping and impeding an investigation.” Ezra answered easily.

“Where’s Tanner?” Chris growled taking a step towards the big man.

“Chris.” Buck’s hand landed on Chris' shoulder and Chris paused.

“Mr. Larabee, Mr. Watson denies knowing or talking to Mr. Tanner, but his cell phone says otherwise.” Ezra smoothly said.

“Sheriff, this man’s under arrest, no phone calls until we say, if you please,” Josiah put in. “He was read his rights in the car on the way here.”

“Larabee?” Rob Watson exclaimed in surprise. “But you’re married to Ms Ella, why aren’t you with her?”

“I am not married to that bitch, she killed my family …” Chris' anger overcame him. The hand on his shoulder clamped down tighter. The pain brought his words to a halt as he shot a dirty glance at Buck.

“She’s wanted for murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Now sheriff, would you please put this man away for us?” Buck asked.

“Ah, yes, sure.” McGregor grabbed the keys off his desk and motioned to Watson. “Come on Rob, empty your pockets on the desk. You can call whomever you want later, when they allow you.”

With a curse, Rob emptied his pockets, then walked through the back door with McGregor. Minutes later McGregor returned to his office and the four men waiting there.

“Rob’s locked up. What else can I do for you? Please, call me Nick.”

“Show or tell us where this place is. Any way to identify it from the road?” Josiah asked and laid out the map and address. “Do you know anything about the place?”

“Let me see …” McGregor studied the map and the address then smiled. “That’s the old Harden place, actually not that old a house. Fifty acres, large two story adobe house. There's a three car garage  that has an apartment over it. They're building a new barn a little ways from the garage; it's partly finished. The house can be seen from the road, but it has a long driveway. At least a quarter of a mile; it goes up and around a shallow ravine. It all sits on the top of a little hill and has a good view to the west.”

“Any idea of the layout of the house?” Buck asked not expecting an answer.

McGregor grinned. “As a matter of fact I do.” At the surprised looks he shrugged. “My wife grew up with the Hardin daughter. After we were married, we often visited them, until the older Hardin's retired and moved to Taos. Marilyn, their daughter, married a friend of mine and they live near Angel Fire. They lived in the house until a year or so ago. Anyway, the lower level main door opens to an open area, living or family room. There's two halls off the living area, to each side, with several bedrooms, two with attached bathrooms. There's a couple of rooms with a small bathroom located near or between the rooms." The deputy grabbed a sheet of paper and started drawing out the floor plan, pointing out the different rooms.

"The right wing, or hall, has two large bedrooms, one is a suite, and there's a storage area or room there also. The left hall on the other side of the living room is almost identical to the right side but with the smaller bathroom between two of the rooms. A wide, open, slightly curved staircase dissects the living room." He drew in the stairs as he continued to talk, "leading up to the main part of the house. Another large living room area, dining room and gourmet kitchen. Two large bedrooms with attached bathrooms, a den or office and another full bathroom are upstairs. All the rooms are good size. The apartment over the garage has two bedrooms, a small kitchen, bathroom and living room.” McGregor pointed the last rooms out then stood back as the men gazed at his drawing

Buck and Chris exchanged a glance, Chris asked, “Is the house finished? Any rooms with tile or rock type floors?”

“Downstairs, the hallways and bathrooms were sandstone. The Hardin's were remodeling, and some things were done before they sold out. Umm … Yes, they were changing out the wood floors to sandstone with carpeted bedrooms. I’m not sure, but I think most of the downstairs was finished. The closets and bathrooms were the last to be done. I believe all the bedrooms have been completed, each room has a walk in closet, and their bathrooms were finished in tile. I believe they used the cheaper tile flooring in the closets and bathrooms. My wife is an interior decorator and she worked with them for a couple of years, since she knew them so well.”

“Upstairs?” Chris asked, though he wondered if Vin could be held in the lower level of the house.

“Completed. They remodeled the hall, put thick carpets in the bedrooms, maybe the living room also. The kitchen, dining room, hall and living area are the areas with sandstone or tile. Oh, there’s a wide deck around the upper floor with stairs coming down at one end of the house.”

“Thanks,” Josiah said and looked at Chris. “I think Vin could be held downstairs, in one of the bedrooms.”

Nodding, Chris agreed, “Get Nathan and JD in here, and let’s figure out how to get to Vin. Nick, would you know how many people are at the Hardin’s place?”

McGregor shook his head and thought a moment. “Well, the woman, Ella. A man is usually with her. She hired a cook, a woman named Jen Layton. I don’t know if Jen goes home or stays there. A couple of strange men have been in to the lumber and feed store picking up supplies. I have seen them driving by in a newer pickup several times. No idea if they are staying in the apartment. I don’t know if there are more men out there.”

“That helps, gives us an idea what we might be facing. Let’s get this laid out and get out there,” Chris stated as JD and Nathan walked in the door.

“I went back and checked Watson’s truck. I found Vin’s wallet, one of his guns and his belt knife,” Nathan laid the items on the desk.

“More evidence against Mr. Watson. Proof of his involvement.” Ezra remarked.

“Let’s get our brother back,” Josiah stepped to the desk.

Vin shivered and wondered if anyone would be returning to torment him. He hadn’t seen his tormentor for a long time. His wrists were raw and bleeding from trying to free himself from the chain binding them. The choke collar still hung around his neck; he’d fought for what seemed like hours to reach it, to get free. No way could he reach high enough to do anything. One finger had grazed the loop hanging down his chest. He’d suffered from that attempt, ribs grated, and his back screamed in pain from the way he'd moved and twisted.

In a half stupor Vin dozed. Vaguely he became aware that someone was talking to him. Then a heavy foot caught him below his ribs, and he was rolled over from the blow. Pain carried him into blackness.

The next time he awoke, Vin felt hands on him and tried to knock them away. A voice cut through his movements and a hand gripped his shoulder, stopping him. Forcing his eyes open, Vin looked up at the man holding him still.

“What?” Vin rasped.

Lewis squeezed his shoulder and Vin yelped in pain. “I told you, no talking, now shut up. I’m releasing your wrists before you end up cutting them bad enough you'll bleed out. Now lay still, understand?”

With a nod Vin stilled, and watched the big man reach for one of his wrists.

Vin gasped in pain as his wrist was released from the chain. Fresh blood begin to move down into his hand. He flexed his fingers as Lewis worked on the other wrist’s chain.

When his left wrist was freed, Vin sighed in relief. Both wrists looked bad, but he could move his fingers and hands.

“You need to go to the bathroom?” Lewis asked as he tossed the pieces of chain into the corner by the door.

Opening his mouth to reply, Vin remembered in time, and just nodded his head.

Lewis smiled. “See you’re learning. No talking. Let’s get you up then.” He rose, then bent and placing his hands under Tanner’s arms he lifted the smaller man up to his feet.

Groaning in pain, Vin swayed, as he tried to brace himself on his feet. The flash of lights finally cleared from his vision, and the pain throughout his body lessened. He opened his eyes to see Lewis standing in front of him a hand still supported him.

“Looks like you’re ready. Go slow.”

Vin moved his feet, and step by shaky step, made his way to the door. His teeth gritted against the pain the movement caused. He felt the bedroom carpet under his cold feet and paused a moment to let them get warm. A nudge got him moving again, and he entered the bathroom.

This time, he noticed that his urine was blood tinged as he took care of business. He shrugged, nothing he could do about it. He washed his face, hands and bloody wrists. He blinked at the face in the mirror, surprised to see only one bruise on the left side of his head, though his lips were split. Lowering his eyes in the mirror, he spotted the choke chain. His hand came up and he grabbed hold of it.

“I wouldn’t take that off if I was you,” a voice said.

Vin jumped, his hands dropped, and formed into fists. He’d forgotten the door was open and his guard had been watching him. He realized that if he did get the chain off and Ella returned, he’d be in more trouble. Moving his hands he wrapped his arms around himself as he turned from the sink. His gaze landed on the shower stall for an instant. He wished he could take a hot shower to get warm.

Lewis saw the blue eyes glance around the bathroom and pause a moment on the shower before looking away as the man shivered. He knew how cold Tanner was, and wondered if he dared give him a blanket.

Once in the closet he watched as Tanner leaned against the wall and then slowly slid down it, to sit on the icy floor in the corner.

“I’ll be back shortly. Stay put, and I’ll bring you something to eat.” Lewis told the shivering young man and closed the door.

Sitting in the corner, Vin clenched and opened his hands several times. His wrists hurt, but he hurt all over. He knew he had a broken rib, probably two if not three. His back ached, and his lower back felt like a herd of elephants were trampling through him. He tried to ignore it all, pushing the pain away.

His hands were free. Now, he could concentrate on escaping. As long as the bitch didn’t come at him again, he reminded himself. Vin looked at his shaking hands and kept working them even though blood dripped and ran from the torn, bruised flesh around his wrists.

Hearing a noise in the other room, Vin slumped farther into the corner. He dropped his hands and leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He hoped it wasn’t Gains.

His heart sank when the door opened and for a long minute silence reigned, before the click of her boots on the tile had him opening his eyes a slit.

Ella looked to be ready to go riding. The dark riding crop dangled from her wrist by the wrist loop.

qqqDamn,xxx Vin thought as he looked at her, wondering what she planned to do to him this time.

Ells stood a foot from her prisoner’s outstretched leg. His forearm rested on his thigh, she watched, engrossed as a slow moving line of blood made its way down the side of the firm, tanned thigh to puddle on the floor tile. Her gaze went to Vin’s other arm, his wrist lay limply on the floor beside his naked hip, blood slowly pooling under it.

Her eyes finally moved from the slow moving blood fascinating her to the seated man. His body showed many bruises and his face was pale. The choke chain hung around his neck and she smiled. Her dog did not look very well, or happy. She looked at the blue eyes that were staring at her, and her smile widened. The fight wasn’t all out of him yet, but it would be soon enough. Ella turned slightly to gaze at Jack as he enter the room behind her.

“Look Jack, this dog is still trying to fight. Will it ever learn who it's master is?” She reached out and grabbed the chain around Vin’s neck and jerked it tight.

Vin didn’t move, he let his eyes slide closed and sat there. She stood to the side of him. He wasn’t sure he had enough energy to strike at her. With his hands free he knew he could easily hurt her, but he wanted to keep them free so he could kill her and escape.

The chain tightened, and Vin gasped for air. Without warning it was released, and he let his head slump to the side. Keeping his eyes closed, he drew air into his lungs. He felt her fingers on his face, one caressed around his eyes, over his lips then over his cheeks.

“It’s too bad I have to get rid of you. You are such a pretty boy. But you are only good for one thing, dog, to prompt my Chris to come to me. It’s a shame, you are so nice looking. But not my Chris …” The words stopped for a moment, though her fingers continued to move over his face and jaw. “I guess I could give you to my men before I have you put down, maybe they’d like to sample you. I’ll have to think on that, it’s a shame to waste all this prettiness, when someone who appreciates it could enjoy it.”

Ella smiled as a tremor went through the lean, bruised body, that had nothing to do with the shivering due to the chill in the room.

Vin couldn’t control the shudder that went through him. He rolled his head a bit and opened his eyes a slit. He clamped down on his feelings to prevent them from showing in his eyes. He gazed at the hated woman a moment, then turned his face away. It wasn’t worth his energy to fight her. He needed his hands free.

A kick to his left leg snapped his eyes open, and Vin looked at the crazy woman.

“That’s what I want to see, you paying attention to me. I’ll be back later, dog.” With a laugh, Ella turned away. She didn’t see the hate that flashed within his eyes. Jack shook his head, and followed her out of the room, closing the door behind them. He knew she was playing a dangerous game with the battered man.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Vin leaned his head back against the wall and rubbed his throat. It hurt but the way the choke chain was around his neck, it didn't feel as though anything was damaged. Sore and hurting a lot, but so far tolerable, he thought. As he tried to relax, he shivered and let his thoughts turn to escaping. He had to get out of there, the sooner the better.

Vin dozed for awhile, and when the door opened again he flinched, and peeled his eyes open hoping it wasn’t Gains again.

“Wake up or I’ll get rid of this,” Lewis growled.

Winching as he pushed himself up straighter, Vin looked at what the man carried in his hands.

A large mug, with steam rising from it, grabbed his attention. His mouth watered and he reached out to take the mug, not only for what it held but to wrap his hands around the warmth.

Balancing the small tray, Lewis squatted beside Vin and placed it on the floor. Taking the mug, he handed it to the shaking prisoner and watched to make sure he didn’t drop it.

Vin held the heavy mug for a moment in his hands, wishing that the heat could cover all of him. Finally, he raised the cup and took a sip of the creamy thick soup, ignoring his stomachs growls. Chicken soup, he thought as the soup slid down his throat. He groaned as the delicious liquid began to warm his insides. 

Lewis smiled when he heard the groan, he knew how chilled the battered young man was, and felt sorry he couldn't get him a blanket. Watching the trembling prisoner, he sat a short wide-mouthed thermos on the floor and reached for the roll of gauze, salve and tape he’d stuck into his pockets. The medicated wipes were on the little tray, and he placed everything he brought on the tray in readiness. He would doctor Tanner’s wrists before he gave him more.

When Vin finished the soup, Lewis took the cup from him, and opened the packet of wipes. He took Vin’s left arm and began to clean his wrist. Once it was cleaned he repeated the process on the right wrist. After cleaning the wounds, he put salve on the torn wrists, then wrapped them with several layers of gauze. Once the tape was applied to hold the gauze in place, he reached for the thermos, opened it, and poured the contents into the mug and handed it to Vin.

Gratefully, Vin took the mug and wrapped his fingers around it, warming his hands before drinking it. Lewis gather the wipes, and other items he’d used, and placed them on the tray. Once Vin finished the soup, Lewis took the mug and placed next to the thermos. Vin watched as the man rose with the tray in his hands. With a last glance at him, the man left the room. He shut the door behind him, leaving the bright light on.

Shivering, Vin wrapped his arms around himself. Tucking his hands under his arm he slid his knees up towards his chest, ignoring the pain that shot through him. He just wanted to get warm. He lowered his head to his right knee, unable to get his left leg any higher. He rested his head on his knee, and moments later he was asleep.


Vin slowly opened his eyes to the brightly lit room. For several minutes, he wondered what had awaken him. He couldn’t hear any noise coming from the other room. With a shiver, he slowly unbent his legs being careful not to jar his ribs.

The light blinked, going brown before brightening again. The crash of thunder sounded nearby. As he shook his head and fisted his hands, he decided that was what had awakened him. Opening and closing his fists, he moved his arms and shuffled his legs on the cold floor. He had to be ready for anything.

He heard the door rattle and quickly slumped back into the corner as Lewis walked into the room.

“You need the bathroom?”

With a nod of his head, Vin looked up at the man, and then gritted his teeth as Lewis pulled him to his feet. Vin tried to keep the moan of pain from escaping his lips but it slipped past. Lewis gripped his arm tightly as he swayed a moment before he could move.

“Let’s move it,” Lewis growled as he tugged on Vin’s arm.

Slowly Vin shuffled towards the door feeling every bruise and broken ribs although he felt better than he had expected. His mind plotted as he hobbled towards the bathroom, the tight hand on his arm stabilizing him. With his hands free, he could make his escape. This thought kept running through his head. He knew he didn't have the strength to get far, but if he could get outside, he was sure he could find a place to hide. He just had to ignore the pain and force his legs to move when he needed to run. They felt a little better, but he continued to shuffle and limp as bad as he could to cover his real feelings.

As he finished in the bathroom Vin, kept his head down as he was taken through the bedroom again. He checked out the bedroom through the shield of his long hair. He noted the bedroom door and thought it far enough away that whoever lay in it the bed would not be able to reach the door in time. The chair and night stand weren't near the door. If they didn’t chain his hands again, he could get out of here, he thought.

Lewis held the door open while Vin shuffled slowly and carefully inside the closet. Stopping inside, he turned to the man and raised an eyebrow in question, not wanting to ask anything and receive a beating.

“Just sit and make yourself comfortable. Missus will probably check in later to see how you’re doing.” Lewis laughed at the look on the face of the mostly naked prisoner.

“I’d keep your mouth shut and your feet on the floor if you want to make it through the next few days in one piece.”

Vin glared at the man and moved to the corner which had no blood on the floor. With a sigh, he slowly edged down until he once more sat in the corner. He rested his head against the wall.

With a last look at Tanner, Lewis left the room closing the door behind him. He left the light on in the small room and wondered how long the long haired young man would last at the hands of his boss. She seemed intent on killing him. He figured that would happen, once this Larabee husband of hers appeared. He smiled; he had to admire the feisty kid. Tanner put up a good fight, and he hoped he’d survive whatever she had in store for him. He felt a little surprised that she hadn’t been tormenting her prisoner since morning. qqqOh welxxxl, he thought as he laid down on his bed and picked up the book he’d been reading, qqqdon’t have to doctor Tanner for awhile, at least until she gets done with himxxx.

Thunder crashed overhead and the lights flickered again and then went out.

Vin raised his head from where it rested on his knee. He wondered if he could make a break for it. A noise from the other room caught his attention and had him dropping his head back down with a hidden smirk as he went limp just as he heard the door open. A flashlight beam went over him and he pretended to be asleep, or unconscious.

Lewis played the light over Tanner who slumped in the corner of the room, head on his knee and leaning partly against the two walls, one arm lay limply beside him. The only thing that moved were the tremors that shook the body as it tried to stay warm. He left the bright light on Vin for a minute longer before turning away. He didn’t think the other man was conscious. The strong beam would have awakened a sleeping person.

He shut the door and crossed the bedroom to the hallway door. In the hall, Lewis walked to the living area and looked out the windows. With the lights out he tried to see anything of the garage, if it had any lights on. Nothing could be seen in the darkness that had fallen. A lightning flash lit up the whole area for a quick moment. All of a sudden it began to rain, so hard he could hear it pounding on the ground outside.

A noise from upstairs drew his attention and he moved to the stairs and listened. He could hear Ella’s voice and the rumble of a man talking. A dim light flickered upstairs and he figured Mrs. Larabee was lighting candles. He turned around and headed back to the bedroom, wondering how long the power would be out. Entering the room, he went to the closet door thinking he’d surprise Tanner to see if he was playing possum.  Throwing the door open, he flashed the light beam on the man.

With a disgusted sigh, Lewis looked at the figure in the light. Tanner hadn’t moved. He still slumped in the same position. Closing the door again, he went to the bed and for a minute he tried to decide what to do, sleep or read by flashlight. He yawned and made his decision, kicking off his shoes he stripped out of his shirt and jeans and crawled into bed. He turned off the flashlight and pulled the blankets up around his neck and made himself comfortable. Minutes later, his snores competed with the thunder.

Vin waited a short time before he began to uncurl, and rub his legs. He hoped the man was done checking on him. A small grin crossed his lips. He hoped he'd tricked the man into thinking he was unconscious.

It took him several minutes to climb to his feet. Vin leaned against the wall to get his breathing under control and to deal with the pain. He gathered his strength while he bent and straightened his legs; he thought they would be steady enough to get him outside. Slowly he moved with one hand on the wall. With the other he reached up to the chain around his neck and with a curse he grabbed it and pulled it off. For a moment he held it, feeling the cold links that had cut into his neck and cut off his air.

With a flick of his hand, he tossed the chain behind him not wanting to have it near him. The faint

clink of it hitting the cold tile floor had him freezing in place. With a hand on the door handle he strained to hear above the storm. The only thing he could hear was the crashing of thunder. A rumbling noise finally penetrated the darkness as he eased the door open an inch at a time. Vin shook his head as he realized it was the guard snoring. qqqGet a grip Tanner, and get the hell out of here, now,xxx he told himself. He hoped the power wouldn’t come back on before he made it out of the place.

He eased out of the closet and silently closed the door behind him, then made his way towards the door he hoped went to the hall. His outstretched hand found the door. Feeling the wood, he found the handle and with the next crash of thunder, he opened the door and slipped out, closing it behind him.

Vin leaned against the wall in the hallway, once more he rested his legs, ignoring the pain in his thighs he looked around. Lightning flashed and he spotted an open area ahead and to the right of him. He limped quickly towards it.

Standing at the corner of the hall, Vin glanced around the room. With the next flash of lightening, he spotted the main door between several large windows and began to walk towards it. He noticed the open stairway with a dim light shining from the upper floor. He knew he had to hurry.

A clock started to chime somewhere and Vin unconsciously counted the ten dongs as lightning lit up the outside and the room. Moving as quick as he could, he went past a large couch and an armchair to the door. The lightning died and the darkness fell once more. He could hear the rain hitting the ground as he tried to unlock the door. As he opened the door, thunder crashed overhead. He slipped outside.

Breathing deeply of the chilly wet air, Vin glanced around trying to figure out which way to go. Another flash of lightning lit the area for several seconds, and he saw that the driveway disappeared a short distance from the house. He began to hobble across the parking area to the driveway. He was instantly soaked. He huffed to himself, qqqtowel isn’t dressedxxx, as he gingerly made his way across the gravel. His bare feet felt every rock he stepped on.

Shivering, he paused as the drive curved away, not knowing which direction it ran. Once more a bright flash lit the countryside. He saw the drive curved to the right and downward, toward a silver strip of paved road. The crash of thunder startled him, and with his nerves on edge, he started walking as quick as he could. Glancing over his shoulder towards the house, it suddenly lit up inside and out. For a moment he gazed in shock, thinking the house had been struck by lightning. Then he heard the piercing sound of an alarm and realized the power had been restored. The alarm was probably the door he’d made his exit from. He tried to move faster, grimacing in pain as rocks ground into his feet and ribs grated together.

Hobbling as fast as he could on the rough road way, he didn’t pause when he heard a shout behind him. He hoped they couldn’t see him in the pouring rain. The high pitched scream of Ella’s voice cut through the night. He couldn’t hear the words, but knew it didn’t bode well for him.

Vin reached a curve in the driveway, almost out of sight of the house and its lights. He moved quickly, knowing at any moment someone would be racing after him. He couldn’t out run them and hoped the darkness and rain would hide him long enough to reach the road.

Gunshots rang out behind him and Vin broke into a limping jog. Lightning flashed again and lit up the long drive and he could see the road below him. Vin also knew it gave Ella enough light to see him even in this bad weather. A bullet plowed into the ground beside him, throwing stinging gravel on his leg.

“Damn it!” Vin cursed as the light disappeared. Without warning, someone grabbed him and pulled him to the side of the driveway. There was a volley of gunshots. He heard bullets striking the driveway where he’d been as more gravel struck his legs.

A grunt sounded from the man who held him and he stumbled an instant later. They both crashed to the ground and rolled several feet before going over the edge of the driveway, rolling down the slope. Vin cried out as sagebrush raked over him as he bounced over and through several of the wet bushes. The man with him held him tightly and a voice spoke near his ear.

“I have Mr. Tanner, he’s safe. Need Nathan.”

“Ezra!” Vin exclaimed in surprise as another barrage of gunshots sounded around them. A yell sounded near the house and then silence fell.

Flashing red and blue lights came up the driveway. The headlights cut through the heavy rain. As it came closer to where Vin and Ezra lay, it slowed and a spotlight reached out. A moment later the light landed on them and went out as the car stopped.

Vin tried to move, but Ezra’s arms held him tight and he stopped struggling.

“Ya can turn … m' loose now Ezra,” Vin gasped.

Ezra groaned. His arms fell limply from around Vin.

As he started to move off the warmth of Ezra, a flash of pain went through him and he groaned as his side burst into fire.

“Aww … God…”

“Stay still Mr. Tanner. Help is on its way.” Ezra said as he carefully moved, feeling the shivering of the body laying on him. He didn’t want Vin to injure himself more, or put pressure on his own wound. He wrapped his arms around Vin once more to keep him still and warm.

They heard more gunshots that sounded farther away. Then the two injured men heard rocks rolling nearby. A narrow beam of light appeared just as lightning lit up the sky.

Ezra saw Nathan a couple feet from them and the deputy following with a bulky pack in his hands.

“You’re safe Mr. Tanner. Relax now, assistance is arriving.” Ezra told the shivering young man as he rubbed his hands across the naked man's back. He felt Vin nod his head where it rested on his chest. A moment later, a tap on Ezra's arm relieved him, and he released his grip allowing Nathan to gently lift  and place Vin on a blanket next to him.

Nick McGregor leaned over Ezra, the pinpoint of light played over the fallen agent. The light picked up a large spot of blood on the man’s light colored shirt that stuck wetly to him. He shook out one of the cruiser’s blankets and laid it over Ezra. The waterproof side of the blanket kept the rain off, while the other side retained heat.

He opened another blanket and draped it over Nathan and what he could see of the battered,

naked man. In the dim light from the small flashlight he caught sight of the beaten body, and shook his head.

“Agent Jackson, this man, Ezra, has a gunshot wound in his side. I don’t know if  the bullet went all the way through. I need to get to the house. The ambulance should be here shortly.” McGregor said.

“Go ahead. I’ve got it under control. Might send Chris back when they’re finished up there. Vin will be calmer with him by his side.” Nathan replied, as he turned to Ezra and quickly peeled the blanket and his shirt back and looked at the wound. He grabbed a thick pad and placed it over the bullet hole he looked at Ezra.

“Ezra  ...”

“I can hold it in place Mr. Jackson. Take care of Vin.”

“Alright, press here. I’ll help you once I check Vin over.” Nathan placed Ezra’s hand over the pad, then covered him again and turned back to Vin.

Vin startled when hands touched him and he tried to move away.

“Easy Vin, it’s just me, Nathan. I’m just checking you. Stay still for a couple minutes for me.”

“Hurt’s Nathan.” Vin tried to sit up, his breath coming in gasps.

“Vin stay still, you’re making it worse…”

“Can’t breathe Nate …”

Nathan shined the light across Vin’s chest and stomach and found the indent of broken ribs. He looked at Vin’s face and saw a small trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth.

“Damn,” Nathan muttered, and hoped the ambulance got there soon.

“What’s the problem Mr. Jackson?”

“Got a punctured lung. I need to sit Vin up.”

“Help me move. He can rest against me.” Ezra struggled to sit up. He bite his lips to keep from crying out.


“Just help me.” Ezra demanded, as he finally managed to push himself up part ways.

Nathan quickly knelt beside Ezra and lifted him. He helped him move across the foot of space to Vin’s side, then lowered him to the ground in a sitting position. He tossed the blanket over him. With a quick movement, he eased Vin up and into Ezra’s arms.

Ezra held the chilled body against his chest and watched as Nathan covered Vin once more. He saw Nathan glance around and knew he was looking for the ambulance.

“Hey … Ez … yer getting’ … yer clothes … messed.”

“Not to worry Mr. Tanner, it’ll be on my next expense report.”

Vin tried to laugh only to end up coughing and spraying blood over his chest. “Aww … Damn … hurts…” he gasped. “Chris.”

“He’s coming. Vin stay still.” Nathan said, as he wiped Vin’s mouth and chest before beginning to work on the sharpshooter's wrists. He wished the rain would stop; it was hard to work on his teammate under the tented blankets and try to get him warm. So far the worst problem he could find on the battered body were the broken ribs.

“Nathan, where are you?” A voice called from the darkness.

“C… riss…” Vin muttered hoarsely.

Nathan uncovered his head and answered, “Here Chris,” he flashed the little flashlight towards Chris' voice.

The strong beam from the flashlight Chris carried, went over the ground in front of the black clad man.  A bright flash of lightning lit up the sky as he turned his gaze to the ravine on his left. Chris saw the small ray of light and as he turned his powerful light towards Nathan, the lightning flash lit the figures on the ground covered with blankets.

As Chris hurried along the driveway, gunshots sounded from the house. Behind him headlights lit up the driveway, catching him in their bright beams. Chris turned around as the vehicle suddenly roared louder, gravel spinning under its wheels.

Chris' hand came up. His revolver pointed at the car, between the headlights and a little to the right. He didn’t see Nathan stand up and pull his gun.

The car raced towards Chris and he started firing at the same time as Nathan.

One headlight went out and the engine made a strange coughing sound. Bullets hit the car and it swerved one way, then the other, before it flew towards the bank to the left of Chris. He jumped out of the way at the last moment. It crashed into the bank then rolled over. The engine roared a moment longer before it coughed and fell silent. The grating of stressed metal settling sounded, as the vehicles wheels, on the upper side, continued to revolve for several moments before everything fell silent. All other sounds were drowned out by the storm.



The six men and the deputy arrived at the foot of the long gravel driveway to Ella’s property. It was totally dark; only lightning flashes lit up the wet countryside. Nick McGregor parked at the end of the drive, blocking it so no one could go in or out. Nathan and Chris boxed the cruiser in. The only way someone could get by them, was through the steep ditch on one side, or try to go through the vehicles.

Ignoring the heavy rain, the agents grabbed their flashlights and headed up the driveway. McGregor stayed back; he would follow them once they arrived at the house. He wore one of the mikes the agents had provided so he could listen to what was happening.

“qqqSpread outxxx.” McGregor heard over the headset. With the next flash of lightning, the ATF team melted into the darkness, vanishing from sight.

Several minutes later, lights appeared in the house as power returned to the area. Within moments, muffled gunshots rang out.

McGregor started his car when he heard the call that someone had the missing man. More gunshots sounded through the ear mike. He heard a groan come from one of the men. He wasn't sure where the man was. Nick hoped he would be along the driveway where he could find him. He called for the ambulance, informing them they were needed immediately, and asked where his backup was, hoping they were close.

Assured that the ambulance should be there within five minutes, and his backup was minutes away, McGregor drove his cruiser away from the agents vehicles, heading up the driveway. With his lights flashing, he used his spotlight to check the deep ravine on the side of the drive.

His bright spotlight picked up two men on the ground, at the foot of the ditch. He turned off the light, not wanting to draw more attention to where the men were laying. He spotted the dark man at the edge of the driveway and parked as the man went down the slope. Jumping out, he opened the back door and grabbed the blankets he'd placed there earlier. He followed the agent down the rain slick embankment to the fallen men.

Lightning lit up the sky for a few moments and as it did, Nick couldn’t believe the condition of the nearly naked man. He immediately noticed the chain around the man's narrow waist. A soaked breechcloth barely covered his private parts. After covering the men with the blankets, he let Agent Jackson know of the one man's wound then hurried back to his cruiser. He heard more gunshots that abruptly stopped. Nick drove up to the parking area and pulled to a stop close to the front of the house. A body lay in the rain near the garage and he spotted the young agent through the front window of the house.

Entering the large house, McGregor nodded to the young, dark haired man who smiled at him. “Agent Dunne?” he asked.

“Yes sir, Chris and Josiah are in the hallway over there, Buck's upstairs,” JD told the deputy.

“Anyone in here?”

“A big man, upstairs. Buck's talking to him. A woman was in one of the bedrooms. She’s fine.”

“That Gains woman?”

“Haven’t found her yet, but she couldn’t have gone far.”

Chris walked into the living room. Josiah was behind him, carrying Vin’s clothes.

With a nod to the deputy, Chris sprinted up the stairs. Lewis sat in a chair at the dining room table. The man was pressing a towel against a bleeding a gash in his head. A grey-haired woman in a large bathrobe stood in the kitchen, her eyes large.

“Hello Jen, are you all right?” McGregor asked when he spotted her. She looked all right, just shaken.

“I’ll be all right Nick. I don’t understand what is going on though.” The cook answered, looking up at McGregor.

“Sorry ma’am. We are federal agents. We’re looking for our kidnapped teammate. He was being held by Ella Gains in one of her downstairs bedrooms.” Buck smiled kindly at the older woman, though his hand never left Lewis’s shoulder.

“Gains? Ms Ella’s name is Larabee. She’s getting the house and property prepared for her husband. He'll be here as soon as he finishes the job he’s on right now.” Jen told them.

“It’s not Larabee. I wouldn’t marry that bitch if she was the last woman on earth.” Chris snarled and turned his cold gaze onto Lewis. “Where is she?”

Lewis looked up at the blond in front of him, and couldn’t suppress the tremor of fear that shot through him. Those eyes could kill if they were any deadlier looking.

“I don’t know where she is. She found out Tanner was gone when the power came on. She had a gun and ran out into the rain. I saw her in the driveway shooting at someone. We ran to help her, but I didn’t have a gun and someone began to shoot back. I got hit and came inside. She was still shooting when I left.”

Chris spun on his heel, and with Buck beside him, headed for the stairs.

“Don’t let him leave. He’s involved with kidnapping, torture, and holding a federal agent against his will. Charge him, read him his rights,” Josiah told Nick as he followed his teammates.

McGregor nodded and pulled out his handcuffs and cuffed Lewis, one arm through the slats on the back of the chair. He read him his rights. Jen, her fear overcome, began to clean the wound on Lewis's head, her first aid kit opened on the table.

Ensuring Lewis wouldn't be leaving, Nick moved to where he could see Agent Dunne, who stood in front of the downstairs door. Nick wondered where the woman disappeared to, but he knew, in this weather, a person could be hiding anywhere.

Several minutes passed and three agents returned and stood outside the door for a moment. Larabee turned and hurried away, heading down the driveway, his gun in one hand and flashlight in the


Buck and Josiah stepped into the house, out of the rain and cold, but stood gazing outside as they discussed where the woman could be hiding.

McGregor joined the agents. They all glanced around when they heard an odd noise over the sound of the rain. A dark car sped past the house, its headlights flicked on as it reached the head of the driveway. The four men raced out of the house and after it. Buck began firing his gun and yelling “Gains,” as they ran.

Lightning flashed and gunfire sounded through the noise of the rain. McGregor slid to a stop. With a curse he turned around and raced back for his cruiser. He jumped into the car, started it, and stepped on the gas as he completed his U-turn.

As the car rounded the first curve of the driveway, his headlights picked up the jogging agents. Then the underside of a vehicle where one headlight lit the bank.

Seeing Larabee talking to Buck, he parked the cruiser by them. Before he could get out, Larabee moved to the side of the road and made his way to where Nathan stood protectively over the two downed agents. Flashing lights on the road below caught Nick's gaze. qqqFinally,xxx he thought as he walked to where Josiah and Buck were looking into the overturned car.

Light from their flashlights and his vehicles headlights shown through the back of the rig to where two bodies lay amid the shattered windshield. The closest was a woman, with dark hair and pretty face. Her eyes were open, a surprised look frozen on her face. The third eye in her forehead leaked a thin line of blood down across her eye to drip off her cheek, she had been the driver. The man beside her was bleeding from cuts and gunshot wounds. Buck and Josiah began working to get him out of the wreckage.

“Who is he?” McGregor asked the young agent standing nearby as he moved in to help.

“Averill, I think, her, um lover. I guess. He’s been helping her,” JD answered.

McGregor could see the young man was trying not to look at the woman, his eyes darting to where Chris and Nathan stood.

“Why don’t you go back to the house and watch Lewis for us. I’ve got it here and help is coming.”

JD looked at the deputy through the rain, as a flash of lightning lit the sky again. He glanced over the side of the driveway, to Chris and Nathan, then the oncoming ambulance with flashing lights, and nodded. Shooting a last look towards Chris, JD turned and jogged back towards the house, he was happy to be away from the gristly scene of the dead woman. 

McGregor helped the other two agents extract Averill. When the ambulance stopped beside them he turned toward the paramedics who headed for the wreck. Nick directed them to the injured men below in the sagebrush.

As the EMT’s headed down to Chris and Nathan, a Sheriffs SUV pulled up.

“Nick, what's going on here?”

“Good evening John. Long story. In a nutshell, this woman kidnapped and tried to kill ATF agents. We need to get this guy out. Need to call for a meat wagon for bodies, and transfer two agents to the hospital immediately.”

“How many bodies?” Sheriff John Blain asked.

“At least three,” McGregor said.

“Make that four deputy. This guy just died,” Buck said as they laid Averill beside the overturned vehicle.

“Damn. We need some answers.” McGregor stated.

“Once our men are at the hospital, we’ll talk to Vin, and find out what went on in the house.”

“Is he the man kidnapped by the woman?” Blain asked.

“Yes sir, Vin Tanner, ATF …” Buck fell silent as he watched the EMT’s come up the slope with a man strapped to a stretcher. Ezra walked between Chris, and Nathan. Once on the driveway, the stretcher was placed on a gurney and swiftly loaded into the ambulance. Ezra was helped inside. Chris paused, his glance going to his men then the sheriffs'.

“Meet you at the hospital. Buck, bring my truck,” he said and handed his keys and flashlight to Buck. He then climbed into the back of the ambulance.

“Where? What hospital?” Buck called.

One EMT closed the back doors, leaving his partner in the back with the agents and hurried to the driver’s door. His glance went to the men standing in the rain. “They’ll be at Taos Memorial; it’s the closest hospital,” he stated, as he climbed into the cab and started the engine.

The men stood in the rain and watched the ambulance do a U-turn, backing into the bank then maneuvering around, before it headed down the driveway, lights flashing. The agents turned and walked toward the house without a backwards glance at the two bodies beside the wreckage. The sheriff's SUV followed as the deputy turned his vehicle around and followed.

Chris sat in the narrow space at the head of Vin’s gurney and watched the EMT work. The man started an IV, placed an oxygen mask on his battered friend and checked for broken bones. As soon as he covered Vin with another blanket, the EMT turned to Ezra. With deft movements, he cut Ezra's shirt open so he could appraise the wound in his side. He talked constantly into the radio hooked to his shoulder, as he worked on the two men, reporting vitals and receiving directions. Finally, he sat back and glanced at Chris.

“They should be all right. I’m Brent Rhodes.” He told Chris.

“Chris Larabee. This is Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish.” Chris replied, nodding to his men. “How long before we reach the hospital?”

Brent glanced at his watch. “Another twenty minutes at least.”

Vin gasped, and tried to sit up, but the restraint across his hips and chest stopped him. He began

to fight, not only the restraints, but for oxygen.

Brent attempted to keep Vin still and Chris spoke up, “Turn him loose, he can’t handle restraints.” Chris placed his hands on Vin’s shoulders, as Brent listened to him and released the bindings.

“Stay still Vin, it’s all right calm down, you’re in the ambulance. I’m here.” 

Wide, pain filled blue eyes looked up at Chris, as Vin gasped hoarsely under the air mask.

“C… can’t… breathe…”

A low curse was heard. Brent bent and started to lift his patient. Chris watched what he was doing, then helped lift Vin. Without a thought, he slipped onto the gurney and gathered Vin into his arms, letting the cold body rest against his chest. One frail looking hand twisted into the front of the wet dark shirt Chris was wearing.

“’ri… riss…”

“Calm down Pard. Easy. I’ve got you. One breath at a time, you can do it.” Chris coached as the blue eyes, full of fear gazed at him over the oxygen mask as shivers shook the slender body.

A tiny nod, and in moments, Vin’s breathing began to ease. Brent nodded and upped the air to help him. A couple minutes later, Vin’s eyes slid closed as he lost consciousness. His left hand still grasped the front of Chris’s wet shirt in a death grip.

As he spotted Ezra attempting to sit up, Chris growled, “Ezra, don’t you move. I’ve got him.” .

Ezra stopped, and looked across at Chris, then laid back. He knew Vin was in good hands, where he needed to be now.

Ten minutes later, the ambulance reached Taos Memorial and backed into the ambulance bay.

Waiting staff reached for Vin’s gurney, and Chris started to remove his shirt from Vin’s grip so he could get off.

“Don’t’ move Mr. Larabee, we’ll take you both inside together. We don’t want him laying flat yet,” Brent told him as the men pulled the gurney from the ambulance.

Chris steadied himself and Vin as they were taken from the vehicle. The gurney was lifted into position then rolled through the ER doors. Two nurses helped Ezra from the vehicle and assisted him onto another gurney that quickly followed the first one.

“All right Mr. Larabee we’ve got him. We’ll take good care of your brother,” a green scrub dressed nurse said as she and a doctor entered the room.

When Vin was gently eased from his arms, Chris was helped off the gurney. Vin’s hand was taken from Chris’s shirt so he could move away. Another nurse entered and stepped to the doctor's side.

“No … no…” Vin’s hand moved trying to find his lifeline. His breathing began to become in irregular, and the monitor started beeping faster.

The doctor issued orders to the two nurses as he checked Vin. He glanced briefly at Chris, who

stood near the exam table; with a slight nod to Chris, he injected something into Vin’s IV.

Grabbing the flailing hand, Chris bent close to Vin’s ear. “Vin it’s all right, I’m right here. I won’t leave the room but you have to calm down, let the doctor examine you. Calm down, I’m not going anywhere.” He promised the traumatized man.

Vin forced his eyes open and looked around the brightly lit room. His frantic gaze finally found the blond bending over him. Keeping his gaze fixed on the green eyed man, he began to relax. A moment later, his eyes slid closed.

The doctor moved to the other side of the bed, his eyes never leaving Vin. “I’m Doctor Hollister. We’re going to X-ray his chest. We'll remove the chain from around his waist. If need be, an operating room is standing by. If you don’t mind leaving we’ll get to work.  Someone will let you know if or when he goes to surgery.” The nurses were moving a portable X-ray into position.

“There’s a waiting room across the hall, if you wish to wait there.” The doctor said.

“Will you let me know how he is doing before you take him to surgery?” Chris said as he moved towards the opening to leave the room.

“From what I see here, he’s got a lot of bruising, cuts on his legs and the bottom of his feet. We will check his throat, as I see it is also bruised. Has what looks like a mild concussion, and his wrists are rather torn up. I will have a specialist examine them. The way he moves his hands, I don’t believe there is any tendon or vein damage. He has hypothermia, and his BP is low, he also has a couple of broken ribs. We’ll get him fixed up and warm, and make sure there's nothing else is wrong with him. He's a very lucky young man. He’ll be stiff and sore for awhile, but it could be a lot worse.”

“He was held with chains around his wrists, like the one around his waist, in a small cold room for at least three days.” Chris said, before moving to the curtained entrance.

The doctor shook his head as he continued to examine Vin. “Crazy to treat a man this way. I hope they’re in jail.”

“No worry, they’ll never do this again.”

“We will take good care of Mr. Tanner. We’ll let you know as soon as possible what we find. Excuse me for now.” Hollister turned to the X-ray machine and Vin.

“I want him in with my other agent, Ezra Standish, no matter what.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” replied the doctor as he positioned the X-ray machine.

In the hallway, Chris glanced around the area, then went to the ER nurses’ station. He smiled when the nurse looked wide-eyed at him, then he looked down at himself. He was wet, and his dark grey shirt was blood stained. With a shake of his head he raised his eyes to the nurse, he wasn’t going to worry about his looks.

He asked where he could find Ezra. The nurse gave him a tentative smile and pointed to another curtained off area. “We are keeping him overnight to make sure he doesn’t develop an infection. Mr. Standish already has a slight fever.”

“I want him in a room with Vin Tanner. They both are escape artists when in a hospital.” Chris told her.

Typing information into her computer she replied, “I’ll see that they are placed together. There, it's in the system. They will be in room 232, upstairs. Mr. Standish will be moved in a few minutes. You can meet them there if you wish. Your brother will be transferred to the room when the doctor is finished.”

“Thank you. Oh, there’ll be four men coming in before too long, looking for Standish and Tanner. They’re the rest of my team. Please let them come up.” Chris said, then added, “Would you let Tanner’s doctor where I am also?”

“I will advise Mr. Tanner’s doctor as to your whereabouts. I’ll send the others up when they arrive.” She promised.

With a nod Chris turned, glanced at the curtained off areas, and with a shake of his head he walked to the elevator. Finding the room, he leaned against the hallway wall and waited for Ezra to arrive. He was tired and wet, but he wouldn’t leave until he made sure Ezra and Vin were out of the woods. He thought of Vin and the condition he had seen him in. Vin's staggering run on the driveway would be imprinted in his mind forever. The bright flash of lightning that had lit up the countryside, which allowed the gunmen to spot Vin, and open fire. Ezra’s words, qqqI have Mr. Tannerxxx, still echoed through his head, as clear now as when the darkness hid Vin and Ezra from everyone's view.

Running a hand over his head and face, Chris took a deep breath and watched for Ezra to arrive.


Chris straightened as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. A gurney was pushed out. Two male attendants and a nurse accompanied it.

With a grin at the frustrated look on Ezra’s face, Chris stayed out of the way as he was wheeled into the room and transferred to one of the beds. The two attendants left with the gurney and Chris entered the room. Chris watched the nurse adjust the IV and make a notation on the computer.

She adjusted the blankets over Ezra’s wounded side and glanced at Chris and said, “Hello, I’m Barbara. I’ll be Mr. Standish’s nurse for the night. If you have any questions you can ask me.” She told him with a smile.

“Thanks, I’m Chris. Just for your information, he doesn’t like hospitals and best be on your toes or he’ll try to leave.” Chris grinned hearing the cough that sounded behind him.

Barbara smiled kindly at Ezra, though she spoke to Chris, “Well, he might escape the room but the hospital is, well, to say it easily, guarded. Dressed as he is, it will be hard to get out of here. I have his clothes, what’s left of them that is, at the nurses’ station. But we'll keep an eye on him.” She pointed to a box in the upper corner of the room that had a tiny blinking green light in it.

“I’ll be back later to check on my patient.” Barbara said, and with a smile to the two men and a wink at Chris, she left.

“I saw what Ms Barbara pointed out Mr. Larabee. I do not intend to leave at the moment. I wish to know how Mr. Tanner fares before I consider absconding.” Ezra said, as he shifted into a more comfortable position.

A crooked grin crossed Chris' lips as he looked at the man in the bed. “Looks as if this hospital is prepared for patients who try to leave without telling anyone.”

“I wonder if the service and doctors are so bad that patients believe they must flee this establishment as soon as they are found to be in it.”

Chris stared at Ezra for a moment. “Damn Ezra, you’re as long winded wounded as you are normally. Could have said all that in five words.”

Before Ezra could reply a different nurse walked into the room. She moved the rolling table next to Ezra’s bed.

“Mr. Standish, Barbara requested some juice for you. I’ve brought you apple.” She placed the container on the table and a plastic cup beside it before she pushed the table over the bed so Ezra could reach it.

“I’m sorry sir, visiting hours are over. You will need to leave,” she glanced at Chris as she stepped away from the bed.

“Sorry lady, I’m waiting for …”

“His brother, who’s to come from elsewhere in this institution. Mr. Tanner is to be placed into this room. The doctor told him to wait with me." Ezra smoothly cut in.

“Doctor Hollister?”

“Yes, that's his name. I talked to him in the ER when we came in.” Chris gestured at his bloody clothes.

“Oh, you’re the agents with the kidnapped victim. You do have the okay to stay for now. We were told there might be more men coming. I will be sure to clear it with security, as visiting hours are over at 8PM, and it’s now almost midnight. I’ll be back later.” With that she smiled and left the room.

“Brother? I've been hearing that since I got here.” Chris turned to Ezra, one blond eyebrow rising.

“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra yawned and leaned into his pillow. “You and Mr. Tanner are very close, could be brothers. If you desire to remain here undisturbed, that is the best thing to let them believe. The staff of this institution will not let you stay otherwise.” Ezra yawned again, his eyes slowly closing.

“Thank you Ezra, you are a man of many talents.”

Ezra’s soft smile was his answer as he drifted to sleep.

Chris paced around the room for awhile, before he walked into the hall and began to pace there.

“Mr. Tanner?”

Chris paused, looking at the nurse, Barbara. “Name’s Chris Larabee. Vin’s my half brother.”

“Oh! Okay. I’ve brought you some scrubs to change into if you wish. Your shirt must be uncomfortable. You can change in Mr. Standish’s room, or in the doctors’ lounge on the first floor.”

“Thank you Barbara. Since Ezra is asleep I’ll cleanup and change in there. Is there any word on Vin Tanner?”

“I was just going to tell you. They took Mr. Tanner to surgery to attend to his broken ribs. One nicked his lung. Dr. Hollister will let you know everything, as soon as they finish. There is a waiting room by the surgery.”

“Thanks. I’ll change and go up.” Chris looked at her to be sure he had the direction correct. At her nod, he continued, “And wait there.”

Barbara smiled, “I’ll keep an eye on Mr. Standish while you’re gone.”

“Thank you.” Chris strode back to the room and using the facilities, quickly washed and changed into the scrub shirt. Though his pants were still damp, he didn't change them.  Within minutes he was headed for the elevator.

Chris arrived and paced the floor for an hour before he saw the OR doors open and a gurney carrying Vin was pushed through. He watched as they moved Vin into the nearby recovery room. A doctor followed them into the room. When he came out minutes later, he turned to Chris.

“Mr. Larabee …”

“How is he?”

“As soon as he wakes he’ll be moved to his room. He should be fine. We took care of the displaced ribs, and a small puncture in his lung. Both broken ribs are set. He has several cracked ribs that can do damage if they are broken, so he will have to take it easy for a couple of weeks. Mr. Tanner is quite battered, mostly on his torso, chest and back. We removed the chain from around his waist. He has bruising and abrasions from it, but nothing too serious. His throat suffered abrasions and bruising but the windpipe is all right; there should be no lasting damage to it. Every cut and scratch has been cleaned and patched, a few have stitches." The doctor glanced at the clipboard in his hand, and continued. "Cuts on his feet required several stitches as some were deep. All in all, he is a very lucky young man. As battered as he is, his wounds aren’t life threatening, and there was only one place that infection had started. We took care of that. He has a concussion, but it is mild. Though he’ll be stiff and sore for awhile, and his voice will be rough, he will be fine and able to return to work once the broken ribs and lung heal.”

“Thanks Doc, that’s good news. His wrists?”

“We could find no damage to the tendons. They look bad right now, but they ought to heal well. There probably will be some scarring, but there is no lasting damage. It might take a couple of weeks for him to get full movement, they will scab over and it'll be a little hard to move too extensively. Depending on his work, after they heal he shouldn’t have any problem with any activities. What kind of work does he do? A lot with his hands?” the doctor asked.

Chris' grin barely reached the look in his eyes. “He’s my team sharpshooter, and needs his hands.”

“Ah yes, he definitely would need them. Well, from what we found, his wrists should be fine. We’ll watch for infections. I think we caught everything in time, before infection became a problem. He's young and strong, he should be fine in no time.”

“Good. Doctor …?” Chris looked at the man.

“Oh, sorry, I’m Doctor Jenkins. I worked with Dr. Hollister on your brother.”

“Thanks Dr. Jenkins.” Chris put out his hand and the doctor shook it.

“If you have any questions, just contact me, or Dr. Hollister. Mr. Tanner should be heading to his room shortly.”

“Oh, have them keep an eye on him when he starts to wake, he’s not good with most anesthetics. They make him pretty sick.”

“I’ll tell the nurse. Do you wish to sit with him until he wakes?”

“Can I? He would be calmer if someone he knows is there,” Chris asked hopefully, realizing he needed to see his ‘brother’ to make sure he really was all right.  

“Of course, this way.” Jenkins led Chris into the recovery room. The lights were dim and it was quiet, except for the few machines making gentle beeps. Vin lay on a narrow bed with a nasal cannula instead of the full air mask. A small bandage was above his left eye, the flesh around the bandage a bruised, purple color. Chris couldn’t see any other damage as the blankets were pulled up to Vin's neck. When Chris placed his hand on Vin’s covered shoulder, he found that a heated blanket covered him. Several IV lines disappeared under the blanket where his hand lay.

Jenkins nodded. “He’s still chilled. This will help get him warmed up.”

Chris nodded. He knew how cold Vin had been when Vin lay beside Ezra in the rain. “Thanks doc.”

“My pleasure. I’ll leave you alone. When he wakes he will be moved. Dr. Hollister will check on him later.” Jenkins turned to the nurse and said a few quiet words to her before leaving.

A short time later Vin began to stir, and a few minutes later his eyes slowly blinked open and he gasped.

Chris grabbed the basin beside the bed as the nurse gently lifted and turned Vin as he began to vomit. Nothing but a little water was expelled, and when the dry heaves stopped she eased him back down. The nurse gently wiped Vin’s face and readjusted the cannula, before she carried the basin away. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes,” she said.

Chris placed his hand on Vin’s shoulder. “Hey cowboy you’re safe. I’m here.”

Blue eyes gazed up at him for a moment. “…ris … here?” Vin's raspy hoarse voice asked.

“Yep, I’m here. It's not a dream.”

“Go home … now?”

“Soon. You’re in the hospital. I think your doctors want to make sure you won’t faint on the way home before they release you.”

A frown furled Vin’s brow. “Don’t … faint.”

Grinning, Chris patted his shoulder, “No you don’t.”

“Bitch … have to get her … she’s crazy…” Vin remembered and started to struggle to rise, his breaths coming in gasps.

Chris grabbed his shoulder and pressed him down. “Stay put. You don’t have to worry about her. She’s dead.”

Vin stilled and gazed up at Chris a moment. He knew Chris told him the truth.

“H… ow?”

“I’ll tell you everything later. Let’s get you into your room and rested, then you’ll hear everything.” Chris glanced at the door seeing the nurse walk through the door followed by Dr. Jenkins.

Vin saw the two approaching and nodded to Chris. He relaxed under Chris' hand.

Before long, Vin lay in a bed beside Ezra, who promptly welcomed him to the room. Between the move that tired him out, and the drugs, once they tucked him under the warm blanket Vin instantly went to sleep. Ezra dozed off moments later.

Once the nurses had Vin settled, Chris entered the room to find both men asleep. Chris sat between the his two sleeping teammates on an uncomfortable hospital chair. He was happy to have both men recovering and knowing they would soon be well. They didn't lose either one.

Noise in the hallway drew Chris' attention and he went to the door, feeling he knew who it would be.

The four men spotted Chris and hurried towards him. Before anyone could start asking questions, Chris raised a hand and stopped them.

“They’re fine. Both are asleep right now. Ezra could be released tomorrow if no problem arises. Vin’s battered. They took care of his punctured lung and broken ribs. He’s got a few stitches but will be all right. Few more scars.”

Sighs of relief sounded from the men. Buck clapped Chris on the shoulder as Nathan, followed by JD, went into the patient’s room. Josiah paused next to Buck.

“Hey stud, nice outfit! You look good in yellow. New fashion for you.” Teased Buck.

“Brother, you’d look better in a blue or green scrub I think.” Chuckled Josiah.

“Quit disturbing other patients in here, and get in there,” Chris smiled, as he pushed Buck towards the open door. He was glad to see the rest of his team, no he corrected himself, his brothers.

Nathan stood beside Vin, checking his vitals, and seemed pleased at what he found.

Ezra yawned and opened his eyes. A small crooked smile crossed his face. “I see everyone has arrived. Is everything satisfactory? Vin?” He asked glancing from one man to the other before his gaze fastened on Chris. He blinked and looked again. His eyes widened.

“Mr. Larabee, have you decided to forgo those funeral rags you clothe in for brighter attire? You do appear quite different in this color.”

Buck, unable to stifle a sound, blurted out a laugh at the look on Chris' face, and the others joined in. Before Chris could quiet the men, a low rough, raspy voice spoke out.

“Ya’all’er desterbin’ m’ sleep wit' this caklin’… You’s makin’ mi hair hurt…”

Blue eyes blinked open and glanced around at all of the smiling faces. Vin made sure everyone was there and all right. His gaze hit Chris and he blinked again, his eyes squinted a little.

“Damn … Lar’bee … Ya look … right colorful… Now ya'all leave me be … I needs mi sleep.” Vin’s eyes slid closed. Once more the silent men in the room burst out laughing.

Ezra smiled at Chris and saluted him, tipping an invisible hat with two fingers. “Brothers for sure,” he said.

The men quieted down and moved around the room, looking for a place to sit, most ended up on the floor. Chris moved back to the chair between the beds and for several minutes silence reigned over the room.

“Did you find anything at the house?” Chris asked, once he heard Vin's breathing even out as he fell into a deep, healing sleep.

“That Lewis guy told the sheriff and us that they kept Vin in the bedroom closet, though he took him to the nearby facilities several times. Gains, who he thought her name was Larabee, had Vin tied with that chain, around his waist and wrists, pretty much naked as we seen. She beat him, used a riding crop on him and once a club. Had a little food, but nothing else. Lights were off and on so he had no idea of time, day or night. Said the woman seemed to be crazy, the way she treated Vin,” Buck told him.

“Damn bitch, I’d like to shoot her again.” Chris snarled.

“She’s dead Chris. One of your bullets broke the windshield and the other took her in her forehead. She's out of your life for good, brother. A bullet wounded the passenger, Jack Averill. But the crash killed him. You have no more nightmares to attack you brother, or any of us.” Josiah added quietly.

“She almost killed Vin to get to me.” Chris stated.

A hand reached out from the bed beside him, as closed eyed Vin rasped, “Hey Cowboy … never again. Ya got th' answers … she’ll never hurt ya' ag'in.”

Chris reached for the groping hand, their hands wrapped around each other’s forearms in their own brotherhood grip. Vin smiled then relaxed back into the healing sleep.


Three days later Chris, Buck, Ezra and a smiling Vin, left the hospital and headed home. Josiah, Nathan, and JD had left two days before. They needed to man the office, and update Travis on everything that happened. They called and checked in with Travis the morning after Vin and Ezra were hospitalized, but they had more information to tell him about Gains and Averill. Along with filling out reports.

Their first stop was in Eagle Nest, where Vin gave his statement to Deputy Nick McGregor. Once that was signed, he signed papers that would send his so called friend, Rob Watson, to jail for some time. Lewis had already been moved to the Taos jail and now waited for his hearing.

They found out from McGregor that Ella, as crazy as she was, had left a notarized letter stating that everything she owned belonged to Chris Larabee. Chris promptly told the deputy to sell the place and turn the money over to whatever organization needed funds in the area. He wanted nothing to do with her or her belongings, or anything she'd touched. 

After finishing all the paper work, Chris and Vin shook hands with the deputy. Vin thanked him for helping his friends find him. McGregor promised to let him know as soon as he heard, when Lewis and Watson would be put on trial. He figured Vin would appreciate a phone call before the court sent him a summons. With a last thank you, Vin headed to the door, the others left with him. Moments later they left the small town behind them. Vin's Harley was safely tied and covered in the back of the Ram.

McGregor smiled, happy to see the young man well and with his friends. The last time he’d seen Tanner, he was battered and bruised and full of pain. His voice was rough and raspy, but he was easy to understand. He watched as they drove away, another smile crossed his lips when he noticed the covered motorcycle  in the back, glad it was back with its owner. 

McGregor sighed, the town was returning back to its daily routine. Excitement of Watson’s arrest and the shooting had begun to take a backseat with the arrival of Mrs. John’s niece from college. She was taking a job with the only doctor in town.

As the truck disappeared, he felt relieved that the investigation was over. The ATF agents had provided a lot of information on Ella Gains and Jack Averill. He thought the woman was insane; her obsession with Agent Larabee was extremely overboard. Given what she did to his family, he wished she was around so he could shoot her himself. He snorted as he looked around his quiet office.

Several times he had read and heard of a Denver ATF team called the Magnificent Seven, in the news or in the law enforcement newsletter they received. It had been an honor to be able to meet, and work, side by side with such men. They proved to be an interesting bunch. Each one so different than the other, but they all worked flawlessly together. From what he'd seen, they seemed more like brothers than teammates. He was happy the seven were lawmen; they would be something to contend with if they weren’t. With a smile, he shook his head as he sat down behind his desk. He hoped to see them again.

Two hours later, the four men in the dark Ram were approaching Raton, NM. The radio, set low on a country music station, played soft music while Buck and Ezra talked quietly in the back seat. Vin dozed in the front passenger seat, his head leaning in the corner made by the headrest and window, cushioned by a couple of jackets. Chris drove steadily through the peaceful countryside.

When they passed the sign for the first Raton turn off, a rough, raspy voice, spoke out, over the sound of the music, “Hey, are we gonna stop for somethin’s ta eat? 'r are ya tryin’ ta starve this invalid ta death?”


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