DEADLY OBSESSION    

by Winnie

 

Chapter 12 


Ella walked into the warehouse, her body tense as anticipation washed over her. Averil, Spikes, and Royal were with her and were filled with apprehension over the plans that would soon be set in motion. They led the woman towards the back room and Spikes unlocked the heavy metal door, but didn’t open it.
 
“Ella, you know we’ll do anything you ask of us, but are you sure this is what you want?” Spikes asked.
 
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I want Chris and I know once he sees how much I’ve gone through for us he’ll realize he still loves me. If you’re worried that I won’t have time for you, you’re wrong, Robert. I won’t forget what you’ve done for me,” she said, pouting her lips seductively as she kissed first his cheek and then the other two men.
 
“Larabee is dangerous,” Royal told her.
 
“Yes,” she whispered against his cheek. “And you boys know how dangerous I can be.”
 
“Dangerous and sexy, Ella, a wonderful combination,” Averil said, remembering some of the more violent lovemaking. He still had a scar next to his left nipple, a reminder that Ella’s teeth were just another of her body’s weapons.
 
“Thank you, Lover,” she cooed, running her hand along his cheek. “Now, can I see the room?”
 
“We’ve done everything we can to make this a place for your pleasure, Ella,” Royal assured her as Spikes opened the door.
 
Ella held her breath as she entered the darkened room. Several seconds passed as a single lamp began to glow with a faint flickering red light. It cast shadows around the room, illuminating the bed. Several plump pillows were piled on the queen sized, four-poster, brass bed. A white down comforter was turned down to reveal pink satin sheets underneath and she smiled as she sat on the edge. Her hands touched the manacles attached to each of the posts and she knew her wildest dreams were going to come true as soon as she had Larabee in this room. The cuffs were covered in soft material and she eased her hands inside, feeling the cloth against her wrists. Her gaze moved from the bed to the table and she smiled at the items she saw there. Things she would use to show her lover the fine line they would walk during the years ahead. Next she looked at the wall opposite the table and smiled at the small make shift bar and stereo there. Soft music began to play and she smiled as she swayed to the beat.
 
“Well?”
 
“It’s perfect, but I want some candles. There’s nothing like making love with only candlelight.”
 
“I’ll make sure we have them set up before we bring Larabee here,” Spikes said.
 
“Thank you, Boys, you don’t know what this means to me. How long before you can get Chris here?”
 
“Maybe a couple of days,” Royal explained.
 
“I want to be here when he wakes up and realizes where he is,” Gaines told them.
 
“We’ll make sure you are, Ella,” Averil assured her as they turned out the lights and exited the room.
 
“Thank you...why don’t we go out to dinner and celebrate a new beginning?”
 
“Are you sure you want to take that chance?” Averil asked.
 
“We’ll go to one of the smaller establishments,” Ella assured him. “My treat.”
 
“Sounds good,” Spikes said, leading the way out of the run down warehouse.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris woke up to a pounding headache, his body shaking as he looked at the unfamiliar woman sitting beside the bed. He knew she was talking to him, but did not have the energy to answer her questions. It took several tries, but he finally recognized the Health Care nurse from the day before. Her smile lit up her face as she reached for his hand and uncapped the heplock.
 
“How are you feeling, Chris?”
 
“I’m...fine...” Larabee lied, closing his eyes in an effort to alleviate the pain throbbing through his skull.
 
“Hmm, I can tell. How long have you had the headache?” she asked as she hooked up the antibiotics and reached for the BP cuff.
 
“Don’t know...w...woke up with it.”
 
“Have you been sick anymore since last night?”
 
“N...no, don’t think s...so,” Larabee told them.
 
“Have you eaten anything today?”
 
“A little...not hun...gry.”
 
“You need to start eating and drinking, Chris...other wise you’ll end up back in the hospital.”
 
“Not go...going back,” the blond assured her.
 
“You won’t have a choice if things get worse.”
 
“Look,” Larabee said irritably. “I’ll eat when I’m ready to. Just not hungry right now!”
 
“Well, I’d like you to at least try...that’s all we ask,” she said, removing the BP cuff and checking his temperature. “You still have a bit of a fever and if it continues I’d like for you to see your family doctor.”
 
“I will,” the injured man said and turned away from the woman. Truth was he felt hot and knew it was probably a result of his late night foray out on the deck. He felt himself drifting once more and didn’t feel her unhook the antibiotics once they’d run through the line.
 
By the time Nettie looked in on him five minutes later he was sleeping, his fingers grasped tightly to Adam’s NASCAR blanket. She walked to the bed and smiled at the innocence only sleep could bring. Chris was pale and she knew the nurse’s findings. Buck had told them all about finding the injured man sitting outside in the wee hours of the morning. Now he seemed to be paying the price for his excursion. She reached out and flicked away the stray locks of blond hair that fell over the forehead and wished she could take away the pain she knew was hidden beneath the surface. Nettie made sure her charge was covered before closing the drapes and shutting the door behind her.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Vin felt as if he was a drowning man in an ocean of thick sludge. Every time he reached for the surface his leaden arms refused to move. Someone was talking to him, and he wished they’d quit pestering him until he reached his goal. He felt his mind becoming enshrouded with the same heaviness that seemed to have engulfed the rest of his body and renewed his efforts to reach the surface. There was something he had to know, but what was it? Why was it so hard to think? Why couldn’t he remember what was so important that he’d brave the pain he knew was waiting for him? Again he heard the voices, annoyingly calm as they spoke to him. Didn’t they know he was trying to ask them something? Didn’t they give a damn that he was drowning despite his best efforts.
 
“Lemme be,” he growled half-heartedly.
 
“Hey, Tex, its time you woke up. Come on now, I’m tired of facing Faraday on my own. Stop hiding in la la land and open your eyes,” Maynard ordered, hoping the tracker could hear and understand her.
 
“Try...trying...” the injured man rasped, as he finally found the surface and fought to stay there.
 
“That’s it...come on Vin, let me see those gorgeous blue eyes of yours.”
 
Vin blinked against the blinding overhead glare and looked around the unfamiliar room. There were two men standing on one side of the bed, but he had no idea who they were. He turned to his right and smiled beneath the oxygen mask as he recognized the pretty woman sitting there.
 
“Jack...Jackie...”
 
“That’s right, Tex. How are you feeling?”
 
“Like crap...thought I’s drownin’,” Tanner explained.
 
“Vin, my name is Gary Reardon and this is Rory Murdoch. We’ve spoken to you several times, but you’ve been in and out of consciousness. Rory and I have been taking care of you. You’re fighting a battle with pneumonia that probably explains the feeling of drowning. You’re on oxygen and antibiotics that seem to be working to alleviate some of the breathing difficulties.”
 
“How long...have I been here?”
 
“You’ve been here for nearly five days,” Murdoch explained.
 
“Five days...how?” Tanner asked, closing his eyes as he fought to grasp the meaning of the words and what they had to do with his injuries. There was something he needed to know, but what was it?
 
“Vin, are you okay?” Maynard asked as the Texan’s blue eyes widened and fear stabbed through them.
 
“No...no, Jackie. Chris...something’s wrong...n...need to...”
 
“Chris is okay, Vin? He’s out of the hospital and staying with some woman...Nettie something or other I think,” Maynard explained.
 
“Nettie Wells,” the sharpshooter smiled as he said the name. His relationship with the older woman had started on a sour note, but they’d quickly learned to respect each other and now their relationship was more on the level of mother and son. Nettie would never replace his own mother, she didn’t want that any more than he did, but when he needed to talk about his feelings, she was there for him. He’d talked to her about his mother’s death and some of the things he’d gone through afterwards and knew she understood why he was confiding in her. The woman was Sarah Larabee’s aunt and had a heart of pure gold. She’d do anything for her nieces and often took Adam for a night or two to give Larabee and his wife some much needed time alone. He frowned as he realized she’s said Chris was staying at the Wells’ place, but if that was true, where were Sarah and Adam?
 
“That’s right. Nettie Wells,” Jackie agreed.
 
He heard her soft voice and forced his mouth to form the questions he needed answered. “Why is he staying with Nettie? W...where is Sarah?”
 
“Sarah?”
 
“Chris’ wife...where is she?” the tracker asked, quickly becoming agitated.
 
“I don’t know, Vin...maybe she’s at the Wells’ place with Chris,” Maynard suggested as the physicians began examining their patient.
 
“Need t...ta talk ta Chris,” Tanner whispered tiredly.
 
“I know you do and I’ll try to get through to him the next time you wake up,” Jackie explained, moving out of the doctor’s way. She watched as the two men checked the wounds and listened to the injured man’s lungs. She knew the Texan was worried about his friend, but right now there was little she could do about it. Tanner needed to rest and heal, and until he was strong enough to stay awake and talk to his friends, she’d make sure she kept him as up to date as possible. She waited for the doctors to finish and moved back to the bed.
 
“Jackie, Jane is making dinner and I want you to join us,” Murdoch said.
 
“How is he?” Maynard asked, ignoring the other man’s words.
 
“He’s doing a little better, but his fever is sapping his strength. He’s going to be sleeping a lot for the next few days and I’d rather he didn’t get upset. I’ll let you know when dinner is ready,” Murdoch told her before leaving the room.
 
“Well, Tex, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, but you won’t have to do it alone,” the woman vowed, reaching for his hand once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Hank Connelly paced his living room, unaware of the smell and dirt encompassing his once spotless home. How many times in the last decade had he cursed Chris Larabee? How many times had he killed the man with his bare hands? How many more ways could he think of, to get revenge for the loss of his child. In his own twisted sense of family his daughter died the day she disobeyed him and married the no good bastard, so his grief was no longer a contributing factor to his need to see Larabee dead and buried.
 
The inebriated man walked to the coffee table and opened the book of newspaper clippings all dealing with Larabee’s life. Any pictures that showed his daughter’s image had been cut out until only Larabee was seen. In several pictures the man he hated held a small boy, Hank knew it was supposedly his grandson, yet he felt no remorse at never having seen him. His bitter hatred for his son in law shone in his eyes as he slammed the book shut and reached for the bottle of whiskey. His gaze lit on the picture displayed on the mantle and he toasted the man holding his daughter.
 
“You would’ve been a much better man for my daughter, Robert! Why the hell did you let that bastard take her from us both?” Connelly spat, downing the last of the cheap liquor before throwing the bottle across the room. His hatred gnawed at his insides and vowed to find a way to make Chris Larabee pay for denying him the son in law he’d wanted. Chest heaving as he strode towards the kitchen, the drunken man knew what he had to do. If he could not get to Larabee physically, he could damn well make sure the man’s reputation was damaged. All he needed to do was spread a rumor...one that would make it appear as if Larabee had something to gain by his family’s death and even more so if they met their deaths either by accident or otherwise.
 
“’ll make you sorry we ever crossed paths Larabee!” he vowed to the silent walls around him as he searched the fridge for something edible amongst the mold-encrusted containers there.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~`
 
Four members of The Firm sat in conference with Orrin Travis. The table in front of each man was littered with files, empty coffee cups and note pads. So far the caseload had not been very heavy, but they were updating several cases that had been taken over by another firm recommended by the older man. Two of the case files were now completely closed, but there were several that remained unsolved and those were the ones that were being updated.
 
Ezra shuffled the papers before him until he found the one he’d been looking for. It wasn’t one of their usual cases, but it was something they all wanted to see resolved. This was the file on Ella Gaines and her associates. So far they’d been unable to confirm or deny whether or not the woman was still in Monte Carlo, but his mother was supposed to get back to him sometime during the day. Opening the thick file he looked at the other men.
 
“Okay, you may want to open the file on Ella Gaines and take a look at her associates.” He watched as Josiah, JD, Buck and Orrin opened the cover and looked at the first page. “This is the man who was with Miss Gaines at the State Fair. He’s been seen with her for several years and it’s assumed he’s not only an associate, but her lover as well. His name is Jack Averil and I know I told you guys I’ve heard of him and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could through him. Averil comes from a wealthy family, but has little or nothing to do with them. He was a loner until he met up with the Gaines woman. They’ve traveled together extensively since first meeting six years ago.”
 
“I don’t get it!” Dunne exclaimed. “Why is she after Chris if she’s in love with Averil?”
 
“JD, just because they are together does not necessarily mean they are in love,” Wilmington stated.
 
“I know that, Buck, it just seems so stupid for her to have ki...killed Sarah and Adam to get to Chris when she knows he doesn’t love her,” the easterner explained.
 
“If I know Ella it’s not that she loves Chris...it’s that she’s obsessed with what they once had. Hell, I don’t even think it was love back then, not for Chris anyway, because if it was he wouldn’t have been able to move past it all so easily and believe me he did. Who’s this next guy, Ezra?”
 
“His name is Guy Royal...”
 
“Guy Royal...as in Royal Realtors?” Travis asked.
 
“Exactly. Do you know him, Orrin?” Standish asked.
 
“Only in passing. I’ve met him at a few of the fundraisers for the hospital and community centers. How does he fit in with Gaines?”
 
“They’ve been known to attend a few social gatherings together and were rumored to be involved in a somewhat clandestine affair,” the gambler explained.
 
“Sounds like Ella Gaines gets around,” Sanchez commented.
 
“Don’t you mean sleeps around?” Wilmington asked. “Although it sounds like that’s not the right word either.”
 
“Yes, precisely...now for the last one...”
 
“Sonofabitch!”
 
“Buck, what’s wrong?” Travis asked as he saw the anger in the man’s blue eyes.
 
“Tophat Bob Spikes!”
 
“I take it you know this man’s seldom used moniker?”
 
“Yes...yes, I do. The bastard was dating Sarah before she met Chris. Meanest sonofabitch you ever met, probably why Hank liked him.”
 
“Did he hit Sarah?”
 
“She never really told me...Chris would know, but he never talked about it either except once.”
 
“What happened?”
 
“It was just after Chris and Sarah were married and we stopped at a bar for a drink before going home. We took a table towards the back and just sat down and ordered a beer when this guy with a patch over his eye walked over and leaned on the table. The man’s breath would’ve made a skunk hold his nose and he stood glaring down at Chris like he wanted to tear him limb from limb,” Wilmington explained, remembering the night as if it was yesterday. The way Spikes stood there, hands on his hips, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes wafting off his clothing. Anger evident in his very stance as Chris sat, smiling cockily at his old nemesis.
 
“What happened?” Dunne asked, curious about his mentors encounter with Spikes.
 
“Chris sat there, sipping his beer and grinning that devil may care cocky grin he has and Spikes just starts getting redder and redder until he lost it. Worst thing he ever did was to call Sarah a slut...man found himself flat on his back and sporting a broken nose. Chris looked down at him and told him if he ever even thought her name he’d rip out his tongue and shove it up his ass!”
 
“Sounds like something Brother Chris would say,” Sanchez said, smiling at the thought of a younger Larabee protecting his wife’s reputation.
 
“Yeah, Chris can rival Vin sometimes, but that’s not the end of the story. Spikes left, sputtering about making Chris pay for what he did. I didn’t understand why Spikes was so pissed since I’d have done the same thing Chris did so I asked Chris what happened. Seems he’d met Spikes before the wedding and they exchanged a few choice words and several fists as well. Spikes tried to take Chris’ eyes out with an ice pick, but he was no match for Chris. He didn’t have the finesse to go up against a black belt in karate. Chris simply turned the tables and threw Spikes to the ground. Spikes went to stand up, but he slipped on some spilled oil and went down hard. Chris said his head connected with a piece of metal and well, that’s how he lost his eye. He probably still blames Chris for that!”
 
“Something like that is apt to make a man bitter,” Travis told them as he studied the hard edge man in the picture.
 
“Yes, and Spikes was already bitter that Sarah was marrying Chris. Sarah told me and Chris she’d known him for several years and at the time he was someone she thought she could fall in love with. That all changed when she introduced him to her father and they started drinking together and she was always the brunt of the results of those drinking binges. She had several scars from both her father and Spikes and when she met Chris she realized she could no longer lead that kind of life.”
 
“Thank God,” Dunne voiced the others thoughts as he stared at the picture.
 
“So what does Spikes have to do with Ella Gaines?” Wilmington asked.
 
“Well, it appears that Miss Gaines hooked up with Spikes around the same time she met Guy Royal. Right now, if my source’s information is correct Ella Gaines is still involved with all three men,” Standish explained.
 
“Do we have addresses on those three?” Sanchez asked.
 
“We have addresses for Royal and Spikes right here in Billings. Averil and Gaines have permanent addresses in France and England, but nothing here that I’ve been able to discover,” the gambler explained.
 
“I’d say we need to check out Spike and Royal’s home and see if there’s any sign of Gaines or Averil,” Wilmington told them.
 
“All right, so we team up. Ezra, you and I check Royal. Buck, you and JD take Spikes’ place,” Sanchez suggested.
 
“Okay, gentlemen, it appears that you’ve covered the basics. Is Nathan still at the Wells’ home?” Travis asked as he closed the folders on the table.
 
“Yes, he’ll stay there until one of us relieves him,” Dunne answered.
 
“How was Chris today?” The Firm’s owner inquired.
 
“Sore, he spent some time outside last night and Nate’s worried he might have caught a chill. I found him out there early this morning,” Wilmington answered.
 
“Any word on how Vin is doing?” Dunne asked.
 
“The last time I talked to Jackie she said he’d been awake and asking about Chris,” Travis explained.
 
“Does he know about Sarah and Adam?” Standish questioned
 
“Not yet. I told her to tell him Chris was out of the hospital and staying at the Wells’ place,” the older man told them.
 
“Vin must still be pretty out of it if he accepted that explanation, otherwise he’d know something was wrong because Chris would normally be home with Sarah.”
 
“That’s true, Son, and it’s also why I warned Jackie that Vin would probably question her about that and I warned her to keep it as a simple explanation right now. If Vin finds out what’s happened here there’ll be no keeping him down there. He’ll find his own way back here if it means he has to beg, borrow or steal to get it,” Travis said of the feisty Texan.
 
“I believe you’re correct in that hypothesis of Vin Tanner’s plans should he obtain the information we’re withholding, Orrin,” Standish agreed. 
 
“Boys, no matter how tempting it may be I don’t want either of you confronting Ella Gaines or the men she associates with until we have confirmation of her location. Once that happens we’ll bring the police into it and have James Graham take a look at her. If Ella Gaines and her cronies are behind Sarah and Adam’s deaths then I want everything to be legal and make damn sure they pay for what they’ve done! ” Travis warned.
 
‘That’s what we all want, Orrin,” Sanchez said as they stood up to leave. The next few hours could very well be critical in finding out who was behind the murder of Larabee’s family.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Nathan looked up as footsteps sounded across the room. He knew Larabee was awake the instant the man moved across the bedroom and into the hall. Nettie and Casey had gone into Billings to pick up a few groceries and other supplies, leaving Jackson and Larabee to fend for themselves. He watched as the injured man made his way towards the comfortable rocker across from the settee.
 
Chris eased himself down in the chair and smiled weakly at the man seated on the sofa. He knew the medic in training was watching him closely and acknowledged the concern with a simple nod of his head.
 
Jackson held a medical journal in his hands, but quickly placed it beside him as he looked at his charge. Larabee’s hair was dull and in need of washing, his cheeks were gaunt, his eyes filled with a deep sadness, and surrounded by dark circles. To say Chris looked like death warmed over would be an apt description, but he was not about to say that. Instead he found other ways to voice his concerns.
 
“How are you feeling, Chris?”
 
“I’m okay, Nathan, just a little sore,” the blond answered.
 
“Nettie made a pot of chicken soup...”
 
“Not hungry...”
 
“And she said to tell you to make sure you eat some or she’ll be the one dragging your ass to Dr. Midlands office in the morning.”
 
“Nathan!”
 
“Your choice, Chris, but we both know how Nettie can be.”
 
Larabee smiled at that. He certainly did know Sarah’s aunt and knew it was not an empty threat. Leaning his head against the soft cushion backed chair he sighed heavily before answering.
 
“Alright, Nathan, I’ll take a bowl. Nettie always did make good soup...only thing that rivalled it was Sarah’s chicken and dumplings.”
 
“Yes, Sarah certainly could make chicken and dumplings. You stay put while I get it or would you rather sit in the kitchen?”
 
“No...no, I’m fine right here,” Larabee answered and listened to the other man leave the room before opening his eyes once more. His gaze swept the room before lighting on a picture on the wall beside the TV. Swallowing the lump forming in his throat, Chris stood up and shuffled across the small space until he stood in front of the picture. Tears filled his eyes as his hands reached for the image imposed on the paper and shielded by glass. Staring up at him were his wife and son, Sarah so young and beautiful, holding a contented toddler in her arms. Mother and son were smiling and looking towards the camera, yet Chris knew the smile was not for the cameraman. The smile was for him and it shone in her eyes as she looked over the camera and into his eyes. There’d been so much emotion in her eyes that Larabee had been struck numb by the promise of a future filled with love. He stared at the item clasped in his hands and gently ran the fingers of his right hand across the shiny surface, the tips coming to rest on Sarah’s lips. The room around him dissolved as his grief and pain once more surfaced and he screamed as the dam burst and tears fell from his eyes.
 
“WHY? WHY THE HELL COULDN’T YOU JUST FUCKING TAKE ME! WHY’D YOU HAVE TO LET THEM SUFFER BECAUSE OF ME!”
 
 Nathan heard the scream and dropped the half filled bowl on the counter as he hurried into the living room. The sight before him cut through any defenses he had in place as Larabee finished his tirade and sank to the floor holding a picture clasped to his chest. He hurried across the room and sank to the floor beside the injured man, holding him close as Larabee’s body trembled and shook with the force of his grief. He had no idea how long they sat that way, not caring that his shirt was now soaked with salty tears as the blond continued to give in to his grief. He felt the man move and heard a final choking sob before Larabee pulled away.
 
“Sorry, Na...Nathan.”
 
“Don’t apologize, Chris. Lord knows you need to let it out. How do you feel?
 
“Drained...dead,” the blond answered.
 
“Come on, Chris, let's get you off the floor,” Jackson said as they heard the front door open. Nathan helped him to his feet just as Nettie Wells entered the living room.
 
“Is something wrong? Chris, are you okay?”
 
“I’m fine, Nettie, just tired. Think I’ll just lie down for a while,” Larabee answered, holding the picture close as he shook off Jackson’s offer of help.
 
Casey entered carrying two brown paper bags and frowned as she joined the two people watching the injured man make his way towards the bedroom he was using.
 
“Nathan, what happened?” the older woman asked.
 
“I’m not sure...I was in the kitchen getting him some soup when I heard him screaming and cursing. Found him sitting on the floor cradling that picture in his hands.”
 
“What picture?” Casey asked.
 
“The one of Sarah holding Adam,” Jackson answered.
 
“Oh, hell, how did I miss that one?” Nettie cursed softly as she looked around the room for other reminders that could affect her nephew in law.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Josiah and Ezra’s search for Ella Gaines was fruitless, but they knew the woman could still be there. The maid had told them only Royal was in residence, and for now they would have to take her word for it. Buck and JD had better luck in that they actually spoke to Tophat Bob Spikes. The man was as ignorant and petulant as he remembered and did little to help his own temperament. If it wasn’t for JD running interference, Bob Spikes might have been wearing a patch over his other eye. With all leads exhausted for the night, Buck, JD, and Ezra said goodbye to Sanchez and headed for the small diner across the street from the offices.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris laid awake long into the night, his mind conjuring up reminders of all that he’d had and all that he’d lost. His life was in shambles and there was nothing more he wanted than to drown in a bottle. Several times he heard his door open, but didn’t want company so he’d kept his back turned to the door. He knew the others were worried about him, but the pain had finally given way to numbness and the need to forget. He shifted on the bed and finally stood up. Making his way into the living room he moved past the sofa to the small table beside the rocking chair. He knew Nettie wasn’t a drinker, but she kept a bottle of whiskey there. Opening the door he reached inside and pulled out the bottle. There were several ounces missing, but Chris sensed there was enough there to take the hard edge off the pain wrapped around his heart and soul. He sat in the rocker and removed the cap before tipping the bottle to his mouth. He drank the fiery liquid, gasping as it burned its way down his throat and into his empty stomach. The more he drank, the less he felt, the less he felt, the more he drank until there was less than an inch of the amber liquid left in the bottle. His mind craved the oblivion of an inebriated state, his body seeking the comfort of the numbness that went with it. He lifted the bottle and downed the last of it, sobbing as consciousness left him and he sagged against the arm of the chair.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Josiah didn’t know what had woken him, but his senses were telling him something was definitely wrong. He quickly climbed out of bed and headed for the living room. His eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness and he spotted someone sitting in the rocking chair at the same time a dull thud sounded from the same area. He crossed the room quickly, flicking on the lamp as he reached the unconscious blond. He smelled the liquor on Larabee’s breath at the same time as he saw the empty bottle at his feet.
 
“Jesus, Chris, why didn’t you say something?” he cursed as his fingers sought out the pulse in Larabee’s neck. It was there, but very faint and Josiah knew the blond was in trouble.
 
“Josiah, what’s wrong with Chris?” Casey asked, rubbing at tired eyes.
 
“Casey, call 911 and have them send an ambulance. Tell them it could be alcohol poisoning...”
 
“Oh, God!” Casey trembled as she reached for the phone and hit the three-digit number.
 
“Chris, can you hear me?” Sanchez tried as he watched for any sign that the blond heard him. He knew the signs of alcohol poisoning and understood how deadly it could be, especially to a man in Chris’ condition.
 
“Josiah, what’s going on?” Nettie asked as she joined them in the living room.
 
“Nettie, do you know how much whiskey was left in this bottle?” the ex-preacher asked.
 
“It was full...I had two drinks from it,” the woman answered, worried about the pale figure in the chair. “Did he drink it all?”
 
“Think so. Casey are they on the way?” Sanchez asked.
 
“Yes, but they want to know if he’s breathing on his own.”
 
“Tell them yes, but his pulse is slow and erratic and his skin is clammy. He’s pale, but I can’t tell if it’s something new or a result of his previous injuries. It’s going to take the ambulance a while to get here. Casey, tell them to have the ambulance watch for a club van. I don’t know if Chris has time to wait for them to get here so tell them I’m transporting him towards town!”
 
“All right, Josiah,” Casey answered as Nettie grabbed her wrap.
 
“I’m coming with you, Josiah!” the older woman said as Sanchez picked the unconscious blond up in his arms and headed for the door.
 
“Josiah, they’ll be watching for you and want you to flash the lights when you see theirs!”
 
“Will do, Casey. Can you call the boys for me?”
 
“Sure, call me as soon as you know anything!”
 
“I will,” Nettie assured her as she held the door for Sanchez. She took his keys from the rack and opened the passenger side door. She hurried inside and had the older man ease her nephew in law onto the seat beside her. She watched Josiah fasten the blond’s seatbelt and did the same with her own. As Sanchez slid the door closed she pulled the injured man towards her and rested his head on her shoulder.
 
‘You hold on, Chris,’ she thought as tears filled her eyes.
 
Josiah hurried around to the driver’s side and opened the door. Climbing into the seat he looked in the rear view mirror and knew Chris was in good hands. Nettie had her arm around his shoulders and had grabbed the blanket from the back seat. He slid the key into the ignition even as she wrapped it around the injured man. Turning the key he heard the engine start immediately and thanked God for monthly maintenance on The Firm’s main vehicle.
 
 Pulling out of the driveway, Josiah sped along the darkened road that led towards Billings. He lost track of time as his eyes flicked from the road to the two people in the back and the worried face of Nettie Wells as she held Larabee close.
 
“How is he doing, Nettie?”
 
“He’s not breathing very well, Josiah, and he feels so cold.” She looked through the windshield and spotted the familiar lights of the ambulance. Her shoulders slumped and she sighed in relief as Sanchez flashed his headlights at the approaching vehicle before pulling over to the shoulder of the road.
 
‘Thank God,’ Sanchez said as the ambulance pulled into the area in front of them. He opened his door and hurried around the front of the van even as two paramedics opened the back door of the ambulance and pulled out the stretcher filled with equipment.
 
Gerry Dolan and Barry Gunther had been partners for a little over six months and worked well together. They knew the victim was supposed to be suffering from alcohol poisoning according to the report, but they were ready for anything. It was even more complicated by the fact that the man was also suffering from emotional as well as physical factors. The two men hurried to the waiting van where an older man stood by the sliding passenger door.
 
“What happened?” Gunther asked as he reached in to check the unconscious man’s pulse.
 
“I found him passed out in a chair with an empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. I know he wasn’t there very long because I’d been to the kitchen less than forty minutes before I found him,” Sanchez explained as they reached to pull Larabee from the van.
 
“Any idea how much he drank?”
 
“The bottle was nearly full,” Nettie answered as she joined them on the ground. She watched as the two men worked together, checking the patient’s airway, hooking up monitoring equipment, starting an IV and placing an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.
 
“Gerry, I think we’d better intubate,” Gunther explained as Larabee’s breathing slowed to a minimum.
 
“All right,” Dolan agreed and the two men quickly intubated the injured man as Sanchez and Wells looked on.
 
Nettie felt Josiah’s arm wrap around her shoulder and pull her close. She hadn’t even taken the time to change out of her nightgown and felt a chill that had little to do with the cooler night air.
 
“Alright, let’s get moving!” Gunther ordered as he and his partner covered the victim with a blanket, placed the straps across his chest and legs, and placed the equipment at the end of the stretcher.
 
“We’ll be taking him to Saint Vincents!” Dolan explained, pushing the gurney inside and climbing in with it.
 
“We’ll follow you in,” Sanchez said, leading Nettie back to the van.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
 
The phone ringing beside his ear jolted Nathan from a deep sleep and he fumbled for the receiver. Finally grabbing the instrument it took several tries to get it to his ear.
 
“Jackson,” he rasped tiredly.
 
“Nathan, it’s Casey...”
 
“Casey,” Jackson interrupted, instantly awake and sitting up. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Josiah found Chris passed out in Aunt Nettie’s rocker. H...he had an empty bottle of whiskey...”
 
“Shit! Do you know how much was in the bottle?”
 
“It was pretty full. Josiah said Chris had alcohol poisoning because he drank it so fast. We called 911 and Josiah took Chris in the car to meet them. Aunt Nettie’s gone with them.”
 
“All right, Casey, are you okay?”
 
“I’m fine, Nathan, just worried. I’ve got to call JD and the others.”
 
“Tell them I’m going to Saint Vincent and to call my cell number if they want me to pick them up.”
 
“I will.”
 
The line went dead and Jackson hurried to change out of the clothes he wore. Within five minutes of Casey’s call he was in his car and headed towards Saint Vincents. His cell phone remained silent as he drove and he knew the others were probably going to drive in together.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD looked at the man sleeping on the sofa and shook his head at Wilmington’s stubbornness. Instead of going to bed the older man had stayed on the couch until he fell asleep. Dunne left him that way, but covered him with a small blanket and would wake him when he was going to bed. JD looked at the clock over the TV as the phone beside him began to ring.
 
‘Who’s calling at this hour of the night.’ he thought as he picked it up.
 
“Dunne.”
 
“JD, it’s Casey.”
 
“Hi, Casey,” the young man said, smiling instantly at the sound of her voice.
 
“JD, Chris is on the way to the hospital.”
 
“What? Why?”
 
“Josiah said something about alcohol poisoning. Nathan’s on the way there now and said to tell you if you need a ride to call his cell number.”
 
“JD, what’s wrong?” Wilmington asked, eyes open to half-mast as he pushed the blanket to the other end and sat up.
 
“Thanks, Casey, we’re on the way!” Dunne said, hanging up and looking worriedly towards his roommate. “Chris is on his way to the hospital.”
 
“Why?” the ladies’ man asked, painfully aware of the problems his long time friend could be having.
 
“They think its alcohol poisoning,” Dunne said.
 
“Fuck!” The rogue cursed as he stood up and headed for the door. “Come on, let’s go!”
 
“Buck...Buck!”
 
“What?” Wilmington asked impatiently.
 
“You need to get dressed first. I don’t think anyone would appreciate you going out in your boxers!”
 
“Ah, hell!”
 
“Go get dressed while I bring the car around front!” Dunne suggested and saw the dark head bob once.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ezra sat on the terrace, sipping a glass of Chablis as he listened to the soft strains of Mozart playing in the background. He knew the others would probably laugh if they knew of his penchant for the classics. Taking a deep breath he stood to go inside when his phone began to ring. Placing the glass on the table he picked up the phone and answered it quickly.
 
“Standish.”
 
“Ezra, it’s Casey.”
 
“Miss Wells, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this late night call...”
 
“Listen, Ezra. Josiah took Chris to Saint Vincents.”
 
“What happened?”
 
“Chris got hold of a bottle of whiskey. Josiah thinks he drank too much, too fast.”
 
“I shall leave immediately. Thank you for calling me.”
 
“You’re welcome...please make sure someone calls me to let me know what’s happening.”
 
“I will,” the conman said, hanging up the phone and hurrying out of his posh penthouse apartment.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Joe Garrett hurried towards the entrance as the ambulance pulled in. He was at the desk when the lights reflected off the window and knew this next patient was in trouble. He moved to the ambulance as the back door opened and the stretcher was pulled out.
 
“What have we got?” Garrett asked as he helped wheel the gurney inside.
 
“Possible alcohol poisoning. Blood Pressure is 90/65. Respirations were slow and shallow so we elected to intubate on scene. Skin is cold and clammy. Patient has been unconscious since being discovered by his friend.”
 
“Get him in two!” Garrett ordered as the paramedic continued to rattle off vital information. The stretcher with the unresponsive patient was pushed inside and Larabee was transferred to the gurney there. The portable monitors were unhooked and stationary ones put in place as blood samples were taken and a new set of vitals given. Garrett quickly hooked his patient to a ventilator before starting his examination. To an inexperienced eye the emergency room looked like chaos, but it was actually running perfectly as medical professionals worked to save the life of their patient.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Josiah led Nettie Wells through the entrance of the ER and hurried to the desk. It didn’t take long to fill out the papers and give as much information as they could. Once they finished Sanchez led Nettie to the waiting room and watched as she sat tiredly in the chair near the window. How many times had they been here in the last month? The answer was one he did not want to think about as he walked to the vending machine and got the woman a cup of strong tea with honey. He hurried back and sat next to her, placing the Styrofoam cup in her hands.
 
“Thanks, Josiah.”
 
“You’re welcome Nettie. Can I get you anything else?”
 
“No, the tea is fine. There’s Nathan,” she said as she spotted the medic in training coming towards the waiting room.
 
“Nate, we’re in here!” Sanchez called as the younger man hurried towards them.
 
“Any word on Chris?” Jackson asked.
 
“Nothing...they just took him into a treatment room,” the ex-preacher answered.
 
“Damn it. How could he be so stupid?”
 
“Nathan, I don’t think it had anything to do with Chris being stupid. I think he was trying to escape the pain he was feeling and I don’t mean the physical pain. He’s been dealing with so much and he hasn’t really taken the time to grieve and I think he saw that bottle as a way of escaping the pain for a little while.”
 
“I know, Josiah, and I hope to God you’re right. I’ve just seen so many people use liquor as a way to escape all right. Did he ask for any pain meds tonight?”
 
“No, he didn’t ask and when I offered them he refused. Did he take any during the day?”
 
“Not that I gave him,” the medic in training explained as Dunne and Wilmington hurried towards them.
 
“How is Chris?” the gentle rogue asked as he sat on the opposite side of Nettie Wells.
 
“All we know is what we saw at the scene. The paramedics intubated him before bringing him in. He’s in with the doctor now,” Sanchez answered, rubbing at tired eyes.
 
“Why the hell would Chris take a drink if he’s on meds?” Wilmington spat in disbelief.
 
“Buck, Chris is dealing with a lot of emotional upheavals right now and I don’t think he was thinking properly at the time,” Nettie told him.
 
“He should have asked for help. Where the fuck were you when this was happening, Josiah?” the ladies man asked, the tempo of drums building in his skull.
 
“Easy, Buck, this is not Josiah’s fault!” Jackson said and was relieved to see some of the fiery anger leave the mustahced face.
 
“Shit. I’m sorry, Josiah. I didn’t mean anything by that.”
 
“Apology accepted, Buck,” the older man said and laid his head back against the chair as they waited for news on the injured man.
 
The minutes on the clock ticked slowly by as the worried friends waited for word on their injured team leader. Ezra joined them with coffee for everyone from the gourmet coffee shop he often frequented. Several nurses stuck their heads in, but none had anything new to tell them.
 
“Nathan.”
 
Jackson turned to se the pretty woman standing in the doorway and hurried towards her. “Hi, Rain.”
 
“Hi, are you okay?”
 
“Yes, I’m fine. Just tired.”
 
“I was in the doctors’ lounge and heard Chris was brought in. How is he?”
 
“We’re not sure. It looks like alcohol poisoning and the paramedics intubated him on the scene.”
 
“Oh, hell, Nathan, I’m so sorry,” she said, drawing him close as they moved into the room.
 
“Is there someone here for Chris Larabee?”
 
“We all are,” Nettie answered as the physician came into the room.
 
“Very well. My name is Joe Garrett and I’m Mr. Larabee’s attending physician.”
 
“How is he, Doc?” Dunne asked.
 
“Well, I believe you know it was suspected alcohol poisoning and his Tox screens confirm a high level of alcohol in his system. He’ll be kept on a ventilator and I’ve admitted him to ICU for the night. I’ve also recommended that he be evaluated by the psych department in the morning.”
 
“Is he going to be all right?” Nettie asked.
 
“He should be fine once the alcohol is out of his system,” the doctor answered.
 
“Doc, can I see him?” Wilmington asked.
 
“Just for a minute. Then I want all of you to go home and get some rest. You can see him tomorrow morning,” Garrett told them.
 
Buck nodded and hurried towards the room housing his long time friend. He sucked in a deep steadying breath when he looked at the man lying so pale and still. Once again tubes and wires were in abundance and he moved closer to the bed. He placed his hand on Larabee’s forehead and wondered at how clammy the skin felt.
 
“Hell, Chris, gotta tell you I’m getting mighty tired of this damn hospital. Dr. Garrett says you’re going to be fine, but I won’t believe that until I see those green eyes open. You sleep now...but that’s all. Don’t you dare think about giving up because I’ll kick your ass from here to Timbuktu if I have too.”
 
“Mr. Wilmington, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now. We’re ready to move him upstairs.”
 
“Okay...Chris, I love ya man, you’re my best friend and I won’t let you go,” the rogue whispered softly, before leaving the room.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
 
Again Vin woke to the sensation of drowning and held himself rigid as a harsh cough tore from his chest. He carefully looked around the room, searching for something he knew should be there. The last few times he’d been in the hospital he’d woken to find Chris Larabee sitting beside his bed, but the man was nowhere to be seen now. Licking at dry lips he again sought out his friend until his memory returned and he realized why he was alone. With the returning memories and clearing mind came the realization that his best friend was in trouble. Jackie had told him Larabee was out of the hospital and staying with Nettie Wells, but there was no word on Sarah or Adam. Where were they and why wasn’t Chris at home getting the tender loving care his wife always provided.
 
Vin smiled as he thought of the last time Chris was sick with the flu. Sarah didn’t flinch when her husband was too weak to clean up after himself. He’d helped her a couple of times, but she insisted she could take care of Chris herself if he’d just take Adam outside for a while. He smiled as he remembered looking in through the window and watching as Sarah slid onto the bed and eased her husband up until his head rested in her lap. She remained like that while Larabee slept and never complained once. Sarah Larabee had shown what she was made of, and Vin admired her for that.
 
Taking a deep breath he tried to sit up and felt the world around him fading before his eyes. His lungs constricted as he fought to get into an upright position as several more rasping coughs left his throat. He clenched his eyes tightly to stave off the agonizing pain in his chest and soon felt a pair of hands easing him back on the bed.
 
“Lay still, Vin!” Reardon ordered as he reached for the medication beside the bed. He hoped the pneumonia would respond to the antibiotics and the medication given by mask, but he knew it would take some time before his patient was able to move around.
 
“N...need ta c...call h...home,” the Texan rasped as the mask was once more placed over his mouth and nose.
 
“You breathe the medications in and I’ll see if I can find the phone Faraday left,” the physician told him and was glad to see the younger man acknowledge his orders.
 
Vin closed his eyes as the cool mist entered his lungs and eased the burning sensation there. He didn’t know how long Reardon was gone, but opened his eyes when a hand touched his shoulder.
 
“How are you feeling now?” Reardon asked.
 
“B...better.”
 
“Alright, I have the phone here. Is there a particular number you want to call or just hit the one that’s keyed in.”
 
“N...need ta call...Nettie Wells,” the tracker rasped.
 
“All right. What’s the number?”
 
Vin tried to recall the woman’s number, but couldn’t quite get them. The only number he could remember was the Larabee home. “Don’t k...know...call Chris’ h...home.”
 
“All right, do you know that number?”
 
Vin told him the number and soon felt the phone in his hand. With more than a little difficulty, he managed to get it to his ear. The call went through, but instead of Sarah or Chris answering the phone it was redirected and picked up by an automatic recording.
 
“We’re sorry, but the number you dialed is no longer in service! Please check the number and try your call again!”
 
“What the hell?” Tanner asked as he tried to look at the numbers.
 
“Is there a problem?” Reardon asked as he checked his patient’s vital signs.
 
“S...says the number is no...no l...longer in s...service.”
 
“Maybe it’s just a bad connection,” the physician suggested, hoping to ease the man’s worries.
 
“No...no, it’s not. Look, try the other number,” Tanner rasped as he breathed deeply and felt the mist entering his lungs once more.
 
“No problem,” Reardon answered and hit the speed dial button before handing it back to his patient. He watched the tracker closely as he lifted the mask and waited for the call to go through.
 
Vin listened as the call went through and breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn’t redirected. He waited impatiently for someone to answer and soon heard the sound of a man’s voice.
 
“Travis.”
 
“O...Orrin, it’s Vin!” the tracker said softly and wasn’t sure the other man heard him correctly.
 
“Vin! How are you, Son?”
 
“Better, Orrin,” the tracker said and dissolved into a fit of coughing that left him breathless.
 
“Vin, you need to put the mask back on,” Reardon warned.
 
“N...not yet...n...need to find...find out a...about Chris. Orrin, what’s w...wrong w...with Chris!”
 
“Chris was hurt in an explosion,” Travis answered vaguely.
 
“How bad? W...where? T...tried ta call h...him...phone dis...connected. “
 
“Yes, there were some problems. You don’t need to be worrying about any of this right now son. Get some rest and we’ll talk when you’re feeling better.”
 
“N...no, Orrin...why i...is Chris s...stayin’ at N...Nettie’s p...place? W...where a...are S...Sarah...” again he started coughing and felt the phone taken form his hands and the mask eased back over his mouth and nose. The little strength he had was gone and he struggled to breath past the pain in his chest. He could see Reardon talking on the phone and wanted to take it from him, but his eyes slid closed and he sank into the welcoming arms of sleep.
 
“I assure you, Mr. Travis, he’ll be fine with plenty of rest. He’s sleeping right now and we’re giving him antibiotics. He’ll probably need physiotherapy on his arm once he gets back to Billings.”
 
“How long before he’s able to travel?”
 
“Not for at least a week, maybe longer. It all depends on the pneumonia and the lingering fever and infection. We’re doing everything we can short of taking him to the hospital, but that’s still too dangerous because of the threats against his life.”
 
“Damn, all right. Look, tell him Chris is going to be fine and so will he if he does as he’s told.”
 
“I will,” Reardon said, hanging up the phone and watching his patient closely. There was no doubt in his mind that this man would get up and move if he knew he was needed in Billings Montana. Shaking his head he continued his examination, pleased with the readings he received, yet knowing Tanner was far from well. Turning out the light he went in search of coffee and a sandwich.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Orrin leaned back in his chair and reached for the strong cup of coffee on the table. The call from Vin Tanner was a welcome one and eased his mind slightly, but he’d feel better once the young man returned. The call from Nathan Jackson left him shaken, but he knew Chris Larabee would not be alone when he woke up.
 
“Orrin, are you okay?” Evie asked, joining her husband in his home office.
 
“I’m fine, Evie, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
 
“You didn’t. Is everything all right?” she asked, seeing the deep lines in his forehead as she sat across from him.
 
“No, no it’s not. Nathan called earlier.”
 
“What’s wrong? Was it about Chris?”
 
“Yes, it was. He’s back in the hospital.”
 
“Oh, my Lord, why?”
 
“He got hold of a bottle of whiskey and from what Nathan told me it sounds like he drank the whole bottle pretty quickly.”
 
“With the meds he’s on that could be dangerous and even...”
 
“I know. That’s what Josiah realized as soon as he found Chris. He had Casey call 911 and they took him to the hospital. They admitted him because he wasn’t breathing properly and he’s in ICU overnight on a ventilator. He’ll also be seen by Susan James from the psych department.”
 
“That’s a good thing. Chris needs to talk to someone about what he’s feeling and I don’t mean his friends. He needs an objective ear, one who’s not so emotionally involved in what he’s going through.”
 
“And he needs Tanner back. There’s something about the two of them whether they’re together or apart, Evie. Vin knows when something is wrong with Chris and vice versa. I think if Chris is going to come out of this a whole person, Tanner is going to have a lot to do with it.”
 
“Has there been any word about Vin?”
 
“As a matter of fact he called my private line.”
 
“You spoke to him?” Evie asked, relief evident in his tone.
 
“Not for long. He’s quite ill and could barely talk without coughing. He asked about Chris.”
 
“You didn’t tell him about Sarah and Adam did you?”
 
“No, I don’t think he could handle hearing that right now. Hopefully we can keep it from him until he comes home.”
 
“Oh, Orrin, this is going to be so hard on him.” Evie reached for the box of Kleenex as tears came to her eyes.
 
“I think it’s hard on all of us, Love,” Travis said, making his way around the desk and holding his wife close as she cried out her sorrow.
 
“It’s so unfair, Orrin. I mean Sarah and Chris were so happy and they were going to have a baby. Adam would have loved being a big brother and now Chris is alone...”
 
“Not alone, Evie, he has all of us and we’ll be his rock whenever he needs us. Right?”
 
“Right, but will that be enough?”
 
“We’ll make sure it is. Now how about we go see if Gloria has fresh coffee and muffins. I‘m hungry and want to eat before I go in to the office.”
 
“Sounds good, and I believe the muffins are baking as we speak. Come on,” she ordered, standing and linking her arm in her husband’s as they headed towards the kitchen.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Pamela Collins watched her patient closely as he showed signs of regaining consciousness. He’d spent a restful night, unaware of anything happening around him and she knew he’d be panicked when he woke up with a tube in his throat. She checked the monitors and IV line as she watched the eyelids begin to flicker and looked up as a young man stood in the doorway.
 
“Hi, how is he doing?”
 
“He’s coming round,” the nurse answered. “Would you like to come in?”
 
“Thanks. I’m JD.”
 
“My name is Pamela, JD, are you related to Chris?”
 
“No. He’s my boss, but he’s also my friend. He’s a good man.”
 
“I can tell,” she turned back to her patient and began speaking in soothing tones as he blinked rapidly and fought the intrusion down his throat. “Chris, you’re in the hospital and are on a ventilator right now. I want you to relax and let it do what it’s supposed to. Dr. Midland will be here shortly and will probably take it out, but for now it stays and you need relax. You have a visitor.”
 
“Hi, Chris.”
 
Larabee turned towards the new voice and looked into the worried face of his youngest team member. Again he tried to speak, but gagged against the tube. He heard the nurse’s words and tried to do as she told him, but he didn’t understand why he was back in the hospital. The last thing he remembered was getting out of bed and sitting in Nettie’s rocking chair.
 
“Easy, Chris,” Dunne said, seeing the raw panic in the green eyes. “You’re okay and you won’t be here much longer.”
 
‘JD, what happened? Why am I back here? Help me!’ Larabee thought, fighting the restraints on his wrists.
 
“Chris, you need to calm down before you hurt yourself. Dr. Midland is coming this way and if you relax you may just get rid of that tube.”
 
“Hello, JD.”
 
“Hey, Doc,” Dunne said as Midland moved to the opposite side of the bed and looked down at the injured man.
 
“Hello, Chris, I’m glad to see you’re awake. I’ve checked your vitals and readings and I think we can dispense with the tube. I bet you like that idea.”
 
Chris nodded and waited for Midland to take the tape from around his mouth. He heard her telling JD to move back a little as she reached for the tube. The next part was the hardest and he tried to relax as he listened to Midland’s soothing tones. He coughed and breathed out as the tube was extracted and moaned as his stomach churned and a sour fluid came up with the tubing.  He found himself sitting up and vomiting into a basin as flashes of the night before returned. Seeing the picture...cursing God for taking them from him...going to bed and lying awake as he tried to ignore the pain in his heart...getting up and going to the living room...finding the bottle of whiskey and drinking it without stopping.
 
“Chris, try to relax now. Pamela, you can remove the restraints.”
 
“Yes, Dr. Midland.”
 
“Feel better?” the physician asked, easing the blond back on the bed and reaching for the cloth in the basin of warm water. She cleaned the tape residue and washed his face as he looked up into her eyes.
 
“I...I’m o...okay.”
 
“Do you remember what happened?” Midland asked.
 
“Had too much to drink,” Larabee said, accepting the glass and taking small sips of the water.
 
“Yes, you could say that. Do you remember how much?”
 
“No, just know it felt good and I wanted to...to forget,” Larabee answered, rubbing at his temples.
 
“Headache?” the doctor asked.
 
“Y...yeah.”
 
“Well, that’s one pain you earned, Chris. You’re taking pain meds and mixing them with alcohol is asking for trouble,” Midland explained sternly.
 
“Y...yeah, I know, Doc, but at the time I j...just needed it.”
 
“Dr. James will be down to see you after you’re moved into a private room,” the woman told him.
 
“Can’t I go home...go to Nettie’s place,” he corrected softly.
 
“Not yet. Do you remember Dr. James?”
 
“N...no, don’t think so,” Larabee said truthfully.
 
“She’s with the psych department...”
 
“I don’t need to talk to her.”
 
“Well, that’s your choice, Chris, but you won’t be leaving here today until you do. Hospital policy I’m afraid.”
 
“Shit! Tell her to come here now then!”
 
“She won’t be available until around ten. You might as well relax and get some rest. JD, why don’t you go get some breakfast, you can visit him once he’s moved downstairs.”
 
“Okay, Chris, I’ll be back soon. Can I get you anything?”
 
“Coffee, kid,” Larabee answered, glaring at the physician as if she’d deny his request.
 
“Sure, Chris. What room is he being moved to, Doc?”
 
“I’m not sure yet, JD. Check with the nurse’s desk on the second floor,” Midland said and smiled as the young man left. “Now, Chris, I’ll see you later, okay?”
 
“Guess so,” Larabee said, closing his eyes as the throbbing in his skull escalated. He lost track of time, but soon felt the bed being moved out of the room and along the corridor. Turning slightly on his side he tried to quell the nausea once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“What the hell do you mean he’s back in the hospital?” Ella screamed at the bearer of bad news.
 
“One of my contacts at the hospital said he was brought in last night and spent the night in ICU. His chart says it was because of alcohol poisoning,” Royal explained as the woman angrily paced the living room.
 
“Alcohol poisoning? That’s not possible! Chris could drink anyone under the table and still have room to take on all comers.”
 
“Ella, alcohol poisoning is often caused when someone drinks too much liquor, too fast. Larabee’s Tox screens showed he had a dangerous amount of alcohol in his system.”
 
“Damn it! He needs me to take care of him more than ever. When are you boys going to take him?”
 
“Two days from now. We were going to make sure he was pretty well alone before we picked him up,” Spikes told her.
 
“Two days! That seems such a long time. Why can’t we take him as soon as he’s out of the hospital? That way I’d be able to care for him and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself,” Ella stated.
 
“Don’t you think his friends would be overly protective of him when he first goes home. No, Ella, I’m telling you right now we’re better off to wait until we’re sure Larabee is pretty much alone,” Royal explained.
 
Ella walked towards him, her hips swaying seductively as she pressed her body against his and pouted. “Do you promise he’ll be mine two days from now, Guy?”
 
“I promise we’ll do everything we can to make sure Larabee is in your arms in two days,” Royal vowed.
 
“Why don’t we see if breakfast is ready?” Spikes suggested and the two men took one of her arms and walked into the house.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD finished his breakfast and ordered a second coffee for his mentor. Thanking the woman he hurried up to the second floor and stopped by the desk. The nurse gave him Larabee’s room number and JD walked down the hallway, stopping in front of Room 216. He entered the room to find Larabee turned towards the window. The sun streamed into the room illuminating the blond’s face, revealing a vulnerability that JD Dunne had never seen before and hoped to never see again.
 
“Chris,” he called softly and watched the troubled face turn towards him.
 
“JD...is that my coffee?” Larabee asked, fighting to control his emotions.
 
“Yeah, black and strong, right?” Dunne said, placing the cup on the table.
 
“Right,” Larabee agreed as he reached for the cup and peeled back the tab.
 
“Are you okay now, Chris?” the Bostonian asked, not sure what it was he was really asking, but hoping to get the answer he wanted.
 
“Think so, JD. Thanks,” Larabee said as a knock sounded on the door and it opened slightly.
 
“Mr. Larabee, can I come in?”
 
“Would it matter if I said no?”
 
“It might, but it would also mean you’d be here longer than you want to be.”
 
“Then I guess there’s no choice. Come in. JD, could you come back later?”
 
“Sure, Chris,” Dunne said, leaving Larabee alone with the psychiatrist.
 
Susan James moved closer to the bed and placed her file on the table before sitting down. She studied the handsome face before him and saw beneath the brave front he tried to show. The lines of strain and weariness ran deep and she imagined they would remain that way for a long time.
 
“Mr. Larabee, my name is Susan James and I’ve been asked by your doctors to speak with you.”
 
“I don’t need a shrink.”
 
“That’s good to hear, but why don’t we talk a little and maybe we’ll be able to come up with something I can put on paper and show the hospital board?”
 
“Do I have a choice?”
 
“Not if you want out today,” she told him sympathetically.
 
“Figures. What do you want to know?”
 
“Well, it’s not what I want to know, Mr. Larabee, it’s more what you want to talk about.”
 
“Well, hell, doc. Guess you might as well leave ‘cause there’s nothing I want to talk about. I’m doing fine.”
 
“Are you?” the woman asked, studying her patient closely as he squirmed on the bed.
 
“Said I was!” the blond snapped.
 
“Would you like to tell me what you’re feeling right now?”
 
“Pissed,” Larabee answered, turning his head towards the window.
 
“Okay...at me or yourself?”
 
“Both! I don’t want to be in here.”
 
“I’m sure you don’t, but until I believe you really are okay I’m afraid you’ll be staying here, but I’m not an unreasonable person. If you tell me what happened last night then maybe we can come up with something to tell the hospital and get you out of here.”
 
“I wanted a drink and took one,” Larabee said, shrugging his shoulders as he turned back to the woman.
 
“One? I believe it was slightly more than one, Mr. Larabee...can I call you Chris?”
 
“That’s fine. Look, doc. I wanted a drink...I didn’t mean to get drunk and pass out. It’s just...”
 
“Just what?” James asked as the seconds ticked slowly by.
 
“It’s just so hard not being able to go h...home...not being able to...to hold her and Adam...not being able to hear her laughter or...or,” the blond felt tears forming in his eyes and reached for the tissues.
 
“I won’t tell you I know how you feel, Chris, because I don’t, but I do know you’ve got to be able to reach out to your friends and family and let them help you. If things get bad it won’t help anything to keep it all inside. If you talk about what you’re feeling before it gets to be too much you’ll find not only do you feel better, but so do the people around you.”
 
“I know, Doc, but sometimes it’s hard to put it in words.”
 
“Well, maybe if you just say whatever comes to mind. Tell me how you’re feeling?” James suggested.
 
“Empty...like there’s nothing left inside. I keep thinking she’ll come through that door and everything will be all right. I know it’s not going to happen, Doc, but I want it so badly. Sarah was pregnant with our second baby. Adam would’ve been so excited about it,” Larabee said, his fingers gripping the hospital blanket as he lifted his tear-streaked face. He remained silent as he looked at his hands, not seeing how tightly he clenched the blanket with his white-knuckled grip.
 
“I want my life back...I want them back,” he whispered as he closed his eyes.
 
“I know you do, Chris, but that’s not possible. You have to face what happened and try to accept the help offered you. I’d like you to make an appointment to see me in my office next week. Will you do that?”
 
“Yeah...guess so. Does that mean I can get out of here today?”
 
“I think so, but if I do sign the papers then I want your word that if things get rough you’ll talk to your friends or call my office. I’d like to get you started on an anti-depressant called Zoloft.”
 
“I’m not depressed...”
 
“Chris, you may not think so, but after everything you’ve been through and everything you’ve said to me today I’m convinced you’re showing signs of depression. The Zoloft will help you deal with it.”
 
“I guess so,” the blond said as he watched her fill out the papers and write the prescription for the new medication.
 
“I’ve put my phone number on your release and follow up papers. Make sure you call my office and set up an appointment.”
 
“I will, Doc, thanks,” Larabee said, turning away and facing the window once more. 
 
“Things will get better, Chris,” James told him before leaving the room.
 
Chris closed his eyes and let his mind drift back to the night before. Had he really been drinking just to get rid of the pain, or was it something else? Was he trying to kill himself by mixing alcohol and drugs? He heard the door open, but didn’t acknowledge the person who entered as he drifted towards sleep once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ella watched as Royal hurried to the phone. The maid told them it was urgent and she briefly wondered who would be calling at this time. She knew Larabee’s men had been checking on her whereabouts and were also involving the police. Several of her overseas contacts had called her to let her know there were inquiries about Averil and herself, but so far they’d been able to convince the authorities that she was still in Monte Carlo. If her lover’s men continued to interfere she would just have them dealt with, perhaps the Powderman could be persuaded to test his explosives for the right price. She reached for the box of truffles on the table and took one, biting into the rich chocolate and closing her eyes in delight. She stayed that way, savoring the flavor as Royal came back in the room.
 
“Ella!”
 
“Yes, Guy?”
 
“I have news.”
 
“Really, I do hope it’s good for a change.”
 
“I believe it is. My contact at the hospital says Larabee is being released today and it looks like there’s only one man with him. I was thinking I could contact Bob and have him send some men to the hospital to follow the car and if they get an opportunity they could take Larabee and bring him to the warehouse.”
 
“Oh, Guy,” she said, standing and wrapping her arms around his neck. “Do you mean it? I could be with Chris tonight?”
 
“It’s possible, Love, but if we’re to do this I need to contact Bob. Where’s Jack?”
 
“He’s picking up a few things for me,” Ella explained.
 
“I thought we agreed not to take chances on you two being seen?” Royal said, shaking his head as the woman laughed.
 
“Oh, Guy, you worry too much. No one saw us at the restaurant the other night and no one will see Jack at his tailors.”
 
“I wish I could be sure!”
 
“Don’t worry, Guy. Jack knows what he’s doing.”
 
“If you say so. Okay, I’m going to make those calls. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve set things in motion.”
 
“I’ll be in the pool if you feel like joining me when you’re done,” Gaines said, licking her lips seductively.
 
“Count on it, Lover,” Royal assured her.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ezra hurried into Dumont’s exclusive showroom and waited for the man to finish with his customer. He knew the coffee was always fresh and helped him to some of the aromatic brew before looking at some of the newest arrivals on display. He saw the other man go into the fitting room and smiled as Dumont came towards him.
 
“Mr. Standish, I’ll be with you as soon as I finish with Mr. Averil...”
 
“Averil...that wouldn’t by any chance be Jack Averil would it?” Standish said, unaware of the excitement in his voice.
 
“As a matter of fact it is. Do you know him?”
 
“No, I don’t and please don’t tell him who I am. I can’t go into details about why this is important, but it is. A man’s life could very well depend on this.”
 
“Mr. Standish, you are by far my most frequent and valued customer. I will do as you ask. Perhaps you should wait in my office.”
 
“No, but I would like to use your phone,” Standish said.
 
“By all means. It’s through those doors.”
 
“Would you make sure, Averil does not leave until I’m finished.”
 
“Certainly,” the tailor smiled, “Perhaps I could entice him into looking at the new arrivals.”
 
“Thank you, Nicholas, I appreciate what you’re doing,” the gambler said, hurrying through the doors as he heard Averil come out of the fitting room. He dialed the number by heart and waited for the phone to be picked up on the other end. “Come on, Josiah, answer the d...”
 
“Sanchez!”
 
“Josiah, it’s Ezra.”
 
“Is something wrong, Ezra? You sound out of breath!”
 
“I’m fine, look I’m at Dumont’s Fine Tailoring. Could you get down here as quickly as possible?”
 
“I’m on my way, want to tell me what’s wrong?”
 
“One of Nicholas’ clients is here. It’s Jack Averil!”
 
“Are you sure?”
 
“Yes. Dumont confirmed the man’s name and if he’s here then so is Ella Gaines and I don’t want to chance losing him.”
 
“I’m on my way, just stay out of sight.”
 
“I will,” Standish said and hung up. He moved to the door, but kept out of sight as Dumont tried to interest Averil in a new suit.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
By the time he woke up his discharge papers were in order and Nathan was there to pick him up. Chris dressed in the clothes Nathan brought him and sat on the edge of the bed, glaring at the orderly who pushed the wheelchair into the room.
 
“Nathan, I don’t need a wheelchair.”
 
“I know, Chris, but you know hospital policy. You want to get out of here?”
 
“Hell, yes!”
 
“Then hop in and let’s get moving,” Jackson said, smiling as Larabee slid off the bed and reluctantly sat in the chair.
 
“Don’t know why they have that kind of policy. Sick of lying down and there’s nothing wrong with my legs! No reason I can’t walk out that door on my own two feet,” the blond grumbled as the orderly wheeled him from the room.
 
“I believe you say that every time you’re in here, Chris,” the medic in training told him. It didn’t take long for them to get to Jackson’s car and Chris was sitting in the passenger seat as the other man sat behind the wheel. He drove out of the parking area and headed towards the road leading to the Wells’ home. Nathan watched his friend through the corner of his eyes and knew the man wasn’t sleeping.
 
“Nathan.”
 
“Yes, Chris?”
 
“I want to go home.”
 
“I’m taking you home.”
 
“No, not to Nettie’s place. I want to go out to my place. I need to see...”
 
“Not yet you don’t, Chris. Right now you need to go home and rest.”
 
“Nathan! I’m fine...”
 
“No, you’re not and it’s time you realized that. Right now the most important thing is for you to get plenty of rest. You can go out to the house once you’re stronger and I’ll gladly go with you, but right now we’re headed for Nettie’s place.”
 
“Shit! I need to do this...”
 
“Chris...”
 
“Nathan, either you drive me there now or I wait until we get to Nettie’s and I’ll drive myself.”
 
“I’ll make sure all the keys...”
 
“Then I’ll fucking well walk! I’m not a kid and I know what I’m doing! I need to see the house!”
 
“Chris, if, and I mean if we go there you’ll do what I say. I don’t want you trying to get close to the house because it’s dangerous and you’ve been hurt enough!”
 
“Anything you say, Nathan...the turnoff is just up ahead.”
 
“Yeah, I know, I’m doing this against my better judgement!” Jackson spat as he turned onto the road leading to the ruined Larabee home.
 
“I know...thanks, Nate.”
 
“Don’t thank me yet, Chris, because I could still change my mind,” the medic in training warned.
 
“But you won’t,” Larabee said, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath as he thought about what he was about to do. He knew he was asking a lot of Jackson, but this was something he needed to do for his own sanity. He needed to see the destruction for himself, to know there was nothing he could’ve done to save them even if he’d been able to get into the house. He knew they’d died during the initial explosion and was grateful that they hadn’t burned to death. According to the coroner Sarah and Adam Larabee were both killed by blunt force objects and were probably dead before the flames touched them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Robert Spikes knew he was putting himself in a dangerous situation, but he needed to be there when they took Larabee. His men were following Larabee in a nondescript blue van. One seen every day and forgotten as quickly as it was out of sight. He knew Nathan Jackson was the man who picked Larabee up and was expecting him to drive straight to the Wells’ home. He grabbed for his cell phone on the seat beside him and held it to his ear as he drove along the tree lined street.
 
“Spikes.”
 
“Mr. Spikes, they’ve turned off the main road and are headed north...”
 
Spikes listened as the other man told him where Jackson’s car turned off and smiled as he realized where they were headed. He knew there were back roads he could take and if he utilized the car’s speed he could be at the Larabee house before the man arrived. Quickly he gave the other man instructions on how to get to the burnt out shell of a home and to park the van off the back road and wait for him there. He hung up the phone and turned onto a seldom used road that was little more than a horse trail.
 
‘Soon, Larabee, you and I are going to have that heart to heart I promised,’ he thought as his foot came down hard on the gas. Picking up the phone once more he dialed Royal’s home and waited for the maid to get him.
 
“What’s happening, Bob?”
 
“It looks like Jackson is taking Larabee to his place. We’re taking the back roads and should be there before they arrive. We’ll take Larabee there.”
 
“What about Jackson?”
 
“If he gets in the way we’ll take care of him! I have to go, but I’ll call as soon as we’re on the way to the warehouse.”
 
“All right, Bob. I’ll tell Ella and we’ll probably see you there.”
 
“Yeah, I figured as much,” Spikes said, hanging up once more as he continued north.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Royal hurried outside and smiled at the woman reading the erotic magazine on the table. The woman’s beauty shone through no matter where she was or what she wore. Even the white terry towel looked sexy wrapped around her trim waist.
 
“Ella.”
 
“Hello, Guy, I hope it was good news.”
 
“I think you’ll certainly like it. Bob and his men are following Larabee as we speak.”
 
“Oh, Guy!” Gaines said excitedly as she stood up and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. “Where are they?”
 
“It seems Jackson is taking him to his home and Bob’s going to be waiting for them there. They’ll take care of Jackson and grab Larabee at the same time and bring him to the warehouse.”
 
“I want to be there, Guy.”
 
“I knew you were going to say that, Ella and I told Bob we’d probably see him there, but you’d better get dressed or we might get pulled over for indecent exposure. Although, in your case it would be more pleasure than indecent,” Royal assured her, smiling as she walked away from him and dropped the towel from her naked body.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Josiah parked the car in front of Dumont’s and hurried inside. He could hear voices and saw Dumont talking to a man near a rack of tailor made suits. He slipped unnoticed into the office and found Standish there.
 
“Did he see you?”
 
“No, I came through the storage area behind the racks of clothing. I believe you’re right about that being Averil,” Sanchez told him.
 
“It is. I’ve been watching him. I figured we could follow him when he leaves here and hopefully he’ll lead us to Ella Gaines!”
 
“We should let Miller know we’ve confirmed that Averil is in town,” Sanchez advised.
 
“All right, but let’s do it once we leave here. I think we should both take our own cars and use our phones to talk to each other. I’ll follow first and turn off when I think he’s getting suspicious. I can let you know where we are through the phone and you can take over.”
 
“Or I can call Robert and see if the chopper is out and ask if they would keep tabs on Averil’s car.”
 
“We don’t even know what he’s driving.”
 
“That’s easy enough to find out. We go to our own car and wait until he comes out...” Sanchez looked up as Dumont came into the office.
 
“He is trying on another suit, but then he’s leaving, Mr. Standish. I’ve kept him here as long as I could.”
 
“That’s fine, Nicholas. Thank you for what you’ve done,” the gambler said as an idea struck him. “You wouldn’t happen to know what Mr. Averil was driving would you?”
 
“No, but I have his license number because I have to validate his parking. Will that do?” Dumont asked hopefully.
 
“It sure will, can we have a copy?”
 
“Certainly, Mr. Standish,” Dumont said and passed the slip of paper to the younger man.
 
“Thank you, could you keep him just a little longer?”
 
“I’ll try,” Dumont said, leaving the office and retuning to his client.
 
“Let’s go!” Sanchez ordered and led the way out of the office. Dumont signaled that it was still clear and they slipped out the main door.
 
“Josiah, did you bring the van?”
 
“Yes, why?”
 
“Is the tracking equipment still in the back?” Standish watched as Sanchez’ smiled at him and knew the man understood what he wanted.
 
“It certainly is, Ezra. You find the car that matches that license and I’ll get the equipment,” the ex-preacher said as he hurried towards the van.
 
Ezra quickly checked the half dozen cars parked on their side of the street and hurried to the other side as Sanchez came towards him. He breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted the license number and pointed it out to Sanchez. They quickly attached a tracking device under the rear bumper and moved to The Firm’s van. The two men had just gotten inside when Averil exited Dumont’s with several packages in his hands.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris didn’t need anyone to tell him they were close to his home. Instincts told him they were close and he felt his body tensing up as his mind replayed the day of the explosion. Taking a deep breath he forced the images out of his mind and opened his eyes.
 
“Chris, we can still turn back,” Jackson suggested as he turned the car into the driveway.
 
“No, I’m okay, Nathan,” Larabee said. He spotted the yellow police line and sucked in as much air as he could force past his constricted throat as he saw the tiers of flowers around the bordering tape. So many roses, carnations, mums, and baby’s breath had been placed that very little of the front of the house could be seen.
 
“People wanted to show how much they cared, Chris,” Jackson explained as he pulled the car to a stop and watched his friend remove his seatbelt.
 
Chris opened the door and eased his aching body out of the car, leaning heavily against the side once he was out. His gaze swept over the land that once held his home, but now held nothing but the charred remains of his heart and soul. He felt as if a knife was being twisted in his gut as he tried to face his losses head on. Pushing away from the car he made his way towards the blackened boards that were once his front steps.
 
“Chris, you want me to come with you?”
 
“No, I’m fine, Nathan. I’m just going to have a look around.”
 
“Don’t go past the police line,” Jackson warned.
 
“I won’t,” Larabee said, walking closer to the destroyed home. He tried to breathe normally, but found his chest tightening up and his lungs burned for more air that he was able to take in. He held his left arm tight against his injured ribs as he walked slowly along the perimeter. So many memories surrounded him, but the stifling smell of burnt wood permeated his nostrils and burning away the happy hours spent in the home. He recognized the area that was once Adam’s bedroom and reached down to touch a half cindered piece of board and felt as if he couldn’t breathe.
 
Standing once more, Chris gazed around the area, searching for something he knew was not there. Some hope that this was all a dream...a nightmare that he could wake up from, but reality surrounded him and he knew there would be no waking from this nightmare. A chill ran down his spine as he looked around, but he chalked it up to the scene before him. Taking a deep breath he tried to calm his queasy stomach as he turned back to his lost world.
 
“God, Sarah, I miss you so much,” he said, ignoring the pain in his chest as he stooped down. He reached for something embedded in the ruins and pulled out the twisted remains of a Christmas ornament. The metal sleight was melted into a solid lump, while the Santa and the reindeer were no longer recognizable as separate images. He ran his fingers over the family heirloom given to him by his grandmother, and felt the tears falling once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“What do we do about him?” Billy McLeod asked, pointing to the man leaning against the car.
 
“We get a little closer and let Danny take him out with his knife. Larabee should be easy enough to handle once Jackson’s down! Think you can handle it, Danny?” Spikes told them.
 
“Damn straight!” Danny Dryden smiled as he fingered the edge of the blade he was playing with. The sun glinted off the shiny surface reflecting the light into the cold blue eyes of the man holding it.
 
“Good. Billy, you and Craig go around the outer perimeter and come at them from the north. Danny, you’re with me and you’d better be as good as you keep telling me!” Spikes warned as he watched McLeod and Craig Simon hurry through the heavy brush.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Sanchez followed the car at a distance, listening to the telltale beeps from the device Standish held in his hands. Several times they thought they lost him, but quickly picked him up in the heavy downtown traffic. They’d already called Buck Wilmington and knew he was calling Miller and letting the policeman know what was happening.
 
“Turn right, Josiah!” Standish ordered and held the small instrument carefully.
 
“Looks like we’re heading for Guy Royal’s home,” Sanchez said as he turned right and drove down the tree lined street and upscale homes.
 
“It certainly appears that way,” the gambler agreed as the device grew louder and closer together. “He must have arrived at his destination. Slow down a little.”
 
Sanchez did as he was told and kept his eyes on the road as Standish read the instrument. It wasn’t long before they stopped in front of a large well kept mansion owned by Guy Royal.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Nathan watched Larabee for any signs that the man was in trouble. He’d seen the blond wipe at his eyes several times and knew he was trying hard to keep his emotions in check. He saw Chris bend down and pick something up from the ground, but he didn’t see what it was. Glancing at his watch he realized he should’ve called Nettie Wells and let her know they were going to be late. Turning back to his car he reached through the window for his cell phone, but movement to his left caught his attention. Lifting his head he glanced towards the shrubs to the left of the Larabee home and was about to call out to his friend when he felt something thump against his back. The words were robbed from his throat as he reached behind with his right hand and his fingers touched the handle at the same time pain stabbed through him
 
“C...Chris...Chris,” he cried as he fell to the ground.
 
Larabee heard the sharp gasp behind him and turned just as Jackson fell. Without thought to his own safety he hurried towards his friend and knelt beside him. The hilt of a knife was visible to the right of Jackson’s shoulder and Chris quickly looked around as he felt for a pulse.
 
“Chris...help...call...”
 
“Easy, Nathan,” Larabee said worriedly, looking into the car and reaching for the phone on the seat. His hand closed over the small cell as he heard movement behind him. Without thinking he pressed the speed dial button and hoped it was answered on the other end.
 
‘Please, Buck, have the damn thing turned on!’ he thought as a voice sounded close by.
 
“Drop it, Larabee, or I’ll put another one in Jackson!” Spikes warned as he came towards the car.
 
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Larabee spat, his voice dripping venomously.
 
“Is that any way to talk to an old friend, Larabee?” the one eyed man asked sarcastically.
 
“You’re no friend of mine, Spikes. Piece of shit like you doesn’t deserve...” Chris flew backwards as a fist slammed into his gut and the air escaped from his lungs as he sank to his knees.
 
“You’d best watch that fucking mouth of yours, Boy, or I’m going to shut it permanently. Now lie down on your stomach...”
 
“G...go...fu...fuck...your...self,” Larabee wheezed through clenched teeth. He saw the gun being cocked and watched as it was turned on the semi-conscious man lying beside him. His eyes met the soulful brown ones and he knew Jackson was filled with pain and guilt.
 
“C...Chris...”
 
“Not your f...fault, Nathan,” Larabee said as he turned onto his stomach.
 
“Now put your hands behind your back!” Spikes ordered, smiling inwardly as the injured man complied. The idea of having his nemesis in such a vulnerable position filled him with a sense of power. He handed his own weapon to Dryden and straddled the blond’s legs. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a pair of handcuffs and quickly snapped them around his captive’s wrists before standing and dragging him to his feet.
 
“B...bastard,” Jackson cried as he lost consciousness.
 
“Guess that takes care of him!” Dryden said, pulling the blade free and wiping the blood on Jackson’s shirt.
 
“Nathan!” Larabee called, anger making him uncontrollable as he looked at the lifeless body of his friend. He fought against the men holding him, but a blow to the gut doubled him over once more. Kicking and fighting he was dragged away from the house where another body laid in the burning sun.
 
“You bastards!” he screamed as two more men joined Spikes and Dryden. It didn’t matter that he was cuffed and outnumbered all that mattered was getting back to Jackson and praying the man was still alive despite the evidence before him. He kicked at the man nearest him and went down as Dryden released his arm. Struggling to stand, he did everything he could to stop the men who held him captive.
 
“Enough!” Spikes spat and used the butt of his gun to deliver a blow to the back of Larabee’s skull, smiling as the man slumped to the ground once more and laid still. He shook his head at the bruised trio of employees and watched as Billy and Craig climbed back to their feet.
 
“Sonofabitch’s stronger than he looks,” Craig swore.
 
“Pick him up and let’s get the fuck out of here!” Spikes ordered as the duo grabbed Larabee’s arms and dragged him towards the back road.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Wilmington held the phone to his ear as he and JD sped towards his best friend’s once happy home. The call had come through nearly ten minutes ago and he’d been listening to the drama unfolding fifteen miles away. He knew Jackson was down and that Spikes was involved, but there wasn’t much else he could tell. That Chris was hurt was evident by the sharp hiss of pain and the thump against the car.
 
“Come on, JD, can’t this thing go any faster?” he asked of Dunne’s Mazda.
 
“I’m flooring it, Buck. What’s going on there?”
 
“Oh, God!”
 
“What’s wrong?” Dunne asked, worry evident in his voice as he took the turn at break-neck speed.
 
“I think N...Nathan i...is hurt bad!”
 
“Shit! What about Chris?”
 
“Bastards took him!” Where’s your cell?”
 
“Between the seats.”
 
“I’m going to call an ambulance and Miller. We’re going to need help out here!” Wilmington said as his head began to pound.
 
“Buck! Buck!” Dunne called, worried about the silence from the man seated next to him. “Come on, Buck, I need you...they need you to get help.”
 
“Y...yeah, I’m working on it...sorry,” he whispered as he fumbled with the buttons.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Spikes climbed into the back of the van and handed his keys to Danny Dryden. He sat on the single seat as Larabee was dumped inside.  Blood matted the back of the blond head, but he knew Ella Gaines would take care of that once they arrived at the warehouse. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and stuffed it into the un-protesting mouth.
 
“Make sure no one follows us!” Spikes ordered as Dryden moved towards the other car. He waited for the other two men to climb into the front seats and smiled as they drove away.
 
“Which way, Mr. Spikes?” Craig asked.
 
“Continue north until we hit the quarry and come out on the side road. We’ll take the long way around and make damn sure no one’s following us. So do the speed limit and don’t call attention to us,” the man ordered as he used his foot to shove the unconscious man away from him. His face wore a disgusted look as he watched the man’s body roll away from him.
 
‘How could you love this bastard, Sarah?’ he thought as he leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes. His mind immediately went back to the days before Larabee entered his life. Sarah Connolly was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met and he knew he was going to make her his. Her father even gave him his blessing the day he’d gone there to ask her to the movies. He’d really been in love with her then, but being around Hank had changed him. Not right away, but eventually the man’s will began to bend his own image and he began to pick up some of his tendencies. He remembered the day he’d come to pick up Sarah and she wasn’t there. Hank was so angry and he knew the reason when Larabee dropped Sarah off later that night. His own anger escalated as he saw the woman he was dating kiss the blond haired man before entering the house. That was the first and last time he ever struck Sarah Connolly, it also marked the end of their relationship. She told him she never wanted to speak to him again and that he was no longer welcome in her home, but Hank spoke up and told her it was his house and he chose who could and could not enter the house. Spikes remembered smiling as Hank picked him over the wimpy blond she’d just gone out with.
 
“Mr. Spikes.” Craig called from the front seat.
 
“What?” the older man asked, shaking his head as his memories faded once more.
 
“Looks like he’s waking up!”
 
Spikes smiled as he looked down at the injured man. Larabee’s eyelids fluttered and finally opened once more and he knew the blond was confused as he tried to move. The eyes continued to blink rapidly and Spikes grew impatient as he watched his captive.
 
“Well, shit, Larabee, I never knew what she saw in you before and looking at you now makes me wonder why she even wants you now! Oh, hell, maybe Ella...” he laughed as the eyes opened and glared at him. The green orbs were filled with a green fire that raged in spite of the cuffs binding his arms behind his back. The van hit a particularly deep rut and Larabee was thrown against the seat once more, a muffled grunt of pain escaping form the gagged mouth. 
 
“Oh, my, don’t tell me you’re not looking forward to seeing your old lover? She is very interested in taking you to her bed, although I don’t know what she sees in you. Perhaps it’s just that she wants to be reminded of how much she has with me, Jack, and Guy. Yes, that’s got to be it. She’s remembering how bad things were when you made love to her and wants to make sure we know how good we are. So Larabee, think you’ll be able to get it up for her?”
 
Chris’ heart pounded in his chest at the mention of her name and he knew without a doubt who was behind his family’s murder. He fought the restraints and tried to lash out with his feet, but to no avail as Spikes just kicked him away before he could land anything solid. He cried out as his back came up against the front seat with bone jarring intensity.
 
“Now you’d best just lie still, Larabee. Ella didn’t want damaged goods, but I’m sure she’ll have fun patching you up. Perhaps she’ll even indulge you in one of those sponge baths. Relax and enjoy the ride, because she’s waiting for you at our final destination. Ready, willing, and able to fuck you I might add!” Spikes said, laughing as the blond continued to fight against the cuffs on his wrists and the gag in his mouth.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Jackie watched as Tanner moved on the bed. She knew he was either dreaming or reliving something that terrified him. She reached out to touch his shoulder as a soft moan escaped and a word was breathed through dry lips.
 
“Cowboy!”
 
“Easy, Vin, it’s okay,” Maynard explained, not liking the color of the Texan’s face. He was still way too pale for her liking and his breathing sounded worse than when she first entered the room. That something was wrong was a given, whether it had to do with Tanner’s injuries or something else entirely she couldn’t tell. She was about to call for Reardon or Murdoch when the blue eyes opened and she saw a depth of fear she hoped never to see again.
 
“Cowboy...”
 
“Vin, it’s me...Jackie, what’s wrong?” she asked, hoping he’d focus on the sound of her voice.
 
“Jack...Jackie” he asked as his eyes finally focused.
 
“That’s right, Tex. Are you okay?”
 
“Yeah...yeah. I’m fine.” He said, closing his eyes as he tried to figure out why he was terrified for his best friend’s life. Something was terribly wrong with Chris Larabee, whether it was physical or emotional or a combination of both wasn’t clear, but he knew his best friend needed him.
 
“Sure you are,” Maynard said as she watched the man closely.
 
“When are we going home?”
 
“I was wondering when you were going to ask that, but I don’t know the answer. You need to ask Reardon.”
 
“Tell him ta come in...”
 
“No need, I’m right here. What can I do for you, Vin?”
 
“When can I go home?” the Texan asked.
 
“Well, let’s see...you’re still running a fever, but it’s not as bad as yesterday. Your shoulder looks better, as does your side and leg. You’ve got broken ribs and pneumonia...”
 
“Hell, Doc, I know all that, but I need ta get outta here.”
 
“I know you do, Vin, but right now you couldn’t get outta that bed under your own steam, let alone travel from Rio to Billings. Give it a week...”
 
“Ain’t got a week,” Tanner spat as a chill swept over him once more.
 
“Vin, you’ve got lots of time. Your injuries are painful and will keep you down for a while, but they are no longer considered life threatening and if all goes well I might even agree to letting you out of that bed tomorrow.”
 
“Need ta get home. Need ta find out what’s happened ta Chris. Somethin’s wrong with him and I need ta make sure he’s okay.”
 
“Do you want me to call Orrin Travis again?” Maynard asked.
 
“He ain’t tellin’ me nothin’. Just says Chris is doin better...”
 
“You don’t believe him?”
 
“No...no, somethin’s wrong and he’s not tellin’ me the whole story. Gotta talk ta JD...”
 
“JD?” Maynard asked as Reardon began taking Tanner’s blood pressure.
 
“Great kid...no great man...friend, but he can’t keep a secret...not if’n we keep at him,” the Texan explained a slight smile on his face as he thought of the younger man. Dunne really was a good man to work with, but he often found himself feeling a little overwhelmed by the older men. Chris knew how to get whatever he needed from JD and Vin was a quick learner and could also get the truth out of his friend. It wasn’t a weakness on Dunne’s part, but a strength that showed how he felt about his friends, that he couldn’t keep secrets from those he cared about.
 
“Do you want me to call him for you?” Maynard asked.
 
“Yeah,” Tanner said as Reardon finished what he was doing and pulled the blanket back over him. Vin laid back against the pillows and closed his eyes as he rattled off the cell phone number. He heard her with the phone and waited for the call to be placed.
 
“Vin, it’s busy,” Maynard explained as Reardon injected something into Tanner’s IV.
 
“Ke...keep trying,” the Texan said, yawning as his mind drifted towards sleep once more.
 
Jackie continued to dial the number, but the busy signal continued for several minutes and she realized it was too late anyway and that the injured man was sleeping once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Averil hurried up the steps to the main door of Royal’s house. His arms were laden down with the packages he’d bought and he placed them on the step as he reached for the door handle and shoved it open.
 
“Ella!” he called, smiling at the thought of seeing the look on her face when she saw what he had for her. He frowned as silence reigned and he reached for the parcels and hurried inside. “Hello!”
 
“Hello, Mr. Averil, let me help you with those,” the butler offered as he hurried towards the guest.
 
“Thank you, Jacob. Where is everyone?”
 
“Mr. Royal asked me to tell you they needed to go out for a while. He said he’d call you as soon as he had the chance.”
 
“What about Miss Gaines?”
 
“She accompanied him. Would you like something to drink?” Jacob asked after placing the packages in the guest room Averil and Gaines shared.
 
“Scotch...neat!” he answered as the doorbell rang.
 
“Yes, Sir,” the butler said as he hurried to get the door.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Come on, JD, can’t this crate go any faster?” Wilmington spat as he hung up. The police were on their way, but Josiah and Ezra would be a while. They were at Royal’s place and hopefully they were finally going to get some answers.
 
“We’re almost there, Buck!” Dunne answered as he drove into Larabee’s driveway. He heard his friend curse as they spotted Jackson’s car and what could only be a body lying next to it.
 
“Shit!” the rogue cursed as they pulled to a stop directly behind the other man’s car. “JD, grab the first aid kit!”
 
“I’m on it!” the young Bostonian answered and hurried to the trunk, thanking Nathan’s diligence in making sure they all kept a fully stocked kit in their cars. He grabbed the kit just as Wilmington knelt beside Jackson’s prone form.
 
“Jesus, kid, hurry up! He’s bleeding like a stuck pig!” the rogue gasped as he tore open the back of his friend’s shirt.
 
“I got it!” Dunne said as he opened the kit and pulled out a sterile pressure bandage. “Where’s Chris?”
 
“C...Chris ...hurt...”
 
“Easy, Nathan, just lie still!” Wilmington insisted, apologizing when he pressed down on the ragged knife wound.
 
“N...no, h...have to...to help C...Chris...Spikes...” Jackson moaned as more pressure was put on the wound.
 
“We need to help you right now, Nathan,” the youngest member of the team warned as he tried to keep the injured man down.
 
“No...”
 
“Nathan, damn it lay still!” Wilmington ordered as he tried to stop the bleeding. “JD, give me another pressure...thanks,” he said as he found one placed in his hand and quickly changed the old one.
 
“Chris...Buck. Spikes has h...him...three...no four of ‘em,” Jackson gasped as he continued to struggle to get the words out. The pain continued to intensify as he tried to get his message across.
 
“I know, Nathan, but right now we need to help you!” the rogue said, looking up as a faint sound met his ears.
 
“Sounds like the ambulance is on the way...police too,” Dunne said as he returned from the car with a blanket in hand. He covered the injured man to his waist and tucked his jacket under his head. “Buck, I’m going to take a look around...see if I can find out which way they took Chris.”
 
“Alright, Kid, just be careful! Nathan says there’s at least four of them!”
 
JD nodded as he moved slowly away from the car, his eyes carefully checking the scuffed area that showed signs of a struggle. A dark patch of ground caught his attention and he touched the residue, rubbing it between his fingers before sniffing it. ‘Blood,’ he thought as he continued to survey the area. A trail led away from the stain and JD could make out four distinctive foot pints. Between two sets he could see the marks that showed someone or something was being dragged between them.
 
‘Chris.’ Dunne moved further away from the house as he heard the police cars enter the driveway. He glanced over his shoulder, relieved to see the ambulance pull up behind his own car.
 
“JD, let the police take care of it,” Wilmington shouted, fear for the younger man making him overprotective after everything they’d been through. He knew the young man was a good tracker, but he didn’t want him going to far into an unknown without backup. Buck turned back to watch as the paramedics began working on his friend.
 
“What’s your name, Son?” the older paramedic asked.
 
“Nathan Jack....Jackson,” the medic in training moaned as the second man lifted the bandage and checked the wound.
 
“Well, Nathan, I’m Tony and my partner there is Cal. You just relax and we’ll get you taken care of,” Tony Burton explained as he set up to start an IV.
 
“O...okay.”
 
“Do you have any allergies?”
 
“No.”
 
“Good, I’m starting an IV to replenish fluids and Cal is hooking up some monitors so we can see how you’re doing.”
 
“Hmm,” Jackson murmured, lifting his head as he searched for Wilmington. “B...Buck?”
 
“Right here, Nate,” the rogue said as JD rejoined them.
 
“F...find Chris...o...okay?”
 
“We will, Nathan, now you just concentrate on getting better. Me and JD are going to tell the police what you’ve told us and then we’ll be coming after you.”
 
“Nathan, your oxygen is a little on the low side so we’re going to give you a mask to help you,” Cal Jennings explained as he slipped the mask over the injured man’s mouth and nose.
 
Buck and JD listened as the two paramedics worked on their friend. They worked as a team, making sure the monitors were working properly and the IV was running smoothly before transferring Jackson to a stretcher.
 
“We’re taking him to Saint Vincents,” Burton explained as they loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance and he climbed in with him.
 
“Buck, I can handle things here and call Josiah and Ezra. You go on with Nathan,” Dunne explained and was glad when his friend jumped into the back with Jackson. Wilmington was looking pale and haggard and JD understood he’d been through hell and back already and the ride was nowhere near over. He knew how much his friend cared about Sarah and Adam, and even more so how he felt about their loss and now the possibility of Chris’ loss.
 
“JD, how long ago did this happen?” Miller asked as the ambulance drove away from the yard.
 
“Buck called you as soon as he heard what was happening here. He knew Chris and Nathan were in trouble.”
 
“So, Chris called you guys before they were jumped?”
 
“I think it was more like he was in the process of calling us. Buck heard him talking to someone and I think it was Spikes. Then Buck called you and Josiah...have you spoken to him?”
 
“Josiah?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I talked to him just after you guys did. Seems him and Ezra are at Royal’s place. They’ve confirmed that Averil is there and I’ve sent a patrol car out there to talk to Averil and Royal. If Ella Gaines is there she’ll be brought in for questioning. Now, why don’t you go on to the hospital and I’ll call you as soon as we know anything?” Miller suggested.
 
“Alright, Robert,” Dunne said turning away and heading for his car. He sat behind the wheel, running his fingers through his hair as he tried to sort out the tragic events of the last few weeks. God he was so tired, but there was to be no rest for him or any of the others this day. Finally taking a deep breath he drove out of the yard once more.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Josiah knew they were doing the right thing by waiting for the police, but his patience was rapidly wearing thin. He looked at the man on his right and knew Standish was just as tired of the waiting as he was. So far the police were the only ones allowed into Royal’s home, but that was about to change. Since the call from Wilmington explaining what had gone down at the Larabee home, anger had become the dominating emotion for both men. Jackson was already on his way to the hospital, but they had no idea how bad the damage was, except that he’d lost a lot of blood and would need a transfusion.
 
“All right, Ezra, I think it’s time we got some answers.”
 
“I’m with you, Josiah,” Standish agreed as they exited the van and hurried up to the main gate. They didn’t bother with the phone, walking past it and up the drive to the house. Two patrol cars were parked out front and three officers were talking to Averil who was standing between the cars.
 
“Is she here?” Standish asked as they walked up to the four men.
 
“Who the hell are you?” Averil asked anger evident in his eyes.
 
“Ezra Standish at your service, and this man is Josiah Sanchez. We’re interested in the whereabouts of Ella Gaines?”
 
“Interesting since I was just explaining to these gentlemen that Ella Gaines is in Monte Carlo enjoying herself, which is more than I can say for myself. Now if you gentlemen are not charging me with anything I have a very busy day ahead of me.”
 
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sanchez, but there’s nothing we can charge him with right now,” Sal Torres explained, shaking his head as the other two officers headed back to their cars.
 
“Sal, if he’s here then Ella Gaines has to be,” Sanchez said, angered that they were unable to do anything else.
 
“You can’t prove anything, Sanchez. Now get off Royal’s property or I shall call him and tell him he has trespassers and I’m sure his lawyers will start a class action suit immediately. Good day, Gentlemen!” he spat as he hurried into the house and slammed the door shut behind him. He knew what he had to do, but for now he would stay out until he heard from Ella Gaines.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
With no other options open to them, Ezra and Josiah headed back to the van. They watched as the patrol cars left the area and knew they were on their own once more.
 
Ezra knew Sanchez was worried about Jackson. The two men had known each other a long time and were as close as two friends could be. He saw the worry etched on the older man’s face and knew what he had to do.
 
“Josiah, I can handle surveillance here on my own. Why don’t you head on over to the hospital and check on our esteemed colleague?”
 
“I don’t want to leave you on your own, Ezra. That bastard isn’t going to take kindly to being watched.”
 
“Perhaps not, but I was thinking he might be a little nervous if he sees me out here. I mean what if you took a cab to the hospital and left me the van? I could watch him in plain sight and make sure he knows he’s not in the clear and will be followed as soon as he tries to go anywhere. He can’t even charge me with anything because I’ll just say I don’t know how to drive this vehicle and I am simply waiting for you to return. I believe Averil would start to get nervous and maybe he’ll make a mistake.”
 
“A mistake, Ezra? You realize if he gets edgy he could very well make a mistake that could cost you your life?”
 
“I don’t think so. Averil seems more like the type who would pay someone to do his dirty work, and I just don’t see that happening right now. Besides, you could always send JD or Buck over to keep me company. I have a feeling we need to keep Averil under surveillance if we want to find Chris,” Standish explained.
 
“All right, Brother, but don’t do anything stupid!”
 
“Moi, Mr. Sanchez? I don’t believe the word stupid is in my vocabulary. Contact me as soon as you have any word on Nathan’s condition.”
 
“I will, Ezra, you just make damn sure you’re here when one of us comes to relieve you!”
 
“Indubitably,” Standish quoted his favorite detective, smiling as the older man shook his head
and exited the van.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ella looked around the small room and smiled at the intoxicating aroma of scented candles. She knew it wouldn’t be long before Spikes arrived and he’d be bringing Larabee with him. She looked towards the bed with the comforter pulled down and the fur lined manacles ready and waiting for her lover. She sat on the edge of the bed and fingered the ring on the chain around her neck. Someday she would see her own ring on Chris Larabee’s finger, but for now she would hold on to this symbol of the life she’d helped him escape. One day he would thank her for it, but until then she would love him and help him heal. She looked at the first aid supplies they’d picked up because Spikes called to tell them Larabee was injured. This was something she could do...nurse her lover until he was ready to accept what their future held. She opened the kit and removed several bandages and the burn salve she’d bought at the drugstore. She also had several bottles of pain relief medications, but she would not use them unless her lover earned them.
 
“Not long now, Chris,” she whispered, turning on the soft music and smiling as she thought of the future now ahead of her. She would give him anything he wanted as long as he gave her what she craved. The fine line between love and hate was one she would gladly explore if it meant keeping their love life exciting and fresh.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Stacey Midland hurried to the ER doors as the ambulance pulled up outside. She knew they were dealing with a knife wound and the victim was Nathan Jackson. Taking a deep breath she raced through the automatic doors just as the back of the ambulance was opened and the stretcher was pulled out.
 
“How is he?” she asked.
 
“Knife wound to the right shoulder...already removed when we arrived on scene. He’s lost a lot of blood...BP is 90/70, temperature is 98.3 and his respirations...”
 
Midland listened as Cal continued to read off the vital signs as they raced into the busy ER. She directed them towards trauma one and knew the nursing staff was already in there waiting for their arrival. A soft moan escaped from the injured man as he was transferred from the stretcher onto the hospital gurney and several new monitors were put in place. The paramedic finished his report and left the organized chaos to the hospital staff.
 
“Hello, Nathan,” Midland said as she saw the soft brown eyes open.
 
“Doc...Chris...d...did they f...find him?”
 
“I don’t know, Nathan, but I’ll find out once we get you taken care of,” the physician quickly checked the blood soaked bandage covering the right shoulder and winced at the sight of the ragged wound. She heard Jackson gasp as she reached for the sterile dressings and began to clean the wound once more. “Nathan, I’m going to have the nurse give you something for pain.”
 
“O...okay,” the injured man gasped as he felt someone cutting the shirt from his upper body. He felt someone at his IV and was soon drifting towards sleep as the morphine took control of his weakened body and dulled the pain surging through him.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“We’re here, Mr. Spikes,” Craig told him as they parked at the back entrance to the warehouse. They’d driven around for nearly an hour, making sure they weren’t followed. Dryden was already there, leaning against his employer’s car as he talked with Guy Royal.
 
“You hear that, Larabee? Your new bride is waiting,” Spikes said, laughing as the van stopped in front of the other car. He reached for the handle as his captive began to fight his restraints again. He stepped out of the door and nodded in greeting to Royal as the others hurried towards him.
 
“Is she here?”
 
“Of course and she’s ready to be nursemaid to Larabee. We picked up a few things we thought she could use,” Royal answered as he looked into the van. “Hmm, may just have to revisit the drug store.”
 
“Well, he thought he could take us all out, but we taught him who was in charge,” Spikes answered as they watched Larabee’s struggles.
 
Chris knew it was hopeless, but he would not stop trying to free his wrists. He knew they were probably raw flesh by now, but that was the least of his worries. Wherever here was he knew it did not bode well for him, but he would not give up. Somehow he was going to find a way to wipe the smile off Spikes’ face and make him beg for his own life. He conjured up ways to make the bastard pay and knew he could make the terrorists in Beirut look like angels if he was given the chance, but that was not to be as Spikes grabbed him and dragged him from the van.
 
“Well, Larabee, I believe your tender loving nurse is waiting for you inside,” Spikes laughed as the blond continued to fight against them.
 
“Won’t do you any good, Larabee, but all that fighting is tearing up your wrists and I’m sure Ella is going to enjoy nursing you back to health,” Royal laughed as he pulled the gag from the blond’s mouth.
 
“K...kill you bastards...kill you all!” Larabee spat, digging his heels in, but to no avail as Spikes and Royal grabbed his arms and dragged him into the outer warehouse.
 
“Hmm, I do believe that is what’s called an empty threat, my friend,” Royal said, smiling as Ella Gaines ran towards them and wrapped her arms around Larabee’s neck.
 
“Oh, Chris, I’ve missed you so much!”
 
“F....fuckin’ b...bitch...get off...off me!” Larabee spat, trying to twist away from the woman, but was stopped as the two men held him in place.
 
“Oh, Chris,” Ella pouted, but didn’t stop forcing her attention on him. “You don’t mean that!”
 
“Y...yes...fuckin’ do...kill you for w...what you’ve done!” he said, gasping as she placed her hand on his chest and pressed against the healing burns.
 
“I know you’re a little angry with me right now, Chris, but once you realize I did it all for you...for us...so we can be together...”
 
“NO! Slut...d...don’t want you...n...never w...want you!” Larabee spat and cried out as something struck his right knee and he sagged towards the ground. She knelt in front of him, her fingers lightly running over his left cheek as she looked deep into his eyes.
 
“I love you, Chris, and I know deep in your heart you love me...”
 
“H...hate you!” he spat through clenched teeth.
 
“Right now you might think you hate me, but the truth is there’s a thin line between love and hate and sometimes it just takes the right person with the right tools to prove the difference. You see hate and love are extremely strong emotions and sometimes they are mistaken for one another.” Again her fingers stroked his cheek before sliding down to his chin. “I love you, Chris Larabee, and I did all of this for us.”
 
“BITCH!” Larabee screamed as he realized she was verifying his worst nightmare. His family was dead because of him. She’d killed them to get them out of his life so she could move in, but she would soon find out that her acts were going to put her in the grave.
 
“Chris!” she hissed, squeezing the man’s jaw as she leaned in close and kissed his lips.
 
“D...don’t!” Larabee warned, pulling back only to find a hand gripping his hair and forcing his face forward. He felt her lips against his and tried to bite them, but instead of making her angry it seemed to fuel her need for him. Forcing his mind and body to work together, Chris Larabee turned off his emotions and closed his eyes in an effort to drown out the people around him. He smiled inwardly as Ella Gaines pulled away and pouted to his captors.
 
“He’s trying to pretend I’m not here! Bring him inside so I can tend his wounds. Perhaps I can convince Chris of the truth of what I’m saying!
 
Chris gasped as they pulled him to his feet and dragged him across the floor once more. He kept his eyes peeled for anything he could use to aid his escape, but there was nothing...bare floors and grimy windows were all he could see. It didn’t take long before they stopped in front of a heavy metal door. He renewed his efforts to escape, but his strength was rapidly dwindling as pain shot through his aching body. He closed his eyes as nausea welled up in his stomach and he fought to breathe through the sickly scent of candles and incense.
 
“Open your eyes, Chris.”
 
“Go to h...hell, bitch...” His head rocked back as she slapped him openhandedly.
 
“You say that word once more and I’ll have to gag you!” she warned. “Put him on the bed and make sure he can’t fight me!”
 
Chris struggled against the two men, but was soon laying on his back on the bed. His eyes flew open as they grabbed his feet and he kicked out, but there was little strength left in the token gesture as they pinned his legs and Ella attached the first set of shackles to his legs. His arms came next and again he tried to fight as the cuffs were released and his arms dropped to his sides. They seemed to weigh a ton, but he lashed out as the two men grabbed him, once more pinning him to the bed as she reached for the manacles and attached them to his wrists.
 
“BITCH!” he spat and wasn’t surprised when a strip of duct tape was placed over his mouth.
 
“Now, Chris, that stays in place until you apologize,” she warned as she stood back to admire her handiwork.
 
“Do you want us for anything else, Ella?” Royal asked.
 
“No, I think I can handle it from here,” she said and kissed both men before escorting them to the door. She turned back to her captive and leaned heavily on the door as she drank in the sight before her. Finally satisfied that all was in readiness, Ella moved to the bed and sat on the edge as she ran her hands down his body, stopping at his crotch and smiling contentedly.
 
“I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long, Chris, and now that it’s here I want to take things slow.” She reached for the scissors sitting on the table and smiled as the candlelight flickered off the twin blades.
 
Chris watched as Ella reached for something on the table and held back the slight tremble of fear that raced through him. He saw the cold look in her eyes as she handled the blade and wondered if she was going to kill him...and wondered briefly if that was what he wished for. Did he want death? Did he truly crave the sweet oblivion that would come with his final breath? His thoughts were interrupted as she slid the blade under his shirt and began to cut away his clothing. The sharp instrument was ice cold against his skin and he tried to pull away from her once more.
 
“You know, Chris, once you accept my love and realize we were meant for each other everything will be perfect. We’ll walk that fine line between love and hate, passion and pain...it’s amazing how many ways a man and woman can make love, Chris, and I’m going to make sure you learn every one of them.” She punctuated each word with a snip of the blades and soon had the shirt cut form his body. She tugged and pulled until she was able to pull the material from under his body and moved down the bed until she reached his feet. Slowly, methodically she cut through the cloth, edging her way up until she reached his waist. Again she looked into his face and smiled at the emotions she saw in the green orbs.
 
“You look so fierce right now, Chris, but you will learn that being fierce and being in control are two different things. Until you realize how much we love each other and belong together, I’ll always have control. Someday you may earn the right to control, but for now you will bow to my will.”
 
Chris shook his head vehemently as he tried to block out her words, but it was not to be as she continued cutting and talking methodically timing each move she made. He closed his eyes as he felt the last remnant of dignity being torn away with the soft boxers he’d worn for the first time that day. He knew she was still talking to him, but turned away in hopes she would think he was sleeping, but that was not to be as her fingers reached for his flaccid cock. He knew his body would react to the touch and forced his mind to think of other things as she stroked him.
 
‘Sarah...God, Sarah, help me! Think, Larabee, think! Don’t let her do this! She killed them!’ he thought and pictured his wife, his son, his unborn baby even as Ella stroked his erection. Images formed in front of his face and he heard his wife scream as the explosion echoed over and over in his mind. Shutting out the feelings running through his traitorous body, Chris managed to take Ella’s control away from her as the horror of his loss took away the reaction she sought and his penis deflated in her hands. He knew she was angry, and soon felt her mouth engulf his cock and again his body reacted to the attention lavished upon it. This time it wilted before there was any chance of her taking advantage of his weakened state as he again pictured the details of his family’s demise. He felt her nip at his balls, but there was no passion for her touch and he smiled inwardly as he felt her mouth leave his body.
 
“So, you think you can deny me the feel of your cock inside me, Chris? Savor your victory for now, but know it’s a barren one, because there are ways of making you bend to my wishes. Drugs that will make you do anything I wish and even have you begging for more. Right now you’re too weak for them, but I will resort to them if I have to,” she warned as she stood up and placed the scissors out of reach. She quickly removed the remainder of his ruined clothing and reached for the soiled bandages covering the burns on his chest.
 
“Oh, Chris, these look sore. I didn’t want to pay Powderman you know? Not after what he did to you, but Guy, Jack and Robert insisted that I needed to pay him or he might come after me. Oh, I’m sure someday you and I will go after him and make him pay, but for now we’ll just ignore him until you’re stronger.”
 
Chris hated the feel of her hands on his body as she cleaned the burns and pressed her hands against his aching ribs. He silently cursed her mother for having given birth to her and her father for ever having made love to her mother. He knew in his heart they were not to blame for how she turned out, but right now it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the pain shooting through his heart as he thought of his family.
 ‘I love you, Sarah,’ he thought as Ella Gaines continued to treat his injuries. ‘God help me, Vin!’




PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PART 9 | PART 10 | PART 11 | PART 13 | PART 14 | PART 15 | PART 16 | PART 17 | PART 18

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