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Deadly Obsession

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Chris Larabee smiled at the woman seated next to him on the swing. Sarah Connelly-Larabee looked as beautiful today as she did the day he’d first laid eyes on her. He remembered that morning as if it had been only yesterday, and his heart skipped a beat each time he was reminded of her touch. Their first meeting had been one that was wrought with tension, yet there was a spark that ignited between them as she’d tended the wound in his upper right arm. As a nurse Sarah had little patience with men who thought they were macho, and she gave as good as she got. She’d proven her point that day when he refused pain medication while she helped stitch the long nasty gash. All she’d done was press against the outer edge and he’d gasped in pain, finally conceding the point and allowing her to freeze the area. He remembered the sweetly innocent smile she’d turned his way and the softly spoken apology as she’d injected the local freezing agent into his arm.

 

“Chris...Chris!”

 

Larabee was brought out of his thoughts by the soft laughter from the woman he loved more than life itself. He smiled as he looked into her soft brown eyes and watched as golden flecks seemed to flash through them as she laughed.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked as she shook her head.

 

“You were miles away. Adam wanted to know if you were going with them.”

 

“Go with them? Where’s he taking Adam now?” the blond asked, smiling as he watched his friend lift the small boy and hold him high over his head. The five year old laughed and screamed in delight as he was swung through the air, the sun flashing off his light brown hair.

 

“Vin’s taking him fishing.”

 

“Ah, well, I guess I could go with them, but...” Larabee’s green eyes sparkled mischievously as he slipped his hand into the bodice of her canary yellow sundress.

 

“Mr. Larabee, you’re insatiable,” Sarah laughed as he nuzzled her neck.

 

“Only when it comes to you, Love,” he whispered against her right ear.

 

“Ah, Mommy, Vin says you and daddy are probably too busy to come fishing. Is that true?”

 

“Well now, Son, your mommy and I have a few plans of our own and well, fishing is just not one of them,” Larabee answered as he pulled the little boy onto his lap.

 

“What kind of plans, Daddy?”

 

“I can’t really say right now, Adam, but maybe you’ll get that birthday wish,” the blond said conspiratorially.

 

Adam’s green eyes grew as round as saucers as he turned towards his father, smiling happily and turning towards his mother. “Is that true, Mommy. Will I get my birthday wish?”

 

“Well, sweetheart, I guess that depends on what you’re wishing for,” Sarah answered.

 

“Daddy said I could have a baby sister!” At the boy’s excited statement Vin Tanner struck Larabee flat handed across the back at the same time Sarah struck him in the opposite shoulder.

 

“Chris Larabee, what have you been telling our son?”

 

“Nothing, Sarah! Honestly!” the blond said, smiling sheepishly as he rubbed his abused limb.

 

”Yes you did, Daddy! You said you were going to work on my birthday wish and that’s what I’m wishing for! A baby sister! Daddy told me all about it!”

 

“Chris! You didn’t!”

 

“I...ouch...Sarah...I didn’t!” the blond said, glaring at the laughing Texan beside him.

 

“Daddy told me where babies come from and...”

 

“Chris!”

 

“Sarah, it’s not what you think!”

 

“You didn’t lie to him did you?”

 

“No, Sarah,” Larabee laughed, as the fiery spirited woman stood up and placed her hands on her hips. He knew he was in trouble as she blew out a breath of air that flicked the hair from her forehead. “I told him the truth!”

 

“Christopher Adam Larabee how could you tell a five year old...”

 

“Sarah, I just told him daddies and mommies go to the hospital to get their babies, but that it takes a long time before they bring them home! I had to...he asked me where the baby comes from!”

 

“Daddy says it could take lots of months...but, Mommy, how does the baby get in your tummy?”

 

“Well, Sarah, care to field this one?” Larabee said with a cocky grin. He looked towards Vin and saw the sharpshooter was having a hard time maintaining a straight face.

 

Sarah knelt in front of her son and smiled as she explained things in words she hoped Adam would understand. “Adam, mommies and daddies share things that are best kept between them”

 

 

“Like a secret?” the boy asked softly, smiling as his mother confirmed his question.

 

“That’s right, sweetheart. A secret. When you get older you’ll know that secret too. Daddy and mommy learned that secret when we made you, and daddy put you in my tummy.”

 

“But how did he do that, Mommy?”

 

“That’s where the secret comes in, but we can’t tell you the secret or it’ll spoil the surprise when you get older. It’s something that only Mommies and daddies know.”

 

“So Vin don’t know?” The boy turned as the sharpshooter coughed to cover another laugh.

 

“That’s right, Son. Vin don’t know...probably never will,” Larabee said, smiling at the younger man.

 

“You’d best be careful there, Larabee.”

 

“Mommy, making a baby sounds like just as much work as that com...com...com...”

 

“Commercial?” Sarah asked.

 

“Yes...see I was watching Dora the explorer and they put on a com...com-er-shell and they were talking ‘bout chocolate bars...”

 

“Chocolate bars?” Larabee asked.

 

“Yeah...you know... how cadb’ry gets the cars-milk into the little pieces. How do they do that, Daddy?”

 

“Yeah, Chris, how do they do that?” Tanner asked, smiling as the blond glared at him once more. 

 

“Adam, that’s another secret that might not be solved...oh, look at the time. If you and Vin don’t get moving those fish will be in bed.”

 

“Ah, Daddy, fish don’t have beds.”

 

“Sure they do, Son. They have waterbeds...”

 

“Damn, Chris, and you complained about JD’s jokes. That was purely...”

 

“I like daddy’s jokes...” Adam said, looking from one man to the other.

 

“Well, Adam, guess I’m gonna have to teach you some real good ones. Ever heard of the three legged...”

 

“Vin!” Larabee hissed, having heard the joke from Dunne the day before.

 

“Three legged what, Vin?” Adam asked as the Texan lifted him and walked towards the muddied metallic silver Jeep Wrangler SE.

 

Chris knew Vin loved to take the jeep up through the trails along the back of his own property and he watched as the young man fastened the seatbelt around the excited boy. He knew his son was in capable hands and pulled his wife closer, wrapping her in a tight embrace.

 

“We’ll be back before dinner, Cowboy,” Tanner smiled and hurried around to the driver’s side.

 

“Yeah, Cowboy and Cowgirl!” Adam laughed as he waved to his parents.

 

“Tanner!”

 

“See ya later!” the tracker assured him, before driving away from the small, but well kept house. 

 

Chris smiled as the jeep disappeared down the street before turning his attention back to the woman beside him. He turned her until they were face to face and leaned down until their lips met. The kiss was tender and sweet as he swept her into his arms and turned back towards the house. He stopped in front of the door and waited for her to open it. Chris carried her inside and kicked the door shut with his left foot before proceeding towards the master bedroom at the back of the house. To say that he loved the woman who’d gifted him with a son was an understatement. He continued to hold her as they entered the room and walked across to the bed.

 

“C...Chris...” she whispered breathlessly against his lips.

 

“Hmm...” Larabee brushed against her mouth once more, nipping at the upper lip and tasting just a hint of cherry.

 

“...I need...y...you...”

 

“I need you too, Sarah, God only knows how much I need you...” it was more of a statement than a question as he laid her down on the bed and climbed on top of her. He stared into her eyes, losing himself in the golden flecks and sighing heavily when she smiled at him. He started kissing her neck, trailing a fiery path along her throat, and stopping at her left ear.

 

“There’s no one can compare to the beauty I hold in my arms today,” he whispered and lifted his head to look into the face of an angel.

 

“Oh, Chris, I love you so much.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer and losing herself in the scent of musk she’d grown to associate with her husband. She felt his left hand on her breast and then slide across until he encountered the buttons that ran down the front of her dress. She smiled as he moved lower and used his teeth to slide the buttons through the hole until the bodice slid open, revealing cream colored breasts underneath. She moaned as his mouth encircled one taut nipple, before moving to lavish the same attention on her right breast.

 

Chris felt his own body responding to her nearness and  slowly ground his hips against hers, loving the way her body bucked up against him, sending shivers of need down his spine. He remembered the naive woman he’d married and how she’d changed over the years, becoming more and more adventurous as their lovemaking expanded to include more provocative experiments.

 

“Chris, I want to feel you next to me...”

 

“I am next to you,” the blond said, smiling around a mouthful of supple nipple.

 

“Naked, Chris...I want you naked next to me,” Sarah told him, releasing her hold on his neck.

 

“Hmm,” her husband mumbled, reluctantly pushing up off the warm body he loved to explore. After seven years of marriage he still found things about her that surprised him and enjoyed learning the things she taught him. He smiled as he pulled her up and slowly finished undoing the buttons of her dress until it dropped to the floor. Silken panties soon followed as Chris slid them down her narrow hips and smiled as she used her feet to complete the task of undressing.

 

“Better,” he asked, once more taking a nipple into his mouth.

 

“N...no...I said naked, C...Chris,” she stammered as he nipped at her breast.

 

“You are naked,” the blond said.

 

“I mean you!” she said, laughing as she pulled away and heard him groan. She stopped him as he reached up to remove his shirt.

 

“What...thought you wanted me naked?”

 

“I do...but...”

 

“What?” he asked as her hand reached for his crotch, spreading a fiery warmth through his groin.

 

“Dance for me,” She said, smiling provocatively as she lay back on the bed, her right elbow bent as she watched her husband.

 

“D...dance...”

 

“That’s right, sweetheart, I want you to dance for me. I seem to remember you telling me you would whenever I wanted you too. So I guess I want you to...”

 

“Damn, honey...I...”

 

“Oh, you need music! How could I forget?” She asked, flipping on the small CD player they kept beside the bed.

 

“Sarah...”

 

“What should I play?”

 

“Sarah!” Chris grabbed her around the waist and turned her to face him. “You know I can’t dance...at least not alone.”

 

“Sure you can, Chris, you forget I’ve seen you move.”

 

“Only when you’re with me.”

 

“I’m with you now...”

 

“You know what I mean, Honey. I’m no good...”

 

“I seem to remember you being very good,” she teased, flipping her long hair over her shoulders as she searched for the song she wanted. 

 

“Sarah...” He shook his head self consciously as the music began and her voice joined the soft one coming form the speakers.

 

Sarah smiled as she stood up and began to sway seductively against him, her eyes shining as she ran her hands down his chest, slowly releasing each button from it’s restraining prison.

 

“Sometimes late at night

I lie awake and watch him sleeping

He's lost in peaceful dreams

So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark

And the thought crosses my mind

If I never wake up in the morning

Would he ever doubt the way I feel

About him in my heart...”

 

“Ah, hell, Love,” he whispered as his hips began to move and his arms reached for her, only to have her pull away as she changed the words to the song once more.

 

“Uhuh, Chris, not until the song is over and your clothes are gone.”

 

“Damn!” he laughed as he slowly swayed to the soft music and the soothing voice of his wife.

 

“If tomorrow never comes

Will he know how much I loved him

Did I try in every way to show him every day

That he's my only one

And if my time on earth were through

And he must face the world without me

Is the love I gave him in the past

Gonna be enough to last

If tomorrow never comes...”

 

Chris shivered as the beautifully painful words left her mouth and she reached for him once more. Her eyes grew serious as the soft lilting strains of the music continued around them and she released the clasp from his jeans and pulled the sipper down. 

 

“I love you, Sarah,” he whispered softly as she sang the familiar words once more.

 

“'Cause I've lost loved ones in my life

Who never knew how much I loved them

Now I live with the regret

That my true feelings for them never were revealed

So I made a promise to myself

To say each day how much he means to me

And avoid that circumstance

Where there's no second chance to tell him how I feel...” Tears fell from her eyes as she lifted her gaze to meet his. This song was one that always made her cry and yet the words meant so much to her. They mirrored the feelings in her heart more than any other she’d ever heard. She eased him down on the bed and removed the dark jeans and CKs as the music continued. Lifting her eyes once more she pushed him back on the bed and continued with the song.

 

“If tomorrow never comes

Will he know how much I loved him

Did I try in every way to show him every day

That he's my only one

And if my time on earth were through

And he must face the world without me

Is the love I gave him in the past

Gonna be enough to last

If tomorrow never comes...” Sarah watched as her husband swallowed the lump she knew always formed in his throat with this song and smiled as he joined her in singing the final verse.

 

“So tell that someone that you love

Just what you're thinking of

If tomorrow never comes...” The music stopped but the two people lying no the bed were unaware of anything but each other.

 

“I love you so much, Sarah.”

 

“I love you, Chris,” she whispered as their lips met once more in a passionate kiss that sent shockwaves of sensuous pleasure through both nude bodies. She lay on top of him, feeling his manhood grow between them until her husband moaned and shifted so that she lay beside him.

 

“Sa...rah...” his voice was no more than a husky whisper of breath against her throat and yet, Sarah knew she would give anything to have this man buried deep inside her. She felt his hand come between them and cup the mound between her legs and pressed against him.

 

Chris smiled as he watched his wife’s face fill with hunger and lust as he slid one finger inside her. The natural lubricant made entry easy and he added another finger, sliding in and out with each moan that escaped Sarah’s lips. Over and over he played her, bringing her to the brink only to ease her back down until she was crying out for him to end the sweet torture she was enduring.

 

“Chris...pl...please...I wa....want...need you inside m...me...now!” she cried as he rubbed against her before removing his fingers and easing his body on top of hers.

 

“Tell me what you want, Love...” he whispered as he hovered above the opening to her body.

 

“I want you to love me...”

 

“Always and forever...”

 

“Show me, Chris...show me just how much you love me.” She gasped as his cock entered her body, filling her to capacity and making her writhe underneath him. She gasped in pleasure as he pulled all the way out before pushing into her once more. “Oh...God...Chris...p...please...more...”

 

Chris chuckled softly as the once innocent woman cried out in wanton abandon as she opened wider to give him easier access to her body. He felt his own need mounting as he pressed all the way inside her again and again. The familiar heat in his groin continued to mount until he felt the ultimate climax build to a shattering crescendo, before sending both him and the sensuous creature beneath him over the edge and into the waiting abyss of pleasure. He dropped onto her, breathing deeply of the intoxicating scent of sex and sweat. Finally spent he lifted his head and looked into the wondrous depths of her eyes. He saw the tears there, and knew what it meant.

 

“You’re more beautiful than ever, Sarah.”

 

“Oh, Chris...I...” she stopped as his lips once more took hers and she lifted weak arms until they wrapped around his neck. Sated and content she loved to lie next to the man she loved and smiled as he slid off her and lay beside her on their bed.

 

Chris reached for the soft green blanket  that was folded at the foot of the bed and pulled it over them both. He reached for his wife and pulled her to him.

 

“Chris, what if Vin and Adam come back?” Sarah asked tiredly, as she turned away and spooned up against his well muscled body.

 

“Vin’ll keep him busy for a couple of hours...besides he’ll knock first...”

 

She smiled at the dreamy quality to his voice and pushed up against him even more. ‘I love you so much, Chris,’ she thought as she drifted into a contented sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Vin?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“How come you don’t got no kids?”

 

“I don’t know, Adam. Guess I’m jest not ready yet,” Tanner answered as he drove towards Larabee’s house.

 

“Is it ‘cause you don’t know the secret?” the boy asked curiously.

 

“What secret?” the sharpshooter asked.

 

“You know...the one mommy and daddy know? How you get the baby in the mommy’s stomach?”

 

“That’s right, Kid. I don’t know that secret yet. Tha’s fer ol’ folks like yer mommy and daddy!”

 

“Buck knows...”

 

“He does?”

 

“Sure. He told me once that he knows all the secrets about women anyone needs to know.”

 

“If that was true Buck’d be a rich man with his own Dear Abby column,” Tanner said softly.

 

“His own what?” Adam asked, frowning as he heard the Texan chuckle before turning into the driveway.

 

“Looks like your Dad and Mom are waiting for us!” Tanner said, glad to have some way to divert the young boys attention.

 

“Wait’ll they see the fish! You gonna stay for dinner?”

 

“Well, I think we caught enough to invite all the guys over. Maybe have Josiah do them on the BBQ.”

 

“J’siah’s real good at the BBQ. Daddy says he’s the best.”

 

“Have ta agree with yer dad, Adam. Nobody has that touch when it comes to the BBQ. Josiah just seems to know what goes well with what on the fire,” Tanner said, pulling to a stop in front of the couple.

 

Chris hurried to the passenger door as it opened and the young boy jumped out. The blond picked him up easily and swung him around eliciting a happy laugh from his son before holding him in his arms.

 

“Hey, Daddy, me and Vin gots lots of fish!”

 

“You did?” Larabee asked, cupping his son’s chin as the Texan came around to join them

 

“Sure did! Think we gots enough to feed the whole team. Mommy, can we invite Buck and Ezra and JD and Josiah and Nathan...”

 

“Easy, Son, take a breath there,” the blond laughed.

 

“But Daddy, we caught so many we could feed an army...”

 

Chris smiled at the boy’s exuberance as he placed him on the ground and turned to face his wife. “What do you think, Sarah? Are you ready to face the whole damn...”

 

“Chris!”

 

“Daddy said the damn word, Mommy!” Adam said, loving when his father got in trouble with his mother.

 

“Sorry...meant the whole team coming over. Me, Vin and Adam can handle making dinner, if you’ll handle he dessert.”

 

“What would you like for dessert?” Sarah asked, laughing contentedly as she took her son’s hand in her own.

 

“Chocolate cheesecake with strawberries!” issued from three mouths at the same time.

 

“Alright, but first this boy needs a bath...”

 

“Ah, Mommy, I gots to help Daddy and Vin!” Adam tried to pull away from her, but was held fast.

 

“That’s okay, Sport, you go get your bath...we won’t start anything without you,” Larabee assured his son.

 

“Chris, will you call the boys?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“I think I’ll invite Rain.” Sarah smiled as she turned away.

 

“Ah, hell!”

 

“What’s wrong, Cowboy?”

 

“Only one reason Sarah is inviting Rain to join a bunch of men for dinner.”

 

“What?”

 

“She’s in one of her matchmaking moods.”

 

“Matchmaking...hell, Chris. Think I’ll find somethin’ else ta do.”

 

“It’s not you she’s working on tonight, Vin,” Larabee said as the two men pulled the cooler of fish from the jeep.

 

“Who? Not Buck?”

 

“No...not Buck. See Sarah met this new doctor. A woman pediatrician recommended by Stacey Midland. Her name is Rain Goines and Sarah thinks her and Nathan would hit it off well.”

 

“Poor Nathan won’t know what hit him!” Tanner said as the duo walked towards the house.

 

“Actually, Vin, she’s quite beautiful. I have a feeling Sarah just might be right with this one.”

 

“Still feel sorry fer Nathan...ya gonna warn him?”

 

“Are you kidding. I’m not saying anything. Last time I did that I was in the doghouse for a week. I’d much rather Nathan be a little uncomfortable for a couple of hours than for me to be in pain for a week.”

 

“She cut ya off fer a week?”

 

“Yeah, damn near felt like it anyway,” Larabee said as they entered the house.

 

“Felt like what, Chris?” Sarah asked as she heard her husband’s last comment.

 

“Felt like they had a couple of dozen fish in here,” Larabee covered instinctively.

 

“Really? Adam said they caught the whole damn lake. Chris, you really do need to watch your language around him!”

 

“I know, Honey, and I will,” the blond said, dropping his end of the cooler and wrapping his wife in a warm, embrace.”

 

“Talk about being cut off...”

 

“Excuse me?” Sarah asked as her husband coughed before turning a glare in the sharpshooter’s direction.

 

“Sorry, Sarah, just meant Chris dropped his end of the cooler and nearly cut my arms off,” Tanner grinned as he headed for he kitchen.

 

“Are those fish cleaned, Vin?” the woman asked as she pulled away from her husband.

 

“Yes, ma’am, cleaned ‘em up at the lake so’s we wouldn’t mess up yer kitchen,” the tracker explained as he pushed through the swinging doors.

 

“Chris, Rain will be here at six. She’s bringing a couple of bottles Chardonnay,” Sarah told him as the sharpshooter  disappeared.

 

“Sounds good. What would you like as a side dish with the fish?”

 

“Well, you could do your creamy vinaigrette coleslaw and maybe rice pilaf or roast potatoes and corn on the cob.”

 

“Do we have any corn on the cob?”

 

“I brought some peaches and cream style home yesterday.”

 

“Okay, Coleslaw, roast potatoes and corn on the cob. I’ve got some calls to make,” Larabee said as he kissed his wife on the cheek before moving towards the kitchen.

 

“Sounds good...oh and Chris?”

 

“Yes...”

 

“Don’t tell Nathan about Rain or it’ll be two weeks this time.”

 

“Ah Hell,” the blond cursed as he disappeared inside.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Adam laughed as Buck Wilmington lifted him high in the air before depositing him back on the ground and beginning the chase all over again. The boy was small for his age, but he was fast on his feet and he ducked under the older man’s arms and escaped across the lawn to the stand of trees there.

 

“You won’t catch him now, Bucklin!” Tanner called.

 

“Ten dollars on Master Larabee!” Standish called from the table as he helped himself to seconds of the creamy fish and potatoes.

 

“You’re on!” Dunne said as he placed his ten on top of the gambler’s.

 

“Any other takers?” the conman asked.

 

“No, I know my son. Buck doesn’t stand a chance. There comes Adam now and Buck’s only just going into the trees,” Larabee said from his vantage point at the edge of the patio. He was perched on the fence, his right leg lifted over the edge while his left arm was draped over his wife’s shoulder.

 

“Come on, Adam! You got him!” Sarah called laughing as the boy raced across the lawn towards them.

 

“Buck can’t catch me!” Adam screamed as he made it to the three steps that would carry him to the safety of Josiah’s waiting arms.

 

“No, he sure can’t,” Sanchez said, smiling as he plucked the young boy from mid air and proceeded to tickle him.

 

“Buck’s gonna wear himself out before he finds his way out. Adam’s the only one who knows the short cuts through those trees,” Larabee said as they watched for the rogue to return.

 

“Do you think we should go look for him?” Sarah asked when the man still hadn’t returned fifteen minutes later.

 

“Nah, he’s probably just waiting for Adam to come find him!” her husband answered.

 

“BUCK! Come out, come out, wherever you are?” Adam called as he looked into the trees, creeping closer to the edge where he’d first entered and Wilmington had disappeared. “I don’t see him, Daddy!”

 

“That’s cause I’m right here!” the ladies’ man shouted as he ducked from under the trees and grabbed the boy up in his arms once more. “You can run, but you can’t hide from the tickle monster!”

 

“No....Daddy...help me...” the boy’s screams were cut off as buck tickled him everywhere and the wiry boy squirmed to get loose.

 

“I get to tickle you here and I get to tickle you there. I’m uncle Buck the tickle man and Adam Larabee’s my biggest fan!” Buck lifted him higher and swung him around like an airplane, laughing along with the child before plopping down on the ground in exhaustion.

 

“More, Buck!”

 

“Sorry, Kid, Buck’s out of st...steam!” the ladies man gasped as he leaned back on the grass.

 

“Dessert’s ready!” Sarah called from the patio as she placed two large pans of cheesecake on the table.

 

“Now you boys get to share that one. This one’s all mine!” Larabee said as he grabbed for one of the cakes.

 

“No way in hell, Larabee!” the Texan warned as he caught the opposite end.

 

“You two behave or I’ll make you both leave the table. Company first, Chris.”

 

“Shi...shoot!” the blond said sheepishly, releasing his grip on the much revered cake.

 

“Are Nathan and Rain back yet?” Sarah asked, smiling as she realized how well the two had gotten along.

 

“No...might not see them anymore until it’s time to go home. Brother Nate could rival Buck when it comes to the fairer sex. I do believe the lovely Dr. Goines has succeeded in turning Nathan’s head,” Sanchez explained, smiling as the couple came into view from the direction of the small creek that ran along the back of the Larabee property.

 

“You might just be correct in those assumptions, Mr. Sanchez. Perhaps we could make a small wager...which reminds me,” the gambler said, smiling as he reached for the twenty dollars still sitting in  the center of the table. “Thank you, Mr. Dunne. Now as for the next wager...”

 

“Leave them alone, Ezra,” Sarah said, smiling at what looked like her latest matchmaking attempt. “Welcome back. You’re just in time for dessert.”

 

“Thank you, Sarah. Cheesecake is my favorite,” Rain explained as she slipped her hand out of Nathan’s and hurried to help serve the others.

 

“Did you make this, Sarah?” Rain asked as she finished the portion of cake. The dishes had already been cleared and leftovers were wrapped and placed in the refrigerator.

 

“Yes, it’s a recipe that’s been in Chris’ family for years,” Sarah asked as they watched the seven men and one small boy toss around a football in the backyard.

 

“Could  get a copy of it?”

 

“Certainly. So?” She sat next to the other woman and smiled conspiratorially.

 

“What?” Rain asked, reaching for the pot of coffee.

 

“You know. How do you like Nathan?”

 

“He’s a nice man...”

 

“Nice?” Sarah’s eyebrows shot up as she heard the soft laugh from her son’s doctor.

 

“Okay. He’s handsome, charming, is studying to be a paramedic, has his own home. He’s got the most gorgeous eyes...”

 

“Does he ever. Nathan’s eyes have got to be the softest brown I’ve ever seen,” Sarah agreed, leaning her chin on her elbow and looking towards her husband.

 

“Yes...” Rain’s voice took on a dreamy quality. “...and those lips...”

 

“You kissed him?”

 

“Well, it was sort of a spur of the moment thing and I just couldn’t help myself. That man is gorgeous and I just might have to ask him out if he doesn’t ask me soon.”

 

“Why wait, after all you are a modern woman and we both know how shy some men are.”

 

“True, men seem to take a week to make up their minds about something a woman just instinctively knows. How long did it take Chris to ask you out the first time?”

 

“All of an hour.”

 

“An hour...why so long?” Rain asked and the two women laughed.

 

“Well, Chris came in with a bullet wound...”

 

“Oh no...what happened?”

 

“He was shot in the arm on a case he was working on with Buck. Came into the ER all piss and vinegar and saying how he didn’t need anything for pain...”

 

“Macho type?”

 

“Of the worst kind,” Sarah laughed.

 

“So what did you do?” Rain asked, leaning close as the other woman lowered her voice.

 

“I sort of showed him how painful it was going to be by pressing gently on the outer edges.”

 

“Oh, I like that. So did he keep up the macho image?”

 

“He tried, but I convinced him of how stupid it was to refuse medication when it was there. Gave him a shot to freeze it and of course he needed a tetanus shot as well.” Sarah smiled as she remembered her first meeting with Chris Larabee.

 

“Tetanus shot...please tell me where you gave it to him?”

 

“Well, given the circumstances I figured if he was being an ass what better area to give him the shot!”

 

“Brilliant. I must say I admire you for taking the initiative.”

 

“Actually that’s when he asked me out and I never thought twice about it. Told him yes and we went out that night with Buck and his date.”

 

“Sounds like you guys were meant to meet...”

 

“Yes, I think you’re right...”

 

“Sarah, Rain, why don’t you to come join us?” Larabee called.

 

“Want to?” Sarah asked.

 

“Are you kidding...seven heavily sweating muscular male bodies...yeah...let’s go!” Rain laughed and hurried to join the men.

 

“Mommy’s on the team with me, Daddy Uncle Buck and Josiah!” Adam shouted as the two women took sides.

 

“Looks like we’re a team again, Honey,” Larabee said, pulling his wife towards him.

 

“Heads up!” Tanner called as the game began again. The ball was thrown towards Wilmington, but was intercepted by Sarah and she took off toward the other end of the lawn.

 

“Mommy...Mommy...throw it to me!”

 

Sarah spotted her son and lightly threw the ball, laughing as her husband picked up the boy and began to race away from the others.

 

“Hey, Chris! I’m free. Hand him over!” Sanchez shouted.

 

Larabee handed his son to the bigger man before being tackled and thrown to the ground. He turned over and pinned the struggling body to the ground. “Hey, we’re on the same team!”

 

“Sorry, couldn’t help myself!” Sarah laughed.

 

“JD! He’s yours! Get ‘im, Kid!” Tanner shouted as the wiry youth gained ground on Sanchez and Adam.

 

“Faster, J’siah!” Adam shouted from where he was positioned under the big man’s arm.

 

“Almost there, Son!” the ex-preacher said and finally deposited his burden on the ground. He laughed as the kid slammed the ball on the ground and stood up with his arms in the air and jumped up and down.

 

“TOUCHDOWN!” He screamed as Tanner, Wilmington, and Dunne finally reached him.

 

“Hey, kid, that was awesome!” Dunne laughed as he ruffled Adam’s hair.

 

“Daddy! Mommy! Did you see me and J’siah? Hey, why are you and Mommy lying down?”

 

“Mommy tackled me, Sport...knocked me down while I wasn’t looking.”

 

“But we’re on the same team!”

 

“Sorry, I forgot,” Sarah said as her husband helped her to her feet. “Besides it looks like Rain tackled one of her team mates as well.”

 

“More like the other way around!” Wilmington said as he watched Jackson help the exotic beauty to her feet. 

 

“Sorry, Rain...”

 

“I’m not,” the woman said softly, smiling at the man holding her.

 

“Damn, Sarah, I think you might have succeeded this time,” Larabee whispered so only his wife heard.

 

“They do seem to have hit it off,” Sarah said as Nathan began to chase the younger woman.

 

“We gonna play some more?” Adam asked as he raced to pick up the ball.

 

“Master Larabee, is there no end to your energy?” Standish asked, shaking his head as they resumed positions. 

 

The game continued for another hour, but was finally called for lack of energy. The ten people returned to the patio and took seats to rest and catch their breaths. Chris and Sarah made fresh coffee and brought out the remainder of the cake for anyone who wanted more. Adam sat in the swing his head on Buck’s knee, eyes closed in sleep. 

 

“let me get him, Buck,” Chris said.

 

“Nah, he’s fine, Chris, besides you move him now he’s liable to wake up. Sit down and drink your coffee,” Wilmington told him.

 

“You sure?”

 

“I love having my Godson around, Chris. He’s like my own you know?”

 

“Yeah, I do, Buck. He loves it when you come around,” Larabee assured him, remembering the night his son was born and how Wilmington made sure everything went smoothly. He’d driven them to the hospital and stayed with Chris until it was time for the baby’s birth. Chris was in the delivery room during the birth, and when it was over he’d come out to find his long time friend waiting with cigars and a camera. Things the blond hadn’t even thought of, little things, but ones that meant so much to them all.

 

“Chris, Sarah, we’ve got to be going. Rain’s got early shift at the hospital and I’ve got a couple of early morning classes,” Jackson explained as he stood up to leave.

 

“I better be going as well,” Sanchez said.

 

“Well, since I arrived with Mr. Sanchez I’d best be taking my leave of you as well. Mr. Larabee, Mrs. Larabee, thank you for a wonderful evening and a delicious repast,” Standish said.

 

“You’re welcome, Ez,” Larabee answered.

 

“I’ll be goin’ too, Cowboy. See you in the morning,” Tanner said.

 

“Alright. I’ll be there around nine. Make sure there’s coffee...

 

“Always is...”

 

“...drinkable coffee!” the blond corrected.

 

“Guess we’d best be going too, Chris. It is kind of late. First I’ll get this little cowboy...”

 

“Not little and not a cow...boy,” Adam whispered, rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

 

“That’s right, Sport, you’re not,” Wilmington laughed as he pulled the child into his arms and made his way towards the bedroom. He easily undressed the boy and placed pajamas on him before tucking him into the bed. The big Winnie the Pooh bear still sat in his honored place at the foot of the bed. He smiled as he remembered the look on both Larabee’s faces when he entered the maternity room. The bear had barely made it through and he heard Sarah and Chris laughing as he pretended to walk it towards the bed where Sarah nursed the newborn baby. His heart skipped a beat as he saw the love in both parent’s eyes as they looked at their son. The miracle of life that was given to them to nourish and raise. He smiled at the memory as he turned out the light and moved towards the door. The others were already outside and the ladies’ man sighed heavily, content in the knowledge that if he never had any kids of his own he had the next best thing. A Godson who meant more to him than life itself and he vowed to protect the child from the dangers that sometimes walked the earth.

 

“Hey, Buck, you coming?” Dunne called as the ladies’ man stepped out onto the patio.

 

“Keep your pants on, JD. Sarah, as usual, dinner was wonderful.”

 

“Thank you, Buck,” the woman said as the rogue leaned close to her left ear.

 

“Remember, Honey, when you’re ready for a real man just kick this boy’s butt out and I’ll come show you what loving’s really about.”

 

“Stop hitting on my Lady, Buck...else I’m gonna make you live up to your name with a load of Buck-shot! Got it?”

 

“Got it,” the ladies man laughed. “Just remember what I said, Sarah.”

 

“I will...night Buck.”

 

“Night, honey...Chris take care of those two or you’ll answer to me,” the ladies man said as he climbed on the back of JD’s Harley.

 

Chris held his wife and watched as the final two men left the front yard. The day had been long and they were both exhausted, but it was the kind of exhaustion that came from doing things with friends. They’d played hard and they would make love the same way. Chris lifted her into his arms and walked into the house, kicking the door closed behind him. Their lips met and mouths opened to admit the others tongue. Moans of pleasure escaped as they made their way deeper into the bungalow.

 

“Chris, I have to ch...check o...on Adam,” she whispered breathlessly.

 

“I’ll check on him...you go ahead and get ready for bed...I’d like to work on giving our son his birthday wish,” the blond said mischievously.

 

“O...okay...don’t be long...”

 

“I won’t,” the blond said, releasing her and walking into Adam’s bedroom across from their own. His son was sleeping on his right side, facing him as he entered. The tiny soccer ball nightlight gave off a soft white light that cast small shadows around the room. Adam held tightly to a small brown horse and Chris smiled as he kissed the child’s forehead. He lifted the thin race car blanket up over the sleeping form before leaving the room and joining his wife in theirs.

 

“Is he sleeping?”

 

“Sure is, now how about we work on that birthday wish?” the blond asked mischievously.

 

“Are you sure you’re up to it, Lover?” the woman asked, her eyes twinkling in the light from the candle on the table beside the bed.

 

“Oh, I think I’m up for anything when it comes to you,” Larabee assured her as he quickly rid his body of clothing and slipped under the covers. He smiled as he snuggled up next to his wife’s nude body and slowly began to nip at her neck and shoulders. Her face was bathed in the soft flickering light from the candle and he was awed once more by the beauty before him.

 

“Chris, are you okay?”

 

“I’m better than okay, Sarah, I’ve gotta be the luckiest sonofabitch in the world.”

 

“Careful, Lover, that’s my husband you’re calling a sonofabitch,” she smiled as she pulled him closer and pressed her lips to his. She felt him growing harder as her left  hand reached between them and she cupped his balls in her hand. She moved to gently stroke his stiffening member, smiling as he moaned in desire.

 

Chris gritted his teeth as her soft hand slid along his rigid cock before settling on his balls once more. “Damn, Woman, don’t stop now,” he whispered gruffly.

 

“Hmm, you like this?” she asked, sliding down his body until her head came to rest near his shaft. She blew on his pubic hair, laughing as she heard him groan and goosebumps formed on his well muscled thighs. She wrapped her mouth around the tip of his engorged shaft and used her tongue to elicit more moans of pleasure from the man she loved.

 

“S...Sarah...God...”

 

“Do you want me to stop, Chris?” she teased and laughed at his frustrated no. She continued playin with him, manipulating his manhood until a droplet of precum glistened at the tip. Her tongue flicked past her lips and she tasted the salty offering before Larabee pulled her on top of his own body.

 

“I need you...now...” the blond groaned as she positioned herself over his hardened member. He cried out in pleasure as he slipped into her moistened opened and the mother of his son began to move slowly above him.

 

“Is this what you want, Lover?” she whispered huskily as her hair fell over her breasts.

 

“Hell yes!” he answered, matching her rhythm as he finally captured one of her nipples. He suckled loudly as their lovemaking picked up speed and their bodies glistened with beads of perspiration. Over and over he entered her body, seeking the rapturous joy that always came from their joining.

 

“Chr...ris...” she breathed as he filled her over and over again. This man was everything she’d always desired and she would love him now and forever.

 

“Sa...rah...” he cried as he quickened his pace to match her own. He heard her cry out seconds before his own orgasm erupted and his seed emptied into her body. He continued to move until the last of the wondrous explosion subsided and she dropped onto his body.

 

“God, Chris, th...that was...,” she whispered, burying her face against his chest as her breathing slowed.

 

“Yeah, it was,” Larabee said, not needing words to explain the emotions he felt. This woman knew everything about him, including how to give him the pleasure he craved.

 

“I need a shower...”

 

“Me too...we could save energy...”

 

“Chris, saving energy would be good, but if you come in there with me it’ll just lead to more and right now I don’t have that kind of energy.” She kissed his cheek and slid off him, smiling as he tried to grab for her once more. “Uhuh, Lover, save some of that energy for helping Vin at his place tomorrow.”

 

“Damn, guess you’re right.”

 

“Sleep well...I love you.”

 

“Love you too...don’t be long,” Larabee whispered, turning onto his side and closing his eyes tiredly.

 

Sarah stood in the doorway, admiring the handsome blond she’d married. They were still learning new things about each other, even after eight years of marriage. The one thing that never changed was the love they had for each other and the son they’d been blessed with. Her hand went to her stomach and she wondered if a new life was growing in her womb. If and when it happened they would love the new addition as much as they did their son. Sighing contentedly she walked towards the bathroom, smiling at the warmth that tingled through her body.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vin looked into the office and knew what he was about to tell Chris Larabee would not go over well with him. The blond knew of his past as a bounty hunter, but there were still things he’d kept secret, not because he wanted to, but because he’d been sworn too. His meeting with Orrin Travis had gone from bad to worse when Gerald Coltrain entered the room and took the seat next to him. Now he needed to tell Chris he needed time off, maybe a long time and he wondered if his job would be there when he returned. The blond head was down and Vin knew his boss was studying the file from the latest case. One he was glad was finally over, yet it meant something new was about to start for him. He’d been a loner before joining Larabee’s team, now for the next few months he’d probably be alone once more.

 

“Vin, you gonna stay there or are you ready to tell me what’s on your mind?” Larabee asked without lifting his head.

 

“Sorry...didn’t want to disturb you.”

 

“Nothing as disturbing as a silent Texan watching a...”

 

“Brooding blond,” the sharpshooter laughed, closing the door and taking the seat opposite the team leader.

 

“I’m not brooding...seems more like you’re the one who’s doing that right now. What did Travis want to see you about?”

 

“I need some time off, Chris?”

 

Larabee sat up straighter and dropped the papers he’d been working on. “How much and why?”

 

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone, but it could be several months...”

 

“Months! Jesus, Vin, what’s this all about?” Larabee asked worriedly, frowning as he saw the seriousness in the blue eyes.

 

“It’s got to do with my days as a bounty hunter. ‘member me tellin’ ya ‘bout Hector Mendoza?”

 

“The crazy Mexican drug dealer you were hunting when you first picked up bounty hunting?”

 

“Yeah, seems the sonofabitch has surfaced and they want me ta ID him. I’m the only one who knows what he looks like since he had his face changed. It was an accident that I seen him that day, but I never forgot the bastard or his eyes. Man had one green eye and one blue eye, yet no one knows anything else about him.”

 

“Except you? Vin he nearly killed you the last time you two tangled.”

 

“Ain’t, likely ta ferget somethin’ like that, but at least this time I’m goin’ prepared fer what the bastard’s capable of.”

 

“So the DEA is sending you in undercover?”

 

“Yeah, deep undercover. I won’t be able ta contact anyone except their operative in Rio. Mendoza is running his drugs and weapons out of a fortress in the mountains. I’ll be going in sometime in the next couple of months when they’ve confirmed Mendoza is supposed ta be there.”

 

“Why deep undercover, Vin? Why can’t they just get the bastard and bring him here for you to identify?”

 

“Same problem, Chris. They wouldn’t know if they’d kidnapped an innocent man...”

 

“He wouldn’t be innocent if he’s involved in Mendoza’s operation.” Larabee watched the other man’s eyes and knew Tanner understood his fears. Mendoza was a miserable sonofabitch who would kill without flinching and eat dinner with the corpse bleeding out in front of him. A cold hearted bastard who thought little of human life, except his own and Vin was supposed to go in there and ID him.

 

“I know, Chris, but we need ta stop him and get his drugs off our streets. Gerald Coltrain was in the meeting with Travis. Orrin cleared me, but he said I had ta go through ya first.”

 

“What if I said no?” Larabee asked seriously.

 

“I’d have ta hand in my resignation. I owe this bastard, Chris and I aim ta see that he gets what he deserves.”

 

“Guess you’ll have to go with my blessings, Tanner. There’s no way I’m accepting your resignation. When do you leave?”

 

“Coltrain is waiting for me downstairs. I’ll pick up a bag at my place and we’ll catch the first plane out. Don’t know how long this’ll take, but I’ll be back as soon as everything’s settled and Mendoza’s in custody or dead. Ain’t sure which I’d prefer,” the Texan said, standing and taking his friend’s hand in their familiar clasp, before turning to leave.

 

“Vin?”

 

“Yeah, Cowboy?”

 

“Watch your back!”

 

“Thought that was your job!” The sharpshooter smiled as the blond pointed his finger and sat back in his chair. “I’ll be back, Chris!”

 

“You damn well better be. You still owe me fifty bucks from the game the other night!”

 

“Cheap, wise ass, sonofabitch!” Tanner said and hurried out of the office. His last glance into the sea-green orbs showed him the fear the blond was feeling and he knew it was well founded. He hadn’t told Chris all of it, neglecting to tell the blond that three good men had already been tortured and killed by Mendoza. He  really was the only outsider who knew what the drug runner looked like now and the man would stop at nothing to shut him up.

 

‘Wish I had you guys ta watch my back, Chris...jumping from the fryin’ pan inta the fire just about sums it up,’ he thought as the elevator doors closed on the familiar office.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Sarah watched as her husband opened the door and exited his truck. The slump of his shoulder alerted her that something was wrong and she hurried out of the house to greet him. She smiled as he picked her up in his arms and held her tight, another sign that things were not right with the Larabee world.

 

“What’s wrong, Chris?” she asked as he released his hold and wrapped one arm around her waist.

 

“Vin had a meeting with Orrin and a member of the DEA today.”

 

“The DEA... isn’t that the Drug Enforcement Agency?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“What do they want with Vin?”

 

“It involves an old bounty he went after years ago. The man escaped and Vin is probably the only one who can identify him. The DEA got word that this man was in Rio and their government asked if Vin would come down there and ID him.”

“When is he leaving?” Sarah asked, worried about the young man who had come to mean so much to her husband over the last few months.

 

“He’s already gone and there’s no telling when he’ll return. Hell, Sarah, Vin’s a grown man yet I can’t help thinking I should’ve done everything  could to stop him!” Larabee spat as he sank down on the front steps leading into the house.

 

“Chris, it’s only natural for you to be worried. Vin’s a good friend and you two have gotten close since he went to work for the agency.”

 

“Yeah, we have...there’s something about him...”

 

“I know and I think you two were probably meant to be brothers. He’ll be back, Honey.”

 

“I sure as hell hope so, ‘cause otherwise I’ll have to go down there and drag his raggedy ass back here!”

 

“You would too,” Sarah laughed as Adam and another boy came around the corner.

 

“Daddy! Daddy! Danny says the fair’s coming to town...can we go...he’s going. Can we go too?”

 

“Easy, Sport,” Larabee said as Adam jumped up and down excitedly.

 

“But, Daddy they’s gonna have pony rides and a ferce wheel and cotton candy and candy apples...”

 

“And horses and livestock...”Sarah laughed. “Oh, I believe your father would have a hard time staying away from the State fair.”

 

“As if you’d stay away. Seems to me I’ve seen you making jars of those jellies and bread and butter pickles. There’s no way we’d be able to eat them all in the next year,” Larabee laughed at his wife’s chagrined look. 

 

“Can we go? Please!”

 

“I’d say we’re all going,” Sarah said as Adam and Danny Tobin jumped up and down.

 

“Danny says is Daddy’s going to enter a contest. Are you going to Daddy?”

 

“I don’t know, Adam. I’ll have to think on it,” The blond answered.

 

“Vin’s real good at shooting...he’d win that contest for sure,” Adam suggested, frowning as his father turned away. “What’s wrong, Daddy, don’t you think Vin’d win?”

 

“Yeah, Sport, he would, hands down, but Vin had to go away for a little while.”

 

“Vin’s gone...but he didn’t say bye to me,” Adam looked as if he was about to cry and Chris reached down to pick him up.

 

“He had to leave real quick, Son, and he’s real sorry he didn’t get to come say goodbye to you.”

 

“Why did he have to go?” the boy asked.

 

“Adam, Vin had to do something really important and he had to leave this morning, but he promised he’d be back as fast as he can,” Chris explained. “Now why don’t we take Danny home and maybe we’ll call uncle Buck and the boys and see if they want to make it a day at the Fair.”

 

“Can we have a picnic?” 

 

“Sure, maybe Danny and his family will be able to join us as well,” the blond suggested.

 

“I’ll ask my Daddy, Mr. Larabee,” the red haired six year old said as they walked to the car.

 

“Sounds good, Danny. Sarah, we’ll be back in half an Hour,” Larabee said, kissing his wife on the cheek amidst jeers from the two boys.

 

“Ooooh, your daddy and mommy gots cooties,” Danny said laughing as Adam groaned.

 

“They’s always doing that. I just wish I knew why,” the boy said with a put-upon expression on his face.

 

“Well, Boys, when you’re old enough you’ll find out,” the blond said as he opened the door of Sarah’s 1999 Ford Explorer.

 

“How old do we gotta be, Mr. Larabee?”

 

“Depends on the woman, Boys,” the blond said winking at his wife as he seat belted the kids in the back seat.

 

“Danny, tell your Mom I’ll be over in the morning, okay?”

 

“Yes, Mrs. Larabee,” the boy said just before the door was closed.

 

Madonna Tobin and Sarah had been friends since first grade and often spent mornings together so their boys could play together. Madonna was expecting her second child at the end of September and Sarah often helped her with the heavier chores around the house. Sarah waved as Larabee drove out of the yard and let her mind wander over the short time she’d known Vin Tanner. The young man had made quite an impression on her husband and she knew the sharpshooter felt the same way about her spouse. The two were destined to meet and now her hope was that it would not be short lived. Sighing heavily she turned and walked back into the house.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Daddy! Mommy! Is it time yet? Is it! Is it time to go yet!” The boy punctuated each question by jumping on the bed between his parents until a soft moan issued from his father.

 

“Sarah, your son wants you,” the sleepy man grumbled.

 

“Come on Daddy!” Adam called as he got back on the floor and began pulling the blankets off the sleeping man and woman.

 

“No...I think he wants his father,” Sarah mumbled as she tugged on the soft covering.

 

“What time is it?” the disgruntled blond asked as he struggled to tear the blankets from his laughing son.

 

“A little after six...”

 

“Ah hel...heck,” Larabee corrected as his wife sent an elbow into his ribs. “Come on, Adam, the sun’s not even up yet.”

 

“Sure it is. I sawed it...it’s already hot and ‘sides I’m hungry. Mommy, can we have French toast and strawberries?”

 

“Told you he wanted you,” Larabee grinned at his wife without opening his eyes.

 

“Alright, Adam, I’m coming.”

 

“Daddy gotta get up too. We gots to get everything ready for the fair...”

 

“Easy, Son, we gots...have lots of time to make it to the fair...”

 

“But, Daddy, we gots to fill up the picnic basket and make sure all moommy’s things is in the truck...and you gots to get dressed...”

 

“Okay...okay, I’m getting up,” the blond said, sliding his legs off the bed and sitting on the edge as his wife did the same from the opposite side. “Come here, Sport.”

 

Adam ran into his father’s arms and laughed as Chris began tickling him. Chris lifted his high over his head and smiled mischievously.

 

“You want to do a slam dunk?”

 

“Slam Dunk...slam dunk!” Adam squealed in delight as his father lifted him over his head and began to count.

 

Chris looked across at his wife and saw that she was there to make sure their boy did not roll off and hurt himself. “One...two...three...slam dunk!”

 

Adam laughed as his father released him and he dropped to the bed, bouncing and giggling at the same time. “Can we do it again?”

 

“Not if you want us to meet everyone at the fair,” Sarah said as she reached for her son and held him close. 

 

“Sarah, I’m gonna grab a shower and then I’ll get Adam ready.”

 

“Okay...I’ll get breakfast started. Do you want French Toast with strawberries?”

 

“No, I don’t think I can handle that this morning. Maybe a little toast and some of that jam you made yesterday. You did save enough for us didn’t you?”

 

Sarah smiled at the man she loved and nodded as he moved towards the door. He turned to look at his wife and son, smiling as he realized just how much he loved them and how content he was in his life as husband and father. Little did he know that within a few hours his contented loving family would run into a wall that would shatter their happiness and damage his soul to the core.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hey, buckaroo, how’s my little man?” Wilmington asked as Larabee lifted the boy from the truck.

 

“Uncle Buck, look at the ponies. I wanna ride one. Can I?”

 

“Sure, kiddo,” the rogue said as he lifted his Godson onto his shoulders.

 

“Where is everyone,” Sarah asked.

 

“Picnic area over by the grandstand. We figured we’d get everything set up there and make it our home base,” Wilmington answered as Larabee pulled several wooden crates from the back of the truck.

 

“Did everyone get here?” Sarah asked.

 

“Yep, hey, here comes Josiah and JD.”

 

“Good, we’re gonna need a couple of extra hands here,” Larabee explained. “Did Orrin and Evie make it?”

 

“Yeah, they’re here. So are Nettie Wells and she brought her niece with her, Chris. JD’s making nice with her already.

 

“Don’t tease the kid, Buck, he just might show you a thing or two,” the blond said with a grin.

 

“Hey, Chris, Sarah. Adam, you’re higher than the mountains,” Dunne told him.

 

“No I’m not, JD...you’re being silly...”

 

“That I am, Kid. Chris, me and Josiah came to see if you and Sarah needed any help?”

 

“Thanks, JD. Hello, Josiah,” Sarah greeted the older man.

 

“Hello, Sarah, I hope you’ve brought some of your special preserves,” the ex-preacher said, grabbing on of the wooden cartons off the ground.

 

“I did, I believe I was in charge of desserts this year.”

 

“Wonderful.” Sanchez grinned from ear to ear before turning to the others and taking charge of bringing them to the gathering. “Buck, put the lad down and grab one of the crates. JD, you get the picnic basket.”

 

“Got it, Josiah,” Dunne called and lifted the basket. Chris grabbed the third crate, while Sarah reached for blankets and the smaller basket of cakes and cookies. The sound of the carnival reached their ears and the adults smiled at Adam’s excitement. The look on his face was one of pure joy as the music grew louder around them. They exited the parking lot and walked between the Montana Pavilion and the Lake Stage, finally passing the Expo Center and entering the area behind the Grandstand. It didn’t take long for the rest of their group to spot them and come to their aid.

 

“Hello, Sarah, Chris, and this big boy can’t be little Adam Larabee,” Evie Travis greeted the newcomers and smiled as she helped Sarah with her things.

 

“Daddy, Auntie Evie says I’m a big boy!”

 

“That’s because you are, Sport,” Chris said as they reached the picnic area and deposited their things on the table. He looked around at the group of people who’d become part of his extended family. Nathan and Rain were unpacking a large picnic basket and placing things in two separate coolers. JD had rejoined Casey who was helping Nettie Wells spread blankets for them to sit on. Buck and Josiah were searching through the items on the table and he smiled as Nettie slapped Buck’s fingers away from the tray of chocolate snowballs. Ezra was standing with Orrin Travis and both men seemed to be making a wager. He walked over to the duo and watched as Ezra handed Orrin a twenty.

 

“Orrin, don’t tell me you finally won a bet with Ezra?” Larabee asked.

 

“I certainly did, Chris. It seems Ezra was certain that Adam would’ve convinced one of you to take him straight to the pony rides. Perhaps this is a sign we should all take him up on his wagering today,” the older man said as he tucked the bill into his pocket. 

 

“I think he’s too excited about everything else right now,” the blond said as Adam, JD, and Casey came running over to them.

 

“Chris, me and Casey wanted to take Adam over to the carnival rides...”

 

“Daddy, can I go with JD and Casey? Please?”

 

“You sure he won’t crimp your style, Kid?” Buck asked from behind them.

 

“Buck!” Dunne said, his tone reprimanding. “Chris, can we take him?”

 

“Can we take him, Mr. Larabee?” Casey asked.

 

“Sure, if you want too. Here,” Larabee said as he reached for his wallet.

 

“I got it, Chris,” Dunne said as Casey took Adam’s left hand and he took the right.

 

“Young love and it’s innocence,” Orrin commented.

 

“I’m not so sure JD is innocent when it comes to love,” Larabee said as he moved back towards the picnic tables. “Hello, Nettie, Evie.”

 

“Hello, Chris, isn’t it great how many showed up today?” Evie asked and hurried off as she spotted several women she knew.

 

“Hello, Chris, has there been any word from Vin?” Nettie asked, the worry evident in her eyes as she touched his arm.

 

Chris knew of the special relationship that had formed between Vin Tanner and Sarah’s aunt. The elderly woman volunteered at Saint Vincents and had been there during the Texan’s last stay. They’d hit it off instantly when Nettie found out Tanner was from Vermont Texas, the same town her husband had been born and raised in. The next day she’d brought him in several of her famous chocolate desserts and quickly made a friend for life. Vin often spent time at the woman’s small farm, making repairs and doing odd jobs around the place.

 

“No, not a word since he left, but that’s what we expected, Nettie. Vin’s the best at what he does and he’ll finish this and be home before you know it,” Larabee answered. The tracker had been gone a month now and even the DEA wasn’t sure where he was. All they knew for sure was that he’d gone into the mountains outside Rio with the operative and they hadn’t heard anything since. The DEA explained that was normal as Tanner and their agent Jacqueline Maynard were supposed to maintain radio silence until they found their target.

 

“Nice try, Chris, but we both know the longer he’s silent the bigger the possibility that something’s happened to him,” Nettie said.

 

“Nettie, just remember who we’re talking about. Vin’ll be back. I’m sure of it.”

 

“Alright, Chris, I’ll remind you of that if he doesn’t come home soon. Now, I don’t think he’d like us ruining this day by worrying over him so I’d say you need to get the boys together and help the ladies enter their preserve and pies in the contests.”

 

“Yeah, I guess we’d better. Sarah worked all day yesterday and I’m thinking she’s gonna take home the blue ribbon with her peach preserves.”

 

“Tastes good does it?”

 

“Sure does, nice and tarty just like her favorite aunt,” Larabee said, kissing the woman’s cheek as she blushed at his comments.

 

“Get on with ya! Rain knows which contests to enter my stuff in and I want to make sure it’s all done early enough so you boys can enter a few contests of your own. And Chris...”

 

“Yes?”

 

“JD’s already signed you all up for the greased...”

 

“Ah, hell...”

 

“Watch your language! Sarah told me Adam’s picking up some of your words and I don’t want to have to wash my great nephew’s mouth out with soap! If that happens it just might be you who’s tastin’ the Ivory!”

 

“Sh...oot, sorry, Nettie, I’m trying,” the blond said, kissing her on the cheek once more.

 

“Tell the others I’m staying here so don’t hurry back.”

 

“Alright, Thanks, Nettie, and he really will be alright,” Larabee assure her as he hurried away.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Vin looked at the woman next to him and smiled in spite of his own discomfort. Jacqueline Maynard was not only beautiful, but she knew what she was doing and understood the dangers of the area, both natural and manmade. They’d left Rio two weeks after his arrival and now they were ensconced in the Pousada Vrajabhumi Hotel set high in the Rio De Janeiro mountains. They’d gone in under the guise of a newlywed couple searching for the perfect honeymoon adventure.

 

Their eyes met and again he found it hard to pull his gaze from the blue eyed blond beauty before him. Her hair was cut short and framed a tanned oval shaped face. Right now they were hiking through the higher mountains, through trails seldom used, yet they knew somewhere hidden deep in the darkest part of the forest was Hector Mendoza’s fortress. They’d risen early that morning and made sure their backpacks were ready for several days in the wilderness area. Between them they had one lightweight two man tent and sleeping bags, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and a first aid kit. There were several packets of jerky and small packs of simple to prepare dried meals. They also carried two canteens of fresh water. They’d been walking along a wider trail, keeping to the shadows of the Inga trees and spiky-rooted palm trees and other trees that lined the treacherous terrain.

 

“Vin, someone’s coming,” Maynard warned and ducked into the thick undergrowth. She knelt down,. keeping out of sight as Tanner knelt beside her. The sound of several engines grew louder as they watched through the foliage.

 

“Could be some of Mendoza’s gorillas,” the tracker whispered and saw the blond head nod once.

 

“If it is at least we’ll know we’re moving in the right direction,” Maynard said, slapping at a mosquito that landed on her arm. The jeeps rounded the bend, overhanging leaves slapping against the sides as the driver maneuvered along the narrow trail. The second vehicle was an old army issue truck with the canvas sides lifted and the two watchers counted six men seated in the back, each one holding an AK47.

 

“They have ta be headed for Mendoza’s fortress,” Tanner said.

 

“Well they certainly aren’t out on a scenic pleasure trip,” Maynard agreed as a third vehicle came along. The canvas covering was down on the sides and they couldn’t see what was being carried up the winding slope.

 

“Jackie, if they are Mendoza’s men we need ta contact the DEA,” the tracker whispered as the final truck passed their position.

 

“Yeah, but let’s wait until we have confirmation first.”

 

“Ya don’t trust that snaky bastard any more than I do, do ya?” he asked of the man who headed the DEA in Rio De Janeiro.

 

“Richard Barker has been my boss for a year, Vin. I’ve been trying to figure out whether he’s on the take or legit, but haven’t found anything concrete yet. The bastard just keeps a step or two ahead of me and has the perfect explanation for everything.”

 

“Maybe we should contact the DEA office back home, let them know this guy may not be what he says he is,” Tanner said, standing and stretching once he was sure the caravan was out of earshot.

 

“I’ve been on my own down here so long I don’t even know who to contact anymore.”

 

“I could always contact Chris and have him speak with Coltrain,” Tanner suggested.

 

“You really trust this Chris guy?” Jackie asked, fixing her pack into a more comfortable position.

 

“With my life!”

 

“Good, because if we do contact him both our lives depend on that trust, but that’s a moot point right now. We need confirmation before we can do anything else and then we have to find a way to get to Mendoza so you can ID him. Then we have to get back to the hotel and see if we can get in touch with your friend, because I just don’t trust Barker as far as I can throw the sonofabitch. He’s dirty and I aim to get the evidence to prove it! You ready to move out?”

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Tanner said, slapping at something that crawled along his neck. “Damn bugs are gettin’ bigger!”

 

“Get used to it, Tanner, you haven’t seen nothing yet,” Maynard laughed as they moved deeper along the trail.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

JD smiled as he and Casey entered the teacup and put Adam between them. So far they’d done the pony rides, he carousel, and the Ferris wheel several times. The child’s energy was unbelievable as he raced ahead of them pointing to the ride he wanted to go on next.

 

“Alright, kiddo, hold onto your hat!” the Bostonian said as the ride started.

 

“But the man said I gots to hold onto the wheel, JD.” The boy frowned as he looked at the man seated on his right.

 

“Shoot, JD, I heard him too,” Casey said, grinning mischievously at her date. 

 

“Well, dang, guess we’d better do as the man says. Hold onto the wheel, Adam and spin it as fast as you can!”

 

“Hey, there’s Daddy and Mommy!” the boy screamed as the teacup began to spin faster.

~~~~~~~~~~~

They’d delivered the jars of preserves, the pies and cakes and the quilts to the right stands and would return in the evening to hear what the judges had to say. Once that was done the others returned to the picnic area to prepare lunch while Chris and Sarah searched for the wayward trio.

 

“There they are,” Sarah said, pointing to the Mad Hatter teacup ride. The boys spotted them, at the same time and she smiled as she heard his squeals of delight. 

 

“Sounds like they’re having fun,” Chris said, wrapping his left arm around his wife’s trim waist.

 

“Adam loves being around JD and Casey.”

 

“Probably because JD is still a kid at heart and loves the rides as much as Adam does.”

 

“And you don’t? Seems to me I recall a certain blond who loved to ride the coasters. Have you finally grown out of them?”

 

“Ah, Sarah, you know I love a good coaster. Too bad there’s none here...maybe we could take Adam to Disney World again. He’ll soon be big enough for those thrill rides!”

 

“Hmm, Disney World...maybe...”

 

“I think he’d love it.”

 

“I know you would,” Sarah said, smiling at her husband as the ride slowed down.

 

“What about you? Wouldn’t you enjoy going back there? Relive the adventures,” he said, waggling his eyebrows mischievously.

 

“Seems to me those adventures were the best and didn’t cost anything,” his wife blushed as she reminded him of their wonderful nights of lovemaking at the hotel they’d stayed in.

 

“Maybe we could convince JD and Casey to come along. Get them to take Adam on a few rides while you and I renew those memories,” the blond suggested, half serious. They walked to the exit gate and smiled as the trio came towards them.

 

“Did you see us? We went so fast!”

 

“You sure did, Sport. I thought you were gonna fly right off the saucer!” Larabee said as he took the boy’s right hand and Sarah took the left.

 

“Can we go see the animals now, Daddy?”

 

“Not yet, Adam. Everyone’s waiting for us to join them for lunch,” Sarah explained, smiling as she watched JD link his fingers with Casey. She was pleased her cousin and JD were hitting it off and knew from her talks with the younger woman that Casey would not allow herself to get serious until she was sure what she was doing. She’d been accepted to medical school and it would require all of her concentration to get through the hard years ahead, but at least she would have someone to lean on and confide in. It didn’t take them long to make it back to the picnic area and Adam raced ahead towards his great aunt.

 

“Aunt Nettie, I went on the big Ferris wheel!” The boy shouted as he plopped down beside the woman seated on one of the blankets.

 

“You did? My goodness I bet you could see your house from way up there!” The woman hugged her great nephew and reached for a juice in the cooler beside her. She placed a straw inside and handed it to the boy.

 

“Thanks, Aunt Nettie...I’s thirsty.”

 

“I was thirsty,” Nettie corrected automatically. Twenty five years as a teacher made old habits hard to break.

 

“I was thirsty,” Adam said, sipping from the straw.

 

“Are you hungry, young man?”

 

“Sure am, can I have ice cream?”

 

“Not yet. How about a ham and cheese sandwich?” the elderly woman asked.

 

“Okay...and some pickles.”

 

“Sure,” Nettie said as she watched her nephew in law bring over the tray of sandwiches and fresh fruit. He handed them both a blue plastic plate and several napkins.

 

“Now, Adam, what are you gonna have?” the blond asked.

 

“I wants...want ham and cheese,” the boy answered as he reach for a triangular sandwich.

 

“How about some fruit as well?” Nettie asked.

 

“Okay, some grapes and strawberries. I love grapes,” the boys explained as he took a nice sized bunch and placed them on his plate.

 

“Nettie?” Chris said holding the tray in front of her. She took a couple of sandwiches and several juicy strawberries and a slice of watermelon.

 

“Thank you, Chris.”

 

“You’re welcome. Just let me know when you’re ready for more!”

 

“We will,” the woman assured him, smiling as she watched the boy beside her. Her sister Sheila, Sarah’s mother had died several years before Chris and Sarah had married and had never had the pleasure of seeing her grandson. Hank Connelly was a vindictively cruel man and had forbidden his daughter from seeing Chris Larabee, but Sarah had a mind of her own and the will to stand up to her father. She’d even sent him an invitation to the wedding and asked him to give her away. It was sent back unopened and the man forbid her to ever enter his house again. The stubborn vengeful man refused to acknowledge that he had been gifted with a grandson and she detested him for dishonoring Sheila’s memory in such a way. She remembered the stormy meeting she had with him on the day Adam was born. How the drunken man raised his hand to her only to have her shove him hard enough that he landed with a resounding thump on the floor. She’d turned away from him and never looked back, refusing to call him or speak to him ever again.

 

‘Oh, Sheila, you would’ve loved Chris and Adam,’ she thought as tears came to her eyes.

 

“Aunt Nettie, is you hurt?” The boys voice broke through her thoughts and she smiled as she swiped at her eyes, before pulling him into a tight embrace.

 

“I’m fine, Adam, just an old lady’s silliness coming through,” she assured him.

 

“You’re not old, Aunt Nettie, you’s beautiful,” Adam said, eliciting a laugh from the older woman. “I love you, Boy.”

 

“I love you too,” Adam said, shoving a strawberry into his mouth.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The meal was over and the dishes washed and put away. Adam dozed on a blanket in the shade, while the adults planned out the afternoon’s activities. The men, excluding Orrin Travis had each chosen something they would all have to do and wagered on whether they would all go through with it. No one knew what those plans were yet, but they were about to be revealed.

 

“Alright, so who goes first?” Dunne asked.

 

“Well, Kid, since you brought it up why don’t you get us started?” Wilmington asked and knew by the look on JD’s face, and the giggle from Casey they were all in trouble. “What did you do, JD?”

 

“I signed us up for one of the competitions. We have to be there at 4 this afternoon.,” the Bostonian answered.

 

“Where?” Jackson asked, he was seated sideways at the picnic table, with Rain in front of him and his arms wrapped around her waist. They’d been seeing a lot of each other and seemed to have found a lot in common.

 

“...well...”

 

“Oh, Hell!” Larabee said. “JD, tell me you didn’t?”

 

“Didn’t what?” Standish asked.

 

JD grinned from ear to ear as he looked at each of his friends. “I hope you boys brought a change of clothes because me and Casey signed us up for the greased pig...”

 

“You didn’t!” Wilmington asked.

 

“Mr. Dunne, that was not very wise,” Standish said.

 

“Boys, you knew the rules when we started this. You either complete JD’s challenge or you forfeit any chance at winning the pot,” Larabee said of the 600 dollars sitting in the safe at the office.

 

“Mr. Larabee, you can’t be serious? You really don’t mean for us to chase and catch a greased pig?” Standish asked, looking down at his Armani designer blue jeans and shirt.

 

“No, I don’t,” Larabee said, smiling at the look of relief on the gambler’s face, knowing it would change once he finished his thoughts. “But JD is. So where does this event take place, Kid?”

 

“In the Arena and the winner gets fifty bucks,” Dunne answered.

 

“Oh the indignity,” the conman said disgustedly.

 

“What’s the matter, Ezra? Afraid of a little dirt and mud?” Sanchez asked.

 

“A little? I believe that is a definite understatement.”

 

“Maybe, but are we going to see you at the Arena at four?” Jackson asked.

 

“It appears I have no choice,” Standish said.

 

“Okay, so what did you choose, Ezra?” Sanchez asked.

 

“I chose the games of chance...”

 

“Ah, should’ve known. Okay where and when?” Wilmington asked.

 

“The Super Barn at three.”

 

“What kind of games are we talking about?” Dunne asked.

 

“Ah, a pie eating contest, what else?” Standish answered surprising them all.

 

“Pie eating?” the ladies’ man said with a grin. “I thought for sure it would involve gambling.”

 

“It could, care to make a small wager on who can eat the most between the six of us?”

 

“Nah, JD’s got that one in the bag...or should I say in the gut!” Wilmington said, slapping the younger man on the back.

 

“In that case just hand over the money!” Dunne said with a grin.

 

“Dream, on, Son, I’m saving my appetite as of right now!” Sanchez told them.

 

“Alright, Josiah, what did you sign us up for?” Jackson asked.

 

“Well, there’s a good old tug of war competition starting at noon in the Arena. Seems each team needs six members and since that’s what we have I figured it’s perfect. So far there are four teams signed up.

 

“Great,” Dunne said. “What about you, Nathan?” 

 

“Well, I took the liberty of signing us up for a scavenger hunt at six. That way the ladies can join us and I know how much Adam loves searching for things. It’s in the Montana Pavilion.”

 

“That sounds like one Evie and I would enjoy as well,” Travis said.

 

“I’m glad to hear it, Orrin, because I took the liberty of signing you both up. This will be teams of three, but they’ll make an exception and let Adam be part of your team Chris.”

 

“Sounds great,” Larabee said. “Well, I believe my sport should work out perfectly and takes place right after the tug of war competition.”

 

“What is it?” Dunne asked excitedly.

 

“The dunk tank being held at the Lake Stage!” the blond answered.

 

“The dunk tank’s great and it’ll save Ezra having to go change after the tug of war!” the young Bostonian said.

 

“Hey, that’s true, Wilmington said, smiling as he looked at the women seated around the table and on the blanket.

 

“Buck, what have you done?” Jackson asked, seeing the mischievous glint in the blue eyes.

 

“Well, Boys, I figured you wouldn’t mind since it’s for charity and all. I mean it’s not like these guys will have many takers anyway!”

 

“Buck! What did you do?” Sanchez inquired.

 

“I signed us up for the kissing booth!”

 

“Forget it Buck!” Larabee stated as he turned to see the smile on his wife’s face.

 

“Ah, hell, come on Chris. Besides, I already made sure it was okay with Sarah, Rain, and Casey. The money is for the children’s hospital and well, it’s all in fun and the ladies can always pay a small fee to get you all to themselves for the ten minutes you’re in the booth.”

 

“Chris, if you don’t do it you forfeit the 600 dollars,” Standish said, smiling as he saw the look on Larabee’s face.

 

“Chris, it’s okay, I trust you,” Sarah told her husband.

 

“Are you sure, Sarah. I mean...”

 

“It’s for charity,” his wife answered and leaned close to his ear. “Besides, I plan on paying for the rights to those lips for the full ten minutes.”

 

“Ah, hell, I’ll need a cold shower after that!” the blond said, kissing her and pulling her close.

 

“Okay, Boys, the kissing booth at the Montana Stage,” Wilmington said as he felt each man looking at him and knew they’d exact their revenge sooner or later.

 

“Well, it’s 11:30 so I guess we’d best head on over to the Arena and see if we can win this tug of war,” Sanchez said as Adam began to stir.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first two tug of wars had ended with Larabee and Morgan’s teams winning easily. Now they faced off across the muddied hole in the center of the arena. Chris smiled as he took up position at the front of the rope. JD was directly behind him, followed by Ezra, Buck, Nathan and their anchor was Josiah. He gripped the rope tightly with his gloved hands and faced the man across from him. At six foot three, Tank Morgan should’ve been the anchor for his team, but the man’s arrogance made it mandatory for him to be the frontrunner. Behind him were several more of Morgan’s goons, Mike ‘Hammer’ Jones, Carl Jacques, and three the blond could not name.

 

“Well, Larabee, where’s Tex? Is he afraid to face us after the hockey game?” Morgan asked, waiting for the go ahead to start tugging on the rope.

 

“Vin’s never been afraid of you, Tank...seems to me we showed you that when the team beat you guys...”

 

“How the hell would you know? You were out for the count.”

 

“Yeah, and Vin had a broken wrist, JD was hurt and several others were down because they refused to play dirty like your team...”

 

“Your team was nothing...”

 

“Really, seems to me that my nothing team still won with half the team out of commission!” Larabee said, smiling as he felt his team get ready to set themselves as the countdown began.

 

“Five...four...three...”

 

Chris saw the look on Morgan’s face and tried to set himself for the man’s move, but was too late as his feet slipped in the mud and he landed on his knees in the muddied water. He heard the laughter from Morgan’s team and the angered words from his own men as the referee called Morgan for a false start. Larabee stood up, refusing to wipe the mud from his clothing as he returned to his position and gripped the rope once more.

 

“Alright, boys you know the rules. The team that pulls the pink ribbon across the line is the winner. Mr. Morgan...if you cause a false start again your team’s disqualified. Do I make myself clear? The grey haired man asked.

 

“Perfectly....sorry, Larabee...hope you weren’t hurt!”

 

“Not at all. Are you ready, Morgan?”

 

“Ready for what?” the big man asked.

 

“To wallow in the mud where you belong?” the blond asked as the referee began the countdown once more. Again he felt the others dig in at the same instant he planted his feet firmly onto the ground.

 

“Four...three...two...GO!” the referee called and shouts of excitement started around them. Both six man teams dug in and pulled against the opposing force. Morgan’s team began to pulled Larabee’s towards the mud, but Josiah dug in his heels and soon the tide turned as Morgan slipped closer to the edge.

 

“Get ‘em, Daddy!” Adam’s voice rose above the others and Chris smiled in spite of the tense muscles in his arms and legs. He could hear the others grunting with the effort it took to stay on their feet and he wondered how long they’d been fighting Morgan’s team. Time and again the balance of power changed as each team found that extra ounce of energy to pull a little harder. Chris saw the determination in Morgan’s eyes and knew the man wanted to beat him...and beat him bad. He smiled as Tanner’s voice sounded in his ears.

 

‘C’mon lets do this!’ With those words resounding through his skull, Chris Larabee found that added incentive to dig his heels in and pull with everything he had. As if he’d signaled his intent to the rest of his team he watched the ribbon slowly, but steadily come across the mud pool to The Firm’s side. He heard organ growling as the bigger man’s feet began to slide over the edge and down into the shallow pit. Grinning from ear to ear, Chris Larabee watched as the other team followed their leader into the mud, before he released the rope and turned to the cheering section behind him.

 

“Yeah!” Dunne shouted as Casey raced into his arms.

 

“Daddy did it! Daddy did it!” Adam shouted as Larabee knelt in front of him.

 

“Not just Daddy, Sport, all of us did it!” the blond corrected as he turned to watch Morgan’s disgruntled team crawling out of the mud. He couldn’t help laughing as the team leader fell on his butt before finally escaping the hole.

 

“No hard feelings, Tank!” the blond said as the bigger man hurried away, the rest of his dirtied team following behind him.

 

“I don’t think you made any points with him, Chris,” Orrin Travis said as he joined the team.

 

“No, but you know what, Orrin, I don’t think he’s worth the effort it would take,” Larabee answered, standing and stretching the kinks from his body. “Well done, Boys! I owe you all a drink for that one!”

 

“Sounds good, Brother, but I believe we have to get cleaned up first.”

 

“Ah, yes, the dunk tank awaits,” Standish said, brushing at the dust on his clothes. The group of friends accepted the coveted prize of brass medallions before making their way to the next event.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The trail continued to worsen the deeper into the mountains they went, but Vin and Jackie knew they couldn’t stop. Finding Mendoza’s compound and having Tanner ID him was top priority and took precedence over their own comfort. As darkness began to enfold them the air grew colder and they donned their lightweight jackets before continuing onwards. Several times they were forced to make a side trip through the trees as more traffic passed their position. They knew this had to be part of the drug cartel, but until they verified it there was nothing for them to do but continue along the trail.

 

“It’ll be full dark soon,” Maynard said as she eased up beside the Texan.

 

“Yeah, I know. Gettin’ kinda chilly too,” Tanner told her. 

 

“Could be we need to find some way to keep warm since we can’t afford a fire,” Jackie said, smiling at the man as they moved forward once more.

 

“Oh, I think we could come up with a few ideas,” the sharpshooter said, smiling at the warmth of the woman next to him.

 

“I’m sure we can,” the woman agreed. Again they continued in silence until the last of the light died out, leaving them with a cold darkness that harbored hidden dangers around each bend.

 

“Guess it’s time to make camp,” Tanner said, smiling as he pulled the woman towards him. Her blue eyes twinkled mischievously in the darkness and he found himself drowning in their depths.

 

“Vin...I...” he quickly put a stop to her words as his lips touched up against hers and the sparks ignited between them. He moaned softly as heat flooded his groin and his cock pressed against the tight jeans he wore.

 

Jackie moaned softly as she felt his manhood grow between them and knew she wanted this man worse than she’d ever wanted anything in her life. She returned his kiss, nipping at his bottom lip as her tongue slipped into his mouth. She knew their time would be short, but at least for now she could enjoy being with him and sharing the mutual attraction she felt.

 

“Vin...we n...need to get the te...tent set u...up...” she moaned as his hand reached up and caught her breast. Even the barrier of clothing could not dampen the heat from his hands as she tipped her head back and felt his mouth at her neck.

 

“T...tent can wait,” Tanner said.

 

“...no...too cold...”

 

“Not cold at a...all...” the tracker said breathlessly.

 

“Not yet...b...but it wi...will be if we wa...want to get...”

 

“Naked,” the tracker laughed as he kissed her lips once more, before slipping the back pack off his shoulders.

 

‘God, I want you, Vin Tanner!’ Jackie thought as she watched the man open his pack and remove the equipment they’d need.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah smiled as her son paid the money for three balls. They’d be used to hit the circle and hopefully drop her husband into the tank. So far Casey had managed to dunk JD Dunne three times and they’d all been laughing ever since. Their were five dunk tanks located on the lake stage and each one now held a member of The Firm. JD had been first in line while the others waited for the four tanks to empty. Dunne was now standing on the sidelines, a towel in his hands as he watched the others being loaded into the tanks.

 

“You get him, Adam!” the Bostonian shouted as Larabee signaled he was ready.

 

“I’m gonna get daddy wet!” the boy shouted as he lifted the first ball. He threw it as hard as he could, missing the circular lever by less than an inch.

 

“Hey, Sport, thought you were gonna dunk me?” Larabee asked as his son laughed and picked up the second ball.

 

“Looks like he’s got you in his sights, Chris!” Wilmington said from his seat in the next tank.

 

“Now, Adam, you don’t want to...Shi...oot!” the blond said as the ball struck the lever and the seat disappeared beneath him.

 

“I did it! I did it! Mommy! Mommy! Did you see what I did?” the child asked, excitedly jumping up and down.

 

“I sure did, Adam and guess what? You’ve still got one more ball!”

 

“I do?”

 

“Yes you do,” Sarah smiled in Larabee’s direction as the blond shook his head and laughed.

 

“Mommy?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I want you to take my turn!”

 

“You do?”

 

“Yes...it’s fun, Mommy and Daddy’s still dirty.”

 

“You’re right he is. Alright, Adam. Mommy’s gonna have some fun,” the woman said, grinning as she picked up the ball.

 

“Uhoh, ol’ son, looks like Sarah’s gonna give you a bath in public,” the ladies man laughed.

 

“Sarah, nah, she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if she was standing two inches in front of it!” Larabee mumbled softly.

 

“I heard that, Chris!” his wife called as she threw the ball at the circle, smiling as her husband was deposited back in the water once more. He came up sputtering and swiping at the water as the seat was fixed into position once more. He looked to his left and smiled as a pretty Mexican woman stood in front of Wilmington’s tank.

 

Nettie Wells smiled at the gambler sitting in the end tank as she paid for three balls. She tossed the first, missing the lever even as she reached for the second one. This time the ball sailed wide and Ezra decided he would tease her a little.

 

“Mrs. Wells, I believe they are setting up a practice booth over by the Super Barn!”

 

“Already had my practice, son. Now we just split the difference!” She smiled as she lifted the final ball and true to her word hit the target dead center. “Yep, always glad they give me three chances, because I need to hone in on my mark.

 

“Well done, Aunt Nettie,” Sarah laughed as the sputtering conman eased up onto the reset seat.

 

“Well, hello, darlin’. What’s your name?” the rogue asked as she picked up the first ball.

 

“The name’s Inez, Buck, and I believe you’re all water under the ears,” she said as she threw the first ball and Wilmington disappeared into the water.

 

“Looks like she’s got your number, Stud!” the blond laughed as Rain stepped in front of Jackson.

 

“Hang on, Brother, I think she means to cool you off!” Sanchez laughed as the exotic beauty lifted the ball and threw it, making contact with the circle and dunking the man into the water. The laughter grew as a woman from Josiah’s church paid for the honor of dunking him.

 

“Now, Myra, remember all those repairs...” he stopped as the first ball missed and the woman quickly grabbed another. This one sailed a little high and the five men cheered that their friend had escaped the drink so far, but the look of determination on the woman’s face told them Sanchez was in trouble. The third ball missed again, but the woman did not give up. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a five dollar bill and smiled as a small basket full of balls were placed in front of her.

 

“Uhoh, Josiah’s in trouble now,” Wilmington laughed as Rain quickly dunked Jackson again.

 

“Nah, Myra’s never been able to hit...” Sanchez sputtered as he dropped into the water.

 

“What was that, Josiah?” Dunne laughed as he watched the woman move to the next tank. Without a word she took a ball from the basket and tossed it at the lever, dropping the ladies man into the chilly water.

 

“Damn!” the ladies’ man cursed softly, laughing in spite of the dousing he took. He watched as the auburn haired woman smiled and moved to Larabee’s tank as Nathan was dunked once more by his date.

 

Myra moved on to Standish’ tank and the gambler resigned himself to getting dumped once more. He held his breath as the woman hefted the ball and hit the target dead on.

 

Sarah watched as the woman moved down the line, lifted another ball and threw it towards her husband’s tank, successfully dropping the blond into the water.

 

“Josiah, I think we’ve got a ringer!” the rogue said as the woman moved towards Jackson’s tank. Myra had drawn a large crowd and they cheered her on as ball after ball met with success and five men finally exited the tanks, water dripping from their saturated clothing and hair. They shook hands with the laughing woman from Josiah’s church as they accepted a towel from the woman.

 

“Kissing booth’s next. Are you interested, Darlin?” the ladies man asked, briskly rubbing his hands together as he looked towards the dark haired woman.

 

“In your dreams,” Inez said as she turned and hurried away.

 

“Looks like you’re losing your touch, Stud!” Larabee grinned as he wrapped his wife in his wet arms.

 

“You’re cold!” Sarah cried, but relaxed against her husband as they walked towards the next event.

 

“Mommy, can I have ice cream?”

 

“Sure, Adam. Chris, we’ll see you there in a few minutes.”

 

“Okay,” the blond said, releasing the woman to his son.

 

“And, Chris, don’t start puckering those lips without me!” she added before disappearing around the Lake Stage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vin watched as the beauty before him slowly took her clothes off. The tent was hidden amongst a heavy strand of deadwood and impossible to see except from the air. They’d lit one of the flashlights and were using it to see by. Tanner smiled as she finished sliding her panties down her legs before she slipped into the double sleeping bag.

 

“Your turn, Lover boy,” Jackie said, watching as the lithe tracker stood up and peeled away the nylon windbreaker he wore. Next came the white t-shirt and she sighed as he peeled it up over his chest and shoulders, before pulling it completely free of his body. She admired the biceps and lean chest as she rested her head on her hand.

 

“Not bad, Tanner,” she whispered seductively as the Texan slid the jeans down his legs.

 

“Not bad?” the sharpshooter asked, frowning as he watched the grin come over her face.

 

“Okay, how about, nice buns?” she stated.

 

“Thanks...I think,” the tracker said, reaching for the briefs and sliding them off next, his manhood springing to attention in the chilly air.

 

“Very nice, I think maybe I should stand up and salute. Do they build all you Texas boys like this?” she asked coyly.

 

“No, Ma’am, I’m one of a kind!” the sharpshooter grinned as he finished undressing and slid down beside her. “Damn, it’s cold!”

 

“Sure is, but there’s one wickedly fun way to warm up,” Maynard said, sliding her cold hands along his chest as he covered them both with the sleeping bag. She laughed as he pulled her tight against him, and sliding his hand down her body until he reached the triangular mass of curls nestled between her legs.

 

Vin smiled as he spotted a birthmark on her left arm and was suddenly reminded of a map he’d seen just before leaving on this trip. Lifting his head he smiled at the woman beside him as she tried to move her hands lower.

 

“Vin, what’s...”

 

“Waltzing Matilda...”

 

“Tanner! what the hell...”

 

“Waltzing Matilda...”

 

“...are you doing?”

 

“Ya’ll come a waltzing...”

 

“Jesus, they may...”

 

“Matilda with me...”

 

“...grow you boys big in Texas...

 

“...and he sang...”

 

“...but they sure didn’t teach...”

 

“...as he watched...”

 

“...you to sing...ah shit!” she cursed as she realized what Tanner was looking at. Her hand quickly coming to rest over his mouth as she tried to stop him.

 

“...and waited ‘til his billy boiled...”

 

“Tanner, if you finish that verse I’ll make you sleep in your own damn tent! Got it?” she vowed, watching the other man’s twinkling eyes.

 

“Ah, hell, it’s yer fault ya know? Ya wanted to salute Texas, how the hell could  not show my appreciation for Australia. Ya do know it’s right there plain’s day?”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I know all about it. Why the hell I ever got blessed with a birthmark shaped like down under I’ll never know!”

 

“Hey, ain’t nothin’ wrong with Australia. Knew a slick chick from there once named Anita....she just had one flaw and it was a biggie...she hated black jelly beans!”

 

“Well, Texas, if you want to go any further here you’d best stop talking about other chicks! Understood?”

 

“Yep, sure is.” The sharpshooter looked into the blue eyes and grew silent once more. He lowered his lips to hers and again felt the heat race through his body and the almost instant awakening of his need. He slid his hand down her body as he removed his mouth from hers and quickly suckled one taut nipple. He heard her moan and continued to lavish attention on her as he felt her shift position until she could grasp his cock in her hand. Slowly, her fingers ran the length of him, before coming to rest against his heavy balls.

 

Jackie cried out as his fingers slipped into her moistened opening, rubbing against the nub and sending shivers of pleasure coursing through her body. She lifted her hips, pressing against the intrusion, wanting and needing to feel more of this gorgeous man who shared her sleeping bag.

 

“Vin...I...I want you,” she whispered as she felt his fingers removed and he released her nipple to kiss her once more.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked in a husky voice.

 

“Y...yes...never been more sure of anything in my life,” she whispered as he reached for her and finally climbed on top of her. Their eyes locked as she opened her legs to accept him and relaxed as the scent of him made her feel heady. “Please, Vin, I need you inside me now!”

 

Vin smiled as he maneuvered his body until his cock touched up against the beaconing velvety sheath. He slowly entered her, smiling as she moaned with pleasure and fought to bring him further inside. He sank into her, filling her and relishing in the warmth surrounding him as he slowly began to move against her. Her hips began to push up against him each time he withdrew, sending ripples of pleasure through their bodies as the fevered pitch grew to a resounding crescendo. Over and over, the Texan entered her body, bringing them closer and closer to the point of no return. The silence out side the tent was suddenly shattered with the sounds of their lovemaking and the heavy breathing as the couple completed their lovemaking and lay against each other. Sated, and weary, Vin pulled his softening cock from her and lay back against the ground. Without a word he pulled her to him, content to sleep with her spooned up against him and unaware of the freight train of trouble headed towards his best friend.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain smiled as she watched the women flocking to the booth housing the ladies man. Wilmington was in his glory as time and again a woman paid the price for a single kiss from the rogue’s lips.

 

“Hey, I’m here.”

 

Rain laughed as she turned her attention to her date and smiled at the handsome man. “Hmm, sorry, but it seems Buck has quite the following.”

 

“He always does,” Jackson said, awed at how easily Wilmington attracted the ladies. “Now , I think you’ve paid money to indulge in a kiss.”

 

“Why, yes, Mr. Jackson and I believe I would like to make the most of the price I paid,” she said, leaning closer until their mouth locked in a sweet tasting kiss.

 

 

Sarah stood next to the booth housing her husband and smiled as she handed the man a twenty dollar bill. She watched as he reached into his pouch to give her change. “That’s alright, son, I’ve paid for Mr. Larabee’s time in the kissing booth.”

 

“Shoot, Ma’am, okay,” the young man said, shaking his head as he passed Larabee’s “Sorry, Man, looks like the lady’s got you for the next ten minutes!”

 

“Don’t be sorry, Kid, there’s no one I’d rather play tonsil hockey with,” the blond said as his wife smiled lovingly at him. “Come here shweetheart,” he deadpanned in his best Bogart imitation.

 

“I don’t know about that, Sailor. Folks’ll talk,” Sarah said, smiling as she stood before the man she loved.

 

“Let ‘em. I’ve been bought and paid for by the most gorgeous woman ever ta grace the fair and I aim to see that she gets her money’s worth and then some,” Larabee said as he swept her into his arms. He kissed her, long and hard until a small hand tugged at his shirt.

 

“Daddy! Daddy!”

 

Larabee reluctantly released his wife and turned to his son. “Well, Sport, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothin’...I just wanted a group hug,” the boy said, laughing as his father scooped him into his arms and the trio hugged.

 

“Looks like Casey had the same idea when it comes to JD,” Larabee said as the young med school student remained at the front of the line to Dunne’s booth.

 

“Hmm, Rain too and it looks like Myra wants to make up for soaking Josiah,” Sarah laughed as the auburn haired woman made it to the front of the line.

 

“Yeah, but I believe Buck’s got some healthy competition,” Larabee smiled as he looked at the line for Standish and Wilmington’s booth.

 

“Ezra certainly attracts some sophisticated ladies,” Sarah smiled as the enigmatic gambler show his romantic side and kissed each of the women lined up, before graciously placing an extra kiss on their hands. She heard several of the ladies giggle before they moved to the back of the line once more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vin heard a soft laugh from the woman in his arms and lifted his head as she pushed her warm ass against his penis. “What’s funny?”

 

“Did you really date an Australian who hated black jelly beans?”

 

“Sure did, couldn’t get her ta try ‘em let alone eat ‘em.”

 

“Is she the one who taught you waltzing Matilda?”

 

“Yep, sang it while in the outback. I’s a Top Gun Navy Pilot at the time. She loved to ride a Harley and well, we had a few good rides,” Tanner said as he felt her turn towards him.

 

“Did you make love to her?”

 

“Sorry, ma’am, ma never raised no blabbermouth and I ain’t gonna get myself in trouble by talkin’ about another woman while I’m holding the pride of the DEA in my arms.”

 

“”Hmm, flattery will get you everywhere, Texas,” Jackie said as she wrapped her arms around his neck and placed her mouth against his throat, nipping at him as she felt him growing hard once more.

 

“Shit, Jackie, you keep that up and we ain’t gettin’ any sleep tonight!” Tanner groaned.

 

“Looks like Texas is about to rise again,” Maynard grinned as she continued to lavish attention on the man snuggled against him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris patted his stomach and groaned as another pie was placed in front of him. Shaking his head in defeat he pushed the plate away from him and stood up to join the other two drop outs.

 

“Well, Mr. Larabee an admirable showing indeed,” Standish said as he settled back with the other spectators.

 

“Think the kid’s got enough room to put away one more?” Wilmington asked.

 

“Hell, Buck, JD can put away more than anyone I’ve ever seen except...”

 

“Vin,” Wilmington finished softly. Although the younger man hadn’t been mentioned through the day, it didn’t mean he was far from their minds.

 

“Yeah, think maybe they’d have to bring in another truckload to fill those two up.”

 

“Mr. Jackson is looking decidedly green,” Standish said as Nathan groaned before standing up and joining them on the sidelines.

 

“I hope someone brought some antacid with them,” the medic stated as his stomach protested the extra food.

 

“I think you’ll need more than antacid, Nathan,” Rain laughed as she held tight to her date’s arm.

 

They continued to watch as two more contestants dropped out leaving JD, Josiah and one other man. The trio sat back and watched as new pies were set before them. The only one who still seemed to have any excitement left was the young easterner and JD smiled as Josiah shook his head and stood up.

 

“Looks like it me and you, Kid. Think you can take me?”

 

“I’m gonna give it a damn good try,” Dunne said as he lifted the fork and began to eat the cream pie before him.

 

“Go JD!” Casey and Adam called at the same time. The others quickly took up the chant and a resounding chorus of ‘Go JD!’ surrounded the onlookers.

 

JD concentrated on eating the pie in front of him, but looked up as the man seated across from him groaned and clutched his stomach. He knew what was coming and shifted further down as his opponent lost the contents of his stomach. Ignoring the sounds and smell the Bostonian continued to eat until the judge declared him the winner and champion pie eater.

 

“Always figured the kid’s got an iron stomach,” Sanchez said, shaking his head as the easterner was surrounded by the other contestants as he accepted the winning medallion.

 

“Yeah, JD, you did it...you won!” Adam laughed as the dark haired man knelt in front of him. He jumped up and down as JD placed his winning medal over his neck.

 

“You keep that safe for me okay?”

 

“Sure, JD, won’t let nothin’ happen to it!” Adam Larabee said as he hurried to show his parents.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the mountains high above the sleeping city of Rio De Janeiro the sated couple slept, oblivious to the danger lurking in the trees and along the overgrown trail they’d been following. Hector Mendoza was not a man to let security relax and even now his men patrolled deep into the forest surrounding his fortress. His men would not let anyone within five miles of the property, not after seeing what happened to those who betrayed the drug lord. They widened their search parameters, knowing it was better to be safe than sorry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Arena was ready for them, but the six men standing in the center were not so sure they were ready for the Arena. The members of The firm were not the only souls foolhardy enough to attempt this perilous undertaking as a total of fourteen men stood around waiting for the pig to be released. Sarah, Adam and the rest of the group stood on the sidelines watching as the contestants readied themselves for the challenge.

 

“Are you sure you’re ready for this, Pard?” Wilmington asked.

 

“Not even close,” Larabee answered as the sound of the squealing pig reached their ears.

 

“Okay, gentlemen, as you know the object of this little contest is to be the one man who can catch and hold onto a little piggy. Now what’s so hard about that you might ask? Well, this little piggy went to the market and got himself good and greased up and he’s just not in the mood to be hugged by a bunch of lugs like you boys. Henry, let that little beastie out and see what these strappin’ lads can do about catchin’ themselves a ham hock or two!”

 

“Here ya go, Boys. Good luck and dry hands to all of ya!”

 

JD was closest to the pig and made a grab for it, his hands slipping off the swine’s rump as he landed face down in the mud.

 

“Nice one, JD! Casey yelled, laughing as the young man stood up and rejoined the group chasing the small pig.

 

“Get him, Nathan!” Rain shouted as Jackson and another man tried to corner the pig only to lose their grips and bang into each other. The crowd roared their approval as the two men regained their feet and joined the foray once more.

 

“I got him! I got him!” Wilmington shouted, diving for the terrified pig as it darted past three men.

 

“Yep, you sure do, Buck!” Larabee said as he helped the rogue to his feet and the duo laughed as they rejoined the quest for the prized pig. The men raced around the Arena to cheers and jeers from the spectators on the sidelines. Several times someone grabbed up the small swine, only to have it slip through their fingers and race through several pairs of legs.

 

Josiah blew out a disgusted breath of air as he made his first attempt at capturing the elusive swine. He stumbled along, staying on his feet for several seconds until another contest struck him from the side. He rolled in the wet earth, coming to rest on his knees and laughing as the medic offered him a hand up.

 

“Thanks!”

 

“Anytime...looks like Chris has a bead on him!” Jackson said, laughing as a trio of men slipped in the thickening mire on the playing field.

 

“Catch him, Daddy!” Adam shouted as his father darted towards the squirming pig.

 

“Watch out, Chris!” Sarah shouted as Larabee was sandwiched between two men and sank to the ground. She smiled in relief as the blond waved to her, his face, arms and clothing covered in mud.

 

“Hey, lo...looks like Ez m...might just g...get him !” Sanchez said breathlessly as the conman reached for the squealing object racing towards him.

 

Ezra knew the pig was his, all he had to do was pluck him off the ground and hold him for a second or two. He grabbed the squealing pig and lifted him into his arms, trapping him against his body as the announcer’s voice reached his ears.

 

“Looks like we got us a real pig wrassler! We got a winner! Watch out!”

 

Ezra smiled and bowed as he released the pig, but the warnings came too late as he tried to turn around and found himself flying through the air as two men tackled him. He laid on the ground, his face embedded in the mud, his arms straight out and his Armani denims covered in muck. He lifted his face and heard laughter from the spectators as his mud covered face gazed around the Arena.

 

“Ezra, are you okay?” Jackson asked as he knelt beside the gambler.

 

“I don’t think so! I believe I’ve been rear ended!”

 

“You could say that, Ez, but at least ya won. Them two ol’ boys are takin’ a verbal reprimand from the judges and I’m bettin’ they’ll be apologizing to you as soon as the man’s finished talking their ears off!” Wilmington stated as Larabee, Dunne and Sanchez joined them.

 

“Hey, Ez,” Dunne said as the conman managed to turn over and sit up. “Thought I was the only one who could fly. Damn, but I swear you flew five feet in the air.”

 

“I see nothing jocular in my unwarranted and unasked for flight!” the gambler blustered as the judges and two dirt covered men made their way towards him.

 

“Now these fellers got something they need to say to you,” the grizzled announcer said. No one noticed JD slip away from the crowd, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

 

‘We’s sorry, mister. My brother and me just got caught up in the excitement,” the shorter of the two hillbilly types said as he extended his hand.

 

“Are ya okay, Mister?” the second man asked.

 

“Yes, I suppose I’m satisfactory after such an appalling impact on my person,” Standish answered.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Says he’s fine,” Sanchez explained.

 

“Oh...you sure?” the first man asked.

 

“Yep, now if he was speaking normal like then we’d be worried,” Wilmington explained.

 

“Alright, gentlemen, I believe this young man has won the right to his prize,” the judge said.

 

“Prize?” Standish asked, suddenly interested.

 

“Of course. Henry, would you bring,” what’s your name, Son?” the announcer asked as he held the mic in front of Standish’ face.

 

“Ezra...Ezra Standish.”

 

“Henry, bring Ezra, Ezra Standish his prize!” This garnered more laughter from the audience as the crowd parted and a velvet covered box was wheeled in front of the gambler.

 

Ezra smiled as he looked at the elegant covering and moved closer. He jumped back as a loud snort escaped from under the covers and glanced at the men surrounding him.

 

“What is that?” he asked.

 

“It’s your prize!” the announcer said, grabbing the top of the red material and yanking it off to reveal the same pig he’d captured moments before.

 

“I cannot accept this.”

 

“You don’t have a choice. Ya won him fair and square!” the judge said.

 

“Hey, Ez, will your building let you have pets?” Wilmington asked.

 

“I know a great name fro him, Brother. You could call him Arnold just like the folks in Green Acres!” Sanchez suggested, eliciting more laughter from the gathered crowd.

 

“I see nothing humorous in any of this, Gentlemen!” Standish blustered.

 

“Ezra’s got a piggy, Mommy.”

 

“Yes, he sure does,” Sarah, hid her laughter behind her hands as the gambler circled the small crate.

 

“I cannot accept this prize...”

 

“Well, you need to come up with someone to take him. He’s all yours,” the announcer said as he turned to walk away and the young Bostonian rejoined the group.

 

“You can’t be serious?” Standish asked as he saw a twinkle in JD’s eyes. “Mr. Dunne, I fail to see anything funny in this situation.”

 

“Gotcha!” Dunne said, laughing as the announcer and judges turned back towards them and joined the laughter.

 

“JD?” Wilmington asked.

 

“Sorry, Ez, but I couldn’t resist. I wanted to see your face when they showed you your prize! You should’ve seen it! I mean you were downright...”

 

“Stunned!” the ladies man finished.

 

“Yeah...stunned...horrified...you name it...Ezra’s face shone with it,” the Bostonian finished.

 

“Mr. Dunne, I owe you big time,” Standish said as he looked at his ruined clothing. “And you will receive my cleaning bill!”

 

“It’d be worth it, Ezra,” the kid said as the group finally broke up.

 

“Chris, why don’t you get cleaned up and meet me back at the picnic area. Adam’s hungry and we don’t have much time before the scavenger hunt begins,” Sarah suggested.

 

“Alright, actually it might be a good idea if we all went down to the barns and hosed ourselves down. Sarah?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Can you bring me my change of clothes?”

 

“Sure, I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”

 

“Sounds good. Alright, Boys, let’s go get this sh...stuff cleaned off,” the blond said as he led the way towards the watershed used for the horses.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This place is full of potential marks, my dear.”

 

“I told you, Jack. I knew there would be plenty of opportunity for a man with your expertise,” the raven haired beauty smiled as she spun the parasol above her head and her handsome escort linked his arm with hers.

 

“You know, Ella, we do make a great team. Maybe it’s time we...Ella, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Jack Averil said as he saw the frown on the woman’s face.

 

“Not a ghost...my husband!” Ella said as she watched a blond haired man shrug out of his shirt.

 

“Husband!” Averil spat in disbelief. “You’re not married!”

 

“Not yet,” the woman said, licking her lips hungrily. “But I will be as soon as I renew an old acquaintance.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“That man over there. The blond...the one with the shirt off and stepping under the water...” she said, a dreamy quality to her voice.

 

“What about him?” Handsome Jack asked.

 

“His name is Chris Larabee and he and I are to be wed.”

 

“Does he know?” Averil laughed at his own joke.

 

“Not yet,” Ella answered, pulling her arm from his.

~~~~~~~~~~

“You boys go on, I’ll catch up with you as soon as Sarah bring me a change of clothes,” Larabee said, letting the water run down his sweat soaked body.

 

“Alright, we’ll see you back at the rest area,” Wilmington told his friend as he joined the others and hurried back towards the picnic grounds.

 

Chris raised his head, smiling as he lifted the hose and let the water wash over him. He heard footsteps coming towards him, but didn’t look up as the water cooled his heated flesh.

 

“Well, you’re still the handsomest blond I ever laid eyes on!” Ella said, smiling as Larabee turned towards her, a look of surprise on his face.

 

“Ella?” the blond asked in disbelief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah smiled as she passed the five men hurrying towards the picnic area. She knew Nettie, Rain, and Casey had sandwiches waiting for them and was grateful for the few minutes she’d be alone with her husband. As she round the end of the horse’s barn she scowled as a woman hurried towards her husband.

~~~~~~~~~~~

“It’s been so long, Chris,” Ella laughed as she hurried to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling the shocked head down and planting her lips on his.

 

The shock of her lips touching his sent shivers down his spine and he reached for his arms as his wife stormed towards them. Ella’s hands were locked behind his neck and Chris had to use more strength than he wanted to remove them and knew he was probably leaving marks on her wrists. By the time he pushed her away his wife had reached them and placed herself between them. Hands on her hips, face dark with jealousy, Sarah Larabee looked the picture of the wronged woman.

 

“Chris, who is this?” Ella asked as she tried to move closer to the blond.

 

“A better question would be who the hell are you and why were you kissing my husband?” Sarah asked, ire shining in her eyes.

 

“Husband? Chris? You can’t be serious? You married this...this...”

 

“I married the woman I love, Ella!”

 

“But...you and I...”

 

“You and me ended years ago, Ella. I told you then I could not keep up with the lifestyle you wanted,” Larabee said as he pulled his wife into his arms and held her close.

 

“We were going to be married,” Ella whispered, keeping the anger from her voice as she smiled at the handsome blond.

 

“No, Ella, you wanted to get married, but I wasn’t ready.” Chris said as he felt his wife grow tense in his arms. He knew Sarah’s fiery temper was in danger of exploding and hoped to douse the fire before it inflamed them all. He saw a dark haired stranger watching the scene unfold and wondered if the man was an acquaintance of Ella Gaines.

 

“We loved each other...”

 

“No, we loved the excitement and adventures we had, but not each other. If we had loved each other we wouldn’t have said goodbye that day,” Larabee said, with no hint of regret in his voice.

 

“But...”

 

“Ella, I’m sorry, but what you and I had is over. It ended the day I met Sarah and I’ve had more excitement and adventures with her than you can imagine. I love Sarah, with every breath I take I fall more and more in love with her.”

 

“I love you too, Chris,” Sarah said, locking eyes with the woman standing before them.

 

“So this is what you want in your life?” the raven haired woman asked softly, hatred boiling just below the surface.

 

“Yes,” the blond answered simply.

 

“Then I wish you both a long and happy life together. My name is Ella Gaines Larabee...oh, I’m sorry...I mean it’s Ella Gaines. I always hoped Larabee would be added.”

 

“My name is Sarah Connelly Larabee...and that...” Sarah smiled innocently as she held her husband against her. “...is my name, not some wished for delusion.”

 

“I apologize for my actions, Chris. I truly didn’t know. Perhaps we will see each other again,” Gaines said as she took one last look at the couple before turning away. She hurried over to Jack Averil, her face red with anger as her chest heaved against her tight blouse.

 

“I take it Larabee wasn’t pleased to see you,” handsome Jack said as the woman glanced over her shoulder before taking his arm.

 

“That bitch thinks she has him, but no one messes with my property. Call Guy Royal and Robert Spikes, tell them I may be in need of their help! Take me back to the hotel, Jack. I feel like celebrating tonight since it marks the final days in the life of Sarah Connelly...Larabee,” she finished as they hurried off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris and Sarah watched as Ella Gaines hurried to meet the man who was watching the scene unfold. Neither missed the look she sent over her shoulder and Sarah held her husband possessively.

 

“That’s the woman you told me about? The one who liked living on the edge?”

 

“Yeah, never dreamed I’d run into her again. Her tastes run too rich for places like this. I’m sorry, Honey, she kissed me before I knew what was happening,” Larabee apologized as his wife turned around and looked into his eyes.

 

“Chris, I trust you...with everything I am and everything I own I know you would never do anything to hurt me or Adam.”

 

“Never. I vowed on our wedding day never to make you cry and I won’t, Sarah. What I had with Ella Gaines ended years ago and I thank God every day that it did. If it hadn’t I never would’ve found my soul mate and known what real love meant.”

 

“I know, and I feel the same way,” Sarah said as the couple they’d been watching disappeared. She turned once more to her husband and smiled as she ran her fingers through his wet hair. “I think we’d better get you into some dry clothes and get back to the others. They’re probably wondering what happened to us.”

 

“Knowing Buck he’s probably told them we snuck off for a little quality time,” Larabee said with a grin, the dark haired woman forgotten as he looked into the depths of his wife’s eyes.

 

“I wouldn’t doubt it, come on, Larabee, cover that chest before I do something that’ll really make us late!”

 

“Ah, Hell, Sarah, I don’t mind being late,” the blond said, the grin widening on his face.

 

“Maybe not, but those people over there would probably be shocked,” Sarah said as a family of four walked towards them.

 

“Damn, okay, why don’t we take this up when we get home tonight?”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me, but...”

 

“What?”

 

“Are you gonna have enough energy left for that, Lover boy?”

 

“Hooyah! What about you, Mrs. Larabee? Think you can spare a little energy for your husband?”

 

“I’ll give him everything I have,” she vowed as she helped him into his shirt, frowning as she saw the bruises on his arms. “What happened here?”

 

Chris looked at the bruises shrugging his shoulders as he finally got his shirt on. “Probably happened when those two ploughed into me.”

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine, Sarah,” he said wrapping his arms around her once more. “I haven’t had this much fun in a long, long time...but”

 

“What?” she asked worriedly.

 

“Wouldn’t mind one of your special rubs tonight.”

 

“I’ll see if I’ve got a spot open,” Sarah laughed as he buttoned his shirt, leaving the top two open to reveal the lean chest she loved to touch.

 

“Well, am I decent enough?”

 

“You’ll do,” Sarah said, laughing as her husband chased her towards the picnic area.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Richard Barker knew things were getting hot and would continue to do so unless he did something about Jacqueline Maynard. Since coming to Rio a year ago the woman seemed to have set her sight on seeing him taken down. Everything had been going so well until she’d walked in on a meeting he was having with a well known drug lord. He’d easily explained it, saying the man was exchanging information with him, but Maynard remained dubious even after the drug lord died. He knew she was watching him, but could not figure out exactly what she was up to. Now she was somewhere north of the city, high in the mountains overlooking the Rio De Janeiro Bay with a man who could easily end the tidy nest egg he had going here.

 

Barker picked up the phone and quickly dialed a number that would automatically be rerouted to Mendoza’s fortress. He had to warn him, or he was a dead man because Mendoza would make sure he paid dearly for not keeping his word. Again he was met with a busy signal and slammed the receiver back in the cradle. With shaking hands Barker reached for the brandy decanter and quickly filled his glass. He tipped it to his lips and waited for the fiery liquid to calm his nerves. He’d never seen Mendoza face to face, had no idea what the man looked like. The drug lord was extremely careful and made sure no one could put a face to his name, for all he knew the name could even be false. He reached for the phone again and dialed the number, breathing a sigh of relief when it went through the circuit and was answered by Mendoza’s man.

 

“I need to speak with Hector!”

 

“He’s busy in a meeting right now! Is there a message?”

 

“Who is this. Ernesto, is that you?” Barker asked, frantic that his message get through.

 

“That’s right, who is this?”

 

“Richard Barker. Tell Hector it’s imperative that I speak with him.”

 

“Hang on and I’ll see if he has time to speak with you!”

 

Richard drummed his fingers on the desk, reached for the bottle of brandy and poured himself another shot. He swallowed this one and again drummed his fingers nervously as he waited for Mendoza to come to the phone. He looked at the digital clock as the seconds ticked off one by one, until a full five minutes had come and gone.

 

“Come on, dammit!”

 

“Is that anyway to speak to the man who pays your bills, Richard?”

 

“Hector! Thank God, we have a problem...two of them actually!”

 

“What sort of problem?” Mendoza asked, his voice now serious as he sat behind his desk.

 

“Remember that bitch I told you about?”

 

“You’ve told me about quite a lot of bitches, Richard. Which one is this?”

 

“Her name is Jacqueline Maynard and she was sent here to bring down the cartel about a year ago.”

 

“Ah, yes, the lovely blond with the perfect long legs. What has she done now? Don’t tell me she’s broken a nail?”

 

“Hector, don’t underestimate Maynard. She’s damn good at her job and has been too quiet of late.”

 

“Alright, Richard, so what’s she done that’s got you so upset?”

 

“She left Rio without checking in after I told her we were not ready to make a search of the area where your fortress is located. I haven’t heard from her since and she’s got an old friend of yours with her...”

 

“An old friend...Who?”

 

“Bastard named Vin Tanner...”

 

“Sonofabitch! How long ago did they leave?”

 

“I’m not sure, but it’s been at least a week...”

 

“And you’re just getting around to letting me know. I should have you killed for this! Do you know what would happen if Tanner finds me! That bastard would not think twice about putting a bullet in my head! I’ve worked damned hard to make sure no one knows what I look like anymore and you let the only man who can identify me roam the mountains without so much as telling me!”

 

“I tried to call you, but the phone lines weren’t working properly. At least now you can watch for them!”

 

“You will keep me abreast of any contact from Tanner and Maynard!”

 

“Of course,” Barker said, relieved that the other man no longer sounded irate.

 

“And Richard, if this happens again you may find yourself at the bottom of the bay without benefit of scuba gear and bleeding from several orifices. Do I make myself clear?”

 

“Yes, Hector,” the DEA agent answered as the line went dead in his hand. He hung up and reached for the bottle once more, regretting the day he’d taken his first bribe and turned away from a smuggling operation. Since that day nearly four years ago his life was no longer his own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Well the wayward souls return!” Nettie said as she watched her niece and nephew in law return.

 

“Sorry we’re late,” Larabee said, grabbing a sandwich and biting into it.

 

“Daddy, we gots to go. Nathan said it’s time for the scavenger hunt,” Adam said as he joined his parents beside the picnic table.

 

“Just let your old man grab a bite to eat, Sport,” Larabee said, reaching for a bottle of Gatorade.

 

“But we’ll be late!” the boy said.

 

“You shouldn’t have taken the time for making...”

 

“Buck!” Sarah laughed as she watched the rogue tease her husband.

 

“Wish it was that simple, Buck,” Larabee said as his wife took their son’s hand and led him after the others.

 

“Did something happen, Chris?” Wilmington asked softly as they followed behind the others.

 

“Not something...someone.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Ella,” the blond answered.

 

“Ella...Ella Gaines?” the ladies’ man asked.

 

“Yeah, ran into her over by the barn. Sarah saw her kissing me...”

 

“What the hell did you kiss that bitch...”

 

“Buck, I wasn’t kissing her...she was kissing me. Sarah came along just in time to see me push her away.”

 

“Chris, that woman’s dangerous...remember what happened the last time you two got together!”

 

“Yeah, I do, and that’s why I want you to find out why she’s in Billings. Get Ezra and JD to check into her dealings. I don’t want her anywhere near my family, Buck,” the blond said, smiling as Sarah turned towards them

 

“Are you two coming with us?” the beautiful woman asked.

 

“We’re comin’, Darlin’. I’m just making sure Chris knows the rules of a scavenger hunt.”

 

“Good, because the four of us are a team and Adam has plans on winning. Right?”

 

“Right, Mommy. Come on, Uncle Buck. You’s part of our team too. We gotta beats Nathan’s team and Ezra’s team too!” the boy called.

 

“Well, Sport, why don’t we catch up with the others and let them know who the champs are?” Buck stated, grabbing the boy and placing him on his shoulders.

 

Sarah reached for her husband’s hand and smiled as they walked side by side. “You told him?”

 

“Yeah, figured he’d need to know. He was around when Ella and I were together. I’m sorry, sweetheart, wish she hadn’t showed up today.”

 

“Don’t be, Chris. You certainly didn’t invite her along and you can’t be held responsible for her actions. Come on, quit being a wet blanket and let’s go have some fun.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” Larabee said, hurrying to catch up with the group.

~~~~~~~~~~~`

Adam looked in the basket his father held and smiled as he dropped the final trinket inside. The list held twelve items and they’d successfully found each one, including an old cowboy hat, a wrench, an apple, and a hairpin. The last item was the hardest to find and he’d been the one to find it nestled under a rock at the back of the Pavilion.

 

“Way to go, Sport,” Larabee said as he handed his son the basket and the boy led them towards the judge’s table with less than five minutes to spare.

 

“We got them all!” Adam informed the elderly couple seated behind the table. Several other baskets were on the table behind them, waiting for the time to run out.

 

“Did you really, Son,” the man asked.

 

“Yep and I even found the silver dollar.”

 

“You did, well now all we have to do is go over the checklist once all the baskets are back and then we’ll be able to find out who wins the new bike,” the woman told him.

 

“A new bike?”

 

“That’s right, young man. whoever finds the most items on the list wins a shiny new GMC mountain bike. The size and color is up to the winner.”

 

“Daddy, did you hear that?”

 

“I sure did, Sport and I hope you win it.”

 

“Me too, Adam,” Sarah agreed as Nathan, Rain and Ezra returned with the basket.

 

“Well, looks like the last basket’s been returned. If you nice folk would just wait over there Millie and I will go over the list and let you know who the winners are.”

 

“Okay,” Adam said excitedly running over to Josiah and Orrin Travis. Did you hear what he said? The prize is a bike.”

 

“So I heard, Son, and it looks like you have a good shot at winning it,” the ex-preacher said as he lifted the boy onto a bail of hay.

 

“I hope I do too, J’siah, ‘cause mine’s got training wheels and I don’t want them anymore,” Adam explained as the rest of the group joined them. They laughed and talked about the excitement of the day as the child anxiously waited for the winner to be announced.

 

“Well, if all the teams would gather round I think we have our winner,” the woman said. She waited for the group to move closer and smiled at them all. “Okay, as you know the big prize today is the GMC bicycle behind me. It was donated by the wonderful folks at Walmart and the lucky winner will be able to exchange it for whatever size and color he or she wants. We also have two secondary prizes of a twenty five dollar gift certificate for any store at Rimrock Mall. So, I’ll announce the two second place winners first.”

 

A basket was quickly handed to her and she pulled out the paper inside and smiled in the direction of a family standing at the back of the crowd. “Our first second place prize goes to team eight, the Davidson family who found eleven of the twelve required items. Would the lucky team please come forward.”

 

The group came forward, amidst loud cheers and laughter and congratulations before moving back once more.

 

“Our second, second...hmm, that’s hard to say with these ol’ dentures of mine.” The crowd laughed once more as she accepted the basket form her husband. “This prize goes to team number one, the Cooper family.” Again the family came forward and accepted the prize.

 

“Now, I’m sure you all know that the competition was pretty fierce today, and unfortunately there can only be one winner. We want to thank all participants and their families, but I’m sure the winner is anxious to know who he or she is. The deciding factor in this scavenger hunt was a silver dollar...” She watched as the small excited boy turned to his parents. “The winning team is number six, the Larabee family and I believe our winner is this young man right here. Hello...”

 

“Adam...”

 

“Adam, You did very well and your parents can pick up your prize at the end of the day. Congratulations.”

 

“Thank you,” Adam said, smiling as he took the certificate and turned to join his cheering team and the other members of his family.

 

“Now, Ladies and gentlemen and young cowpokes, if anyone has any items entered in the contests being judged they should make their way to the Expo Center. They’ll be announcing the winners in about fifteen minutes.”

 

“Well, Ladies, I believe it is time we made our way to the Expo Center and discover whether or not the judges are as smart as they appeared,” Standish said, linking his arm with Nettie Wells and leading the way out of the building.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The Expo Center was crowded, but the group managed to find standing room at the very edge of the seats. Josiah reached for Adam and lifted him onto his shoulders, giving the boy a birds eye view of the judges at center stage.

 

“Well, it looks like we have a threepeat winner of the blue ribbon for quilting. Congratulations to Miss Nettie Wells for her patchwork Quilt entitled Cowboys At Sunset. Mrs. Wells, could you please come forward.”

 

Nettie moved through the crowd, smiling as friends and family alike congratulated her once again. She accepted the ribbon and the certificate that came with it before rejoining her group.

 

“Next up is the baking competition and I tell you the judges had such a tough time with this one none of the evidence is left. They finally settled on an Apple Peach cobbler entered by Mrs. Greta Tucker, although they did say that all other entrants deserved honorary mention.”

 

Chris smiled as his son yawned and shifted his weight on Sanchez’ shoulders. He knew the boy was tired, hell, they all looked hot and weary. He turned to survey the crowd, frowning as he spotted Ella Gaines standing at the opposite side of the Center. She disappeared immediately and he shook his head as his wife looked up at him.

 

“Now, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of entries in the preserves department and again the judging was hard, but they’ve decided this years blue ribbon goes to Mrs. Sarah Larabee for her Peaches. Would Sarah Larabee please come up and accept her prize.”

 

The cheers from Sarah’s extended family were long and loud as she walked through the crowd. She blushed as the man handed her the ribbon and certificate, shaking her hand before she turned and walked away. She stood next to her husband, smiling at the pride in his eyes. Several more awards were announced as the night wore on.

 

“Well, there’s one final entry and that’s for crocheted blankets and afghans. There were several wonderful pieces of work entered this year and it’s my pleasure to announce the winner. Would Miss Casey Wells please come forward.”

 

“Yeah, Casey!” Dunne cheered, pride evident in his voice and on his face.

 

“Sh, JD,” Casey said as she hurried towards the stage, blushing as the young man continued to cheer her on.

 

“Miss Wells, it’s my pleasure to present you with the blue ribbon for the lovely design of roses and vines. Congratulations young lady.”

 

“Thank you. Can I also make an announcement?”

 

“Certainly, what is it?”

 

“I’d like to donate the Afghan to the charity raffle in aid of the children’s hospital,” Casey said, blushing as the crowd cheered her donation.

 

“Well now, young lady, that’s mighty nice of you and we’ll see that it’s delivered to the right people.”

 

“Thank you,” Casey said as she hurried away.

 

“Well, Folks, it’s been a long day and I see some tired children out there so I’d like to thank you all for coming out today and hope to see you all again next year. Good night and Godspeed!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris glanced across the seat at his wife, smiling as he saw the light curls of his son’s hair sprayed across her breasts. The boy had fallen asleep before they reached the main gates to exit MetraPark. It was close to eleven o’clock and the day had worn on them all. He smiled at the wonderful memories he had of the day and felt Sarah watching him.

 

“Tired,” he asked without turning his head.

 

“No...I think I passed tired an hour ago. You know you got a little too much sun today.”

 

“Feels like it,” the blond said of the tightness of his skin.

 

“I’ve got some Aloe Vera gel in the fridge. That should help.”

 

“Hmm,” Larabee said as he concentrated on the road ahead. The truck was fully loaded with baskets and the new bicycle and Chris wasn’t looking forward to unloading it all.

 

“You know, we might as well just leave everything in the back and unpack it in the morning,” Sarah suggested, trying to hide a yawn.

 

“Are you reading my mine, Hon. I was just thinking the same thing. Lets just get home, put the little man to bed and maybe we can grab a few hours before he decides it’s time to go to Walmart and exchange his new bike.”

 

“That sounds wonderful,” Sarah agreed as Larabee turned into the driveway and stopped in front of the house.

 

“I’ll get him,” the blond said, getting out of the truck and walking around the front of the truck. He opened the door for his wife, handing her the keys to the house as she slid out and moved out of the way.

 

“...hmm...” the boy mumbled as his father lifted him into his arms.

 

“It’s okay, Sport, we’re home.”

 

“...bed...”

 

“Yep, that’s right where you’re headed,” Larabee said as his son’s head nestled against his neck. He breathed in the scent of his only child, relishing in the joy of the gift bestowed on both him and his wife. He kicked the door closed behind him and followed Sarah up the steps and into the closed in porch. The couple undressed their son, put him in clean pajamas and tucked him into bed before heading for their own room.

 

“Chris,” Sarah said as her husband sat on the edge of the bed.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Sleep or shower?”

 

“Huh?” the blond asked tiredly.

 

“Sleep or Shower. Which one are you in the mood for?” she asked, smiling seductively as she undid the top three buttons on her blouse. 

 

“Depends...”

 

“On?”

 

“Whether you’re gonna join me in the shower or not?”

 

“Oh, I think I can manage to stay awake long enough to take a shower...”

 

“Just to take a shower?”

 

“What else did you have in mind, Cowboy?” Sarah laughed as she ducked under his arm and rushed towards the bathroom. She cried out as his hand latched onto her arm and he turned her to face him.

 

“Did you just call me a cowboy?”

 

“Yep, sure did. What’re you gonna do about it?”

 

“I could take you across...” her lips touched his and his voice softened. “...my knees and...”

 

“And what?” she asked, nipping at his upper lip.

 

“Damn...I can’t remember...what were we talking about?”

 

“Too much talking...let’s get naked!” She giggled like a schoolgirl as she pulled him into the bathroom. She hurriedly undressed as her husband did the same and they stepped into the shower/tub. She reached for the hose and turned the water on, making sure the temperature wasn’t too hot or too cold, as Chris closed the doors.

 

“Oh, Chris, you’re going to be mighty sore and stiff tomorrow,” Sarah winced sympathetically.

 

“Ah, sweetheart, I hate to tell you this, but I’m already stiff,” he said as he pressed up against her back.

 

“So I see. Is that something you’d like me to take care of?”

 

“Well, since you offered,” Larabee said, smiling as she dropped the hose and turned towards him, a lathered facecloth in her right hand. He moaned as the cloth touched his chest and slid down towards his engorged shaft. The soft material added to his pleasure and he gasped as she slid her hand between his legs, dropping the cloth as her fingers began fondling his balls. Her lips found their way to his neck and she began a fiery trail down his chest, stopping just above his navel as her fingers rubbed up against his shaft once more.

 

“Sarah, Love, I need...”

 

“Wh...what?” she muttered against his flat stomach.

 

“I want you.”

 

“I want you too, Lover,” Sarah said, leaning back to give him access to the opening to her body.

 

Chris smiled at how easily they read each other and gently eased his own body into position. He entered her slowly, deliberately prolonging the invasion as the heady scent of sex permeated the bathroom.

 

“Chrissss...”

 

“Sh...let me set the pace, Honey...” he whispered, kissing her chin and biting at her earlobe.

 

“...trying...” she sighed as he pulled out until only the tip of his cock was inside her. She moaned as he drove in, deeper and deeper, moaning as he increased the pace, pulling out and sliding back inside as he lifted her. Her long legs wrapped around his waist, her head tilting backwards as she pushed against the shower wall to counterbalance her husbands thrusts.

 

Chris felt as if the world around him stopped, there was nothing, but this moment, this woman and the rapturous joy he felt at being inside her. He heard her moan, her breathing began to grow faster as his balls felt ready to burst. With one final thrust he sent them both spiraling into a climax that filled them both with happiness as his seed spilled inside her. He held her tight, feeling her breath on his chest as her head came to rest against him.

 

“Well, I think you took care of the stiff part, now how about working on the sore part?” Larabee teased as his spent cock slipped from her velvet sheath.

 

“I think I can take care of that as well,” she said. She picked up the cloth and slowly began to wash his body, exploring every inch as if for the first time. She made him turned and paid special attention to his buttocks, before sliding the cloth down each perfectly shaped leg. She reached for the shampoo and poured a small amount onto her hands before massaging it into his hair and scalp. Once she finished she reached for the shower hose, checking to make sure it was still at the right temperature before rinsing the soap from his body.

 

“Better?”

 

“Hmm, want me to return the favor?”

 

“Are you up for it?”

 

“Hmm, Sarah, do you really think that was the right question?” Larabee asked tiredly.

 

“Chris, I don’t think I could do anything if you were up for it,” she assured him as he picked up the hose and ran the water over her head. She felt his fingers in her hair as the scent of wildflowers assaulted her. She sighed as his fingers massaged her temples before continuing with the rest of her hair. Next he soaped her body, starting with her breasts and slipping lower until he touched up against the sensitive nub between her leg.

 

Chris lavished attention on his wife’s body. Enjoying the scent that was hers alone. He nestled his mouth against the back of her neck as he gently moved the warm soapy cloth over her body. He lifted his head, his eyes heavy with fatigue and reached for the shower hose. He held it above her and watched as the shampoo rinsed out of her hair and ran down her shoulder, back and finally her buttocks. He finished rinsing the soap from her body and waited for her to turn off the shower. The weary couple stepped out of the tub and reached for the heavy terrycloth towels hung on the hook by the door. By the time they dried the excess water from their bodies they were both ready to drop and barely made it to their bed. Sleep beckoned as they snuggled against each other.

 

“I love you, Sarah Larabee,” the blond whispered against her right ear.

 

“I love you too, Chris,” the woman’s soft reply barely made it past her lips as sleep overtook them both.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Sheraton Billings hotel held a five star rating with complete amenities located at 27 North 27th St. The suite they were staying in was on the executive club floor and the remnants of the room service meal they’d ordered sat next to the bed. A bouquet of roses sat on the dresser and a half finished bottle of champagne sat in a silver ice bucket.

 

Ella Gaines paced the hotel room like a caged tigress, stopping every now and then to pick something up and throw it across the room. She reached for the champagne bottle and filled the elegant gold rimmed glass to the brim. She sipped lightly, but her anger got the better of her and she threw elegance to the wind as she downed the bubbly liquor. Her eyes gleamed with hatred as her naked breasts heaved with unused anger. She heard a soft chuckle from the king sized bed and rounded on the man lying on top of the sheets.

 

“Do you really think this is funny, Jack? That bitch thinks she own Chris. She must’ve used blackmail to get him to marry her! The little slut probably got pregnant or something and forced him to marry her! I won’t let him be stuck in a loveless marriage with a stick in the mud like that. She doesn’t know how to satisfy him...”

 

“They seemed happy enough and he wasn’t arguing when she told you off. She did a good job of it too!”

 

“Very fucking funny, Jack. How can you stand there and make jokes when you know ‘m hurting! She’s taken something that belongs to me and I’m going to get him back! Did you call Guy and Robert?”

 

“I spoke with Guy and he said he’d meet us at the restaurant for dinner tomorrow at seven. Robert wasn’t at home and won’t return until next week. I left a message that if he calls to get in contact with me here.”

 

“Did you tell Guy anything?”

 

“I just told him you have a problem you’d like disposed of.”

 

“Yes, but does he understand what or should I say who I want disposed of?”

 

“All he knows is it’s a woman and that price is no object. Now come back to bed, Love, and maybe I can make you forget the Larabee’s for a while,” Averil suggested, patting the mattress beside him

 

Ella placed the glass on the dresser and moved to the bed. Placing one knee on the bed she smiled at her lover, her tongue wetting her lips as he reached for her breasts. “You may make me forget the bitch, Jack, but I have never forgotten Chris Larabee and I never will. We were meant to be together and I aim to see that it happens, no matter what the cost.”

 

Jack saw the truth of those words in her eyes and smiled as he thought of the lovemaking to come. When Ella was angry, she turned into a wildcat and wanted him to fuck her fast and furious. He licked his lips in anticipation as he grabbed her arms and pulled her to him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Vin knew it was morning and that they needed to get back on the trail, but the warm body he was snuggled up to made it hard for him to move. Her hair was soft against his cheek and he inhaled the intoxicating scent of jasmine. He felt her move against him and knew she was on the verge of waking up.

 

“Is it morning?” Jackie’s sleep drenched voice asked.

 

“Think so. Either that or someone put a thousand  watt bulb in the moon,” Tanner whispered against her ear. 

 

“Damn, was hoping for a few more hours...”

 

“Sleep?”

 

“Among other things,” Jackie said, turning in the close confines of the sleeping bag. She smiled at her handsome partner, loving the way his long hair tumbled over his forehead as he bent to kiss her once more. She wanted nothing more than to stay in the blanket and make love all day, but they had a job to do, and time was running out. Just before the mission started they found out the drug lord was gettin ready to make a delivery of heroin whose street value was in excess of ten million dollars. They didn’t know the exact times or the port of destination, but the heavier traffic into this area of the Rio De Janeiro mountains signaled Mendoza was getting ready to move something big. Sighing heavily she forced herself to move away from the comforting arms of the Texan.

 

“Guess that means the other thing’s’ll have ta wait ‘til later?”

 

“Afraid so, Tex, we need to get moving.” The fact that the man with her was the only one who could identify Mendoza made them prime targets, especially if she was right in her distrust of Richard Barker.

 

“Damn, thought Larabee was a tough taskmaster,” the sharpshooter said as he reached for the zipper.

 

“Thought all Texans arose before the sun hit the sky?”

 

“Arose?” Tanner asked mischievously.

 

“Let’s not start that again,” Maynard said as she struggled to stand up. They lapsed into silence while they dressed, ate a cold breakfast of crackers, cheese, and juice and finally folded the sleeping bags and tent. They had everything they needed to prove they were a newlywed couple if they were stopped, but they both understood if it was Mendoza’s men neither would be alive to testify.

 

Vin lifted her backpack and helped her into the straps before reaching for his own. Without a word they turned and headed higher into the mountains, carefully sticking to the side trails in an effort to stay out of sight. The foliage was thicker and the trees seemed to reach into the clouds as step by step the duo drew closer to the fortress.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mendoza paced back and forth in his office as he waited for word from the returning patrols. So far there’s been no sign of Tanner and Maynard, but he knew they were out there. Tanner was like a dog once he found a scent and he knew the man would not quit until he found this place. Several patrols were combing the surrounding area, but came up empty. He walked to his desk and slumped down into the chair. He’d known Vin Tanner when they’d both been younger and they’d been friends, not close, but they’d found a few things in common, then one day he’d discovered he could make more money than he’d ever dreamed of. His uncle ran a smuggling operation and offered him a chance to become equal partners if he was ready to make a drug run for him. Hector had done so and within months he’d made new contacts and opened more doors in cities across the west coast. Now they were slowly moving east, and he could not allow Tanner to stop him.

 

He remembered the last time he’d met the Texan. He offered him a job, but Tanner had been sent to bring him in because he ran out on a bail bond. They fought and he escaped after knocking the bounty hunter out and he didn’t see him again until five years later when his old friend found him in a hospital in Mexico. The bandages had just been removed and Tanner saw his new face...now he was the only man outside this fortress who could recognize him. The doctor and nurse at the hospital were easily dealt with before he left Mexico. Now he had the opportunity to rid himself of one last problem and Hector Mendoza’s face would truly be unknown outside the fortress he lived in. The men who worked for him were trustworthy and had been handpicked by him and his uncle and they would give their lives to protect him. His uncle was long dead now, food for the fish and sharks in the bay since destroying another drug cartel. The opposing drug lord managed to dispose of him just before Hector blew up everything the other man owned. Now, the fortress and surrounding lands were his and he meant to see they stayed a secret. He looked up as Ernesto Ruiz entered the office.

 

“Anything?” Mendoza asked.

 

“No. Guerrero and Juan just returned from patrolling the southern edge of the fields. There’s been no sign of trespassers, but they will continue to search the area.”

 

“Have them expand the search area and keep their eyes open. If Vin Tanner is out there he’s gonna be hard to find. He won’t just come walking into the compound and give himself up.”

 

“What should they do if they spot him or the woman?”

 

“I want them brought here to me. It’s time Vin Tanner saw what he gave up. I never told you about his refusal to join me in this business, did I?”

 

“No, Hector, you did not. Tanner is the one who saw you in Mexico isn’t he?”

 

“Yes, he is. A good man...an even better tracker and sharpshooter. He nearly had me at the hospital, in fact he did have me, but my uncle took care of him long enough for me to escape.”

 

“Are you going to offer him the same deal again?”

 

“No...not because I don’t want him to work for me, but because he’d refuse me. Vin Tanner is one of those people who is honest to the core and it would be impossible to convince him what we do is done by many others and that we should be allowed to make money providing the same service as others. See, the problem is Vin has always had the one thing I don’t!”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Tanner has a conscience and one day that will be what kills him. Keep me informed of the search results, Ernesto.”

 

“I will, Hector.” Ruiz said before leaving the cooler interior of the office.

 

Mendoza leaned back in the chair and locked his hands behind his head. His thoughts once more returned to the past and he smiled at the idea of seeing Tanner’s face when he was brought before him. It would be good to see him, but he did not regret the outcome of that meeting. The Texan had to die, there was no doubt of that, and although he would regret it, he would see to it himself.

 

‘Your conscience is going to be your downfall, Vin,’ he thought with a smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Ella smiled as she spotted Guy Royal at the back of the restaurant. The tables surrounding them were empty, giving them a modicum of privacy and she knew they could discuss her plans without being overheard. Her right arm was linked with Jack Averil and she knew these men were under her spell. They would do anything she asked and not question her motives. She watched Royal stand up as they neared and hold her chair for her.

 

“Ella, you’re as lovely as ever.”

 

“Thank you, Guy,” she said as he placed a kiss on her hand.

 

“Hello, Jack.”

 

“Guy,” Averil said, shaking hands with the other man. He knew Ella and Royal were involved at one point before he met her, and although it was over the other man still wanted to rekindle old flames.

 

“Sit down, Boys, we have much to discuss,” Ella said as the waiter came over with menus.

 

“Good evening Miss Gaines, Mr. Averil. My name is Brian and I will be your server tonight. Would you like something from the bar?”

 

“Yes, a light Chablis would be wonderful,” Ella told him.

 

“Make mine a Martini, extra dry,” Jack told him.

 

“Would you like a refill, Mr. Royal?”

 

“No...make it a gin and tonic this time.”

 

“Yes, Sir. I’ll give you a few minutes to check the menu, but the chef’s special tonight is poached salmon in lemon butter served with parsley boiled potatoes and asparagus,” the waiter said before hurrying away.

 

“Well, Ella, what is it you need?” Royal asked, placing the unopened menu on the table in front of him.

 

“Do you remember me telling you about he love of my life,” Ella asked, pouting at the man seated next to her.

 

“I thought I was the love of your life?” The businessman asked, knowing there was only one man who could have this affect on the woman.

 

“Oh, you are, you and Jack and Robert, but there is only one man who left me and I’ve always wanted him back. Do you remember me talking about him?”

 

“How could I forget the dreamy look in your eyes when you breathed the name. Chris Larabee...Don’t tell me you finally ran into him again?” he asked softly.

 

“Yes, but...”

 

“Don’t tell me...Mr. Larabee no longer returns your affections?”

 

“He brushed her right off!” Averil said, stroking the slight beard on his chin as he smiled at the man across the table.

 

“Well, Ella, why don’t you forget about him and take a look at the two men you’re having dinner with? Hold on, here comes the waiter,” Royal told them. The trio thanked the young man as he placed the drinks in front of them.

 

“Are you ready to order or would you like a little more time?”

 

“I’m ready,” Ella said, smiling as her gaze raked over the handsome waiter.

 

“What would you like?”

 

“Ella...Ella!” Averil called twice as the woman stared intently into the man’s face. “I think he means what would you like off the menu.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was daydreaming,” the woman said. “I’d like to have the special please.”

 

“Bring me the same.”

 

“Might as well make it three,” Averil agreed.

 

“Thank you. Just let me know if I can get you anything else,” the waiter told them, hurrying away as he felt the woman’s eyes on him once more.

 

“Okay, now where were we? Oh yes, I was asking why you would want Larabee when you could have either one or both of us for that matter,” Royal asked.

 

“Oh, Guy, you know I’ll always have a soft spot for you, but Chris was my first love and I’ve never stopped craving him. We had so many things in common and he seemed so fearless...so ready to do or try anything. I had so much zest for life when I was with him and I want that back. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

 

“I understand, Ella, but it seems as if Larabee has moved on. He certainly seemed enthralled with the woman he held,” Averil told her as he sipped his brandy.

 

“The woman is just a passing fling. I told you, Jack, she must’ve used her feminine wiles to trap him into marriage.”

 

“Sort of like you’ve done with us,” Royal said, smiling as he saw the truth written on her face. 

 

“Ah, yes, but Guy, would you have it any other way?”

 

“No, Love, I’ve always treasured the time you give me. A beauty such as yours would be wasted if given to only one man. Please tell me that once you have this Larabee fellow back you won’t forget about the other men who love you,” the older man asked.

 

“I promise not to forget either of you. Just help me get what I want and I’ll give you anything you want,” Ella assured them.

 

“Very well, what would you like us to do?” Royal asked.

 

“First, I want you to find out everything you can about Sarah Larabee. Her habits...where she works...what she does...who her friends are. I want to know how she met Chris and how long after they met were they married.”

 

“That should be easy, but Ella.”

 

“Yes, Jack?”

 

“Here is one important factor you’re ignoring.”

 

“What?”

 

“What if Chris Larabee really does love his wife?”

 

“Impossible. He loves me. He always has and always will. It’s just a matter of convincing him of that,” Gaines told them.

 

“What if they have children?” Royal asked.

 

“Chris will realize his mistake and he will leave that bitch and if there are any little bitches he will leave those behind too. He will come to me willingly...you’ll see. Our love was once strong and will be again. It’s just a matter of making him remember the vows we made.”

 

“Okay,” Averil said, motioning for the waiter to bring him a refill. “So, we find out about Larabee’s wife and whether they have children. What are your plans if he does love them and refuses to leave them?”

 

“I thought that would be self evident, Jack. We kill the woman and any rugrats they may have brought into this world. Chris Larabee is mine and I will not let some slut sleep in my bed.”

 

“Hmm, perhaps it’s best if we just get rid of Sarah Larabee now,” Royal suggested.

 

“No,” Ella smiled, her eyes filled with manic delight as she turned from one man to the other. “I’d like to make her regret the day she put her claws on my husband!”

 

The two men knew the look and understood what it meant. No matter how Chris larabee felt, he would soon find himself caught up in Ella Gaines’ life and sequestered in her bed once more before he even knew what was happening. The meals were brought out and placed in front of them as they discussed the plans Ella wanted implemented.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris entered his office on Monday morning and smiled tiredly at the men already there. He could see the evidence of the day spent in the sun as he looked from one burnt face to the other. He nearly laughed aloud when he looked at Ezra Standish. The gambler reminded him of a raccoon, except he wore a white mask surrounding a sunburnt face.

 

“Should’ve taken the glasses off Ez.”

 

“How very astute of you to notice, Mr. Larabee,” the conman said.

 

“Kind’ve hard not to, Ezra. You look like a raccoon.” Dunne smiled as he reached for the can of soda on his desk.

 

“I’ve heard of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but Ezra is a raccoon in ray bans,” Wilmington said.

 

“With Armani denims and Arnold the pig,” Sanchez joined the fun.

 

“I believe I’m surrounded by a group of would be two dollar comedians,” the conman said, shaking his head as he headed for the coffee pot on the counter at the back of the office.

 

“Two dollars seems a bit much,” Larabee said as he walked into his office. He heard someone following him and knew it was Buck Wilmington. He sat behind the desk, knowing the man wanted to talk and who he wanted to talk about.

 

“Chris, did you hear anything else from Ella Gaines?” the rogue asked, closing the door behind him. None of the others knew about their leader’s past with the woman and for now they would keep it that way.

 

“No...not a word. I’m hoping she’s already left town.”

 

“You really think she’d do that, Chris?” Wilmington asked, fury in his eyes at the thought of the raven haired beauty with the heart made of ice.

 

“No, that’s why I want you to find out where she’s staying. I don’t trust her, Buck, and I don’t want her getting anywhere near Sarah and Adam.”

 

“Where are they?”

 

“I dropped them off at Nettie’s house. They’ll be fine there, but until I know where Ella is and what’s going through her mind I don’t want them alone.”

 

“Maybe we should have JD check the hotels and see if she’s registered at any of them.”

 

“I was thinking the same thing, but tell him to concentrate on only the five star ones. Ella wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less.”

 

“Yeah, she did have tastes that ran higher than most,” the rogue said. He hated the idea of the woman being back in Larabee’s life, and prayed she’d leave before she had a chance to cause the blond any trouble. He knew Chris had loved her back in the early days as a SEAL, and remembered how much he’d been hurt when she left him before finding out whether he would lose his leg or keep it.

 

“Buck,” the blond said softly.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I won’t let her hurt my family. Sarah and Adam are my life and once she realizes that she’ll move on.”

 

“I hope you’re right, Chris, because having Ella Gaines in town is like turning a bull loose in a lake of Piranha only Ella is the Piranha and you’re the bull she’s set her sites on.”

 

“Ella as a Piranha, yeah, that sounds like her. Ask JD to check for me, Buck.”

 

“I will, Chris.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Anytime...anywhere,” the rogue vowed before leaving the office.

 

Chris sighed heavily and reached for the picture on his desk. It was a family portrait done three weeks before Christmas and he loved the smile on Adam’s face. The boy was so excited about the upcoming holiday, Santa’s visit and his eyes shone with excitement. Chris and Adam wore matching suits, white shirts, red ties and matching hankies in the breast pocket. Sarah wore a beautiful red dress with a black belt. Her hair was pulled back off her shoulders by a black velvet ribbon and on her finger was the family ring he’d given her for her birthday the week before. The background was a brightly decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath and stockings hung on a fireplace.

 

“Chris?”

 

Larabee looked up as Sanchez came in carrying a small package. “What’s that?”

 

“Not sure. It was delivered a few minutes ago. It’s got a card attached addressed to you. Were you expecting a delivery?”

 

“No...I wasn’t.” The blond took the package and placed it on his desk. A shiver ran down his spine as he slipped the small card from the envelope.

 

Josiah saw the younger man’s face blanche as he read the words and knew something was wrong.

 

“Josiah, will you get rid of it!”

 

“Sure, Chris,” the older man said, picking up the parcel. He knew if Larabee wanted him to know who the parcel was from he’d tell him, but he would not ask questions, at least not yet. He turned and walked towards the door, the parcel in his hand, when the soft voice stopped him.

 

“Josiah.”

 

“Yes, Chris?”

 

“Don’t throw it out, Just place it in the safe until I decide how I’m going to proceed. Have the others meet me in the conference room.”

 

“Sure, Boss,” the ex-preacher said, leaving the man alone with his thoughts.

 

Chris Larabee looked at the card he held in his hands and reread the simple message. The words were written in the familiar handwriting of Ella Gaines and his heart skipped a beat as he reread them.

 

“Chris, I know we parted on the wrong foot the other night, but perhaps this will help you remember the love we share, Ella Gaines-Larabee

 

The Firm’s leader knew without opening the parcel what was inside. There was only one thing that would remind him of that night. The handcuffs...a simple set of sterling silver bracelets she had made especially for them. She’d slipped something into his drink and he’d felt a heady sense of danger as she helped him remove his clothing. He saw it in her eyes, and wanted to fight, but his body felt like it was made of lead and he was sinking in water. He heard her words slammed into his skull and he heard them as if she stood beside him, whispering seductively in his ear. Making promises that he knew she would keep, and knowing he had to break away from her possessiveness before it killed him.

 

‘You are mine, Christopher Larabee. I own you...your body, your mind, your soul. Everything that is you will be linked to me once these cuffs are attached to both of us. We will walk the fine line between love and possession and know that no one can interfere. We are one...one spirit in two bodies and I will make sure we are never parted. No man, woman, or child will ever come between us. If we are parted, know that I will eventually find you and reunite with you. We will each own a part of this set of handcuffs, a reminder of the promise we make each other tonight!’

 

“Dammit, Ella, I told you no then and I’ll fucking make sure you understand this time!” he cursed as he placed the note back in the envelope and tucked it into his pocket. Chris knew from earlier dealings with Ella Gaines that the note was only the beginning and he planned to keep every piece of evidence she sent him. He would not...could not allow her back into his life, there was too much for him too lose. He thought of his wife and son and smiled at the warmth that washed over him, a totally different feeling than the ones he’d shared with Ella Gaines.

 

Taking a last look at the picture, Chris stood up and headed for the conference room, knowing he had friends he could count on to help him and his family. He entered the room to find five men seated at the table and frowned as he noticed the empty seat on his left. The fact that there was still no word from Vin Tanner had him worried and he prayed the Texan was okay.

 

“Chris, are you okay?” Jackson asked, noticing the way the blond rotated his shoulders.

 

“Yeah, just a little stiff from Saturday,” the blond lied. He was sore, but it was more from lack of sleep the night before.

 

“I know what that’s like, Brother,” Sanchez said, rubbing his lower back.

 

“Okay, so why did you call us in here, Chris. Have you heard from Vin?” Wilmington asked.

 

“No, there’s been no word from Vin...but that’s not why I called you here. Buck, did you ask JD to check the hotels for Ella Gaines?”

 

“Yeah, Chris, he did. I was just starting to check when Josiah said you wanted us here,” Dunne answered.

 

“Finish checking for me after we’re done here, okay?”

 

“Sure,” the youngest member of the team agreed.

 

“Okay, so what’s going on, Chris. Why the sudden meeting?” Jackson asked.

 

“I know most of you know about my past in the SEALS, but not about my personal life during that time. You were there, Buck, but even you didn’t know the half of it,” Larabee said, dropping into the leather conference chair at the end of the table. He rubbed at his temples in an effort to relieve the tension headache he felt building there.

 

“Tell us what happened,” Wilmington said from the chair on Larabee’s right. He knew more than he let on, having listened to the blond’s cries for help in the hospital the day after he’d found him. There was still no proof that Ella Gaines had been involved, but he knew it as much as he knew the sun would rise in the morning.

 

“Ella and I knew each other before I entered the SEALS. She argued that I should set my sights higher and not waste my life in service to my country when I could have my country work for me. At the time I was a naive kid, wet behind the ears and eager to please the woman I though I loved. Remember the day we celebrated our success and were getting ready to ship out, Buck?”

 

“How could I forget. That was a great day, Chris. Your Mom and Dad were so proud of you,” Wilmington smiled as he remembered the two of them decked out in dress uniform and ready to make their first impression on their commanding officer. Captain Dunne had been a hard man, but he also understood the meaning of family and how good it was for the men to have the chance to say goodbye. He shivered as he remember spotting Ella at the edge of the group. Her hair hung over her shoulders, blowing across her face as the wind began to rise. She looked gorgeous, the perfect picture of a woman coming to say goodbye to the man she loved, yet her eyes were cold and callous.

 

“Yes, they were and so was your Mom. She loved what you made of yourself, Buck...she was proud and had every reason to be.”

 

“Thanks, Chris. Mom was special.”

 

“Yes, she was, in more ways than one and her son has nothing to be ashamed of either,” the blond said, sending the truth of his words through his eyes.

 

“So what happened?” Dunne asked as the group grew silent.

 

“Ella was there. At the back of the group as if she didn’t want anyone to know she was there. I saw her and she smiled and came forward. She stood there and asked me was I really going to waste my life as a SEAL. I told her I was doing this because it was right...she laughed...right there in front of my family and commanding officer she laughed so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. Anyway, we said goodbye and I asked if she’d be here when I got back and she just nodded her head slightly. God, I really thought I loved her, but...”

 

“You were a kid, Chris...a kid with his first real crush.”

 

“Not such a Kid, Buck, but it was more than a crush. Anyway, we were gone six months on that trip and when we returned Ella was there waiting for us. I told her I needed to go see my family and she was upset, but she hid it quickly. I drove her home and went to see Mom and Dad. We spent the next few days together and I finally had a chance to call Ella. She asked me to meet her at a hotel, and well, hell, I was like a dog worrying a bone. I needed to see her...to well...rekindle what we had. I drove there and she was waiting for me wearing nothing but a smile. I was sure she’d forgiven me for leaving her and she seemed as eager as I was and pulled me into the room. Hell, neither one of us were virgins, but it felt like my first time all over again. She had a bottle of champagne and two glasses, candles provided the only light...I drank several glass of the champagne, but she didn’t seem to touch it. Next thing I knew I was lying on the bed, naked and she was stretched out on top of me with this set of handcuffs in her hands. Bet you’re wondering what’s wrong with that scenario, well, normally nothing, but it felt strange. I felt strange. It was like I was watching this happen to someone else, yet I knew it was me...”

 

“Did she drug the champagne?” Jackson asked.

 

“I don’t know...probably, but if she did whatever she used didn’t show up in the blood tests several days later when we found Chris and got him to the hospital,” Buck explained.

 

“So what did she do to you and why wasn’t she arrested?” Standish asked.

 

“As I said, she was stretched out over me with these handcuffs. They were covered in pink fur and on one side her name was engraved, the other had my name. She said they would keep us linked forever as long as I agreed with it. She wanted us to wear them as a permanent reminder that we were to be together forever. She fastened one around her wrist and tried to do the same with mine and I told her no...I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment, not when I had already made a commitment to serving my country. She refused to listen...told me she understood about the country and that once we were married she would be able to travel with me anywhere. I told her I couldn’t do that...I had to concentrate on the missions and not worry about someone I cared about being in the line of fire. I tried to push her off, but there just didn’t seem to be any way to move my arms or legs and it suddenly felt really hot in that damn room. That’s when I looked into her eyes...I mean really looked.”

 

“What did you see, Chris?” Sanchez asked.

 

“Nothing...”

 

“Nothing?” Dunne asked incredulously.

 

“That’s right, Kid. Nothing. Her eyes were blank...sort of like a shark’s eyes...black and empty. Like there was no warmth inside her. I told her I needed to go, but suddenly everything changed and she was all warm and willing again. I think I passed out shortly after that, but before I did I heard her speaking...softly...as if she didn’t want me to hear what she was saying.”

 

“What did she say?” Wilmington asked, seeing the emotions wash over the blond’s suddenly pale face.

 

Chris ran his fingers through his hair and suddenly thought about getting a hair cut. His hair had been long during his short time with Ella Gaines and he knew that was the reason he kept it shorter since the day she disappeared from his life. Clearing his throat he looked from Buck to Nathan to JD to Ezra to Josiah and back to Buck once more.

 

“She said... ‘You belong to me and only me Chris Larabee. There will be times when we are not together, but we will find our way back to each other and at those times we will renew the love we have always shared. If you find someone who tries to take you from me we will deal with her...I will deal with her...for there is only you and I, Chris and one day I will be Ella Gaines-Larabee, until then I remain faithfully, lovingly yours and the rest of the world be damned.”

 

“Jesus, talk about an obsessed woman. Was that the last time you saw her?” Sanchez asked.

 

“No...saw her one more time after that...at the hospital...remember, Buck?”

 

“How could I forget? She came in and cursed the medical staff for letting this young nurse look after Chris. I remember her turning over the med cart and screaming at these people for letting anyone near her husband. She left when they threatened to call the police on her, but not before seeing Chris. It was only a few days later that she turned up on my doorstep. I can still see her face when you told her you didn’t want to see her anymore. Wasn’t it the next day the flowers showed up?”

 

“Yes it was and the card...didn’t she sign it...”

 

“Yeah...Ella Gaines-Larabee...That was the last I heard from her until Saturday. She was there...at the fair. She thought we would pick up where she left off...or where she wanted us to leave off. Sarah saw her,” Larabee smiled at his friends. “Ella tried to introduce herself the same way she signs those damn cards, but Sarah...well...she wasn’t having anything to do with that. She introduced herself and said Larabee really was her name.”

 

“Gotta love Sarah when she’s riled,” Wilmington said.

 

“Yeah,” the blond agreed, smiling in spite of the things he’d just told them. “She is...and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

 

“You’re a fortunate man, Chris,” Standish said softly.

 

“Yes, I am,” Larabee agreed, smiling before growing serious once more. “Ella and I were together for nearly a year and a half and I’m telling you we had some exciting times. She liked to live on the edge and well, I did some things I regret now, but at the time they just seemed like an adventure. We came close to breaking the law several times, but something stopped me from crossing that line. I came this close...” the blond held his thumb and finger less than a quarter of an inch apart as he talked. “...to having a criminal record for armed robbery...”

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t look so surprised, Kid, I was young and it seemed like a big thrill at the time. I’ve regretted it ever since, but I’m glad I came to my senses before I went to the store.”

 

“I’m sure we’ve all done things we regret, Chris. I know I’ll be doing penance for things in my past for the rest of my life, but at least I know there were reasons for it.”

 

“Thanks, Josiah,” Larabee said taking a deep breath before he placed the card on the table and looked at his friends once more. “Josiah brought me a package that was delivered a short while ago. I didn’t open it, but I can tell you what was in it. A pair of handcuffs.”

 

“Why are you so certain?” Standish asked.

 

“Because Ella sent it. This note is from her and so was the package. That’s why I asked you boys to come in here. I’m going to make sure she knows I want nothing more to do with her and that’s where you boys come in. I know she’s gonna blame Sarah and Adam and I don’t want her near them! I don’t want that bitch near my family!”

 

“Just tell us what you want us to do, Chris,” Wilmington said.

 

“Anything you need...you’ve got!” Jackson assured him.

 

“Thanks, Boys. JD, see what you can find out about where she’s staying and who’s with her. Buck, Josiah, see if there’s any way of finding out why she’s in town. Nathan, Ezra, see if you two can find a way to keep tabs on her until we find out what she’s up to,” Larabee ordered.

 

“What are you going to do, Chris?” the rogue asked worriedly.

 

“I’ve got some time off coming and I’m going to speak to Orrin about taking a week or two. I don’t want Sarah and Adam alone at the house. We can coordinate things from there and maybe Ella will disappear from my life the same way she did the last time.”

 

“Do you really believe that, Chris?” Wilmington asked.

 

“Not one damn bit, Buck, but I’m not letting her ruin my life,” Larabee said as the men stood up to go to work. He frowned as he realized he’d just hired his own team to work on a case for him and they hadn’t questioned him on it. The others filed out of the office, leaving him alone with his long time friend.

 

“Are you okay, Chris?”

 

“No, Buck, I’m not. I don’t think Ella is going to stop this time. There was something in her eyes when she looked at Sarah at the Fair. I think if she’d had a weapon, Sarah would be dead.”

 

“Then we’ll have to make damn sure she doesn’t get near Sarah and Adam. You know me, Chris. Your wife and son are like my own kin and you and me go way back. I’ll do anything and I mean anything to keep them safe...including taking out that bitch!”

 

“If it comes to that I’ll take care of her myself!” Larabee vowed, standing and moving to the door, knowing Wilmington had his family’s back. The man loved his family and Chris understood the vow that he’d just been given and knew the man would do it without looking back. “Thanks, Buck.”

 

“Anytime...anywhere,” Wilmington vowed as they left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Jackie Maynard took the lead as they made their way up the trail towards what they hoped would be the drug lord’s hidden home. Several times during the day they were forced to stop and it was one of those times they found the cave They’d been carefully sticking to the shadows as much as possible, but were nearly caught as four armed guards stepped onto the trail ahead. She’d reacted instinctively and shoved Tanner off the trail and through the brush, losing her balance and falling on top of him. They held their breath in the darkness until the patrol drew abreast of their position and continued down the trail, bypassing the cave she’d thrust Tanner into.

 

“Nice, Jackie, but if ya wanted me so bad all you had ta do was say so. I ain’t adverse to a quickie in a cave. Just need to move the rock from under my ass,” Tanner whispered in the darkness.

 

“Dream on, Tex...if I want you I won’t have to knock you down and overpower you to do it. Seems to me there’s something popping up between us already,” she said coyly.

 

“You ain’t kidding,” the sharpshooter laughed as he pulled her down to him. The tension was quickly replaced by relief as the danger passed and the adrenaline needed an outlet.

 

The darkness surrounding them hid the passionate moves they made as the woman reached between their bodies and quickly released the swollen shaft from the material imprisoning it. She smiled as Tanner moaned and thrust into her fingers before he pulled at her jeans and slid them down over her hips. Lust overwhelmed the two as the need for relief grew and the Texan quickly thrust inside her. Jackie met his upward moves with her own downward and soon controlled the momentum as they shifted in the darkness. Their bodies pressed together as flesh met flesh, and their mouths touched, tongues dancing in and out as they fought each other for dominance in the dangerous wilds of the mountains. The couple didn’t think of the dangers surrounding them as they gave into the demands of the closeness of their bodies. Again and again they pounded each other, enjoying the ferocious lust that demanded release. They came in a glorious orgasm that sent them both flying over the edge and into each others arms, panting for breath in the humid air.

 

They stayed that way for several long minutes, Jackie’s head resting on his right shoulder, drinking in the scent that she now thought of as his alone. She hated moving, wanting nothing more than to remain embraced by the passionate Texan, but they had a job to do. Sighing heavily she used her arms to push her body upwards. The ground underneath was damp and she suddenly remembered where they were. She shivered at the thought of the creatures that could be crawling around the interior of the cave, but felt Tanner’s strong hands on her arms.

 

“Guess we’d best get movin’,” the tracker suggested softly.

 

“Yeah, sorry about pushing you.”

 

“Hell, don’t be. Think I could grow to enjoy being woman handled if’n this is the result!”

 

“Oh, Hell, Tanner, I didn’t mean to woman handle you, then again, maybe I did,” she whispered as she pinched his left buttock.

 

“Ouch!”

 

“Nice buns, Tex.”

 

“Thanks, I think,” the sharpshooter said as he sat up. The brush covering the front of the cave allowed only a small amount of light to enter the cave, but he quickly searched the dark area behind them.

 

“You ready to get out of here?” Jackie asked, shivering in the semi-darkness.

 

“Yeah, but this place could come in handy,” the tracker said.

 

“How?”

 

“Well, if the entrance is as well concealed as I think it is we’ve got a great base of operations. A natural cave in the rock and a great hideout.”

 

“As long as nothing else already lives here,” Maynard told him.

 

“Nothing but a few spiders,” Tanner said as he pushed aside the brush and re-entered the bright sunshine of midday. He held it and waited until she was outside before he once more looked into the place that had been their salvation. It was nothing more than a deep recess in the rock side of a higher slope, but it was well hidden by an overgrowth of brush deadwood.

 

“Anything in there I shouldn’t know about?” the woman asked as she straightened her clothes and brushed away the dirt and broken twigs.

 

“No...it’s empty. Anything that might have lived here is long gone,” Tanner assured her.

 

“So, do we use this as our base?”

 

“Yeah...it’s perfect. We can leave the packs here and come back tonight. If we find it’s too much of a distance then we’ll stay the night and move on in the morning,” the tracker explained, rubbing at the itchy growth of beard on his chin.

 

“Liked you better without it,” Maynard said as she watched him remove his pack and place it inside. She did the same, smiling as she realized how uncomfortable their little quickie must’ve been for her partner with the pack as his bed.

 

“Well, ain’t much I can do about it out here,” Tanner said as he replaced the brush and made sure the cave was invisible once more. “Let’s get moving.”

 

Jackie nodded, knowing they had to find Mendoza’s fortress before breaking the self imposed radio silence. She knew her companion understood her reluctance to contact Richard Barker, and prayed Tanner’s cell phone had long range capabilities. She wasn’t sure she could trust Chris Larabee, but at least the Texan seemed to have confidence in his friend. Without a word the two agents moved onto the trail and once more began the journey up the mountain.

~~~~~~~~~~~

“Chris?” Larabee looked up from the open file he’d been working on as JD Dunne knocked at his office door.

 

“What is it JD? Did you find out where she’s staying?”

 

“Yeah, she’s at the Sheraton Billings...sharing a suite with a man named Jack Averil. Ezra’s heard of him.”

 

“Ezra has?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Larabee I have,” the conman said as he joined the two men in the blond’s office.

 

“Who is he?” the blond asked.

 

“A gambler and conman and not very good at either! I met him a few times when traveling with Mother. She warned me never to listen to anything he said and to simply refuse to get involved in his erroneous plans. He once swindled a church of its collection and as you know that is simply not done by professional conmen. Even we have our ethics and he has frequently ignored those.”

 

“Sounds like someone Ella would be with. JD, any idea how long she’s reserved the rooms there?”

 

“She’s booked into the Club floor and has taken one of the largest suites. She’s booked in for one week, but has the option of staying longer.”

 

“Damn,” Larabee cursed, slamming his fist on his desk and scattering the papers around him.

 

“I’m sorry, Chris, wish I could’ve given you better news,” Dunne said.

 

“Not your fault, JD. I shouldn’t even have gotten you boys involved in my personal business. I’ll deal with her myself,” Larabee spat standing and grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. “What room is she in, JD?”

 

“Club floor, room six, but Chris, you don’t have to go there alone!”

 

“I know, JD, but sometimes a man has to handle things for himself. Ella Gaines is my problem. I’ll deal with the bitch!”

 

Ezra and JD looked worriedly at each other before watching Larabee’s long strides out of the office. They knew by the set of the shoulders that things did not bode well for Larabee’s former paramour, but they did not want to see anything happen top their friend. Something told them the blond would gladly ring the woman’s neck if she didn’t listen to reason.

 

“Where’s Chris headed?” Wilmington asked as he joined the two men in the doorway.

 

“Where do you think he’s going?” Standish asked.

 

“Ella! Fuck! Where’s she staying JD?”

 

“The Sheraton Billings!” Dunne answered and watched as the ladies’ man hurried after the blond.

 

“Hopefully, Mr. Wilmington can prevent Mr. Larabee from making a grave mistake,” the gambler said softly.

 

“I hope so, Ez, because Chris looked like a runaway locomotive on a collision course,” Dunne said as they went back to work.

~~~~~~~~~~~

They discovered the fields early in the evening and circumvented them in an effort to find the fortress itself. The fields were immense and hidden under a natural covering of trees and other vegetation. They’d made good time in moving deeper into the trail and had found the camouflaged fields of marijuana and other illegal plants. Their were several patrols, but they continued to avoid detection, sometimes hiding in the fields themselves.

 

Vin pointed across the open field and nodded as Jackie went to move further back into the dense undergrowth. The duo knew they were close to Hector Mendoza’s fortress and would have to be careful of the extra patrols in the area. Darkness was once more setting in and without a word they headed back towards the cave they’d found earlier that day.

 

“Vin?” Jackie whispered as another patrol passed them.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“How will you know when we reach the cave?”

 

“I’ll know,” the tracker answered simply.

 

“How?” the woman asked skeptically.

 

“Just seem ta have an instinct for it. Used to question myself all the time, but have learned to trust in it. Just stay close and we’ll be there before you know it.”

 

“Good, I’m cold,” the woman said,.

 

“Me too,” the Texan said, smiling at the thought of sharing their body heat.

 

“Yeah, well, I’m tired too, Tex, so don’t go getting any ideas,” Maynard whispered softly.

 

“Damn!” the sharpshooter said as they hurried along the edge of the trail.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris couldn’t remember getting behind the wheel of his truck and driving to the hotel where Ella was staying. He pulled up in front of the main entrance and slammed his palm against the steering wheel before pulling the keys from the ignition and opening the door. Taking a deep breath as anger threatened to take his breath away he strode towards the automatic doors.

 

“Sir! Sir! You can’t park there! That’s just for dropping off and picking up!”

 

Larabee turned on the man standing beside an empty luggage carrier, but didn’t say a word. He saw the look of fear that flashed across the man’s face and felt a moments regret before turning back towards the door. He could hear the man calling to him, but ignored it as he strode to the elevators and pounded on the silver plate until the button lit up with a white light.

 

“Come on, dammit!” he cursed, ignoring the looks he received from the elderly couple walking behind him. It seemed to take forever until the elevator doors opened and he hurried inside. He saw the elderly couple turn away as he angrily struck the button labeled Club Floor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buck cursed his luck as he pulled in behind Larabee’s Black Ford. The blond was no where to be seen, but a man stood at the doors speaking in a phone. From the look on the man’s face and the way he pointed at the truck Wilmington knew he had a run in with the irate team leader.

 

‘Lucky you’re still standing, Kid,’ he thought as he turned off the ignition. He opened the door and exited the car as the young man hurried in his direction.

 

“Hey, you can’t park there!”

 

Wilmington looked at his green Mustang and watched as the young man’s face clearly showed his interest.

 

“Listen, Kid, I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”

 

“That’s what they all say...”

 

“Look, my friend owns that truck and I need to stop him from walking in on his wife and her boyfriend. I’m sure your boss wouldn’t appreciate a bad scene like that!”

 

“No...no he wouldn’t...but...”

 

“Did he look angry?”

 

“Thought he was going to kill me!”

 

“Yeah, he gets like that. Real jealous sort of fella. Might even shoot them both. Imagine the mess? Blood and guts and...”

 

“Okay...okay. Go get him...but hurry okay or I’ll have to have you both towed!”

 

“Thanks, Kid, you won’t regret it. Keep an eye on the green machine for me will you?” Wilmington raced through the doors and across the immaculate lobby until he reached the bank of elevators. ‘Come on...come on!’ he thought as he paced in front of the doors.

~~~~~~~~~~

Chris hurried along the well kept hallway until he reached a set of double oak doors. He didn’t bother with the brass door bell, electing to use his fist instead. He pounded over and over, waiting for Gaines or Averil to open it.

 

“Ella! I know you’re in there now open the fucking door!” he cursed and continued to bang on the door.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Ella...wait!”

 

“But, Jack, that’s Chris. I knew he’d come to me!” the woman said as she grabbed her negligee and pulled it on.

 

“Listen to him! He may be here to see you but he’s not happy about it.” Larabee’s voice was muffled, but there was no doubt about his anger.

 

“I...I...”

~~~~~~~~~~

“Open the fucking door, Ella!” Larabee pounded on the door, knowing the object of his anger was on the other side of the barrier. He heard the sound of the elevator doors opening, but didn’t let it deter him. “Ella!”

 

“Chris, hold on, Pard!”

 

“Buck, just stay away from me! I’m going to straighten that bitch out once and for all. ELLA!” He lifted his hand to hit the door again and barely stopped as it was opened by a man he didn’t recognize.

 

“What do you want?” Averil asked as several doors along the hall opened and closed.

 

“Where is she?”

 

“Who?” the other man asked.

 

“You know damn well who! Ella Gaines! Tell that bitch to get out here now or I swear I’ll tear this place apart until I find her!”

 

“Chris, Pard, calm down!”

 

“No, Buck, you calm down! Just back off and leave me alone!” Chris pushed his way into the room and smiled as the other man backed further into the room. “Where is she?”

 

“I’m right here,” Ella answered, smiling seductively from the bedroom door. “I’ve missed you, Lover.”

 

“I’m not your lover, Ella! I’m not your anything and never will be!” the blond said as he advanced on the raven haired temptress. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides as he neared her.

 

“Ella, you want me to call security and have him removed?” Averil asked.

 

“No...Chris you need to calm down...”

 

“Calm down! I am calm. If I was angry I’d wrap my hands around that scrawny neck and shut you up!” The green eyes were filled with deadly intensity and Chris smiled as he saw a slight tremor run through her frame.

 

Buck stood just inside the door and let it close as he watched the scene unfolding before him. As long as Larabee didn’t try to hurt the bitch he would leave them alone. He watched Ella’s lover and knew the man was not a real threat...he seemed more the type who needed a weapon in his hand before he’d try anything.

 

“Chris, we’re meant to be together...”

 

“No, we’re not! We never were. I’m happy, Ella and for the first time in my life I really know what love is.”

 

“But...what we had...it was special...”

 

“Not for me, Ella, and I tried to tell you that!”

 

“We just need time to rekindle...”

 

“I don’t want to rekindle anything with you...now or ever. I came here to tell you to stop sending things to my office! Don’t fucking call me! Don’t come looking for me! Stay the hell away from me and my family, Ella, or so help me I’ll make you wish you’d never been born!” Larabee spat.

 

“But, Chris...” She moved quickly, wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to kiss him, but found her arms caught in a vice like grip as Larabee pulled away from her.

 

“Don’t ever try that again, Ella,” the words were whispered, yet there was no doubt of the icy threat that went with them.

 

“Chris, I just want to help you remember what we had,” the woman pouted.

 

“We never really had anything, Ella. I’m leaving now and I don’t ever want to see you again...”

 

“You c...can’t mean t...that,” Gaines pouted, her sultry lips turned down as she cried.

 

“Yes, I do! You’ve got your lover and I’m sure he’ll make you a lot happier than I ever did. Buck!”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“We’re leaving!” he released his hold on Ella’s arms and turned towards the door. He walked away from his past, his lean frame tall and confident, his stride purposeful as Wilmington smiled and held the door for him.

 

“Well, Ella, I won’t say it’s been nice seeing you again...just hope it’s even longer between this one and the next meeting...Like say fifty or sixty years!” The rogue smiled as he followed the blond through the door, shutting it behind him.

 

Ella Gaines stood staring at the door, hands at her side, hatred in her eyes. She could not, would not allow anyone to interfere with her love for Chris Larabee. The fact that he didn’t return her love was lost on her. She would do anything within her power to have him back and anyone who tried to stop her would find out just what happened when you crossed Ella Gaines-Larabee.

 

“Ella,” Averil wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?”

 

“Chris would never hurt me, Jack. He loves me...”

 

“He has a strange way of showing love,” the man said and felt her pull away.

 

“Chris just has to be reminded of what we have! Has Guy found out anything about Sarah Connelly and how she trapped my husband?”

 

“He hasn’t called yet, but I’m sure he’ll be calling soon.”

 

“Good, I also need Bob Spikes. He’s got contacts out there who will help me get rid of anyone who tries to interfere and I know who I want taken care of first,” the woman’s eyes were cold and deadly as she moved into the bedroom. She laid down on the bed and smiled at the man who’d followed her inside. “Make love to me, Jack.

 

“You only have to ask, my dear,” Averil said as he watched her firm breasts pressing against the tight negligee.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Chris, are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, Buck, I’m fine...damn that felt good,” the blond smiled as they entered the elevator.

 

“I bet it did, but do you think she believed you?”

 

“Doesn’t matter...if she keeps it up I’ll get a restraining order against her.”

 

“We both know they don’t help much,” the rogue said.

 

“Yeah, I know, but it’ll show that we tried to stop her from coming anywhere near my family.”

 

“Wish there was something I could do to help.”

 

“Are you kidding?” The blond said with a smile. “You stopped me from killing the bitch. If you hadn’t shown up when you did I’d have strangled her.”

 

“Well, I’m glad I was able to help. She’s dangerous, Chris,” Wilmington said as the doors opened and they walked across the lobby.

 

“Yeah, I know, but at least I know where she is.”

 

“Forewarned is forearmed,” the rogue said as they stepped outside.

 

“That’s for sure. Buck, thanks...I mean that. You know what my life was like when Ella was around before and you know damn well I don’t want to go back to that shit!”

 

“Yeah...I know, and this time I’ll be here to kick your ass if you so much as look at her again!”

 

“Won’t happen. I’m happy with Sarah...she’s my life,” Larabee said, opening the door of his truck and tasking the ticket from under the wiper.

 

“Glad to hear it, Pard. Now why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go spend some time with your lady love and that godson of mine? I’ll let the others know where you are.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, Pard,” Larabee grinned as he put the keys in the ignition and drove away.

 

‘Don’t worry, Chris, I got your back!’ the ladies’ man vowed as he moved to his own car. “Thanks, Kid,” he said to the young man standing beside his car. He handed him a ten dollar bill before driving away from the hotel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Daddy! Mommy, daddy’s here” Adam called as Larabee drove into the driveway. As soon as the truck stopped the child raced into his father’s arms.

 

“Chris, is everything okay?” Sarah asked as she joined her two men.

 

“Everything’s fine, Honey. I just decided I want to spend a little time with my family. Hi, Nettie.”

 

“Hello, Chris, have you eaten yet. We were just about to have lunch,” the older woman asked, wiping her hands on her apron.

 

“Sounds good. What are we having?”

 

“Hot dogs and potato salad!” Adam answered as they walked into the house.

 

“You boys go on out back. Sarah and I will bring it out there. Chris, you feel like barbecuing?”

 

“Sure, Nettie. Hey, Sport, can you grab the barbecue sauce?” Larabee asked lowering his son to the floor.

 

“It’s on the counter, Adam. Maybe you could help me get a few other things together,” Nettie Wells called, watching as the blond led her niece outside, knowing there was something he wanted to tell her.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris opened the screen door and took his wife’s hand. Once outside he wrapped her in his arms and kissed her, needing to feel her body next to his own.

 

“What happened, Chris?”

 

Larabee shook his head, smiling as he realized there was no way he could keep anything from this woman, the other half of his soul. He took her hand and walked to the picnic table covered in a red checked tablecloth. They sat side by side, hands clasped facing each other.

 

“Chris?”

 

“I got a package this morning.”

 

“Who from?” she asked, knowing something was wrong.

 

“Ella Gaines.”

 

“Who...oh wait a minute...from the Fair?”

 

“That’s her. Remember I told you how possessive she was back then?”

 

“Yes, Chris, what was in the package?”

 

“A pair of handcuffs...something from the last night we spent together...and a card.”

 

“What did the card say?” Sarah asked worriedly.

 

“Just the same old crap she always got on with...so I had the boys find out where she was staying and I went to confront her!”

 

“Chris, why didn’t you just stay away from her?” Sarah watched as her husband stood up and walked to the edge of the patio. She could tell by the way he leaned against the lounge chair that he was still upset by the meeting with the woman from his past. “Chris?”

 

“Sarah,” he whispered her name and turned to face her. She stood before him, her eyes filled with love, her face tinted with concern. “I had to see her...tell her there never was anything between us. I never returned her feelings...yet I stayed with her so it’s partly my fault.”

 

“You were young, Chris...”

 

“So was she, Sarah!” he snapped, before holding her in his arms. “I’m sorry. Look, I went over to see her and told her I wanted nothing to do with her.”

 

“What did she say to that?”

 

“She didn’t believe me, but, Sarah, I don’t want anything to do with her. I love you and Adam and I will never do anything to hurt either of you.”

 

“I know that, Chris,” Sarah assured him, holding him close as she felt a slight tremor from his body. “She’s really shaken you up, hasn’t she?”

 

“I don’t know...it’s just wherever Ella is trouble follows. She’s not gonna give up this easy and I don’t want her anywhere near you and Adam.”

 

“Then we’ll just make sure she doesn’t...”

 

“Daddy, I gots the sauce and I helped Aunt Nettie make lemonade. She let me squeeze the lemon.”

 

“That’s great, Adam,” Larabee said as he moved towards the barbecue. He ruffled his son’s hair and lifted him onto the picnic table, laughing as his son reached up to ruffle his short cropped blond hair.

 

Nettie watched her niece carefully and knew something had happened. She placed the bowl of salad in the cooler and motioned for the younger woman to take a seat. She poured four glasses of the tarty juice and handed one to the woman seated across from her. “Is everything alright, Sarah?”

 

“I don’t know, Aunt Nettie. Remember me telling you about that woman at the fair?”

 

“The one who had her hands all over your man?” she asked a twinkle of mirth in her eyes.

 

“Yes, she’s still in town and she sent Chris a package today...”

 

“Hmm, a woman who tried to buy a man’s affections doesn’t get very far,” Nettie told her.

 

“I know and Chris confronted her about it. He told her he didn’t want to see her anymore, but he doesn’t think she believes him.”

 

“Does Chris think she’s dangerous?”

 

“I’m not sure, but he doesn’t trust her and doesn’t want her around.”

 

“Then we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t come around here. I still got Grand dad’s Spencer carbine...might not work anymore, but it’s bound to make the woman understand our meaning. That don’t work my daddy used to use an old salt gun.” She rubbed her behind and smiled at the younger woman. “Felt that one a couple of times myself. Real good deterrent.”

 

“I bet. Thanks, Aunt Nettie.”

 

“You’re welcome, Sarah and remember, Chris loves you and wouldn’t do anything to hurt either of you.”

 

“I know. I trust him with my life.”

 

“Nettie, where are the hot dogs?” Larabee asked.

 

“Shoot, guess I left them in the fridge. Hang on I’ll get them,” the older woman said and hurried into the kitchen

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vin held apart the brush and waited for Jackie to enter. The darkness was almost absolute now as twilight gave way to night. He waited until she opened her pack and pulled out the flashlight.

 

“Alright, don’t turn it on until I make sure it can’t be seen from out here. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” Jackie answered and was soon engulfed in the darkness.

 

“Jackie, turn it on,” Tanner said softly and heard the rustling inside. “Is it on?”

 

“I’m pointing it directly at the entrance. Can you see anything?”

 

“No...nothing. Turn it off until I get inside and close the entrance again,” the Texan said.

 

“Okay, it’s off.” Jackie held her breath as the leaves rustled and her partner entered and sealed them inside once more. She flicked the light on again and rummaged through her backpack for the jerky and crackers.

 

Tanner pulled out the bottle of water and the case that house his cell phone. “I don’t know if it’ll work in here.”

 

“I hope it does. Are you calling your friend?”

 

“Yeah, figure he can check into Barker...maybe dig up any dirt there is on him. We’ve got contacts back home and they can be trusted, Jackie. If Barker’s bad, we’ll bring him down.”

 

“Thanks, Vin...Jerky?”

 

“Ah, yeah,” the Texan laughed as he took it from her hands. He ate the jerky as he dialed the number for the mobile operator.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris smiled across the table at Nettie Wells. Sarah and Adam volunteered for cleaning and were in the kitchen while they relaxed with coffee and carrot cake.

 

“So, this woman, is she gonna be a problem, Chris?”

 

“I hope not, Nettie. I told her I don’t want anything to do with her, but Ella was always stubborn...Hang on,” he said as his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the number, before accepting the incoming call. “Vin, are you alright?”

 

“Hey, Cowboy, I’m fine. In need of a bath and a shave, but otherwise okay.”

 

“Thanks God, we’ve all been worried...it’s been over three weeks without a word.”

 

“Chris, tell that boy he’s in for an earful when he comes home.”

 

“Tell her I heard her, Chris. Sorry, Nettie, it’s just hard ta get a message out. Signal’s not that great either.

 

“Says he’s sorry,” the blond explained.

 

“Listen, Chris, I don’t know how long the signal will last, but I need a favor.”

 

“Anything!” Larabee said, sitting up straighter as he heard the serious tone in the other man’s voice.

 

“I need ya  ta check on the head of the DEA down here. His name’s Richard Barker. Jackie...”

 

“Jackie?”

 

“Jackie Maynard, my partner. She’s been working with this guy fer about a year and she thinks he’s on the take, Chris. He’s our contact here and I just don’t want ta chance him giving Mendoza the information we get.”

 

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do. Any sign of Mendoza?”

 

“We found some of his fields and I’m thinkin’ his fortress can’t be far off.”

 

“You be careful, Vin Keep your head down and your butt safe or you’ll be answering me!.”

 

“I’ll do my best. Give Adam and Sarah a hug for me. Tell Nettie I miss her...signal’s just gettin’ worse...I’ll try again tomorrow night...Tanner out!”

 

“Vin! Vin!”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“Lost the signal,” larabee answered.

 

“Is he okay?” the woman asked worriedly.

 

“I think so. He sounded okay. Said he needed a bath and a shave.”

 

“I bet...probably needs a haircut too!”

 

“Doesn’t he always,” Larabee answered.

 

“That he does, but I think there’s a few ladies who might be upset if he does get it chopped off. Perhaps you should grow yours just a little longer, Chris. I love your blond hair and you’ve been keeping it a bit too short lately.”

 

“Have you been talking to Sarah, Nettie? She says she can’t run her fingers through it if it’s cut this short.”

 

“Now, Chris, do you really think Sarah and I talk about you?”

 

“I don’t think I’ll answer that, Nettie,” Larabee said, somewhat relieved after talking to his best friend and brother.

 

“Chris, I’ve got to pick up a few things at the market. Can you take Adam home with you?”

 

“Sarah, why don’t we all go. I’ve got to stop by the office first, but then I’m off the rest of the day.”

 

“Okay,” his wife agreed, knowing her husband was still a little shook up over Ella Gaines. ‘Aunt Nettie, is there anything I can get you before we leave?”

 

“No, Sarah, Casey will be home later today and we’ll do our shopping then. I’m not old and feeble and I can certainly do things on my own. You take care of your two handsome men now or you’ll be answering to me. Got it?”

 

“Got it,” Sarah laughed as Adam hugged his great aunt and hurried towards the door. Nettie walked the young couple to the door, smiling as Adam raced back for another hug.

 

“I love you, Aunt Nettie.”

 

“I love you to, Adam. Now you make sure your mom and dad bring you out here more often.”

 

“Okay...I will,” the boy agreed as they said their goodbyes and climbed into Larabee’s truck.

 

“Get your seatbelt on, Sport,” Larabee said, smiling as the boy’s tongue slipped out as he fought to clip the belt. 

 

“Got it!” the boy squealed in delight.

 

“Way to go, Sport, told ya it would get easier as you got bigger. Buck and Vin are gonna be surprised when they see you can do it on your own now,” the blond said, again ruffling the boys hair.

 

“When’s uncle Vin coming home?”

 

“I don’t know, Adam, but I just talked to him and he said to tell you both he misses you.”

 

“Vin called?” Sarah asked as they drove out of the yard.

 

“Yeah, that’s why I need to stop by the office. It won’t take long, but I need to get JD and Ezra working on something for me.”

 

“Is he okay?”

 

“Yeah, he sounded fine,” Larabee answered, turning his attention to the road as he pulled into heavier traffic.

~~~~~~~~~~

“What did he say?” Jackie asked as she watched the other man turn off the cell phone.

 

“He’ll get the boys...”

 

“Boys?” she asked, eyebrows furrowed in disbelief.

 

“Just something we call the group,” Tanner answered as he snuggled down beside her.

 

“Oh...do you have a lot of boys toys?”

 

“A few,” the sharpshooter answered mischievously.

 

“Do you always have sex on the brain, Tex?”

 

“Well, see there’s this friend of mine and well, he’s a rogue and a ladies’ man and he’s been telling me I’ve been missing a lot by thinking of other things. Looking at you I’d say he’s got a point.”

 

“Ah, Hell, Lover boy, keep that up and neither one of us’ll be sleeping tonight.”

 

“I don’t see a problem with that ‘cept...”

 

“Except for the clothes,” Jackie finished for him.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Alright, Tex, but business before pleasure. What did your friend say? Will he help us?”

 

“If I know Chris he’s already on his way ta the office and he’ll put JD and Ezra ta work on finding out what makes Richard Barker tick. I told him I’d call back tomorrow night.” Tanner assured her. 

 

“So what’s our next move?”

 

“We find Mendoza’s fortress and keep Barker from finding out where we are. Then we find a way to get Mendoza to come with us or we take him down. I’d like to destroy the fields and any labs he’s got in the fortress...make sure those drugs don’t get out on the streets and kill more kids.”

 

“That’s a mighty tall order for just the two of us,” Jackie said as she settled in with him.

 

“Think you’re ready to take it on?”

 

“If you’re ready then I’m sure as hell not letting you go in there alone.”

 

“Well, guess we’d best get some sleep. Got some plans for tomorrow,” Tanner said, zipping up the side of the sleeping bag. With the muffled sounds of the animals barley reaching their ears, Maynard turned out the flashlight and the weary couple settled down to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris held the elevator door open until his family exited. Adam raced towards the open office door, laughing as Josiah Sanchez picked him up over his shoulders.

 

“Well, Hello there, Adam Larabee. This is surely a blessed visit since I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

 

“Daddy had to come see you and me and Mommy came with him,” the child said excitedly as JD turned away from the computer.

 

“Hi, Adam, I have a new game on the computer if you dad says it’s okay for you to play.”

 

“Can I, Daddy?”

 

“Sure, Sport, it’ll give me a chance to talk to Josiah and JD. Where are Ezra and Buck?”

 

“Orrin called and asked to see them,” Dunne explained as he set up the Cat In The Hat game for the boy.

 

“Alright...it’s JD I need to speak to anyway, but I’d like you to hear it as well, Josiah.”

 

“All set. Have fun, Kiddo,” Dunne said as Sarah sat beside her son.

 

“Thanks, JD,” Adam said as his mother helped him with the game.

 

Dunne hurried to join Larabee and Sanchez in the office, closing the door behind him. The older man stared across the desk as the Bostonian sat in the seat next to him.

 

“So, Brother, What’s going on?”

 

“I heard from Vin?”

 

“That’s great! Is he okay? Where is he? Why didn’t he call?” Dunne asked anxiously.

 

“Hang on, JD, give the man a chance to answer,” Sanchez explained.

 

“Oh...yeah...sorry,” the kid said sheepishly.

 

“Well, He’s in Rio...probably up in the mountains somewhere. I didn’t get a chance to ask him that. Him and his partner think they’ve found some of Mendoza’s fields and if they have then they’re close to the fortress. No one’s ever found them before...”

 

“Or if they have they didn’t live to tell about it,” the older man interjected.

 

“Exactly. Anyway he was calling because he wants some help. His partner has worked for the head of the DEA stationed in Rio, but she doesn’t trust the man. That’s where you come in, JD.”

 

“What do you need me to do, Chris?” Dunne asked.

 

“I want you to find out everything you can about a man named Richard Barker. We need to know if there’s ever been any suspicious dealings over his career. Has he ever been suspected of being on the take? Has he had any big unexplained deposits into his accounts? Anything, JD, anything at all...I want you to dig deep and find it. Got it?

 

“Yes, I’ll get right on it.”

 

“What about Vin’s partner?”

 

“He seems to think she’s trustworthy...but I’d like you to check her out as well, JD. Her names is Jackie Maynard and she’s been in Rio for at least a year.”

 

“Jackie...”

 

“Maynard... M.A.Y.N.A.R.D,” Larabee finished.

 

“Thanks, Chris,” Dunne said as he wrote the name next to Barkers. He stood up, tearing off the sheet of paper before leaving the office.

 

“How are you doing, Son?”

 

“What do you mean, Josiah?”

 

“Buck told me what happened with Ella...are you okay with all of that?”

 

“No, Josiah, I’m not. Truth is I don’t trust that bitch as far as I can throw her. She won’t give up. She kept after me when I broke it off the first time and I gave in...stupid! I should’ve just told her to fuck off and leave it at that!”

 

“Chris, did you go out of your way to find her that first time or this time?”

 

“No! Jesus, Josiah, I’m not that crazy. I mean I’ve made some stupid mistakes, but I’d never do anything to jeopardize what I have with Sarah. She’s everything to me...without her and Adam I’d be alone...I mean you boys would be here, but that’s not the same.”

 

Josiah’s smile broadened as he looked across the desk at his boss. “So you know what you have and you don’t want or need anything else?”

 

“Yes...I know what I have, Josiah, and Ella Gaines has no place in my future.”

 

“Then you’d best stop calling my friend stupid, because he’s far from it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Son, and you certainly know what you’re doing. I hope Ella Gaines moves on, but if she decides to stick around we’ve got your back...yours, Sarah’s and Adam’s. You’re not alone in this, Chris, and you never will be.”

 

“Thanks, Josiah. Will you let Ezra and Buck know I heard from Vin, and ask Ez to give JD a hand with investigating Barker and Maynard..”

 

“Consider it done, Boss. Now you’ve got a woman and boy out there waiting for you. Go on home and spend some time together.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, Josiah. See you boys in the morning,” Larabee said, standing and walking out to collect his family.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Ella sat on the terrace overlooking the sleeping city. The day had not gone the way she planned and she knew there was going to be dangers in the path to her prize. She smiled as she sipped the Martini, popping the olive in her mouth as Jack Averil moved to answer the door. She tucked the pink robe over her legs and smiled as two men entered her room.

 

“Ella, Love, it’s so good to see you again,” Robert Spikes said. The man was bulky, with a receding hairline and several missing teeth, but what made him stand out was the patch covering his right eye.

 

“Hello, Robert, whatever happened to your eye?” she asked, surprised at the difference in the man since she’d last seen him.

 

“Your old friend is what happened. He caught me giving away the plans for an invasion and we fought. Sonofabitch hit me and took my damn eye out. I owe him, Ella, and I’m telling you right now I’m gonna take my revenge...”

 

“Well, Robert, Why don’t you put that raggedy old tophat over by the door and we’ll talk about revenge and how sweet it is.”

 

“You want revenge on Larabee too?” Spikes asked.

 

“No...I want Larabee, but I believe there is a way to satisfy your lust for revenge,” Ella explained.

 

“I’ll listen, My Dear, but I aim to take a piece of Larabee for this!” he spat, pointing to his eye.

 

“I see, but does it have to be a piece of flesh?”

 

“What do you mean?” Spikes asked when Royal and Averil joined them on the terrace.

 

“Well, you all know Chris is and always will be the only man for me. I mean I don’t mind sleeping with handsome gentlemen such as yourselves, but my heart belongs to him. Now, first of all Let’s hear what Guy has to say about Chris Larabee’s wife. Guy?”

 

Royal smiled as he poured himself a stiff drink from the whiskey bottle. He took a sip and sank into the chair beside the beautiful ice-woman.

 

“Okay, Sarah Connelly Larabee, daughter of Hank and Sheila Connelly. Father is still living, but the mother passed away several years ago, before her daughter married Chris Larabee. Sarah is a registered nurse working out of Saint Vincents and met Larabee when he was brought in with a gunshot wound.”

 

“The little slut probably arranged for him to be shot so she could sink her claws into him!” Ella spat, throwing the crystal glass across the terrace.

 

“Anyway, Larabee and Connelly continued to see each other and were married six months later. They have been married for just over eight years. They have one child...”

 

“I knew it...the tramp roped him into marriage by getting pregnant. I’ll soon make him see what she did.”

 

“Sorry, Ella, but the boy is only six years old so they didn’t marry because she was pregnant. The boy was born at Saint Vincents and the proud papa was in attendance. I’ve got several pictures if you want to see them.”

 

“Burn them!” Ella told him.

 

“Okay, Larabee bought a house on the outskirts of Billings... and moved his family there seven years ago. He works for an agency called The Firm owned by Orrin Travis...”

 

“I know that name,” Spikes said.

 

“I thought you’d recognize it. He used to be a judge and I believe he sentenced you to ten years for armed robbery just after Ella and you hooked up.”

 

“I remember that bastard...He’s got a son named Steven...real do-gooder who worked for the Billings Gazette. Didn’t he marry a couple of years ago?” Spikes asked.

 

“I don’t know...but it does sound familiar,” Royal said. “So Travis gave Larabee carte blanche in forming his team and he took his sweet time in finding the right men. Josiah Sanchez...former preacher, expert in analyzing human nature and is the profiler for the team. Buck Wilmington...”

 

“I owe that bastard,” Ella cursed as she reached for a new glass.

 

“...is an expert in demolitions and explosives. Nathan Jackson is about to become a paramedic, but is also a natural when it comes to investigative techniques. Ezra Standish and JD Dunne are both experts in computer science although Dunne is probably the better of the two. Standish is also a gambler and a conman and has worked undercover on a couple of cases. The newest member of the team is a Texan named Vin Tanner...”

 

“Sonofabitch!”

 

“You know him, Robert?”

 

“He was a bounty hunter I had a run in with a few years back. One hell of a fucking tracker and I ain’t seen no one who could come close to shooting like him.”

 

“Well, we won’t have to worry about him as he’s on an extended leave of absence right now,” Royal explained. “Now The Firm is basically a high priced detective agency, funded in large by the owner Orrin Travis. It has several company vehicles and a private jet that’s ready on a moment’s notice. I dug a little deeper and found out they are also affiliated with government organizations such as the DEA, the FBI and several others. Larabee, Wilmington, and Sanchez were all members of the teams.”

 

“The Teams?” Ella asked.

 

“Military elite...They were SEALS,” Royal answered.

 

“The SEALS were the reason I lost Chris the first time,” the woman said, sipping at the amber liquid in her glass.

 

“Jackson entered the military and spent several years overseas before returning to Billings. Tanner was a member of the Top Gun...”

 

“Whoa...a sharpshooter who can fly with the best. No wonder larabee hired him,” Averil observed.

 

“Is that all?” Ella asked.

 

“That’s all I’ve got so far, but I won’t stop searching,” Royal assured her.

 

“Now, Ella, about my revenge,” Spikes said.

 

“Ah, yes, I know you want to make Chris pay, but I don’t want him hurt...”

 

“Kind of hard to get revenge if I can’t hurt him,” the one eyed man said.

 

“Yes, but there are other ways to hurt him,” the woman said, smiling as she stood and moved seductively across the terrace and leaned against it. She let the wind blow her hair over the edge as she looked from one man to the other. She sipped at the fiery liquid once more, licking her lips before sitting on the high rail. She felt the wind tugging at her, but the danger didn’t phase her. She had plans, and these men needed to know she had the guts to carry them through.

 

“What’s going on in that deliciously evil mind of yours, Ella?” Averil asked.

 

“How would you feel about helping free Chris of his baggage?”

 

“Baggage?” Royal asked.

 

“I think she means his wife and son,” Averil said with a grin.

 

“Exactly. Now, Robert, don’t you think taking the woman and child he supposedly loves is a much more fitting revenge than simply taking his eye. Think of all the pain, the guilt. Why he’ll be a mess by the time we’re through with him.”

 

“And you’ll be there to pick up the pieces,” Royal said, smiling at the look on the woman’s face.

 

“That’s correct...who better to pick up the emotionally traumatized man?”

 

“Will he let you near him?” Spikes asked.

 

“Won’t he be suspicious of your involvement?” Royal asked.

 

“Oh, I don’t think so...you see I’m going to be leaving town before you boys dispose of his wife and son.”

 

“When do we do this?” Spikes asked.

 

“Not yet...I want him open and ready for my love. I want you to go after his men first. Make it look like someone’s out to get his team first. Then we go after his family.”

 

“Is there anyone you’d like us to go after first?” Averil asked as the woman climbed down once more.

 

“Wilmington...make the bastard sorry he ever laid eyes on me!”

 

“Alright,” Royal readily agreed.

 

“Anything specific about getting rid of the woman and child?” Averil asked.

 

“Yes,” she smiled as she moved closer to Spikes. “Do you still have contact with the powder man?”

 

“Not lately, but I can get in touch with him.”

 

“Very well, tell him I have a special job that requires his attention,” Gaines said.

 

“Right away,” Spikes assured her as she let the robe drop off her shoulders, revealing perfectly shaped legs and buttocks.

 

“Now if you boys don’t mind I’d like to take a shower,” she said.

 

“Need someone to wash your back, Darling?” Royal asked.

 

“Hmm, that would be good,” Ella said, smiling as she heard the older man hurrying after her.

 

“Enjoy the drinks, Boys, we’ll be taking a long shower,” Royal said as he followed the woman inside.

 

“Damn, hope he don’t wear her out,” Spikes said.

 

“No one can wear Ella Gaines out, Robert. Relax, you’ll get to dip your wick,” Averil said, grabbing the bottle and tipping it onto his head.

~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Before opening her eyes, Sarah knew something was wrong. She shared this bed with her husband for so long that she knew when he wasn’t beside her. Turning her head slightly she spotted him standing at the window. The white light from the moon silhouetted his body and again she was taken with the perfection of God’s creation. By some woman, Chris Larabee might be considered thin, but she knew he was far from that image. His body was well defined by muscle and she knew he worked hard to keep in shape. She loved jogging beside him along the stretch of road, watching the muscles in his legs work to keep him moving. The lean chest glistening with sweat as he lifted weights in the gym was also something she loved. His body was that of a sculptured idol and she loved exploring every inch of it. The face, the blond hair, green eyes and that pouting oh so sexy lip drove her to distraction at times. She melted when he stared into her eyes and moved to kiss her. The thought sent a jolt through her body and she felt the stirrings of desire, but knew now was not the time as she saw the look on her husband’s face. Shifting on the bed so that she could see him more clearly she knew he was troubled. Sarah slid her long legs over the edge of the bed, stood up and moved towards the man she loved.

 

Chris knew she was awake from the moment she moved on the bed, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from the sight of the full bodied moon hanging in the black velvet sky. There seemed to be streaks of red just under the surface and  something about the image seemed like a harbinger of danger. He heard the rustle of sheets and knew his wife was moving to join him at the window. Turning towards the bed he held his arms out and quickly folded them around her as she stepped into the protective circle. They stood that way for several long seconds, feeling the warmth and love they had for each other, sharing their feelings with just a single look. Chris held tight, afraid that the precious gift he held would somehow be stolen from him.

 

“Chris, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing...just thinking...”

 

“Oh, I hate when you do that...it usually means we’ve got problems. Is it that woman.”

 

“No...not really. I just keep thinking I’ve been so lucky since meeting you that something bad is going to happen. My life before I met you was one long line of trouble and I never realized before just what a difference you’ve made in my life. You and Adam are everything to me, Sarah and I don’t want to lose you.”

 

“Why would you think you’d lose us, Chris? I told you on the day you asked me to marry you that when I commit it is for life. I didn’t let my father stop me from being with the man I love and I certainly won’t let that little bimbo take what’s mine!” Sarah said, lifting her head from his chest and staring into his eyes.

 

“Little Bimbo...I’d say it’s more like big bitch...”

 

“Me too, but I was trying to be nice,” Sarah said, glad when she saw a smile form on his face, before he grew serious once more.

 

“Sorry about waking you.”

 

“Honey, you have nothing to be sorry for. I just wish you’d have woke me so we could talk. You’re truly worried about her aren’t you?”

 

“I’m worried about what she might try, Sarah. I don’t want you or Adam getting hurt because of her crazy way of thinking. She thinks she owns me...”

 

“She doesn’t! Nobody does not even me. Chris, we are a family and we share in everything. I don’t want you keeping anything from me. If Ella Gaines tries anything I want to know. If she comes near you or any of our family we’ll deal with her together. I trust you completely, but I don’t want you doing anything alone. I want us to deal with everything on equal ground and if it comes right down to it I’ll rake her over the coals and beat the truth into her!”


”Whoa, I think I married a hellcat...”

 

“You did, Darling and I’ve only just started to sharpen my claws!”

 

“I think Ella is about to find out she’s barking up the wrong tree,” Larabee said.

 

“That she is, Love, and this is one cat who’ll gladly show the barking dog it’s proper place. Now, are you ready to come back to bed and I’ll show you how a hellcat purrs?” Sarah asked, smiling mischievously at her blond Adonis.

 

“Meow,” Larabee purred as he swept her into his arms and walked towards their bed. He placed her on the sheets and was surprised as she moved to the opposite side and stood up. “I thought...”

 

“Never mind what you thought, sweetie, tonight’s all mine and I told you this shecat is gonna take charge of her tom,” Sarah moved sensuously around the edge of the bed, dropping her clothing as she did, until she stood before her husband, eyes dancing excitedly as she ground her naked body against his. Her hands grabbed the edge of the CK boxers and slowly slid them down his legs before she pushed him back on the bed. She removed them and flicked them across the floor as she slithered up his body, nipping at his throat before kissing his lips. She heard him gasp and pushed his hands away as he made a grab for her.

 

“Sa...rah...”

 

“Relax, Lover boy, let the hellcat take care of you,” she said, sliding her hands down the lean torso until her fingers tangled in the mound of coarse hair nestled between his muscular thighs. She loved teasing her husband, slowly teasing him towards climax until they both were satisfied. It had taken a lot of tender loving care from this man before she gave in to the urge for more inventive sexual pleasures and tonight she would take the lead and bring them both satisfaction. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes, seeing the promise of unconditional love before she moved her lips down his chest. Sarah kissed each nipple, moving her body down his until she knelt between his legs. She opened her mouth, slowly taking him deep inside her, smiling inwardly at the soft moans of pleasure escaping his lips. Again she slapped at his hands as he tried to touch her.

 

Chris gripped the sheets as his body was played perfectly. Sarah’s mouth on his engorged shaft sent tide waves of pleasure through every inch of his body. Her soft hair tickled his legs as she continued to administer to his needs. He moaned as she lifted her head and blew on his shaft before she cupped his balls and licked his thighs. He thought he’d pass out if she didn’t stop the sensuous torture, but soon felt her sliding up his body once more. He felt her move her body until his cock pressed against the opening to her body and he pushed upwards, into her, moaning, writhing, needing this ultimate pleasure.

 

“Slow down, Lover boy,” Sarah laughed as he again reached for her. She grabbed his hands and gasped as he sat up, pushing deeper inside her, thrilling her to the core as she felt herself filled to capacity. She threw her head backwards, hair hanging down her back. Sarah moaned as again and again he withdrew until only the tip of his penis was inside her and then thrust back inside, building a fire inside her that only he could put out.

 

Chris held her hands, his own body crying out for release as he tried to prolong the pleasure for both of them. He knew she was nearing completion and cried out, his thrusts grew more frantic, yet the rhythm continued until he heard her cry out in ecstasy. He continued to drive his cock into the velvet sheath until his own orgasm emptied his seed inside her. Finally sated the two remained as they were, foreheads leaning against each other, breathing heavy, until his cock grew flaccid and he fell back on the bed.

 

“God, Sarah, that was wonderful...”

 

“Wonderful?”

 

“Okay spectacular,” the blond corrected.

 

“Spectacular?”

 

“Hmm, me thinks my wife is fishing for compliments,” he said, smiling as she dropped down on top of him.

 

“Hmm, you could be right. I need a shower,” she said as she moved to the edge of the bed.

 

“Me too,” Larabee agreed. “Tell you what...you start the water while I check on Adam and I’ll join you in a couple of minutes.

 

“One of those you wash my back and I’ll wash yours, deal?” Sarah said as she moved towards the master bathroom.

 

“You bet, Lady,” the blond agreed slipping on his boxers and moving towards the door. Opening it slowly he made his way across the hallway to his son’s bedroom. He pushed the boy’s door open and smiled as he looked inside. The small dinosaur nightlight gave off a yellow glow that succeeded in showing the child curled no his side on the bed. Adam’s unruly hair framed his face and the childlike innocence was clearly seen. He sighed contentedly as he looked at the small hand entwined in the thick fur of the brown bear held tightly against him. The bear was a gift from Nettie Wells, one she’d made herself and placed in Adam’s crib the day they brought him home from Saint Vincents. Adam slept with it and the animal cracker blanket given to him by his Godfather. Chris smiled as he thought of Wilmington. The man would always be one of his best friends, no matter what happened Buck was loyal to a fault.

 

‘Just gotta remind him Adam needs room to play,’ the blond thought as he looked around the room. Most of the items surrounding the room were given to Adam by his godfather and dominated half the boy’s room. Taking one last look at his sleeping son, Chris larabee smiled and moved towards the one he shared with his wife. The water was already running and he quickly strode cross the floor and slipped into the shower with her. Forty minutes later the loving couple lay contentedly in each other’s arms, sated and warm and blissfully unaware of the cold hearted woman planning her revenge in a hotel room across town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For two full days Vin and Jackie trudged through the undergrowth, mosquitoes, and other insects as they searched for the Fortress. Several times they ran across burnt out shells of what could only be shacks...long since abandoned by their owners. Both wondered if it had been voluntary or were their bodies feeding the wildlife of the area. There were more patrols than before and they’d nearly been caught in the open twice, but managed to find safe haven in the tall growth of the rainforest. He called Chris as scheduled and found out they’d gotten very little information on Richard Barker, but they would keep digging. He now stood on the edge of a cliff overlooking the camouflaged field and sat down in frustration.

 

“It’s got to be here somewhere, Vin! We’ll find it!”

 

“I know, Jackie, but I keep thinking we’re overlooking the obvious. Mendoza is smart and I keep thinking these fields are not all that easy ta see, but not impossible in spite of the trouble he’s gone through ta hide ‘em.”

 

“What are you getting at?”

 

“We’ve searched the area and haven’t found anything that says Mendoza’s compound is in the area. What if the Fortress was not this big place hidden away from prying eyes? What if it was simply a house stuck somewhere in the middle of the fields. The government here is not making much effort ta find ‘im up here and I can’t see ‘im worryin’ about anyone else if he’s got men running the country. We haven’t gone inta the fields yet, so there’s no tellin’ what’s hiding under the overhangin’ trees and cliffs tawards the center of that field.”

 

“What are you proposing?” Maynard asked as she sat down beside him. His hair was slick with sweat and plastered to his forehead and still she thought he was the sexiest man she’d ever seen.

 

“I’m thinking it’s time we found out just what’s inside the circle of marijuana,” Tanner said, motioning towards the hidden field.

 

“When?”

 

“Well, it’s nearly five now, but I’d rather wait until it gets dark. I know it’ll be dangerous going in there, but at least we’ll have more cover at night. You could wait in the cave while I...”

 

“You say it, Tex, and I’m just as liable to push you over the ledge here and go in on my own. Just ‘cause I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m afraid of my own shadow!”

 

“Damn!” Tanner laughed as he pulled her close, relishing in the feel of her soft skin. “I was kiddin’.”

 

“I’m not one for sitting back and watching my nails grow, Vin...never was and never will be. As long as you remember that we’ll get along just fine,” Maynard said, enjoying the feel of the well muscled body seated beside her.

 

“Hmm, hard ta ferget when I’ve seen you in action. I trust ya with my life, Jackie.”

 

“Thanks Vin, I’ll do my best not to let you down...and I can count on you to do the same, can’t I?”

 

“Take me at my word, Jackie, I’ll watch yer back.”

 

“Good...okay, let’s go forage up something to eat while we wait. I’m starving.”

 

“Me too,” Tanner said, standing and helping his partner to her feet. “What I wouldn’t give for a good old fashioned burger!”

 

“Shit, yeah, with all that grease and cholesterol...just what a growing boy needs.”

 

“Damn straight,” Vin grinned as they moved away from the wondrous view provided by mother nature’s talented hands.

~~~~~~~~~~

The man’s hands were steady as a rock as he slipped through the partially open door. This was something he found in all buildings, whether business or apartments. If you waited long enough someone was bound to prop the door open in order to get back in without a key. More often than not they forgot to remove the blockage when they re-entered. He sang in a low off key voice, the familiar song barely audible in the dark basement.

 

“De camptown ladies sing this song...doo da...doo da...

 

He strode quickly towards the car, smiling as he felt the explosive device in his pocket. He caressed the simple vial of liquid that would completely destroy the vehicle it was attached to.

 

“De Camptown racetrack's two miles long...Oh, de doo-da day...”

 

He moved across the dimly lit garage and spotted the green mustang, sinking behind another car as someone stepped out of the doors to the building. His voice grew lower, but the song did not stop as his eyes sparked with a dangerous light.

 

“G'wine to run all night...G'wine to run all day...I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag...Somebody bet on the gray.”

 

He watched the young couple leave and moved forward, keeping to the shadows as they got into a car and drove towards the garage doors.

 

“Oh, de long tailed filly and de big black horse...Doo-da...Doo-da...”

 

He slid under the front side panel of the car and attached the explosives to the wheel well, all the time singing the song as his fingers expertly maneuvered the wires to the timer.

 

“Come to a mud hole and dey all cut across...Oh, de doo-da day.”

 

He moved the wires along the edge and hooked it to the front door, making sure the signal would be sent to the detonator once the door was opened.

 

“I went down South with my hat caved in...Doo-da, Doo-da.”

 

He finished the instalment and moved away from the car. There was no doubt in his mind that he’d done his job and as soon as the victim opened the door his fate was sealed and the bomb would explode in five minutes. A satisfied smile formed on his face as he walked back to the main door, singing the song as if it added to his strength.

 

“I came back North with a pocket full of tin...Oh, de doo-da day.”

 

He finished his trademark song as he slipped eerily out the door and turned back as it closed. “De Powderman done come and did his job. De Powderman never fails.”

~~~~~~~~~~~