by Winnie


Chapter 3

Mendoza paced back and forth in his office as he waited for word from the returning patrols. So far there’s been no sign of Tanner and Maynard, but he knew they were out there. Tanner was like a dog once he found a scent and he knew the man would not quit until he found this place. Several patrols were combing the surrounding area, but came up empty. He walked to his desk and slumped down into the chair. He’d known Vin Tanner when they’d both been younger and they’d been friends, not close, but they’d found a few things in common, then one day he’d discovered he could make more money than he’d ever dreamed of. His uncle ran a smuggling operation and offered him a chance to become equal partners if he was ready to make a drug run for him. Hector had done so and within months he’d made new contacts and opened more doors in cities across the west coast. Now they were slowly moving east, and he could not allow Tanner to stop him.
He remembered the last time he’d met the Texan. He offered him a job, but Tanner had been sent to bring him in because he ran out on a bail bond. They fought and he escaped after knocking the bounty hunter out and he didn’t see him again until five years later when his old friend found him in a hospital in Mexico. The bandages had just been removed and Tanner saw his new he was the only man outside this fortress who could recognize him. The doctor and nurse at the hospital were easily dealt with before he left Mexico. Now he had the opportunity to rid himself of one last problem and Hector Mendoza’s face would truly be unknown outside the fortress he lived in. The men who worked for him were trustworthy and had been handpicked by him and his uncle and they would give their lives to protect him. His uncle was long dead now, food for the fish and sharks in the bay since destroying another drug cartel. The opposing drug lord managed to dispose of him just before Hector blew up everything the other man owned. Now, the fortress and surrounding lands were his and he meant to see they stayed a secret. He looked up as Ernesto Ruiz entered the office.
“Anything?” Mendoza asked.
“No. Guerrero and Juan just returned from patrolling the southern edge of the fields. There’s been no sign of trespassers, but they will continue to search the area.”
“Have them expand the search area and keep their eyes open. If Vin Tanner is out there he’s gonna be hard to find. He won’t just come walking into the compound and give himself up.”
“What should they do if they spot him or the woman?”
“I want them brought here to me. It’s time Vin Tanner saw what he gave up. I never told you about his refusal to join me in this business, did I?”
“No, Hector, you did not. Tanner is the one who saw you in Mexico isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is. A good even better tracker and sharpshooter. He nearly had me at the hospital, in fact he did have me, but my uncle took care of him long enough for me to escape.”
“Are you going to offer him the same deal again?”
“No...not because I don’t want him to work for me, but because he’d refuse me. Vin Tanner is one of those people who is honest to the core and it would be impossible to convince him what we do is done by many others and that we should be allowed to make money providing the same service as others. See, the problem is Vin has always had the one thing I don’t!”
“What’s that?”
“Tanner has a conscience and one day that will be what kills him. Keep me informed of the search results, Ernesto.”
“I will, Hector.” Ruiz said before leaving the cooler interior of the office.
Mendoza leaned back in the chair and locked his hands behind his head. His thoughts once more returned to the past and he smiled at the idea of seeing Tanner’s face when he was brought before him. It would be good to see him, but he did not regret the outcome of that meeting. The Texan had to die, there was no doubt of that, and although he would regret it, he would see to it himself.
‘Your conscience is going to be your downfall, Vin,’ he thought with a smile.
Ella smiled as she spotted Guy Royal at the back of the restaurant. The tables surrounding them were empty, giving them a modicum of privacy and she knew they could discuss her plans without being overheard. Her right arm was linked with Jack Averil and she knew these men were under her spell. They would do anything she asked and not question her motives. She watched Royal stand up as they neared and hold her chair for her.
“Ella, you’re as lovely as ever.”
“Thank you, Guy,” she said as he placed a kiss on her hand.
“Hello, Jack.”
“Guy,” Averil said, shaking hands with the other man. He knew Ella and Royal were involved at one point before he met her, and although it was over the other man still wanted to rekindle old flames.
“Sit down, Boys, we have much to discuss,” Ella said as the waiter came over with menus.
“Good evening Miss Gaines, Mr. Averil. My name is Brian and I will be your server tonight. Would you like something from the bar?”
“Yes, a light Chablis would be wonderful,” Ella told him.
“Make mine a Martini, extra dry,” Jack told him.
“Would you like a refill, Mr. Royal?”
“No...make it a gin and tonic this time.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll give you a few minutes to check the menu, but the chef’s special tonight is poached salmon in lemon butter served with parsley boiled potatoes and asparagus,” the waiter said before hurrying away.
“Well, Ella, what is it you need?” Royal asked, placing the unopened menu on the table in front of him.
“Do you remember me telling you about he love of my life,” Ella asked, pouting at the man seated next to her.
“I thought I was the love of your life?” The businessman asked, knowing there was only one man who could have this affect on the woman.
“Oh, you are, you and Jack and Robert, but there is only one man who left me and I’ve always wanted him back. Do you remember me talking about him?”
“How could I forget the dreamy look in your eyes when you breathed the name. Chris Larabee...Don’t tell me you finally ran into him again?” he asked softly.
“Yes, but...”
“Don’t tell me...Mr. Larabee no longer returns your affections?”
“He brushed her right off!” Averil said, stroking the slight beard on his chin as he smiled at the man across the table.
“Well, Ella, why don’t you forget about him and take a look at the two men you’re having dinner with? Hold on, here comes the waiter,” Royal told them. The trio thanked the young man as he placed the drinks in front of them.
“Are you ready to order or would you like a little more time?”
“I’m ready,” Ella said, smiling as her gaze raked over the handsome waiter.
“What would you like?”
“Ella...Ella!” Averil called twice as the woman stared intently into the man’s face. “I think he means what would you like off the menu.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I was daydreaming,” the woman said. “I’d like to have the special please.”
“Bring me the same.”
“Might as well make it three,” Averil agreed.
“Thank you. Just let me know if I can get you anything else,” the waiter told them, hurrying away as he felt the woman’s eyes on him once more.
“Okay, now where were we? Oh yes, I was asking why you would want Larabee when you could have either one or both of us for that matter,” Royal asked.
“Oh, Guy, you know I’ll always have a soft spot for you, but Chris was my first love and I’ve never stopped craving him. We had so many things in common and he seemed so ready to do or try anything. I had so much zest for life when I was with him and I want that back. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
“I understand, Ella, but it seems as if Larabee has moved on. He certainly seemed enthralled with the woman he held,” Averil told her as he sipped his brandy.
“The woman is just a passing fling. I told you, Jack, she must’ve used her feminine wiles to trap him into marriage.”
“Sort of like you’ve done with us,” Royal said, smiling as he saw the truth written on her face. 
“Ah, yes, but Guy, would you have it any other way?”
“No, Love, I’ve always treasured the time you give me. A beauty such as yours would be wasted if given to only one man. Please tell me that once you have this Larabee fellow back you won’t forget about the other men who love you,” the older man asked.
“I promise not to forget either of you. Just help me get what I want and I’ll give you anything you want,” Ella assured them.
“Very well, what would you like us to do?” Royal asked.
“First, I want you to find out everything you can about Sarah Larabee. Her habits...where she works...what she does...who her friends are. I want to know how she met Chris and how long after they met were they married.”
“That should be easy, but Ella.”
“Yes, Jack?”
“Here is one important factor you’re ignoring.”
“What if Chris Larabee really does love his wife?”
“Impossible. He loves me. He always has and always will. It’s just a matter of convincing him of that,” Gaines told them.
“What if they have children?” Royal asked.
“Chris will realize his mistake and he will leave that bitch and if there are any little bitches he will leave those behind too. He will come to me’ll see. Our love was once strong and will be again. It’s just a matter of making him remember the vows we made.”
“Okay,” Averil said, motioning for the waiter to bring him a refill. “So, we find out about Larabee’s wife and whether they have children. What are your plans if he does love them and refuses to leave them?”
“I thought that would be self evident, Jack. We kill the woman and any rugrats they may have brought into this world. Chris Larabee is mine and I will not let some slut sleep in my bed.”
“Hmm, perhaps it’s best if we just get rid of Sarah Larabee now,” Royal suggested.
“No,” Ella smiled, her eyes filled with manic delight as she turned from one man to the other. “I’d like to make her regret the day she put her claws on my husband!”
The two men knew the look and understood what it meant. No matter how Chris larabee felt, he would soon find himself caught up in Ella Gaines’ life and sequestered in her bed once more before he even knew what was happening. The meals were brought out and placed in front of them as they discussed the plans Ella wanted implemented.
Chris entered his office on Monday morning and smiled tiredly at the men already there. He could see the evidence of the day spent in the sun as he looked from one burnt face to the other. He nearly laughed aloud when he looked at Ezra Standish. The gambler reminded him of a raccoon, except he wore a white mask surrounding a sunburnt face.
“Should’ve taken the glasses off Ez.”
“How very astute of you to notice, Mr. Larabee,” the conman said.
“Kind’ve hard not to, Ezra. You look like a raccoon.” Dunne smiled as he reached for the can of soda on his desk.
“I’ve heard of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but Ezra is a raccoon in ray bans,” Wilmington said.
“With Armani denims and Arnold the pig,” Sanchez joined the fun.
“I believe I’m surrounded by a group of would be two dollar comedians,” the conman said, shaking his head as he headed for the coffee pot on the counter at the back of the office.
“Two dollars seems a bit much,” Larabee said as he walked into his office. He heard someone following him and knew it was Buck Wilmington. He sat behind the desk, knowing the man wanted to talk and who he wanted to talk about.
“Chris, did you hear anything else from Ella Gaines?” the rogue asked, closing the door behind him. None of the others knew about their leader’s past with the woman and for now they would keep it that way.
“No...not a word. I’m hoping she’s already left town.”
“You really think she’d do that, Chris?” Wilmington asked, fury in his eyes at the thought of the raven haired beauty with the heart made of ice.
“No, that’s why I want you to find out where she’s staying. I don’t trust her, Buck, and I don’t want her getting anywhere near Sarah and Adam.”
“Where are they?”
“I dropped them off at Nettie’s house. They’ll be fine there, but until I know where Ella is and what’s going through her mind I don’t want them alone.”
“Maybe we should have JD check the hotels and see if she’s registered at any of them.”
“I was thinking the same thing, but tell him to concentrate on only the five star ones. Ella wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less.”
“Yeah, she did have tastes that ran higher than most,” the rogue said. He hated the idea of the woman being back in Larabee’s life, and prayed she’d leave before she had a chance to cause the blond any trouble. He knew Chris had loved her back in the early days as a SEAL, and remembered how much he’d been hurt when she left him before finding out whether he would lose his leg or keep it.
“Buck,” the blond said softly.
“I won’t let her hurt my family. Sarah and Adam are my life and once she realizes that she’ll move on.”
“I hope you’re right, Chris, because having Ella Gaines in town is like turning a bull loose in a lake of Piranha only Ella is the Piranha and you’re the bull she’s set her sites on.”
“Ella as a Piranha, yeah, that sounds like her. Ask JD to check for me, Buck.”
“I will, Chris.”
“Anytime...anywhere,” the rogue vowed before leaving the office.
Chris sighed heavily and reached for the picture on his desk. It was a family portrait done three weeks before Christmas and he loved the smile on Adam’s face. The boy was so excited about the upcoming holiday, Santa’s visit and his eyes shone with excitement. Chris and Adam wore matching suits, white shirts, red ties and matching hankies in the breast pocket. Sarah wore a beautiful red dress with a black belt. Her hair was pulled back off her shoulders by a black velvet ribbon and on her finger was the family ring he’d given her for her birthday the week before. The background was a brightly decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath and stockings hung on a fireplace.
Larabee looked up as Sanchez came in carrying a small package. “What’s that?”
“Not sure. It was delivered a few minutes ago. It’s got a card attached addressed to you. Were you expecting a delivery?”
“No...I wasn’t.” The blond took the package and placed it on his desk. A shiver ran down his spine as he slipped the small card from the envelope.
Josiah saw the younger man’s face blanche as he read the words and knew something was wrong.
“Josiah, will you get rid of it!”
“Sure, Chris,” the older man said, picking up the parcel. He knew if Larabee wanted him to know who the parcel was from he’d tell him, but he would not ask questions, at least not yet. He turned and walked towards the door, the parcel in his hand, when the soft voice stopped him.
“Yes, Chris?”
“Don’t throw it out, Just place it in the safe until I decide how I’m going to proceed. Have the others meet me in the conference room.”
“Sure, Boss,” the ex-preacher said, leaving the man alone with his thoughts.
Chris Larabee looked at the card he held in his hands and reread the simple message. The words were written in the familiar handwriting of Ella Gaines and his heart skipped a beat as he reread them.
“Chris, I know we parted on the wrong foot the other night, but perhaps this will help you remember the love we share, Ella Gaines-Larabee
The Firm’s leader knew without opening the parcel what was inside. There was only one thing that would remind him of that night. The handcuffs...a simple set of sterling silver bracelets she had made especially for them. She’d slipped something into his drink and he’d felt a heady sense of danger as she helped him remove his clothing. He saw it in her eyes, and wanted to fight, but his body felt like it was made of lead and he was sinking in water. He heard her words slammed into his skull and he heard them as if she stood beside him, whispering seductively in his ear. Making promises that he knew she would keep, and knowing he had to break away from her possessiveness before it killed him.
‘You are mine, Christopher Larabee. I own you...your body, your mind, your soul. Everything that is you will be linked to me once these cuffs are attached to both of us. We will walk the fine line between love and possession and know that no one can interfere. We are spirit in two bodies and I will make sure we are never parted. No man, woman, or child will ever come between us. If we are parted, know that I will eventually find you and reunite with you. We will each own a part of this set of handcuffs, a reminder of the promise we make each other tonight!’
“Dammit, Ella, I told you no then and I’ll fucking make sure you understand this time!” he cursed as he placed the note back in the envelope and tucked it into his pocket. Chris knew from earlier dealings with Ella Gaines that the note was only the beginning and he planned to keep every piece of evidence she sent him. He would not...could not allow her back into his life, there was too much for him too lose. He thought of his wife and son and smiled at the warmth that washed over him, a totally different feeling than the ones he’d shared with Ella Gaines.
Taking a last look at the picture, Chris stood up and headed for the conference room, knowing he had friends he could count on to help him and his family. He entered the room to find five men seated at the table and frowned as he noticed the empty seat on his left. The fact that there was still no word from Vin Tanner had him worried and he prayed the Texan was okay.
“Chris, are you okay?” Jackson asked, noticing the way the blond rotated his shoulders.
“Yeah, just a little stiff from Saturday,” the blond lied. He was sore, but it was more from lack of sleep the night before.
“I know what that’s like, Brother,” Sanchez said, rubbing his lower back.
“Okay, so why did you call us in here, Chris. Have you heard from Vin?” Wilmington asked.
“No, there’s been no word from Vin...but that’s not why I called you here. Buck, did you ask JD to check the hotels for Ella Gaines?”
“Yeah, Chris, he did. I was just starting to check when Josiah said you wanted us here,” Dunne answered.
“Finish checking for me after we’re done here, okay?”
“Sure,” the youngest member of the team agreed.
“Okay, so what’s going on, Chris. Why the sudden meeting?” Jackson asked.
“I know most of you know about my past in the SEALS, but not about my personal life during that time. You were there, Buck, but even you didn’t know the half of it,” Larabee said, dropping into the leather conference chair at the end of the table. He rubbed at his temples in an effort to relieve the tension headache he felt building there.
“Tell us what happened,” Wilmington said from the chair on Larabee’s right. He knew more than he let on, having listened to the blond’s cries for help in the hospital the day after he’d found him. There was still no proof that Ella Gaines had been involved, but he knew it as much as he knew the sun would rise in the morning.
“Ella and I knew each other before I entered the SEALS. She argued that I should set my sights higher and not waste my life in service to my country when I could have my country work for me. At the time I was a naive kid, wet behind the ears and eager to please the woman I though I loved. Remember the day we celebrated our success and were getting ready to ship out, Buck?”
“How could I forget. That was a great day, Chris. Your Mom and Dad were so proud of you,” Wilmington smiled as he remembered the two of them decked out in dress uniform and ready to make their first impression on their commanding officer. Captain Dunne had been a hard man, but he also understood the meaning of family and how good it was for the men to have the chance to say goodbye. He shivered as he remember spotting Ella at the edge of the group. Her hair hung over her shoulders, blowing across her face as the wind began to rise. She looked gorgeous, the perfect picture of a woman coming to say goodbye to the man she loved, yet her eyes were cold and callous.
“Yes, they were and so was your Mom. She loved what you made of yourself, Buck...she was proud and had every reason to be.”
“Thanks, Chris. Mom was special.”
“Yes, she was, in more ways than one and her son has nothing to be ashamed of either,” the blond said, sending the truth of his words through his eyes.
“So what happened?” Dunne asked as the group grew silent.
“Ella was there. At the back of the group as if she didn’t want anyone to know she was there. I saw her and she smiled and came forward. She stood there and asked me was I really going to waste my life as a SEAL. I told her I was doing this because it was right...she laughed...right there in front of my family and commanding officer she laughed so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. Anyway, we said goodbye and I asked if she’d be here when I got back and she just nodded her head slightly. God, I really thought I loved her, but...”
“You were a kid, Chris...a kid with his first real crush.”
“Not such a Kid, Buck, but it was more than a crush. Anyway, we were gone six months on that trip and when we returned Ella was there waiting for us. I told her I needed to go see my family and she was upset, but she hid it quickly. I drove her home and went to see Mom and Dad. We spent the next few days together and I finally had a chance to call Ella. She asked me to meet her at a hotel, and well, hell, I was like a dog worrying a bone. I needed to see well...rekindle what we had. I drove there and she was waiting for me wearing nothing but a smile. I was sure she’d forgiven me for leaving her and she seemed as eager as I was and pulled me into the room. Hell, neither one of us were virgins, but it felt like my first time all over again. She had a bottle of champagne and two glasses, candles provided the only light...I drank several glass of the champagne, but she didn’t seem to touch it. Next thing I knew I was lying on the bed, naked and she was stretched out on top of me with this set of handcuffs in her hands. Bet you’re wondering what’s wrong with that scenario, well, normally nothing, but it felt strange. I felt strange. It was like I was watching this happen to someone else, yet I knew it was me...”
“Did she drug the champagne?” Jackson asked.
“I don’t know...probably, but if she did whatever she used didn’t show up in the blood tests several days later when we found Chris and got him to the hospital,” Buck explained.
“So what did she do to you and why wasn’t she arrested?” Standish asked.
“As I said, she was stretched out over me with these handcuffs. They were covered in pink fur and on one side her name was engraved, the other had my name. She said they would keep us linked forever as long as I agreed with it. She wanted us to wear them as a permanent reminder that we were to be together forever. She fastened one around her wrist and tried to do the same with mine and I told her no...I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment, not when I had already made a commitment to serving my country. She refused to listen...told me she understood about the country and that once we were married she would be able to travel with me anywhere. I told her I couldn’t do that...I had to concentrate on the missions and not worry about someone I cared about being in the line of fire. I tried to push her off, but there just didn’t seem to be any way to move my arms or legs and it suddenly felt really hot in that damn room. That’s when I looked into her eyes...I mean really looked.”
“What did you see, Chris?” Sanchez asked.
“Nothing?” Dunne asked incredulously.
“That’s right, Kid. Nothing. Her eyes were blank...sort of like a shark’s and empty. Like there was no warmth inside her. I told her I needed to go, but suddenly everything changed and she was all warm and willing again. I think I passed out shortly after that, but before I did I heard her if she didn’t want me to hear what she was saying.”
“What did she say?” Wilmington asked, seeing the emotions wash over the blond’s suddenly pale face.
Chris ran his fingers through his hair and suddenly thought about getting a hair cut. His hair had been long during his short time with Ella Gaines and he knew that was the reason he kept it shorter since the day she disappeared from his life. Clearing his throat he looked from Buck to Nathan to JD to Ezra to Josiah and back to Buck once more.
“She said... ‘You belong to me and only me Chris Larabee. There will be times when we are not together, but we will find our way back to each other and at those times we will renew the love we have always shared. If you find someone who tries to take you from me we will deal with her...I will deal with her...for there is only you and I, Chris and one day I will be Ella Gaines-Larabee, until then I remain faithfully, lovingly yours and the rest of the world be damned.”
“Jesus, talk about an obsessed woman. Was that the last time you saw her?” Sanchez asked.
“No...saw her one more time after the hospital...remember, Buck?”
“How could I forget? She came in and cursed the medical staff for letting this young nurse look after Chris. I remember her turning over the med cart and screaming at these people for letting anyone near her husband. She left when they threatened to call the police on her, but not before seeing Chris. It was only a few days later that she turned up on my doorstep. I can still see her face when you told her you didn’t want to see her anymore. Wasn’t it the next day the flowers showed up?”
“Yes it was and the card...didn’t she sign it...”
“Yeah...Ella Gaines-Larabee...That was the last I heard from her until Saturday. She was the fair. She thought we would pick up where she left off...or where she wanted us to leave off. Sarah saw her,” Larabee smiled at his friends. “Ella tried to introduce herself the same way she signs those damn cards, but Sarah...well...she wasn’t having anything to do with that. She introduced herself and said Larabee really was her name.”
“Gotta love Sarah when she’s riled,” Wilmington said.
“Yeah,” the blond agreed, smiling in spite of the things he’d just told them. “She is...and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
“You’re a fortunate man, Chris,” Standish said softly.
“Yes, I am,” Larabee agreed, smiling before growing serious once more. “Ella and I were together for nearly a year and a half and I’m telling you we had some exciting times. She liked to live on the edge and well, I did some things I regret now, but at the time they just seemed like an adventure. We came close to breaking the law several times, but something stopped me from crossing that line. I came this close...” the blond held his thumb and finger less than a quarter of an inch apart as he talked. “ having a criminal record for armed robbery...”
“Don’t look so surprised, Kid, I was young and it seemed like a big thrill at the time. I’ve regretted it ever since, but I’m glad I came to my senses before I went to the store.”
“I’m sure we’ve all done things we regret, Chris. I know I’ll be doing penance for things in my past for the rest of my life, but at least I know there were reasons for it.”
“Thanks, Josiah,” Larabee said taking a deep breath before he placed the card on the table and looked at his friends once more. “Josiah brought me a package that was delivered a short while ago. I didn’t open it, but I can tell you what was in it. A pair of handcuffs.”
“Why are you so certain?” Standish asked.
“Because Ella sent it. This note is from her and so was the package. That’s why I asked you boys to come in here. I’m going to make sure she knows I want nothing more to do with her and that’s where you boys come in. I know she’s gonna blame Sarah and Adam and I don’t want her near them! I don’t want that bitch near my family!”
“Just tell us what you want us to do, Chris,” Wilmington said.
“Anything you’ve got!” Jackson assured him.
“Thanks, Boys. JD, see what you can find out about where she’s staying and who’s with her. Buck, Josiah, see if there’s any way of finding out why she’s in town. Nathan, Ezra, see if you two can find a way to keep tabs on her until we find out what she’s up to,” Larabee ordered.
“What are you going to do, Chris?” the rogue asked worriedly.
“I’ve got some time off coming and I’m going to speak to Orrin about taking a week or two. I don’t want Sarah and Adam alone at the house. We can coordinate things from there and maybe Ella will disappear from my life the same way she did the last time.”
“Do you really believe that, Chris?” Wilmington asked.
“Not one damn bit, Buck, but I’m not letting her ruin my life,” Larabee said as the men stood up to go to work. He frowned as he realized he’d just hired his own team to work on a case for him and they hadn’t questioned him on it. The others filed out of the office, leaving him alone with his long time friend.
“Are you okay, Chris?”
“No, Buck, I’m not. I don’t think Ella is going to stop this time. There was something in her eyes when she looked at Sarah at the Fair. I think if she’d had a weapon, Sarah would be dead.”
“Then we’ll have to make damn sure she doesn’t get near Sarah and Adam. You know me, Chris. Your wife and son are like my own kin and you and me go way back. I’ll do anything and I mean anything to keep them safe...including taking out that bitch!”
“If it comes to that I’ll take care of her myself!” Larabee vowed, standing and moving to the door, knowing Wilmington had his family’s back. The man loved his family and Chris understood the vow that he’d just been given and knew the man would do it without looking back. “Thanks, Buck.”
“Anytime...anywhere,” Wilmington vowed as they left the room.
Jackie Maynard took the lead as they made their way up the trail towards what they hoped would be the drug lord’s hidden home. Several times during the day they were forced to stop and it was one of those times they found the cave They’d been carefully sticking to the shadows as much as possible, but were nearly caught as four armed guards stepped onto the trail ahead. She’d reacted instinctively and shoved Tanner off the trail and through the brush, losing her balance and falling on top of him. They held their breath in the darkness until the patrol drew abreast of their position and continued down the trail, bypassing the cave she’d thrust Tanner into.
“Nice, Jackie, but if ya wanted me so bad all you had ta do was say so. I ain’t adverse to a quickie in a cave. Just need to move the rock from under my ass,” Tanner whispered in the darkness.
“Dream on, Tex...if I want you I won’t have to knock you down and overpower you to do it. Seems to me there’s something popping up between us already,” she said coyly.
“You ain’t kidding,” the sharpshooter laughed as he pulled her down to him. The tension was quickly replaced by relief as the danger passed and the adrenaline needed an outlet.
The darkness surrounding them hid the passionate moves they made as the woman reached between their bodies and quickly released the swollen shaft from the material imprisoning it. She smiled as Tanner moaned and thrust into her fingers before he pulled at her jeans and slid them down over her hips. Lust overwhelmed the two as the need for relief grew and the Texan quickly thrust inside her. Jackie met his upward moves with her own downward and soon controlled the momentum as they shifted in the darkness. Their bodies pressed together as flesh met flesh, and their mouths touched, tongues dancing in and out as they fought each other for dominance in the dangerous wilds of the mountains. The couple didn’t think of the dangers surrounding them as they gave into the demands of the closeness of their bodies. Again and again they pounded each other, enjoying the ferocious lust that demanded release. They came in a glorious orgasm that sent them both flying over the edge and into each others arms, panting for breath in the humid air.
They stayed that way for several long minutes, Jackie’s head resting on his right shoulder, drinking in the scent that she now thought of as his alone. She hated moving, wanting nothing more than to remain embraced by the passionate Texan, but they had a job to do. Sighing heavily she used her arms to push her body upwards. The ground underneath was damp and she suddenly remembered where they were. She shivered at the thought of the creatures that could be crawling around the interior of the cave, but felt Tanner’s strong hands on her arms.
“Guess we’d best get movin’,” the tracker suggested softly.
“Yeah, sorry about pushing you.”
“Hell, don’t be. Think I could grow to enjoy being woman handled if’n this is the result!”
“Oh, Hell, Tanner, I didn’t mean to woman handle you, then again, maybe I did,” she whispered as she pinched his left buttock.
“Nice buns, Tex.”
“Thanks, I think,” the sharpshooter said as he sat up. The brush covering the front of the cave allowed only a small amount of light to enter the cave, but he quickly searched the dark area behind them.
“You ready to get out of here?” Jackie asked, shivering in the semi-darkness.
“Yeah, but this place could come in handy,” the tracker said.
“Well, if the entrance is as well concealed as I think it is we’ve got a great base of operations. A natural cave in the rock and a great hideout.”
“As long as nothing else already lives here,” Maynard told him.
“Nothing but a few spiders,” Tanner said as he pushed aside the brush and re-entered the bright sunshine of midday. He held it and waited until she was outside before he once more looked into the place that had been their salvation. It was nothing more than a deep recess in the rock side of a higher slope, but it was well hidden by an overgrowth of brush deadwood.
“Anything in there I shouldn’t know about?” the woman asked as she straightened her clothes and brushed away the dirt and broken twigs.
“’s empty. Anything that might have lived here is long gone,” Tanner assured her.
“So, do we use this as our base?”
“’s perfect. We can leave the packs here and come back tonight. If we find it’s too much of a distance then we’ll stay the night and move on in the morning,” the tracker explained, rubbing at the itchy growth of beard on his chin.
“Liked you better without it,” Maynard said as she watched him remove his pack and place it inside. She did the same, smiling as she realized how uncomfortable their little quickie must’ve been for her partner with the pack as his bed.
“Well, ain’t much I can do about it out here,” Tanner said as he replaced the brush and made sure the cave was invisible once more. “Let’s get moving.”
Jackie nodded, knowing they had to find Mendoza’s fortress before breaking the self imposed radio silence. She knew her companion understood her reluctance to contact Richard Barker, and prayed Tanner’s cell phone had long range capabilities. She wasn’t sure she could trust Chris Larabee, but at least the Texan seemed to have confidence in his friend. Without a word the two agents moved onto the trail and once more began the journey up the mountain.
“Chris?” Larabee looked up from the open file he’d been working on as JD Dunne knocked at his office door.
“What is it JD? Did you find out where she’s staying?”
“Yeah, she’s at the Sheraton Billings...sharing a suite with a man named Jack Averil. Ezra’s heard of him.”
“Ezra has?”
“Yes, Mr. Larabee I have,” the conman said as he joined the two men in the blond’s office.
“Who is he?” the blond asked.
“A gambler and conman and not very good at either! I met him a few times when traveling with Mother. She warned me never to listen to anything he said and to simply refuse to get involved in his erroneous plans. He once swindled a church of its collection and as you know that is simply not done by professional conmen. Even we have our ethics and he has frequently ignored those.”
“Sounds like someone Ella would be with. JD, any idea how long she’s reserved the rooms there?”
“She’s booked into the Club floor and has taken one of the largest suites. She’s booked in for one week, but has the option of staying longer.”
“Damn,” Larabee cursed, slamming his fist on his desk and scattering the papers around him.
“I’m sorry, Chris, wish I could’ve given you better news,” Dunne said.
“Not your fault, JD. I shouldn’t even have gotten you boys involved in my personal business. I’ll deal with her myself,” Larabee spat standing and grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. “What room is she in, JD?”
“Club floor, room six, but Chris, you don’t have to go there alone!”
“I know, JD, but sometimes a man has to handle things for himself. Ella Gaines is my problem. I’ll deal with the bitch!”
Ezra and JD looked worriedly at each other before watching Larabee’s long strides out of the office. They knew by the set of the shoulders that things did not bode well for Larabee’s former paramour, but they did not want to see anything happen top their friend. Something told them the blond would gladly ring the woman’s neck if she didn’t listen to reason.
“Where’s Chris headed?” Wilmington asked as he joined the two men in the doorway.
“Where do you think he’s going?” Standish asked.
“Ella! Fuck! Where’s she staying JD?”
“The Sheraton Billings!” Dunne answered and watched as the ladies’ man hurried after the blond.
“Hopefully, Mr. Wilmington can prevent Mr. Larabee from making a grave mistake,” the gambler said softly.
“I hope so, Ez, because Chris looked like a runaway locomotive on a collision course,” Dunne said as they went back to work.
They discovered the fields early in the evening and circumvented them in an effort to find the fortress itself. The fields were immense and hidden under a natural covering of trees and other vegetation. They’d made good time in moving deeper into the trail and had found the camouflaged fields of marijuana and other illegal plants. There were several patrols, but they continued to avoid detection, sometimes hiding in the fields themselves.
Vin pointed across the open field and nodded as Jackie went to move further back into the dense undergrowth. The duo knew they were close to Hector Mendoza’s fortress and would have to be careful of the extra patrols in the area. Darkness was once more setting in and without a word they headed back towards the cave they’d found earlier that day.
“Vin?” Jackie whispered as another patrol passed them.
“How will you know when we reach the cave?”
“I’ll know,” the tracker answered simply.
“How?” the woman asked skeptically.
“Just seem ta have an instinct for it. Used to question myself all the time, but have learned to trust in it. Just stay close and we’ll be there before you know it.”
“Good, I’m cold,” the woman said,.
“Me too,” the Texan said, smiling at the thought of sharing their body heat.
“Yeah, well, I’m tired too, Tex, so don’t go getting any ideas,” Maynard whispered softly.
“Damn!” the sharpshooter said as they hurried along the edge of the trail.
Chris couldn’t remember getting behind the wheel of his truck and driving to the hotel where Ella was staying. He pulled up in front of the main entrance and slammed his palm against the steering wheel before pulling the keys from the ignition and opening the door. Taking a deep breath as anger threatened to take his breath away he strode towards the automatic doors.
“Sir! Sir! You can’t park there! That’s just for dropping off and picking up!”
Larabee turned on the man standing beside an empty luggage carrier, but didn’t say a word. He saw the look of fear that flashed across the man’s face and felt a moments regret before turning back towards the door. He could hear the man calling to him, but ignored it as he strode to the elevators and pounded on the silver plate until the button lit up with a white light.
“Come on, dammit!” he cursed, ignoring the looks he received from the elderly couple walking behind him. It seemed to take forever until the elevator doors opened and he hurried inside. He saw the elderly couple turn away as he angrily struck the button labeled Club Floor.
Buck cursed his luck as he pulled in behind Larabee’s Black Ford. The blond was nowhere to be seen, but a man stood at the doors speaking in a phone. From the look on the man’s face and the way he pointed at the truck Wilmington knew he had a run in with the irate team leader.
‘Lucky you’re still standing, Kid,’ he thought as he turned off the ignition. He opened the door and exited the car as the young man hurried in his direction.
“Hey, you can’t park there!”
Wilmington looked at his green Mustang and watched as the young man’s face clearly showed his interest.
“Listen, Kid, I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
“That’s what they all say...”
“Look, my friend owns that truck and I need to stop him from walking in on his wife and her boyfriend. I’m sure your boss wouldn’t appreciate a bad scene like that!”
“ he wouldn’t...but...”
“Did he look angry?”
“Thought he was going to kill me!”
“Yeah, he gets like that. Real jealous sort of fella. Might even shoot them both. Imagine the mess? Blood and guts and...”
“Okay...okay. Go get him...but hurry okay or I’ll have to have you both towed!”
“Thanks, Kid, you won’t regret it. Keep an eye on the green machine for me will you?” Wilmington raced through the doors and across the immaculate lobby until he reached the bank of elevators. ‘Come on...come on!’ he thought as he paced in front of the doors.
Chris hurried along the well kept hallway until he reached a set of double oak doors. He didn’t bother with the brass door bell, electing to use his fist instead. He pounded over and over, waiting for Gaines or Averil to open it.
“Ella! I know you’re in there now open the fucking door!” he cursed and continued to bang on the door.
“But, Jack, that’s Chris. I knew he’d come to me!” the woman said as she grabbed her negligee and pulled it on.
“Listen to him! He may be here to see you but he’s not happy about it.” Larabee’s voice was muffled, but there was no doubt about his anger.
“Open the fucking door, Ella!” Larabee pounded on the door, knowing the object of his anger was on the other side of the barrier. He heard the sound of the elevator doors opening, but didn’t let it deter him. “Ella!”
“Chris, hold on, Pard!”
“Buck, just stay away from me! I’m going to straighten that bitch out once and for all. ELLA!” He lifted his hand to hit the door again and barely stopped as it was opened by a man he didn’t recognize.
“What do you want?” Averil asked as several doors along the hall opened and closed.
“Where is she?”
“Who?” the other man asked.
“You know damn well who! Ella Gaines! Tell that bitch to get out here now or I swear I’ll tear this place apart until I find her!”
“Chris, Pard, calm down!”
“No, Buck, you calm down! Just back off and leave me alone!” Chris pushed his way into the room and smiled as the other man backed further into the room. “Where is she?”
“I’m right here,” Ella answered, smiling seductively from the bedroom door. “I’ve missed you, Lover.”
“I’m not your lover, Ella! I’m not your anything and never will be!” the blond said as he advanced on the raven haired temptress. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides as he neared her.
“Ella, you want me to call security and have him removed?” Averil asked.
“No...Chris you need to calm down...”
“Calm down! I am calm. If I was angry I’d wrap my hands around that scrawny neck and shut you up!” The green eyes were filled with deadly intensity and Chris smiled as he saw a slight tremor run through her frame.
Buck stood just inside the door and let it close as he watched the scene unfolding before him. As long as Larabee didn’t try to hurt the bitch he would leave them alone. He watched Ella’s lover and knew the man was not a real threat...he seemed more the type who needed a weapon in his hand before he’d try anything.
“Chris, we’re meant to be together...”
“No, we’re not! We never were. I’m happy, Ella and for the first time in my life I really know what love is.”
“But...what we was special...”
“Not for me, Ella, and I tried to tell you that!”
“We just need time to rekindle...”
“I don’t want to rekindle anything with or ever. I came here to tell you to stop sending things to my office! Don’t fucking call me! Don’t come looking for me! Stay the hell away from me and my family, Ella, or so help me I’ll make you wish you’d never been born!” Larabee spat.
“But, Chris...” She moved quickly, wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to kiss him, but found her arms caught in a vice like grip as Larabee pulled away from her.
“Don’t ever try that again, Ella,” the words were whispered, yet there was no doubt of the icy threat that went with them.
“Chris, I just want to help you remember what we had,” the woman pouted.
“We never really had anything, Ella. I’m leaving now and I don’t ever want to see you again...”
“You c...can’t mean t...that,” Gaines pouted, her sultry lips turned down as she cried.
“Yes, I do! You’ve got your lover and I’m sure he’ll make you a lot happier than I ever did. Buck!”
“We’re leaving!” he released his hold on Ella’s arms and turned towards the door. He walked away from his past, his lean frame tall and confident, his stride purposeful as Wilmington smiled and held the door for him.
“Well, Ella, I won’t say it’s been nice seeing you again...just hope it’s even longer between this one and the next meeting...Like say fifty or sixty years!” The rogue smiled as he followed the blond through the door, shutting it behind him.
Ella Gaines stood staring at the door, hands at her side, hatred in her eyes. She could not, would not allow anyone to interfere with her love for Chris Larabee. The fact that he didn’t return her love was lost on her. She would do anything within her power to have him back and anyone who tried to stop her would find out just what happened when you crossed Ella Gaines-Larabee.
“Ella,” Averil wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?”
“Chris would never hurt me, Jack. He loves me...”
“He has a strange way of showing love,” the man said and felt her pull away.
“Chris just has to be reminded of what we have! Has Guy found out anything about Sarah Connelly and how she trapped my husband?”
“He hasn’t called yet, but I’m sure he’ll be calling soon.”
“Good, I also need Bob Spikes. He’s got contacts out there who will help me get rid of anyone who tries to interfere and I know who I want taken care of first,” the woman’s eyes were cold and deadly as she moved into the bedroom. She laid down on the bed and smiled at the man who’d followed her inside. “Make love to me, Jack.
“You only have to ask, my dear,” Averil said as he watched her firm breasts pressing against the tight negligee.
“Chris, are you okay?”
“Yeah, Buck, I’m fine...damn that felt good,” the blond smiled as they entered the elevator.
“I bet it did, but do you think she believed you?”
“Doesn’t matter...if she keeps it up I’ll get a restraining order against her.”
“We both know they don’t help much,” the rogue said.
“Yeah, I know, but it’ll show that we tried to stop her from coming anywhere near my family.”
“Wish there was something I could do to help.”
“Are you kidding?” The blond said with a smile. “You stopped me from killing the bitch. If you hadn’t shown up when you did I’d have strangled her.”
“Well, I’m glad I was able to help. She’s dangerous, Chris,” Wilmington said as the doors opened and they walked across the lobby.
“Yeah, I know, but at least I know where she is.”
“Forewarned is forearmed,” the rogue said as they stepped outside.
“That’s for sure. Buck, thanks...I mean that. You know what my life was like when Ella was around before and you know damn well I don’t want to go back to that shit!”
“Yeah...I know, and this time I’ll be here to kick your ass if you so much as look at her again!”
“Won’t happen. I’m happy with Sarah...she’s my life,” Larabee said, opening the door of his truck and tasking the ticket from under the wiper.
“Glad to hear it, Pard. Now why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go spend some time with your lady love and that godson of mine? I’ll let the others know where you are.”
“Sounds like a plan, Pard,” Larabee grinned as he put the keys in the ignition and drove away.
‘Don’t worry, Chris, I got your back!’ the ladies’ man vowed as he moved to his own car. “Thanks, Kid,” he said to the young man standing beside his car. He handed him a ten dollar bill before driving away from the hotel.
“Daddy! Mommy, daddy’s here” Adam called as Larabee drove into the driveway. As soon as the truck stopped the child raced into his father’s arms.
“Chris, is everything okay?” Sarah asked as she joined her two men.
“Everything’s fine, Honey. I just decided I want to spend a little time with my family. Hi, Nettie.”
“Hello, Chris, have you eaten yet. We were just about to have lunch,” the older woman asked, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Sounds good. What are we having?”
“Hot dogs and potato salad!” Adam answered as they walked into the house.
“You boys go on out back. Sarah and I will bring it out there. Chris, you feel like barbecuing?”
“Sure, Nettie. Hey, Sport, can you grab the barbecue sauce?” Larabee asked lowering his son to the floor.
“It’s on the counter, Adam. Maybe you could help me get a few other things together,” Nettie Wells called, watching as the blond led her niece outside, knowing there was something he wanted to tell her.
Chris opened the screen door and took his wife’s hand. Once outside he wrapped her in his arms and kissed her, needing to feel her body next to his own.
“What happened, Chris?”
Larabee shook his head, smiling as he realized there was no way he could keep anything from this woman, the other half of his soul. He took her hand and walked to the picnic table covered in a red checked tablecloth. They sat side by side, hands clasped facing each other.
“I got a package this morning.”
“Who from?” she asked, knowing something was wrong.
“Ella Gaines.”
“Who...oh wait a minute...from the Fair?”
“That’s her. Remember I told you how possessive she was back then?”
“Yes, Chris, what was in the package?”
“A pair of handcuffs...something from the last night we spent together...and a card.”
“What did the card say?” Sarah asked worriedly.
“Just the same old crap she always got on I had the boys find out where she was staying and I went to confront her!”
“Chris, why didn’t you just stay away from her?” Sarah watched as her husband stood up and walked to the edge of the patio. She could tell by the way he leaned against the lounge chair that he was still upset by the meeting with the woman from his past. “Chris?”
“Sarah,” he whispered her name and turned to face her. She stood before him, her eyes filled with love, her face tinted with concern. “I had to see her...tell her there never was anything between us. I never returned her feelings...yet I stayed with her so it’s partly my fault.”
“You were young, Chris...”
“So was she, Sarah!” he snapped, before holding her in his arms. “I’m sorry. Look, I went over to see her and told her I wanted nothing to do with her.”
“What did she say to that?”
“She didn’t believe me, but, Sarah, I don’t want anything to do with her. I love you and Adam and I will never do anything to hurt either of you.”
“I know that, Chris,” Sarah assured him, holding him close as she felt a slight tremor from his body. “She’s really shaken you up, hasn’t she?”
“I don’t’s just wherever Ella is trouble follows. She’s not gonna give up this easy and I don’t want her anywhere near you and Adam.”
“Then we’ll just make sure she doesn’t...”
“Daddy, I gots the sauce and I helped Aunt Nettie make lemonade. She let me squeeze the lemon.”
“That’s great, Adam,” Larabee said as he moved towards the barbecue. He ruffled his son’s hair and lifted him onto the picnic table, laughing as his son reached up to ruffle his short cropped blond hair.
Nettie watched her niece carefully and knew something had happened. She placed the bowl of salad in the cooler and motioned for the younger woman to take a seat. She poured four glasses of the tarty juice and handed one to the woman seated across from her. “Is everything alright, Sarah?”
“I don’t know, Aunt Nettie. Remember me telling you about that woman at the fair?”
“The one who had her hands all over your man?” she asked a twinkle of mirth in her eyes.
“Yes, she’s still in town and she sent Chris a package today...”
“Hmm, a woman who tried to buy a man’s affections doesn’t get very far,” Nettie told her.
“I know and Chris confronted her about it. He told her he didn’t want to see her anymore, but he doesn’t think she believes him.”
“Does Chris think she’s dangerous?”
“I’m not sure, but he doesn’t trust her and doesn’t want her around.”
“Then we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t come around here. I still got Grand dad’s Spencer carbine...might not work anymore, but it’s bound to make the woman understand our meaning. That don’t work my daddy used to use an old salt gun.” She rubbed her behind and smiled at the younger woman. “Felt that one a couple of times myself. Real good deterrent.”
“I bet. Thanks, Aunt Nettie.”
“You’re welcome, Sarah and remember, Chris loves you and wouldn’t do anything to hurt either of you.”
“I know. I trust him with my life.”
“Nettie, where are the hot dogs?” Larabee asked.
“Shoot, guess I left them in the fridge. Hang on I’ll get them,” the older woman said and hurried into the kitchen.
Vin held apart the brush and waited for Jackie to enter. The darkness was almost absolute now as twilight gave way to night. He waited until she opened her pack and pulled out the flashlight.
“Alright, don’t turn it on until I make sure it can’t be seen from out here. Okay?”
“Okay,” Jackie answered and was soon engulfed in the darkness.
“Jackie, turn it on,” Tanner said softly and heard the rustling inside. “Is it on?”
“I’m pointing it directly at the entrance. Can you see anything?”
“No...nothing. Turn it off until I get inside and close the entrance again,” the Texan said.
“Okay, it’s off.” Jackie held her breath as the leaves rustled and her partner entered and sealed them inside once more. She flicked the light on again and rummaged through her backpack for the jerky and crackers.
Tanner pulled out the bottle of water and the case that house his cell phone. “I don’t know if it’ll work in here.”
“I hope it does. Are you calling your friend?”
“Yeah, figure he can check into Barker...maybe dig up any dirt there is on him. We’ve got contacts back home and they can be trusted, Jackie. If Barker’s bad, we’ll bring him down.”
“Thanks, Vin...Jerky?”
“Ah, yeah,” the Texan laughed as he took it from her hands. He ate the jerky as he dialed the number for the mobile operator.
Chris smiled across the table at Nettie Wells. Sarah and Adam volunteered for cleaning and were in the kitchen while they relaxed with coffee and carrot cake.
“So, this woman, is she gonna be a problem, Chris?”
“I hope not, Nettie. I told her I don’t want anything to do with her, but Ella was always stubborn...Hang on,” he said as his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the number, before accepting the incoming call. “Vin, are you alright?”
“Hey, Cowboy, I’m fine. In need of a bath and a shave, but otherwise okay.”
“Thanks God, we’ve all been’s been over three weeks without a word.”
“Chris, tell that boy he’s in for an earful when he comes home.”
“Tell her I heard her, Chris. Sorry, Nettie, it’s just hard ta get a message out. Signal’s not that great either.
“Says he’s sorry,” the blond explained.
“Listen, Chris, I don’t know how long the signal will last, but I need a favor.”
“Anything!” Larabee said, sitting up straighter as he heard the serious tone in the other man’s voice.
“I need ya  ta check on the head of the DEA down here. His name’s Richard Barker. Jackie...”
“Jackie Maynard, my partner. She’s been working with this guy fer about a year and she thinks he’s on the take, Chris. He’s our contact here and I just don’t want ta chance him giving Mendoza the information we get.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do. Any sign of Mendoza?”
“We found some of his fields and I’m thinkin’ his fortress can’t be far off.”
“You be careful, Vin Keep your head down and your butt safe or you’ll be answering me!.”
“I’ll do my best. Give Adam and Sarah a hug for me. Tell Nettie I miss her...signal’s just gettin’ worse...I’ll try again tomorrow night...Tanner out!”
“Vin! Vin!”
“What’s wrong?”
“Lost the signal,” larabee answered.
“Is he okay?” the woman asked worriedly.
“I think so. He sounded okay. Said he needed a bath and a shave.”
“I bet...probably needs a haircut too!”
“Doesn’t he always,” Larabee answered.
“That he does, but I think there’s a few ladies who might be upset if he does get it chopped off. Perhaps you should grow yours just a little longer, Chris. I love your blond hair and you’ve been keeping it a bit too short lately.”
“Have you been talking to Sarah, Nettie? She says she can’t run her fingers through it if it’s cut this short.”
“Now, Chris, do you really think Sarah and I talk about you?”
“I don’t think I’ll answer that, Nettie,” Larabee said, somewhat relieved after talking to his best friend and brother.
“Chris, I’ve got to pick up a few things at the market. Can you take Adam home with you?”
“Sarah, why don’t we all go. I’ve got to stop by the office first, but then I’m off the rest of the day.”
“Okay,” his wife agreed, knowing her husband was still a little shook up over Ella Gaines. ‘Aunt Nettie, is there anything I can get you before we leave?”
“No, Sarah, Casey will be home later today and we’ll do our shopping then. I’m not old and feeble and I can certainly do things on my own. You take care of your two handsome men now or you’ll be answering to me. Got it?”
“Got it,” Sarah laughed as Adam hugged his great aunt and hurried towards the door. Nettie walked the young couple to the door, smiling as Adam raced back for another hug.
“I love you, Aunt Nettie.”
“I love you to, Adam. Now you make sure your mom and dad bring you out here more often.”
“Okay...I will,” the boy agreed as they said their goodbyes and climbed into Larabee’s truck.
“Get your seatbelt on, Sport,” Larabee said, smiling as the boy’s tongue slipped out as he fought to clip the belt. 
“Got it!” the boy squealed in delight.
“Way to go, Sport, told ya it would get easier as you got bigger. Buck and Vin are gonna be surprised when they see you can do it on your own now,” the blond said, again ruffling the boys hair.
“When’s uncle Vin coming home?”
“I don’t know, Adam, but I just talked to him and he said to tell you both he misses you.”
“Vin called?” Sarah asked as they drove out of the yard.
“Yeah, that’s why I need to stop by the office. It won’t take long, but I need to get JD and Ezra working on something for me.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he sounded fine,” Larabee answered, turning his attention to the road as he pulled into heavier traffic.
“What did he say?” Jackie asked as she watched the other man turn off the cell phone.
“He’ll get the boys...”
“Boys?” she asked, eyebrows furrowed in disbelief.
“Just something we call the group,” Tanner answered as he snuggled down beside her.
“ you have a lot of boys toys?”
“A few,” the sharpshooter answered mischievously.
“Do you always have sex on the brain, Tex?”
“Well, see there’s this friend of mine and well, he’s a rogue and a ladies’ man and he’s been telling me I’ve been missing a lot by thinking of other things. Looking at you I’d say he’s got a point.”
“Ah, Hell, Lover boy, keep that up and neither one of us’ll be sleeping tonight.”
“I don’t see a problem with that ‘cept...”
“Except for the clothes,” Jackie finished for him.
“Alright, Tex, but business before pleasure. What did your friend say? Will he help us?”
“If I know Chris he’s already on his way ta the office and he’ll put JD and Ezra ta work on finding out what makes Richard Barker tick. I told him I’d call back tomorrow night.” Tanner assured her. 
“So what’s our next move?”
“We find Mendoza’s fortress and keep Barker from finding out where we are. Then we find a way to get Mendoza to come with us or we take him down. I’d like to destroy the fields and any labs he’s got in the fortress...make sure those drugs don’t get out on the streets and kill more kids.”
“That’s a mighty tall order for just the two of us,” Jackie said as she settled in with him.
“Think you’re ready to take it on?”
“If you’re ready then I’m sure as hell not letting you go in there alone.”
“Well, guess we’d best get some sleep. Got some plans for tomorrow,” Tanner said, zipping up the side of the sleeping bag. With the muffled sounds of the animals barley reaching their ears, Maynard turned out the flashlight and the weary couple settled down to sleep.
Chris held the elevator door open until his family exited. Adam raced towards the open office door, laughing as Josiah Sanchez picked him up over his shoulders.
“Well, Hello there, Adam Larabee. This is surely a blessed visit since I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“Daddy had to come see you and me and Mommy came with him,” the child said excitedly as JD turned away from the computer.
“Hi, Adam, I have a new game on the computer if you dad says it’s okay for you to play.”
“Can I, Daddy?”
“Sure, Sport, it’ll give me a chance to talk to Josiah and JD. Where are Ezra and Buck?”
“Orrin called and asked to see them,” Dunne explained as he set up the Cat In The Hat game for the boy.
“’s JD I need to speak to anyway, but I’d like you to hear it as well, Josiah.”
“All set. Have fun, Kiddo,” Dunne said as Sarah sat beside her son.
“Thanks, JD,” Adam said as his mother helped him with the game.
Dunne hurried to join Larabee and Sanchez in the office, closing the door behind him. The older man stared across the desk as the Bostonian sat in the seat next to him.
“So, Brother, What’s going on?”
“I heard from Vin?”
“That’s great! Is he okay? Where is he? Why didn’t he call?” Dunne asked anxiously.
“Hang on, JD, give the man a chance to answer,” Sanchez explained.
“Oh...yeah...sorry,” the kid said sheepishly.
“Well, He’s in Rio...probably up in the mountains somewhere. I didn’t get a chance to ask him that. Him and his partner think they’ve found some of Mendoza’s fields and if they have then they’re close to the fortress. No one’s ever found them before...”
“Or if they have they didn’t live to tell about it,” the older man interjected.
“Exactly. Anyway he was calling because he wants some help. His partner has worked for the head of the DEA stationed in Rio, but she doesn’t trust the man. That’s where you come in, JD.”
“What do you need me to do, Chris?” Dunne asked.
“I want you to find out everything you can about a man named Richard Barker. We need to know if there’s ever been any suspicious dealings over his career. Has he ever been suspected of being on the take? Has he had any big unexplained deposits into his accounts? Anything, JD, anything at all...I want you to dig deep and find it. Got it?
“Yes, I’ll get right on it.”
“What about Vin’s partner?”
“He seems to think she’s trustworthy...but I’d like you to check her out as well, JD. Her names is Jackie Maynard and she’s been in Rio for at least a year.”
“Maynard... M.A.Y.N.A.R.D,” Larabee finished.
“Thanks, Chris,” Dunne said as he wrote the name next to Barkers. He stood up, tearing off the sheet of paper before leaving the office.
“How are you doing, Son?”
“What do you mean, Josiah?”
“Buck told me what happened with Ella...are you okay with all of that?”
“No, Josiah, I’m not. Truth is I don’t trust that bitch as far as I can throw her. She won’t give up. She kept after me when I broke it off the first time and I gave in...stupid! I should’ve just told her to fuck off and leave it at that!”
“Chris, did you go out of your way to find her that first time or this time?”
“No! Jesus, Josiah, I’m not that crazy. I mean I’ve made some stupid mistakes, but I’d never do anything to jeopardize what I have with Sarah. She’s everything to me...without her and Adam I’d be alone...I mean you boys would be here, but that’s not the same.”
Josiah’s smile broadened as he looked across the desk at his boss. “So you know what you have and you don’t want or need anything else?”
“Yes...I know what I have, Josiah, and Ella Gaines has no place in my future.”
“Then you’d best stop calling my friend stupid, because he’s far from it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Son, and you certainly know what you’re doing. I hope Ella Gaines moves on, but if she decides to stick around we’ve got your back...yours, Sarah’s and Adam’s. You’re not alone in this, Chris, and you never will be.”
“Thanks, Josiah. Will you let Ezra and Buck know I heard from Vin, and ask Ez to give JD a hand with investigating Barker and Maynard..”
“Consider it done, Boss. Now you’ve got a woman and boy out there waiting for you. Go on home and spend some time together.”
“Sounds like a plan, Josiah. See you boys in the morning,” Larabee said, standing and walking out to collect his family.
Ella sat on the terrace overlooking the sleeping city. The day had not gone the way she planned and she knew there was going to be dangers in the path to her prize. She smiled as she sipped the Martini, popping the olive in her mouth as Jack Averil moved to answer the door. She tucked the pink robe over her legs and smiled as two men entered her room.
“Ella, Love, it’s so good to see you again,” Robert Spikes said. The man was bulky, with a receding hairline and several missing teeth, but what made him stand out was the patch covering his right eye.
“Hello, Robert, whatever happened to your eye?” she asked, surprised at the difference in the man since she’d last seen him.
“Your old friend is what happened. He caught me giving away the plans for an invasion and we fought. Sonofabitch hit me and took my damn eye out. I owe him, Ella, and I’m telling you right now I’m gonna take my revenge...”
“Well, Robert, Why don’t you put that raggedy old tophat over by the door and we’ll talk about revenge and how sweet it is.”
“You want revenge on Larabee too?” Spikes asked.
“No...I want Larabee, but I believe there is a way to satisfy your lust for revenge,” Ella explained.
“I’ll listen, My Dear, but I aim to take a piece of Larabee for this!” he spat, pointing to his eye.
“I see, but does it have to be a piece of flesh?”
“What do you mean?” Spikes asked when Royal and Averil joined them on the terrace.
“Well, you all know Chris is and always will be the only man for me. I mean I don’t mind sleeping with handsome gentlemen such as yourselves, but my heart belongs to him. Now, first of all Let’s hear what Guy has to say about Chris Larabee’s wife. Guy?”
Royal smiled as he poured himself a stiff drink from the whiskey bottle. He took a sip and sank into the chair beside the beautiful ice-woman.
“Okay, Sarah Connelly Larabee, daughter of Hank and Sheila Connelly. Father is still living, but the mother passed away several years ago, before her daughter married Chris Larabee. Sarah is a registered nurse working out of Saint Vincents and met Larabee when he was brought in with a gunshot wound.”
“The little slut probably arranged for him to be shot so she could sink her claws into him!” Ella spat, throwing the crystal glass across the terrace.
“Anyway, Larabee and Connelly continued to see each other and were married six months later. They have been married for just over eight years. They have one child...”
“I knew it...the tramp roped him into marriage by getting pregnant. I’ll soon make him see what she did.”
“Sorry, Ella, but the boy is only six years old so they didn’t marry because she was pregnant. The boy was born at Saint Vincents and the proud papa was in attendance. I’ve got several pictures if you want to see them.”
“Burn them!” Ella told him.
“Okay, Larabee bought a house on the outskirts of Billings... and moved his family there seven years ago. He works for an agency called The Firm owned by Orrin Travis...”
“I know that name,” Spikes said.
“I thought you’d recognize it. He used to be a judge and I believe he sentenced you to ten years for armed robbery just after Ella and you hooked up.”
“I remember that bastard...He’s got a son named Steven...real do-gooder who worked for the Billings Gazette. Didn’t he marry a couple of years ago?” Spikes asked.
“I don’t know...but it does sound familiar,” Royal said. “So Travis gave Larabee carte blanche in forming his team and he took his sweet time in finding the right men. Josiah Sanchez...former preacher, expert in analyzing human nature and is the profiler for the team. Buck Wilmington...”
“I owe that bastard,” Ella cursed as she reached for a new glass.
“ an expert in demolitions and explosives. Nathan Jackson is about to become a paramedic, but is also a natural when it comes to investigative techniques. Ezra Standish and JD Dunne are both experts in computer science although Dunne is probably the better of the two. Standish is also a gambler and a conman and has worked undercover on a couple of cases. The newest member of the team is a Texan named Vin Tanner...”
“You know him, Robert?”
“He was a bounty hunter I had a run in with a few years back. One hell of a fucking tracker and I ain’t seen no one who could come close to shooting like him.”
“Well, we won’t have to worry about him as he’s on an extended leave of absence right now,” Royal explained. “Now The Firm is basically a high priced detective agency, funded in large by the owner Orrin Travis. It has several company vehicles and a private jet that’s ready on a moment’s notice. I dug a little deeper and found out they are also affiliated with government organizations such as the DEA, the FBI and several others. Larabee, Wilmington, and Sanchez were all members of the teams.”
“The Teams?” Ella asked.
“Military elite...They were SEALS,” Royal answered.
“The SEALS were the reason I lost Chris the first time,” the woman said, sipping at the amber liquid in her glass.
“Jackson entered the military and spent several years overseas before returning to Billings. Tanner was a member of the Top Gun...”
“Whoa...a sharpshooter who can fly with the best. No wonder larabee hired him,” Averil observed.
“Is that all?” Ella asked.
“That’s all I’ve got so far, but I won’t stop searching,” Royal assured her.
“Now, Ella, about my revenge,” Spikes said.
“Ah, yes, I know you want to make Chris pay, but I don’t want him hurt...”
“Kind of hard to get revenge if I can’t hurt him,” the one eyed man said.
“Yes, but there are other ways to hurt him,” the woman said, smiling as she stood and moved seductively across the terrace and leaned against it. She let the wind blow her hair over the edge as she looked from one man to the other. She sipped at the fiery liquid once more, licking her lips before sitting on the high rail. She felt the wind tugging at her, but the danger didn’t phase her. She had plans, and these men needed to know she had the guts to carry them through.
“What’s going on in that deliciously evil mind of yours, Ella?” Averil asked.
“How would you feel about helping free Chris of his baggage?”
“Baggage?” Royal asked.
“I think she means his wife and son,” Averil said with a grin.
“Exactly. Now, Robert, don’t you think taking the woman and child he supposedly loves is a much more fitting revenge than simply taking his eye. Think of all the pain, the guilt. Why he’ll be a mess by the time we’re through with him.”
“And you’ll be there to pick up the pieces,” Royal said, smiling at the look on the woman’s face.
“That’s correct...who better to pick up the emotionally traumatized man?”
“Will he let you near him?” Spikes asked.
“Won’t he be suspicious of your involvement?” Royal asked.
“Oh, I don’t think see I’m going to be leaving town before you boys dispose of his wife and son.”
“When do we do this?” Spikes asked.
“Not yet...I want him open and ready for my love. I want you to go after his men first. Make it look like someone’s out to get his team first. Then we go after his family.”
“Is there anyone you’d like us to go after first?” Averil asked as the woman climbed down once more.
“Wilmington...make the bastard sorry he ever laid eyes on me!”
“Alright,” Royal readily agreed.
“Anything specific about getting rid of the woman and child?” Averil asked.
“Yes,” she smiled as she moved closer to Spikes. “Do you still have contact with the powder man?”
“Not lately, but I can get in touch with him.”
“Very well, tell him I have a special job that requires his attention,” Gaines said.
“Right away,” Spikes assured her as she let the robe drop off her shoulders, revealing perfectly shaped legs and buttocks.
“Now if you boys don’t mind I’d like to take a shower,” she said.
“Need someone to wash your back, Darling?” Royal asked.
“Hmm, that would be good,” Ella said, smiling as she heard the older man hurrying after her.
“Enjoy the drinks, Boys, we’ll be taking a long shower,” Royal said as he followed the woman inside.
“Damn, hope he don’t wear her out,” Spikes said.
“No one can wear Ella Gaines out, Robert. Relax, you’ll get to dip your wick,” Averil said, grabbing the bottle and tipping it onto his head.
Before opening her eyes, Sarah knew something was wrong. She shared this bed with her husband for so long that she knew when he wasn’t beside her. Turning her head slightly she spotted him standing at the window. The white light from the moon silhouetted his body and again she was taken with the perfection of God’s creation. By some woman, Chris Larabee might be considered thin, but she knew he was far from that image. His body was well defined by muscle and she knew he worked hard to keep in shape. She loved jogging beside him along the stretch of road, watching the muscles in his legs work to keep him moving. The lean chest glistening with sweat as he lifted weights in the gym was also something she loved. His body was that of a sculptured idol and she loved exploring every inch of it. The face, the blond hair, green eyes and that pouting oh so sexy lip drove her to distraction at times. She melted when he stared into her eyes and moved to kiss her. The thought sent a jolt through her body and she felt the stirrings of desire, but knew now was not the time as she saw the look on her husband’s face. Shifting on the bed so that she could see him more clearly she knew he was troubled. Sarah slid her long legs over the edge of the bed, stood up and moved towards the man she loved.
Chris knew she was awake from the moment she moved on the bed, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from the sight of the full bodied moon hanging in the black velvet sky. There seemed to be streaks of red just under the surface and  something about the image seemed like a harbinger of danger. He heard the rustle of sheets and knew his wife was moving to join him at the window. Turning towards the bed he held his arms out and quickly folded them around her as she stepped into the protective circle. They stood that way for several long seconds, feeling the warmth and love they had for each other, sharing their feelings with just a single look. Chris held tight, afraid that the precious gift he held would somehow be stolen from him.
“Chris, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing...just thinking...”
“Oh, I hate when you do usually means we’ve got problems. Is it that woman.”
“No...not really. I just keep thinking I’ve been so lucky since meeting you that something bad is going to happen. My life before I met you was one long line of trouble and I never realized before just what a difference you’ve made in my life. You and Adam are everything to me, Sarah and I don’t want to lose you.”
“Why would you think you’d lose us, Chris? I told you on the day you asked me to marry you that when I commit it is for life. I didn’t let my father stop me from being with the man I love and I certainly won’t let that little bimbo take what’s mine!” Sarah said, lifting her head from his chest and staring into his eyes.
“Little Bimbo...I’d say it’s more like big bitch...”
“Me too, but I was trying to be nice,” Sarah said, glad when she saw a smile form on his face, before he grew serious once more.
“Sorry about waking you.”
“Honey, you have nothing to be sorry for. I just wish you’d have woke me so we could talk. You’re truly worried about her aren’t you?”
“I’m worried about what she might try, Sarah. I don’t want you or Adam getting hurt because of her crazy way of thinking. She thinks she owns me...”
“She doesn’t! Nobody does not even me. Chris, we are a family and we share in everything. I don’t want you keeping anything from me. If Ella Gaines tries anything I want to know. If she comes near you or any of our family we’ll deal with her together. I trust you completely, but I don’t want you doing anything alone. I want us to deal with everything on equal ground and if it comes right down to it I’ll rake her over the coals and beat the truth into her!”

”Whoa, I think I married a hellcat...”
“You did, Darling and I’ve only just started to sharpen my claws!”
“I think Ella is about to find out she’s barking up the wrong tree,” Larabee said.
“That she is, Love, and this is one cat who’ll gladly show the barking dog it’s proper place. Now, are you ready to come back to bed and I’ll show you how a hellcat purrs?” Sarah asked, smiling mischievously at her blond Adonis.
“Meow,” Larabee purred as he swept her into his arms and walked towards their bed. He placed her on the sheets and was surprised as she moved to the opposite side and stood up. “I thought...”
“Never mind what you thought, sweetie, tonight’s all mine and I told you this shecat is gonna take charge of her tom,” Sarah moved sensuously around the edge of the bed, dropping her clothing as she did, until she stood before her husband, eyes dancing excitedly as she ground her naked body against his. Her hands grabbed the edge of the CK boxers and slowly slid them down his legs before she pushed him back on the bed. She removed them and flicked them across the floor as she slithered up his body, nipping at his throat before kissing his lips. She heard him gasp and pushed his hands away as he made a grab for her.
“Relax, Lover boy, let the hellcat take care of you,” she said, sliding her hands down the lean torso until her fingers tangled in the mound of coarse hair nestled between his muscular thighs. She loved teasing her husband, slowly teasing him towards climax until they both were satisfied. It had taken a lot of tender loving care from this man before she gave in to the urge for more inventive sexual pleasures and tonight she would take the lead and bring them both satisfaction. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes, seeing the promise of unconditional love before she moved her lips down his chest. Sarah kissed each nipple, moving her body down his until she knelt between his legs. She opened her mouth, slowly taking him deep inside her, smiling inwardly at the soft moans of pleasure escaping his lips. Again she slapped at his hands as he tried to touch her.
Chris gripped the sheets as his body was played perfectly. Sarah’s mouth on his engorged shaft sent tide waves of pleasure through every inch of his body. Her soft hair tickled his legs as she continued to administer to his needs. He moaned as she lifted her head and blew on his shaft before she cupped his balls and licked his thighs. He thought he’d pass out if she didn’t stop the sensuous torture, but soon felt her sliding up his body once more. He felt her move her body until his cock pressed against the opening to her body and he pushed upwards, into her, moaning, writhing, needing this ultimate pleasure.
“Slow down, Lover boy,” Sarah laughed as he again reached for her. She grabbed his hands and gasped as he sat up, pushing deeper inside her, thrilling her to the core as she felt herself filled to capacity. She threw her head backwards, hair hanging down her back. Sarah moaned as again and again he withdrew until only the tip of his penis was inside her and then thrust back inside, building a fire inside her that only he could put out.
Chris held her hands, his own body crying out for release as he tried to prolong the pleasure for both of them. He knew she was nearing completion and cried out, his thrusts grew more frantic, yet the rhythm continued until he heard her cry out in ecstasy. He continued to drive his cock into the velvet sheath until his own orgasm emptied his seed inside her. Finally sated the two remained as they were, foreheads leaning against each other, breathing heavy, until his cock grew flaccid and he fell back on the bed.
“God, Sarah, that was wonderful...”
“Okay spectacular,” the blond corrected.
“Hmm, me thinks my wife is fishing for compliments,” he said, smiling as she dropped down on top of him.
“Hmm, you could be right. I need a shower,” she said as she moved to the edge of the bed.
“Me too,” Larabee agreed. “Tell you start the water while I check on Adam and I’ll join you in a couple of minutes.
“One of those you wash my back and I’ll wash yours, deal?” Sarah said as she moved towards the master bathroom.
“You bet, Lady,” the blond agreed slipping on his boxers and moving towards the door. Opening it slowly he made his way across the hallway to his son’s bedroom. He pushed the boy’s door open and smiled as he looked inside. The small dinosaur nightlight gave off a yellow glow that succeeded in showing the child curled no his side on the bed. Adam’s unruly hair framed his face and the childlike innocence was clearly seen. He sighed contentedly as he looked at the small hand entwined in the thick fur of the brown bear held tightly against him. The bear was a gift from Nettie Wells, one she’d made herself and placed in Adam’s crib the day they brought him home from Saint Vincents. Adam slept with it and the animal cracker blanket given to him by his Godfather. Chris smiled as he thought of Wilmington. The man would always be one of his best friends, no matter what happened Buck was loyal to a fault.
‘Just gotta remind him Adam needs room to play,’ the blond thought as he looked around the room. Most of the items surrounding the room were given to Adam by his godfather and dominated half the boy’s room. Taking one last look at his sleeping son, Chris larabee smiled and moved towards the one he shared with his wife. The water was already running and he quickly strode cross the floor and slipped into the shower with her. Forty minutes later the loving couple lay contentedly in each other’s arms, sated and warm and blissfully unaware of the cold hearted woman planning her revenge in a hotel room across town.
For two full days Vin and Jackie trudged through the undergrowth, mosquitoes, and other insects as they searched for the Fortress. Several times they ran across burnt out shells of what could only be shacks...long since abandoned by their owners. Both wondered if it had been voluntary or were their bodies feeding the wildlife of the area. There were more patrols than before and they’d nearly been caught in the open twice, but managed to find safe haven in the tall growth of the rainforest. He called Chris as scheduled and found out they’d gotten very little information on Richard Barker, but they would keep digging. He now stood on the edge of a cliff overlooking the camouflaged field and sat down in frustration.
“It’s got to be here somewhere, Vin! We’ll find it!”
“I know, Jackie, but I keep thinking we’re overlooking the obvious. Mendoza is smart and I keep thinking these fields are not all that easy ta see, but not impossible in spite of the trouble he’s gone through ta hide ‘em.”
“What are you getting at?”
“We’ve searched the area and haven’t found anything that says Mendoza’s compound is in the area. What if the Fortress was not this big place hidden away from prying eyes? What if it was simply a house stuck somewhere in the middle of the fields. The government here is not making much effort ta find ‘im up here and I can’t see ‘im worryin’ about anyone else if he’s got men running the country. We haven’t gone inta the fields yet, so there’s no tellin’ what’s hiding under the overhangin’ trees and cliffs tawards the center of that field.”
“What are you proposing?” Maynard asked as she sat down beside him. His hair was slick with sweat and plastered to his forehead and still she thought he was the sexiest man she’d ever seen.
“I’m thinking it’s time we found out just what’s inside the circle of marijuana,” Tanner said, motioning towards the hidden field.
“Well, it’s nearly five now, but I’d rather wait until it gets dark. I know it’ll be dangerous going in there, but at least we’ll have more cover at night. You could wait in the cave while I...”
“You say it, Tex, and I’m just as liable to push you over the ledge here and go in on my own. Just ‘cause I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m afraid of my own shadow!”
“Damn!” Tanner laughed as he pulled her close, relishing in the feel of her soft skin. “I was kiddin’.”
“I’m not one for sitting back and watching my nails grow, Vin...never was and never will be. As long as you remember that we’ll get along just fine,” Maynard said, enjoying the feel of the well muscled body seated beside her.
“Hmm, hard ta ferget when I’ve seen you in action. I trust ya with my life, Jackie.”
“Thanks Vin, I’ll do my best not to let you down...and I can count on you to do the same, can’t I?”
“Take me at my word, Jackie, I’ll watch yer back.”
“Good...okay, let’s go forage up something to eat while we wait. I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Tanner said, standing and helping his partner to her feet. “What I wouldn’t give for a good old fashioned burger!”
“Shit, yeah, with all that grease and cholesterol...just what a growing boy needs.”
“Damn straight,” Vin grinned as they moved away from the wondrous view provided by mother nature’s talented hands.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PART 9 | PART 10 | PART 11 | PART 12 | PART 13 | PART 14 | PART 15 | PART 16 | PART 17 | PART 18


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